“Oh, can we stop and walk through there?” I asked excitedly, pointing to an extensive graveyard on the side of the road. My roommate and I were driving back to our apartment after grabbing Chick-fil-A, and it was a dreary afternoon with nothing on the agenda. “The graveyard?” She questioned, confused. “Yeah, please!” “Um, sure. If you want. But we don’t know anyone, right?” she clarified with a laugh. “No, I just like to walk through nice ones; it’s sort of a family thing.”
I know what you’re thinking: going for a walk in the graveyard sounds odd. Let me explain how the habit formed. Over the course of countless summer vacations and weekend getaways, my mom has cultivated a family practice of walking through the unique graveyards we come across in various cities and small towns. We’ve strolled through the picturesque tree-lined roadways of Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, GA, and seen the resting place of John and Charles Wesley on St. Simons Island. We’ve visited the graves of declaration signers Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Boston and the hauntingly beautiful marble tombs of New Orleans. These instances and many others have established graveyard walks as a sort of vacation tradition.
Not only is this a habit for me, my family and my roommate (when she agreed to come along), I’m writing this article because I think this is a good habit for you too! There are many practical benefits to graveyard walks: exercise, fresh air, seeing novel architecture and visiting historical landmarks. However, more beneficial than all of this is the reminder that life is short. We are on earth for only a brief time, and then that time is over. With 100% certainty, we know that all people pass, no matter how big or small their impact. This is saddening for many, especially those who’ve experienced the pain of loss personally, but it does not mean discussion on the topic should be neglected.
American politician Ben Sasse noted, “We have, to our detriment, created a cult of denial about our own mortality. Life needs to be lived and prioritized with the understanding that it is limited.” While many remark that being mindful of death is morbid, it is actually necessary for maintaining an eternal perspective. This world is not our home, and we do not have endless days to spend here. In a recent class, a professor reminded me that the world as God originally designed it is very good. God will not scrap His creation on Judgment Day but renew and purify it (Isa. 66:22, Acts 3:21, Rev. 21:2). So when I speak of this world not being our home, I refer to the world as it is now, corrupted by sin. When we try to make it our place of ultimate rest where our happiness resides, it will only break our hearts because we are made not for this mortal life but for an eternal life.
This should cause us to live with a certain anticipation of and preparation for what is to come. When describing his characters passing from death to eternal life in The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis wrote, “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now… Come further up, come further in!” We should not become so blinded by our current situation that we forget what eternity holds. This world is beautiful, yes. God made a wonderful creation. But with the infiltration of sin, it is only a shadow of the beauty to come.
People live differently when they know death is imminent; they are bold, and we should be too. This is not to say we should live with a spirit of fear, reckless abandon or selfishness, but rather that we be oriented and animated by the certainty of heaven. Our time here on earth is limited, so consider carefully how you will spend it. Live not for the perfect retirement at age 65 but for the homecoming celebration that will commence when we pass through heaven’s gates.
Writing once again of the Pevensie children entering heaven, Lewis says, “And for us, this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.” You might still have doubts about taking walks in graveyards, and that’s okay. But I would encourage you to engage in something that reminds you of the brevity of your time on earth. Don’t seek to ignore your mortality: let it inspire you.