Chapter 6: The Meaning of Life
It had been nine months since Lizzie’s death. Walker was working in his aisle at the Lumber Depot, rearranging extension cords. His old depression had set in. He stared at the coil of orange extension cord in his hand. Everything seemed so meaningless.
It wasn’t that his life was all that bad. Lizzie’s death was still a wound but there were days when it was becoming tolerable. Angela was right. Every now and then he even smiled. Amy and Angela’s gift had taken care of the medical bills. Connie had gone back to teaching third grade and between their two incomes they were making fast progress on their debt. There was light at the end of the tunnel. They were even saving for a trip to Paris. Life was good. Why was he so gloomy?
Walker looked at his watch and was relieved to see that his shift was over. He went to the employee’s break room to get his coat. It was strangely quiet. He was hungry so bought a Snicker’s bar from the vending machine and sat on a plastic folding table to eat it, letting his feet swing back and forth. He loved Snickers. They were just the right mix of salty peanuts, sweet caramel and chocolate. He let the caramel dissolve in his mouth until the perfect moment to crunch the peanuts. He was feeling better. He put the last piece in his mouth. The sense of well being dissolved with the last bit of caramel. A wave of gloom came back over him.
“That’s the problem,” he thought. “It always ends. Everything always ends.” The image of Lizzie’s smile filled his mind and he felt a sharp pain as though it was the day she died.
“I thought this was supposed to get easier,” he thought.
As the pain ebbed away he began to think of his future. He was excited to go to Paris. It was a bright spot in his world with Connie, something to look forward to. But after Paris, then what? Paris was a Snickers bar, to be followed by another long dull stretch at the Lumber Depot. It all seemed to pointless. His feet slowed to a stop and he sat motionless.
“Here again?” said the Voice.
“Where?” he replied.
“Brokenness. The vanity of life. The doorway to my Kingdom.”
“Some door,” said Walker.
“I am the door,” said the Voice. “What you feel is not the door but the emptiness of life outside the door. Darkness has driven you home again.”
“Home to what?” asked Walker.
“Home to life,” said the Voice. “Real life.”
“Real life,” said Walker bitterly. I have heard those empty words my whole life. It’s an empty slogan. We sing about it and talk about but I can tell no one really experiences it. I know I don’t.”
“Never?” asked the Voice.
Well, every now and then I get a spark of life but never anything I would call real life. My life is a long, dull grind with tiny little glimpses of something better. Real life? I don’t even know what you mean.”
Do you remember the night Lizzie was in the hospital,” said the Voice, “when I asked you to trust me?”
“Well, do you?”
“I did. That was one of those glimpses. It all seemed clear in that moment. Then Lizzie died. Now things are back to normal. Back to the same old meaningless life, except that I feel a big hole where Lizzie used to be.”
“Your life feels meaningless because you fallen for the lie of a meaningless world. You have fallen for the lie of materialism. You are a consumer, consumed by consuming. Don’t you see? If the world is meaningless, your life can have no meaning. But life is not meaningless. Everything that has happened has been to draw you out of the lie and into the truth.”
“What is the truth?”
“I am the truth. And I have come to give you life.”
“I have allowed you to face the deepest possible pain in this world, the loss of your only child. I plunged you deep into the absurdity of this life and you found my love even there. But it isn’t just Lizzie’s death. You feel the vanity everywhere. In the the dullness of your job, In the last bite of the Snickers dissolving in your mouth. In your awareness that Paris will not satisfy your longing.”
“I see that there is no escaping from the vanity of life,” said Walker.
“But there is an escape,” said the Voice. I have shown you the vanity of life in a world without me. You considered this a curse but it was a gift. You understand the vanity of this world. It led you my Kingdom. I’m inviting you to live in this Kingdom.”
“But it seems so unreal. You’re asking me to enter a Kingdom I can’t even see.”
