The exact words of the orthodontist, preparing me for radiation treatments in the wake of my oral cancer surgery, were: “I want you to repeat this process each night for the rest of your life.”
He had just outlined the nightly routine I was to follow: squeeze fluoride from a tube into the soft plastic molds he made of my teeth, place over my lower teeth for 10 minutes, then the upper for 10 minutes, and go 30 minutes without rinsing, eating, or drinking. The steps are not difficult and certainly not stressful. But every day for the rest of my life on planet Earth? What a sobering thought.
At first, it felt as if I had been sentenced to a lifetime in a prison cell. It felt confining, burdensome, depressing. Then I began to put it into perspective.
The fact is I am doing plenty of things I expect to repeat each day for the rest of my life. There are the obvious ones like breathing, eating, sleeping, waking, and talking. But there is a long list of activities I have chosen to do on a daily basis and expect to repeat all the way home. These include brushing my teeth, bathing, reading my Bible, praying, taking my medicine, and getting some form of exercise. I expect to love my wife and family and work at obeying my Lord every day as long as I live. In no way do I find these restrictive or onerous. They are simply on-going payments I make as investments in the quality of life I have chosen.
My brother Ron is five years older than me, which makes him pushing 70, but don’t tell him; he thinks he’s still a teenager. While in his late twenties, Ron was diagnosed with diabetes. A pastor of Baptist churches in central Alabama for four decades, he has given himself two insulin shots a day ever since. Every day. For the rest of his life.
Milt Gabrielse was a businessman and lay minister of music in Missouri churches, and the father of Dr. Ken Gabrielse, chairman of the church music department of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Milt was one of the happiest, most joyful persons I ever met. Over the last decade of his life, he had serious heart problems which necessitated life-threatening surgeries on several occasions. All the medications he took for his heart finally destroyed his kidneys. During the final year of his life, he lived with a transplanted heart valve and a pacemaker, took lots and lots of medicine, and spent the night–every night–from 9 pm to 6 am hooked up to a dialysis machine. According to his wife Donna, every morning as soon as he was unhooked, Milt swung his legs over the side of the bed and called out, “Isn’t God good–another day!”
In order to live for one more day, Milt paid a great price every night. For the rest of his life. He went to Heaven on December 10, 2004. His tombstone reads, “Isn’t God good!”
How does that gospel song go? “One day at a time, dear Jesus.” That, of course, is how any kind of life is lived, but in particular how the Christian life works. One day at a time, every day, for the rest of your life.
“Give us this day our daily bread,” Jesus taught us to pray. I wonder if, up in Heaven, the Lord God ever looks at the six billion earthlings and goes, “Oh no–I have to provide for all of them, every day, for the rest of their lives!” Probably not. His resources are as immeasurable as the universe, and all our needs combined scarcely begin to tap into His reserves.
The dailiness of life is part of our problem, not one of His. Bible students recall how the Lord fed Israel with manna–the original angel food–six days a week for forty years during Israel’s wilderness wanderings. God’s people received a lasting illustration of the sufficiency of the Lord for every day.
The movie “Dead Poets Society” introduced the Latin expression “carpe diem” to most of us. “Seize the day” became the watchword for everyone committed to making the most of each moment. Once we realize that life is a gift from a good God, and not our right nor an entitlement, we’re able to treasure each day and make the most of it.
David said, “This is the day the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)
After all, this day is the only one we have. Perhaps if we get it right, a good God will grant us another one.