The days are getting longer! Have you noticed this with as much delight as I have? Dare I say another long dark winter is almost behind us? Nah, I know better than to tempt Mother Nature’s whimsy like that!! But I must admit, as I stood in quiet awe watching the sunset the other evening at almost 6 pm, this long dark winter seemed like just a blink. Oh, I know we still have weeks if not months of winter ahead – at least in my northwest neck of the woods – but the swiftness of time passing caught me up short.
As I write this, I am in the midst of planning the memorial service for my uncle; my father’s youngest, and the last of the four Morck brothers. He was preceded in death by his parents, two half-brothers, and his brother – my dad. He had a long, very unique – life; and while I mourn his passing, I am glad he is relieved of the burdens of this world. He was a frugal bachelor and didn’t leave much behind – except for our memories and his special brand of wisdom.
With his death, I have this heavy sense of ending. He was the last of a special generation within our family – a direct connection to the grandparents I never knew and all the history and lore of a Norwegian Danish family making a life on the cold high plains of eastern Montana. With that generation of our life as a family behind us, all my brother and I have left is the fabric of our very beings. Since neither of us have children, it is an odd feeling – being the last remnants of a family. There is a loneliness that creeps into the soul and a weightiness in the realization that “this is it” – it all ends with us – this chapter in the “epic” tale of the Morck family.
When someone close to us dies, our own death always feels more imminent. We tend to examine our own lives a bit more meticulously. If I joined Mom, Dad, and my uncle today, would I be satisfied with how my book of life ended, with how I ran and finished the race?
That evening a few days ago, as I stood in the stillness and watched the sky darken in the west and lose its rose-gold hues, it dawned on me how much life I have lived in the 7 years since I felt my mother’s embrace, and 6 years since I heard my father say my name – one last time. At times it is all a blur as I reckon with changes to my life I never before could have fathomed facing on my own and yet somehow, I did.
And as I mark the end of my uncle’s life, seeing and recounting his journey in retrospect – it is hard to fathom that his race is over. Though some days seemed like an unending struggle and time passed excruciatingly slow, how did we get to his finish line so fast? Where did all the time go?
The fastest race we will ever run is the race of life. Our time is fleeting, the most important facets of life become mere flickers of memory as days become weeks, weeks become months, months become years. Though we may say we are winning at life – the race itself has only one ending – one we don’t want to reach – and yet we keep running it – chasing after some prize just beyond our reach.
To run a race and finish well you have to be intentional with your training and intentional with your run during the race. You must be cognizant of those around you and any obstacles you might encounter. You must stay in touch with how your body is performing the tasks you are asking it to and keep your focus not just on the finish line but on every step you take – lest you trip on a rock or stumble on a pothole. Those of you reading this who also happen to be runners know how easy it is to get lost in your head once the lead in your legs gives way to the runner’s high-inducing repetitive strides.
The race of life is no different. It must be lived with intention if you want to finish well. But in a world of constant motion and monotony – it too is easy to get lost in the rush of it all – to give in to just doing, doing, doing for the sake of doing. Until we are caught mid-doing and forced to reckon with reality, reckon with time, and reckon with mortality. Reckon with our reason for being.
And what is that, really – our reason for being? If we are not careful, that question alone can send us down a rabbit hole. It can be unsettling when your reason resume is less succinct or weighty than you imagined it would be; when you realize that life has taken you “off-course” or at least off the course of your intentions.
Too often, I have let others define my reason for being – or worse – what I think others want my reason for being to be. Too often, my daily intentions simply become reactions to what is happening around me in my rush to get somewhere. It is easy to settle into the complacent comfort of taking each day as it comes rather than shaping my being each day for what it could be.
It takes a concerted effort to define our lives – to live with intention. Because, to live intentionally requires us to do one thing. One thing that can seem abhorrent, even irrational, in our quest to finish well. Any guesses as to what that one thing is? Hurry up – time’s a wasting!!
The answer is nothing! Doing not a thing! And that is why it is so hard to live intentionally and with reason. The thought of doing nothing – of simply being still – goes against the laws of energy and drive and every notion of success – within us!
And yet, when I get lost in the woods, my first instinct is to run to safety as if in a race against time. But survivalists will tell me NO, that is the last thing I should do. Instead, I must stop, be still and take things in. This isn’t a race against time. It is time to connect to my surroundings and myself. In other words, stay put and “get a hold of myself.”
Stillness grants us breath amid the breathlessness of life. Stillness calls forth our inner voice so we can hear and follow it. Stillness invites us into a place of rest and reflection instead of rapidity and reaction. Stillness stirs us to contemplation which births our most worthy intentions.
Stillness invites connection to ourselves and to others. It helps us find our center point, and take stock of our life in the moment.
I spent years trying to outrun stillness. For those of us used to running through the paces of life, racing through thoughts of things to do and things left undone, racing past feelings that we don’t want to feel, running from the commitments made that we struggle to keep and our relationships that need more of us than we have to give – stillness can be an uncomfortable, even scary state to find ourselves in. But no matter how quick our cadence in the race of life, life always seems to catch us if not pass us by – sometimes taunting us at the end.
Ironically, it is those very things we are running through and from that hold the key to unlocking the answers we seek – our reason for being – the greatness we are capable of – the meaning of life – if only we would connect, reflect, listen, take stock, breathe and be still. As Blaise Pascal put it, “all of humanity’s problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room.”
A life without stillness is a life rushing blindly towards its end.
As I contemplate the life of my uncle, and the lives of my parents – how they gave life to life and where they struggled to do so – it helps me see where I want my intentions to be. Appreciating and treasuring relationships, engaging with community, not just getting up each morning but showing up for life and for those in my life, doing meaningful work to the best of my ability, enjoying God’s creation and being the creative being God purposed me to be, and finally, honoring my life with time to be still and take it all in – taking all of God in.
Doing so will help me center my thoughts and emotions in Christ as I am reminded of God’s transforming love for all of us. Through this time of stillness and looking up to God, how I view the world, myself, and the situations I find myself in will most assuredly be changed as I align my reason for being and what my intentions are to Him.
Time well spent. There’s no need to rush. I’ll get to the finish line soon enough.
Go and find stillness – welcome it into your life and finish well.
Let your light so shine!