We Are Placed Among Things That Are Passing Away
Grant that I, Lord, may not be anxious about earthly things, but love things heavenly; and even now, while I am placed among things that are passing away, hold fast to those that shall endure…
I read these words in my prayer book this morning. I have prayed these words before, at times rushing past them mechanically, at times supplying a quick inventory of the things in my life that tend to make me anxious, at times pondering the heavenly things that I ought to be loving instead of the earthly things that so easily take hold of my fickle affections. But I’ve never spent much time on that middle clause: “even now, while I am placed among things that are passing away.”
I paused there this morning. I thought back to the previous evening where I had prayed with a group of older saints. I thought about how we had made a long list of the people we cared about whose bodies were falling apart, whether because of age or illness or neglect. People who are, when it comes right down to it, passing away. “We’re all on our way there,” one person grimly remarked. I cleared my throat awkwardly. Well yes, of course we’re all on our way. But who wants to be reminded that they are one of the things that are passing away?
I’ve been thinking this morning about things that are passing away (things other than, of course, my self)— things that so naturally produce anxiety, in our world and in my own soul. About my kids who are growing up way too fast, about the choices and the challenges they will face in the world. About all of the anxiety that the passing from childhood to adulthood brings along with it. About friends and family and the inevitable losses that we will all face. About money and influence and power and politics and all of the tawdry charades that dominate the daily news. About how history so reliably repeats itself, and how so much of it comes to nothing in the end. About controversial issues and ignorant opinions and truth and lies and the grinding task of sorting through all of our self-interested interests. About our relentless demand to be entertained. About the church and of the familiar forms and assumptions that are passing away. About the things that I cling to for identity and status in the world and how these things will, inevitably, fade away. I thought about what it might be like to be unremembered.
I looked out my rain-streaked window and grumbled to God that I would rather be placed somewhere other than among things that are passing away. I would prefer to be placed among other, better things—things that are being renewed, for example, or at the very least things that are staying the same long enough for me to get a handle on them. It is surely a truism that human beings bear the unique burden of possessing both the knowledge of life’s transitory and fragile nature, and at the same time having an inextinguishable longing for eternity lodged stubbornly in our hearts.
But grumbling rarely gets me very far, whether to God or to anyone else. Probably better to focus on how I might learn and grow and possibly change, even now, while I am placed among things that are passing away. There are no shortage of potential lessons to commend themselves. To cling less tightly to things, perhaps. To invest less in what ultimately matters very little. To be relieved of the burden (and forgiven of the sin) of imagining that I am my own little god tasked with managing my own little domain of grievances, trials, and tribulations (real or, more likely, imagined). To have more grace. To smile more. To resist allowing my attitudes and responses to be yanked around by machines that feed on outrage and division. To not expect from things that are passing away what can only come as gifts from God. To be at peace with my neighbour, with the world, and with God.
And, of course, to hold fast to what will endure. Which is what, exactly?
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13:13).
Grant that I, Lord, may not be anxious about earthly things, but love things heavenly…
The heavenliest thing to love is, of course, God. And God is love. So love is both mode and meaning, both witness and way. Love is our habit and our home, while we are here, placed among things that are passing away.