Tag Archives: time

Life is Vapor, Week 12

We wrapped it up last night, our study of Ecclesiastes.  The Preacher has taken us one by one down a maze of dead-end roads, pushing us past our pat answers.  As Derek Kidner says, “The searching questions he has asked are those that life itself puts to us, if we will only listen.  He can afford to ask them, because in the final chapters he has good news for us, once we can stop pretending that what is mortal is enough for us, who have been given a capacity for the eternal.”

Last night we asked, in light of all that is vanity, all that is better, and that which is best — how shall we then live?  How can we make the most of time, we who are small and fleeting?

From time to time, when you need to reset your heart, when your soul grows impatient with this forever waiting (that isn’t so long, really, after all), listen to David.  Let him remind you to still your mind from all this fretting life and lift your eyes again to things outside of time.  Remember, we are heading Home.

Psalm 103, Of David.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
    his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
    he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass;
    he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
    and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
    and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
    and remember to do his commandments.
19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
    and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his word,
    obeying the voice of his word!
21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
    his ministers, who do his will!
22 Bless the Lord, all his works,
    in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

 

Homesick, Part 1

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Well, I’ve written a book, y’all!  Over the next few weeks I am going to post a few excerpts, so stay tuned.  Comment like crazy, the more the merrier!  Here goes…

I have felt it since I was a child. I do not belong here. I am an alien, a sojourner. This place is foreign to me, and though sometimes it reminds me of home, more often it is slightly toxic. I am ET, breathing strange fumes. I need to phone home.

But here I am, here we all are, stranded on this hostile planet, waiting. Longing. Maybe you feel it, too. Maybe, stuck in traffic, you realize that you feel equally stuck in life. Alone, maybe, or just out of place. The things you’ve given your life to don’t seem to amount to much. You can’t remember how you spent yesterday, or what it was you wanted to be doing at this age. Maybe what you’ve waited for your whole life has never come to pass, or when it did, it wasn’t what you expected. Maybe your life has been one heartbreak after another, or maybe, if you’ve had a happy life, you live with a vague fear that it just won’t last. Although the waiting seems interminable, there are reminders that in truth, our lives are short. A healthy older man, chopping trees one day, struck down with cancer the next. A young mother, collapsed on the cold tile floor after a spider bite. A baby, slipped away during the night in his sleep.

In one of the most-quoted passages of one of the most-performed plays of all time, William Shakespeare said it this way:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

It is a howl, frustration and sorrow and loss and fear — what is the meaning of life? I’ll tell you — life is a tale told by an idiot! Life is meaningless! Life is too, too short.

Ah, but with Christ, everything has changed. Out of disorder, he teases beauty, out of tragedy, he orchestrates grace. The waiting is charged with purpose, urgency, even. Time is short. The song is growing louder. We are going home.

In the meantime, we are undeniably stuck here. “Under the sun,” says Solomon, cynic of scripture, “life is really lousy.” As various translations put it, life is meaningless, vanity, vainglory, futility, vapor, emptiness, falsity, smoke. Under the sun there is toil and heartache and devastation and bitter, angry days on end. So how is it that Christ, unflinching, proclaims, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly”? Is he speaking of earth-bound souls? Is he mocking me?

Under the sun, Ecclesiastes said — squirreling out from under God’s hand, choosing instead the slippery, deceptive rulers and authorities, thrones and principalities of a fallen earth, well, there, “futility of futilities!” life is without purpose. It’s reminiscent of creation un-breathed upon: “formless and void,” dark. Oh, but then! The world did not remain untouched; the Word said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Light, shining on confusion, suddenly spotlights God’s sovereignty, and in a blink, chaos becomes meaningful. Delay becomes opportunity, tragedy is transformed into triumph, and along the way, snivelling, petty humans acquire the dazzling likeness of Christ.

“Patience,” says Oswald Chambers, is critical here, under the sun, where suffering seems to linger forever. It’s “more than endurance. A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, and He stretches and strains, and every now and again the saint says–‘I cannot stand anymore.’ God does not heed, He goes on stretching till His purpose is in sight, then He lets fly. Trust yourself in God’s hands. Maintain your relationship to Jesus Christ by the patience of faith. ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.’”

Patience I have in short supply. Perhaps that is exactly why I am asked to wait so often — how else will I learn? He stretches, I strain, the longing becomes so loud a roar in my ears that I cry out. Home! Take me home! And he will; one day, ordinary in the beginning, will by close of day be my homecoming, and looking over my shoulder I will see there is no going back.image

How do we spend the days granted us? How do we live abundantly, fully, richly, deeply satisfied before the sand in the hourglass is gone?

