From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III; a letter to Mary Willis Shelburne, June 7, 1959
I am sorry to hear that so many troubles crowd upon you but glad to hear that, by God’s grace, you are so untroubled. So often, whether for good or ill, one’s inner state seems to have so little connection with the circumstances. I can now hardly bear to look back on the summer before last when Joy was apparently dying and I was often screaming with the pain of osteoporosis: yet at the time we were in reality far from unhappy. May the peace of God continue to enfold you…
What a state we have got into when we can’t say “I’ll be happy when God calls me home” without being afraid one will be thought ‘morbid’. After all, St. Paul said just the same in Philippians 1:21. If we really believe what we say we believe—if we really think that home is elsewhere and that this life is a ‘wandering to find home’, why should we not look forward to the arrival? There are, aren’t there, only three things we can do about death: to desire it, to fear it, or to ignore it. The third alternative, which is the one the modern world calls ‘healthy,’ is surely the most uneasy and precarious of all.
“I received good news from my hospice nurse today,” said the elderly lady I was visiting. Helen was had been battling cancer for a year, but was now about to lose that battle.
“What did she tell you,” I asked, wondering if perhaps there had been a change in her diagnosis.
Helen replied, “She said I have, at the most, only a week to live.”
Helen died six days later, ready for God’s call, and happy to go home.
William Augustus Muhlenberg (1796-1877) was the great-grandson of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the “patriarch of the Lutheran church in America.” William, like his famous great-grandfather, was also a pastor. Near the end of his life he was hospitalized, and was visited by the hospital chaplain who began praying for his recovery. Old Pastor Muhlenberg interrupted the prayer. “Let us have an understanding about this,” said the dying man. “You are asking God to restore me and I am asking God to take me home. There must not be a contradiction in our prayers, for it is evident that God cannot answer them both.” —The Story of Christian Hymnody, by E. E. Ryden, 1959, page 485.
I am reminded of a little cartoon I saw one time in a magazine. The cartoon shows two men, in the clouds of heaven, with their angel wings attached. They are sitting in lounge chairs, obviously taking it easy and enjoying themselves immensely. And one says to the other, “Just think, Ralph, if it wasn’t for all that darn health food, we could have been up here years ago.”
We fear the change that will come when we die, but we must keep in mind Romans 8:18 where Paul, who suffered a great deal for the Gospel, says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” It will be an incredible and wonderful change.
Philippians 1:21-24 — For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
Hebrews 11:13-16 — All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised;they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
Psalm 23:6 — Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Revelation 22:20 — He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
O my most blessed and glorious Creator, who has fed me all my life, and redeemed me from all evil; seeing it is your merciful pleasure to take me out of this frail body, and to wipe away all tears from my eyes, and all sorrows from my heart, I do with all humility and willingness consent and submit myself to your sacred will. Into your saving and everlasting arms I commend my spirit. I am ready, my dear Lord, and earnestly expect and long for your good pleasure. Come quickly, and receive the soul of your servant who trusts in you. Amen.
–Dying prayer of Henry Vaughan