Vacations are tricky things.
The “freedom” they profess to offer is illusory: the more time I spend upfront with family, books, hobbies, or sleep (i.e. regaining normal functionality), the greater the anxiety to utilize the rest of the break getting caught up with (or ahead on) school work. The end of a vacation usually sneaks up like thief in the night, leaving me with a hundred things I want to do and not nearly enough hours to get them done. Admittedly, this is partly my fault for not organizing my time better, but it is also partly the nature of having a job with no upper bound on the volume of effort I can pour into it.
This has been on my mind for two reasons: (1) I have a huge pile of grading that has been sitting on my desk untouched since I got home a week ago, and (2) it seems to be a rather poignant gospel analogy. I have no further comments on (1), but I do want to deconstruct (2) a little. To wit, just as I’ve highlighted the deceptively fleeting nature of vacations, a great many passages of scripture seem to highlight the deceptively fleeting nature of our time on Earth (c.f. the entire book of Ecclesiastes, Psalm 39:4, Job 14:1, Matthew 24:44, James 4:14, 2 Peter 3:10).
Here’s the situation: as a recent college graduate, there are a million things clamoring for my time and attention. Relationships, careers, travels, hobbies and interests, the quotidian demands of adult life—they all stretch in different directions and exhaust what limited time and energy I possess. It becomes very easy to gloss over Jesus’s command in Luke 23: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” After all, I don’t even know what it means to deny myself and take up my cross. I can figure it out when I’m not so busy with other stuff, right? Besides, the things I’m doing now are already helpful and moral and good for society!
In other words: I’ll do what I want to do now, and take care of other important stuff in the future. Sound familiar? It’s the vacation mindset.
Of course, “the future” is never as far away as it sounds. How differently would I live my life if I knew for sure that I’d be gone in a decade? A year? A month? A day? It’s hard to say, but I think I would probably (1) pray fervently for the “heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12) that Moses prayed for as he meditated on the end of his life and (2) commit myself wholly to serving those in need and lovingly sharing the gospel of Christ, even if I didn’t know exactly what that would look like at first.*
But here’s the thing: whether it’s in one year or sixty years, my time on this Earth will soon be up—guaranteed. When I’m before the throne of God, will I have lived and labored to His glory? Or will I have put off His call for my life as callously as I put off a pile of grading over winter break? Lord, let me spend my remaining days intentionally and purposefully!
I can imagine how all of this might have sounded to my non-believing self six years ago. “What is this, a joke? Take up my cross? The cross is a torture device! Spend my entire life helping people better their existences without sparing a thought for my own well-being? I’m not a martyr! Doesn’t God want me to be happy?” He does, kid—better yet, He wants you to have joy. Psalm 90 is not ultimately a lamentation of the brevity and afflictions of life (though it is that), but a celebration of the permanence and steadfast love of God. Committing the few days that we have left on Earth to His redemptive purposes is not just one way to find eternal joy, but the only way.
Speaking of having few days left, I should really get to that grading, seeing as how I’m leaving tomorrow. Happy New Year, everyone! May you experience much peace and joy in 2013.
* To be clear, I believe that teaching in the inner-city is serving those in need—very much so. But it’s important to remember that (1) service that isn’t rooted in love and a desire to glorify Christ can become legalism; and (2) devoting my time to God is not limited to career decisions.