The breath in my shadow’s nostril

If you have ever spent time with little kids, you will remember how slow the clock moves for them.   Send a disobedient three year old to their room for a 5 minute “time-out” and they will complain how long they have to stay in there.  If you didn’t know better, you would think (by the sound of their whiny complaint) they had been rotting in their room for days.   Or tell a 10 year old they can have an ice cream cone after you are finished with your errands.   The errands (from their perspective) take “forever,” just ask them.  Recently I heard a young woman (mid-20’s) in Wal-mart tell someone on the phone that she had been in the check-out line for “an eternity.”  I smiled as I heard her description when I realized we were in the express lane.   My belief about eternity is that you experience it in Heaven or Hell.  I can only assume which one Wal-mart would be.

I have noticed that our perspective of time changes with age.   The younger we are, the slower the hands on the clock seem to move.  The older we are, time literally flies – as the saying goes.  How many parents and grandparents have told me how quickly their children have grown up!  As a parent myself, I now understand what they mean.   One day they graduate from diapers.  The next day they graduate with a diploma.   In between those bookmarks is a blur.

Since the clock ticks and tocks at the same rate for all people of all ages in all time zones, what is it about our perspective that seems to influence it’s pace?  Elizabeth Taylor echoed this sentiment when she penned, “It is strange that the years teach us patience; that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.”

I recently pondered these thoughts on time as I stood next to Christopher, a friend of mine for the last 24 years.   On Monday night, June 23rd, Chris was living his life like he did every day.  By 6am Tuesday morning, Chris was laying in the ICU trauma unit, literally fighting for his life.   One day he is fine.  The next day, he is not.   One moment, he is healthy, conscious, mobile.  The next moment, he is in critical condition, unconscious and motionless.   Though no one is exactly sure what happened, his nearby mangled scooter seems to indicate an early morning accident… cause unknown.

In a room down the hallway lay another man, half his age.  Another victim of a bike accident.  Another severe head trauma.   Another one fighting for his life.  Chris was wearing a helmet.  The other man was not.   Both now waiting for the one commodity that apparently waits for no man:


At 38 years old, you would think Chris had plenty left on his clock.  In spite of his severe injuries, he still may.  Or the good Lord could take him tonight.   Only the Keeper of the clock really knows.

One thing we do know is this:


In fact, repeatedly in His love letter to us, God seems to remind us of the brevity of life.  Notice what the Everlasting Creator says about our temporary time on earth:

  • “Our span of years is as nothing before God.” (Psalm 39:5)
  • We are “but a wind that passes and does not return.” (Psalm 78:39)
  • “…our days are like a passing shadow.” (Psalm 144:4)
  • Our “days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle...” (Job 7:6-7)
  • Our “days are swifter than a runner; they flee away” (Job 9:25)
  • Our “days are like an eagle that swoops on its prey.” (Job 9:25-26)
  • “Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” (Psalm 39:3)
  • …humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils.” (Isaiah 2:22)
  • “Like a shepherd’s tent my dwelling is pulled up and removed from me…” (Isaiah 38:12)
  • “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass.   The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (I Peter 1:24-25)

Think about the imagery that comes to mind with each description.

A breath in your nostril.

A passing shadow.

A wind.

A runner.

A swooping eagle.


A tent.

Our YEARS are like NOTHING to God.

It’s as if the Heavenly Author does not want us to miss the message:


For some reason, we tend to forget this truth until it’s too late.   Too often that reality becomes crystal clear when we are lowering a casket or watching a loved one lay motionless in an ICU bed.   Our poor memory is jarred when we can’t see our children.   Our amnesia lifts when a precious relationship is no longer available to us.   It’s not until we are kneeling next to a tomb or listening to the beeps of the life saving machines in the ICU wing of a trauma unit that we recognize “the most precious resource we all have is time.” (Steve Jobs)

It’s a painful lesson I have learned and re-learned my entire life.  I buried my biological father at age 5.   I attended the funeral of several classmates in high school.  I said farewell to my best friend and youth pastor in college – both of whom died in the same tragic “accident.”  From grandparents to neighbors to co-workers to students… I have heard the mantra like an unwelcome drum beat: LIFE. IS. SHORT.  And thanks to some selfish decisions on my part, I now know a pain worse than death – the loss of relationships delivered via divorce.

What is your relational status?   Some of us are estranged from our children.  Others hold a grudge against a parent.   Some haven’t talked to their sibling in years.  Others have let pride keep us from former best friends.

The shadow is passing.

The breath in your nostril is brief.

The wind comes and goes before you know it.

The grass is withering – even now.

What will you do with the time you have left?

  • Ask for forgiveness.
  • Accept the apology.
  • Spend time with those that you love.
  • Mend the relationships dear to you.
  • Reconcile relationships while you can.
  • Say I’m sorry.
  • Tell them you love them.
  • Pick up the phone.
  • Write the letter.
  • Work out the differences.
  • Stop by for a visit.
  • Give up the grudge.

Don’t wait for the ICU room.    The grave-site is simply too late.


The only pain greater than saying goodbye to someone before you’re ready is to do so with the olive branch still in your hand.

I hope I have another opportunity with Chris.

By God’s grace, I pray I will.

“So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” – Moses (Psalm 90:12)

********** UPDATE **********

Chris went to be with the Lord on July 11, 2014 at 5:24pm.  I was honored to be one of the few friends and family in the room to witness his last breath and watch him step out of time and into eternity.   He is now pain-free and more alive than ever before.

The other man mentioned in the post, age 19, has regained consciousness and is expected to make a full recovery.

One family ran out of time.   The other family was given some additional minutes on their clock.

Remember, “Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” (Psalm 39:3)