Are You Ready to Die? Try a Death Rehearsal
Mortality is coming, so you might as well practice
This old man turned 38 yesterday.
For 24 hours, I checked myself into a priory overlooking a 900-year-old cathedral.
From my monastic cell and the common library, I re-read the 35,395 words in my 2023 journal, searching for repeating themes and opportunities to improve my character and remembering hilarious moments like when toddler Concord spotted a cow patty on our morning walk and said “Eww cow poop! Concord no eat it.”
Birthdays are a wonderful time to take stock, practice gratitude, and course-correct.
In fact, it’s not until January 17th that I actually firm up my New Year’s resolutions — or rather, schedule those resolutions into our rhythm of life. (Otherwise, they never become a lived practice!)
Speaking of practice…
Do you practice your death?
As in, do you rehearse for being dead?
This is a new one for me, inspired by John Piper:
That’s my favorite Bible verse:
“You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” — Psalm 90:5-6, 12
Life is so short, isn’t it?
Just 4000 weeks, as Oliver Burkeman reminds us.
If I’m blessed enough to live an average-length male life, I’m nearly half done.
If you’re a parent, you’ll spend 75% of all the hours you’ve ever spend with your kid by the end of their 11th year.
If you’re in your thirties, you might have a dozen-and-a-half good Christmases left with your folks before you have to take down their stockings.
Your death is coming so very soon, you know that, right?
It’s good to prepare.
If Psalm 90:12 is correct, staying keenly aware of the shortness of life is THE key to learning how to live well.
Everyone dies. The key is to figure out how to live the life that is truly life first.
Practicing your death is the start of living well.
Your death rehearsal will look different from mine or from John Piper’s, but the foundation is to ask that shudder-inducing question: Did I live well?
If that seems a bit vague, luckily I know a pair of lovely Finnish blondes who can help us out.
Preparing to Live Well
My wife, Michelle, has a brilliant (and kind) cousin named Jess Wood. They’re bestie-cousins, and together they’ve spent the past few years honing a document they call A Year in Review Examen. It’s a great practice for rehearsing your death.
You simply grab a tea/coffee/scotch and a journal, cozy up by the fire, and throw your cell phone out the window. Then, you read through everything below and write reflections about whatever resonates.
Read Ecclesiastes 3:1–15. Feel free to reflect on how God has made a time for everything and how this might comfort or encourage you as you reflect. If worries, anxieties, or distractions come to mind, pray, and then wade into the questions below.
As you read through you may sense some different categories: internal life,
external life, connection to others, connection to God.
1. What have been the most important events in my life this year?
The area that has consumed my thoughts and attention.
The area I feel most exposed/vulnerable.
2. What has this year been to me/for me?
Where have I experienced the presence of God this year?
Words to sum up this year.
5 feelings that dominated this year.
An area that has brought desolation (where your heart sank).
An area that has brought consolation (where your heart lept).
3. How have I attended to my health this year?
5 words to describe my physical state this year.
Hours of sleep per night.
Habits that have brought me life this year.
Habits that have brought me pain or to recognize change is needed.
The greatest cause of internal stress.
5 words to describe my spiritual health.
3 words to describe my prayer life.
How has this year caused me to look ahead/around myself?
5 words describing my career, vocation, or school.
People who have been life-giving this year.
My overall sense of community or relational health.
People/places I have felt led to invest in.
5. How has my view of God been this year?
What is lacking in my relationship with God?
Has my image of God changed?
5 words to describe God.
3 spiritual takeaways from this year.
How might this all help me look to the year ahead? How might this
encourage me or challenge me? How might this remind me of God’s presence, care, and guidance in my life?
By letting 2023 die, and your past self along with it, you step into 2024 aiming to live better and more fully for that transcendent calling.
First we practice death, then we prepare to live.
Jared A. Brock
P.S. Are you feeling discouraged by your lack of productivity, impact, or progress in 2023? If you’re like me, playing this song on repeat with your eyes closed might help:
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