Lent: Live like you were dying

By Mary Ann Otto | Special to The Compass | March 19, 2014

I was raised on country music. My parents were big fans of Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Conway Twitty and Tammy Wynette to name a few. Though I grew to love the music of my generation, I have always had an appreciation for the heart found in country music.

It is not unusual for me to have a local country station on during my hour-long, round-trip commute to and from work each day. A few weeks ago on my way into work, I heard the song, “Live Like You Were Dying,” which is a 2004 recording by Tim McGraw. The lyrics include a conversation by the singer with a 40-year-old friend who had experienced a disturbing medical prognosis. The song is a response to the question: What did you do when you heard the news of your impending death at such a young age?

The song’s chorus answers the question in an uplifting melody and lyrics that speak about skydiving, mountain climbing, etc. On another level, it also includes speaking sweeter, loving more deeply, finally reading the “Good Book,” being a good husband and becoming the friend a friend would like to have.

At the end of the song, the friend tells the singer that he hopes he will have the opportunity to “live like you were dying” someday as well. The song, though it deals with a heart-wrenching event, is hopeful and joyful because it speaks to a tremendous personal conversion.

The song was still playing in my mind when I arrived at work that day. As I picked up my mail, the Feb. 28 edition of the Compass was there and on the cover the headline read: “Remember you are dust” with a picture of a deacon preparing to place ashes on someone’s forehead. Ash Wednesday was upon us once again.

As a child, I always found the phrase intimidating, a somewhat sobering wakeup call. I’ve always had a vivid imagination so I have to admit in the early days I was frightened. I truly didn’t want to talk about death. The phrase was also like reading a “beware” that stated you have so much to do and so little time to accomplish it. It is interesting to consider how a child’s mind and maturity might process our church traditions.

As an adult, it is so much easier to make the connection between “you are dust and to dust you shall return” and “live like you are dying.” The common thread of the brevity of life runs through them both and presents us with a challenge. For a Christian steward, it is to be grateful and make the most of the time you have to build a relationship with Jesus through personal and communal prayer. We are also challenged to use our gifts in service and to share generously of our financial resources.

One concept that has changed for me as I try “to live like I am dying” is that the phrase has become more of an invitation than a threat. It is an invitation to examine one’s priorities. It is an invitation is to live an abundant life through the generosity of oneself and one’s possessions. It is an invitation to unburden oneself and to seek forgiveness and to love with our very lives. Believe it or not, the invitation, even as a part of our Lenten path, becomes the gift and there is joy in the challenge.

The life of a Christian steward can be lived out of an “I have the privilege to” heart and mindset instead of the “I’m obligated to” mentality. Even Blessed Mother Teresa said in serving the poorest of the poor around the world: “The miracle is not that we do this work, but that we are happy to do it.” Blessed Mother Teresa was no doubt a model steward.

It is amazing that human beings are the only creatures who know that their lives will end one day. To be able to take that knowledge and turn it into a faith-filled, loving and fruitful time is a gift. Whether we understand through the phrase: “Remember you are dust,” or through the lyrics: “Live like you were dying,” we have the opportunity and choice to create a life that is a grateful, joyful and a generous response to our triune God. Lent is worth celebrating.

Otto is Stewardship and Special Projects director for the diocesan Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department.

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