My brother and I drove through dense Northern California tree groves until the road led us to the Pacific Coast Highway and we headed south, the road hugging the western edge of the continent with every curve. The Pacific Ocean stretched out to our right as far as our eyes could see, the air smelled like saltwater, and the beaches along the coast were peppered with kite-surfers and local fruit stands selling cherries, apricots, and avocados.
As we drove, with the sun dancing across the windshield, we chatted about career developments and professional goals, bemoaned the exorbitant housing prices in the cities we’ve made our homes, and debated the Sharks’ chances in the NHL finals. And then, much like we have every time we’ve been in the same place since we lost our Dad, the conversation turned to that: to reflecting on how much we still miss him, to being a bit afraid of forgetting him as time passed, and to considering how to live in such a way that honours who He was and how He taught us to live.
It’s been almost three and a half years since he died. Loss is a complicated thing to live, much less write about. It changes you in fundamental ways you often don’t see until you’re looking back and realize that you don’t think the same way or make decisions like you used to.
As we drove and talked, I couldn’t help but think of an evening conversation I had with my Dad on the back porch, just a few weeks after he was first diagnosed with cancer. In a space where I felt overwhelmed with the idea of losing him, he looked me in the eye, and said, “Don’t let my cancer be wasted on your life. Don’t let this – whenever it takes my life – hold you back from living. In fact, if it does anything, let it make you live even more.”
They’re words that have echoed in my head and my heart since then: Death being wasted on life.
And, it’s an idea that continued resonating every day as I traveled further down the west coast – blown by the reach of the ocean and the comfort of the saltwater air. What if God breathed all of this into existence to sustain and dazzle us? What if I diminish the impact of His death and resurrection by not having my eyes open to the gift?
Jesus died so we could have life – and life to the full.
Not in the sense of a frenzied must-do-everything kind of full, but a fully alive, fully awake to His goodness, fully alive to awe and wonder kind of full. A fullness that chases sunsets, prioritizes relationships, dances without shame, and savours flavours and art and melodies and adventures. That believes and labours for good despite opposition, holds tight to hope despite the odds, and lives with steady boldness and whimsical love.
I don’t know when or how it happens, but somewhere along the line so many of us seem to lose the wonder of living. Maybe it’s the pressures of adult responsibility or the weight of intellectual quandaries, the way the world seems (and is) crippled with evil and bad news, or how the demands of life can lull us into a monotonous or apathetic fog if we’re not careful.
But, I don’t think Jesus beat death so we would live half-alive.
I don’t think God let His Son face a brutal death and carry the weight of all our sin to set us free for anything less than lives fully awake and fully alive to the joy and hope that He offers us. I don’t think God stretched the oceans out so deep and so vast, painted the world with so many colours, or made the tiny nails on a newborn’s fingers so profoundly beautiful for us to do anything less than stand back and be in awe of Him.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that following Jesus is some sunshiny joy-ride all the time. It's not. It won't be. Life can be difficult and challenging and weight on us in ways that seems to threaten every ounce of joy we could previously muster.
And the Kingdom is vast and wide and a life of following Jesus is more nuanced than "simple" joy. Life is a truly awesome gift meant to be savoured, but being fully alive is more than a hedonistic pursuit of enjoyment. The invitation of God is one of laying our lives down in obedience and surrender. A life fully alive in Christ means living fully alive to the purposes of God in the world and He's a God who's heart and eyes are always towards those in need. Awe and enjoyment must lead to lives lived in full surrender to the calling of God – and that means sacrifice and obedience and sometimes really hard things too.
However, even in that, Jesus invites us to live with joy.
I’m more and more convinced that one of the clearest evidences of the gospel coming alive is through us learning to love life and living it well. Where we embrace both the joy and the pain that life holds, never diminishing either, but facing both with hearts and hands wide open. No fear in death, but no guilt in living either.
I don’t want to live purely for shallow enjoyment or hedonistic wanderlust: that would be a waste of life and in that pursuit I run the risk of missing the heartbeat of the gospel. I want to face hard things with love and choose daily to put others' needs before my own. I want to fight against injustice and care for the poor and marginalized with proactive compassion. I want my love to reflect the love of Christ: deep and costly.
But, I certainly don’t want to get to the end of my life and realize that I had glossed over the sparkle of His beauty all around me in the process. I want to have eyes open in wonder - always. Even in the “small” things. I want awe to be my permanent residence. I want to sip my morning coffee slowly and get funny tan-lines from playing hours of beach volleyball by the ocean and delight in the sweetness of BC berries in the summertime. I want to sing along loudly to songs in my car and chase sunsets and stay up too late talking with dear friends or hosting campfires that make everything smell like smoke and reading books that I can’t put down.
In both whimsical wonder and sacrifice, I want to live in a way that reflects the dance of life across beauty and pain. I want my living to speak to person my Dad was and how he – even in death - taught me to live.
But far more so than that I want to live in such a way that the death and resurrection of God isn’t wasted on how I approach each day: fully engaged & free of fear.
This being alive thing is a pretty incredible gift. Let's not waste it.