As most of the world knows by now, a false alert was pushed out to cellphones across the state of Hawaii last Saturday morning warning of an incoming ballistic missile. Panic ensued for nearly half an hour before we were all assured this was a mistake and there was no real threat. But I’ll be honest, Aaron and I were never worried. While the rest of the state was thinking they were about to die, we were sitting on the couch, cozy, drinking coffee, probably scrolling Instagram. And this isn’t because we’re just steady, calm people, not prone to panic and worry (do you know me at all?) - we just didn’t get the alert on our phones. We were absolutely oblivious until my friend sent this text:
When I opened Twitter to see that no major news outlets were reporting it, and we never heard any sirens – which were tested as recently as December – our original theory was that someone made the graphic as a joke (a terrible joke, by the way). But then a couple of minutes later, a Hawaii news station I follow retweeted Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard saying the threat was false. So that was it. There was no point in time where Aaron or I ever thought the threat was real.
But as the news started pouring out about the alert, we quickly realized how it affected everyone around us. Saturday night we were at a bonfire with friends and nearly the only topic of conversation was the false missile alert. Did you get the alert? Where were you? What did you do? Several friends drove to a military base. Others saw people running toward Diamond Head for shelter. Another watched as frantic tourists bombarded helpless police officers. 9-1-1 lines were jammed. People were scared for their lives. I know that had we received the alert I would have probably lost it. Goodbye, emotional stability! Farewell, sanity!
I don’t know how often you all think about death, but I think about it a lot. I’m not trying to be morbid or anything, but I just feel like I think about it more often than the average person. It might have something to do with the fact that I lived next to a cemetery for seven years. You can’t escape thinking about it when everyday there is a new plot of dry earth dug up near your parking lot. Last Saturday, a lot more people were thinking about their death, and probably in that span of 30 minutes, the whole of their lives and whether or not they did it right. This is so cliché – I know that. But the truth is a lot of people thought they had 15 minutes to live on Saturday. A lot of people were running for their lives, trying to figure out how to protect their children and themselves. A lot of people were resigned to the fact that it was over. And that's when you start to think about your life.
While we were home in Nebraska, we recently heard a sermon on Ecclesiastes. Solomon, the writer of this particular book of the Bible, was the richest man in the world. He had everything – you name it, he had it, and if he didn’t have it, he could get it in overwhelming abundance. Even still, at the end of it all, he looked back and thought it was all worthless. It meant nothing. All the wealth and prestige and stuff he had accumulated was garbage. So in light of his revelations, the focus of the sermon was on living for the moments that matter. Making our lives count. It's not about possessions and money and power. It's about not missing moments with our people. Not giving our lives over to bitterness, anger, addictions, feeling like a victim, being a slave to our pasts, but instead moving onward and forward and not missing the life that’s happening right now, in front of us, today. Moments that we’ll never get back. Moments we’ll never experience again.
I’ve missed a lot of moments in my life. I know I have because I was wasting my life wishing to go back and make choices over again. Wishing my life hadn’t gone the way it did. Wishing away all that I had been given with an ungrateful heart, nursing my wounds and remembering all the ways I had been wronged. I missed moments with family and friends. I missed opportunities. I missed them because of stored up hurt and anger and bitterness. I missed them because I was striving for what I thought life should be instead of living in the reality of what was.
I wish I wouldn’t have _________.
My life would be different if only _________.
My life would be better if __________.
Do you ever rehearse your answers to these kinds of statements? Mentally fill them in whenever you're reminded of a certain person or scenario or life event? Use them as an excuse for where you are in your life? I used to spend a lot of time on these kinds of thoughts – imagining these kinds of scenarios. Meanwhile, my real life was passing me by. In her first book, Cold Tangerines, Shauna Niequist highlights this idea perfectly – about life and moments and not living in the past. Because we can rehash our stories and look back at our choices or the choices made for us by other people and see our narrative as tragedy, or we can move forward with forgiveness and grace and love – for others and for ourselves, realizing that we'll never get our moments back again. Shauna calls this kind of thing letting them off the hook. She has a whole essay about it in her book. She writes,
“When I’m trying to forgive someone, I picture myself physically lifting that person off a big hook, like in a cartoon. I never want to. I prefer to stew and focus my anger on them like a laser pointer and wish them illnesses and bad skin. I hope that they will get fat and people will talk behind their backs and their toilets will overflow and their computers will crash. I work on my anger toward them like I’m working on a loose tooth with my tongue, back and forth… “
But there comes a point when you have to let all that go – when you have to let that go so you stop missing your life. So maybe today you need to let someone off the hook for all the ways they wronged you – and I’m not talking to you if you are currently in a situation where someone is wronging you – abusing you in some way, physically harming you – you DO NOT let those people off the hook. You tell on them and you get help. But I am talking to you if you are hanging on to the past in some way. If you’re letting bitterness and anger tell your story. If your whole life is seen through a lens of, “Yeah, but my life would be better if ______.” I’ll never forget what my dad said to me one time, “Life moves fast. Don’t wish it away.” Don't wish it away! Not parts of it. Not whole chapters. Not current circumstances while you wait for the next thing. I'm here to tell you that one minute you're 21 thinking you have all the time in the world and then you're 33 and you're wondering where time went and my dad is 58 now and he feels the same way and now I sound like that Five for Fighting song. But your life is right now. Let yourself off the hook. Mentally pick yourself up off that hook every single day if you have to so that you don’t waste your life and miss the moments happening today all around you. Let your parents off the hook. Let your ex off the hook. Let your kids or your neighbor or whoever wronged you off the hook so you can move forward and live the one life you've been given.
Faced with our own mortality, like many felt here on Saturday morning, do you really want to look at the whole of your life and feel like you missed it? Wasted it? Watched it go by while you worked on your anger and bitterness like a loose tooth? Sacrificed your family and friends on the altar of power and prestige? I don’t. I want to get to the end and know I gave out every ounce of love and grace and forgiveness I could possibly muster. I want to make a career out of letting people off the hook. I don’t want to miss any more moments - any laughs or smiles or opportunities to be an encourager, a comforter, a hug. I want to live each day in all its sweetness and difficulty and trial and triumph. I want to feel each moment and squeeze the life out of it. Capture it in my heart, undistracted by the past, laser-focused on all that's ahead. So that when it is my time to head on home to glory, I don't feel like I missed it all.
In another essay in Cold Tangerines, Shauna writes,
“Today is your big moment. Moments, really. The life you’ve been waiting for is happening all around you.... This is life in all its glory, swirling and unfolding around us, disguised as pedantic, pedestrian non-events. But pull of the mask and you will find your life, waiting to be made, chosen, woven, crafted.
Your life, right now, today, is exploding with energy and power and detail and dimension, better than the best movie you have ever seen. You and your family and your friends and your house and your dinner table and your garage have all the makings of a life of epic proportions, a story for the ages. Because they all are. Every life is.
You have stories worth telling, memories worth remembering, dreams worth working toward, a body worth feeding, a soul worth tending, and beyond that, the God of the universe dwells within you, the true culmination of super and natural.
You are more than dust and bones.
You are spirit and power and image of God.
And you have been given Today.”
Life moves fast. Don't wish it away. It'll be gone in a moment. Don't miss it.