Last week I ran a 5K in support of Teen Challenge. Before the race started, the emcee said a prayer: “Thank you, Lord, for today … a day none of us was promised.” The words struck a chord with me because I’ve been in a season where death seems to be swirling around me. Everywhere I look, I can’t seem to escape its reality.
A few days before Christmas, my grandmother passed away. Then several people close to me were diagnosed with serious and rare forms of cancer. Last week a dear family friend passed away unexpectedly, and in recent months I’ve grieved with thousands over the sudden deaths of authors Wynter Pitts and now Rachel Held Evans.
Death is a terrible thing. There is no way around it. And when I’m forced to stare the reality of it in the face, it can be unnerving. Today is a day none of us reading this was promised. As Jonathan Pitts said following his wife’s death, “You can never know for sure if you are young or old because you don’t know when the Lord will call you home.” That reality is sobering.
For me, the reason death is so frightening isn’t because I’m insecure about my destiny. I believe as Paul wrote that when it’s my turn, I will be “absent from the body, and […] present with the Lord.” I’m grateful that Christ’s sacrifice removed the sting of sin and death and gave eternal hope to those who believe.
The reason death is unnerving is because it reminds me that I’m not in control. Our dear friend who never got out of bed in the morning had plans for her week, for her summer, for the rest of her life. Unless we’re elderly or suffering from a terminal illness, most of us just “expect” we’ll be here for days and years to come. But part of walking in faith is realizing that may not be the case and acting accordingly.
Psalm 90:12 says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Most of us don’t like to think about our own mortality — or any death other than dying in our sleep at age 101. It’s like the ultimate case of FOMO (fear of missing out). We don’t want to miss out on anything this life has to offer us. But the Bible tells us that realizing our days are limited (and the world is not our true home) leads to wisdom. It shifts our priorities. If I assume I’m going to live to old age, I’m more likely to squander my time, believing I can address the important stuff later.
James warns of this short-sighted mentality when he writes,
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:13-14).
The more I put down roots in this life — career, relationships, home — the less I like to think about my life as a vanishing mist. But that is what it is. Sometimes I find myself having an Ecclesiastes moment and thinking, What’s the point? But the wonderful truth is, there is a point. 1 Corinthians 15: 55-58 summarizes it well:
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
When we are abounding in the work of the Lord, the transition from this life to the next will be seamless. We don’t have to wonder if our life mattered or if our contributions had meaning: They absolutely did. Whether we are old or young, God knows the number of our days and will call us home in His perfect timing. May we use each day wisely.
Copyright 2019 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.