The Brevity of Life

I’ve been thinking about death more than usual over the past year. And it’s not what you may be thinking.

It all started with Tori.

Before her diagnosis I don’t believe that I often considered the preciousness of each day we are given. But then we had Tori, she was diagnosed with Krabbe, and we knew she’d likely die before she turned two. As the days crept forward, closer and closer to her birthday, it became a constant thought: is today the day? That knowledge caused me to say “I love you” much more often. It gave me the peace to let tasks go undone so that I could hold her every possible second (which still wasn’t enough).

But once she was gone it became easy to forget that lesson.

Last year, I began to notice a theme in the things God was bringing to my attention. 2020 was obviously a less-than-ideal year in many ways, but I’m grateful for the reminders that started appearing. From the embryos we lost, to a global pandemic, from TV shows and movies, to the Scripture that kept coming my way via my daily Bible reading plan. It took me a while to recognize the pattern but once I did I couldn’t un-see it.

The Bible has a LOT to say about this. More than I remember noticing before. And in more books than just Ecclesiastes.

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
Remind me that my days are numbered—
how fleeting my life is.
You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
at best, each of us is but a breath.”
We are merely moving shadows,
and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth,
not knowing who will spend it.
And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
My only hope is in you.
Hear my prayer, O Lord!
Listen to my cries for help!
Don’t ignore my tears.
For I am your guest—
a traveler passing through,
as my ancestors were before me.

Psalm 39:4-7,12 NLT

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.”

James 4:13-15

“All of us must die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God does not just sweep life away; instead, he devises ways to bring us back when we have been separated from him.”

2 Samuel 14:14 NLT

A voice said, “Shout!”
I asked, “What should I shout?”
“Shout that people are like the grass.
Their beauty fades as quickly
as the flowers in a field.
The grass withers and the flowers fade
beneath the breath of the Lord.
And so it is with people.
The grass withers and the flowers fade,
but the word of our God stands forever.”

Isaiah 40:6-8 NLT

Here’s an incomplete list of verses that mention the brevity of life, the reality of death, and the hope of Heaven:

1 Chronicles 29:15
Job 7:7, 8:9, 9:25-26
Psalm 39:4-7, 12
Psalm 49; 89:47-48; 90:12; 102:11; 103:15-16; 144:4
Proverbs 16:9, 20:24, 27:1, 30:15
Ecclesiastes 2:14-16; 3:3,18-22; 5:15-20; 6:6, 9-10, 12
Ecclesiastes 7:1-4, 14; 8:7-8; 9:5-10, 12; 11:8-10; 12:1-7
Isaiah 40:6-8
1 Cor. 15
Hebrews 9:27
James 4:13-15
1 Peter 1:24
2 Samuel 14:14
Ephesians 5:15-17

When something is repeated this many times, I think we need to pay attention.

And I think we need to think about death more often.

I dedicated an entire chapter of Even So, Joy to how I believe Christians should approach death, and that’s still absolutely how I feel. But, that chapter didn’t focus on why Moses said:

Teach us to realize the brevity of life,
so that we may grow in wisdom.

Psalm 90:12

When we recognize that each day is a gift, that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, it causes us to make different choices. Better choices.

When we stop thinking that we’re invincible and instead remember that we are indeed mortal, it should make us pause and treasure each moment of this life we’re given on earth.

Knowing that today could be the last day my loved ones are alive should make me carefully consider each conversation, ask for forgiveness more quickly, and say “I love you” much more often. It should shape our parenting, since the brevity of life applies to our children, as well: tomorrow is not guaranteed.

It should bring greater contentment in the “little things” and in the quality time I spend with those I love. It should make us realize that so many things simply don’t matter – things like entertainment, fashion, politics, etc. These things fade away, just like our lives, and they often get IN the way of loving our neighbors – and families – well.

Are we living selfishly or selflessly?

We all have such a short period of time during which to live out our purpose. Why do we choose to waste these precious years? Why do we spend them fighting with each other instead of collaborating and changing the world?
Why do we waste time that isn’t a guarantee?

I know this seems morbid, but I think it’s incredibly important for us to think about.

I think that grief often hits hard because we seem surprised by death. Yes, some deaths are unexpected and tragic, I’m not discounting that. Tori’s was expected and I know that made her eventual death easier because we weren’t surprised. We were as prepared as you can be for something like that. Remembering that death is what we all face (but that it’s not the end for believers) helps remove the sadness and the sting.

But our culture also seems to focus on anti-aging, life-extending products and treatments as though we’re trying to pretend that the process of getting older and our inevitable death isn’t part of our story. And then we seem surprised when people die.

It’s as though we don’t want to admit that death is real.

Why do so many do this?

“Teach us to realize the brevity of life,
so that we may grow in wisdom.”

Psalm 90:12

There is great wisdom in recognizing our own mortality, the lack of control we have over the number of days we have left on earth, and the glory that awaits us in Heaven. This wisdom teaches us what actually matters and helps us make choices with that perspective.

We don’t always have more time to resolve that conflict, or to help others. When we recognize the brevity of life it allows us to extend grace, be generous, and embrace hope. It teaches us to be grateful.

If we knew this was our last day on earth we wouldn’t wish we’d watched more television, spent more time on our phones, or bought more stuff. We’d wish we’d done things that matter.

Let’s live like that now.

3 thoughts on “The Brevity of Life

  1. I really think when you lose a child or grandchild you realize just how short life truly is. Thank you for sharing with all of us your thoughts and heart. We are not supposed to outlive our children and in my case grandchild. My grandson Landon was so dearly loved and wanted, Landon was just so beautiful I will never understand why we had to say goodbye before we got to say hello. God Bless You and all the Heavenly Angel who left our hearts way to soon!

    Liked by 1 person

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