She was giddy, shouting across the golden sand as she raced down the beach. “Daddy, come quick!” I had just arrived in Newport Beach, California, and Lili was more than a little enthusiastic. The sun was setting in a breathtaking haze of purples and golds. Not wanting to waste a second of remaining light, we hastily tossed our shoes, rolled up our jeans, and sprinted into the waves.
At six the next morning, Lili was in her bathing suit and ready to go again. We were the first two people to feel the morning dew on our feet and see the foam collecting in whirlpools on the shore. Learning to surf proved far more difficult than anticipated, and so in lieu of riding waves, we decided to build a sandcastle. With just a few basic tools, we built the most magnificent castle ever. It had a central fortress almost as tall as my daughter, which was guarded by thick, well-constructed walls. Every other castle ever constructed looked paltry by comparison.
As the morning wore on and my skin turned a stupid shade of tomato, I noticed the tide coming in. Lili and I had taken pains to build our castle far from the destructive waves, but apparently I underestimated the water’s reach every bit as much as the sun’s rays.
Hours of work were under imminent threat.
As one wave washed dangerously close, Lili pleaded, “Daddy, we need to build thicker walls!” We worked furiously as the unrelenting waves lapped closer and closer. But finally a single wave breached the outer wall, causing a side of the sandcastle to collapse. With greater urgency, Lili shouted, “Quick, Daddy, we need to dig a moat!”
It took exactly one more wave to fill our moat to overflowing. We were no match for the mighty Pacific. Everything was reduced to short, soggy mounds. Sadly, Lili sighed, “Daddy, it’s all gone.”
As silly as it sounds, I had truly yearned to save that castle. Not that I expected it to last forever, but Lili and I had made a moment, and I wanted it to last.
What happens to castles of sand also happens to castles of steel. Our greatest works are subject to ruin.
How many bulletproof business plans, ironclad deals, and rock-hard bodies have melted before a wave? Fast or slow, the tide is coming in. And when it does, it will erase virtually all evidence of our ever being here.
In the immediate aftermath of our passing, someone will say something like, “Gone but not forgotten.” It’s a nice sentiment. But after a few more swells of everyday living, even memories of the dead fade away.
So we’re left with a key question: What’s the point of living if everything is dying? Can our fleeting lives leave enduring legacies?
This is precisely what led to Solomon’s frustration expressed in the book of Ecclesiastes. Through all his considerable strengths, he was trying to make enduring marks on the world. But it was futile. The sands of time and the cycles of nature erased them all.
But what if instead of leading to frustration, the brevity of our lives was a call to consider what we spend our lives building?
What if brevity made us look further and higher for meaning? What if it caused us to let go of our tightfisted grip on the things which don’t ultimately matter?
When we learn to “number our days,” my guess is that we live, love, build, and serve differently.
Clarifying Your Mission for Midlife
by Peter Greer and Greg Lafferty
from Intervarsity Press