By John O'Leary. This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O'Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching more than 50,000 people around the world each year how to live inspired. John's first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.
I used to be a huge procrastinator. Not just a motto, but a way of life, I believed “Why do today what can be accomplished tomorrow?”
Working as a hospital chaplain in my 20s, however, woke me up to be far more intentional in savoring the profound gift of each day as well as celebrating the wonder of simply being alive.
John O’Leary shares what it is like to be a hospital chaplain.
One experience especially stands out. It was late in the evening, and I was on call. A patient was brought into the hospital after suffering a heart attack. The frantic pace of the staff gave every indication the situation was dire. As the patient’s family arrived, I ushered them into a private room near the Emergency Department.
The role of the chaplain in these situations is to sit with the family, serve as a conduit to the staff, and offer any emotional, physical or spiritual support to alleviate the agonizing tension of waiting. For family, the unknown and sense of total helplessness is the hardest part of the waiting.
On this evening, in spite of the best efforts of our medical staff, there was nothing they could do to revive the gentleman. After exhaustive work, a doctor came into the packed room, explained what had happened, and shared with the family that their loved one had passed away.
Shouts of anger and heartache filled the room:
“I can’t believe he’s gone!”
“Couldn’t you have done more?!”
“I thought we’d have so much more time together.”
“It’s too soon.”
“He was healthy and vibrant.”
“He wasn’t ready to go.”
“No! This is just not right. This isn’t fair.”
Even though I didn’t personally know the patient or his family, in their cries of despair, I ached with them.
The life lesson John O’Leary learned while serving as a hospital chaplain.
What I remembered most about that evening, though, was not the heartbreak or the grief. Tragically, as a chaplain at a world-class trauma center, it is common to be with families when they learn of a loved one’s death. It’s always heartbreaking. And frequency doesn’t make it easier.
No, the reason I remember that evening, that family, and their grief so vividly is because, for the first time, I saw that regardless of age or circumstance, the loss of a loved one is always shocking.
The man who died that evening was 86 years old. Although he’d lived close to a century, no one expected him to pass away, no one imagined he’d get sick, no one fathomed he would not be there tomorrow.
Few of us ponder honestly the profound fragility and beauty of life at any age.
Several thousand years ago the author of Psalms reminded us: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
The goal of life isn’t to number the days to keep score, but in order to live them passionately, faithfully, intentionally, and lovingly.
Since that evening spent with a wonderful family mourning the painful passing of their patriarch, I’ve tried to focus on numbering my days. This attention reminds me daily what matters and what doesn’t. It informs what I say yes to and what I say no to. It reminds me that the time with my parents is fleeting, my role as a parent to little ones is ephemeral and the time with my wife a sacred gift.
Counting your days will make you live more intentionally.
My friends, knowing that tomorrow isn’t promised should not scare us. Instead, it should give us conviction to be far more intentional in living vibrantly now.
Today, choose to number your days. Rejoice in what you have and those gathered around you. And in the midst of the anxiety, difficulty and unknowns of this day, remain confident that this day remains a gift and even better days are yet to come.
This is your day. Live Inspired.
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