“You can certainly see the brokenness of this world. That takes no special insight. And you are wrong to say that my Kingdom is invisible. You have seen it in nature. You have felt it it in the love of your wife and the kindness of Angela. You have experienced the joy of the coming age in Lizzie’s smile. You have felt it my presence with you in everything. Walker, do you understand? I am inviting you to enter my Kingdom. That’s where the life is.”
“But how? What do you want me to do?”
“It’s not something you do. It’s a way of seeing. It’s like putting on a different set of glasses. Through the lens of this fallen world you see only brokenness. But when you look through the lens of my Kingdom you see that it is already here.”
“But I am a Christian. Why haven’t I experienced this?”
“Because you thought being a Christian was a religious ritual to get you to heaven when you died. Following me is not a religious ritual. It is a way of seeing, a way of life that brings heaven to earth while you live. That’s why I teach my followers to pray
Thy Kingdom come
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
You will experience real life when you learn to live by trust, hope, and love, these three. But the greatest of these is love.”
“The door to the break room opened and Walker’s boss, Susan, came in.
“You look lost in thought,” she said.
“Just relaxing,” replied Walker, jumping off the table and snatching his coat.
“Let’s find some place where we can really talk,” said the Voice.
Walker had the next three days off. He decided to take a solo backpack trip. Connie hated it when Walker did this. It seemed like every year some hiker disappeared in the wilderness, never to be seen again. She was sure he would be next. Reluctantly, she gave him her blessing to go.
Walker drove to his favorite trailhead in the high Sierras. He laced up his boots, shouldered his pack and began to hike. The first few steps always felt so wonderful. He thought of something John Muir had said.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”
“Now that I understand,” he thought.
Walker walked in solitude for nearly ten miles, thinking about nothing. The silence was soothing. He heard the crunch of the trail beneath his boots and filled his lungs with the crisp air. He felt a kinship with the trees, the squirrels, and the occasional hawk that floated overhead. Toward evening, beams of light hit the granite peaks and made them look like they were on fire. Walker was aware of being in the presence of God. Then, with a thud, he remembered the electronics aisle at the Lumber Depot.
“I don’t want to go back,” he said out loud, looking up longingly at the mountains. “I just want to stay here.”
“What is the purpose of those mountains?” asked the Voice.
“The mountains?” asked Walker. I never really thought about it. They are just there.
“But why are they there? “What is their purpose?
“To be inspirational?” guessed Walker.
“To be glorious,” said the Voice. “I make them to be glorious. That is their purpose. And Walker, that is your purpose.”
“To be glorious?” said Walker. “I don’t feel very glorious. I sure can’t compete with those mountains.”
“You’re wrong,” said the Voice.
“How can I possibly be like those mountains?” asked Walker.
“When you face the brokenness of this world and and live by trust, hope and love, you show my glory as those mountains in the sun.
“I definitely see this world’s brokenness. I’m slowly learning to trust you, and even to hope in the coming age. I can’t wait to see Lizzie.”
“Yes,” said the Voice. “And there is one more thing. The greatest of all.”
“Trust, hope, and love,” said Walker slowly. “Love. Help me understand.”
“Do you remember Angela on that terrible night when Lizzie went to the emergency room?”
“How could I forget? The way she was there for me. The way she understood.”
“Was that as glorious as those mountains?”
“Yes,” said Walker.
“When you love other people, you show my love, my glory, my Kingdom, just like those mountains. One day you will be safely home, as Lizzie is. You will no longer need to trust. You won’t need hope in my Kingdom because you will see it with your own eyes. Trust and hope are temporary. But love… Love is forever. This is why it is the greatest.”
Walker became excited. “And love can come to the electronics aisle at the Lumber Depot! In fact, because people do not expect it there it seems even brighter, like a light in the darkness.”
Somehow Walker knew that the Voice had smiled.
“Does Angela seem fulfilled?” asked the Voice.
“Yes, she does,” replied Walker.
“How is that possible? She has the same job as you and you are miserable.”
“Love.” said Walker.
“Right, said the Voice. “To live in my love. To love as I have loved you. This is your glory. It makes you come alive.”
