Inspired by a visit to a cemetery on All Souls Day and a song by Carrie Underwood
It is quiet. A bitter wind brushes my cheeks. Cold, grey stones surround me; not stones from a pond, but the stones of graves. It is November 2, the day of All Souls, and a group of us have come to a cemetery to pray. With the clouded sky, dry leaves, and countless burial stones, everything seems to emit emptiness, solitude, and death.
As I pass by different gravestones, it is sobering to see how long each person lived. Some lived to be 100, while others were born and died on the same day. I find the grave of a girl who died when she was 19. I’ll be 19 next week…that could be me, I think. The thought startles me. I really don’t know how much time I have left.
I sit down on a solitary stone bench, and my mind goes back over the main events of my life, especially those of the past year. Have I really lived? I ask myself. And what’s the point of struggling, suffering, enduring countless up and downs and constant changes if it’s all just going to end like…this? I wonder, my eyes once again scanning the lifeless surroundings.
A foreign voice disturbs the silence; I start suddenly and look up.
“Whatcha doin?” it asks.
“Ummmm, just sitting?” I reply with hesitation.
“Are you lookin for somethin or someone?”
“No, thank you though.”
As the man walks away, I say to myself, Actually, I am looking for something…I’m looking for answers, for what the purpose of constantly struggling against the world is if, in the end, death seems to have the last word anyways…
I walk a little ways and begin to read the epitaphs I pass: “Beloved daughter,” “Faithful husband,” “Brave and loyal soldier.” It suddenly strikes me that all these different people are probably rejoicing together in Heaven now, and that all those I know who have died are most likely with them. Their sorrows, their struggles, all their pain…it’s all over now. All at once my heart is seized with longing to join them. Oh Jesus, how I long to be with you, in your loving arms forever, free from all the heartache of this life…why do some have to suffer for years, even decades, while others are taken in an instant? And in both cases there is suffering, so much suffering, and then in the blink of an eye it’s gone. All our work, our battles, are over. But that can’t be the end. Those battles have to be part of a bigger plan…
Suddenly the words of a song I haven’t heard in a while come to my mind:
“This is my temporary home, it's not where I belong
Windows and rooms that I'm passing through
This is just a stop on the way to where I'm going
I'm not afraid because I know
This is my temporary home.
With these words, Jesus, who has been silent thus far, unexpectedly whispers: “Ashley, the battles and sufferings of this life are to make you wiser and stronger, to purify your heart, and make sure you don’t get too comfortable in or attached to this world. You were not made for this world; you were made for me, to be in my loving arms forever. This is not your true home: Heaven is.”
Another rush of biting cold brings me back to my surroundings. I sigh deeply, pulling my coat more tightly around me. My time of prayer here is almost up. Who knew 20 minutes of silence in a cemetery could speak so loudly.
As I get back in the car I realize that the time Christ gives me on earth may not be exactly what I want or last as long as I want. But it is enough, enough to serve its purpose: to prepare me to be with Christ face to face for eternity, and to constantly remind me that I’m not home yet.
On the way home, we stop by the shrine where young Daniela died this summer when she was hit by a car. She had so little time here! I think. After a couple minutes of prayer there we head back to the house. I glance up hopefully at the now blue sky and cast a silent prayer heavenward: My sweet Jesus, help us to live with our feet firmly planted here on earth and our hearts and eyes on Heaven. Let us not get discouraged by the struggles of this life, but rather use them to grow ever closer to you, and persevere in working towards our final goal. We won’t find the fullness of joy in this life; that will come only in Heaven. This world is just our temporary home. We’re not home yet.