Years ago, Tim McGraw released a song called Live Like You Were Dying. In it, the singer is asked what he did when he received a terminal diagnosis. He replies with a list of things that he hadn’t made time for while he was living his normal life, from extremes like skydiving to basics like giving forgiveness. He ends with the wish that “Someday I hope you get the chance/ To live like you were dying.”
I’ve been watching this song play out for the last two and a half years.
That’s when one of my dearest friends went to the ER for abdominal pain and came out with a Stage 4 colon cancer diagnosis.
You’re not supposed to live for two and a half years with colon cancer that has spread to the lung and liver, but she has. She’s done it with grace and continuous praise and gratitude to God that inspires me and everyone around her.
One day shortly after her diagnosis, I asked her what she wanted to do with whatever time she had left. What was still on her bucket list? Was there something I could help to make happen?
Her answer … Nothing.
Yes, she was sure. There was no one she felt she needed to make amends to, and nothing she wanted to do other than live every day the way she always had. She knew how to “live like you were dying”.
And so, for the past two and a half years, I’ve watched her do exactly that.
She loves her family and friends fiercely. She is there when her 14 year old gets on the bus, and when she gets off. And she is there when a friend needs prayer or a hot cup of coffee and a chat. She is still my sounding board and my children’s other mother. Her life is what some would consider boring, but the people she touches every day would disagree.
She transforms them with the love of Christ that’s in her.
Although she didn’t quit her job, she’s made some accommodations. She is an advocate for those with disabilities, and she loves her people. While she can’t openly share her faith with her clients, she does a lot of what she calls “sneakin’ preachin’” — and the clients respond to her obvious love for them.
The most adventurous she’s gotten is a week long trip to the beach with her entire family, and that’s because her father wanted to go.
My point here is not to extol the virtues of my friend, although I could do that for hours. My point is this.
She is living a life she has no desire to escape from.
I see people all around me who are constantly looking to escape, whether physically or through drugs or alcohol. They seem to feel deprived despite many blessings, don’t have good relationships, and feel stuck in a life they never wanted. If they knew their time was limited, they would live totally differently than they do now.
Contrast that with my friend, who desires nothing more than to live the life she already has for as long as possible.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul says,
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation … (Ph 4:12 NIV, emphasis mine).
What does it mean to learn?
The dictionary defines learn as gain or acquire knowledge in (something) by study, experience, or being taught. That implies some effort on our part. Learning doesn’t happen unless we are engaged in the process (whether we want to be or not!). It also doesn’t happen if we are determined not to learn.
So how do we learn to be content?
It starts in Paul’s next line:
I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Ph 4:13 NIV).
We often take that verse to mean we can do anything we want to do, but that’s really not what Paul is talking about here. It comes at the end of Paul’s discussion on being content, and context is everything.
He’s saying that Christ gives him the strength to be content no matter what.
And here’s the kicker — I don’t think Christ distributes strength like raindrops, falling on any and all who happen to be standing under the cloud. It’s when we have a relationship with him. It’s when we know that he’s there, and we trust Him enough to ask (because we want to learn). That’s when we receive the strength we need to be content in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.
When we’re content, when we’re not spending every ounce of our emotional energy being miserable, we can start creating the life we actually want. Contentment makes the most humble living space comfortable and the worst job bearable while we look for ways to improve our situation. And contentment draws people in and enables us to create healthy relationships.
Contentment allows us to find and follow God’s call on our lives.
If the life you have now is something you’d run from given half a chance, then I challenge you. Ask God for direction. And take just one step towards changing it. In the meantime, learn to be content no matter your circumstances. Praise God for what you have, but do what you can to make it better. Get out there and find the abundant life God has for you. Find one that you have no desire to escape from. Live like you were dying.