by Eld Yap Chee Kian
Those who rush arrive first at the grave. – Spanish Proverb
A common experience we all have is how time seems to pass by so quickly. Perhaps that’s the reason why Saturdays always seem so special. It is the moment of quietness, or maybe it is the joy of not having to be at work which made the first few hours of a Saturday most enjoyable. This reminds me of a story I heard several years ago. It began with an older man talking to a younger man Stan about his theory of a “thousand marbles”.
“You see, I sat down one day and did a little arithmetic. The average person lives to about seventy-five years. I know, some live more and some live less, but on average, folks live about seventy-five years. Now then, I multiplied 75 times 52 and I came up with 3900 which is the number of Saturdays that the average person has in their entire lifetime.
Now stick with me Stan, I’m getting to the important part. It took me until I was fifty-five years old to think about all this in any detail, he went on, and by that time I had lived through over twenty-eight hundred Saturdays. I got to thinking that if I lived to be seventy-five, I only had about a thousand of them left to enjoy. So I went to a toy store and bought every single marble they had. I took them home and put them inside of a large, clear plastic container right here in my workshop next to the radio. Every Saturday since then, I have taken one marble out and thrown it away.
I found that by watching the marbles diminish, I focused more on the really important things in life. There is nothing like watching your time here on this earth run out to help get your priorities straight. Now let me tell you one last thing before I take my lovely wife out for breakfast. This morning, I took the very last marble out of the container. I figure if I make it until next Saturday then God has blessed me with a little extra time to be with my loved ones. It was nice to talk to you Stan, I hope you spend more time with your loved ones, and I hope to meet you again someday. Have a good morning!”
How many Saturdays do you have?
The story wakes us to the brevity of our time on earth. Moses exhorted us in Psalm 90:12 “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom”. This is not a fatalistic view of life, but rather one of hope and joy knowing that each day brings us into closer conformance to the image of Jesus Christ. As children of God, we are to mutually encourage one another as in Hebrews 13:3 “But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”
Another perspective – One square at a time
Dr Lewis Smedes, a wise Dutchman who was also a renowned Christian author, ethicist, and theologian in the Reformed tradition, reflected on this some decades ago when he bought a date book. This is a kind of diary for a year, usually spiral-bound with pages of blank boxes. People used it to keep track of their everyday activities.
Smedes wrote: “I looked at the four lines that make up each box as the walls of time that organize my life. I lived one square at a time and each box has an invisible door that leads to the next square. And then as if by a silent stroke, the door opens, and I am pulled through, sucked into the next square in line. There I will again fill the time frame that seals me, fill it with my busyness, just as I had done the square before. One day I will walk into a square that has no door. There will be no mysterious opening, and no walking into an adjoining square. One of those squares will be terminal. I do not know which square it will be“.
On the day we were born – you and I were each given a lifetime of squares to fill. Some of us got lots of squares to fill and some only a few. On 19 December 2002, Smedes was up on a ladder putting Christmas lights around the outside of his house. He fell and hit his head and died a few days later. That final box, the one he had written decades ago, came for him.
Smedes continued, “… when we walk into that final square, it isn’t a box at all. It turns out to be a door. The four walls that confined us melt away, and time is no more. Then our real life, far from being over, turns out to have just begun“.
Conclusion and Reflection
As we throw away a marble every Saturday, as we fill up each box on the calendar, how have you prepared yourself for the final box? It does not matter whether we are young or old, rich or poor, healthy or sick. I urge you to read Matt 6:25-34 and reflect on v33 as we fill each square that God has given to us.