Getting Used to It
Throughout my life those milestone birthdays never really bothered me. I took 30, 40, even 50 in stride. In fact, I found my 50s to be the best decade I’d ever had. But when my husband, who is a few years older than me, hit 60, that number bothered me…a lot! Knowing that, barring unforeseen circumstances, I would hit 60 in a few years I decided that the best course of action would be to say, frequently, “I’m pushing 60.” My theory was that I would get used to the number and the idea of its inevitability, and it actually worked! I hit 60 and took it in stride, like all those other milestone birthdays.
There is another inevitability that we all face, but that we spend much of our lives avoiding. We may think that by not dwelling on it we will save ourselves anxiety or sadness, but the opposite is true. As you may have guessed, I am talking about the inevitability that we are going to die. As inescapable as that fact is it also seems to be the best kept secret in the world, at least one we keep from ourselves—the worst case of self-deception known to mankind. Still, as sure as the day we were born is the fact that we will die. Yet we act as if it has snuck up on us and we are shocked or panicked if we face it at all.
However, our tendency to ignore or deny this fact of life is really to our detriment. The truth is, just like I got used to the idea I was going to face a milestone birthday by facing it head on, we need to get come to grips with the fact that each of us is going to die; this will actually benefit us greatly. First of all it is a fact. “It is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Being in denial of a fact that plain (given that in the history of mankind Enoch and Elijah are the only humans who have avoided death) robs us of the chance to deal with the second part of that verse: the judgment. When dealing with a circumstance that is certain and inescapable, we need to be sure we are prepared, and ignoring it does not bode well for preparation.
It’s not just that we must be certain we are saved, of course that is vital, but we also need to be sure we are prepared. Jesus talked a lot about being ready when the Master returns, and about rewards. We may say, “Oh, it’s enough that I’m saved—just a little hovel as long as it’s in heaven,” but if you read the Scripture, that’s not the approach it advocates. In fact, it’s a rather ignorant and sinful attitude. If we know a day of reckoning is coming and don’t prepare for it, we are foolish indeed! The way of wisdom is to “teach us to number our days aright” (Ps. 90:12). The best case scenario is for a young person to discover this early and live it out all their days, but whenever the lightbulb finally goes on, we are wise to embrace this perspective of our time being short to accomplish those things we can take with us for eternity, and do so before the curtain falls on our life.
Far from the focus on this becoming morbid or sad, such an emphasis is the path of peace, even joy. Getting used to the idea that we are going to die, and using the remaining time to prepare, gives us the confidence we need to face that day with tranquility. The preparation is not just laying up treasures in heaven through service to God; it is delving deeply into the Word to see what it says about heaven and eternity and holding them by faith. It is drawing nearer to God so we go naturally from spending sweet, intimate time with Him on earth to spending a rapturous eternity with Him in heaven. Doing this we literally go from glory to glory! As we grow to know God more intimately we realize that, as Paul says, it is far better to go and be with the Lord (Phil. 1:23). We grasp that He is SO good and full of love that to go to Him, even though it involves the great unknowns, is preferable to staying in this familiar world of woe.
Recently I was given a gift. As I write this I’m in my early 60s, and remarkably active for someone my age. My fitness app puts my fitness age decades below my chronological age, and there is a lot of longevity in my genes. We’re blessed to have my dad still with us, and he is in his late 80s. Both of his parents and his brother lived into their late 80s and early 90s, so I could have a good shot at living another 25-30 years. But two years ago I battled stage IV-a throat cancer, and last month I was told that there’s a possibility for concern once again, so we’re back on the watch. It may be strange to call it a gift, but I see it as such, nonetheless. This is because it is a reminder to teach me to number my days aright, and to prepare for the inevitable. It doesn’t mean the cancer is back (I hope it isn’t for many reasons), but it does afford me the time to get used to the idea that I have a shelf life, and be certain I’ve used as much of my life as possible before the “best used by” date has passed.
To that end I am focusing on the goodness of God and how pleasant it is to be in His presence. I’m reminding myself that “it is appointed unto man once to die,” so I’m getting used to that certainty, and that there is a judgment to follow, so if I’m going to lay up any treasures in heaven that will not be wood, hay, or stubble (1 Cor. 3:12-13), now is the time to get on that! I can’t go back and lament that I didn’t do a better job of numbering my days when I was 30, but I can be grateful for every day past today that I have to live out God’s promises and bask in His presence. If I get those 25-30 years more, a lot more can be accomplished, but if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, at least I’ve awakened to the glories of the gift in time to share this with you today.
Let me encourage you to look at this inevitability with a matter-of-fact attitude, not fear, and to progress to a perspective of peace and joy at the prospect. As believers we are going to the bosom of the Lover of our souls! We are going to a place where there are no more tears or sorrows, to endless delight at His right hand, to beauty beyond imagination, to a place of total goodness. That’s an idea worth getting used to!