Tag Archives: time

The Non-existent Scar

Impeached witnesses are not considered guilty until they have impeached themselves.

-Makkos 5a, Rabbeinu Chananel

When someone says something uncomplimentary to us, we are of course displeased. The intensity of our reaction to an unkind remark, however, depends upon ourselves.

A former patient called me one day, sobbing hysterically because her husband had told her that she was a poor wife and a failure as a mother. When she finally calmed down, I asked her to listen carefully to me.

“I think that the scar on your face is very ugly,” I said. There was a moment of silence. “Pardon me?” she said.

“I spoke very distinctly, but I will repeat what I said. `The scar on your face is repulsive.’

“I don’t understand, doctor,” the woman said. “I don’t have a scar on my face.”

“Then what did you think of my remark?” I asked.

“I couldn’t understand what you were talking about,” she said.

“You see,” I pointed out, “when I say something insulting to you, and you know that it is not true, you do not become hysterical. You just wonder what in the world it is that I am talking about. That should also have been your reaction to your husband’s offensive remarks. Instead of losing your composure, you should have told him that he is delusional. The reason you reacted as extremely as you did is because you have doubts about yourself as to your adequacy as a wife and mother.”

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Sivan 30
Aish.com

Sorry to start of today’s “morning meditation” with such a long quote, but I think it was worth it. R. Twerski’s therapeutic intervention was absolutely brilliant (I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Masters in Counseling and formerly was a family therapist and Child Protective Services social worker). It’s so simple and yet so profound, and it speaks not only to this one woman’s situation but I think to all of us in our lives.

I couldn’t help but relate this article to recent events in my online life. After all, I’m human and I have doubts just like any other man. When someone calls me on my issues, real or imagined, I have to pause and consider whether they could be right about me, and if so, to ask if this is a “call to action” for me to make changes.

despairMany times, especially online, but also in “real life,” we are insulted, accused, harassed, and maligned, often by the people we love and care about, the people we’re most vulnerable to. As we see in R. Twerski’s example above, a woman was insulted by her husband about her poor performance as a wife and mother. Nothing could cut deeper to her heart than those statements and the person making them.

How we react should depend on whether or not the allegations are true, but that’s not how most of us typically respond. It’s like driving down the road and having someone suddenly cut us off in traffic, honk their horn, and then give us “the finger.” They’re not only being aggressive but behaving as if we’ve done something wrong.

How do we react to that? Either we get scared or angry…or both. Incidents of road rage start this way.

But what if, assuming we’ve done nothing wrong, we were to respond with bewilderment? “What the heck set that guy off,” we might ask ourselves.

And if someone blows up at us on the web or in person, again, assuming what they’re saying isn’t true about us (we don’t have a scar on our face), what prevents us from also simply becoming confused but not experiencing anger or pain?

Because we fear that there really is something wrong with us. I think that’s the result of sin and guilt.

Face it. You’re not perfect. Neither am I. Far from it in fact. We have sinned. Chances are we will sin against God and other people today. It is very likely that we will sin again tomorrow…or we fear that we will.

feverIf a person goes around always worried about who they are, their past failures, their fear of future failures, and whether or not their shortcomings are obvious to everyone around them, then it’s easy to respond with anger or pain when insulted. We’ve already primed ourselves to go off half-cocked when someone gives us a reason.

But for most people, most of the time, the issues they worry about are more imagined than real.

It’s like the woman in Rabbi Twerski’s commentary. She didn’t have an ugly scar on her face, and R. Twerski at least implies that she’s not a bad mother and wife either. She only reacted as if she were because she feared that this was the truth of her existence, even when it wasn’t.

All the elaborate proofs, all the philosophical machinations, none of that will ever stand you firmly on your feet. There’s only one thing that can give you that, and that’s your own inherent conviction.

For even as your own mind flounders, you yourself know that this is so, and know that you believe it to be so. It is a conviction all the winds of the earth cannot uproot that has carried us to this point in time, that has rendered us indestructible and timeless.

For it comes from within and from the heritage of your ancestors who believed as well, back to the invincible conviction of our father, Abraham, a man who took on the entire world.

The doubts, the hesitations, the vacillations, all these come to you from the outside. Your challenge is but to allow your inner knowledge to shine through and be your guide.

