The Wrong Sort of “Life That Never Ends”

For people like me who prefer things orderly and finished, one week of “normal” life can provoke echoes of the Ecclesiastes lament: “Everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind!” No matter how many chores you finish, no matter how many e-mails you answer, no matter how many things you cross off “the list,” a thousand more lie waiting to pounce. Work days and waking hours force their intended limits aside. Temper flares at every delay. And when it’s finally over until tomorrow, you turn out the light tired, but not happy–the “failure” of that one planned item left undone haunts your mind into your dreams.

I’ve had more than adequate experience to conclude that the damage goes beyond the obvious physical and emotional effects of stress: a “got to finish everything” mindset is the mortal enemy of real accomplishment. If “finishing” is life’s highest goal, number of items crossed off the to-do list trumps the individual priority of any item. If meeting deadlines is the greatest source of pleasure, why delay the gratification by setting long-term goals? If every unfinished task is a catastrophe, why risk dedicating your life to a purpose bigger than yourself–when those are the kind least likely to be fully accomplished before your years run out?

If finally reaching the bottom of the “have to do” pile–and staying there–is assumed to be adequate life accomplishment, we will all reach the last finish line looking down instead of up.

Jesus’s idea of completion was somewhat different. In John 17:4 on the first Maundy Thursday night, He prayed to the Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” And before another day had passed, He would cry, “It is finished” (John 19:30) from the Cross. (The word for “finished,” in the original Greek, carries clear implication that something worthwhile has been achieved.) Now, the cynic might argue that He had left plenty undone: the poor were still poor, the corrupt still occupied positions of power. Even the believer can hardly deny that the Atonement was not the last thing Jesus ever had to do: even the Resurrection still remained to be accomplished, and even today His final return yet awaits. So what, exactly, did He mean by “completed” and “finished,” if not “I’ve finally reached the point where I can relax from now on”?

To judge from the context, what was “finished” was apparently one purpose so significant that it marked the end of a primary stage of existence. We all have significant transitions–graduation, marriage, cross-country move–where it could be said we have completed the work God has for us in our current stage of life, that tasks of an entirely different order await in the next stage. Not everyone is eager to move on. Many people fix their ears on the siren call of things yet unfinished–responsibilities they will have to pass to others or the many “little things” that “need” cleaning up–and refuse to hear God saying, “It may be good and important, but it isn’t My best work for you anymore.” Then they wonder why their once productive-and-joy-producing work feels increasingly like chasing the wind or wandering in the wilderness.

The only “finishing” God wants us fixated on is the sort exemplified by Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7-8: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me in that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

How About You? Share a comment on your own struggles with “finishing.” What areas of life do you find most frustrating for sheer volume of oncoming tasks? Have you ever battled to accept that God wants you to leave a busy and productive stage of life behind? What Scriptural truths have helped you? Let us know!

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2 Comments

  1. Steve Duson

     /  February 21, 2014

    Nice, Katherine.

    By the way, I told our Board about your work with us last night and also mentioned that you were in a job search.

    Have a good weekend.

    Steve

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