Last week I visited a place I had only seen in wall calendars. It was an alien landscape—an immense desert lake framed with surreal geology.
Lake Powell, Utah.
We navigated it on a houseboat—a 75 foot hulk with four bedrooms, two baths, a tanning deck, a hot tub, full kitchen, big screen television, and front and back patios. In case the floating hotel scene got boring, then kayaks, paddle boards, and two speed boats were attached.
My normal daily surroundings at home couldn’t be more of a contrast. When I’m not with people in my church, or out in the community, I sit in the front window of a duplex at a big clunky desk where relentless traffic flows past.
But in the vacation landscape, I drift on a kayak in ninety feet of water next to a cliff.
When my family originally invited me and my wife and daughter out on this little jaunt, my first concern had been for my work. But Ecclesiastes has a warning for folks who live to work: Remember to enjoy life.
After Solomon had accumulated and accomplished so much, he wrote, “I hated life” (Eccl. 2:17) and further indicated that he felt despair (Eccl. 2:20). Driven folks frequently become so busy they can’t enjoy life’s journey.
One man I know mentioned getting a tour of his friend’s palatial home, outfitted with expensive toys in every room. Most of the high-priced gadgets had spider webs on them. “Dude,” he said to his friend, “Looks like nobody’s even used this awesome big screen.” The friend gave a tired smirk and said, “Yeh, I don’t have time for it.”
The guy was pulling a high six figure income every year, but hardly felt it. His life was being buried under a blur of commutes and cocktail parties.
Pastors tend to be overly driven people, too. I’ll never forget hearing one talk about a fellow’s big time success in ministry. He had started with a church the size of a living room and ended with one the size of Walmart. He said, “As far as large attendance goes, I’ve seen the Promised Land, and it was…well…okay.”
I’ve been around the church scene long enough to know that “okay” comes with a big sigh of resignation.
Anyway, these reflections became an interesting note to self. I stopped agonizing over projects that weren’t getting done back in Columbus, and paid more attention to lizards sunning themselves on rocks. Carp that ate crackers right out of your hand. Panoramic starry skies. Oddly therapeutic desert heat. Desolate stillness.
I think Solomon would have applauded me:
“So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun!” (Eccl. 8:15).
After 24 hours or so, some of our party began to feel the anxiety of not having a connection with the outside world. If you stood in certain parts of the boat at certain times, and bit down on a piece of aluminum foil, you might get a fleeting cell phone signal.
Finally we hit a hot spot. A half-dozen text messages instantly populated my wife’s cell phone—all from the same person. Someone from our home state of Louisiana had been trying to reach her.
I threw the boat into neutral and we began drifting. In the sudden quiet, I wondered what news was forthcoming. Then we found out Roger, my wife’s step-father had passed away, the result of a heart attack suffered at a James Taylor concert. He had simply wanted to enjoy some music, but due to overexertion climbing concert facility stairs, had died.
My takeaway in the shocking aftermath was to remember that while we should enjoy the things given by God, all such enjoyment of this life will come to an end. Even more, how you enjoy it comes with consequences.
Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment (Eccl. 11:9).
I could easily forget that this age will end in an apocalyptic crescendo. Great judgments will come, and even the saints will give account of their lives before Jesus at His judgment seat. If I lost sight of eternity while living under the mantras of “You only go around once” and “If you’ve got it, flaunt it,” I would one day suffer the deepest kind of regret.
By all means play hard, but play by the rules because the crazy guys with sandwich signs on the corner got it right. The end is near.
Where my father-in-law’s passing cast a pall over the trip, something else brought it back. My thirteen year old nephew wanted me to baptize him. We were conveniently floating on a billion cubic tons of water and he wonders as the eunuch of Acts 8, “Here is water, what prevents me from being baptized?”
After ascertaining his faith in Jesus, I did it. The page had turned yet again to remind me that my sobriety about life shouldn’t become a morbid hopelessness. The faith goes on. New life goes on. I can be part of that process. In the midst of having fun and remembering my mortality I can also do things that last.
None of us will take money or things out of this world, but we can take the effect of our efforts in the gospel because “God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do” (Heb. 6:10).
Photo credit: Andrew Morffew.