Sometimes it’s good to spend a few hours remembering that life is a gift.
This last Friday I joined my family at the wedding of my brother-in-law, a man of steadfast integrity and intense creativity, to his first and last girlfriend of four years. Then on Saturday I attended a birthday party for a one-year-old girl who, medically speaking, was probably not supposed to live much past birth. (Persephone from the prayer list, in case you’ve been praying for her.) Both events were filled with laughter, family, and hope as people celebrated this couple and this little girl. There was food, and there were presents, and there were books or plaques to be signed. These were celebrations of three special individuals. They were celebrations of days that had been, and that were still yet to be. But I would argue that, most of all, they were celebrations of life.
When we hear about a celebration of life, a lot of the time we ironically think about (though also fittingly think about) a funeral. These events have become a time to look back, reflect on the bright spots that blazed during a person’s years, say all the things we wished we had said when they were with us, and pretend that the hole they leave isn’t really there. Often we realize that, as we slogged through the gloom and the glare and the day-to-day in times past, we perhaps should have paid a bit more attention to this life that is now gone. We are pricked. But then we return to our slog, and the lesson we almost learned escapes us again.
Then, when an event like a wedding or birthday or family get-together comes up, we groan. We complain. We say, “I hate weddings.” Or, “Do I really have to go to that party?” Then our spouse kicks us in the shin, and we shamble out to the car, turn the key, and begrudgingly head towards two-to-five hours of tedium. And all the time we are missing what’s really going on, right beneath the surface.
In the old days of Judaism, a wedding would go on for a week. These days were filled with dancing and wine and laughter and friendship. The people celebrated the new life beginning and the new lives that could come, but in so doing they also celebrated Life. “L’Chaim!” they would cry.(1) “To Life!”
They realized that they had been given a precious gift. And the harder it was, the more precious that gift became.
I couldn’t have been happier to be at the party with that little girl. I hardly knew most of the people there, and I had never met her in-person before. But I realized that, when I looked at her, I was looking at a miracle. That I was looking at a tangible gift from God. And when she smiled at me, I remembered why we’re alive.
We, too, have been given a gift. And it is greater than any wrapped packages or bows or bags could match. We have been given a chance. The chance to laugh and love and romance and bless. This offering is so incredible that we can know and experience “things into which angels long to look.”(1) We have been given the gift of life.
As we travel through the few years we have, let’s not get lost in the slog and forget what we’ve been given. Let’s not be overcome by the commercialism and bloated stress that have consumed these events and lose sight of the glimmering truth they contain. Our lives are more than marketing. Our days are more than tightening tensions. Let’s not wait until the next funeral to realize we haven’t unwrapped the fantastic present before us, and the others that are available all around us.
Let’s remember that, celebrate that, and live like life is a gift. And how wonderful it is.
2. 1 Peter 1:12b ESV