3pm, Monday 16th March, I was teaching a Pastoral Theology class when my mobile phone went. It was from Heather, my wife. I thought, ‘this is it’. Then I heard it, “Mum’s dead”.
Heather’s mum, a sprightly 86 year old, had fallen a few weeks ago and broken her collar bone. We had received the news as we had done so on previous occasions when she’d fallen. It will take her a month or so to get over this, and it will be back to life as normal. That wasn’t to be. A bit of confusion in her thinking when she was in the hospital led to a series of MRI and CAT scans. The outcome was simple and conclusive. Two brain tumours. Life expectancy – a few months. In just over a month she had died.
Tillie, that was her name, had lived almost 87 years. She had raised a family of four in her 30’s and 40’s, and then ran the small family business when her husband Sam had taken a heart attack in his early 50’s. She had learned to drive in her 60’s, in her 70’s cared for her husband in declining health to his death, then moved home in her 80’s, and now her life is over. In many ways a long, full, and energetic life. A life which, in terms of the world, didn’t touch many people, but those whom she did, she always affected for good and left an indelible impression upon them. A life truly well lived, but in reality it was an incredibly short life. At least the almost 30 years I knew her seemed very short, and I’m sure she’d have said the same of the 56 years which preceded those 30 years.
There are three things about life that are certain: We only have one life. It is an incredibly short existence. And you can never be sure when it is going to end. I think those are three facts which should be written large upon our thinking every day.
Too often we live as though we will get two or three shots at life. If we don’t get it right, sure there’s always next time. But of course there is no next time. The decisions we make now, well that’s it. If this blog doesn’t turn out the right way, I can delete it and start again. But what I can’t do is go back and rewrite the decisions I took this morning. Maybe we should take more care and think through the decisions we make in life. Does what God say in His Word have any actual impact on us? What about having no other gods before God? What about putting to death sin and working to be conformed to the image of God’s Son? What about holiness pursued through intentional obedience? Are these just things we read about, or are we actually consciously investing in our one life in a way that will bring glory to our Father who is in Heaven?
The fact that our lives are so incredibly short is ever before us. “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty… they are soon gone and we fly away” Psalm 90:10. We are like a dream, that burns bright and vivid, and then quickly disappears; like grass that flourishes in the morning and fades and withers in the evening. We are but a mist, here and then gone. Should the reality of this fact not stir us to do some serious thinking about how best to invest our time, our gifts, our God given resources to gain the greatest possible eternal return.
The vulnerability of our lives is staggering. It doesn’t take much to break the silver cord, or smash the clay pot that is our life, and for the dust to return to the earth from whence it came. None of us can be certain we will see out the rest of today. Does the reality of that not beg the question, ‘Am I preparing today for the presence of the Lord?’
When Tillie was told by the doctor that she was going to die, she asked him, “Will it be tonight?” His response was “probably not” to which she responded, “Aw, well, the Lord knows when it will be.” Tillie was ready. She believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, but she also lived in the Lord Jesus Christ. I can only speak of what I observed in the later years of her life. But what I saw was a woman abiding in Christ every day of her life. The Word of God was in her hands every day and not simply for external effect. She wasn’t perfect. She could talk incessantly and had the capacity on occasions to weary even the most interested of souls. She wouldn’t take no for an answer at times. I can well remember the goldfish that was passed in through the rear window of the car, onto a child’s lap, as we were waving goodbye following a visit. It was to be taken back to Scotland for our six children to put in a tank to feed and care for. The fact that the migration of the said goldfish to Scotland had been politely declined at least half a dozen times in the hour prior to departure was irrelevant. Granny wanted the kids to have it! But her life was lived conscious of the fact that she only had one life. The decisions in her life showed that she understood the fact that it was incredibly short and made the most of every day. And the fact that she knew her hold on life was tenuous to say the least, meant that she delighted in spending time with her Saviour.
Will that be said of you when the phone call is made, “……… is dead”?