A Meaning in Life

The pond ripples and the marsh reeds drift in the breeze. This from the same wind that pushes the clouds far above. To the west, the sun sinks dying, burning, igniting the sky with orange and tinting the heavens with deep purple.

Unconcerned with it all, the swans wander the surface of the pond aimlessly, white, and stark against the gathering shadow of night.

Monstrous supercells lurk across the expanse above, waiting for a time for unleashing and storm. Gales whip between the buildings, rushing across the grass, bending green to their will, catching an end of scarf or tail of coat, and tossing them high.

Unconcerned with it all, the swans wander the surface of the pond aimlessly, white, and stark against the gathering shadow of night.

A dog barks dangerously into the encroaching dark, and cars, as armored ants scurry the neglected streets, in fain straining sickly yellow light into the night. From shrouded lounges, students stare into the ending day, searching for a meaning in life.

Unconcerned with it all, the swans wander the surface of the pond aimlessly, white, and stark against the gathering shadow of night.

The buildings across the pond are peeling, and worn. They are tired and weary of the world, and yet they stand. Fading graffiti decorates their walls, painting sad faces beneath broken panes. A bit of dust wails, whipped into zephyr-hood, and scatters into the prevailing winds to settle back to the beaten path.

Unconcerned with it all, the swans wander the surface of the pond aimlessly, white, and stark against the gathering shadow of night.

Land of My Exile

I hear Russian through my window, rising from the street below. Students are walking by, to and from class. Lithuanian, Ukrainian, and Albanian I hear in my room on a regular basis, and I encounter several other languages if I stroll through my dorm…or through the Klaipeda city streets. When I go to the Orthodox church, beneath the tall spires and domes, looking up at the priests I could hear Polish, depending on which church I am in.

I go to the store, called IKI meaning “see you later”, and the packages are in Lithuanian, or Russian, or sometimes something else…rarely in English. I select what I want by looking at the picture. The cashier greets me, and I do not know what she says. After I pay, and receive my change, I usually respond “Achu” meaning “Thank you” and go my way, arms full.

I feel alone, separated here. I am learning the language, becoming familiar with the customs, but I am a man apart: I am in exile here. It is an exile because I am completely removed from the environment that is comfortable to me, that I grew up in, that I know best. Exile because I am living so far from home, from family, from where I usually see God.

I find it interesting that the root idea of the word, which we get from the Latin by way of Old French, is the idea of a “wanderer.” Certainly I feel like a wanderer here…having recently visited Latvia and Estonia and soon will be visiting a small corner of Russia. I am moving, seeing, experiencing, living.

The Old Testament of the Bible tells how the entire nation of Israel was forced into exile for their generations of disobedience of God. They were deported to Babylon for over 70 years, and most of the nation never returned. Here in the Baltics I have learned that the Soviet Russians exiled Lithuanians by the thousands to Siberia, and few ever came home.

What is the purpose of my exile? I have not disobeyed God, at least not as Israel did. I am not being oppressed by a Communist regime. Mine is an exile of being; to learn: about other countries, ways of life…and myself; to grow, for that is the direct result of learning. One cannot truly learn without growing. To mature, for I am still a boy, awkwardly being a man. In seeing who I am from different perspectives, like viewing my reflection in foreign shop windows, layers of vision are added to my sight. In experiencing God in totally different contexts, like standing in churches I would never have entered before, dimension is added to my faith. In being transplanted into Lithuanian soil, like living in a foreign city, I branch out in ways I never thought possible. In losing comfort, familiarity, friends, and family, like in being exiled, I mature in the wake of those losses.

Sometimes it takes exile, a crucible of life, to grow a man.

Killing Time

It’s the waiting that kills.

It seems like I have spent a good part of my life waiting: for Christmas, birthdays, visits from relatives, to grow up, to finish schoolwork, for my life to change around me. I somehow thought that if I just waited long enough that everything I hoped for, dreamed for, and wanted would come to me.

Like magic.

Funny thing: the magic never came.

Even now, I catch myself holding my breath, waiting for something. Some days, I don’t even know what that something is. Abstract, I know, but here is the ironic twist: I think I am supposed to be waiting. Take a read through the mid-Bible book of Psalms some time, and not just 5 or 10, but 30-40 of them, and I think you will notice a pattern emerging: waiting. David, Asaph, or whoever wrote many of the Psalms seemed to understand waiting, because the writer often urges the reader to “wait on the Lord.”

What does that mean? It is quite simple, actually: to wait on God is to believe that He is able to act and that He will act, and then to live each moment in that certainty just as much as you believe in gravity and live depending on that data. It is active trust in a future occurrence based upon the knowledge of who God is (see: the Bible for more information). But, its not like you must believe every second…this isn’t a magic formula for a genii…it is a lifestyle that allows for doubt, despair, disbelief, and struggle with the rationality of such a lifestyle. God is big enough to allow for you to wait on Him even when you yourself may not be totally convinced that He even exists. I knew growing up that my parents loved me, but when I got caught with my hand in the cookie jar, I despaired of all such knowledge. Eventually, though, I learned again that they did love me, and wanted me to be more than a sugar junkie. It was a cycle of constant rediscovery.

Maybe I am reading too much into an English translation of a Hebrew concept, but I think the principle applies: hurry up, and wait (as the cliche goes). God is good, He is sovereign, and He is at work…taken together with everything else the Bible reveals about God and you have a Person that you can wait on. Unlike your mother at the department store, your sister in the bathroom, your brother with the car, or the professor with the endless lecture, God is worth waiting on. Why? Will He give you everything you are waiting for if you hang around long enough? Not likely; but He will act, usually in exactly the way you needed but not the way you thought.

Consider: David, author of psalms, was a battle-hardened warrior ordained king as a youth, but he had to wait on the Lord for the throne, and he didn’t win it through a military coup, or even when his predecessor met his doom at the foot of a mountain, but several years later through a complicated set of circumstances (like that really long sentence). Point being, waiting always yields results.

However, waiting should not be understood as inaction. Back to David, he fought in countless engagements, took down belligerent giants, learned leadership by making mistakes, and forged relationships with men who would support him his entire life while hiding in caves and honoring God’s choice of a corrupt king even when it wasn’t convenient. In short, he was busy learning to be king while he was waiting to be king…and proved it by being the greatest king the nation of Israel ever had.

But why God? Couldn’t one wait on their own…and have all good things come to them? I suppose so, but to pile on the triteness…that might be a long wait for a train don’t come. You see, it really is God that causes “all things to work together” because mankind is utterly impotent to bring about meaningful change: we still fight wars, world hunger, and see families fall apart around us after having observed millennia of heartache without solution. Honestly, how much progress has unaided man made?

So wait on God for whatever it is you think you need, would like to see, or want to survive: a difficult class, an ungrateful child, world peace, or marriage to the woman of your dreams, and while you wait, go ahead and be busy learning to be king. Some day coming the waiting will end, and the solution you sought will have been formed in a way that could only have been arranged through divine intervention.

You may even be surprised.