Inside is boundless power.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Conviction”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

revenge-and-happinessKnowing yourself is very helpful for a number of reasons. If you know who you are and what you are about, then whenever someone accuses you of something that is untrue, you cannot be hurt. Even if the person who is upset with you is very dear to you, if they are wrong about you, it may injure you somewhat, but not in the same way as if what they said were the truth. If you are accused of being a failure, if you really aren’t, how does that affect you vs. how you react if you fear being a failure?

Also, knowing yourself helps you recognize when you have sinned and reveals to you your own faults. This is an opportunity to make corrections, to improve yourself, to repent, to return to God, to make right the wrongs you’ve committed against others, to make the person you will be tomorrow better than the person you were yesterday.

Stealing is abhorrent to most people. They would never think of taking something which does not belong to them. Still, they may not be bothered in the least by making an appointment and keeping the other person waiting for a few minutes. Rabbi Luzzato points out that this double standard is a fallacy, because stealing others’ time is no less a crime than stealing their possessions.

Moreover, stealing time is worse in one aspect: stolen objects can be returned, but stolen time can never be repaid.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Sivan 29
Aish.com

Worry, guilt, and self-recrimination are thieves. They steal your time and your peace of mind. If someone steals your money, that can always be returned, but once a moment in time has elapsed, you can never get it back. Also, even if you achieve peace of mind in the future, you have wasted time worrying in the past (and in the present) needlessly, when you could have been devoting that time to improving yourself, to helping others, to serving God.

Which is more important: five minutes or five cents? Everyone will say that “time” is more important. But still we throw it away more often than money. And in Jewish consciousness, killing time is suicide… on the installment plan.

“Relax”
from the “Ask the Rabbi” column
Aish.com

Rabbi Twerski also writes:

If someone has wrongfully infringed on our time, it is proper that we should call it to his or her attention. As with other offenses, we should try to sincerely forgive if the offender changes his or her ways. If we have infringed on someone else’s time, we must be sure to ask forgiveness and to remember that teshuvah consists of a sincere resolution not to repeat the same act again.

If someone points something out to you that needs correction, something you may have been unaware of or something you’ve been avoiding dealing with, they’re doing you a favor. Assuming their intent isn’t malicious and their attitude isn’t hostile or condescending, they are acting as an agent of change and providing you with the opportunity to improve.

soaring_hawkIf, however, a person’s intent is hostile or vindictive, and their desire is to injure you, perhaps because they feel you’ve injured them…if their allegations are wholly untrue, then you should ask yourself, “Why are they acting this way? What could have prompted this outburst?”

That’s certainly better than responding by feeling guilt or shame or by lashing out at the other person, perpetuating the cycle of “You hurt me, now I’ll hurt you.” Every time you give in to that temptation, you are stealing time from that other person and wasting your own. You’re also destroying your peace of mind and their’s and stealing our time and service from God.

“Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.”

-Soren Kierkegaard

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I’m Younger Than That Now

When I was seventeen
It was a very good year
It was a very good year for small town girls
And soft summer nights
We’d hide from the lights
On the village green
When I was seventeen

“It Was a Very Good Year” (1961)
-composed by Ervin Drake

A self-ordained professor’s tongue, too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty is just equality in school
Equality, I spoke the word as if a wedding vow
Ahh, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

My Back Pages” (1964)
-composed by Bob Dylan

This is a counterpoint to this morning’s meditation, which had a distinctively forlorn tone and pessimistic outlook. Life can be like that for me sometimes. I suppose it can be like that for some of you on occasion. But something LeVar Burton said on twitter about 1968 made me think back. I actually “misremembered” the famous chorus to Dylan’s tune as, “I was so much younger then, I’m older than that now.”

When I looked up My Back Pages (and I’m probably remembering The Byrds’s cover of the song), I realized my mistake. Then the Drake song, made famous by Frank Sinatra, popped into my head.

That’s more like it. That’s what I was thinking. That’s what I was feeling. I was so much younger then, and it was a very good year.

But this is supposed to be optimistic, isn’t it?

I’m utterly convinced that the key to lifelong success is the regular exercise of a single emotional muscle: gratitude.

People who approach life with a sense of gratitude are constantly aware of what’s wonderful in their life. Because they enjoy the fruits of their successes, they seek out more success. And when things don’t go as planned, people who are grateful can put failure into perspective.

