YOLO, an acronym which stands for “You Only Live Once”, is a term that garnered popularity in the year 2012, when the Canadian rapper known as Drake used it in a track in one of his albums. The term has been used in other ways in the past, which shows that it has existed before its usage by Drake. Even then, the concept of a person having only one life was already a widely held belief, they just did not use the term #YOLO to express it in their social media (which they did not have at that time). The meanings and implications contained in some old concepts of living only once were also different to how we understand YOLO in this age. This article will not talk on this topic, instead we are going to see what meaning does the term YOLO generally carry today, the dangers it poses to our generation, and how we as Christians should view this abbreviation.
I am sure that most of us are familiar with this term and what it implies. However, this article will define YOLO according to some dictionary definitions to avoid any sort of misunderstanding. The English Cambridge Dictionary (n.d.) describes YOLO as an “abbreviation for ‘you only live once’: used, especially on social media, to mean that you should do things that are enjoyable or exciting, even if they are silly or slightly dangerous”. This explanation seems to be mostly correct, however I prefer the definition given by Oxford Dictionary (n.d.) – “You only live once (expressing the view that one should make the most of the present moment without worrying about the future, and often used as a rationale for impulsive or reckless behaviour)”.
YOLO in Society
“Impulsive or reckless behaviour”, I think the Oxford Dictionary captures an important aspect of YOLO, i.e. this concept has been a motivation and a push for people to do irresponsible and inappropriate actions. You only live once so why not try sex before marriage? or why not ‘drink ‘till you drop’?; “I mean if this life is all that there is then let’s just do all these wild things. Who cares what happens in the future?”. Most of us have probably seen posts that repeat these ideas on social media such as twitter and Facebook. These people would even post their reckless exploits on these sites, showing that they are proud of their actions and want others to see and admire them. However, this is only one of the manifestations of YOLO.
There are those that interpret YOLO in exactly the opposite way. “You only live once, so take care of your body that you may live a healthy life”. Those that hold this interpretation would advise you to take care of your body in order to live a longer and more enjoyable life, and with that life you can attain your life goals, whether it’s to travel around the globe, seeing your grandchildren, or maybe even to change the world.
We see two radically different outward expressions of how these two kinds of people live their lives with regards to YOLO. The first interpretation of YOLO is that because you only have this life you should satisfy your desires doing all the reckless and irresponsible things you could possibly do, basically squeezing every bit of available pleasure to you in that moment of recklessness. But even though the second one seems to be a better and more biblical option, we must take a closer look. You only live once so take care of your body, make sure that it is healthy, but for what? Why are we trying to make our lives healthier and longer? What is the motivation behind us living a long and healthy life? Is it simply to gain more pleasure in this life? If so, is this not just another way of satisfying our desires and getting every bit of pleasure possible? We must see that even though the means of attaining their goals are different, these two ways of life are fundamentally the same, they have the same intent i.e. to satisfy themselves with worldly pleasures. While the first seeks to gain enjoyment by squeezing every bit of pleasure from one or two moments, the second aims to expand the period of time for you to enjoy that pleasure. Basically, behind whatever it is you’re doing, you have one aim, that is to enjoy as much pleasure as possible while you are living in this life because this is all you got. This is the basic assumption of YOLO – that our finite lives warrant us to live them fully, whatever the lifestyle.
YOLO and Christianity
How should Christians respond to this culture of YOLO? YOLO is founded upon the fact that the time we have in this world is limited, so we must live it to the fullest, no matter the lifestyle. Up to a certain extent, there is truth in this. In a very real sense, we only possess one life in this world and our time here is finite. Isn’t this what Psalm 90:12 means when it says: “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom”? (ESV). We only live once in this world and with every passing second the time we all have in this world is decreasing. In previous verses, Psalm 90 describes the life of a person like a fragile leaf that withers and dies. David in Psalms 39:4 realises that his life is a fleeting one. This shows the limited time that we have now is very precious.
Realising Our Limited Time
We can see from Psalm 90:12 that gaining a heart of wisdom involves the realization of this limited time. Time is one of our many resources and just like any other resource, knowing how to make best use of it is of utmost importance. If you’ve studied economics, then you would know that one of the main aims of economics is to maximise production using the resources available. CEOs want to know how to get the most profit out of the funding they possess, but to do this, they must first know how much money they actually have. This is also applicable to time, in order to know how to best use our time we must know how much time we have. But as we do not know when we will die, we must at least be aware of its very limited amount. Only then will we be able use our time wisely. A person who does not realize he has a limited amount of money is far more prone to overspending than someone who is conscious of his/her finite wealth. The same goes with time, this is why we often say “time is money”. In fact, time is even more precious than money. If you spend your money in the wrong way, you can work and get it back again; but once you spend time, you can never get it back. What is worse is that you have no option whether you want to spend time or not, every living person right now is spending time with every passing second. You are even spending your time reading this article right now. Without time, you would not be able to spend your money, yet all the money in the world can never buy the time you’ve lost. Time is not money, time is life, and life is one of the most valuable resources that you can ever have.
And thus, in realisation of our short existence, Christians should live this life wisely and make use of the precious time that has been given to them. But one might ask, “so what’s the difference between the Christian and the general interpretation of YOLO?” The difference lies in how we use our lives. The fact that we have a limited amount of time in this world manifests itself differently in a Christian compared to the general public.
The Christian’s YOLO
As I have mentioned above, people generally interpret YOLO in one of two ways, either trying to maximise the amount of pleasure they can get from their lives or to try to extend their lives so that they can attain enjoyment out of their prolonged lifespan. Both approaches use this one life that they have in this world to satisfy as many desires as they can.
But true Christians know that the life that they have is not meant to be used for satisfying their worldly desires, the end goal is not getting as many things or going to as many places in this world as possible. With the continuous flow of time, the Christian longs to spend every moment not to satisfy their desires within this world but to achieve the end goal of glorifying God. Examples of how we can do this include evangelising the people around you, having fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ, and having fellowship with God through Bible-reading and prayer. Unfortunately, this reality is far from what we see in the lives of so many people who profess themselves to be followers of Jesus Christ.
So many people in the world, in response to the idea of YOLO, immediately use their lives to satisfy their desires. However, not many Christians, in realization of this one life that they have, use their time to do God’s will; Instead they live like the rest of the world, like those that deny the existence of God. We have forgotten our true purpose that has been revealed in God’s word i.e. to make His name and His work of salvation be known among all nations (Psalms 67:2 & Matthew 28:18-20). With our limited time, we choose to spend it on sinful and time-consuming pleasures like video-games and YouTube videos, rather than evangelizing the lost and making the name of God known through our lives.
Wake up Christians! Remember your identity and the calling that God has called you to. See the world around you and realize that every second you waste is a second you are never getting back. See the people around you that have not known Christ and realize that the time you have to share the gospel with them is decreasing moment by moment. See the vast amount of work that God has called you to do, and see the preciousness of time that is your life, and when these two realities meet may it drive us to live our lives glorifying God, sharing His gospel, making His name known among all people. Let the concept of YOLO reminds Christians all around the world of the precious time that we have, and use them to live, not for ourselves but for God. (CSS)
YOLO | Definition of YOLO in English by Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/yolo
YOLO Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/yolo