Life is short.
That's not debated. That's not questioned. Some get decades to experience life, while others get months. Some get to see their children and grandchildren, while others see hardly a moment. Even the longest-living humans, who reach a century and beyond, live short lives when compared to the vast stretch of history, and the even greater stretch of the future.
Life is short. And while most would agree with that statement, the array of responses differ greatly from person to person.
I've always been a dreamer. A daredevil, of sorts. I fear missing out on opportunities, and I do everything in my power to avoid possible regrets or "Wish-I-Had..." moments. I've always gotten my thrills from newness. From experiencing the unfamiliar and exploring the unplanned. From trying new things and jumping headfirst into the unknown.
So when I face the facts; when I hear those words, "Life is short," my mind responds with, "Do it all." I imagine my end approaching quickly, and my solution is to hit the ground running, waste no time, and try everything. Travel the world. Taste the bizarre. Make memories. See new things. Cover more ground. Write the bucket list as I check it off. Live in the last minute and plant my feet firmly in spontaneity, because that's where the thrill is. That's where excitement is found. And if I've only got a few years to spend on this earth, I want to do all that I can before my time is up.
Years ago, I did away with my desire for possessions. I was not very old when I came to the conclusion that money and possessions were only temporary. Since then, I've had little trouble cleaning my closets and purging my drawers. It's been easy to look at my finances and feel calm, even when the bank account appears lacking. Even as a kid, I stopped viewing money as valuable. I stopped being attached to my belongings. And it all sounds good and wonderful, but just because my heart was detached from money and toys does not mean it was detached from everything materialistic.
Instead of desiring money and things, I've desired adventure. I've lived by the doctrine of adventure and a passion for new opportunities and change. I no longer value money, but I do value fun. The way I see it, in order to make my short life worth-while, it must be filled to the brim with sudden change, random trips, and stories to tell. It's only recently that I've realized that materialism still grips my heart. It's never truly vanished... it's only been redirected.
When you imagine the perfect life, a life filled with purpose, what do you see? For some, it may be achievement. To work hard and be rewarded. To rise up, and up, and up on the totem pole. To climb the ranks and experience the satisfaction of a job well done. For others, a life worth living might look more like volunteer work. To spend one's time helping the less fortunate. To serve and clothe and feed the poor. To live apart from the greed of the first world, and devote one's life to full-time missions. To some, that is time well-spent. That's a life lived with purpose. That's fulfillment.
It looks different to all of us. Some might value family above all else. They might envision a life of isolation as a life wasted. Some might see education as worth more than anything. They might seek higher learning and academic achievement to find fulfillment. If they spend their time exercising their minds and sharpening their wits, they will not have lived in vain. Some might view marriage as the most valuable, most important cause of life. They may imagine a worthwhile life as one lived in devotion to one's spouse, spending every ounce of energy strengthening and honouring the sacred relationship. Donating, learning, teaching, reading, writing, creating, working, loving, helping, enjoying... whatever it may be, my question is this:
Which side of eternity are we living for?
This question's been heavy on my mind for the past few months. It seems we're all searching for fulfillment. The Christian and the non-Christian, alike. Every human soul is seeking purpose. A reason to live. A reason to die. And after taking many long, painful looks at myself- I see a problem.
Regardless of how "good" these things are that we value; despite how "honourable" they may be, they cannot be the source of our fulfillment. God is pleased when we serve others. God is honoured when a husband and wife love each other well. God loves our generosity and desire to help the people around us. These are wonderful things. There is no question about that.
But the problem is that we often see these acts as the sources of fulfillment. The purpose of life. The reason to live. The reason to die. And in our efforts to live a meaningful life, we tend to lose sight of the real goal: humbly following God.
Heaven is approaching. Eternity is coming. We've got a few decades to live. And with that short amount of time, we have a choice. We can live for those few decades, or we can live for what's beyond. Whatever we do, it will only have eternal worth if we allow God to lead. Marriage is a beautiful thing, but its value comes from God being the centre. Working hard is great, but it is only valuable if God is directing it. Travelling, exploring, seeing the world- what a gift! It's something I've desired for so long. But to go out on my own and seek fulfillment from the adventure... that would be a hopeless cause.