By contrast, people who lack gratitude are never truly happy. If they succeed at a task, they don’t enjoy it. For them, a string of successes is like trying to fill a bucket with a huge leak in the bottom. And failure invariably makes them bitter, angry, and discouraged.

Therefore, if you want to be successful, you need to feel more gratitude. Fortunately, gratitude, like most emotions, is like a muscle: The more you use it, the stronger and more resilient it becomes.

-Geoffrey James
“True Secret to Success (It’s Not What You Think)”
Inc.com

That reminds me of the very first meditation I wrote for this blog, exactly 14 months ago today.

“I gratefully thank You, living and existing King
for restoring my soul to me with compassion.
Abundant is your faithfulness.”

Blessing Upon Arising in the Morning

It’s the one Jewish blessing I still allow myself to recite and virtually the first coherent thought I have upon awakening each morning.

I’m grateful to wake up alive.

In his article, Geoffrey James calls gratitude the “secret to success.” He talks about making a list of everything that happened to you during the day that makes you grateful and writing it all down before going to bed. He says that the more you practice gratitude, the more it will become part of your “reprogramming.”

It’s funny, but I think the Jewish sages had that idea long before James wrote his wee article for Inc.com.

Of course, that’s how we learn just about anything, by practicing. I suppose that’s true of being grateful. I suppose that’s true about having a relationship with God. Like any relationship, it takes practice, patience, and lots of attention. You reap the rewards of whatever you put into it. If you practice too little, the rewards are very few.

Both “It Was a Very Good Year” and “My Back Pages” are retrospectives on life. The former song expands the person’s vision across an entire human lifespan while the latter is Dylan’s personal presentation of his disillusionment with the folk protest movement of the early 1960s.

I periodically become aware that there are more days behind me than there are ahead, but I take some comfort in my family, the next generation I see in my children, and the generation beyond that in my grandson.

And I take some comfort in God.

But it’s difficult not to look back and ponder all the youthful wonder and immature anguish, the carefree nights and days and the painful and terrible mistakes. Was I a better person then, or now? What have I learned. Was being seventeen really better? Am I younger or older than that now?

But however it’s all worked out, I haven’t forgotten to be grateful to God. I’m alive. I have a wife and three children. I have a grandson (and I can still hardly believe I’m a grandpa). I’m working. I live comfortably. I’m able to give something back to my community, which is a blessing. Life isn’t perfect, but God has been generous.

And I’m grateful. I should practice that more.

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt somehow
Ahh, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

-Dylan

But now the days grow short
I’m in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
from fine old kegs
from the brim to the dregs
And it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year

-Drake

How do I feel?

I feel older. But sometimes, when I’m grateful, I feel young.

 

Speed

Our generation has changed an amazing amount from earlier generations. In earlier times the only people who ate quickly were bandits or people in an unusual rush for one reason or another. Nowadays, we are in the era of “fast” foods. Mealtime is not nearly as formal as it once was for the vast majority of people.

Not surprisingly, when someone first learns the halachos on today’s amud he gets a big surprise. “One who leaves one domain needs to recite a new blessing?” he wonders. “What if I have something in my mouth and as I am running I leave the first domain? Do I have to remove it from my mouth and make a new blessing?”

When someone asked a similar question to Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a, he ruled decisively. “Even a child who has a candy in his mouth and rushes out of the domain where he made the blessing must take it out of his mouth and make another.”

On a different occasion, Rav Chaim confided that such a case had actually happened to him. “When I was a child the Chazon Ish once noticed that I rushed out of the house with a candy in my mouth. When I came back in—with the candy still ensconced in my mouth—the Chazon Ish called me over to him. He explained the halachah of changing domain. ‘You need to take the candy out of your mouth and make a new berachah every time you leave a domain,’ the Chazon Ish explained.”

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“Fast Foods”
Siman 178 Seif 1

First of all, I don’t do this. Secondly, I’m not telling you to do this. That’s not my point. My point is the speed at which time or rather, the events of our lives rush past us. It’s like standing on a commuter platform waiting for the train that will take you to work to stop, only to watch is pass by just inches from your nose at 70 miles per hour.

What the heck just happened?

Yes, we live in a streaming video, microwave dinner, high-speed Internet world where everything we want and need (or think we do) is delivered super-duper fast, and if it isn’t we want to know why.

