“You are perishable. Live accordingly.”
A rough, square piece of painted wood with these five words on it hangs in my house. My husband and I found this little sign with its simple, thought-provoking statements in a rough-around-the-edges antique/junk store in North Carolina. We didn’t see a duplicate of it and were drawn to it. It really summed up how we try to live our lives – with a long view.
Beginning with the end in mind is not a thought process unique to me or my husband, by any means. This approach, as I’ll call it, has implications in my daily life, whether I’m at work or around the house, making what seems like thousands of daily choices. Most importantly, though, this approach directly relates to my spirituality and what I’m looking forward to.
You might be wondering where I’m going with this. You might be thinking, “Is she going to talk about the benefits of planning ahead?”
If you are thinking that, well, you are partly right, but it really doesn’t matter if you are a “planner” or more of a “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of person.
Stick with me, though, as I talk about these two short statements and what they mean to me.
First, I am perishable. What does that even mean?? Most of the time, we hear the opposite of that word: nonperishable. As in, “Bring a nonperishable food item to donate to the food pantry.”
As I have explained to my children (and I’m sure many of you have done the same) this simply means “food that doesn’t go bad or spoil quickly.” So, examples they throw out are canned goods, boxes of cereal and peanut butter. Yeah, yeah. You know what I mean and probably wonder why I’m still explaining this.
I like details. I like to be clear. Moving on…
So, perishable, then, means just the opposite – it is something that is likely to spoil or decay quickly. Merriam-Webster goes so far as to say that perishable means “not likely to stay fresh for a long time if not used.” This means don’t be taking bananas to a food drive!
Now, if I really apply that to myself (“You are perishable”) it doesn’t feel so good, does it? I mean, I know it’s true – I’m not going to last forever. Our bodies just aren’t designed to go on and on forever.
This is sobering, unsettling, and, frankly, kind of a downer. I don’t enjoy dwelling on that fact for long. Let’s continue.
“Live accordingly.” Live according to what?
…To that rather uncomfortable reality I was just going on about…that I’m not going to live on this earth for a really long time. I’m not even guaranteed a certain amount of time, for that matter. It’s kind of like buying a gallon of milk without an expiration date printed on it. How long will it last?
So, how does this change the way I live? Well, it makes me think a little more about many of my choices.
Sometimes, it saves me money. Sometimes, it requires that I deny myself something that I think I want. Sometimes, it makes me tired to think so much.
Let me see if I can give you an example. Ever since I started my first “real,” adult job, I’ve pretty routinely saved a fixed portion for when I retire or just need a large chunk of money unexpectedly (Think, new tires or new air conditioning unit).
No, I didn’t really need to worry about retiring when I was twenty-four. (I’m not twenty-four anymore, by the way.) Planning for this inevitable “end” to the go-to-work part of my life is something I hear is good to plan for, though. I live according to the fact that my working for paydays will eventually, I hope, end.
Still with me?
Good. Well stay with me because I’m about to take it to the next level. So get ready.
I’m not really that smart or disciplined or “good” to think this way and try to practice planning for what is to come. The truth is, I was lucky to be reared by parents who worked this way.
My daddy always challenged my brother and me to think about the impact of what we did. I mean, on Everything. We. Did.
It was a bit irritating as a child and a teenager to listen to him explain in painstaking detail why we were to, say, stack the firewood a certain way or cover the vehicle seats with towels or move the furniture in such a way as to not twist or damage it.
Let’s just say my daddy knows how to make things last and how to think toward the future. He’s also the one who taught me to save for retirement when I was twenty-four.
Once I got a little older, all these little “teachable moments” from my daddy began to make so much more sense. If, at the beginning of a project, I think about the end or the outcome of it, my approach changes slightly. I may not always get what I want immediately, but, if I am looking towards the end result, I know that I will eventually get what I really want.
In fact, what I really want may be even better than the short term, quicker result.
This is certainly not very popular by our society’s expectations. I mean, how many opportunities do I have every day for instant gratification? If I remember that I need to send a gift to my nephew for his birthday, I can simply browse, select, order, pay and ship right from my phone.
My children have no idea of what it means to wait for a favorite television program to come on. They simply watch it, literally, on demand or set the DVR to record it so it is available whenever they want it. This is why we sometimes watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas in July.
Of course, this convenience doesn’t do a lot for building patience or perseverance in me OR my children. We don’t have to wait for very much if we don’t want to.
Some things, however, do require a wait or some type of forethought. Not all things are available “on demand.”
The Bible is full of teachings about planning ahead, most of them directly speaking to the need to plan for the judgement day. I want to focus on one, in particular, that I think mirrors the message on my rough little wooden sign.
II Corinthians 4:16-5:1 says,
“Therefore, we do not lose heart, even though our outward man (body) is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house (physical body), this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” [emphasis mine]
The phrases I bolded tell me directly that my physical self is temporary. It is perishable. This also tells me that there is something eternal for me, for us, even after our “tent” is destroyed.
The Bible tells me how to live according to my perishable state. If I do what it says, I will get to experience that “house not made with hands” that will not spoil or perish.
Yes, maybe it is because I’m getting old that I’m thinking about all of this. It could even be because of all the instability and violence in the world that we are becoming more keenly aware of every day.
Whatever it is, I know I need to live according to the fact that I am perishable. I have an expiration date. I have to begin each day thinking about my temporary state and what the Bible says is required to spend eternity in heaven. Then, I have to DO what it says.
What I choose today has an impact on my someday. I get a daily reminder of this when I look at my little sign each morning and each evening. It is hanging right beside my bathroom mirror.
I encourage you to look at the direction of your life and your daily choices. Do they reflect the certainty that you are perishable?