I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is permanent and what is temporary, and how the truth of that doesn’t necessarily show very deeply in my life, but especially not very deeply in my attitudes. I realize that what I’m about to write is all very rudimentary in the spectrum of Christian Theology, but it’s something that I keep coming back to, and I can’t pretend it’s not affecting me, no matter how simple it seems. Let me explain.
I spend a huge amount of my time chasing happiness. See if any of these ring a bell for you, personally. They’re all true for me. Some are things almost everyone wants. Some are more Josh-specific.
- I want to be good at my job.
- I want to have fun, interesting relationships with other people.
- I want to feel like I’m a good spouse and friend.
- I want to have fun little gadgets with which I can entertain myself.
- I want to be a talented musician.
- I want to live in a cool/interesting house with cool/interesting stuff.
- I want to experience new and interesting things regularly.
- I want to be (at least) reasonably respected wherever I go.
That list could go on and on for quite awhile. When I hold the entire list (not shown here) in my head, and I think about the percentage of my time I invest in achieving those things, I come out to a figure that is almost 100%. And that really disappoints me. I think some people will say, “Well, most or all of those are good goals, there’s nothing wrong with that,” but I think that response is ignoring a larger fact. All those things are attempting to bring just a moment of happiness, a miniature “high” from which I will eventually come back down, at which point I will simply repeat the cycle and try to get back up there again. It’s kinda pointless, isn’t it?
I think we’ve all experienced and chased after this kind of thing. When you buy something, you feel a mini high from the fascination of it, using it for whatever it was made for. And that high is really part of the reason you purchased it, isn’t it? When you do well at work, and your boss says, “Great Job!”, you feel a mini high. If you’re a musician and you’re playing/singing in a group, and you feel you really nailed a particular performance, you feel a mini high. When you’re really good to your spouse or friends and they notice and say something to you about it, you feel a mini high. Think about all the little mini highs that you experience in life. There are hundreds. When I think about how much time I spend achieving those things, or preparing to continue achieving them, it doesn’t match up with this:
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?
Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.
All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.
There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.
Ecclesiastes used to be my favorite book of the Bible. It’s getting back up there now. I think that quote, “All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full,” might be one of the most profound things I’ve ever heard in my life. Doesn’t that describe human nature perfectly? I constantly desire something, whatever it is, and I want it, and I pine for it, and I think about it. But when I get it, one of two things happens. 1) I keep it, or 2) I have it for awhile, and then it goes away. In case 1, I get over it and want something else. In case 2, I want it again after I’ve lost it. And that describes the things on which I spend the vast majority of my time. Seriously, what’s the point?
Then, I stop and I think about the Eternal. I think about Jesus, and I think about His goals for us on Earth. I think about His Kingdom. It suddenly seems comparably impossible to waste my time working on those things. Everything you do to influence God’s Kingdom is permanent. Even after death, the effects of that work will not fade. There are so many Bible verses that talk about that idea that it’s almost pointless to list them all. This drives home a point I was thinking about recently, too, because it shows that one of the only things that makes my time on Earth worthwhile is my influence on other people. If I influence them for bad or for good, that sticks with them permanently. “Kingdom work” is real work. The trick is to identify what work is part of that Kingdom and what isn’t.
So I guess what I’m getting at is that I think I need to redefine myself and my pursuits by this criteria. Honestly, I don’t think about this stuff nearly as often as some might guess. I’m usually mostly concerned with getting through the day and getting set up for the next day, so that I can repeat the cycle without falling behind. But I don’t often stop to really question why I do all the things I do. And I think I need to do that a lot more often, or risk living an irrelevant, wasted life. That’s pretty serious, but it’s also pretty realistic. And I’m not talking about human relevancy, but about relevancy from an eternal perspective.
What are some thoughts you guys have had about this subject? Do you find yourself easily caught up in the impermanent?