By James M. Decker
I’m writing this essay on September 11, 2019, so I’d feel a little off to write about something other than my feelings on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America. A couple of weeks back, I wrote an essay called “Priorities,” centered around Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement from the NFL at age 29. I’ve been blown away by the feedback on that essay. It seemed to strike a nerve with people from all ages and walks of life. That was heartening to me, to see people truly care about the right priorities in their life and to be encouraged when others take a stand for their own priorities. Whether he intended to or not, Andrew Luck likely has inspired a lot of other folks to reflect on the priorities in their own lives.
When I think about 9/11, I think about priorities. When we all woke up on September 11, 2001, we assumed (with no reason to think otherwise) that it was just another ordinary Tuesday. 3,000 people woke up not knowing it would be their last day. Some of them perished by throwing themselves into harm’s way, for the benefit of their fellow men and women, as emergency responders. Others were simply doing ordinary things — traveling on a commercial airline, working at their office job — when they fell victim to terrorism.
We never know when it’s our time. None of the victims of the 9/11 attacks expected their time to come that day, but it did. All we can do is live our life the right way, with the right priorities, every day, so that when it IS our time, we’re ready. James 4:13-17 gives us some good advice in that regard:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”
I’m speaking as the world’s worst procrastinator. I’ve got a LOT of things that I’m going to get done tomorrow. Sadly, plenty of tomorrows have passed for some of those items and I still haven’t finished them. But the truth is, we really don’t know if tomorrow is coming. Like the audience for James’ words, we carry on and make plans for tomorrow, taking for granted that tomorrow will come. But what if it doesn’t? Some day, it surely won’t, because death is the only guarantee in life. We can prepare for it coming in the natural course of life. But what about when it comes unexpectedly? For a lot of our fellow Americans, one day, on September 11, 2001, without warning, tomorrow DIDN’T come. It doesn’t take a massive tragedy like that, either. Car wrecks, heart attacks, and any number of sudden events can take each of us, or the people we care about, without warning.
What would you do if you knew tomorrow wasn’t coming? I’m not talking about the “arrogant schemes” that we all have— careers, businesses, traveling, hobbies, etc. I’m talking about the simple, meaningful things in life. Would you remember to say “I love you” to the people that you care about? Would you give a hug to a friend, if you knew you’d never see them again? What about that exasperated phone call you had with a parent or with a child? What about that argument you had with a spouse or a significant other? Would you leave that hanging, or would you fix it before the conversation ended?
Like I wrote about Andrew Luck, our lives are short. They pass by quickly, and we need to use them for the right reasons. But sometimes, they pass by even more quickly than expected. We don’t always get the time to do all the things we want and need to do. There are a lot of things that we could all do better “tomorrow.” But remember the message of James 4:13-17 and from September 11, 2001: tomorrow isn’t a guarantee. Instead of waiting for tomorrow, would you join me and work on doing the meaningful things a little bit better today?
* * *
James Decker is a lawyer, farmer, and mayor in Stamford, Texas, and the creator of the forthcoming “West of 98” podcast and website. He may be contacted through Facebook at facebook.com/james.decker. Listen to our podcast interview with James here.