Standing on the grassy spot where others will one day dig a hole and bury me was sobering.
Katrina and I met the funeral director and a family member at the graveyard where we planned to bury our son in a few days. Kaleb died two days prior, and we were finalizing his arrangements. His burial plot was at a graveyard where I have family buried. The cemetery is beside the church my grandparents attended. People born in the 1800s lie there.
I never considered my burial place until this moment. But in preparing Kaleb’s funeral, Katrina and I had to consider our own burials. We walked through the pathways around graves to the spot designated for Kaleb. We cried and hugged. It all felt so surreal.
After confirming Kaleb’s plot, the funeral director marked Katrina’s spot. Then he pointed to mine. I looked at it, staring at the ground with an eye towards the future. One day shovels will plunge into the soil to dig out the dirt. People will gather around that hole and reminisce about my life — I can almost hear their words of honor and groans of grief now (wink).
I walked to the spot and stood on it. “This is it, huh? I’m literally standing on the place my dead body will lie until Jesus returns.” The moment is sobering, especially when my son is days from going in that ground first.
I will die. And this is where they’ll bury me. Nothing throws the proverbial cold water in the face like that truth.
In the middle of the night, last week in my community, we experienced a devastating tornado. People lost their lives. Some lost their homes. But everyone lost the illusion they were immune to calamities. Katrina woke me at 1a.m., telling me that a tornado was in Mt Juliet, a city twenty miles west of us.
I turned on the television to hear that the tornado was heading directly towards us. We gathered our girls in the hallway and propped a mattress over our heads. The electricity went out, leaving us clueless to the whereabouts of the tornado. I prayed over us, then sat in silence holding my family.
“Is this it?”
“Are we about to meet God?”
“Am I heading to my spot soon?”
These questions rested on the front of my mind.
The tornado passed by us. We didn’t sustain any damage from the storm. Others in our community did. But while we walked away without damaged property, we brushed up against our fragility and smallness. Many in Middle Tennessee experienced the reality of how quickly our lives can vanish.
Our lives are here now then gone in an instant. Threats lurk around every corner. A deer darting across the road at the right time — or perhaps wrong time is the better word choice. A tornado like the kind that killed my cousin Angie over a year ago. Or a worldwide virus we have no cure for. Anything, at anytime, can take us out.
Scripture speaks repeatedly to the brevity of life (Psalm 39:4; James 4:14; Psalm 102:11). Our lives are a vapor. That’s how real life works. Any illusions we’re exempt or excluded from death are foolish. Death is all around each of us.
The reality that we will die and that our lives are short can do one of two things to us: paralyze us with fear or motivate us to live for things that matter.
Recognizing our fragility can paralyze us with fear. It can leave us scared, calculating every step we or our loved ones take. But this fear and worry does nothing to protect us from death.
The alternative to paralyzing fear is not a life marked by careless or foolish choices. Rather, the fact that our lives are a vapor motivates us to start living. As Andy Dufresne says in The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living or get busy dying.” Now is a gift. This moment is an opportunity. We cannot escape death, but we can avoid the unlived life.
Knowing that our lives are short, and that there’s no guaranteeing tomorrow, should spur us on to love others well. Forgive those who’ve hurt us. Give generously of our time and treasure to things of significance and lasting value. Do things that interest us — learn to ice-skate, take a foreign language, start the business, attend a woodworking class, write the book, visit Europe, or go to the open-mic standup night. Take risks. Get out of the house. Enjoy the beauty of your surroundings. Appreciate the little things. And most importantly, seek the Lord while He may be found (Isaiah 55:6). Learn to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).
Our one and only life is not promised tomorrow. That is sobering. But it doesn’t mean we should mope in depression or fret in anxiousness about what we don’t control. So whether we’re standing on the spot our bodies will sleep in death or we’re hunkered in a hallway with a mattress over our heads wondering if we’ll walk out from under it, we receive the gift of now with open hands. We do something with it.