I’m sitting in my dining room on Saturday night. In front of me is a vase of droopy-headed roses that I haven’t had the heart to throw away. A gift from my cast on opening night, they remind me of the brevity of all living things.
Tomorrow we will give the final performance of a play we’ve spent the past two months preparing. Seventeen actors were chosen through audition (and in a few cases, desperate phone calls), costumes–as many as three or four per actor–were procured. Music was arranged, rehearsed and recorded. We took photos and wrote press releases for the newspapers. I prepared dramaturgy for the program. A large set was built and transported to our rented theater. Lights were aimed, the set was dressed, props were found or made. Some props were food, which has had to be prepared nightly.
And tomorrow at 4:50 PM it will be over. We’ll tear the set apart and store the pieces, plus the furniture, in our storage units. The props will return to their owners, the costumes to their warehouse. We’ll wash counters, sweep floors, vacuum carpets…and it will be as if we were never there. Other than photos and memories, a stage production is an ephemeral thing. As intensely as we lived every decision, every moment of this show, where will it exist once it’s over?
Maybe I was just feeling morbid today, but it occurred to me–as I thought about how much I dread strike and load-out–that everything in our lives is at some point in “production”…either we’re preparing for something (a holiday, a visit, a move, a career, a wedding, a baby, building a house) or we’re in the midst of something (a marriage, an education, a career, raising children, maintaining a house ), or we’re ending something: graduating, packing and moving, retiring, divorcing, dying.
Everything in our lives will come to an end. In some cases, it will fall to someone else to strike the set, pack away the props, dispose of the costumes, decide whether to keep the clippings. The flowers will die and go into the trash. And how much of what went into that production, that life, will be remembered? How much of any person’s life is truly ephemeral, known and appreciated by no one but himself?
The challenge in acting this cycle of beginning and ending is neither to put too much desperate energy into keeping the production alive, nor to undervalue its importance just because it can’t last. We should cherish every moment, because it’s both precious and fleeting.
That is the challenge for every believer in God, the struggle to value life because we value its Creator, and yet not idolize this mortal life, because we know that it is frail and futile to hang onto it. We have a better hope, a more permanent life coming which is infinitely more valuable, which God is holding for us in trust, a precious gift which cost us nothing–except our surrender to the Living God.
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” –Ephesians 5:15-16 NIV
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” –I Peter 4:10-11 NIV
Before a word leaves my mouth He knows it completely, and all the days ordained for me were written in His book before one of them came to pass (Psalm 139:4,16). Therefore, nothing of value to Him can be lost, even if my memory stops working long before my heart does.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
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.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.
—Psalm 103:13-18 NIV