“And I can do that anywhere,” said Walker, “even in the electronics aisle.”
“But that is not all, said the Voice. How do you love?”
“By caring for people. By accepting them. By going out of my way to meet their needs.”
“Exactly right,” said the Voice. “But there is something else. Something more specific. Do you remember Angela’s spaghetti sauce?”
“Of course,” laughed Walker. “Who could forget it. Talk about glory! What a gift.”
“I gave Angela that gift. She shared it with you. You felt my glory in it. What about Amy? What was her gift?”
“$35,000!” said Walker, embarrassed at his crass mention of money.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” said the Voice. I have given Amy the ability to make and give money. She delights in this. She also cares for children in the pediatric ward. That is her gift and her glory.”
“Amy and Angela are very gifted.”
“What about you, Walker? What is your gift?”
“I’ve never thought of myself as gifted,” said Walker. He walked in silence for a while. “I guess I’ve always loved building fly rods. I’m pretty good at that.”
“Okay. I’m great at it.”
“You’re great a it. You love doing it. You love sharing it. Wouldn’t you call that a gift?”
“Yes,” said Walker. “Thank you.” He paused awkwardly. He realized he had never said that before.
“You’re welcome,” said the Voice. “But why aren’t you building fly rods?”
“I don’t know,” he said. It just seems like a selfish hobby. There’s no money in it.”
“There is no money in the mountains either,” said the Voice. “Are they a waste of time? Don’t you see? Everything I create has a purpose. Everything has a gift. The greatest thing that anything can be is itself. This goes for you. To be yourself and express your gifts is your highest calling, your deepest purpose and our greatest glory.”
“Our?” asked Walker.
“Our,” said the Voice. “When you express yourself as I have made you to be, you live in me and I live in you. We share the glory.”
“But life doesn’t work that way. We can’t all do what we want.”
“The fallen world is a machine,” said the Voice. “It measures glory only in dollars and sees people as cogs. My Kingdom is not like that. I make everything with a unique purpose and glory.
Walker sat down on a huge slab of glaciated granite to eat an energy bar. He felt the rough stone through his hiking pants. A bee buzzed energetically around a flower by his right arm. The trees swayed in the gentle breeze. Cumulous clouds were piling up in the east like endless mounds of whipped cream. A giant ant lugged a fallen crumb from his energy bar off to a hidden colony.
“I think I see what you’re saying,” said Walker. “Everything is doing its own thing out here and somehow it all comes together in harmony, like it has been orchestrated. It is the furthest thing from a machine and I don’t feel like a cog. When I’m out here I feel free.”
“Freedom,” echoed the Voice. “How I love that word. Walker, the Lumber Depot may regard you as a cog in a machine but I do not. In fact, the day will come when I will ask you to take a leap. When you begin to use your gifts, paths will open up that you cannot yet imagine. Your journey of trust is not over.”
“You mean I won’t be a slave at the Lumber Depot forever?” asked Walker.
“You are not a slave, even at the Lumber Depot,” said the Voice. “When I set you free, you are free.”
“I’m beginning to see,” said Walker. I am starting to understand the Kingdom you have invite me to enter.”
“Explain it to me,” said the Voice, encouragingly.
“Well,” said Walker, “This world without you is broken. But you are in the brokenness to redeem it. I have felt this. You invited me to trust you and hope in a world I cannot yet see, what you call the Kingdom of God. You have shown me your love. When I live in your love and share it with others I experience your Kingdom. But there is more. You have given me unique gifts. You want me to use them to love and to share in your glory. And this will go on long after I die.
“Into the ages of the ages,” said the Voice. “And Lizzie will be a part of many ages to come. You cannot even imagine the joys that lie ahead. This is truth. This is my Kingdom. This is my invitation. Will you take my hand end go through the door?”
Walker gazed at the valley falling away beneath his feet. He began to imagine how his job at the Lumber Depot could be different as he saw it through the eyes of the Kingdom. He remembered his rod building equipment stored up in the attic and began to think about where he would set up his new shop.