We teach in 5×5 that “Nothing lasts forever.” That’s the Fifth Undeniable Truth. We are mortal. We will all die. A lot of people are freaked out by that. As pastor, I can see the look in their eyes when I place the ashes on their forehead and say “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I had that unsettled feeling the first time I placed ashes on my young daughter’s head and told her that one day she too would die. All who are born and grow will one day die. It’s actually nothing to be afraid of. It is the most natural thing in the world. So why does it bother us to hear?
The poet William Butler Yeats wrote: “Things fall apart. The center does not hold.” We live in a universe where things break down. Things get old. Things wear out. I quote Lord Kelvin’s Second Law of Thermodynamics. Simply put, it states that things wear out when left to their own devices. If you ignore it, it will slip away. Ignore the house and it will eventually fall down. The young grow old. The fit get flabby. Clean things get dirty. It takes real effort to keep things in top shape. We have to keep winding the clock. We have to keep cleaning away the cobwebs. We have to keep oiling the machine. We have to keep studying and using our minds. We have to keep doing push-ups and sit-ups. Otherwise, things will fall apart. Life takes work to keep it livable. That goes for our relationships with other people, too. A good marriage doesn’t stay good all by itself. You have to pay attention to it. You have to keep putting some effort into it to keep it at its best. The same is true of our love relationship with God. You may have a powerful mountaintop experience with God, but it will fade over time. A good relationship with God doesn’t stay good all by itself. You have to pay attention to it. Everything costs something.
It also means that we will not live forever either. Everyone dies. We only get one life. We only go around once, which means that life is unspeakably precious. It also means that life is too important not to enjoy. William Irvine writes:
“More generally, we should keep in mind that any human activity that cannot be carried on indefinitely must have a final occurrence. There will be—or already has been!—a last time in your life that you brush your teeth, cut your hair, drive a car, mow the lawn, or play hopscotch. There will be a last time you hear the sound of snow falling, watch the moon rise, smell popcorn, feel the warmth of a child falling asleep in your arms, or make love. You will someday eat your last meal, and soon thereafter you will take your last breath.” (“A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.” Oxford University Press, 2009)
Let this not be a morbid burden upon your mind but a cheerful reminder to enjoy every experience in life as if it were our last. We squander too much of our lives waiting for the next thing to happen. Life is too precious for that. Take nothing for granted. That’s what that smudge of ashes on the forehead means. Life is far too brief to take for granted. It’s also far too brief to never meet the One who gave life to us. The One who gave us life in the first place is the only one who can extend life beyond the grave and into eternity. Take a step closer to God during the next forty days of Lent.
(If you would like some help learning how to follow Jesus, you can purchase the book that inspires this blog: “5×5 Discipleship: A Field Manual for Following Jesus”. It is available now on Amazon.com. Click here.)