Our Life’s Last Word
by Pastor Chuck Huckaby
Note: The characters in this story are completely fictional, though in my pastoral ministry I’ve found many if not most men share the despair - yet not always the hope - described. The human pain depicted is all too real. The recent suicide of a local middle school student reminds us that misery is not just an irrelevant word from a dusty old catechism. Misery is the condition of fallen humanity and we may taste its sting at any age or in any circumstance.
As the bile of disappointment rose in his throat, Ron swallowed hard and tried to put on a happy face.
Another job interview that seemed to go so well had ended with a “we’re not moving forward at this time.”
He was mad as fire. He just about broke his finger punching the big red “disconnect” button on the screen of his iPhone to end the call.
His deep gloom wasn’t just about the “not now” though.
Life had not turned out as he’d hoped. At age 50, the relationships, career, and even the church he’d assumed would make him happy had all failed him it seemed.
Weren’t those all supposed to make him supremely happy and fulfilled?
Not that he wasn’t happily married and probably happier than most … but it wasn’t the “ideal” marriage all his friends seemed to brag about on Facebook with their “flawless kids”, new fishing boats, and new cars. His car was so old by now even the “extended car warranty” companies didn’t even call… now, that’s insulting!
He’d learned the lesson already that his father’s idea of a “good job” no longer existed. His employers kept acting like it was a privilege that his job hadn’t been shipped off to China already. He couldn’t do enough or be smart enough to feed the insatiable hunger of his employers to get something for nothing and still be sane.
Church was disappointing too. Everything about it was just “OK”. Most people were nice. A few were crotchety. There was something tempting about the other churches he’d watched online during the “COVID lockdown”. Maybe it was the music. He didn’t really know. Maybe he just wanted to be lost in a crowd.
Truth be told nothing seemed quite right in any area of his life.
It was like a picture he’d tried to hang in his living room the other day.
No matter what he did, it never seemed to hang quite straight.
Everything he did left the picture slightly off level to one degree or another. Trying to fix it never fixed it.
As he thought about it all, it really wasn’t his marriage, his career, his relationships or his church and yet it was all these things.
Nothing seemed quite right.
They hadn’t talked much lately.
Outwardly he wondered if his life wasn’t becoming like “Death by a Thousand Cuts”... that ancient torture where no single delicate slice was deadly or even dangerous in itself. But combined, the shock to the system - the drops of blood beading up in a hundred places, fresh emergency signals burdening the brain with each incision, the dull agony from old incisions, the heart’s constant pumping to send healing blood to each new gash until the onslaught of it all combined collapsed the system. All these things were nothing in themselves but, together, were overwhelming. They ultimately lead to death.
Except in Ron’s case it seemed to be “Death by a Thousand Indignities.”
In the middle of this latest dark reverie, he heard his wife calling him.
She needed him to move a box of old books so she could find something she’d been looking for.
“Might as well…” he grumbled to himself.
Didn’t she understand what he was going through?
In fact, she knew something was wrong but had learned long ago there was no way she could “fix” Ron or, for that matter, even “make him happy”. Didn’t he know that?
As he picked up the box of books and started lugging it into the garage, the smell of gasoline and a lawnmower smelling of grass clippings greeted him. Perhaps it distracted him.
He tumbled headlong after his foot clipped the doorjamb. He barely caught himself, but he lost grip on the books.
His hand caught his fall on a wooden workbench leaving a bloody scrape. “Just 999 more cuts to go!” he mused.
The books fell everywhere and made a haphazard mosaic pattern on the floor.
Lying there on the top was something he hadn’t seen in a while.
Sure, the pastor had mentioned it from time to time.
Sometimes the congregation read from it as their weekly “Confession of faith” but, otherwise, it had been a long time since he studied it. 8th grade to be precise.
It was his old catechism.
Maybe he should just throw it away.
What do they say? If you haven’t read something in years … you don’t need it right?
He started putting the scattered books back in the box. His eye kept turning to the old catechism.
After putting the other books back in the box, he put the old catechism on his work bench.
He thought he might look at it one more time for nostalgia’s sake before tossing it away.
He’d remembered being happier then.
The old book smell of the little volume assaulted his nose and Ron sneezed.
He couldn’t put the old book down though.
“What is your only comfort in life and death?” Ron read.
He read the answer.
Then his eyes traced the notes he had written in a young boys script and traced the arrows he’d made in his little catechism to the other times words like “comfort”, “trust”, “assure”, “knowledge,” “undoubtedly”, ‘confirm” and even “amen” appeared across all the questions and answers.
He’d written something down a long-forgotten pastor had told his catechism class: “God’s comfort comes from outside of us, from what Christ has accomplished for us. When we look to ourselves and our circumstances without looking to Christ, ultimately we will understand the depths of emptiness, sin and misery.”
When he’d first written those words down, he probably just considered them the ranting of a crazy old preacher - and therefore meaningless.
But now they suddenly came at him with the delicacy of an 18 wheeler rolling over a milk jug.
The catechism finally made sense of his situation and his life.
He lived in a fallen world but had been counting on finding happiness in it everywhere - except in the One who had conquered our sin, misery, and death.
He found himself simultaneously ashamed and hopeful.
Sitting on a stool he wondered what else the old catechism might say.
He lost track of time reading, as it were, his catechism for the very first time.
It was the first afternoon in many a year he had lost himself in thinking of God, Jesus, the Bible and how, ultimately, his life without Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection would be an endless cycle of misery… he’d proven that to himself for sure.
Even though he had memorized the answers in his youth to the catechism’s many questions, it was only now as he’d tried to navigate life in his own wisdom and strength, ruthlessly focused on himself, not Jesus, that he realized he’d been on the verge of losing it all… shutting out his wife and family and children and ready to sing an old country song to his boss about “Taking this job and shoving it.”
And he didn’t even know why.
He had just been filled with endless, well, “misery”.
Jesus had gone from being the Savior Ron loved to becoming just another idle, almost forgotten word, in the dictionary of Ron’s life.
He sat there reading his catechism all afternoon.
He only lifted his head and stood up to go back to the house when his wife became worried and called out urgently for him, fearing he had succumbed to the final despair.
Instead he had a joy he hadn’t known in years.
The dusty little catechism with the notes of an 8th grade boy who miraculously had listened in class had saved him.
He didn’t know how it would all work out, but he wasn’t just trusting himself any more.
He was trusting the Resurrected Jesus today to deliver him from sin and misery and lead him forward… into the comfort of Christ’s new life.
That’s what Jesus, and His servant, that little dusty catechism came to do: To deliver us from ourselves so that we can live in the “comfort”, that is, the grace of God.
Do you have this comfort?
Is Christ the Last Word?
If your catechism has been collecting dust for too long, and it’s time for Christ’s fresh joy, join Pastor Chuck and Renee for a fresh look into the Bible and the Catechism. Life’s too short to live without Christ’s Comfort!