I’m prompted to write this post because I’m coming up on a milestone birthday that seems to have arrived way too soon. According to a measure of the average lifespan, most of my life is now officially behind me. (*gasp*)
I remember the day I first realized that I would not live forever. Ironically, it was on my birthday many years ago, (Yes, God’s timing is uncanny). I must have been about nine or ten. Our church class had just studied James 4:14 the previous week.
“You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).
The moment was surreal. I blew out the candles on the cake and opened my eyes to see perfect little swirls of smoke rising from each candle. The teacher’s words echoed in my mind. “Life is a vapor”, I thought, as I watched each puff glide upwards and begin to taper off. Then, with the wave of my mother’s arm, the swirls became a haze, the smell of smoke dissipated, and (poof), they were gone. Suddenly the thought of going back in time was as impossible as unblowing the candles. The seed of that lesson was planted in the only way it could at that age…by seeing it illustrated before my eyes. The picture stuck, but I didn’t completely “get it”. I was aware of my own humanity, but when you’re ten years old, you’re still invincible. It’s hard to convince a kid that life is that short when it takes forever just to wait for Christmas.
Now, almost 40 birthdays later, I see that life itself is as fragile as all the candle flames I’ve blown out. I see it with every disappointment and every fear. I see it in every tragic headline. I’m reminded of it with every ache and pain in my body. I’m even reminded of it in the good times, when I wish I could push “replay” and do it over again. Most of all, life as a vapor has meant having to see the passing of several friends and family members (four to be exact) in just the last couple of years.
Our time is limited. So is our energy and resources to use the time we have left. Every year, we may make a wish and blow out the candles. What do we wish for? Do we wish for money, status, glory, or all of the above? The scattering of a candle’s vapor may remind us of how long those wishes will last. On the other hand, do we wish (and resolve) for God’s will in our lives more than things that are just temporary?
Scripture addresses the dilemma in one sentence:
The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:17).
This world has such a magnetic pull on us, doesn’t it? Such is the struggle and reality of the Christian life. We are pulled into the world and all its distractions and yet reminded to hold on loosely. Still, nothing that it can offer the believer will even hold a candle (no pun intended) to eternity. It won’t even compare…and those who seek God have the comfort in knowing that one day there will be no such thing as borrowed time.
Do you recall a teachable, “ah-ha” moment in your past?
Can you recall a moment when you came to be more aware of how short life can be?
How do you think we can learn to value our time?