I’ll try to keep this short since I’m sure this has all been said many times before and I’ll just sound like some old duffer longing for “the good ol’ days.”

Did God design us to run at such a high-speed? Are we supposed to rush around from this event to that from birth to death, never stopping to figure out what we’re supposed to be doing in-between?

I’m just like you. I wake up too early, hit the gym for an hour, wolf breakfast down my throat, speed off to work, often working through lunch, hit the road for the evening commute, grab dinner while reading the news on the web, write or edit something, pick up or drop off someone somewhere, maybe watch a little mindless entertainment, flop in bed, get too little sleep, start all over again.

The Digging with Darren blog just retweeted (on twitter) an older topic called Daily Disciples of a Disciple which in which the “tweet” contained the words, “Does your schedule make room for discipleship?”

What’s important to you? What will you slow down for so you can take your time, pay attention, and truly experience the moment?

I mean besides TV, video, gaming, or similar activities.

While the various Rabbinic rulings and judgments take a lot of harsh abuse in Christianity and sometimes in Messianic Judaism, in some cases, I can see the point of the Sages. It may seem rather tedious and unnecessary to recite a new blessing when you leave one domain for another, but even if you choose not to do so, it teaches a lesson. If you had to slow down between point A and point B, what would you pay attention to? Would slowing down for a few seconds carry its own value? Would you have a few moments to remember God and maybe even talk to Him?

Backward On the Thread of Time

Backwards“It would be easier sometimes to change the past.”
-Jackson Browne
Fountain of Sorrow (1974)

“You can’t unring a bell.”
-Anonymous

Yes, we are physical beings; but there is something in us that transcends the physical. Man is an amalgam of matter and spirit, a marriage of body and soul. It is our spiritual self that persists in the belief that the past can be redeemed. It is our connection with the spiritual essence of our lives that grants us the capacity for teshuvah–the capacity to “return” and retroactively transform the significance of past actions and experiences.

What is this “spiritual essence” with which we seek connection? And how does it enable us to literally change the past?

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“How to Change the Past”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

So, which is it? Can we change the past or not? Rabbi Tauber and musician Jackson Browne say “yes”, but our anonymous bell ringing philosopher says “no”. As we approach Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish religious calendar, we are reminded of the many mistakes we’ve made over the past year. While remembrance and regrets are part of what makes us human, we often want to forget and to undo those things that we have done. Is there a way? Here’s what Rabbi Tauber has to say:

Not just man, but every object, force and phenomenon has both a “body” and a “soul.” A thing’s body is its physical mass, its quantifiable dimensions, its “hard facts.” A thing’s soul is its deeper significance–the truths it expresses, the function it performs, the purpose it serves.

…man is a spiritual creature in that he imparts significance to his deeds and experiences. Things don’t just happen–they happen for a reason, they mean something, they further a certain objective. The same event can therefore mean different things to different people; by the same token, two very different events may serve the same purpose and elicit identical feelings, imbuing them with kindred souls despite the dissimilarity of their bodies.

The body of our lives is wholly subject to the tyranny of time–the “hard facts” cannot be undone. A missed flight cannot be unmissed; a harsh word uttered to a loved one cannot be unspoken. But the soul of these events can be changed. Here we can literally travel back in time to redefine the significance of what occurred.

So the answer is “yes” and “no”. We cannot physically travel back in time and change a single word uttered in anger or even one careless action, but we can change the soul of the event and we can change our soul, re-making the meaning not only of what we have said and done, but re-making the meaning of our lives. That’s what the Days of Awe are all about, not just saying you’re sorry, and not just asking for forgiveness for your misdeeds, but spiritually, metaphysically, mystically re-creating time and space so that they, and we, are brand new again.

We are also re-creating ourselves so that we are brand new again, clean and pure as we stand before the throne of God.

According to the writer of the book of Hebrews, Messiah has become our High Priest. He entered into the Holy of Holies in heaven—the actual throne room of God—and applied His own blood for atonement. He entered into the presence of God for us so that he might usher us in as well (Hebrews 9:11-12). Messiah is our High Priest, “a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the LORD pitched, not man” (Hebrews 8:2). Therein he applied his atoning blood. Therefore, the ceremony of the Day of Atonement uniquely patterns the work of Messiah: His death, his sacrifice and the atonement of his blood. We boldly enter the presence of God because the blood of Messiah covers us. Today he stands interceding on our behalf before the throne of God, just like a high priest.

