“I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.” — Ecclesiastes 2:3
Several years ago, our family became acquainted with a man named Max who resided in the same care facility where my mother lived out the last few weeks of her life. Max, who had at one time been a prominent banker, rancher and successful businessman, had at some point suffered a devastating stroke that rendered him mostly paralyzed and in need of full time care. Yet always cheerful and outgoing Max would station himself in his motorized wheelchair near the front door where he greeted visitors as they came and went. That’s how we became friends with this man who we grew to love and admire. But there was one special thing Max did that I will never forget. His departing words were always the same, to encourage us to go out and live our lives to the fullest — and with haste. “Remember,” he would add, “this is not dress rehearsal.”
It seems to me we have but two choices when it comes to trying to live life to its fullest, either take all we can from the world, or give all we can to it. As an obvious omission in Max’s advice, I’ve always been curious which he was referring to. Having known the man as I did, however, I prefer to believe it was the latter. But then, perhaps his omission was intentional so that we would have to figure that part out for ourselves.
King Solomon struggled with this issue of how to live life to its fullest most of his life, taking it on as sort of a research project, the results of which he summed up in an essay known as the Book of Ecclesiastes. As he put it, “I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.” His conclusion? Indulging in the world’s pleasures is ultimately meaningless. There’s only one thing that really matters, he said, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Or as the great eighteenth century Anglican cleric and theologian John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, once said, “Do all you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you can.” But Max would insist that we also make haste in doing so. “Remember,” as he so often reminded us, “this is not dress rehearsal.”