Yesterday my youngest came to me and told me that her friend’s friend’s grandmother died. It was an event far enough removed that there was really no emotion attached to the news for either of us, except that we were glad to know that this particular grandma loved Jesus and is now heaven. My daughter looked up at me and said something I’ve often said to her: Everybody dies.
I repeat the refrain with regularity in my home. Everybody dies.
My work as a cardiac nurse might make me a bit more aware of human mortality, but still, we all know the death rate here is 100%.
On the occasions when someone outside the family has heard me say this, it has usually been met with shock, and then the question, “Why would you say something like that to your little kids?”
The answer is simple: it is the truth. Everyone, great or small, old or young, healthy or ill – at some point in his or her life dies. And barring Christ’s intervening second return, no one gets out of it.
The important question then is this: so what?
What difference does that information make to us? I have found that thinking about the end of my life makes a huge difference on how I live my life.
One of my favorite books is John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life because in it he captures the essence of what I’m trying to communicate to my children. We don’t live forever. How we live our lives until our deaths matters. Our lives are not experiments that we get to keep trying over and over again until we “get it right.” At some point in time, each and every one of us will stop getting another chance to do the things we mean to do. At some point, it’s over.
I know that not everyone examines his or her own mortality like this. In fact, most people shun the thought. It makes them feel creepy and unsettled. To that I say, “GOOD! It’s supposed to!”
It often takes death staring us right in the face to make itself personally known. But it really does change our perspective on things when we realize that life is short, and that every minute is a precious gift.
I loved working on the Heart Unit because people who have just had a major cardiac event get this. Cancer patients get this. People who have narrowly escaped a fatal accident get this. You’ve heard these people talk in different terms – with different emphasis on what’s really important. And, when this truth has really penetrated our understanding, life is palpably different afterward. It’s as if they see colors more brilliantly, hear sounds more clearly, notice things that previously were like visual white noise. In short, the really important things can no longer be crowded out by the incessant clamor of trivial stuff. And that’s the point of telling my loved ones that everybody dies.
In Matthew 6 Jesus taught us to “not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Later he goes on, “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”
The things that we run after, like food, and clothes, and houses (and all those other “things” we work so hard to acquire or maintain) are not the important things. But they so often take up not just our time and efforts, but our thoughts and hopes and dreams as well.
Jesus doesn’t leave us there – he doesn’t just say, stop doing that stupid chasing after silly stuff. He continues and tells that since the above is true (life is more than “things” and earthly cares) don’t worry about them – everyone else worries about them, but you – YOU – have a heavenly Father who knows you need these things. He clothes the flowers in splendor, doesn’t he? He takes care of the birds, doesn’t he? Don’t you know that you are so, so much more valuable to Him than flowers that fade in a matter of days or birds that can be bought with a few coins? If He takes such meticulous care with things of such little value, don’t you see how much more care He will take of you? He says, No, YOU, believer, spend your efforts and resources seeking after what is the most important – the Kingdom- ME- and my righteousness. I’ll take care of the things you need, don’t worry about them. YOU keep your eyes on me.
Piper writes: “You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, perhaps just one, and then be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by one great thing.” That one great thing is what Jesus told us – seek me, know me, follow me, love me. In doing this, we bring him the most glory. In doing this we show Him to those around us. In doing this, we are happiest.
I want to live with the important things in the front of my thinking – always. An in order to do that, I need to be reminded that I don’t have time to waste – and more pointedly, I don’t have a life to waste. I have one life and I’d like it to be one that is fruitful and productive in ways that please and honor God. I don’t want to waste precious minutes chasing around after food, or clothes, or “stuff” – I want to use it up seeking to know God better and better and better, and in the process of doing that, make Him known to those around me. I want to teach my children to do the same. I want you to know the unbelievable joy of casting off the heavy, depressing weight of the unimportant cares of this world and do this, too. Everybody dies – including me, and including you. Live for what’s really important.