The Last Time

Oct 2, 2023
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The Last Time

“You always know when you’re doing something for the first time, and you almost never know when you’re doing something for the last time.”

That’s the way blogger David Cain paraphrased an important life lesson he heard from author/professor William Irvine. It’s spot on, isn’t it? 

We know when we’re trying a food we’ve never tried before, but we have no way of knowing whether we’ll ever visit a favorite vacation spot again or, unimaginably worse, whether we’ll see a member of our family again after they head out for work or school at the beginning of another day.

It’s hard to think about that, but it’s also helpful.

Room 126

Once a quarter, I bring communion to members of our church who can’t get to church. They’re usually people who live in nursing homes. Yesterday was my day.

First up was the stereotypical nursing home. People in wheelchairs parked near the nurses station, staring blankly as an awful smell hung in the air. After some conversation with Ed, communion, and a time of prayer, I asked what I could do for him. Was there a certain food he’d like me to bring or something to read? Ed joked that he’d like the key to the front door, but I knew he wasn’t really kidding.

It made me wonder about the last day that he spent wherever he used to live. Did he know he wouldn’t be coming back? And I thought about what might have led him to this place.

My last stop for the afternoon was at a nursing home that was nicer than the first, but only a little bit. In Room 126, I found Chuck and Annette. Chuck has been bedridden for several years. While his words came slowly, there was still a sparkle in his eyes as he quoted Scripture. His love for his wife and for the Lord were very clear. 

Annette, nine years Chuck’s junior, spoke with energy and humor. She talked with me about their 60-year marriage, their kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids. 

Chuck spent much of his career on staff with our church, leading its various education programs. Together, he and Annette had toured the country, leading marriage workshops. 

Even though Chuck was in a nursing home, I was reminded of Psalm 16:6: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” In all the ways that matter most, that seemed true for Chuck and Annette.

Still, it made me wonder about the last marriage workshop they ever led and the last night they ever spent together in their home. Did they know those would be the last times for each? And I thought about what led them to where they are right now — not so much the nursing home, but in their marriage and their faith.

In all things

One of The Seven Habits for Highly Effective Living that Stephen Covey made famous was to “begin with the end in mind.” Many years before he coined that phrase, the Greek philosopher Solon said something very similar: “In all things that you do, consider the end.”

To be honest, visiting people in nursing homes is somewhat jarring because it brings me face-to-face with what the end of life looks like. And it leaves me more than a little reflective. 

This weekend, it brought to mind something Tony Hixon wrote about recently. Thinking about a recent trip to the Grand Canyon, he noted that its formation took place slowly over a long period of time. “Ultimately, this is how the world changes — slowly, gradually, one small step at a time…but it adds up.” And that’s how we change as well.

Our “boundary lines” won’t just “fall” in pleasant places by accident. While salvation is not a matter of works, so much of the fruit of our lives will come about through abiding in Christ and through faithfulness, which is what Eugene Peterson wrote about in his aptly named, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Doing the right things slowly, repeatedly, over a long period of time. It’s how a vibrant relationship with Christ is formed, a strong marriage, good health, and a solid financial foundation. 

What if?

It’s true that we always know when we’re doing something for the first time, and we almost never know when we’re doing something for the last time. That idea is somewhat startling, isn’t it? Haunting, even. It’s a simple idea, but it carries a lot of weight.

My three biggest takeaways are:

It’s not a call to live in fear. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and say, “Whew, made it. I survived, got here safely.” While I’m not interested in taking reckless chances, I don’t want to play life too cautiously, either. I want to follow God’s call with boldness and a sense of adventure.

I’m encouraged by some insights from my friends, John and Joan. While raising their children, a book they read, Just Courage by Gary Haugen, helped change their hopes for their kids.

“He talked about how common it is for parents to pray for their kids to be happy, healthy, and safe,” Joan said. “He challenged readers that it would be more powerful if we prayed quite differently for our kids. So I started praying they would be brave, courageous and dangerous young men and women of God.” John and Joan encouraged their kids to look for needs they could meet, like sitting by a kid who is alone in the cafeteria, and to be bold in living out their faith.

It’s a reminder to be intentional about cultivating helpful habits. The implications of many of life’s “last times” and how well we accept them will be impacted greatly by habits we’re practicing now. What are we doing now to strengthen our relationship with Christ and the people who matter to us most of all? How well are we taking care of ourselves? Are the financial habits we’re practicing today likely to lead us to a good place or a bad place 10 or 20 or 40 years into the future? Which of those habits could stand a little improvement?

It’s an encouragement to live with gratitude. We’re not promised tomorrow or even our next breath. Every day is a gift. But we have to decide to see it that way. As Andy said in The Shawshank Redemption, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.” 

To grumble and complain and take life for granted is to die. To ask God to fill us with His Holy Spirit each day, and to be attentive and responsive to His leadings, is to live.

“You always know when you’re doing something for the first time, and you almost never know when you’re doing something for the last time.”

What are the implications for you?

Written by

Matt Bell

Matt Bell

Matt Bell is Sound Mind Investing's Managing Editor. He is the author of five biblical money management books and the teacher or co-teacher on three video-based small group resources. His latest book, Trusted: Preparing Your Kids for a Lifetime of God-Honoring Money Management, was published by Focus on the Family in 2023. Matt has spoken at churches, universities, and conferences throughout the country and has been quoted in USA TODAY, U.S. News & World Report, and many other media outlets.

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