I’m a closet fan of extreme sports. I find myself drawn to the high-flying, danger-flaunting, I-can-do-better-than-you mentality of extreme sports athletes. I love their flair for the dramatic, and when someone truly rises above the rest of the competition, it is a thing of beauty and amazement to see -- something that showcases the incredible capacity of the human body to push boundaries further than anyone thought reasonable. I have a subscription to a magazine that frequently showcases extreme sport athletes. Unfortunately though, over the past year of issues, there have been several deaths of men prominent in their particular sport. While most extreme sport's injuries involve broken bones, potential hospital visits and a few extra scars to be proudly worn by their owner, death is always looming in the shadows of the adrenaline-driven sports. And it’s this flirting with death that is part of what makes any extreme sport so captivating; and so tragic when things go wrong.
In two particular stories, I was caught by a line spoken by the spouses of the deceased husbands. Both men died gruesome deaths. One passed away instantly after falling from a significant height, and the other died following hours of suffering after being crushed by an object weighing more than a thousand pounds. What did both these wives say about their husbands’ deaths? “I’m just so glad he died doing what he loved.”
I can’t imagine the intense pain and loss these two ladies felt. Both of them had been married to their spouses for several years, and one of them had two small children that would now grow up without their father. Each man was very well respected in his sport, and their deaths were mourned by many. And often repeated by others in the sport was the same line: “He died doing what he loved.”
As I’ve reflected on that idea, I’ve come to a little conflict of heart. On the one hand, who doesn’t want to die in a blaze of glory doing what they love? On the other, what if what you love isn’t worth dying for? No, I’m not casting any judgment on what I believe to be the perceived value or non-value of extreme sports. What I am doing, however, is asking myself the question: If I died doing what I loved, would that love be worth dying for?
When I had been a youth pastor for just a couple of years, I got one of those calls you never want to receive. A young man in our community had been involved in a tragic accident and his life was hanging by a thread in one of Seattle’s premiere trauma wards. After a night of partying, he was too drunk to drive, so another friend who was “less drunk,” had been designated as the driver. Half-way from the party to home, their car crossed the center line and hit an oncoming vehicle head-on. Unbuckled and passed out in the back seat, this teenage boy suffered life-threatening injuries.
I made several visits to the hospital to spend time with him and his family. On more than one afternoon I was alone with him in his ICU medical room, talking to him and praying to God for his healing. I often read Scripture passages to him and frequently shared God’s love not knowing if he could hear me ore not. The family and I spent time together, sharing meals and getting to know each other (prior to this event, I had not had any contact with this family).
After weeks of surgeries and waiting, it became apparent he was not going to survive. So after painful consideration, his parents took him off of life support and prepared for his death. His body fought hard for a little while, but a few days later, he passed away. The funeral was attended by over 500 people from his school and community. Some kind words were spoken about him, funny stories were shared, and many tears were shed as the grieving process unfolded.
Afterward, the family hosted a closed reception for a smaller segment of mourners. They had rented a nearby gymnasium and around one hundred friends and family members gathered together to eat, cry and -- it feels absurd to even write it -- to party.
One of this boy’s family members gave a speech that has a familiar ring to it. I don’t remember the exact words, but the gist was something like this: “[he] lived life to the fullest, and on the last night he was truly with us, he was doing what he loved most -- partying with friends. So that’s how we’re going to honor him today, we’re going to party together!” Then, acting as though his death had not been alcohol related, they busted out a cooler of beer while the DJ kicked up some tunes and the dancing began.
If you had to die doing what you loved, would that activity you loved be worthy of your death? Would you want to die playing your favorite sport? Would partying with friends be the way you’d want to go?
Of course, we generally don’t get to pick the way we go, but these stories get me thinking about the life -- and death -- I want to have. I don’t want to die in a way that dishonors my Lord, shames my wife or embarrasses my family. I hope that whatever I’m doing fits into Colossians 3:17 where Paul says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” That means that my entertainment, my sports activities, my dates with Traci, the sermons I preach, the fun I have with my kids, the way I spend my money, the blogs I take the time to write and anything else I do has to fit through a super refined lens. Ultimately, every activity of my life has to answer this one question: does this event bring honor to God?
If I can answer that question with a resounding, “Yes!” then I know I won’t mind doing that particular activity when it’s my turn to answer death’s call.
What about you? Do the things you love bring honor to God? At the end of the day, I want to be a guy who dies doing what he loves, as long as what I love is worth dying for. And for me, if my life fits the criteria of Colossians 3:17, then I know I’m ready to go at any time. This is certain: anyone living the Overboard Life is, without a doubt, living out Colossians 3:17 (remember...process, not perfection!). Are you ready?
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!