The Holiest Day of the Year
Commentary on Yom Kippur
FFOZ.org

Kol NidreIn the imagery from the Book of Hebrews, we can connect Judaism’s Yom Kippur with the atoning sacrifice of Christ. In Leviticus 16 God told Moses to tell Aaron, the High Priest of the Children of Israel, to enter the Holy of Holies only once a year to make atonement for the people. The FFOZ commentary illustrates how the Messiah, as our High Priest, has made that atonement once and for all on behalf of humanity, and in accordance with the Messianic covenant. He has opened the door and allowed the world to know God.

But Yeshua (Jesus) cried out again with a loud voice, and his spirit departed.

Then the curtain in the Sanctuary was torn from top to bottom into two pieces. The earth quaked, and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many of the holy ones sleeping in the dusty ground were awakened. They came forth from the tombs after his resurrection and entered the Holy City, and they were seen by many.

And when the centurion and the men with him who were guarding Yeshua saw the earthquake and what had happened, they were very terrified, and they said, “Surely this was the son of God.” –Matthew 27:50-54 (DHE Gospels)

Yom Kippur is a solemn reminder of who Christ is and who we are in him and how, even though we cling to the fringes of his garment, we are still frail and prone to weakness.

An interpretation given to the Kol Nidre is that the congregation declares, by implication, at the beginning of Yom Kippur: “See, O Lord, what miserable sinners we are. We make promises to live better lives each year and yet always fall far short of keeping them. Therefore, help us, O Lord, and pardon us for our shortcomings.”

-Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006)
“Kol Nidrei: The evening service of Yom Kippur is named after this declaration”
As quoted from My Jewish Learning

As solemn as the Kol Nidre service is, held the evening of Yom Kippur, there is also a promise of the future, a door opens in the fabric of the universe allowing man access to God in humility, awe, and hope. For humanity, the key to the door is Jesus, and once he guides us into the presence of the Most High, we can turn back the clock on events, or perhaps even erase them altogether, through God’s lovingkindness.

On the material surface of our lives, time’s rule is absolute. But on its spiritual inside, the past is but another vista of life, open to exploration and development with the transformative power of teshuvah. -Rabbi Tauber

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust. –Psalm 103:11-14

Dancing on a stringMy friend Yahnatan on his blog Gathering Sparks posted the following quote from R.R. Reno’s First Things:

I am Christian and not Jewish. I have no real grasp of Hebrew and I only vaguely follow the prayers in my wife’s synagogue. Yet, in the final moments of Yom Kippur I have felt a terrible anguish, yearning to move, and yet immobile, wanting to rush to God’s side and yet nailed to my worldly life. I have shuddered as cantor cries out: “The doors are closing; the doors are closing.” For in those haunting words I hear Jesus saying: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

I am also a Christian married to a Jewish wife but I don’t believe that applying Yom Kippur to a Christian faith is only for those few of us who are intermarried. God wants all of His people to live, not in the past and not in our sorrow and regrets, but in an active and joyful present life with Him. Heaven doesn’t have to wait. The Kingdom of God is as near as we want it to be. God is as close as the next beat of our hearts. Time is a river and we can swim in pursuit of God, moving upstream and down.

Sacred history may be described as an attempt to overcome the dividing line of past and present, as an attempt to see the past in the present tense (pp 211-12).

All generations of Israel, we are told, were present at Sinai…It was an act of transcending the present, history in reverse: thinking of the future in the present tense (pp 215-16)

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man : A Philosophy of Judaism

When we break the fast of Yom Kippur, let us dance with God backward across the strand of time while looking forward to another year ahead in His Holy splendor.

Time is the Fire

Woman in fireRav Yaakov Meir wrote, “In Chullin 58 we find a fascinating story. The Gemara records that people tell of a gnat who rebelled against her husband for seven years since he once enjoyed sucking a man’s blood without telling her. The Gemara explains that although gnats don’t live that long this number of years is meant to be relative to its brief lifespan. Its short life is divided into seventy segments. For seven of those segments this insect abandoned her mate in anger. Although gnats live a very short lifespan, these creatures still squandered their days on folly, fighting and taking vengeance. This story begs for an explanation.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Life’s Too Short”
Chullin 58

This is part of a series of blogs I’m writing based, though not always directly, on the JLI course Toward a Meaningful Life. If you haven’t done so yet, please review yesterday’s installment, Why Are We Who We Are?, then return here and continue reading.

