We’ve all experienced it. The moment you’re not really sure if you should be doing something, but then someone shouts “YOLO!” and all of a sudden, you’re all in. You’re in for the rush of it, the thrill of it, the excitement that it contains to do the one thing that has scared you for so long. It feels exhilarating and liberating. Or maybe someone hasn’t necessarily shouted “YOLO!”, but you’ve thought to yourself “hey, you only live once, so why not give it a try?” – it’s hard to believe that one little phrase, one small way of looking at life can empower a person to do basically anything they dream of doing.
It’s also hard to believe that one little phrase, one small way of looking at life can be so incredibly dangerous.
I am currently reading through the book of Isaiah and I came across this verse where Isaiah is prophesying about Jerusalem. He tells them “‘Let us eat and drink’, you say, ‘for tomorrow we die!’” (Isaiah 22:13b). Seemingly enough “Tomorrow we die!” sounds a lot like “You only live once!”. Isaiah was commenting on their recklessness and carelessness in life – they didn’t seem to care about anyone but themselves and how they could make themselves happy.
Sadly enough, however, we live in a culture that endorses this idea. The constant growth of individualism and ever-lingering concept of the American Dream in every advertisement encourages us to live on the edge, as if we might die tomorrow. Our lives consist of struggling to rise to the top while we attempt to have as much fun and excitement as possible. We live in a “YOLO Culture”. I read an article recently in which the author points out that the phrase YOLO promotes deviant behaviour, especially through social media. Smiley writes that “criminal and deviant behaviour is no longer something to hide, but rather to exploit and promote” (p. 5). He talks about how “The ‘self-made’ image focuses attention to financial success. In essence, they are promoting the fulfillment of the ‘American Dream’” (p. 7). All around us, we are bombarded by messages telling us that we need to be the best person and have the best things because we only have one life to live. Many use the phrase YOLO as an excuse to do whatever they please.
But how dangerous these lies can be to us! The moment we get sucked into that culture, the moment we lose sight of Jesus. In a culture that encourages self-seeking, self-gratifying behaviour, it is difficult not to look inward at ourselves. But the moment we look inward and focus on self-gratifying is the exact moment we are not looking at Jesus anymore. He becomes a background figure while we become the foreground. But we need to have our eyes fixed on Christ (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) and our lives as Christians should be glorifying Him, not ourselves. In 1 Corinthians 15:32, Paul even quotes the verse from Isaiah 22:13 in order to show just how futile life can without belief in the resurrection. It’s interesting how Paul uses the phrase YOLO to show how useless life is, when our culture uses YOLO to empower a life. It just goes to show that though the YOLO culture may be tempting, it’s not where we as Christians are supposed to stand because it can never offer us what God’s grace does.
But I think there is a way we can use the phrase YOLO as a way to empower us as Christians. I mean, it is true that we only live once. So then, should this not be a reason to live our lives as pleasing to the Lord as best we can? Since we only live once, shouldn’t we be using every opportunity we have to give God all the glory? Instead of YOLO being a response to a friend inviting you out to smoke or drink, let it be a response to a friend inviting you to help at the soup-kitchen or share your faith. Instead of letting YOLO be an excuse to go against God’s teachings, let it be a way to empower your faith and keep your eyes on Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with living life to the fullest. But live it to fullest in God’s eyes and not our culture’s. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). That being said, let us “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).