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The second regret of the dying: I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.” –from Bonnie Ware’s book The Regrets of the Dying

Why We Don’t Have All the Time in the World

When my son was in the hospital, I often lost track of time.  I would sit for hours in a recliner and realize it was well past lunch.  I would wake up in the middle of the night and have no idea what time or what day it was. I occasionally roamed the halls when my son was sleeping so I could get a semblance of life outside his room. I realized a whole day had passed when the night shift nurse came on duty.  Time seemed non-existent in the hospital—the place was the same at 2 AM as it was at 2 PM—bright lights reflecting against spotless floors, nurses filling the halls with charts and supplies. Though time felt endless, I knew it wasn’t.  I knew I could not live like I had forever with my son.

That’s the real truth of what hospitals teach us. IMG_0005 - Version 2

We try to pretend like we have all the time in the world for the people we love.

We try to live like it too.

But ask anyone who sits at the bedside of a terminally ill patient and they’ll tell you the truth.

We might try to live like we have all the time in the world, but we don’t.

Somehow crisis brings us to a point of recognizing how little time we have.

“Too short, too short,” exclaimed the ninety-some-year-old woman as she watched her husband of over seventy years pass away.

Her time with him had not been long enough.

It’s never long enough.

In her wrinkled face, you could see how quickly time had slipped through her fingers. Even though she had gotten more time than most of us will ever get with our loved ones, she still proclaimed the truth we all will:

Too short.

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When we’re faced with the real tragedies of life, we realize something has to change, that we can’t go on living like we have all the time in the world.

Because if we believe what the world says, then we’ll work harder to get ahead, to make more, to do more, to get more, to prove ourselves.

We run this rat race of always putting off what’s most important.

We say,

When I retire…

When I quit my job…

When my kids are grown…

But don’t ask the young woman with breast cancer if she says those words

or the couple with the dying child.

We live differently when we have a sense of how brief our lives are.

We live an upside down life compared with the world’s priorities.

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We can spend our whole lives working at something that really doesn’t matter—a hobby, our homes, our appearances, our health, our reputation, our kids’ sports, and still miss what really matters.

You don’t have to have a job to be a workaholic.

Anything can be an idol if it becomes important enough.

When you face the pinch of so much work crammed into so little time, the essence of life is squeezed out.

Like Moses, we need to pray

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

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When my husband Sam had cancer in 2005, he went through several months of intense chemotherapy where he was horribly sick during his treatment.  He turned pasty white, weak, and bald.  He gagged on the smell of food.  He could barely drag himself off the couch.  I had to help him out of bed, help him get dressed, help him with most basic things of life.

He took a leave of absence as worship pastor for a few months and I wondered how all this was going to work out, how people could replace him on Sundays and get his work done and the church could keep moving forward.

When you work there is this mindset that no one could do your job if you were gone, at least not as well as you do it.  Everything will surely fall apart, you believe, because no one is capable of filling your shoes.

Maybe it’s pride in our Midwestern roots that taught us to work hard, but the American work ethic is something we hold up as a great virtue.  Work equals value.

The truth was Sam was too sick to worry about his job during those months. Our lives were consumed with chemotherapy injections and surgeries and hospital stays.

The priority of keeping him alive trumped everything else.

I learned something important during that time, something I’m reminded any time I hear someone say they can never get sick because they are too important, or too busy, or in debt.

If you got sick tomorrow, life would go on.  Others would take your place.  The importance you placed on work, or money, or getting ahead, would be trumped by the things that matter.

We work like there’s no tomorrow, like there’s no end.  But Moses reminds us:

You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning—though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.” (Psalm 90:5-6)

Your work, no matter how important, would quickly be swept away as your identity.

This is true whether you are a corporate executive or stay at home mom.

Hard work becomes our identity instead of the work of Jesus.

When our identities are tied up into what we do, then it’s no wonder we dedicate so much time to polishing them.

They become part of us. We work to keep up our image.  We think that what we do is who we are.

When our identities are linked with Christ, then our whole list of priorities changes into an upside down view of the world.

We forget that God looks at the heart, that our belief in who He is and what He did on the cross is what matters.

Although the world defines us by our work, in death we are defined by Christ and what we believe about Him.

There’s nothing like His work on the cross to show us that what matters in life has nothing to do with careers and hard work.

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So make your days count.

Love generously.

Extend grace to the undeserving.

Show Christ in all you do.

Give up the accolades of earth, of hard work, of impressing others

and really live.

When someone you love is terminally ill, the answer to how to our spend our time becomes  clear.

Too short, we say as we approach the casket at the funeral.

Too short, we think as we sit by the bedside of loved ones in the hospital.

Forget living like we have all the time in the world–only in heaven can we say that.

But this life?

Always too short.

The time for living radical isn’t for when you’ll have more time.

It’s now.

The parents sitting with their children in hospitals and kissing their foreheads and helping them go to the bathroom while attached to an IV pole know this too well.

They’re living like time is short.

They live in the moment, reaching across the hospital bedsheets, touching their child’s hand, while it’s warm and flesh-colored and alive,

while there’s still time.

while it still matters.

Sara

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