See eternally.

Worship wholeheartedly.

Walk purposefully.

Care passionately.

Give generously.

Hold loosely.

Love deeply.

Stand firm.

Choose light.

Rest.

Jury Duty, Babies, Funerals, and Car Trouble

So I spent last week in jury duty. Have you had this delightful opportunity yet? You go in for what you assume will be just a day, a blip in your life — you reschedule, postpone, mush things, sit awkwardly in a packed waiting room full of fidgety folks, look at your watch one too many times. Maybe you bring some work to keep busy, or a book, but mostly you people-watch, sigh, look at that watch again.

This time, though, it was a really long blip in my little life — four days, as a matter of fact. We were chosen (I say “we” because soon enough, the strangers were an “us”) to weigh in on a man’s life, one loose cannon whose little joyride cost a lot of people their sense of security, their prized possessions, and their peace. This person I’d never met nor heard of, dozens of witnesses and attorneys, legal clerks, a judge, and 12 other lucky jurors all became my central focus for the better part of a week.

Meanwhile, one of the cars died. My husband and the kids were stuck at home, just…stuck. More things cancelled, shuffled. More lives affected. (Can I just say, the frustration level caused by a piece of metal is ridiculous!)

My good friend called in with periodic maybe (maybe not) going-into-labor updates. Another friend’s mother slid closer to the end of life until, this morning, she died. Car trouble? Appointments shifted? Little lower on the magnitude scale.

The whole surreal week seems to be screaming for my attention. Life, the whole messy pile of it, dumped in my lap to be sorted. I heard so many stories: funny stories, pitiful stories, gut-wrenching, beautiful, hopeful stories. People I’d pass without a second glance (and have I? A dozen times? In traffic, at the mall? One of the jurors, buying doughnuts for the jury, ran into the judge, also buying doughnuts for the jury, at the store. How many times had they passed each other before in aisle 9?)… these people, all with their intricate stories, suddenly reared up in my face as if to say hey, stupid. Notice us.

So life is barreling along, 100 miles an hour, like our buddy the defendant on his wild ride in a stolen car. Usually in my own little world, I walk right by a lot of hurting people, oblivious. Wonder what I’d see if I paid better attention?

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Late late late

late late late
late late late

It started on Sunday. There we were, eating cinnamon buns, when a neighbor knocked on the door. “It occurred to me you probably don’t realize today is the time change,” she said. Daylight Savings? Uh-oh. We are a little unplugged up here on the mountain — no internet that doesn’t require a hike, no phones, no tv — and so, no, we didn’t realize. And now we were late. There was instant scurry, things flung every which way, a mad scramble for the bathroom, a dash out to the car, skidding laughing down the mountain on an icy road. I am not a fan of Daylight Savings Time. And now that we have sprung forward, I have a persistent feeling that I am lagging behind, missing something important. Even up here, cut off from civilization, the clock doesn’t agree with my internal time table. Is it seven or eight? I feel like Alice’s rabbit, late late late for a very important date. All around us, life is springing forward in disconcerting ways. There is a sledding hill across the street from our cabin, a long and twisting driveway. The hike up it is asthma-inducing; to stand at the top and look back you feel it’s quite impossible you made it up at all. Then there is the moment you sit on the devil-may-care device and feel the world beneath you begin to slip — and you’re off. Once you’re going, there’s no stopping (short of a crash); none of your shrieking makes a difference. Our kids are like that — teetering on the edge of a thrills-and-spills ride from innocent childhood into their own great adventures. I see the world beneath them start to slide, the sled is moving, none of my shrieking can stop it. They say busyness is the great enemy of marriages: hurry, worry, distraction from what really matters. The simple things, intentionality and care, are too hard to cultivate when you’re running 100 miles an hour. It’s not just marriage, it’s anything slow and painstaking — the spiritual life, the writing life, your very heart. Feed it rush and scramble, watch it wither. We are under the illusion that we control our calendar and own our possessions. Ha! We’re like Voldemort, divvying up our soul into precious pieces and thinking, spread out, there is more of me to go around. Be careful where you stash your life. But the clock cannot tell me how to live my minutes. I choose. And today I choose to savor, even as the world is whipping by. I won’t be rushed, won’t give in to worry, hurry-scurry. Today is a gift, and though tomorrow everything may change, today I have children I don’t have to nag, battles I can pick, a husband I can lavish with love, a view I can stop to see. All of my fears won’t add a minute to my life, so I show them the door. You go ahead and spring forward. I think today I’ll fall back.