We always hear that life is short. But what if it really is?
This morning, I had the privilege to spend a few hours at a local nursing home in Lynchburg. Our service project (which was really just my idea of an enjoyable Saturday morning) was to sit with the patients, talk with them, build relationships with them, and simply love them with the love of Jesus. I sat with 93 year-old Isabelle, who hates her name but loves her son in California. I sat with Mary, who was overflowing with happiness and slightly nutty. She told me as I sat with her, “You is kind.” I told her she was wonderful.
When we left the nursing home, I told them that I would see them next week. Maybe I won’t – because maybe they won’t be alive. When you’ve been alive for 93 years, you don’t know anything for certain anymore.
Then we went to lunch at the school cafeteria. Compared to the slow-moving, sleepy nursing home, the energetic environment of the “Rot” woke me up sharply. Walking past their able bodies and young minds reminded me too bluntly that in just sixty or seventy years, their bodies would be hunched over, their skin would be wrinkly, and their hearing would be fading. That hair that they work so hard to perfect every morning? Grayed and getting perms every few weeks. Few of them are actively conscious of such a sobering fact, but it faces each of them who will live to an old age – and it deserves some thought. In the 1989 film Dead Poets Society, the professor wisely says to his students, “We are food for worms, lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die.” Granted, every man will spend eternity somewhere as well, but while we are a blip on the radar of the history books, what in the world are we doing?
I was recently challenged to do something unconventional. I was told to picture my headstone. You know, the slab of stone they’re going to stick in the ground to mark where they buried my remains when I kick the bucket.
Naturally, it will have my name, my birth date, and the date of my death. But often, headstones also have a brief message – an inspiring quote or a few words to describe the deceased. An entire life encapsulated into one single set of words. Often, they state the most central truth about someone’s life. And in a few centuries, all that will be remembered of someone is that headstone with those dates and that one little phrase.
What about your headstone? I know it is a sobering thought, but stick with me. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living, so never shy away from examining it. If we were to jump into the TARDIS (or a time machine, for those of you who do not appreciate British television) and stop by your grave – hopefully 60, 70, maybe even eighty years from now, what would you like it to say? Would you like to be remembered as a good mother or father, a good daughter or son, a good wife or husband? What impact for the Kingdom of God could be noted on your headstone?
As for me, I am not satisfied with leaving behind an earthly life that, in 100 years, will only be remembered by the slab of stone marking my body and the grass fertilized by me.
A life worth passing down is not about myself. I want to create a ripple effect – to impact everyone within my sphere of influence, who in turn will impact those in their spheres of influence, and so forth, to leave this world in a different state than when I came into it. Whether my headstone is engraved tomorrow or 99 years from today, I want the contents of my life to be extraordinary – filled with life.
The message I decided would be on my headstone?
She was a vessel to communicate His love.
What do you want yours to say?
I leave you with a stanza from Christian missionary C.T. Studd.
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.