This week I had to drive back to my hometown to take care of some family business, requiring me to spend a few hours in the small town I grew up in. I realized I was going to be driving by the city cemetery where my dad and all his relatives are buried. I hadn’t been there in at least ten years. I had some time, was on no schedule, so I pulled in. I began to walk around the rows upon rows of graves and gravestones there. I saw the graves of people I knew growing up, people I had worked with at my jobs in high school, people I had gone to church with, parents of my high school friends, and then my own family—four graves right in a row. It was fascinating reading the titles such as “Beloved wife and mother,” or “Sergeant in WWII.” One couple, buried side by side, parents of one of my friends, had the sayings that they were both known for etched on their gravestones. They made me smile.
Here’s what I learned in that half hour stroll through the memory lane of that cemetery and what I want to share with you today.
1—The next time you have a life-changing decision to make such as a career change, relocation, or any major life move, find a cemetery, even if you don’t know anyone buried there. Walk around and read the gravestones, look at the “born” and “died” years. Read the epitaphs. You’ll find something uniquely sobering about walking among the dead to decide what to do with the rest of your life.
2—If you are contemplating leaving your wife and/or family, throwing in the towel on your marriage, giving up and in, look for the couples buried side by side, then look for the men buried alone. Think about the marker you’ll leave when you’re gone. Think about your wife or kids coming up with a life phrase to put on your gravestone. What will they say? If you’re being tempted to think only in the temporary, at least explore the eternal for a half hour before you act.
3—If your wife, children, family, and friends had to come up with four to six words to etch forever on your gravestone, what would they say? If you’re still breathing and don’t like that thought, you can decide to change that answer with the rest of your life. If you feel good about their answer, keep pressing on and upward.
One of the biggest, in-your-face realizations of a cemetery walk is that we get just one life here. I certainly understand why sinful humans would invent the concept of reincarnation. “Hey, if I screw this one up, all good, because I get a bunch more to try and get right.” But it’s also easy to see why the enemy of God would want us to believe that lie. The reality is we get just one shot at this and we have no idea how many years we have. God knew an end would make the journey count.
In the Disney movie, Tuck Everlasting, a family discovers the fountain of youth. They have become eternal beings at the age that they drank the water. A young lady named Winnie, who has befriended the family, discovers their secret and wants to drink the water. The Tuck father tells her, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned about people, it’s that they will do anything, anything, not to die. And they’ll do anything to keep from living their life. What we Tucks have, you can’t call it living. We just are. We’re like rocks, stuck at the side of a stream. Don’t be afraid of death, Winnie. Be afraid of the unlived life.”
Another follower said, “Master, excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have my father’s funeral to take care of.” Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life.” —Matthew 8:21-22 MSG
Sam Mattox March 9, 2012
This post brings to mind Percy Shelley's poem, Ozymandias. In this sonnet, Shelley's insight regarding the transience of earthly works is poignant, but his conclusion that human art has permanence falls way short of the truth. As put by Isaiah: "The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of God stands forever." Thanks be to God for our hope in eternity. Ozymandias I met a traveller from an antique land Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things, The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal these words appear: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" Nothing beside remains: round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away.