My mother was known in our family for her pithy statements which were intended to impart wisdom. One of her favorites was “Life is short and then you die.” That may have been a child’s version of a verse from the book of James, “yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

As children we would appeal to mother for sympathy when something earthshattering occurred in our world. Complaints like “My fort fell over,” “My sister hit me,” and “I forgot my lunch money” would be met with those words of wisdom. “Life is short and then you die.” We received little sympathy but learned not to make the same mistakes a second time.

During my college years, a neighbor who had already raised her family passed away after a long illness. The woman seemed so old to me. But I recall my mother commenting that her life seemed so short. At our neighbor’s funeral, the pastor talked about life being a dot on a line that extended to eternity. My mother’s words came back to me: “Life is short and then you die.” But this time those words had a broader meaning to me. I had watched our neighbor live her life knowing that she would die sooner than she expected. She used her time to pray for others, to encourage others in their faith, and especially to remind anyone who would listen that life is short and getting right with God was of vital importance. She once asked me if I was living a godly life while I was away at college. Her awareness of impending death made her bold in her conversations with others. She knew life was fragile. She knew life is short and then you die.

Knowing this, how then should we live? We make our plans and announce them to others. But according to James, this is arrogant. “Instead we ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:15). This is the view of life God wants us to have. We are on this earth for only a little while. When we announce our plans, we arrogantly assume we are in charge of our lives. But James reminds us that God is in charge. Our plans come to pass only if He wills them. Any other perspective is wrong. Depending on ourselves proves we are not walking humbly and trusting in God’s will for our life.

My neighbor understood that each day was a gift. More than any other time, she chose to spend her last days in obedience to God, concentrating on things of value to God, not things of value to man. Her life plans came crashing down. Yet in this final season, she experienced a renewed sense of obedience to her Father. The book of Ecclesiastes tells us there is “a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecc. 3:2). All of life is beyond our control, and in God’s hands. And we must deal with the changes that come our way. But we have the promise that “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecc. 3:11). While we may long to see why circumstances have changed, and to know the end from the beginning, God is writing His story in which everything will be beautiful in its own time. Our attitude must be one of submission. If God sends trials to grow my faith, I should welcome those. If He wants to discipline me so that I grow in holiness, I should accept it in obedience. If He takes my arrogant plans and completely changes my life’s directions, I should trust in Him and give Him the glory.

We are going to be accountable on the last day for whether decisions we made were God-honoring, whether our heart was obedient to God’s Word, and whether our actions were for His glory. In light of eternity, everything else is vanity. Life is short and then we die.

Lord, help us to use whatever time is granted us wisely, glorifying You in all that we say and do, until the time that you call us home.

Photo by Sandra Seitamaa on Unsplash

Sharon Rockwell

Sharon retired from her career first as a chemist and then as a regulatory affairs consultant to the medical device industry. She has served on the women’s ministry team at Grace Presbyterian Church in her hometown of Yorba Linda, California, and has worked as the west coast regional advisor for the PCA. She and her husband have 4 adult children, and 9 young grandchildren (current score girls 4, boys 5). In her spare time Sharon enjoys cooking, traveling, bird watching and raising orchids.