My groceries paid for, I rolled the shopping cart toward the door of the local Safeway. Near the door was a video kiosk. One family was selecting a movie at the screen, and two other families were waiting for their turn.
My first thought was that this family was going to waste their night watching some mindless, devoid-of-meaning movie. Then I was amazed as I realized my Evangelical Filter was on. 26 years of thinking of everything in light of Evangelical theology and so-called biblical meaning dies hard.
Pastor and author John Piper wrote a book a few years back called Don’t Waste Your Life. Here’s a blurb from the back cover:
John Piper writes, “I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider this story from the February 1998 Reader’s Digest: A couple ‘took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells. . . .’ Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: ‘Look, Lord. See my shells.’ That is a tragedy.
“God created us to live with a single passion: to joyfully display his supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. The wasted life is the life without this passion. God calls us to pray and think and dream and plan and work not to be made much of, but to make much of him in every part of our lives.”
I actually own this book. I bought it a couple years ago, when my passion was waning but my belief in Jesus as God was still sure. I was interested in so many other things. I was trying to write a book, three different screenplays, and a musical. I was deeply involved in the local theater group. My job is time and travel intensive. None of these things were Christ centered, and for that I harbored a low-grade guilt.
The Christian mentality is summed up in I Corinthians 10:31 (NIV) – So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
This is driven into the Christian mind incessantly to the point where you look at every activity that you do and evaluate its eternal worth. After a little while you start evaluating everyone else’s activities the same way. If they’re just picking up a movie to while away a Friday night, then that night is wasted. Often you take it a step further, assuming that if they’re wasting away that Friday night then they’re probably lost and headed to hell.
Now, on the other side of this belief system, I see this filter through which I once viewed the world around me, and it is an ugly color. It is ugly because it inspires a judgmental attitude and a sadness for which there is no foundation. Seeing those families choosing a movie to watch, presumably together, should be a just what it is, or even a cause to smile, thinking of one little family spending time together enjoying something rather than apart.
Thinking on this exposes the bigger issue – Purpose.
When you’re “in Christ” you have a specific purpose. You are here for a short time. If you are fortunate enough to be found by God, then you need to realize that this is just a temporary home. While you’re here, you need to work at becoming more like him. You need to do his work and pursue his purpose, for you were “bought with a price.” Any moment spent doing something just for yourself is a moment lost. You can always be more holy. Every time you ignore that impetus to pursue a selfish desire, to be entertained rather than enlightened, emboldened, encouraged or otherwise further indoctrinated, you lose a small chance to be your best for God. You will finish the race with fewer rewards in heaven than the next guy. The now is not about now, it’s about what’s ahead.
In this economy, entertainment is worthless. It’s a distraction from the real meaning of life. It’s nice to have, but you could always have done a little more for him.
In short, it cheapens the present in looking to a glorious future instead.
That saddens me. Knowing what I know now, seeing the world the way I do without those filters on, I see that there is only Now. Not only that, if there is no monumental future in the sky, then our lives aren’t about redeeming every moment to win more souls for Christ. It’s about enjoying the present moment, loving your kin, finding peace, happiness, and joy in the tiny moments as they go by. Finding happiness and comfort in sitting down with your kids to watch a movie together, reveling just in being together, sharing laughter, thoughtfulness, suspense, and the satisfaction of a story well told.
Referring back up to the blurb on Piper’s book, I think that couple is far from tragic. What is tragic is that Piper can take a vignette of the simple enjoyment of marital devotion and togetherness and twist it into something to be derided. That couple has found peace and happiness together, enjoying each moment in the little tiny seashells they find. They’re enjoying the natural world in which they live, not worrying about tomorrow, just being in today. That’s beautiful.
I like the color of that filter much better, and I think it tells a more accurate truth about every day life.