Things that fall away
Our grievances will someday, suddenly, seem petty
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The people in Mariupol running for shelter clutching babes in their arms don’t worry about their bank accounts.
This I thought while experiencing my own mental divestiture of formerly important things. Like the obsession of half my life to amass an inheritance for my four children for when I’m gone. A wearying business that blots out the sun with a finger.
And so it happened to me as to most people, what the olden prophets warned about idolatry: “Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not; gray hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knows it not” (Hosea 7:9). After all that, I ended up losing large sums, as when it rains it pours—sudden car death, botched cataract surgery, unlucky investments, unwise insurance decisions, unexpected hospitalizations, inflation.
But a funny thing happened on the other side: I felt free. There was nothing to lose now.
I remember Paul’s journey from Fair Havens (Acts 27). Two hundred and seventy-six men set sail in clear weather. When the winds rose, not a sailor thought of throwing anything overboard. They took moderate measures: secured the skiff; the next day, lightened the ship; the third day, threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands; the 14th day, cut away the ropes of the skiff and let it fall off. Then they ate what many thought would be their last meal and jettisoned the whole cargo of wheat.
Or a luxury ship five minutes after hitting an iceberg is a good enough picture of life: At first you’re annoyed because the captain announces that bocce ball is canceled for the afternoon until they get the problem fixed. Then you start complaining about all the money you spent on this cruise and how you will insist on a refund as soon as you get home. A few dour intercom announcements later, you’ve forgotten all about the money and you will give everything you own not to die.
When death comes knocking, once-important things become beside the point: my father’s obligatory diet soda now that he’s on hospice with a failing heart (he’s fine with regular now); his menagerie of meds that were so fastidiously taken (when I asked his doctor if we should keep those up, he looked at me with eyes that said, “Seriously?”). All life’s intense pleasures now as uninteresting as the potty training book I read and underscored, once my daughter was past the phase.
Of course, there is always the holdout, that guy clutching the past when it makes no more sense. Lot’s wife, fire and brimstone falling on her head, still pining for city life in Sodom (see Revelation 18:14). In college summers I worked in a nursing home and saw people with one foot on the banana peel nursing grudges over who gets seated first in the cafeteria.
Fear of the Lord comes in like a flood, and how suddenly petty do our grievances then appear: the insistence on our own way; the thousand unforgivenesses carried over a lifetime that steal a man’s best years. How small do our cherished worldly songs become. The things of earth grow strangely dim, as the hymn says. You don’t even have to work at renouncing them; they simply become unappealing. “Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills and mountains is a deception” (Jeremiah 3:23).
And so “it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).
When you push off your little boat from the shore of the glittering city, you watch as little by little the lights fade away, first the weakest, until only the brightest remain visible.
I was in Aldi doing food shopping when my mechanic called with the bad news that I need a new car. Knowing I was suddenly poorer, I turned and picked up a German chocolate bar off the rack and put it in my cart, without any hesitation, and moved on.
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