Live each day as if it were your last.
The sentiment in the passage above is so frequently heard in a multitude of versions nowadays, in words and songs, that I don't really know to whom I should attribute it. But it's something that has been much on my mind lately. It can be viewed both positively and negatively. On the one hand, there is wisdom in the idea of living each day as if it were your last. If you did, you might appreciate everything more; you would surely hug and kiss and tell people you loved them more; and, maybe, you would indulge yourself more -- like, eat that very rich dessert. Things that aren't really important in the grand scheme of things, like watching that television show, would be dropped without a second thought. On the other hand, you would have to leave some loose ends. For you wouldn't be able to finish things that might be important but that would require more time than you have. And you would certainly not make plans for the future.
This reminds me of the words of the prophet Jeremiah, which have also been much on my mind lately: For I surely know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. When I think of these words, I envision a future in which my children are loving, compassionate, and thriving adults, my husband and I are growing closer together, the book I'm working on is published and helps many people, and I would accomplish many things. I believe this is the future God wants for me, as well. For God has given me these blessings and these passions, and has guided me in these areas. But, and here is the key, none of this will just happen without my involvement. I can't just sit back and expect them to happen on their own.
This is the dichotomy between "living in the now" and having a "future with hope." If you are too focused on one, you will lose the other.
My twelve-year-old son was telling me a story about a guy who
to ditch school to play video games all day because "YOLO." YOLO, meaning You Only Live Once, is a
saying of his hashtag generation -- who also like to abbreviate most things. It's generally given as a reason for
self-indulgent behavior, for living "in the now," instead of considering
a longer view of the future, like the importance of going to school in order to get an education in order to someday get a career in order to support yourself. In many ways, it takes the laudable idea
of living today as if it were your last day, to the extreme.
And recently, I watched a movie called "The Spectacular Now," which is also about this dichotomy. The main character is a charming high school senior named Sutter, who would much rather party than study. He is continually buzzed, whether from alcohol (which he sips continually) or from life, it's hard to tell. He meets a girl who, in many ways, is his opposite. She is shy and hard-working, a good student, and has very specific dreams about her future. She falls in love with Sutter, but as graduation approaches and his friends make plans, Sutter longs to keep things fixed in the same place they have always been. Finally, he wakes up to what his future will look if he continues to live "in the now," when he meets his estranged father, a man who would rather hang out at the bar with people who will pay his tab than get to know his only son.
For me, these musing translate into some significant self-examination. I have always been a terrible procrastinator. "Always put off today, what you can do tomorrow," has essentially been my motto. "Do now only what absolutely has to be done now, everything else can wait." Very often, this means that it can take me an inordinate amount of time to get something done, as other, more interesting, things take precedence -- I'm quite good at thinking of other more interesting things to do. As long as everything gets done by the time it's due, I rationalize, then no harm done. Right?
But what if something doesn't have a "due date"? Like guiding my kids in "the way that they should go," or spending time with my husband talking about more than just family business stuff, or actually working on that book, or doing all the other things that will make the future I envision a real possibility. Well, then, my tendency to put things off means that these things may not get done for a very long time, if ever.
If by YOLO we mean that we'd better make ourselves happy first, essentially "eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you die," then we are being very short-sighted, if not dangerously selfish. But if we take a longer view of YOLO, then we have a life of great opportunity ahead of us. This is the only life we have. What do you want it to look like? Do you want to leave this world better off because you were in it? I do.
Yesterday, my pastor said, during Ash Wednesday services, that the cross of ashes she makes on our forehead is to remind us of our mortality. It's a good reminder. The beginning of Lent is in many ways like the beginning of a new year. It's a good time to make changes for the better, to be more intentional about how you live your life. For this Lent, I promise to make each day count as much as possible, so that this life, the only life I have, will be lived abundantly, now and in the future. What will you do?
May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you