Gathering Seashells and a Wasted Life

One of the spaces on the Internet that is quickly becoming my favorite is Fathom Magazine, a once a month online publication doing everything with excellence. They've been asking me to contribute for a while, and I finally did a few weeks ago. My piece Gather Your Seashells While Ye May went live yesterday with their February issue. In it, I try to navigate the waters of the "Don't Waste Your Life" movement and how it has crippled us more than freed us.

Here is an excerpt and I hope you'll click through to read the whole piece

It is nearly twenty years now since a strange tincture of fear and passion filled the hearts of my fellowmen and me. We heard the the cry of Don’t Waste Your Life, it took root, has been proven, and has been found wanting. Life, it seems, won’t be wasted, no matter how hard we’ve convinced ourselves it might.

I, along with hundreds of thousands of other college students from all over the world, listened as a midwestern pastor by the name of John Piper put something like the fear of God in us. His illustration of a retired couple spending their last years traveling around the United States and collecting seashells—and his call to not be like them, to not waste our lives—rattled us. His book by the same title circulates among the same demographic still, swelling the hearts and minds of young people who still fear their lives may only be mere drops in an ocean instead of the crest of a tsunami of change.

To waste a life gathering seashells has become the joke tinged with a little bit of fear that it might become us someday if we don’t stay sober-minded and radical at the same time. 

A few months ago my husband and I visited my family who live near the sugar-white sand of the Gulf of Mexico. He and I took off our shoes and ran down the beach to dip our toes in the clear and turquoise blue waters. We spread our fleece jackets on the ground and sat there for an hour. The waves reached the shore and faded back into blue, leaving behind an almost perfect line of cracked shells on the squeaky sand.

He gathered a few white and orange and speckled brown ones and put them in his pocket to keep. We listened to the roar of the water, the fishermen to our left, and the gulls over us, the squeak of runners on sand behind us. We magnified the Lord because he created all of it for his glory, but also for our good—because what is beauty if not the best good we can find on earth? And then we stood up, shook our jackets, walked slowly back to the dunes, found our shoes, and left. 

The fear of a wasted life still rings in my ears along with the waves of the sea, but twenty years have not only aged me—they have matured me. Our collective parents (whose lives, our naïve twenty-something minds thought, were surely being wasted) are growing old now, surrounding themselves with trinkets and grandchildren and memories as long as they can hold them. Is this, we think, what we once thought of as a wasted life? This age, this wisdom, this seasoned life, better with age and tougher too, hardened by suffering, softened with blows, the ones for whom eternity grows sweeter still? Dare I call this a wasted life?

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