My grandparent’s home is graced with clocks that provide a steady tick-tock in every room. Without fail, the stately grandfather clocks ring out a loud bong, bong, bong to mark the hour. These clocks not only create a unique ambience, they also provide a constant reminder of the time. Whether in bed, at work, or at play, the clocks’ constant presence reminds everyone in the home that the day is slowly slipping away.
Very few modern homes are graced with a boisterous grandfather clock, but rather glowing digital ones. These clocks are less intrusive, silently revealing the time only when we inquire.
This drastic change in time telling apparatus has lead me to ask; in this day and age, have we forgotten that time is passing rapidly? Has our lack of awareness of time soothed us into a state of stupor where we forget that one day, our time will run out, and our lives will end?
And if we have become so negligent, so unaware of the brevity of life, I must wonder… why?
The extended lifespans of the modern American may be partially responsible for the lack of respect towards time’s evasiveness. In American history, death was constantly present. According to history professor Erik R. Seeman, “Colonial North Americans endured disastrously high mortality rates caused by disease, warfare, and labor exploitation.” 1
In 1880, the average life expectancy in America was only 39.4 years.2 Now, we have jumped to an average lifespan of 78.8 years, nearly a forty year increase. Healthcare breakthroughs and sanitation improvements during the late 19th and early 20th centuries resulted in the major increase of lifespan.
This difference in lifespan has even impacted the urgency of people’s choices. For example, during 1890, the average first time bride was 22 years old, and the average first time groom was 26 years old.3 Today, the median age for first time brides is 26.5 years and 28.7 years for grooms.4
It makes perfect sense, then, to assume that this change in lifespan contributes to the changing perceptions of mortality.
But perhaps the main difference in how we view life is in how quickly children are required to grow up. In the 1800’s, even children around 6-8 years of age would often work in mills and factories.5 Other children were expected to rise before dawn with their parents and tend to the farm and household responsibilities. Reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s experience, school teachers could often be 14 or 15 years old. While child labor was extreme and often times cruel, this practice certainly illustrates the early American urgency to make the most of every moment, an urgency that has dissipated in today’s society.
Watch The Time
All of these numbers illustrate a point: we become lulled into complacency when life seems safe and certain. Without the immediate threat of war or plague or famine, it is easy to think this life will last forever. Modern medicine makes it seem possible to evade death at every turn. However, the Biblical reminder of the shortness of life never changes, no matter how much the average lifespan varies. The second half of James 4:14 asks, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
The dichotomy between society’s lazy attitude and the Bible’s mandate to watch the time must be carefully regarded by Christians. In a society where the shortness of life is not properly respected, Christians must actively ask God to serve as the mighty grandfather clock, constantly reminding us that life is short. May we echo David’s prayer in Psalm 90:12 when he asks, “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
In an era where our lives are longer than ever, may we not forget that life goes by quickly, no matter how long we live, and every second should be lived to glorify God.