Recently my wife and I made use of a unique birthday present our children had given me — reservations at a murder mystery dinner theater in Atlanta. One of the reasons my family thought I would especially enjoy this experience is because the current show is based on one of my favorite movies — “The Wizard of Oz.” And they were right. We had a wonderful time.
When we arrived at the theater, I discovered that I had been chosen to have one of the solo speaking parts in the production. It turned out to be a rather significant role. I was going to play the part of the Wizard himself.
Not only that, but as I looked over my lines I found out I would also become the murder victim. I was going to die.
My moment in the spotlight came near the end of Act One. After it was over and we were enjoying the next course in our meal, some of the other guests around me complimented me on the good job I had done. Several of them specifically commented that I had “died well.”
That phrase reminds me of what I’ve often heard people say about themselves in connection with the end of life. They’ve expressed their hope that when they arrive at that inevitable moment they will die well.
In doing so, they weren’t referring to the means by which they would go out from this life. They weren’t expressing a desire to go out in a blaze of glory through some unusual or spectacular event. They were referring more to the manner in which they would pass from this life into the next.
Even then, they weren’t talking about dying with a dramatic flair — such as putting one’s hand to one’s brow and gracefully swooning into a neatly crumpled heap on the floor. Neither were they hoping to recite some touching, memorable last words as they drifted off into eternity.
What these people were actually expressing was the desire to exhibit such qualities as faith and courage as they faced the specter of death. They wanted to die well, with a spirit consistent with being a believer in Christ, as opposed to manifesting a spirit of fear, doubt and panicked agitation in their final moments.
I can understand and agree with such a sentiment.
However, we don’t know what our circumstances may be when we die. We don’t know if we’ll come to that moment in a sudden accident or at the end of a prolonged illness. We don’t know if it will happen in a flash of violence or during a night of peaceful sleep.
So not knowing when or how we’ll die makes preparation for it difficult.
I believe one of the best ways we can prepare for dying well is by living well. Are we facing today’s challenges with the same spirit of faith and courage we hope to have when we come to that final test?
If we will deal with our everyday problems by trusting the Lord and relying on His grace to see us through, we will be more apt to do so when we find ourselves walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
We should live by the kind of faith the psalmist expressed, and then we’ll be ready to face death with the same spirit — “I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
Let’s seek to be people who live well, and then I believe God will give us the grace we need at the appointed time to die well, too.
It doesn’t take a wizard to figure that out.
The Rev. Tony W. Elder is pastor of Wesley Community Fellowship Church. He can be reached at 770-483-3405 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.