Points to Ponder/Sixteen Minutes and Counting
by Pastor Dennis Whitmore
As we come up on the one-year anniversary of the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and her seven-person crew, I got to reflecting. During the whole length of the successful 16-day mission in space the cause of their ship’s demise was only several feet away, unbeknownst to them - a hole in the wing. All along, as they worked together and talked about home and looked forward to getting back there, their fate was already sealed. As the happy, exhilarating days of their mission in space - a rare opportunity so few will ever enjoy - ticked away, so were the remaining hours of their lives.
As they headed home, probably envisioning the waiting smiles and hugs of family, they did not know what was coming. Only 16 minutes from their scheduled landing - 16 minutes - and their craft exploded.
Everyone had plans that day, as they awaited the Columbia and her crew. There were itineraries to follow, agendas to keep, reports to file, and lots of folks to see. What an exciting time in the lives of those seven astronauts! Their families, so proud and so excited, were ready and waiting to celebrate their loved one’s being a part of history. In only 16 minutes, all of that and more was set to go. Soon, when they touched down and that beautiful ship came to rest, everyone involved would have lots to do! It was such a pretty day for all of that as well.
What a difference 16 minutes can make, huh? How could anyone have known?
What were you doing 16 minutes ago? How about 16 minutes from now? What do you have planned? Who are you going to see? Do you have a heavy agenda of important stuff to get to?
All of this reminded me of the very practical wisdom of James, the apostle.
“Come now, you who say, ‘today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (James 4:13-14 NKJV)
I think we could be more cognizant of our priorities, how we spend out time, and with whom we spent it, if we kept James’ perspective in mind. Someday someone may say to you, “Hey, you gotta minute?” and that may truly be all you have!
I do not mean to be morbid. What I try to do through this line of thinking is make myself more conscious of life. It is so brief, always changing, and consistently moving forward. One day I too will be living my last 16 minutes; whether I’m happily unaware of it because I’m having a great time, or I’m lying on my death bed with a terminal illness, that day is coming.
So how shall we live? We should live with thankful hearts. We are permitted time, and relationships, and wonderful opportunities - opportunities to be different (and better), as well as opportunities to make a difference so that others can have it better.
In one of the first of the New Testament writings, Paul wrote, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18) Celebrate life always, stay in constant contact with God and, whatever happens, be thankful in the midst of it. Is there a better way to take on life and all that comes your way? James says in essence, do not look at your life as if you are the star of it - as if it all revolves around your grand plan. He says, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’” (James 4:15) For a believer to approach his/her life any other way is “arrogance”, James says; and “All such boasting is evil.” (v.16).
Beloved relationships, joyful experiences, and good health are not entitlements in this life. Likewise, broken relationships, disastrous experiences and health problems can happen to even the nicest people. No one is immune to the perceived injustices and tragedies of life on earth. The only way to properly approach everyday and what comes with it is with thankfulness.
Everyday comes and then goes. It brings whatever it has and continues on. They do not stop and stay awhile; and they do not come back. I’m not the center of my piece of the world. I have been given life by God, for a time, to glorify Him while assigned to this piece of His world. For that I am truly thankful.
I do not want to wait until I only have 16 minutes left. I want to learn to treasure all that God has given me in every day in which it comes. Every one of those minutes is incredibly special if we can be purposely mindful of the One to whom they belong.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Whitmore serves God at the First United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD.