by Thom S. Rainer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)—When my son, Art Rainer, began work on the book we co-authored, Simple Life, he spent a good bit of time in a cemetery.

That’s right. A cemetery.

He found a cemetery near his home in Boca Raton, Fla., and simply walked from grave marker to grave marker. Listen to his simple explanation for this strange type of research:

“I came to this cemetery to gain perspective. I could not think of a more inspirational location than to be surrounded by those whose earthly story had come to an end. If they could, what would they tell us? Now that their lives are over, what wisdom would they want to pass on? What were their regrets? Where did they get it right? Though the sands of time in my life’s hourglass are still running for me, with every breath I breathe, I am moving toward my physical closure.

“My body will become like theirs.

“On each grave marker is a dash between two years. The dash is time, and that is where we are, in our dash. And before there is some year placed on the other end, we need to figure this thing out.”

This past week was tough. My older brother, Sam Rainer, had open heart surgery. The surgery went well. The road to recovery looked great. But two days later he had a stroke.

As I sat next to him in the intensive care unit, I reflected about our family. Our parents died years ago. Our sister died as an infant. In our original family, it’s just the two of us. And there he was with a newly repaired heart dealing with the aftermath of a stroke in the intensive care unit.

The dash got really rough for him this week.

I love my brother. But we haven’t spent a lot of time together the past several years. Our families have grown. We both have grandchildren. And we both have jobs that keep us busy.

But sitting next to him in ICU, I realized how much I missed him. And I prayed for his recovery and healing. Most of the prayers were for him, but some of them were selfish prayers. I want to spend time with him. I want to have long conversations with him.

I need to work on my dash.

I turned 56 years old several days ago. How did I get this old this quickly? By actuarial standards, I’ve entered the fourth quarter of my life. But the end could come much quicker. The dash will have a number on its right side in the blink of an eye.

How am I doing in the dash? Pretty good, but not good enough. My lack of time with my brother the past few years was a clear reminder that I sometimes get too busy for my own good.

So how are you doing in your dash? Are you spending lots of time with your family? Are you spending time with God in prayer and His Word? Are you cherishing and developing your friendships?

How are you doing in your job? Are you joyous in your work? Or are you miserable, fearful of taking a chance somewhere else for the wrong reasons?

Do you have broken relationships that need to be restored? Do you need to take the initiative to see those relationships healed?

Are you so busy doing “things” that you fail to take time to do the things that really matter? Do you need to call or write someone? Do you need to go see someone?

How would someone else view your dash? Would they see you as a joyous person, full of life and energy? Or would they view you as hypercritical, never happy, never satisfied?

How is your dash? Mine could use some improvement.

And please pray for my brother.

That’s one part of my dash where I pray I’ll be given another chance to get it right.

Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources. This column first appeared at