The moving van was almost full. We walked around the house, a ragtag collection of movers, some as young as eight, picking up the few things that were left inside. Every room felt bigger and echoed in a strange way as it was emptied. I looked down at little Brylen, the oldest of his family, the philosopher, the theologian. We call him “Brother Brylen” because he loves God’s word and will occasionally take his mom’s phone to a quiet room and record himself preaching a sermon. He’s nine, and he’s precious.
It was Brylen’s moving day. His family has lived in our small town and ministered at our church for seven years, almost all of Brylen’s life, but today he helped carry his own things to the moving van. He seemed excited and full of hope for the future. I watched him, standing there with an expression of satisfaction on his face while he looked around his empty bedroom, and I said, “This is weird, isn’t it? Your room is empty!” And he nodded with a little smile and said, maybe a little ruefully, “It’s like it never even happened.”
When he said that my head instantly filled with pictures of all of the life that I know has been lived in that house over the past seven years. I thought of how much things have changed. Brylen gained two brothers and a sister. He grew taller. He learned how to read, how to play baseball, how to pray. He figured out how to soothe crying babies, how to help a tired mama, how to make his family laugh. In truth, no matter how it looked in his now empty house, there is no erasing all that has happened in the past seven years of his little life.
Maybe what Brylen was really expressing is what we all fear, if we’re honest with ourselves. We wonder if we’re making a difference. If our lives are having any impact. We wonder if, when this whole thing is over, when we are in the grave and someone cleans out our closet for the last time, if it will be like it never happened. Our lives, our legacy, our passions. Will it all be erased when we leave behind nothing but empty rooms?
One thing that the Scripture teaches us is that there are two types of things we “do”–there’s meaningless stuff and there’s eternal stuff. As Christians, we can spend our entire lives collecting all kinds of experiences and things that have zero meaning. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul calls the meaningless stuff “wood, hay, and straw,” and these things, like all things we’ve done in this life, will be tested by fire. The cars, the houses, the promotions, the vacations, the political rants, the movies and TV shows we’ve watched, many of the books we’ve read, the time we’ve spent taking quizzes about what kind of cheese we are, those will all be burned up when tested, up in flames, like they never even happened. But the eternal stuff–the time spent teaching our children about Jesus, the money we gave away sacrificially, the prayers, the Sunday school teaching, the meal taking, the mourning with those who mourn, will be like gold and silver and precious stones. When they are tested by fire, they will hold up. They will last. They will reveal where our priorities were, and whether we lived our earthly lives with a kingdom mindset.
Here’s the really great thing about the Christian life, though. Even while doing ordinary things, we can engage in the eternal. In Deuteronomy, Moses gave us an example of how to do this. Of the things of God, he wrote, “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” In other words, our ordinary lives don’t have to come to a screeching halt in order to do the eternal things. We don’t have to set aside three hours a day to read the Bible with our children and pray with them and memorize Scripture–we can teach our children while we fold the laundry. On the way to school. We can talk to a sacker at the grocery store about the goodness of God. We can give the Lord the glory when someone compliments a talent. We can show kindness when we’re slighted. Motherhood and fatherhood, friendship, marriage, church membership, and so many other arenas of ordinary influence give us ample opportunity to “do” things that have an eternal impact. Abundant life is what Jesus promised–a life teeming with hope for the future. An ordinary life of eternal consequence.
Before the moving truck drove away, Brylen posed with his family in front of it. We took a picture to commemorate this day, when an empty house stood as a testament to God’s faithfulness. Eternal things have happened here: Brylen learned to love the Lord inside these walls. Someday maybe I will get an opportunity to tell him about how he encouraged me in my own belief with his child-like faith. By then he may not even remember me or our conversations or the way he felt today, on his moving day. Brother Brylen is brimming with hope for the future.