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The Ellipses of Our Lives

During my devotional reading the other day, I was struck by the following two phrases: "Sarah lived. . . . And Sarah died" (Gen. 23:1-2).

It occurred to me that rather than being a mere statement of two facts or a morbid, depressing thought, those phrases should be a challenge to each of us. After all, we all will, like Sarah, one day die. What makes the difference in individual lives is what one does with the time he or she has between those two bland and sterile statements of biography: "_______ lived. . . . And _______ died."

The difference between the lives of different people is marked by the space of life indicated by the ellipses.

Another stark illustration of the truth is the en dash (some people might erroneously call it a hyphen) between the birth date of a person and the date of death on a tombstone. The person's life is indicated by that en dash.

What are we putting into those ellipses or that en dash of our lives? Are they filled with emptiness, nothing (Solomon called it vanity)?

Are we filling them with selfish things, things that concern and focus on only ourselves, what we enjoy, what we can get?

Or are we filling those ellipses, that en dash, with things that are designed to help others? Things of eternal value?

After all, we are blessed materially not only so our own temporal needs will be met but also that we might be able to help others (Eph. 4:28). Similarly, we are comforted in our sufferings, sorrows, and losses so that we can, in turn, know how to comfort others in their own times of suffering, sorrow, and loss (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

Such things might not seem like great accomplishments to some people, but in the long term of eternity, they may actually prove priceless.

Perhaps you think, "What good can I do? I'm just one person. I'm not wealthy. I'm not talented. I'm not wise, filled with words of sage advice."

English poet John Milton (1608-1674) surely must have been tempted to think similarly when he lost his eyesight. Yet, upon reflection, he wrote in Sonnet 19, better known as "On His Blindness,"

When I consider how my light is spent,

Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,

And that one Talent which is death to hide

Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

My true account, lest he returning chide;

“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”

I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need

Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best

Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state

Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed

And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:

They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Milton's contemporary John Donne (1572-1631) wrote,

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

own were; any man's death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

We all can fill the ellipses and the en dash that represent life with things that matter, things of value, things that help others, things that will ensure that our lives are legacies of remembrance. Not merely that we lived and died but that we made a difference for someone.

With what are you and I filling the ellipses of our lives?

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