Eternity is a Really, Really Long Time

Eternity. There is so much wrapped up in that one word. I often misuse it. I say things like, “I waited an eternity in line at the bank today.” Or “It seemed like an eternity before they called me back at the doctor’s office.” I tend to use it when I want to describe how long I’ve waited for something when I think I’ve had to wait a very long time. But I’m not the only one who does it. I had to go renew my drivers license this year at the DMV and my friend said, “Take a book, you’ll be there for an eternity!” — I was.

When I stop and think about what the word eternity really means, and not my little selfish use of it, I am completely awestruck.

The word eternity has latin origins and means without beginning or end. So I am surprised at how surprised I was a couple of years ago when my preteen daughter had such a hard time wrapping her brain around the idea.

Bedtime at our house can be quite a long endeavor. It can last an eternity. (Grin) I still tuck the two younger ones in each night. By the time a path to each bed is cleared of toys, clothes, and shoes, (Martha Stewart does not live with us) pj’s are put on, teeth are brushed and bathroom visited, it’s time for the fun part.

There in the darkness, my children share their deepest thoughts and concerns with me. I learn about friendship troubles and school worries. I learn about their fears and their hopes. For a few moments each night they have me all to themselves without interruption. Many times our discussions turn to their spiritual concerns.

One such night, my daughter and I were talking about what heaven was going to be like. It was a nice talk. Or so I thought. About thirty minutes after I was back downstairs and hooked into my favorite TV show, she came downstairs crying. She was shaking uncontrollably, and could barely form words. When my husband and I could finally make out what she was saying, we were both shocked. For the last thirty minutes she had been up in her room pondering eternity, and the thought of it totally freaked her out.

Matthew looked at me and with concern in his voice asked, “What did you tell her?”

Defensively, I told him we had a nice talk about heaven and how great it was. (At least that’s the conversation I remembered having.) We came to find out that was not what was giving her the problem. It was the eternity part. The forever-ness of it. She was trying to wrap her brain around infinity and was having trouble making the stretch. I would like to say we were able to calm her down, and help her to see that eternity was nothing to worry about, but no. Since that first night we had this scene repeated again a couple more times.

The last time we had an episode like this, I tried a new tactic with her. I told my daughter that eternity was not an event that was to come sometime out in the future. It was not something she needed to look forward to or to dread. It was something she was living right here, right now. I told her that one day we would all pass from this life into the next and keep right on trucking. That forever started the day God created the world. I started to listen to what I was saying and realized that maybe I had stumbled onto something. I do that sometimes. It’s usually quite unexpected. So while I was hoping to help her, God was trying to say something to me, too.

I remember as a child, hearing fervent preachers at southern revivals question us, their captive audience, about where we were going to spend eternity.

I remember as a child, hearing fervent preachers at southern revivals question us, their captive audience, about where we were going to spend eternity. With sweaty brows, they referred to eternity as a time and place somewhere in the future: a time after we stopped inhaling and exhaling for good. But if we consider that we are living out eternity in the here and now the question takes on a new meaning for us. At least it did for me. The preachers from my childhood still asked a relevant question, but if you view eternity as a place you currently reside, it takes on a more urgent tone. Where am I presently spending eternity, and what am I doing about it now?

Proverbs 8:23 tells us, regarding wisdom, that God fashioned it at eternity, before the world began. Eternity is not some time or place out on the horizon; it began when God established the earth and continues now and forever. So I ask myself, what am I waiting for? When I am ninety, will I look back and be disappointed with what I’ve done for eternity? Or will I look back and see a life that had purpose and meaning. I can’t sit around on my laurels and wait for eternity if I believe eternity is now.

If I am not careful, I can lose huge amounts of time where I have done nothing significant for eternity. Oh, I have been busy, very busy, but I have been like a hamster on a wheel: running for my life, but getting nowhere fast.

I expect we may have more of these discussions about eternity with our daughter. I hope and pray that she can grow to understand that while forever is, well, a really, really long time, she’s already there. And God is there, too. So if we take it one day at a time, focusing on how we can better serve Him, one day we’ll look back over a life that will have meant something for eternity.

Do you ponder eternity? Do you believe eternity is now, or some other time or place? Does the thought of eternity overwhelm you, or encourage you?

So what do you think?

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