Thursday, September 08, 2016

Meditation On Mortality

Over the last few days, I have had circumstances happening around me that have led me to really think deeply about my own mortality. A few weeks weeks ago, I received a phone call that let me know that the principal chief of my tribe had died at age 55 from a heart attack. More recently, I found out that another close friend of mine had recognized early signs he was having a heart attack, and was able to arrive at a hospital in time to save his life, he’s 42 years old. My dad suffered a massive heart attack in 2009, and his life was saved because it happened in a hospital.—he’s still going strong though. My mom died at age 61 in an inspirational fight she lost to stage four cancer, high-blood pressure, diabetes, and congestive heart failure.

As each of these events have occurred, they have brought into focus some basic truths to which I personally don’t like to give a lot of thought. Every single one of us will meet the end of our days one day.  When life events calls me to freshly consider the bigger questions of our mortality and purpose, I do not place my focus in pop-culture platitudes, but rather to ancient and timeless truths of the scriptures. This life will end. Saul of Tarsus tells us that it is appointed for each of us to die, and then after that comes the judgment. James, the half-brother of Jesus of Nazareth, warns that our life is a vapor and that tomorrow is not promised. One of the Hebrew Psalmists encourages us to learn to number our days. And with all of these myriad warnings, and the daily reality that there are people who are dying from various causes, I feel like we can lose sight of this reality.

But the last few weeks, have been a megaphone for these truths. So what does a person do with the reality that this life is temporary? I find myself looking to the wisdom of scriptures, and considering the application of the wisdom of the ages. In my estimation, the scriptures are a guidepost for living life on purpose, in light of our earthly mortality, and in light of the fact that each of us are, as the philosopher Dallas Willard has said, “unceasing spiritual beings with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.” The ancient theologian Saul of Tarsus has also written an exhortation for the ages to, “Make the most of the time because the days are evil, and understand what the will of the Lord is.”

When I consider these truths, that my life is short, and that I’m seeking to make the most of the time, I still find myself in need of guidance. We live in a world FULL of chocies, at least most of us in the West seem to have limitless choices. I’ve spent enough time in other areas of the world (and honestly even here) to know that our circumstances can sometimes limit our choices—but we ALWAYS have a choice of some type. So, again, I look to ancient texts for truths that have stood the test of time. An Ancient Hebrew Prophet laid it out this way, “What is required of you o man, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

These are powerful words, but we need more than wise words to live by, we need to cautiously and humbly seek to apply these words and embody them in our lives. The reason I encourage caution and humility is because, if these words are meant to move us toward a life of purpose from the perspective our own mortality, then we need to be willing to course-correct if we may be mis-applying the wisdom. We need to be in a place to listen to the feedback of others. We need to be open to suggestion, but at the same time, we need to be resolute. If we aren’t resolved to a degree, then we will waffle and waver from our purpose, and we will likely live a less fulfilling life.

So as I consider all of the events swirling around me, death of a close friend, near death of another close friend, and the arrival to this earth of our first child, I consider this text in the following ways.

Do Justice—This is an active part of our life rhythm. In order to be able to do justice, I need to wisely steward the limited resources I have, in the limited time I have, for the good of others. This encourages me to pursue my own physical health, not so much so I can live longer (although there is a correlation between physical health and longevity), but more so I can do more in terms of justice. If I am healthy and strong, I can give more of my resources to service. I can volunteer. I can run and play with my child. I can help friends move, and it just leaves me in a place where I have more to give.

Love Mercy—There is so much wrapped up in this phrase. This phrase helps me to more fully be present to all that is going on around me. If I am loving mercy, I am willing to walk in forgiveness—I’m neither carrying bitterness toward others, nor toward myself. There are times in our life where all of us “do injustice” to ourselves and to others. There are times when we will have injustice done to us. It is in those times we have an ability to love mercy and extend mercy toward ourselves and others. Carrying bitterness, anxiety, and disappointment are not the way of mercy, and they will rob us of our life long before we breathe our last, if we let them. In this spirit, I strive to make space to choose to believe the best of myself and of others, and to extend mercy rather than enmity.

Walk humbly with your God—This is probably the least popular aspect of this ancient nugget of wisdom. Our pride screams defiantly at any form of humility. We want to do things in our way, according to our time schedule, and according to our own priorities—we do not like the thought of anyone or anything dictating how we should spend our time, talents, and treasures. And yet, when we walk in humility, we are able to have eyes to see our own shortcomings. When we walk humbly with God, we are choosing to listen to the ONE voice that desires the best for us, and has the clearest insight into how we can live the most fulfilled and purposeful life, the wisdom and guidance of God nudges us to the best life we can live. And by taking time regularly to listen and to respond, we can truly make the most of our limited window of time on this earth.

I would never claim to execute these three principles perfectly, but I believe they offer each of us guidance toward how we might each live our lives in a way that truly “makes the most of the time because the days are evil.” May we each strive to walk in a way that is mindful of our mortality, and that savors and makes the most of each magical moment of our lives.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent plan Billy. I'm so glad your Dad shared it. I just want to add a #4 to your "to do list": speak these truths clearly and often, as you have in this postin and I will as I share it. God Bless you and your loved ones, and all who read your message.