That’s the question our pastor posed in church Sunday. What dash, you say? You know, the time between your birth and inevitable death. I wrote his question down on the top of the notes page in the bulletin, along with the same question phrased another way: “What are you living for?”
I had just taught a high school Sunday school class on Solomon, the wise guy (no, really) who had everything he could hope for—riches, power, fame—and yet concluded at the end of his life that it was all “meaningless” apart from God (Ecclesiastes 1:1).
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.
In school, I remember thinking (usually in physics class), “Why am I doing this? What is this all for?” To get good grades so I can spend a lot of money on college, get a job, work a bunch, retire and die? … Hey, physics really bummed me out sometimes, OK?
Or when I worked at the newspaper, sometimes I would struggle to write a story because I couldn’t answer the question, “Who cares?”
In college, I led a Bible study on The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. The author said that he can’t tell you what your specific purpose in life is, since we all have different talents, desires and so on, but that our ultimate goal is to glorify God.
I admit I didn’t totally understand what that meant at the time, and I’m still wrapping my head around it now, several years later. But here’s what I do know: That when I ask God to show me what He wants for my life, and I follow where I think He’s leading, I’m fulfilled. Content. Even happy. There’s nothing lacking, no restlessness to contend with. When I don’t do those things, I start feeling a little empty space form in my stomach. Not the hunger kind of space, but the kind of space where anxiety likes to hide. The kind of space that’s still there no matter what you use to fill it, like when you drink tons of water and still feel thirsty.
Sunday, during the class I taught, I had the students make a list of things they spend their money on. Or their parents’ money. There were things like clothes, music, movies, a car, fast food and girlfriends. None of those things are bad, but they will never satisfy, I told them. The shiny new car gets dings and dents. The cute clothes wear out. You eventually lose interest in the latest video game.
Now don’t get me wrong. I think God wants us to enjoy life. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” He celebrated weddings and participated in feasts. He used humor. The Bible even talks about making a “joyful noise.” And just look around—there’s beauty and crazy cool stuff everywhere.
There’s plenty of room in life to appreciate art, make good music, go on road trips and eat ice cream—especially mint chocolate chip. But there’s also eternity to consider.
I saw a video recently from Francis Chan, a preacher who used a long, white rope to make a very good point. (Watch his video here starting at 2 minutes.) He took the end of the rope, several inches probably, and said that represents this life on earth. But then he had feet of rope dragging behind him and said imagine that it goes on forever. That’s eternity. And what we do with the inches on this side of life impacts eternity.
So what am I doing with this life? What am I doing with my dash?
I like to think that I’m investing in meaningful friendships. That I’m making an effort to spend time with family. That I’m finding ways to serve people around me. That I have a fun, exciting job that can positively affect people around the world. And that I’m telling people about the one Person who has had the greatest impact on my life to date.
This is the same One who made me and knows my name.
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
So it only makes sense that He knows what’s good for me. He knows what works for me and what doesn’t because He has known me since the beginning of time.
And I know that when I follow His direction and prompting, that dash I’m working on is pretty awesome.