“Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should.” (Psalm 90:12, TLB) A few weeks ago a friend told me how he and his wife had been considering names for their soon-to-be-born son, and one of the names they were considering was Caleb. What a great name. From a man in the Bible who never stopped, who lived his story to the very end.
Caleb was a companion of Joshua, and at the age of 85 asked to receive as his inheritance the hill country where the scary enemy lived in fortified cities. He still wanted the hard stuff. He was not done yet. (Joshua 14:12)
And so, thinking about Caleb, I dug out my copy of Wild Goose Chase (Mark Batterson) and found this: “I want to die doing what I love. I am determined to pursue God-ordained passions until the day I die. Life is too precious to settle for anything else.”
Batterson gave an example, Wilson Bently, the famous photographer of snowflakes, maybe the first person to do so, who died of pneumonia he contacted after walking six miles in a blinding snowstorm, taking photos of snowflakes. He died as a result of following his passion.
We don’t know how the Caleb from the Bible died, but we can assume it was while he was carving a home out of the rough country.
I did a Google search on the phrase, “people who died doing what they love,” and I got page after page of articles and blogs. True, most of the people listed in the stories died doing things like freestyle skiing, BASE jumping, adventure filmmaking, mountain climbing, solo ballooning, big-wave surfing, back-country skiing, Congo river kayaking, and free-solo climbing.
Of course, there are two ways of looking at these particular deaths. You could say (1) they died because they insisted on doing something dangerous for too many years and were lucky to have lived as long as they did, or (2) they died pursuing the very passions that motivated and fueled their life.
As a safe and responsible father I should go with the first interpretation, but with respect to how I want to live my own life I prefer the second.
But to say I want to die while doing what I love, well, that might lead to traumatic consequences. Suppose I fell down dead while teaching Compass class or Iron Men. That would be great for me but would take some time for the class to recover.
Or I might die while running or cycling. If that happened I hope it would be because I finally pushed my body beyond known limits and found peace on the other side and not because some distracted driver took me out while I was safely minding my own business.
This is better. What if I die while writing in my journal (and afterward everyone agrees it was the best piece of writing anyone, ever, had written) while leaning against a pine tree near a mountain trail where only moments before I had finished a ten-mile run after spending the night in my tent at high altitude.
The point isn’t to schedule death, but to live life; to lean hard into our passions every day, all the way to the end. What we are doing in our last moments is insignificant when compared to what we did before. When the Psalmist wanted us to number our days, it was about living, not dying.
So Wednesday noon I was at Jason’s with Byron and Paul when a woman we all knew walked by and asked if we were discussing the classes we’d be teaching. Good guess; that was exactly what we were talking about. As she walked away she said, “I taught classes for too many years, now I’m done with that.”
The three of us agreed we hope we’re never “done with that.” There are enough people who are done with that. We need more who are willing to push all the way to the end.
As in those cross country skiers in the Olympics who give 100% of their energy until crossing the finish line and then collapse into a gangly heap of legs and skis and poles, we should stay engaged in our God-ordained passions all the way to the finish line. We don’t want to be done with that before the finish just because we get tired.
Mark Batterson wrote, “We need to quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death. Instead, we need to start playing offense with our lives. The world needs more daring people with daring plans. Why not you?”
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32