Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Like Sand Through the Hourglass

Some time ago I stumbled across this anonymous take on the journey of life:

"Life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time, all your weekends, and what do you get at the end of it? I think that life is all backward. You should die first and get it out of the way. Then you live twenty years in an old-age home. You get kicked out when you’re too young. You get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement. You go to college; you party until you’re ready for high school; you go to grade school; you become a little kid; you play. You have no responsibilities. You become a little baby; you go back into the womb; you spend your last nine months floating; and you finish up as a gleam in somebody’s eye."

Nice, huh? But reality works our journey in the other direction: we are born, we live our years whether few or many, and we die. A popular soap opera opens their show with these words: “Like sand through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.”

I’ve been thinking about that sand through the hour glass a lot these days because of what’s been going on in my own life. In the month of June alone, I’ve officiated three weddings and four funerals; I’ve led a Parent-Child Dedication Service for three sets of parents and their new babies; I attended a surprise party for my son’s 30th birthday; I’ve spent time with a guy who was in my youth group from ’79-‘81—he is now 48 years old and a grandfather; I attended a 36-year high school class get-together and my in-laws’ 55th anniversary party. That's a lot of hellos and goodbyes and blasts from the past. Like sand through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.

That’s life. Time rolls on and waits for no one. Columnist Charley Reese once wrote: “When each human being is born, God opens a checking account in his name and makes a single deposit. The currency is more valuable than gold or platinum. It’s time. No deposits are allowed. No interest is paid. The most intriguing thing about it is we are never allowed to know the balance in our accounts. We just write checks on it until suddenly one day we are notified that the balance is zero and the account is closed.” So true.

But it seems like we don’t appreciate the brevity of life until we get a few years behind us. Not long ago I was visiting via Facebook with a high school friend and we got to chatting about the time we were flying up highway 65 as he was trying to see how fast his Opal Cadet could go. By the time we hit around 100 mph, the car started shaking and rattling. Until he got it slowed down, we both were pretty sure we were going to crash and die. Until that moment I sort of assumed I would live forever. I'm too old to think that anymore. And so are many of you reading this. When we look around and see people we knew in their youth now middle-aged, when we see children we rocked rocking children of their own, when we see some of our peers already in the grave, and a generation we looked up to pretty much dead and gone, it's a bit sobering. It’s sobering to become part of the “terminal generation”—the generation standing at the front of the line at the cemetery gate.

Most people get to this point with some unfulfilled dreams and a few regrets. Knowing we can’t hit the rewind button and don’t get any do-overs for days gone by can feel a little heavy on the soul. And there’s really no antidote for it. We can’t change the past. But we can do some things. We can be grateful for the many good things in the past. We can give thanks that God works for good in all things and has a way of turning our bumbles into blessings. And we can do this too: we can embrace the present. The psalmist said, “This the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” We can do that. We can do that day by day through the sunshine and the rain. We can embrace the present in the confidence that God meets us there. Someone once said, “The past is history, the future is mystery, today is a gift—that’s why they call it the present.” So receive the gift of today. Give thanks for it. Rejoice in it. Make the most of it. Don’t just exist today, live today. Look and feel and listen and taste and smell and pray and whistle a little and sing some. Endure your troubles, enjoy your blessings. Hug those closest to you. Speak life into someone who needs you. Lift up someone who has fallen. Do the right thing even if it’s the hard thing. Live today. Like sand through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives. For all you know, there may only be a few grains of sand left to fall. So live today.

And as you do, remember this: if you know Jesus, when that last grain of sand falls from the top of the hourglass to the pile at the bottom, the end of your life on earth is but the beginning of your life in heaven—that place where we no longer mark time with clocks or calendars and where hourglasses are turned on their sides, that place where hardships are gone and rejoicing comes easy. That place where, as C. S. Lewis so aptly put it: all the adventures we have ever had will end up being only “the cover and the title page.” Finally we will begin “Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Praise the Lord: that day is coming. But until that day, whether you've got more sand in the bottom of the hourglass or the top, remember to live today.

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