Thursday, April 23, 2009

Don't Waste Your Life - Pt 6

Life in the light of death

Back in the 1980s a popular bumper sticker claimed that “The one with the most toys wins!”. It was an amusing claim, but it revealed something more serious, something darker somehow. I wonder if anyone ever asked “Wins what?”. So much of life is about competition; we strive to be the best we can be, perhaps even hoping someone else isn’t better than our best. We might compare ourselves to others, evaluating our success by calculating our stockpile of ‘toys’, hoping that one day we can withdraw from the race and enjoy our toys in peace and serenity. Maybe that’s what you ‘win’?

In Anne Tyler’s novel A Patchwork Planet, the main character Barnaby Gaitlin is a young man struggling through life, doing odd jobs for elderly people for a small fee. Over time a number of his regular clients die. On one particular day he is employed by the family of an elderly woman who has died, to help sort through her home, and during the course of the day Barnaby has a revelation:

Every now and then, in this job, I suddenly understood that you really, truly can’t take it with you. I don’t think I ordinarily grasped the full implications of that. Just look at all the possessions a dead person leaves behind: every last one, even the most treasured. No luggage is permitted, no carry-on items, not a purse, not a pair of glasses. You spend seven or eight decades acquiring your objects, arranging them, dusting them, insuring them; then you walk out with nothing at all, as bare as the day you arrived. (Anne Tyler, A Patchwork Planet, Vintage (London, UK), pp 284-285)
It’s possible to get caught up in the physical world around us, becoming attached to our possessions, careers and social position, all the time worrying if we have acquired enough ‘toys’ to ‘win’. But John Piper warns us that not only are we in danger of forgetting we can’t take the toys with us, but we also have no idea when the referee is going to call “Time!” and blow the final whistle: will it be in two years, in forty years, or at 3 o’clock this afternoon? Death informing life is an important principle for every Christian, and Piper expands on this further:

Daily Christian living is daily Christian dying. The dying I have in mind is the dying of comfort and security and reputation and health and family and friends and wealth and homeland. These may be taken from us at any time in the path of Christ-exalting obedience. To die daily the way Paul did, and to take up our cross daily the way Jesus commanded, is to embrace this life of loss for Christ’s sake and count it gain. (DWYL p 71)
Personally, I’ve found it really helpful to read Luke 12:13-34 to find out what Jesus said about possessions and our mortality. Ask yourself ‘how does the reality of my death, and my ignorance of its timing, change my perspective on life and what’s important’? How does dying daily shape my priorities?

No comments: