I sat on the couch, shielding my eyes, and peeking through them every few seconds. I didn’t want to see what had happened, I didn’t want to hear the story. But I knew I had to. I had to know what was going on.
Yesterday, masked gunman stormed into an editorial meeting at a satirical magazine in France, and killed 12 people, wounding several more, a few of whom are in critical condition. They targeted this magazine’s staff because they didn’t like their political commentary. These people were killed because they exercised their freedom of speech.
There’s so much to unpack here, so many families, so many lives, gunmen still on the loose, and thoughts about freedom of speech that weigh heavily.
But those weren’t my first thoughts, if I’m being honest. My first thought was, “here we go again,” as my heart felt the hand of fear close even tighter around it.
You see, I’m not afraid of a lot of things, but the thing I’m afraid of more than anything else in the world is being caught in a random shooting.
Maybe that sounds like a strange fear to you, and I hope it does. But for me, gun violence has rocked my world every few years for as long as I can remember, causing that hand of fear to grip tighter and tighter until it feels like I can barely breathe.
My babysitter’s best friend was killed in a shooting at Chuck E Cheese when I was little. Chuck E Cheese. I wish I were kidding.
I remember exactly where I was when I heard about the Columbine shooting. I was in 5th grade, home sick from school and listening to all of the details on my local radio station. I had to know what was going on. It was a local high school, my cousin had gone there.
In high school, one of my closest guy friends shot himself one day. We had no warning, no hint that anything was wrong. One day he was there, and the next he wasn’t.
I was home from college one winter when friends and I decided to go dancing downtown. We left the club at 1:54am, and found out the next morning that at 1:57am, someone had opened fire with a machine gun in front of that very club, killing a whole bunch of people. We missed it by three minutes.
The Aurora theater shooting was right around the corner from my house. Friends of friends were killed in the theater that night, and countless family members and friends were at that midnight showing at theaters across the city.
That list makes my heart ache, and there are so many more national and international tragedies that could be added.
And so as I sat there last night, watching CNN, I was faced with the question these events always bring to my mind. I have to ask myself this question, and I go through the same process of answering it every time. Because if I don’t, I’m not sure I’d ever have the courage to leave my house.
If I were to die today, would I be ready?
I sigh, I take a deep breath, and then I whisper the answer I know to be true, “yes.”
I don’t want to die, not one little bit. My mind instantly thinks of Carl, and my family, and my best friends—I can’t even think about leaving them behind. I would also be disappointed to leave the world today, because there are so many things I still want to do. But I’m pretty voracious when it comes to life—and so I don’t think there will ever come a day when I’ll feel like I’ve done it all.
So even though I don’t want to die, I know that if today is the day, I’m ready. And the freedom of that answer unlocks some of the fear.
What about you? Are you ready?
To answer that question, you have to look back on your life so far.
You have to look at how you’ve spent the days you’ve been given. You have to look back and see what is still undone, or what you need to say to someone, an apology or forgiveness you might need to offer.
When I look at my life for the last 26.5 years, I feel really glad for what those years have contained. I feel like I’ve done the best with what I was given, that I’ve lived courageously, and with passion and love.
I have loved and served Jesus with my whole heart, and if my time to go is today, I feel confident that I have done what I came here to do.
But that knowledge doesn’t eliminate the fear that’s still wrapped so tightly around my heart. So I have to start reminding myself of what’s true.
I remind myself that when we die, we go to a place that’s much better than this one. We go to Heaven, a place full of everything good, and safe from everything bad, and we get to hang out with God everyday, which is pretty awesome if you think about it. The fear releases a little when I remember that.
The understanding that our lives don’t end when our hearts stop beating changes everything.
I remind myself that Jesus is here—He’s close and present and has never left me alone, and that no matter what circumstance I find myself in, I’ll never be there without Him.
I remind myself that God has given us eternal life, and nothing—not our lives, not God’s goodness, His love, His joy, or His peace, can ever be taken away—not even by a bullet.
I don’t know where you are today. Maybe you don’t feel afraid, or think about the end of your life, or worry that something could happen to you or those around you.
But I’d imagine you probably do think about these things. I’d imagine that you are scared, and that you push these things out of your mind because it’s easier to live that way.
It certainly is.
But when something happens like what happened at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters— something terrible, horrible, senseless and heartbreaking—it brings the unpredictability of our lives back into focus.
It forces us to ask those questions, to realize that we aren’t as safe as we’d like to believe. And so with that knowledge, that sobering, awful knowledge, here’s what I hope we do today:
I hope we pray for the people who were in the Charlie Hebdo shooting, for all of their families, and for everyone who was involved or affected in any way.
I hope we take some time to identify our greatest fears about life and about death, and that we package them up and give them to God. I hope we ask Him to replace our fears with His peace and confidence.
I hope we can all take some time and reflect on our lives—on how we’ve lived them and how we know we want to have lived them by the time it’s our turn to go. If there are things you will wish you would have done, do them. If there are things you will wish you would have said, say them.
And lastly, I hope we keep going.
We have to keep going, keep doing what we were doing, the work we know to be so important.
When we keep living, keep loving, keep hoping, and keep laughing, we’re breathing life into a place that sometimes feels like darkness could swallow us whole at any moment.
But by doing what we were made to do, and being who we were made to be, and loving ridiculously, and passionately, and every single moment of our lives, we’re singing off the rooftops that darkness hasn’t won. Not on our watch. Not today.