Psalm 39 says, “Lord, let me konw my end, the number of my days, that I may learn how frail I am. You have given my days a very short span; my life is as nothing before you. All mortals are but a breath.”
At one level, we know the intellectual truth of this – that we are temporary visitors on this planet, to use my friend Joe’s phrase, and that our visit could end at any time. However, we don’t tend to live that way. We talk about things we’ll do in retirement or where we plan to go on vacation next year, etc., assuming that we have years in which we will continue to live.
What would it be like to live with a greater awareness of our impermanence? Or to put it the way the pastor of my friend Joel’s church put it in a series of sermons he has been presenting: What would you do differently if you knew you had only a month to live?
Joel shared with me and others a recent sermon by the pastor that is part of his current series of lessons on this topic. One of stories the pastor related involves Joel’s 11 year-old son, Benjamin, who has a serious peanut and tree nut allergy. The smallest amount of any nut product in anything Benjamin eats requires an immediate shot from the EpiPen he has to carry everywhere he goes. The shot buys him enough time for his parents to get him to a hospital.
The pastor related a conversation Joel and his family had over the question raised by the pastor. Joel’s wife talked about decisions she and Joel had made about their lives and the extent to which they would or would not make any different decisions if they knew they only had one month to live. She then asked Benjamin what impact he thought if would have on him if he knew he only had one month to live. The 11 year-old boy looked at his mother and said calmly, “Mom, I have a peanut allergy. I never know if I’m going to be alive tomorrow, let alone 30 days from now.”
From the time he has been old enough to understand the severity of his allergy, Benjamin has lived with the knowledge of life’s impermanence, with the concrete reality that life can end at any moment. And he lives that life with tremendous courage and strength. He lives as best and as fully as he can, never knowing how long he has.
What would we do if we had that awareness?
You can listen to the entire sermon, which relates Benjamin’s story here. (Click on the October 10 message.)