Morbid, says you? Properly motivating says I.
In the first place, it really does seem odd that we’re so reluctant to talk about death. It’s the one thing in the world that we can be sure to have in common with whomever we are talking to. Plop me down in a meeting of the Lesbian Black Panthers’ Association of Yale and we’ll probably have zero common ground…except that we’re all going to die.
So, now you know what to say at your next Christmas Party if you’re ever looking for a good topic of conversation:
But my point here is not to give you tips on being a conversationalist (clearly I’m the last person in the world who should be advising you on that). My point is that death is something inevitable. Even your evil schemes to drain the life essence from virgins to ensure your own immortality is doomed to failure, since sooner or later either one of those virgins or her boyfriend is going to take you down. Same thing with any other plan you care to name: your horcruxes will get destroyed by those meddling kids, the Lazarus Pits will become unstable and explode, and universal healthcare will quickly run out of money and become the exclusive province of the wealthy and political elite.
In short, if you try to fight the fact that you will die, you are going to lose. “Death,” as St. Justin Martyr reminds us, “is a debt which must, in all events, be paid.”
So, if you can’t beat Death, why not turn him into an ally? When humanity accepted that it couldn’t kill Godzilla, they discovered that he could be just as powerful as a protective force as he was as a destructive one. When Darth Vader discovered how strong Luke Skywalker was, his first instinct wasn’t to kill him, but to turn him. A powerful enemy makes for an equally powerful ally (unless you’re playing an RPG, in which case he’ll be de-powered to equal the other party members the instant he switches sides…but I digress).
How can you make Death your ally? Simple. Accept the fact that you will die. It’s going to happen. One day you’ll be a nice skeleton lying in the ground (or, if you’re really lucky, sitting pretty on an anthropologist’s shelf with a label and a ‘please do not touch’ sign). Alternatively, you’ll be a pile of ashes drifting in the wind. It might happen in a hundred years, it might happen today, as you read this (though hopefully not before you finish). In any case, you are going to die; get used to the idea.
What all this boils down to is that if you accept that you will die, the idea will become a whole lot less odious to you (unless you’re an atheist, in which case…you might want to work on that). You’ll start to consider what will happen next, meaning that your plan to just ‘try to be good’ or ‘take care of religion later’ suddenly starts to sound a whole lot stupider. You’ll start to actually live rather than simply planning to live.
See, by acknowledging that you will die, you realize that your ‘life’ is not some future prospect which you are preparing for; it’s here and now. At the moment, your life involves reading this post. Your life is whatever you are doing right now, not what you are planning to do in the future.
There is the saying “time is money.” That is false. Time is much, much more than money. All the money that ever has or ever will existed in the world, including the imaginary stuff the government is using right now, cannot buy a single instant of time. Nor is time guaranteed to anyone. Every plan, every intention we make is a gamble; we’re betting that we will have the time to do it. We’re wagering the time we have now against the time we think we will have in the future. Sometimes the gamble pays off, sometimes it doesn’t.
So, what do you do? Simple; you lower the odds. You do it now. What is it that you are planning, hoping to accomplish in your life? Whatever it is, start doing it. If you can’t just go off and begin, start preparing. Commit yourself to it. This, right here, right now, is your life. This is what will be written about in your obituary. This is what you will find yourself giving an account to God for.
“Uh, well...I hooked up with a lot of girls…can’t remember all their names. I, um, played a lot of Halo, and I sat in cubicle for forty years filling out TPS reports, but I never got married because I didn’t want to be tied down, so…I guess that’s about it…oh, yeah! I saw Angkor Watt once!”
“Okay, God; l started out with nothing but some paper, a job I loathed, and a woman I loved. Committing all this to your Will, I quit my job, married the girl, and started a ministry spreading your word to the people who needed it. That’s after my time in the Marine Corps, where I fought on two continents and learned the true meaning of courage and honor. Now, let me start by telling you about my wife, because she’s really the best part…
Second one has a lot more punch doesn’t it?
I sometimes picture God as a literary critic judging the stories we live. Sometimes He’ll say “I was gripped from the moment you were conceived until that final breath, and I couldn’t wait to read it again! Five stars: an author to watch!” Other times He’ll say “The story was gripping, but its ideas and themes were so off base, so revolting, that I simply could not enjoy the experience. I appreciate the effort and talent involved, but I cannot recommend it. Two stars.” And for the unlucky few, He’ll say “This was the most boring tripe I have ever had the misfortune to suffer through. It got so that the only moments you showed any kind of life at all were when you sinned, but even then you lacked anything that could by any definition be called individuality or passion. Your life was a mind-numbing slog of bland, occasionally disgusting junk and a blasphemous rebuke to me, as your Creator, for wasting the effort. No stars.”
Here’s the thing; I’m all in favor of ‘Bucket Lists,’ but the trouble is that far too many of them read like just a random collection of the same old experiences: “Skydive, climb Kilomanjaro, visit Taj Mahal, compete in Iron Man…” Boring! Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those, but come on; do you think when you’re dying and about to see God you’re going to be saying “well, at least I ran that marathon; that means my life had meaning.” No, what will matter more than that is the people you’ve loved and the lives you’ve touched. What will matter is what you’ve done to serve God and lead people to Heaven. Something my pastor keeps saying is that the first question we’ll be asked at the gates to Heaven is “did you bring anyone with you?”
My point here, ultimately, is that by remembering your death, you ought to find yourself focusing on two things: the here and now (which is the only moment you are guaranteed), and the moment after you die, when you will have to render an account. God won’t care how many marathons you’ve run, or how many mountains you’ve climbed; He’ll want to know how the world was better off for your existence. He’ll say to you “I gave you existence. I formed you in the womb. I preserved your life for X number of years. I gave you a functioning body and a rational mind. I gave you a world of people to love and things to use. Now, what did you do with all that?”
In conclusion, I shall allow Country Music star Tim McGraw to sum up the entire article in song.
Vive Christus Rex!