Yes, it certainly does beg for an explanation. Fortunately, the explanation is obvious.

The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more. –Psalm 103:15-16

LORD, what are human beings that you care for them,
mere mortals that you think of them?
They are like a breath;
their days are like a fleeting shadow. –Psalm 144:3-4

The aforementioned “Story off the Daf” includes the following:

A certain person had a hard time capitalizing on his time. He learned but also wasted lots of time on what he knew was nonsense. Although he wished to stop, he didn’t feel like he could do so himself, so he sought some inspiration to wake him up.

It’s not like we don’t know that life is short. It’s not like we don’t know that we are wasting time in frivolous pursuits. Social networking is just the latest method we have of pouring our hours down the drain, but we also have many other activities that don’t contribute to those things we know are most important:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” –Matthew 22:37-40

So what are we doing? Is even blogging on topics such as this one a waste of time? What should I be doing instead?

When I realize all that there is to learn, all that there is to accomplish in even attempting to understand one more thing about God, about humanity, about how to live a better, more meaningful life, I feel time gaining on me. I am aware that in my life, there are more days behind me than there are ahead. When you’re young, you think that time is an infinite resource, like the ocean or the sky, but as you get older, you realize that even the water and the air can become used up. So it is with life.

Is there an optimal amount of learning that, when accomplished, can be said to be “enough”? I can’t imagine that there is, and yet so many Christians, Jews, and other people of faith seem to behave as if that were true. I guess that’s how we justify sitting in front of the TV, or going to a baseball game, or even taking an afternoon nap.

But on the other side of the coin, is life just for toil, even in the service of God? That’s hard to say. We don’t see the Apostle Paul ever taking a vacation. Moses didn’t ask God for time off when leading the Children of Israel in the desert so he could relax in Cabo or Aruba. Did Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel ever take a break to go and “smell the roses”?

Running out of timeOn the one hand, there’s a tremendous urgency about life, living, learning, and serving God. On the other hand, we have this:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever. –Ecclesiasties 1:2-4

We’re here today and gone tomorrow. Does what we do really matter? In seventy or eighty years in life, what sort of real impact do we make? Sure, there are very famous people whose lives do make a tremendous difference on the national or global landscape. I’m sure most people know of the accomplishments of people like Dr. Martin Luther King or Mother Theresa, and many people will continue to learn about them for years to come. But most of us aren’t like them. Most of us…the vast, vast majority of us, don’t really make that much of a difference.

Maybe it just comes down to making a decision about what to pay attention to. If we focus on the futility of life and realize that not much we do really affects more than a tiny handful of people in the world, we can then just sit down and stop moving, because it doesn’t really matter. Or we can focus on that tiny handful of people who do think what we do matters…our spouse, our children, our parents, our friends…if we stopped doing and being, what would happen to them?

I know we can’t learn everything and we can’t do everything. When I’m gone, nothing I’ve ever done will really be remembered. Eventually, it will be as if I never existed. On the other hand, maybe it’s enough to matter, even a little, to just a few people. If one person’s life matters to just five or ten other people. and everything those five or ten people do matters to another five or ten each, if we multiple all of that out, eventually reaching all the people there are, then we do matter. Futile or not, each individual is a small part of a larger system. From the point of view of a molecule, it’s hard to see that it makes up the structure of something vital like a human heart.

Also, from our temporal point of view, it’s sometimes hard to see the wider scope that we are a part of, simply because God cares for us and we are His children:

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

And this is the word that was preached to you. –1 Peter 1:22-25

As people, we know that regardless of what we accomplish in any endeavor, it will never be enough. But we have to let whatever we can do be enough against the larger background of eternity. Even, if like the gnat, we waste some portion of our precious lifespan, we are still a part of something that is much, much larger than we could possibly imagine…and that our days, even when exhausted, spent, and depleted, will continue to extend to that place that has no time, when our tiny feeble sparks once again fly free and reunite with the fire that is the source of all things…God.