As I prepared to leave the house for church this morning, my daughter Sarah mentioned that she saw an ambulance across the street at a neighbour's house.
This was not a surprise occurrence as our neighbor, John, had been having some health problems lately. He had been in and out of the hospital a few times over the last two months. I spent some time with John in the hospital a couple of weeks ago and he seemed pretty weak physically, although he was quite alert and very chatty. I got to know more about John in the two hours there in the hospital than I'd learned of him in 4 years as his neighbour. Anyway, an array of thoughts passed through my head after Sarah told me she'd seen the ambulance. My hope was that it wasn't anything too serious.
I arrived at the school where we have our church services and spent the morning, as we always do, setting up the sound system and video gear. About 30 minutes before we started the 1st service, Sarah came in and told me that John had passed away.
The news hit me harder than it should have. It sent me into a bit of an emotional funk that I had to chew on as I prepared to lead the Grace Church family in worship. Sunday mornings are always an emotional time for me as I deal with the weekly stresses of the whole "mobile church" thing (portable sound systems, school contracts, missing volunteers, etc.) combined with the emotions that are connected to the process of leading God's people into His presence and trying to make it as authentic and purposeful as possible. The news of John's death, added to these, made it hard for me to get through the sound check without crying.
I didn't know John well, at all. So why did this hit me so hard?
Only a few weeks ago I was having a wrestling match with God over the fact that I felt God nudging me to meet with John to discuss his spiritual life; to share with him what I believe. The last time that I saw John (two weeks ago in the hospital) my intention had been to do just that; to ask him if he had any idea what would happen to him after this life.
I'll be honest, I was nervous and uncomfortable. I really didn't feel qualified to do this "death bed confessional" thing. And so when I got to the hospital and found that John was doing much better than I had imagined he would be, I didn't do it. I spent two hours with him and the only time God came up was where it was written in the get well card that I gave him. I didn't even pray for him there are the hospital.
When John told me that he was to be coming home from the hospital in a day or two, I silently thanked God for giving him (and me) more time to work on the details of his spiritual life.
Well, that apparently wasn't God's plan. And I missed the one and only opportunity that I had to share my faith with a man that I am pretty sure left this life without any hope of spending eternity with God. And I'm mad. I'm sad. I'm disappointed in myself. I really feel like I blew it.
Last night I finished reading David Crowder's book, Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven, but Nobody Wants to Die: Or the Eschatology of Bluegrass. It's a bit erie that I just read this entire book on dealing with death and the afterlife. The last chapter of the book was about the day that David buried his friend and pastor and then hopped on a plane to fly across the country to lead worship that same night. He explained the numbness and emotional weight that he carried into that night. In a small way, that's what I felt like this morning as the pain in the pit of my stomach just grew heavier and heavier the more I realized the eternal consequences of John's death.