I held the hot washcloth to my face just a moment longer. Particularly pressing around my eyes, I took a deep breath and let the humid air fill my nostrils and lungs. I took a look in the mirror to find where the remnants of the day’s makeup had left its mark. (Everywhere. The answer is everywhere. Sigh.) I rubbed at the black smudges beneath my eyes until my skin reddened. It was good enough.
As I continued to move through my nightly routine before bed, I kept noticing something out of the corner of my eye: my eyes. As I picked up my toothbrush, I noticed the fine little lines in the corners. As I toweled off my freshly washed hair, I was interrupted by the reflection of puffy, red bags beneath them. Giving into the moment, I stopped and looked at myself squarely in the mirror. In my hurried moments, I don’t often look into the mirror for more than a second or to complete a task (namely, putting on all that makeup that is so hard to get off again). But on this particular evening, I looked at myself intentionally. Makeup-free, freshly washed, red, puffy, lined. And for the first time, I noticed something: I am getting older.
I should have noticed this sooner, to be honest. There was the day I pulled on those leggings and thought, Yeah … better not. There was the day when I went back to the gym after a year’s hiatus and could not – literally, I physically could not – fall back into my old gym routine with the ease I was accustomed to. And there was the day I noticed how the veins in my hands prominently protruded and wouldn’t not be soothed with a single coat of lotion.
But aging had never looked me in the eyes like it did that night as I got ready for bed. The little lines around my eyes were not there before. As I pulled and prodded them, they unrelentingly remained. My body had changed. My face, my skin, my body had literally changed. These changes accrued over the years in small incremental ways (I’m sure my teenage tanning-bed years had something to do with it), but on the other side of all of these small changes, the results were pronounced and unmistakable. I had been altered by time, and things would not be the same again.
I lamented to my husband as we pulled back the bed sheets for the night. Setting the decorative throw pillows on the floor, I whined to him about getting older. I told him I used to be able to go makeup free and how now I must use under-eye concealer, how I used to wear shorts until gravity seemingly got stronger, and how it took much more effort to stay strong and heathy than it did was I was twenty.
“That’s good,” he said, in his familiar, thoughtful tone. “Your body should change with age. Your body is preparing for rest.”
I opened my mouth to protest, and caught myself stopping short. I started in a second time, insistent on opposing his sentiment, but words eluded me. He was right. I hated it, but he was right.
Throughout the New Testament, Christ refers to death as sleep. He references those who have died as “only sleeping” (Luke 8:52), and Biblical authors refer to the kingdom of heaven as “eternal rest” (Revelation 14:13). Death, a horrific result of the fall, in Christ was rendered rest for the people of God. It’s a beautiful de-clawing of the curse, is it not? Jesus, in His Kingdom way, takes the teeth right out of death by calling it “rest.”
Death is frightening to me (and rightfully so), which is why the lines around my eyes struck such a deep nerve that night. Though I was unaware of it as I looked in that mirror, aging is a reminder of my mortality. Growing older (and the signs that accompany it) is a very tangle reminder that we are moving through this life at an irresistible, unalterable pace. The clock cannot be turned back. Each moment that passes cannot be regained. And wrinkles and cellulite and vein-lined hands remind us that time changes us, that we are inching incrementally towards our end. Aging reminds us in the most bodily and ordinary ways that we are human, and that, as such, we will one day die.
If death were the end, this would be a stark and terrifying reality. If death were the end, then we would do well to work our fingers to the bone trying to ward off the signs of aging. We would buy up endless creams and potions to try to create for ourselves (and others) the illusion of endless youth, the false impression that we are not changed by time. Ultimately, we would work hard – so very hard – to convince ourselves and others that our end would be different than all our ancestors past.
But – we are Christians.
We are Christians! And our historic and corporate hope is that death is not the end. For those who have been united to Christ in faith, death has lost its sting, having been swallowed up in the victory of our Savior. Death is not our destination; life is. The empty tomb stands as our very physical reminder that our salvation isn’t theoretical, but physical. Our bodies will be raised, breath will fill these very lungs, and we will spend our eternity in the rest of heaven.
I don’t know about you, but I need to trace this ultimate truth through the lines of my life, informing the smallest and most ordinary parts of my day. Truthfully, I’m not often thinking about my death, but I do think about aging in a thousand tiny ways throughout my day. As I put on makeup, as I take my multi-vitamin (or, like most days, forget), or as I go begrudgingly to the gym, I am putting into practice what I believe about my body – and, ultimately, what I believe about my death.
And I want to believe better. I want to believe more rightly. And I want to practice that belief.
Today I am another year older, and instead of pushing away the reminders that I am aging, I will embrace them as a reminder of my humanity and dependance on our God. Tonight, I will put on my under-eye cream and lotion my legs and remember the God who permanently defeated the decay of death. Tonight, I will brush my hair and look at those fine lines around my eyes and I will remember the God who became eternally human to save humanity eternally.
Tonight, I will pull back the sheets and prepare for sleep, and I will also prepare for rest.