Yesterday I took a walk in St. James’s Park on a quintessential autumn day. Despite the bright sunshine, there was a sharp chill in the air and the trees were glowing with shades of amber and fiery red. The magical sight of leaves falling like giant snowflakes in silent synchronicity held me spellbound, as I watched them float effortlessly to their final resting place.
Suddenly, I remembered a story from my childhood about a tree in heaven where every leaf represented the life of a person. When it was time for a person to pass away, their leaf would fall from the tree. I had always found this story comforting because it demonstrated there was a design behind our very existence. Life was not a random meaningless event. We all had a beginning and an end, and there was nothing unique about death. In fact, life and death were part of the same cycle and everything that was born had to die. As the Bible says, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:13-15).
This was a particularly poignant time for me because I was reflecting on my own mortality. After a serious health scare a few years ago, I was approaching my annual health check with customary trepidation. Anyone who has been subjected to periodic medical assessments will vouch for the sense of powerlessness which accompanies them. It’s another opportunity to be poked and prodded like an amoeba in a petri dish, waiting anxiously for the hammer to fall. And then there’s the overwhelming relief of another year’s reprieve, as you’re quietly despatched from the consulting room.
But this year I decided to take a different approach. Rather than hang my hopes on a positive outcome, I decided to confront my fears. What was the worst thing that could happen? Death. This wasn’t flippancy but an attempt to explore my fears and reconcile them with my faith. I wanted to remove the anxiety that accompanied medical appointments and keep things in perspective. So I gave death some serious thought and although it was a surreal exercise, it proved reassuring.
I remembered that I really believed in God. He was very real to me and I’d built a solid relationship with Him based on my own personal experiences. Not through books or the anecdotes of others, but my own unique journey. This meant that the love I had for Him was undeniably authentic and His presence filled me with joy and happiness. I had felt God’s power in my life and been touched by His titanic love. He was my constant companion who gave me hope, comfort and strength, regardless of the circumstances. Death would not change that. Our relationship would continue. As one journey was ending, another would begin. I envisaged Him waiting for me, like the father in The Prodigal Son, and preparing a lavish banquet in honour of my return.
Even though this was an artificial exercise, it served its purpose. It released the fear that had come to haunt me, but it also gave me another gift. It left me with the realisation that one day when my leaf falls from that tree in heaven, it will be a magnificent homecoming.