Jordan Grumet is a hospice nurse who wrote Taking Stock based on conversations with people who were in their final days. He believes the dying have much to teach us about living—that evaluating our limited time helps us have fewer regrets at the end of our lives. Journalist Oliver Burkemen wrote Four Thousand Weeks to help people understand that if all goes as you hope, 4,000 weeks is about all you have. Professor Randy Pausch wrote the best-seller The Last Lecture after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer as an encouragement to make the most of this brief life. Nurses, journalists, and professors have pleaded with us, “Don’t be unaware about the brevity of life.” The Scripture gives a similar exhortation. Notice what David prayed in the Psalms.
“LORD, make me aware of my end and the number of my days so that I will know how short-lived I am. In fact, you have made my days just inches long, and my life span is as nothing to you. Yes, every human being stands as only a vapor. Selah (Psalm 39:4-5, emphasis added)
With my dad’s ALS diagnosis and the speed that my kids are growing up, I have thought a lot about time lately. We moved to Southern California five years ago, and five years from now they will both be finished with high school. In these verses, the Scripture gives two powerful images about the brevity of life—vapor and inches.
- Vapor: The mist that comes in the morning and is gone when the sun rises lasts just a little while later—just like our lives.
- Inches: The Earth’s circumference is approximately 1.6 billion inches, and our lives are a few inches. Compared to eternity and compared to the vastness of the universe, David confesses his life is really short—just inches long.
One day there will be a line a few inches long on a gravestone above where we are buried—the line that is in between the date we were born and the date we die. Linda Ellis penned a famous work called “The Dash Poem.” The dash, the line between your birth and death, is all you have been given. Compared to the length of eternity, all of us have just a dash.
While there is agreement about the brevity of life, there is a divergence of views about what to do with this dash of a life we have been given. The mantra of many of the podcasts, books, and seminars about your dash is “Carpe Diem.” For some, seizing the day means to pursue pleasure with your dash. For others it is about accomplishment. But will pleasure or accomplishment matter in the end? In a podcast interview about the book Four Thousand Weeks, the Daily Stoic host pointed out that at the end of our 4,000 weeks, “You still die. You are still forgotten. You still can’t take anything with you.” There was a pause and a “Yeah, that’s true.”
The Scripture offers a more liberating view, that we can surrender leadership to God the Spirit who lives within us and that the wisest way to live is to let Him live through us.
Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise— making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit: (Ephesians 5:15-18)
We don’t have to perfectly plan our lives. We don’t have to live with the pressure of mapping out all our days, of fighting for significance, of worrying if we will be filled with regrets on our deathbed. We can surrender to His Spirit, to His will. How do we make the most of the time we have? Be filled with His Spirit. For a Christian, to “seize the day” is to surrender to God’s Spirit.