Everyday I am becoming more certain that if God is in it, God will do it. As children of God and followers of Christ, we have nothing to worry about, so long as we surrender all control to Him. On this earth, we are slaves of Christ. Servants of the Most High. We deserve nothing. God will never owe us happiness or contentment. He is not obliged to bow to our wishes and give us our desires. God is God, and we are His Creation. Created by Him and for Him. Our lives are not ours to own. They are ours to live, ours to use, ours to spend as we choose... but they belong to Him. They're His to own. They're his to give and His to take back, one day. So, in the meantime, we can either act like they belong to us, or live them out how they were designed to be lived: under God's control. Subject to God's timing. Entrusted to His perfect Will. Committed to His purposes. Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Psalm 39:4-7 - "Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered- how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath. We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it.
"And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in You."
The God I read of in the Bible is a God who loves to give good gifts to His children. He lavishes unfailing love on us, not because we deserve it, but because He adores us. The way to purpose in this life; the way to fulfillment, I believe, is to obey God, no matter what. To follow Him, no matter where He leads. For me, that's easy to say, but very difficult to commit to when I think of all the What If's. What if He calls me to stay put? What if His plan is for me to settle somewhere, and remain there? What if I someday lose my ability to write? What if, what if, what if?
....Well, then that would be that. Whatever God wishes, I want to wish the same. Not my will but His. Not my plan, but God's. In Him, alone, we can find our joy. In Him, alone, we can find our peace. In Him, we can delight. In Him, we can find lasting pleasure, excitement, fulfillment, satisfaction, and purpose. And the fulfillment we can experience by obeying Him transcends our circumstances!
Life is short. And it is so easy to recognize that fact and think about all the things we need to try, all the milestones we need to reach, all the things we need to have, and all the moments we need to experience before we die. And, we can, by all means, go out and get all of those things for ourselves. However, I believe that if we are devoting our time and energy to finding fulfillment in anything other than God, we will find our endeavours to be lacking. Empty.
But. The moment we cross over into eternity, I don't think we will for a moment think to ourselves, "Dang- I never traveled to Italy!" or, "Shoot- I never owned a house...." or, "I worked so hard and never ended up getting that raise!" or, "Man, why didn't I ever try __________?" No, I think the only thing we may feel we "missed out" on are the chances we had to abandon ourselves and surrender to God, but chose to cling to our lives, instead. Once we find ourselves in Heaven, we will never regret the sacrifices we made to follow Him. We will never feel bitter over the things we gave up or refused for Christ's sake. For when we get there, there will be reward for our suffering. Every wrong will be made right. We will see justice prevail. We will be able to look upon the One we were following all the years of our earthly lives. He will wipe every tear. There will be no more pain. No more sin. No more doubt. No more fear. No more worry. And that's where we will get to live for the rest of forever!
That's the reality. That's where we're headed. That's where we will spend endless days. Not here. Do we heap up our wealth to enjoy for our few remaining days on earth? To we strive for adventure and excitement simply to say that we did? Do we rush to impress others and build our personas so that we can feel good about ourselves for the time being? Do we lug our crates and boxes and bags full of belongings and certificates and riches with us throughout our lives... only to lose them all at the finish line? Or, as M.C. Richards put it, do we find ourselves "backpacking into the hereafter," carrying only that which lasts? A wonderful elderly woman I had the pleasure of meeting this past summer gave me these words:
"When backpacking, you only pack the essentials. I've also learned, after 75 years of life experience, that we tend to become backpackers as we get older in age. We have to do a lot of "downsizing" during our time here on earth. Sometimes it is not by our own wishes, like when we experience loss. Loss of family. Loss of friends. Loss of a better income upon retirement. Loss of health and mobility. Loss of material possessions. Finally, we are left with just a small backpack of the really important things. The substantial things. The spiritual things. The only things we can actually take with us 'into the hereafter.'"
We could chase after every wonderful earthly thing... and then have it all buried with our bodies. Or, we could learn to value the spiritual things. The things that will last. The things that won't die when we do. We could learn to value joy. Perseverance. Patience. Love. Faith. Peace. Generosity. Kindness. Devotion. Worship. Wisdom. Obedience. We could spend our time pursuing spiritual growth and maturity. We could let our roots grow deeper into Christ, and experience the abundant life He desires for us to live! We could live in reality. We could live like citizens of Heaven, the city of things that last.
This life is short. The next one is not.
So, I ask again: Which side of eternity are we living for?