This past week, I traveled from my home in Colorado Springs, to New Jersey to visit my mom. Mom is 90 and lives in a nursing home. She enjoys living there and they take good care of her, but as of late we’ve really seen her memory slipping significantly. There’s been some deterioration over the past year or so, but the last few months have been much more noticeable. I felt God pressing me to make the trip to see her.
It was a great visit. We laughed, looked at photos, both old and new and mostly talked about old times. We talked of the home I grew up in with my parents and brother and sister, and how the three of us were so different. We reminisced about the lake cabin we spent many of our summers at; different aunts and uncles long gone; my dad, also long gone, the neighborhood barber (long gone as well) and how there’s no better pizza than NJ pizza. Thankfully that’s not gone and still awaits me each time I return!
The theme was a consistent one…We did what you typically do when talking with someone well along in years; you talk about the past…the distant past. You talk about the distant past because they often don’t remember the recent past. That recent past could include two years ago, two weeks ago or two minutes ago. Those are all the case with my mom. My older brother who still lives in NJ, gave me the idea of steering the conversation toward things of the distant past. His insight paid off.
Talking about the past with folks like mom is not a bad thing. It brings them joy and comfort. It’s familiar and allows them to participate in a meaningful way. They have something to bring to the table, so to speak. It also draws their attention from their inability to engage about the recent past.
When this later reality manifests itself, it can be a sad and uncomfortable moment; but with some discernment and wisdom, you can move the conversation back to something familiar (something from long ago), and watch them reengage and feel value again.
As I spent these hours with her, it was difficult not to occasionally consider my own mortality. While I don’t dwell on or worry about such things, it comes to mind none the less. I trust and believe that God has many more good years for me on this earth, (and more importantly, an eternal life beyond this one). I also believe in another reality…Those good years here will come and go in the blink of an eye. That’s not meant to be negative, fatalistic or cynical, it just is. It isn’t a question, it’s a reality.
It does however, raise the bar on a different question…perhaps the only question that matters: What will I do with that time? If we know that we’re given one lifetime on planet earth, and we know it will come and go before we turn around, (at least those of us over a certain age know that) we have to ask ourselves what it is we are we going to do with that life?
I see three choices. We can crawl into a hole and ring our hands as we watch the clock tick and the calendar turn. This may seem to slow things down a bit, but results in a lonely and miserable existence followed by a funeral service with six people in attendance and no one having anything to say. I’ve been to one of those.
Our next choice would be to take all we can from life. Dive into life with all we have, scooping up everything we can for ourselves. We can dance, laugh and indulge ourselves through the days we have left, attempting to fill every need we have with every shiny thing we see, smell, hear and touch; only to find that each indulgence leads to another empty space, which leads to another indulgence, which leads to another empty space…(and likely hurts others along the way). Ultimately we come to our end with all the indulgences left behind, and we depart this life with only the empty spaces. Our funeral is officiated by a paid pastor or official who has to do some research in order to have something to say…and the good stuff that’s said is mostly made up.
Of course, there’s a third choice and the only one that makes any sense at all. That choice is to indulge yourself in the joy of others. To invest all you have in the betterment of those around you.
Philippians 2:3 says: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vein conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves”. When we indulge ourselves in filling another’s need, providing encouragement or creating joy, we fill the space (theirs and ours) with something that lasts. We can impact a life; perhaps for a day, a week, a year or even a lifetime…and beyond. Occasionally, we’re given that amazing gift of being able to impact someone’s eternity. I’ve been blessed to have that experience and it fills a space that a new car, new clothes, another sports channel, more drugs or more sex could never fill.
I’ve filled my spaces with many things over my lifetime, and I can tell you unequivocally, that second to my relationship with God, nothing fills those spaces more fully and permanently, than positively impacting the lives of the brothers, sisters and lost souls that have been put in my path.
My encouragement to you is to check your watch, look at the calendar; and then toss them aside and get to work. Yes, your watch will keep ticking, and the calendar turning but staring at them or worrying about how fast they’re moving, beyond this moment won’t change that. Yes, there may well come a day, when you spend more time talking about the distant past, than you do about tomorrow and that’s OK…it is the way of things. But until that is absolutely necessary (not just comfortable, but necessary), get to work looking into each day to see who’s life you can positively impact for the Kingdom…and watch your spaces (and theirs) get filled to overflowing.