Memento Mori

The practice of memento mori (Latin: remember we must die) has the profound potential to instil wisdom into our lives. While focusing on death may sound more morbid than meaningful, its contemplation allows us to appreciate the scarcity of the very time we’re looking to make the most of in our fast-paced world.

Psalm 90:12 writes, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Reflecting on our mortality forces clarity onto us, that we may pause to consider where our lives are headed. It prevents us from running aimlessly on the treadmill of life.

I remember a simple exercise my missiology lecturer did with us during my days in theological college. You can follow the following steps on your own as you read this pastoral message to experience the sense of loss that death may bring. It helps if you withdraw to a quiet room to do this.

  1. Observe some period of silence until your mind is still.
  2. Prepare nine pieces of paper slips.
  3. Think of nine things/persons you treasure the most in your life. They are those you cannot live without. Write them down separately on the paper slips.
  4. Arrange them before you and look at what you have written. Of the nine things/persons, give up and crush four of the paper slips.
  5. Of the five things/persons, narrow it down to three. Again, crush the rest of the paper slips.
  6. Narrow it down to two. Crush the other paper slip.
  7. Narrow it down to one. Crush the other paper slip.
  8. Look at your last thing/person. Crush it too.

How do you feel? Physical death is inevitable; it is the ultimate loss because it takes away everything we hold. We can only stare at it helplessly the day death arrives to take all that we cannot keep. But take heart, for we are citizens not only of the earth but also of heaven (Heb. 13:14). Death is not our end because we have a living hope in the risen Christ!

The earthly life does not endure; the heavenly life does. But not all we do here is in vain because they may have eternal value. As martyred missionary Jim Elliot says, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Let us learn wisdom and “exchange” our transient earthly resources for enduring heavenly riches.