“Life’s too short” is a cliché that I hear often, usually when someone dies unexpectedly. And, I have to admit, that many times when I’ve heard someone mutter “life’s too short,” I have nodded my head in agreement and distractedly gone right back to my busy, unintentional living.
But in light of my grief-filled summer, all the recent headlines of hurricanes and earthquakes, and then Sunday’s terrible shooting in Las Vegas, I’ve been thinking more about the brevity of life. It seems that God is continually sending me little reminders that life is short, people are precious, and that I need to use my time here wisely.
I heard this quote Tuesday on the way home from my morning run: “Remember this today: life is just too short and too sweet to hold people at arm’s distance because of something that really doesn’t matter in the long term.” My mind sat with these words a little longer than usual.
Then, as if in confirmation, God has sent other little “gifts” my way this week:
-Tuesday evening, while reading Fahrenheit 451 (audible groan) with Alex, I came across these words: “We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over” (71). Much to Alex’s dismay, I cried at the reminder that friendships should fill our hearts, and our friends’ hearts, to overflowing. In order for that to happen though, we have to be intentional to spend the time investing in “a series of kindnesses.” We can’t sit by passively, do nothing, or worse, mostly just take from our friends, and hope for the best.
-Yesterday, while studying for a test with one of my sweet students, we learned that the theme of the novel we were discussing (a novel about a girl who has to learn to accept her mom’s death) is to cherish the people in your life.
-This morning in my study Bible, I found an acrostic about time: Time is short, Life is a gift, Make time for what’s important, Everyone has the same 24 hours.
Psalm 90:4 says, “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by or like a watch in the night.” So certainly, our lives are really just a tiny blip on the radar of history. We are only alive for just a short time.
The Bible also says that God knows the number of my days, and that He ordained them for me (Psalm 139:16, Job 14:5). So my life will be just as long as God has determined it to be. I firmly believe God has a plan for me, for each of us, and that plan includes when we die.
The thing about dying is that we just don’t know when it’s going to happen, to us or to others. So, in denial, we imagine that we have plenty of time to _________________.
Until more recently, I chose to avoid thinking about the fact of dying, or, when I did think about it, I imagined that I, and my loved ones, had plenty of time left. I figured I’d eventually get around to working on my issues that contribute to dysfunctional relationships, or asking someone I’ve hurt to forgive me, or making time to spend with people I love most, or making good on promises I’ve made, or choosing to partner with God and walk in the calling He has placed on my life, or living from a place of confidence, knowing I’m loved. And the list of shoulds and some days sat there, waiting for some indefinite time in the future. I put off until “tomorrow” what I ought to do today (Proverbs 6:4). Are you that way, too? James 4:17 is clear about this: “So then, if you know the good you ought to do and don’t do it, you sin.” Wow. Me? Guilty.
Then wham! One ordinary day we are busy with our normal routine, just like always, and we receive that unexpected phone call or that knock on our door and suddenly we are propelled headlong into our worst nightmare. We are immediately filled with all the regrets of the things we did or didn’t do or the things we said or didn’t say-all the should haves, could haves, and if onlys.
But maybe life isn’t too short, really. Maybe we each have just enough time, and the problem is, we aren’t making good use of the time we do have. At least, I know that’s been my story.
This time last year, Mom had just been diagnosed with recurrent breast cancer, metastatic to the bones, and our family was working through our feelings and our fears. Once in a while, the panic would rise up. I knew her illness was terminal, and I didn’t know how or if I could do life without her. Occasionally, I would talk to one of my friends about the terrible sense of dread and foreboding in the pit of my stomach. But mostly I just kept my feelings to myself and tried not to think about it. Still, when I did allow myself to contemplate, I thought in terms of years, not months.
And let’s face it: a year or two seems like plenty of time to tie up loose ends. To work up our nerve to make the phone call. To knock on the door. To drop the letter in the mail. To have those awkward and uncomfortable conversations. To seek forgiveness for the things we’ve said or done that have cut to the quick. To forgive others for hurting us. To reconcile. To invest in our friends and family through not just our words but also through our actions. To quit making excuses and conquer our fears. To try the things we’ve always wanted to try. To find our passion, our calling, and run hard after it.
Yes, we think we are guaranteed tomorrow and so are our people.
Trouble is, we aren’t. They aren’t. None of us is.
Back in May, Mom and Dad left on a dream trip to Europe. They visited our house the evening before they left because Mom was always big on seeing us all before a trip, our trip or hers. We were all sitting on the back porch. My dad and a brother were involved in troubleshooting a technology issue (something that can take hours). It was getting later and later on a school night. Paul’s arms were still in casts, so he would need an hour’s worth of help before bedtime, and we still hadn’t eaten dinner. I was feeling overwhelmed and tired. With a pointed sigh, I impatiently left my parents and brother on the back porch, hurried my family inside to eat, and started our nightly routine. I had no idea that when I next saw Mom she would be in the hospital, two days away from dying, and the last words I would say to her while she was coherent would be, “Do you want to try to drink some Diet Coke?” If only I hadn’t been in such a hurry the night they visited. She only wanted some time with me, and instead of being in an impatient hurry to rush through life, I wish I would have lingered over her smile, her laughter, her words. Just that one last time. Instead, the Tuesday evening before she died found me standing over her hospital bed, my face pressed against hers, tears streaming as I told her all the things I needed her to hear. Stuff I wish I’d already said. And oh, how I pray she heard me.
Mom and I had a pretty amazing relationship. I don’t feel like we had collected in our hearts any hurts or unforgiveness toward each other. But still, there were intimate, important conversations I kept putting off, thinking I had more time. Can you relate?
I feel like this past year has been a proving ground of sorts for me, a test to see if this girl can live loved in spite of life’s circumstances. I am even now walking through some situations that have the potential, if I allow them, to leave me feeling less than, not enough, a failure. I’m guessing you, dear friend, are too.
A little over a year ago, I made a commitment to myself to start really living life. That commitment included working on my “stuff.” I made a choice to let my broken, messy, quirky self be truly seen and known and to bring my brokenness to My Father who loves me.
Gently, tenderly, God is bringing some of my “issues” to light. Painful as that has been, His shining a light on my darkness has been such a good thing. As I have begun to unpack my secrets from the dark, stuffy closet and expose them to the light-God’s light-holding them up against the truth of His word, I am beginning to find my healing and wholeness. One of my favorite verses is Song of Solomon 1:5. “Dark am I, yet lovely.” The secret for me is to remember that despite my flaws, I’m still lovely. It’s choosing to live loved even in the midst of my imperfections and flaws because the cross says I am lovable. Dark, but lovely. I am, and so are you.
I have such a long way to go, so many things I need to work on. That’s simply part of being human. We all have our “stuff.” But God is merciful and kind. He invites us to step out, take the risk, determine to truly live, and He promises to walk right with us, never leaving or forsaking us.
My challenge to you is to do life. Right now. Don’t wait. Tie up loose ends. Work up your nerve and make the phone call. Knock on the door. Drop the letter in the mail. Have that awkward, uncomfortable conversation. Ask forgiveness for the things you’ve said or done that have cut to the quick. Forgive others for hurting you. Reconcile. Find the time to invest in your friends and family, the people you love most, not just through your words but also through your actions. Do those things you have always wanted to try but keep putting off. Find the unique purpose for which God has created you and run after it.
Not long ago, I heard someone say, “Treat everyone you encounter each day, including yourself, as if that person will be dead by midnight.”
Yes, life is short. Those things you keep intending to do? Those people you love?
They won’t be around forever and neither will you.
What will you choose to do with the time you have left?