Recently I had a conversation with Laurie in which we talked briefly about that. Is there something you’d like to do before you die? I was reminded of the conversation when I encountered another one of those “before you die” lists just yesterday. Both the conversation and the list I saw caused me to give some thought to the idea. In one sense it seems like a good idea to think about it. Pastor Mark Batterson in his book, In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day, makes the point that we often don’t accomplish what we want in life because we never identify what it is that we want to do. So what do I want to do while I’m on this planet?
Here’s the sad part of this topic. In 2008 Dave Freeman accidentally fell at his home, hit his head and died at the age of 47. He only had done about half of the things he included in his list of things to do before he died. I find that both slightly ironic and rather melancholy. I know for a fact there are some things that have been on my unwritten list that will not happen before I die. One of them was to play in a major sporting event before a large crowd. I never came close on that one, and obviously I never will. Another one was to watch a launch of the space shuttle. I never got to do that and since the shuttle is now history I never will.
As I have been contemplating this I’ve had several associated thoughts about life and what I should do with it in the time I have. The first is that I think there is some value in at least considering the question of what I want to accomplish before I die. It is terribly easy to put life on cruise control, to sort of just keep putting one foot in front of the other moving in the same direction I’ve been going because life is so demanding that’s about all I can manage. But that can create a pretty deep rut and in the process eat up an awful lot of years. I don’t want to wake up one day and realize that my life is gone and I’ve been operating on auto pilot. I love the quote from Irenaeus, the early church father, in which he said, “the glory of God is man fully alive.” Ecclesiastes 9:10 says “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” I want to live fully alive each day, to have an enthusiasm that is infectious. It seems in part that will involve making sure I’m pursuing things that are interesting and appealing to me and not giving into the boredom of routine. It’s good to shake myself up and ask, “so, Myatt, what do you want to do? Is there something you’re going to regret if you don’t at least make an attempt?” It also makes for an interesting topic of conversation with loved ones and friends.
A second thought, though, is that inevitably there are going to be some things on that “before you die” list that simply are not going to happen. In my case the space shuttle launch and playing in a big time game are history. There are some other things that I would love to do that I probably will never get to. Dave Freeman missed out on half of his list. Life is going to hold disappointment for all of us, and sometimes it will hold a lot of it. Sadly, as the experience of Freeman shows, that disappointment might well include life coming to an abrupt end, which means to me that we’d best not put off living it to the maximum extent. That inevitable disappointment is an unavoidable characteristic of life on this planet. Why is this so? I believe the Scriptures teach us it is because we live in a fallen world. I think God uses the brokenness of this world to point us toward our home. In Philippians 3:20 Paul wrote, “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Ultimately all the joys of all the things we want to do before we die are mere foretastes of the joy that awaits us in our true home. Even as we think about the things we want to do on this earth we should let both the joy of experiencing them and the disappointment of not experiencing them remind us that a much greater joy awaits us in the presence of our Lord.
Finally, it occurs to me that while thinking about what we want to do before we die is an interesting and valuable exercise, all the lists floating around miss the key point. The really crucial question is not what do I want to do before I die, but what does God want me to do? No matter how exciting or impressive the items on a human being’s list might be, if that person doesn’t ask what God wants him or her to do, the excitement and joy of those things will prove unfulfilling. Something will be missing. We are created to serve God. That’s why we’re on the planet, and if we don’t do that most of all, what we do will prove empty and futile. This is where we find an answer for the melancholy of the disappointment that is so common in life. What does God want me to do before I die? The answer to that question mainly does not have to do with accomplishing some particular large task that I can pat myself on the back for and that others can applaud. What God mostly wants me to do is a list of things that I can accomplish each and every day. He wants me to know him, to praise him, to walk with him, to love people like he loves, to rejoice, to forgive, to live in hope, to serve others, to have integrity, to be patient and kind, to be gentle with flawed people, to have compassion and to give with generosity. In the end, if I don’t ever witness a rocket launch or appear in a movie, but I do those things that God wants me to do, my life will be full, will impact others for his kingdom, and will bring him glory. But if I fail to do those things, no matter what else I do, no matter how exciting it might seem to be, it will be empty. So in the end the answer to what do I want to do before I die is, I want to know God and serve him every day, no matter where I am or what I am doing.