I have once again been reminded of something I try so hard to remember, but so often forget. It’s a simple lesson: What’s important? What isn’t?

A friend of mine passed away last week. He wasn’t a close friend—no more than an acquaintance really—but one of those folks you see all the time and say “hi” to down at the local store. My wife is quite good friends with his wife, and our kids play together every once in a while. The shocking thing is that he was only 36 years old. Some kind of congenital defect in his aorta that he didn’t even know he had popped. One minute he was walking around, having a life, playing with his son and daughter, making plans for Christmas vacation, and five minutes later he was gone, and his wife and kids have a different rest of their lives than they could ever have imagined.

It’s this kind of thing—life rearing up and smacking us in the face—that so often tries to teach us a lesson. It’s like God is trying to say, “Wake up!”

We all have complications in our lives. Things are too busy at work. The bills need to be juggled. The garage needs to be cleaned out before winter. The car is making that funny noise again. The furnace is on its last legs. Where’s the money going to come from? How can you fit everything you need to do into a single weekend?

And then you turn around and there’s no more time; no more days. Life’s finished, and what did we do with it?

What’s important? What isn’t?

For me, I’ve learned that people are important, things aren’t. Spending time with my kids is important, buying them stuff isn’t. Calling my brother is important, cleaning the garage isn’t. Playing catch with my son is important, cutting the grass isn’t. Watching a movie with my wife is important, cleaning the house isn’t. Sleeping late is important, working late isn’t.

I just wish I could remember these things every day. Instead, it takes something like the sudden death of a young man to teach me the same lesson again.

No one can answer these questions for us, and the answers will be different for each of us, but my wish for us all this holiday season is that we all get better at answering those questions: What’s important? What isn’t?