“Tony* has passed on peacefully, thank you for your prayers.”
Upon receiving the WhatsApp notification of yet another passing this morning, I couldn’t bring myself to send another message of condolence. Not another one.
In the past two weeks alone, I’ve received news of the passing of four individuals in my life. These grave messages came around the same time as Avicii’s passing and four recent road accidents here which claimed the lives of Kathy Ong (19), Jasmine Lim (23) and 3 more Singaporeans – including a father and daughter pair.
It’s been such awful news to take. As I sent my condolences out, I tried to put myself in the shoes of those who were grieving, but I just couldn’t imagine the pain.
But death happens and it will continue to exist even if we’re unwilling to think about it. What we must do in its wake is to reevaluate our purpose for living – what our life will amount to.
Kathy Ong’s passing left a deep impression on me. She would have been 20 this year – the same age as me. She had passion and drive in her studies, she even planned out all the modules she would take in her 4 years of university.
Life is good until it’s not, a vapour that can vanish in the wind at any time. We have to live each day as if it’s our last – with purpose and fulfilment. I suppose we’re used to such mantras, being bombarded by constant reminders in the world.
Live the life you want to. Do what you love. Life is too short to have regrets.
Most people live for the puddle of water in their hands – when they could be living for the river!
There’s some truth to that … But the message these kind of mantras drive home is one that is very self-focused. A life spent on chasing what society dictates is worthwhile is one with shallow purpose: We spend our youth working hard to make a small pile for ourselves, so we can spend our twilight years collecting seashells – and then we die.
Is that what purpose really is? I looked to Ecclesiastes 2, where King Solomon – one the wisest men who ever lived – talks about purpose.
“What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 2:22)
A perennial, purposeless haze hangs over this world – have you felt it yet? Solomon writes that we ought to find joy in our labour: But it’s impossible to find joyful purpose in our work when God is removed from the picture (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25).
The passing pleasures of this world will not satisfy you. It’s a simple equation: A life spent for temporal things won’t have eternal value. We were created for a purpose greater than ourselves.
I watched a movie with my dad recently – Paul, Apostle of Christ. There was a scene where Paul was speaking with the prefect in charge of his execution. The prefect asked Paul how was he able to be so calm before his death.
Paul explained it to him using an analogy: When we scoop water from a river, it slips through our fingers regardless of whether we want it to or not. Life is like water slipping through our fingers – easily gone in a moment.
But eternity is water from the river. Most people live for the puddle of water in their hands – when they could be living for the river! That was where Paul’s peace came from: Facing death, he knew he had lived for Christ.
Life slips through our fingers easily. Be the one who lives for the river and finds his purpose in God. It’s the only path to peace: The knowledge that life’s labour isn’t in vain – but spent for eternity.
* Name has been changed for confidentiality.