A recent cover article in National Geographic magazine was entitled, “This Baby Will Live to be 120.” The article focused on scientific research into particular genes that help people to live longer. In May 2013, a Maclean’s magazine cover article entitled, “How Long Will You Live?” focused on the role played by telomeres (tiny bits of DNA that are like caps on the ends of chromosomes) in longevity.
And we’ve all heard of cryonics—the preservation of dead bodies at very low temperatures in the hope of a future resuscitation. We are living in a culture obsessed with longevity. We exercise, we watch what we eat (even though what we’re supposed to eat keeps changing –I’m back to white bread and butter!), and we watch our blood pressure and cholesterol levels. These are all good things. We should look after our bodies. In our pursuit of longevity, however, let’s not forget that life consists of much more than longevity. In other words, it’s the substance of our lives more than the length that really matters.
Have you ever been to a cemetery and wandered around looking at the tombstones? Other than the name of the deceased, what do you see? On most tombstones there’s usually a birthdate and a death date. Those are interesting things to know but much more interesting and much more important is what is represented by the dash between those two dates. What is your dash going to represent?
The dash might represent long hours at work. Who saw more of you — your spouse and kids or your colleagues?
The dash might represent wealth. How much of that heard-earned money were you able to take with you?
The dash might represent power and influence. How much influence do you have now?
The dash might represent pleasure — however you define that. Too late you discovered how fleeting that was.
When it comes right down to it, the only things you can take with you when you leave this world is your relationship with God and the investment you’ve made in the lives of others. Jesus once said, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”(Mark 8:36). Jesus was urging us to pay attention to the dash.
One person who knew the importance of the dash was the African-American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. In April of 1968, in the last speech he gave the day before his assassination, King said in part: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.” King could have chosen to live a long, peaceful life. The dates on his tombstone would have been far apart. But the dash would have been relatively empty. Rather than pursue longevity, he chose to make a difference—he invested in the dash!
So, what’s your dash represent? If you’re reading this column it’s not too late to add to it. Focus on your relationship with God. Focus on seeking His will. And focus on investing in the lives of others. When it comes time to put that end date on your tombstone, it will be the dash that everyone remembers when they think of you.