VIEW VIDEO Every Sunday, on our way home from meeting, I ask Joan if she liked my sermon, and every Sunday she squeezes my hand and says it was wonderful. We’ve been doing that now for 37 years and it’s been a wonderful arrangement. Except last Sunday, when I asked if she liked my sermon, she said, “Did you really say ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ and ‘life closes a door and opens a window.’”
I said, “I might have, yes. I can’t remember.”
She said, “You did. I heard it. It felt like it was raining clichés.”
I wasn’t sure what to say about that, so held my tongue, but that night over supper I said, “You know, clichés become clichés because people have found them to be valuable. If a cliché is consistently false or unhelpful, it generally dies of its own weight and is no longer cliché.”
She conceded that I might have a point, though I suspect she was just agreeing so I’d shut up about it. I’ve been thinking about clichés this week, and more specifically the enduring value of old sayings. I remembered a quote, perhaps from Abraham Lincoln, though I must be honest and admit that I often attribute sayings I like to Abraham Lincoln, so Abraham Lincoln might not have said this, but if he didn’t say it, he should have and likely would have, if he’d thought to. “I have found immeasurable comfort in these four words—this too shall pass.”
This too shall pass.
I was visiting with a friend recently who’s been having difficulties with his teenage son. His son is not a bad kid, he’s just being a teenager, which means not giving careful thought to the consequences of his actions, not working as diligently as his mom and dad would like, and not listening to parental advice. It’s a phase and we’ve all gone through it, but when you’re a parent going through it, it feels as if it will never improve and that your child will become a serial killer. I listened to my friend’s concerns, then told him what my mother always told me when my sons were teenagers–this too shall pass. Now my sons are adults and sometimes my phone will ring, and it will be one of my sons saying, “Hey, Dad, what do you think about this or that?” They don’t always heed my advice, but that’s alright because they’re adults and I’m not the Source of Infinite Wisdom Who Must Be Obeyed, though I must admit that standing in a pulpit every Sunday advising people how to live tends to make one feel that way. But even that too shall pass.
This too shall pass. Think how often that realization has saved you from despair. Think how often, when you’ve experienced deep pain, sorrow, or difficulty, you’ve taken comfort from those golden words—this too shall pass. Reflect for a moment on the greatest challenge you face right now. Sit quietly and consider your greatest fear and anxiety, then remind yourself, “This too shall pass.”
This too shall pass. It is a both a comfort and a caution. Because while it is true that bad times never persist indefinitely, it is likewise true that good times also have a shelf life. When your life is rich and full and beautiful, be sure to savor and appreciate it, because that too shall pass. Good times have an expiration date.
When we realize good times don’t continue indefinitely, we are less likely to be dismayed and embittered by the bumps and bruises of life. Have you ever known someone whose life was so smooth and effortless they could not cope when visited with adversity? They had convinced themselves life would roll on untouched by difficulty or pain.
I bet one day scientists will discover this little fold in the human brain that is responsible for what we’ll call the It Will Always Be This Way Syndrome. It’s that part in all of us that makes us believe nothing will ever change. It causes parents to worry their children will never mature. It causes the grieving to imagine the sun will never again caress their lives, and the fortunate to believe their future will hold no clouds. It causes the sick to believe they will never be healed, and the well to believe they will never be sick. It causes the powerful to believe they will never be weak, and the powerless to believe they will never triumph.
It is that part in all of us that can’t accept change, that believes things must and will remain as they are. It is that part of us that denies the impermanence of life, that believes the universe should listen carefully to our wishes and hasten to grant them. It is our tendency to place human life at the center of creation, though modern humans appeared only 160,000 years ago, some 230 million years after the first dinosaurs emerged. We are a microscopic dot in the universe’s timeline, which began some 13.7 billion years ago, when energy first congealed into particles which assembled themselves into helium and hydrogen, creating a tiny, dense ball of fire. 13.7 billion years ago, and I think it’s the end of the world because last Wednesday someone said something I didn’t like.
This too shall pass.
For 22 years as your pastor, I have urged you to believe in your worth and value to God. But tonight, I want you to go outside, look up at the stars, and remember the closest star is 4.27 light years away, and that light travels 186,000 miles per second. Think about that, then stand under that star and tell yourself that you are the center of the known universe and then listen. If you listen very carefully, you might hear God laugh. When we know our place, we begin to understand the impermanence of life, and we realize that neither our burdens nor our joys are etched in cosmic stone.