"Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."
What is the first word that pops into your mind when you read this verse? For me, it's "funerals". This has to be one of the most commonly quoted nuggets of Scripture at a funeral or memorial service. It is spoken as a gentle reassurance that death doesn't have to make us fearful, because the Author of life is right by our side, protecting and comforting us.
But I think this verse is also written for those of us who are still living. Why we wait until someone dies before we meditate on it is puzzling to me. In fact, I think we do ourselves a great disservice by filing it away for memorials and funerals.
Let's face it ~ EVERY DAY we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. This shadow follows all of us...no one is immune. This shadow accompanies a young child as well as an octogenarian. It follows the healthy teen as it does the person riddled with terminal cancer. As much as we might try to dodge this shadow or put it out of our thoughts, death is a natural part of life...ours included. And NONE of us knows the day or the hour when we will breathe our last breath.
I am not suggesting that it's healthy to dwell on our own mortality. But we get so caught up in the business of living that we don't live with the understanding that today could be our last. I know I don't. I squander time. I shrug off missed opportunities to do an act of kindness. I behave as if I am guaranteed a few more decades on planet earth. I'm not.
Two weeks ago I got a wake-up call. The carnage of senseless murders in a local beach town, followed by the untimely deaths of three women enjoying a day on the lake remind me that each day is PRECIOUS ~ and each day could be my last. I think of those dozen people and cannot help but try to put myself into their shoes. Why would it have cross their minds that a jaunt to the beauty salon, or an outing with friends, would bring the final word in their life stories?
We have no guarantees for tomorrow. Shouldn't that make us more grateful for today, and more purposeful in how we spend it? As much as we may want to run from the shadow of death, maybe we can begin to see it as a friend...there to remind us to live each day to the fullest. If those people who died in the salon and on the lake could talk to us, I think they would tell us to live purposefully ~ love extravagantly ~ and savor the gift of each day.
"Gaily I lived as ease and nature taught,
And spent my little life without a thought,
And am amazed that Death, that tyrant grim,
Should think of me, who never thought of him."
~Rene Francois Regnier