You've heard the saying a thousand times before. "Life is short. Don't waste it." In recent years, Christian author John Piper wrote a very popular book entitled "Don't Waste Your Life" (highly recommended, by the way). But what does it mean to really waste your life?
I think the phrase refers not to one thing in particular but to everything that we waste. In every area of our lives when we have something that could be useful – to ourselves and especially to others – and we neglect it, or refuse to use it, or let it decay from disuse, we are wasting it.
What exactly do we waste when we waste our lives? Here's what I came up with:
1) Time. This one's kinda obvious. It's been said that the entirety of our lives can be summed up in a dash. Look on any tombstone. There's a date of birth and a date of death. In between the two is a dash. That's your life. The numbers surrounding the dash are just the span of it. Whether there's a hundred years between the number on the left and the number on the right, or a hundred weeks, or perhaps only a hundred hours – what we do with our lives during "the dash" is what matters. We aren't guaranteed tomorrow. We don't know exactly when we're going to die, unless we make it happen ourselves. (God forbid!) Live your life as it were going to end today – because it just might. Spend your time doing something that matters, not looking for something to do.
2) Talent. We all have a talent (or maybe a few of them) – whether it's crafting, singing, planning, serving, writing, teaching, building, or whatever. The question is, are we using these talents? If God has gifted you with the ability to do something well, and you're not doing it, you're wasting it. Maybe you don't feel like you're good enough to do it, or maybe you're simply selfish. Meanwhile, there's a need that's not being met or a role that's not being filled because you're unwilling to step out on faith and do what you know you can do. I speak from experience here, so don't think I'm simply pointing fingers. After all, I don't even know who's reading this right now.
3) Resources. Some of us live paycheck to paycheck – perhaps it's because our jobs don't pay that well, or maybe we spend more than we make on foolish things. Some of us have been blessed with greater wealth – whether it's because of well-paying jobs, inheritances, or wise investments. Whichever category you fit into, you are nonetheless very, very rich when compared to the majority of people living in the world. Use your financial resources for things that matter – furthering the kingdom of God, helping those in desperate need, etc. Don't waste them on superficial things that you don't have and you don't need and that won't last. Again, I'm speaking to myself here.
4) Opportunities. We encounter people and situations on an everyday basis that lend us the opportunity to do something helpful. How often do we take advantage of those opportunities? Whether it's lending a helping hand to someone who's unable to help themselves, or sharing our faith with someone who's lost, or simply showing someone that you care about them when they desperately need someone to care about them. Let's not waste these precious opportunities.
5) Words. Whomever came up with that dumb phrase "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" was a fool. Words hurt a lot. Whether you're saying something foolish that is in no way helpful, or whether you're using your words to cut someone down or intentionally cause them pain, words are very powerful. Don't waste your words saying things that tear people down – build them up with your words. Don't say things that don't need to be said just for the sake of hearing your own voice – you're the only one who's amused. Trust me on this one. I've said a lot of stupid things, and some of them were very hurtful, even to people I love dearly. Those words are wasted. I can't take them back, and I don't get a second chance to choose better ones. Neither do you.
6) Energy. Along with time, energy is one of the easiest things to waste – but one of the best things to use, if you're expending it on something that matters. Case in point: I'm the drama director at my church, and we're currently preparing for our Easter production. I don't get paid for my efforts, and neither do the actors or any of the crew. (That's not a complaint, by the way.) And yet we spend several hours a week on Sunday and Wednesday nights rehearsing the play, time after time after time. This past Wednesday we endured a two-hours-plus marathon practice, and afterwards we were all exhausted. We were willing to spend all that time and energy because we know that our efforts are being put toward something that matters. The play is evangelistic in nature – perhaps people will come to see it who don't currently have a relationship with Christ. Maybe, through seeing the play and listening to the choir songs, they will come to a saving knowledge of Christ. We hope they do. If they do, then all our efforts will have been worth it. If no one's lives are changed by it, that's okay too. Because our lives have been changed through the experience. Either way, our efforts are not in vain. We've exhausted ourselves for a purpose. We haven't wasted our energy on pointless things.
7) Relationships. This might be the saddest waste of all – because yet again I've been there. There have been people in my life whom I counted as close friends at one time, who are no longer a vital part of my life. In some cases it was because I neglected our friendship, or maybe I hurt them (intentionally or unintentionally), or I simply stop putting forth any effort at maintaining the relationship. There are relatives who also fit this category, for the same sad reasons. Perhaps you've been there too. Maybe you wasted words you can't take back and the relationship was irrevocably broken. Maybe you wasted time on yourself and your interests and neglected your friend or relative's needs and concerns. Perhaps you wasted opportunities to reconnect with them – they were trying, but you were unwilling or simply apathetic. Maybe the relationship you've wasted was with the one person to whom you were the closest, a spouse or possibly a parent. If at all possible, do whatever it takes to restore your relationship with them. If an apology is in order, apologize. If forgiveness is required, forgive. If effort is required, put forth effort. Don't waste your relationships – they're too precious to lose! Oh, and by the way, if one of your relationships happens to be with God, and it's not in great shape either, you'll probably want to work on mending that one first of all. If you don't yet have a relationship with God, talk to someone you know who does. They'll be happy to introduce you to Him....