I’m telling you, without exception, the worst part of being a teacher is attending a funeral of one of your kids…not your students…your kids. That’s what they’ll always be. I’ve been in education for 20 years now, and all of them, every single one, are my kids. Some of them are now in their 30’s and are as bald as I am, but they’re still my kids.
One of my kids from the Calera High class of 2011 died last Friday in a car accident. He was a good guy, and I can only imagine the grief his family must be enduring. Another graduate lost his mom last week. She was also the sister of a co-worker and friend. Terrible loss…terrible terrible loss. Two other friends and another of my kids were rear-ended this weekend. All three are okay, but lucky to be so. And this all in the last week.
James 4:14 tells us, “whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” And it really is, isn’t it? Even a long life of seventy or eighty years goes by quickly. How I got to be forty-six so fast is beyond me. Just yesterday, I was in my twenties, just getting my career started. When someone we love dies, it causes us all to pause and think. It’s as if the steady flow of incidentals that measure out the pattern of our days stops…even if only for a moment…and we’re confronted with a great silence. In that quiet moment, we stare out at the sweep of eternity and realize how small our time here really is, how little an imprint we make in the vast expanse of time and space.
Besides life being but a vapor, James also reminds us that we don’t know what will happen tomorrow…or today for that matter. Even the next moment is uncertain. The uncertainty of life is a frequent theme for Loren when he speaks to us, no doubt influenced by his work. I imagine working in law enforcement provides graphic and painful reminders of the brevity of life, of how easily and quickly it can end. But James goes one step further and asks us an even deeper, more pressing question…”what is your life?” Why are you here? What’s your purpose? What’s your mission?
I have always been prone to drift to the poetic, always loved the magic of words that capture those moments…the ones that allow you to hear the drumbeat and pulse that runs beneath our lives, to feel the slow current of the river’s elbow, and know even in the moment that this is one of “those” moments. Moments of sadness and death often provide these. We shouldn’t be surprised. Solomon knew that it was “Better to go to the house of mourning Than to go to the house of feasting, For that is the end of all men; And the living will take it to heart” (Ecc. 7:2). We need these moments. They remind us of who we are and the lot of all men.
Amy says I’ve changed since my dad died in 2011. It’s probably true for all of us who have lost the surety of a parent, the unquestioning and unwavering certainty of that love, guidance, and safety. I have to admit, I sometimes allow myself to ponder darker thoughts. At 46 with a seven and nine-year-old, I wonder sometimes if I’ll live to know their children. Will their children know me? But honestly, even in this, I find beauty. It reminds me that I have limited time to revel in these moments. But even more importantly, I am reminded that I have a finite number of moments to influence my children for good, for God. Not knowing what that number is doesn’t make it any less limited. We never know, and that should make every moment matter.
I get these all the time in the truck with the kids…sometimes the window’s down and Emily or Will…maybe both…are telling me about their day. Sometimes, a lot of times, they’re being silent, staring out the window. I find myself lost in the wonder of who they are, of their possibilities, of who and what they can become, and what I envision goes on in the vast expanse that is their imaginations. They, as children do, hate it when I get all Dad-eyed and start telling them all this. Frankly, I love that too!
I am sure, however, that some of these moments are more than just moments…they are “those moments,” the ones that will echo in their hearts all their lives. We should make them matter. Fathers, in particular are tasked to “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). To enjoy the beauty of a singular moment with a view of all eternity at the same time…what is your life? That’s a pretty good definition in my book. Our lives are but a vapor…in the grand scheme, we are here for only a breath, but if we can influence others for God, we have used our vapor well; we have made our moment matter.
One final thought: what a comfort it is to stand beside the coffin of a Christian and know he or she is comforted. What a comfort the thought is when we consider the inevitable end for all of us, when we glimpse the twilight of our own lives. Psalms 116:15 allows us to see death from the Lord’s perspective. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” When our faith is in Him, we can take comfort in knowing where our eternity will be even if we don’t know what tomorrow holds.