Living and Dying

A childhood friend’s mother died recently. Yes, she died. She didn’t “pass away.” I don’t like that term. It’s like saying we don’t want to talk about, well, you know, that thing that happens to us but we don’t want to acknowledge that it happens. Because it scares us. Because is causes great anxiety in us. Because we don’t want to, you know, that thing we don’t want to say.

Which, as it turns out, may be the worst thing we can do when it comes to truly living happy, meaningful lives.

Arthur C. Brooks says, “Want a better 2016? Try thinking more about your impending demise.” (NY Times, January 9, 2016) He writes about a visit to Thailand where he encountered Buddhist monks who contemplated photos of corpses in different stages of decay. The reason? It is a reminder that they, too, will ultimately experience the same fate. And the awareness their own mortality leads to  better living.

Thinking about our own death can help us reorient our life goals.

Need more proof? Ok. A study printed in the journal Science in 2004 revealed that when women were asked to  share their satisfaction in daily living revealed that they derived more satisfaction from prayer, worship and meditation than from watching television. Yet, they were spending five times more time watching TV than from engaging in spiritual practices. Go figure.

The American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2014 revealed we spent four times longer watching TV than “socializing and communicating,” and 20 times longer on TV than on “religious and spiritual activities.”

All this to say we spend more time wasting time on things that don’t really matter than we do on the things we say really do matter. Why do you think that is?

I think it is because we spend most of our time thinking about the past or the future and little time in the present. Which is a distraction. All we really have is the present.

As a preacher I can tell you that a study of people’s attention during sermons, the average time a person listens is 7 minutes. And it is 7 nonconsecutive minutes! I kid my church family I preach the same sermon every week. When they finally begin to say, “Hey, we’ve heard that before.” I’ll preach another sermon.

Now I don’t think making a New Year’s resolution to stop being distracted and wasting time will be helpful in the long run. What I think will be helpful, and lasting, are ways we can raise our consciousness about our mortality. We all will die someday. Here are a couple of things you might consider, things that might create a better 2016. Maybe those Buddhist monks are on to something.

Plan your funeral. How do you want to be remembered? And do the things that will insure that’s what will happen.

Live 2016 as if it is your last year. How will you prioritize your activities? What about your relationships? Do you have a “Bucket List?”

Lastly, here is a prayer I use in what we call services of death and resurrection. Maybe it will be helpful for you.

God of Love, you who gave us life. We recognize your grace in all we say and do. Speak to us once more your truth about life and death. 

Help us to live as those who are prepared to die. And when our days here are accomplished, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our lives may be in you, believing that nothing in life or death will be able to separate us from your unending love in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.