I found something the other day that I had written in high school. It said that “Life is just an L and an E with a big IF in the middle.” This was long before Snoopy and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company used the same theme for an advertising campaign. I’m sure I’m not the first one to think of the idea.
It’s that IF that causes so much angst in life. If I fall in love…If I lose weight…If I get that job…the list goes on and on. One of the most common “if I”s that I’ve heard is, “If I die…” That is one of the few things in our lives that is not an if, and we treat it so at our own peril.
The unknown is frightening exactly because it’s a mystery. There are many Christians who, by virtue of the fact that they have been saved, feel that they have taken the if out of the afterlife. I am not one of them. I hope. I pray. I try to live my life so that maybe God is His unbelievable mercy will choose to welcome me into His kingdom when my life here ends. But I don’t know for certain what awaits me in the hereafter.
I’ve been participating in a class using the Father Barron’s Word on Fire Catholicism series to explore what we believe as Catholics and why we believe what we profess. Last week’s topic was prayer. I shared my own experience, when, as a 27-year-old mother of a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a week-old baby, my husband was diagnosed with a tumor that his doctor came right out and said that he thought was cancer. Later that night, as I rocked our newborn son in my arms in the wee hours of the dark, I tried to pray. I so wanted to ask God to take away the tumor in my young husband, but what right did I have to demand that of God? And, so, I prayed that whatever happened that God would give us the strength to handle it. I asked for His will to be done. And I wasn’t sure if it was lack of faith that I couldn’t ask God for the outcome that we so desperately wanted, or if it was how God intends for us to petition Him.
I’m still not sure. I shared that I felt that prayer probably didn’t change the outcome of the concerns we go to our Father with, but that prayer changes us. Some agreed with me. One of my fellow classmates challenged my thinking. He said that prayer can change God’s mind and that we can’t possibly ask God to answer our prayers if we don’t have enough faith to believe He will.
When the parents of a child who is ill pray for their son or daughter’s health, it is not the child whose parents have the most faith who survives. Sometimes we get what we pray for, and sometimes God has another outcome in His plan. I don’t know what is the correct way for us to approach the Almighty. I fervently desire to be closer to God, but I don’t where I will be when I die.
If there’s really a pearly entrance, and we really meet Saint Peter as the gatekeeper, I won’t have a list of reasons why he should let me in. All I’ll be able to say is that the only way that I’ll gain admittance is by the boundless love of God and by the mercy of His undeserved forgiveness.
I like the way that Father Barron explains it. Quoting Saint Augustine, he says, “If you understand it, that isn’t God.” Father Barron continues. “God is the one you never can control.”
So, I cannot say what will be my ultimate fate and hold God to my decision. If that’s lack of faith, I’m just going to have to live (and die) with that uncertainty.