All throughout the years 2012-2016, it seemed like I was constantly surrounded by death. During that time, I sat with too many people I loved as they were dying. It’s much different than seeing the death of a bad person, a stranger, or even an acquaintance. Those moments caused me to think less of physical life as being a smaller segment of time: I began to view it as something larger. How did I act toward that person while s/he was living? Did I make that person feel loved or rejected? Why do we seem to make time for people as they are dying, but not while they are living?
It would have been my mom’s birthday this past week, but she passed away a couple years ago. One day, as she was slipping in and out of consciousness, she asked me why so many people were able to come spend time with her when they found out she was dying, but not while she was living. It was a simple thought, but it changed a lot of how I view everything.
We tend to think in time boundaries. We think about “how long” something should or will last. This preoccupation with defined timelines plays out in other ways as well; we are often so focused on short-term happiness that we blindly choose long-term brokenness over wholeness and fulfillment. It’s the reason we trash our environment; we like the immediate lifestyle that results in eventual damage.
Sometimes, I think we, as Christians, are even more prone to damaging behavior in the short term. We know that, spiritually, God will forgive us, but that’s also a very shallow mindset. It implies that there is a separation of the spiritual from the physical that simply does not exist. Each is impacted by the other, and the choices we make change who we are for the rest of our lives as we adjust to the memory or outcome of the decision. Too often, as we’re making decisions, we think no further than what is appealing in that moment of our lives, when our question should be deeper.
During a recent car ride, I ended up in a conversation with my children about “if… then” behavior. My nine-year-old, Samuel, mentioned some action that he shouldn’t do, because of the reaction/consequence that would result, then he asked me what I would do in that situation. I took the time to tell him what I had been thinking regarding actions: You should try to remember to ask yourself before any decision you make, “Can I live with this for the rest of my life?” then make your decision based on that response.
A healthy practice (as corny as it sounds) is to think about how you will reflect on your decisions as you are dying. Will you be satisfied that you alienated a specific individual from your life? Will you be happy that you chose to betray someone’s trust who confided in you? Will you be happy that you lost yourself in a career/hobby/activity/smartphone to the point that your children grew up with you being largely absent?
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)
As our Creator, God knows what we can live with and what we cannot. Embracing His design for our lives is how we can pursue a life with actual meaning that reveals that “true identity” that many claim to seek for themselves. When we pretend that temporal pursuits are somehow more value than the eternality of individuals, then we inflict upon ourselves choices that put to death a part of the fulfillment of our being that God created us to experience.