We Should Be Thinking About Death More
The more we remember our temporary nature, the more clarity we get on our purpose.
There is a beauty that takes place when we face our mortality. Death is one of the things which gives life meaning. The brevity of life creates significance.
Steve Jobs thought of it every day. Stephen Covey taught that we should think of our funeral when planning our life.
I have been thinking about death a lot lately. For six months now, I have been reading obituaries in the morning, an idea I got from author Austin Kleon. The idea is to create a daily reminder that our time will come. It is a reminder that today matters — that our choices matter. It is a reminder to live a life of meaning — to focus my effort and time on the things I value most. The things that I treasure.
To treasure is to be human. We all treasure things. And people. Places. Ideas.
When I was a baby, I treasured my pacifier to an unhealthy level, or so I’m told. I can’t remember. Later in life, I treasured my Chicago Bulls Starter jacket. Starter jackets were a symbol of status in an early 90’s elementary school.
I have treasured guitars, books, restaurants, vacation spots, my own status. This is all fine and good — a normal human life. All these have one thing in common though. They will all fade away.
Jesus was talking about these kind of treasures when he said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
He was pointing out a universal truth that we try to ignore — most of the things we treasure in life are temporary. No matter how much cherish them, they will come to an end.
We will all spend our life treasuring things but the question is, what should we be treasuring?
In our culture, we place a high value in “accumulation.”
Accumulation of accolades, possessions, or assets — creating our own personal, lifelong treasure trove. The legendary music video of Johnny Cash covering “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails is devasting. Months before he died, Cash surrounded himself with an accumulation of deteriorating trophies.
This haunting piece of art forces us to face the reality of the temporary nature of our treasures. With courage and true artistry, Cash gives us an intimate picture of the brevity of life.
Here is the good news; some things last forever. Some things do not fade or vanish, but continue after we die. It is the unseen things that, in reality, are the most real. Some treasures continue after we die. This isn’t a religious statement, either. I’m not talking about heaven or the afterlife right now.
Check out a few excerpts from some recent obituaries:
“he was a generous and patient individual who loved his family foremost and who was passionate about changing the world. His guiding force always came from the heart.”
“We miss your smile, sense of humor, and love of life.”
“her lifelong love of music, her never-ending energy, and her fun-loving spirit will always linger with us,”
Do you see it? These qualities are intangible, immeasurable, mostly unseen. Generosity, passion, love for family, heart, sense of humor, love of life and music, endless energy, spirit. We assume status and success are lasting but it is the intangible qualities that are eternal.
The value and the impact we make on others lasts an eternity.
Jesus ends the verse from earlier by saying, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This is the key principle. What we treasure, the things we put time and effort into, these things reveal what we value the most. It is easy to say we care about making a difference or living a meaningful life but do our choices reveal this?
This is not meant to make us feel guilty. It is simply a reminder that today matters. None of us know how many more “todays” we have left. Each choice is a chance to invest in the things that we cherish and value the most.
So, some questions to ask: What do I treasure? What do I value? What do I want to be remembered for? What do I want to be written in my obituary?
Here are some I’ve come up with:
- Doing meaningful work, that brings value to the world. Adding value instead of working for a paycheck.
- Family. Creating eternal bonds with those I’ve been given.
- Things that uniquely give me life and make me, me. Woodworking, writing music, cooking, etc.
- Experiences and memories (with loved ones.) Creating moments that will be passed down forever.
How about you? What do you treasure? How do you want to be remembered?