If you have any familiarity with pop culture over the last five years, you’ve run across the acronym YOLO– You Only Live Once. The first time I heard it, I had no idea what it meant or even what exactly I was hearing. Yo-yo? Is that a new, hip thing? Rolo? The delicious chocolatey caramel candy? Seriously, I am out of the loop when it comes to current slang (don’t get me started about my irritation with people who write words with numbers in them), but I’m fascinated by the etymology of new words and phrases. YOLO seems to have started as a way to justify risky behavior by people a generation younger than me and now I (and the rest of my minivan moms) might use it somewhat ironically (“In the drive-thru getting a Big Mac at 3 pm because #YOLO.”) Like carpe diem before it, it reminds us that life is short and the things we put off doing we may never get around to experiencing at all.
Now that’s a life philosophy I can get behind.
It may seem a little odd for a churchgoing mom of 6 in her mid thirties to be all onboard the YOLO bandwagon, but here I am. I just think the application is slightly different in my life. I happen to believe Jesus was all about YOLO.
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
The basic message isn’t really that deep, just factual. We get one shot with this life. We can use it however we choose. For some people that idea may make them feel like they need to squeeze all the enjoyment they can out of life. They should blow their money on what makes them happy in the moment. If this relationship isn’t fun anymore, it’s time to opt out. If the responsibility of this job seems too heavy, walk away. If your extended family drives you crazy, cut them out. Have all the fun you want regardless of the cost.
But that’s not my YOLO philosophy. I believe once you die, you are held accountable for what you did with this one life. When I see Jesus, what do I want to tell him I used this precious gift of life to accomplish?
In my home growing up was a little plaque with these words from a poem by C. T. Studd:
Only one life ’twill soon be past
Only what’s done for Christ will last
Apparently my parents were working to instill a YOLO philosophy in me from the time I was very young. It’s not a guilt motivation that makes my YOLO life look different. It’s a desire to do something that matters. I have one life to use for good and to make change in the world. Any pain that causes me is temporary, but eternity is long. If I use this one life well, my faith is in a God who sees and values my sacrifice.
For me, this has meant taking on the work of loving kids who need a family. Parenting your own teenagers is hard work. Parenting someone else’s teenagers is slightly insane. But I loved it. These boys needed to have someone who cared about them, worried about them, laughed with them, cooked for them, and loved them. But sometimes that felt scary to them and they pushed me away. It was a painful experience to pour myself out for these young men and risk being rejected. Sometimes this work was rewarding in and of itself– the 6 year-old who insisted I carry him everywhere, the 13 year-old who handed me a post-it note that said, “I wish you were my mom”, the meals they raved over, and the sweet times of reading together on the couch. But many times it was anything but rewarding. It was exhausting trying to stay one step ahead of behavior problems, learning issues, family dramas, and my own marital struggles and self-doubt that would surface during these tense times. In these difficult moments, it was reminding myself that I have one life to use that would get me through. While this experience was tough, it was also using the gifts God gave me to make a difference and I’m proud of that sacrifice.
“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’.”
Of course, even when you are trying to be extra good and holy and moral about your YOLO choices, there are ways to cause yourself problems. I don’t believe God is asking me to live a life devoid of joy or a life of total exhaustion. There are opportunities to help I have said no to because I knew I needed to prioritize what I could do well with my gifts without running myself into the ground. My kids don’t benefit from a stressed-out mom who finds her value in be needed by everyone. My marriage will suffer if I’m always focused on other people’s needs or hurts.
I see a perfect example in the life of Jesus– he did so much work to teach and love and heal the people around him who needed his help, but he also took time alone to pray and time with just his inner circle. We’ve got to find that balance, too. We do our best work for others when we’ve had the time alone we need, the time to pray and recharge, the time to spend enjoying people who truly know us and will speak truth to us. Deciding to live a YOLO life is a commitment not just to making hard choices to use your life in the service of Jesus, but it is also a commitment to making time for rest and pursuing a relationship with Jesus.
I don’t know what God is calling you to do with your one life. Maybe it’s advocating for kids who need help. Maybe it’s working hard at your job as though working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23). Maybe it’s caring for your parent who is losing the ability to even remember who you are. Maybe it’s ministering to women in your church who are going through their own hard seasons. Whatever it is, don’t lose heart when things are difficult. No matter your philosophy, the reality is that life is short.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.