Each of the graves which I stop and visit is marked by a respective headstone. Each of these headstones is unique, in that each has its own individual name, and a set of dates, for the person whose remains are buried there. None of these markings are the same. However, each headstone does have one thing in common: a simple little dash carved in between the dates.
Over twenty five years ago, I heard a gifted pastor (Dr. Truett Gannon of Smokerise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia) preach a funeral in which he spoke of one such simple little dash and what all it stood for. What that little dash represents, for each and every person upon whose headstone it has been or will be inscribed, he said, is the life that person lived while he or she was in this world.*
How insightful! Every one of my relatives whose remains lie buried in the New Hope Baptist Church cemetery in Fayetteville, Georgia once had a whole lifespan which is now represented by only a single dash. During that lifespan, they lived out the life God gave to them. While here, they lived, they loved, they worked, they played, they worshipped. They made the most of what they were given, in the time and setting where God placed them. In short, they lived out the life they were allotted, and then they went to their reward.
What was true for them is also true for me. I, too, am destined to live out my dash. Now I have been blessed by God with a life to live. By His providential choosing, the setting for that life is here and now, in this place and at this time. That much I do not control. But I do control what I do with the life I have been given.
To put it another way: the dash is God’s gift to me; what I do with the dash is my gift back to God. I can take my God-given talent and put it to work for Him or I can bury it in the back yard. The choice is clearly mine. However, in making that single choice, I set myself up for whatever results and/or consequences may follow.
In the words of Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 25:20-30…
...20 The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.' 21 "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
22 "The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.' 23 "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
24 "Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.' 26 "His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?
27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 "'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29 For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
I am glad my forebears were all reasonably faithful to make the most of the lives they were given by God. I am challenged by this fact. As a result, I hope to do the same with the life He has given to me. What about you? Are you making the most of your God-given life? Are you living out “the dash” with which God has blessed you to its fullest potential?
If not, the beginning of a new year is an ideal time to reflect on whatever changes you might need to make. The productivity of your life during the remainder of the time you have left in your dash is entirely dependent on what you now decide. Make the most of that time.
(*NOTE: This entire concept has been further developed into a world-renowned poem titled “The Dash” [and later, a movie by the same name] by Linda Ellis. Her work is copyrighted; so I cannot post it here. However, it can be accessed on her website at: www.lindaellis.net. Also, a copy of her poem has been posted online with her permission at: http://genealogy.about.com/od/humor/a/the_dash.htm, and may be read there.)