How to Live When: You’ve Got No Idea How Much Time You’ve Got Left

When I called Mama this morning, she told me how someone we desperately love was told by a doctor this week that she only had 3-5 years left, max.

And in the stunned silence… mama had whispered,

“Yeah, who knows how long we’ve really got?”

Somebody answer us that in a tipsy world of a  novel pandemic and new variants and various vaccinations and all kinds of uncertainty.

Maybe if someone told us that we had ten whole spins around the sun left, we’d be duped into thinking there was time to fritter away the breathing with flipping channels or flipping fingers or flipping lids, as if that ever made the living better instead of really bitter.

“Maybe no one ever really knows,” Mama is quietly reflective on the other end of the connection.

Yeah, yeah — go ahead and rattle the door all you want, but there ain’t no one ever who really knows how long you have.

You’re going to have to figure out how to live without knowing when you die.


Death may be certain, but when it comes is uncertain, which is what makes the living gloriously uncertain — a choice.

Who knows if you’ve really got time to clean out the garage, or to read this endless news feed, or to pick up and move to Haiti and live your dream of spending the fleeting time holding the hands of forgotten ones.

The road ahead would seem obvious if you knew how much road ahead there was.

But no one tells you if you have just enough time to laugh till your belly hurts, one more time with the beautifully strange people you love, if you have time to pull their neck close and whisper hoarse in their ear that there aren’t enough words to say what a love like this has done to you.

No one tells you if you have enough time to try to change the world or just enough time to try change your own story.

If you knew how much time you have to live, you’d know how to live.

I think about this as the mama of two children with life-threatening health complications:

When will our youngest daughter’s heart begin to fail and we will need to get on a list and wait for a heart transplant before her’s beats its last? Will our youngest son’s diabetes have a diabetic low while driving down some highway at 100 km an hour or  while he’s sleeping in the dead of night so he doesn’t wake up come morning?

When we live daily fighting back death you realize:

You don’t know how much time you have to live — so you have to make time to make the life you want to live.

Everyone knows they will die, they just don’t know when. So forget about the when.

Who cares when you die. The real question is: when will you start to live?

You already know: You will die

So the only question that remains is: Will you live?

The right question isn’t:

How many days do I get to live but — How am I living today?

Will you risk impossible things today so you remember how much you love the rush of real oxygen in your lungs, adrenaline in your veins?

When will you lay there just to listen to the sound of him breathing in sleep beside you?

When will you memorize the way her hair feels as you stroke it back from her brow?

When will you bend over the cup and inhale the steam of tea and breathe in living?

When will you have time to walk in the woods with no place to go but looking up?

When will you be done with the armed way of living — when will you drop the arms you’ve crossed in front of you like some cynical shield, steeling you from really feeling?

Let the grief for all the losses, and for all that isn’t, just come. Tears can fall like rain and wash your wounds right clean, and wounds are beauty marks that can make you one of the medalled warriors.

You can join the brave and move crossed arms into open hands, into open hands to receive and really feel the glory that is called life.

There is common grace everywhere but it is startling uncommon to taste it on the tip of your tongue or feel it pulse through you.

Sometimes the only way through is not taking the next step — it’s taking a wild leap of faith. Take it. Do it. Live it.

The question never is: How long have I got to live?

The point is simply: You’ve got to live. You get to live. Today.

Do not spend the life you do have — wishing for the life you don’t have.

There is snow clinging to window panes today.

There is breathing that can cling to sheer Glory today. Sheer Grace — sheer God.

Yeah, who knows —

What would happen if you treated everyone you met today as if they only had 12 hours left to live?

Somebody could make all the minutes of their day just answer that.

After I say goodbye to Mama this morning, I can hear it from the kitchen sink —

The hands on the clock ticking like a miracle about to detonate into sheer glory.


My own story —  of how to figure out how to live my one life…

Because your soul needs you to take the time to figure out how to live your one life