“You have multiple blood clots in both lungs. And they’re large!”
On July 18, 2014, I heard those sobering words from an emergency room physician. Just one clot that moves from a lung to the heart can kill a person instantly. The life-threatening diagnosis brought to mind the above maxim about cemeteries and indispensable people.
I use that maxim when I teach on 2 Timothy 4, Paul’s final written words, perhaps months prior to his execution. Paul knew that his departure (death) was near (vs. 6). He insisted that he had “finished the course” (vs. 7). Now he’s coaxing Timothy to carry on and cultivate resiliency in his ministry.
John Wesley was correct when he wrote, “God buries His workmen, but His work goes on.” If the apostle Paul wasn’t indispensable, it’s a certainty that Terry Powell isn’t. I live within the tension of competing truths: my teaching and writing endeavors are high callings that imbue my life and the daily routine with deep meaning. On the other hand, God and His redemptive work will do just fine without me.
What lessons can I glean from this recent physical challenge?
- Put more energy now into “being with the Lord” instead of just “doing for the Lord.” If I’m one heartbeat away from spending eternity with Him, perhaps I should more diligently cultivate that relationship now. Why wait? I yearn to know Psalm 16:11 more experientially: “In Thy presence is fullness of joy. In Thy right hand are pleasures forever.”
- Invest more time and energy on members of my immediate family: my bride of 43 years; my two grown sons; my daughter-in-law; my three-year-old grandson. Write the letters that I’ve conceptualized but never put on paper. Finish the poems I’ve started. Take the trips I keep hedging on due to financial costs. Show up at the front door with surprises that are sure to engender glee. I don’t want my grave stone to contain the “Procrastinator’s Epitaph:
Here lies a man who was always “going to”…
Now he’s gone.
- Make hard choices about how to utilize my limited time and energy. For the sake of more important endeavors, what should I “plan to neglect” over the next few years? Outside of my faculty responsibilities, how should I spend my limited time and energies? What opportunities deserve a “Yes!” What opportunities should receive a “No!”? What is God’s agenda for me in my latter years? There’s a limit to the number of things I can do well, especially as my physical energy wanes.
Take this unsolicited advice: go to a nearby cemetery for your next quiet time. Observe the graves of all the indispensable people whose bodies clutter the ground. Nothing gives perspective on life like the inevitability of physical death.
May our prayer be, “Teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). In view of the fact that your days are numbered, what would wisdom look like for you?