Last week, a famous basketball superstar, his 13-year old daughter and 7 others lost their lives tragically in a helicopter crash. I can’t imagine the pain of his wife, their children and the rest of his family. Colleagues, acquaintances, commentators alike are struggling to find the words to describe their shock at such a personality dying in his prime. His death reminds us of how fragile life is; someone is here today and gone tomorrow. Sadly, this is all too common, even as I write, there are families out there who have unexpectedly lost a loved one. The painful truth is, it could happen to any of us at any moment.
A sudden demise is jarring and makes the subject of death unavoidable. As I reflected on the tragic news this week, I remembered a funeral I attended several years ago. The deceased was an acquaintance, we had a few chats here and there, and promised each other to one day catch up properly but sadly, that day never came. As I sat at his funeral listening to his friends eulogise him, my mind morbidly wandered to what my funeral will be like. Most of us dread confronting our mortality but we are mortal beings who will one day die and this was one of those situations that brought that reality into focus for me.
As I sat there, I thought about my family and friends mourning me. I wondered what my wife, who knows me best would say. I wondered what my children who haven’t yet truly discovered my flaws would say. I wondered what my closest friends and family would say. I also wondered what my work colleagues and acquaintances who don’t know me so well would say based on what they have seen of me. As I thought about their eulogies, another thought occurred to me; what would I want them to say? I realised that there might be a contrast between what I would like them to say and what they would say if they were being completely honest. That was an uncomfortable thought.
Then another thought struck me; this man has already met Jesus, what did Jesus say to him? That was an even more uncomfortable thought because Jesus will give a truthful assessment of our time on this earth. Our family and loved ones might embellish our eulogies but Jesus won’t. My mind darted about as I reviewed my priorities: where did I spend my time and resources? How did I treat the people around me? How much did I reflect Jesus to others in my daily pursuits? I recently read a quote attributed to Francis Chan which neatly encapsulates what I was going through: “our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter”. What was I doing with my life that really mattered? What am I doing with my life now that really matters? What would God say about the things I thought really mattered?
Many of us have either said or heard someone say: “on my death bed, I won’t regret not spending more time at work”. This is a famous truism and they are many others. It shows that we know what our priorities ought to be but somehow our priorities get muddled such that things that don’t really matter like fame, material possessions, accolades and so on end up dictating how we prioritise our time, effort and resources. As Jesus put it: “…and what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” [Mark 8:36 NLT].
I sometimes wonder what type of death would be preferable, one I can see coming, like a terminal illness or a sudden one. It’s a futile thought because I don’t get to choose. Yet foolishly, I sometimes think: “if I know I am going to die in a year, I would be doing…” The Bible repeatedly cautions us that we do not know the time or the hour we will meet God. This implies that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, therefore, we have to make today count. So how do you want to be remembered when your time is up? How do you want God to appraise your life when you stand before Him. Is it “well done good and faithful servant [Matthew 25:21] or “I never knew you” [Matthew 7:23]?
Maybe it is time to truly acknowledge that life is short and none of us knows how much longer our hearts will pump. Stephen Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People said: “Start with the end in mind”. His context was different but I think we can adopt the same principle as we reflect on our mortality. Maybe you and I should resolve to start living the legacy we want to leave behind. Maybe today, we should truly assess our priorities in light of what is important to God and make the necessary adjustments. For some of us, this might mean a radical change as the Holy Spirit convicts us about our priorities.
Amid the tragic news of the past week, the words of James echo loudly: “life is like a vapour, it appears for a little while and then it’s gone” [James 4:14]. That said, what we do with our lives can echo in eternity. That is God’s intention for us but we have to choose it. Solomon, centuries ago, penned advice we should remember about our mortality: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart [Ecclesiastes 7:2].