I never was very close to this man, since I only saw him at meetings. But his life mattered. Everyone’s life matters. We can’t take our time with others for granted.
Years ago, my family’s world was rocked when, one morning, we received a phone call from a tearful relative, telling us that my aunt had suddenly passed away just that morning from a presumed heart attack. I cannot describe the range of gut-wrenching emotions that rippled through our immediate and extended family. Some of us were too numb to cry, some of us cried often, some of us withdrew and some of us reached out for comfort. But the thing that made it so horrible was that it was so sudden. We never had a chance to say what she meant to us, or to send her a final farewell.
At the funeral, I clung to my own mother as I wept. “Please, Mom,” I choked. “Don’t go anywhere. Don’t go away so suddenly like she did.”
“I’ll certainly try not to,” Mom replied with tears. “But only God controls my time.”
I knew it. I knew it, but it was so hard to accept. I wanted to be sure that I would have time.
But that’s just the problem. We don’t have time. We have far less time that we think we do. It was after this that I became more conscious of my latest interactions with various family members. When I left the house to go to work or to meet a friend, was my last conversation with my sister characterized by negativity? If either of us died unexpectedly before we could next meet, would my last words to her be “I don’t want to talk to you anymore”? What would that last memory mean to the survivors?
I’m not a huge Valentine’s Day fan, but this past Valentine’s Day, I decided it would be appropriate to give each loved one a simple single-sided card listing “10 Reasons Why I Love You.” They were simple cards, but I’ve noticed that several of them are pegged to bedroom bulletin-boards or placed in other conspicuous locations. Each one is a reminder to them that they are loved, and a reminder to me that my words matter to them.
Words matter to me too. Some months back, I looked through two decades’ worth of correspondence with various friends and family. I found myself lingering over the letters and cards which enumerated specific ways in which my life mattered to others. “I am so encouraged by your love for Christ” or “You have been such a faithful friend” or “Thanks so much for thinking of me when I was going through that hard time”—all of these acknowledgements of my unique, irreplaceable role in someone’s life give me the assurance that my life matters.
Those words didn’t just have an immediate emotional impact. They gave me the strength and courage to overcome difficult obstacles and to pursue difficult dreams, and to love my God more every day. They didn’t just validate my existence; they literally changed my life.
Would it really hurt if we spoke those words now, those words that we all wait until the last minute to say? Would it be wrong if my father knew I respect and admire him for all that he has taught me, if my mother knew that her wisdom has always been my guide and support, if each of my sisters knew just how much I value her role in my life, if my brother knew that I am proud of his accomplishments? Would it be troublesome for my relatives to know the extent to which their presence in my life has shaped me for good, for my friends to know that their friendship has been so encouraging and meaningful to me?
Lord, Your breath gave life to the first man and, in a similar way, my breath has the power to shape the lives of those around me. Give me the wisdom to see opportunities to build with my words, the patience to refrain from words that destroy, and the consciousness that every moment—and every life—is incredibly precious. May the memories I make with others, and leave with them, leave marks of glory in eternity.
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None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.