Death Anxiety and the Force (Part 1)

When I was in high school, I was watching the news one evening and heard a report that rocked my teenage world. George Lucas announced that they would be making three new Star Wars movies, referred to as “prequels.” For those unfamiliar with the Star Wars films (shame on you), the first three films in the series (Episodes IV, V, and VI) actually start in the middle of the story. As an avid lifelong Star Wars fan, I could not have been more excited.

When I went to sleep that night, my mind started racing. I laid in bed, staring at the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling with a huge smile on my face.

Then, suddenly, a shift.

My eyes began to tear up.

Within minutes, I was using my pillow to muffle my uncontrollable sobbing. 

Anyone who’s seen the prequels would have thought that I was experiencing a moment of clairvoyance; that the ghost of Star Wars Future, in the form of Jar Jar Binks, came to warn me that these were not the films I was looking for. Meesa wishes that was the case. No, I was crying because in the midst of my jubilation, a morbid thought crept into my head:

“What if I die before the movies come out and I never know the whole story?”

This past week, I was reminded of this moment when I saw the #ForceForDaniel hashtag all over Twitter. Daniel Fleetwood, a 32-year old, terminally ill Star Wars fan, was not expected to live to see the release of the brand new Star Wars: Episode VII in December. Daniel’s wife started the #ForceForDaniel hashtag in an attempt to convince the powers that be to allow Daniel a pre-release viewing. After massive social media support, including a push from Luke Skywalker and Chewbacca, Disney and director J.J. Abrams allowed Daniel to watch the new Star Wars in the comfort of his own home. Daniel passed away last week, shortly after his dream came to fruition. As elated and saddened as I was from this story, a familiar tinge of dread crept up. The question had once again reared its ugly head: “What if I die before I know the whole story?”

Anyone reading this might assume that I take Star Wars way too seriously. That is a fair assessment. However, in order to be completely transparent, I will share with you the deeper underlying issue:

Hi, my name is Gary, and I struggle with death anxiety.

In preparation for this post, I’ve tried to pinpoint what exactly it is about death that causes me such anxiety. I’ve narrowed it down to four main points of interest:

1.   I don’t want to miss out on anything.

I want to watch my children grow up, hold my grandkids, take a road trip in a driverless car, vote for the first robot president, and of course, see as many Star Wars movies as I can. If God told me it was time to go, would I try to negotiate for more time?

2.   When and how I will die?

Will I live long enough to see my beard go gray? Is my next doctor’s visit the one where I find out how many months I have left? Will it be painful? Will I get to say goodbye?

3.   Doubt.

I know that I know that God is real, that he has a son who died for my sins, and that because I’ve accepted this gift, I will be spending eternity in heaven. I know in my heart that this is the truth. But every now and then, I’m taunted by a fleeting thought. “What if?”

4.   Fear of the unknown.

No amount of studying heaven will ever prepare me for what I will experience when I actually arrive. Heaven will be infinitely more beautiful, wonderful, and peaceful than anything I could begin to imagine. Heaven is perfect, and if I’m honest with myself, I have no idea what that is. I will be spending eternity in a place that I am currently unequipped to comprehend. Sometimes, that terrifies me.

Worrying over death has caused me a great deal of stress, fear, guilt, and shame throughout my life. It is an issue that God has been working on for quite some time now. In my next post, I will share what I’m learning through this process, and how God is helping me overcome each of these obstacles.


Image credit to Scott Smith: