Yesterday I was thinking about my accomplishments in life or my lack thereof. I was feeling pretty mediocre when thinking about what I had done with the talents I have been given. This morning I wake up thinking about what should I accomplish or have accomplished? I haven’t done as much as I would like with some areas of my life. What is important? What’s the point of it all? When I give myself a mediocre grade, am I grading the right things?
I realize that the vast majority of what most of us focus on here is fleeting. Careers, homes, cars, bank accounts- none of it can we take with us. Sandcastles is the image that comes to mind. We are children playing on the beach, building sandcastles. Oh, some are big, some are extremely intricate built with great care and precision, but we’re building them out of sand, on the beach, at low tide. If you’ve ever spent any time on the beach when the tide is coming in, you know what happens to sandcastles built on the beach. The tide washes them all away. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
Jesus’ words seem to grow more and more profound to me. I heard them so much as a child, the impact began to diminish, but as I go through the seasons of life, they come back to me with renewed life. In Luke 6:47 Jesus says:
“Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. "But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.”
My thought doesn’t exactly line up with this because in His analogy it’s the foundation that matters and I’m talking about what we are actually building. Nothing in this world lasts forever except people (and even then not in these bodies), relationships and experiences that shape our souls. These are the things we should be building. These are the things we should be focused on.
The only thing that is guaranteed to us when we draw that first breath after bursting into this world, is one day we will exhale our last. The only thing that is guaranteed to be in our lives until the moment we die is the connection to this vehicle that we operate. Everything else, everyone else comes and it goes.
We spend so much time and effort on building things like career, the right house and taking care of our bodies. Each is its own sandcastle. They might be washed away at different times or all together, but they will be washed away. We judge each other, and ourselves, on how well we do on these things. We compare ourselves to others. We cling to these things. We convince ourselves that if we can only accomplish a little more, then we’ll be happy. then we will have arrived. We forget they are temporary. Even worse, we often delude ourselves into thinking they are permanent.
I remember when my father-in-law passed. He was a master carpenter. He could build anything. Alzheimer’s took his mind before it took his body. I distinctly remember one day going to visit their house and looking at a porch swing that he had built in the backyard. It had fallen into disrepair and he was no longer able to fix it. I knew that was not his choice. He would have never let that happen. That’s when the concept of impermanence struck me with a force like I don’t think it had up until then. All of that time I spent coming there to visit him to see the things he had built. It was all falling apart just like this swing. I remember a few years later the last time going to that house to turn over the keys to the new owner. I hadn’t grown up there, but I had spent nearly 25 years of my life- almost half at that point visiting that place which had become like a second home to me.
Buddhists have a practice where they will get together and spend days or weeks creating beautiful intricate mandalas from sand. This is a painstaking process. These are highly detailed artistic creations with geometric patterns that represent the universe. After spending all of this time lovingly and carefully creating these mandalas, they sweep the various colors of sand together into a big pile and take them to a moving body of water where they dump them into a running body of water to spread the blessings.
The lesson here is not to not create the mandala. The lesson is not to stop building our careers, our homes, taking care of our bodies. Create these beautiful things. Admire them. Enjoy them. They have a place, but they have a season. The lesson is to not think of these things as permanent. They are all fleeting. This is not a morbid thing. This helps us to focus on the important things and to better appreciate the temporary things. Remember this brings the world into sharper focus. It causes us to enjoy and cherish the moments. And, it helps to focus on the things we can build on the rock that Jesus spoke of, the things we will take into eternity with us.