Two women visited a funeral home to pay their respects to a wealthy neighbor who had died. After signing the guest book, they were surprised to be the only ones in the viewing room. The first woman, who didn’t know the deceased well, looked down at the middle-aged woman in the satin of her costly coffin and said, “What a shame to die at a time when she had everything to live for!”
The other woman who had known some of the particulars of the deceased woman’s life replied, “No, she had everything to live on. She had nothing to live for.”
For thousands of years poets and philosophers have pondered the meaning of life. With the eternal picture in mind, Longfellow wrote in “A Psalm of Life”: “Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal.”
A contemporary bumper sticker defined life more sarcastically: “Life is hard. And then you die.”
The last few days of a year are traditionally a time of introspection, often mixed with melancholy. Maybe the holidays do it to us, turning our thoughts to times past and present differences. In many families, the end of each year includes fewer members than were living New Year’s Day. That is true of my family as my husband, my husband’s first cousin who was more like a sister, and one of our two dogs are no longer among us. (People with pets will understand.) Such losses bring musings on the impact of their lives—and ours.
Despite the fact that life is hard, some transcend their circumstances. Take for example, a woman named Anna. The only place we see her in the Bible is in the temple eight days after the first Christmas (Luke 2:36-38). Anna was 84 and alone. She had lost her husband only seven years after their marriage and lived in a society in which widows were often paupers. Anna may have survived on the charity of others, but she was not a street person. She was a temple person. “She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying” (v. 37b).
Anna lived a life of devotion because she knew God and constantly yearned to know Him better. Anna was a prophetess, but nothing specific she said is recorded. The important thing was not what she said but what she saw. Anna saw the baby Jesus when Mary and Joseph brought Him to the temple to dedicate Him on the eighth day after His birth. The Lord let her recognize that He was the one that she and other faithful Jews had waited for—the Messiah. After seeing Him, she “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38).
We don’t know how long Anna lived after this event. But we can be sure her life would have been filled with even more devotion than before. Her faith had resulted in sight. She had lived a life worth living.
Anna’s life—like ours—had nothing to do with what she lived on and everything to do with Who she lived for.