I have a friend who keeps telling me he wishes I would write more of my own words when I put together my blog posts. I used to do that in the early years of my blog post writing, but I discovered there was really no need to “reinvent the wheel” when so many others who have more knowledge and experience then I do have already written words worth reading.
When I was in grad school (twice–I earned a master’s degree in 1991 the first time around, and I made it through to the dissertation phase working on a doctorate in 1993 the second time around), I learned that the most important aspect of writing is to be sure and give credit to the source of any material you use in your writings, and I do that in my blog posts. In fact, it was in grad school where I learned how to put together what I post on my blog posts today. Hopefully, my blog posts are a bit more interesting then most grad school research papers and dissertations.
I first started this blog over a decade ago when I was in the throes of a massive job search after losing my last professional position in my career field back in 2009. After working 20 years in my profession which began when I was in grad school the first time working on my master’s degree (I was in my late 30’s at the time), I didn’t think it would take me long to find another position. As it turned out, I had no clue that six years later at the age of 62, I’d still be unemployed, and I’d be forced to apply for Social Security (at the earliest age one can start to receive it which is 62) just to have any income again.
When I lost that job back in 2009 I had no idea (nor did it even occur to me for the first couple of years of my massive job search after I lost that job), that I would never again be given the opportunity to work and earn a living in my career field, and I was single, self-supporting, and I was still at least 10 years away from the normal retirement age to collect full Social Security benefits (at age 66). Sometimes as I look back on these past dozen years and all that I have gone through, I am amazed at how I have survived since I never did find another job. And during this time I went for three years and two months with no income at all between the time I received my last unemployment check in May 2011 (from when I lost that job back in 2009) and I received my first Social Security check that arrived back in July 2014. Both amounted to around $1000/mo in income, which is a whole lot less then I earned when I was working.
What lead me to this particular pondering this morning was the title of a brand new book coming out in bookstores today that I received in an email from Barnes & Nobles. I smiled when I read both the title and I saw the illustration on the cover. It is titled, “I Used to Have a Plan But Life Had Other Ideas,” by Instagram rising star Alessandra Olanow, an illustrator who lives in Brooklyn with her daughter. Her new book is also available on Amazon.com.
The review of her new book on Amazon.com opens with this sentence: “I Know This Too Shall Pass. (But It Would Be Helpful to Know When).” After this past year of 2020 starting with the Covid-19 pandemic in March, I’m sure there are millions who are wondering the same thing. The Amazon.com review states:
“After a series of events left her a divorced single mother questioning herself, her relationships, and basically, everything she thought was true about her “picture-perfect” life, Alessandra Olanow began drawing and posting illustrations on Instagram that reflected her feelings and struggles to right her life. She chronicled her journey of healing, expressing the shock, delusion, denial, self-pity, and self-doubt she experienced and the self-empathy and forgiveness that ultimately helped her regain a sense of self—but stronger, more fearless, and more hopeful than before. Her charming illustrations and keen, memorable observations—struck a chord. Within a year, her audience [on Instagram] grew dramatically, from 9,500 to 157,000 followers, including celebrities Katie Couric, Jennifer Garner, Elise Loehnen (chief content officer at Goop), the poet Joao Doederlein, and Joanna Goddard (founder of A Cup of Jo).” (Quote source here.) As of today, she has 287,000 followers on Instagram.
As I read the opening sentence and short description of Alexandra Olanow’s circumstances that lead her to eventually publish her first book, I kept mulling over the phrase “this too shall pass” as we never really know what will follow when what we are currently going through does finally pass, and there are no guarantees that what comes next will necessarily be better, or worse, or good, or bad, or indifferent.
While the phrase, “this too shall pass,” has a Biblical sound to it, it does not come from the Bible. In answer to the question “Is ‘this too shall pass’ found in the Bible?” GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:
The expression “this too shall pass” has all the earmarks of a wise Bible saying, but it is found nowhere in any Bible translation. It has been quoted by well-meaning friends and family members in an effort to comfort someone going through a tough time. Although not directly from the Bible, “this too shall pass” is a timely reminder that the difficult season we may be going through will not last forever. It mirrors the thought of Galatians 6:9, which says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
The origins of “this too shall pass” are unknown. Some trace the phrase back to Persian Sufi poets, while others credit King Solomon, although it is not recorded in any of his biblical works. “This too shall pass” would fit nicely into Solomon’s Ecclesiastes, especially the third chapter, which begins this way: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” The theme of this chapter is that life has seasons and none of them last; therefore, people should enjoy the earthly life God has given them because “this too shall pass.”
“This too shall pass” also reminds us of the biblical mandate to develop endurance (2 Timothy 2:3, 12; Hebrews 12:7). When life is rough and things are not going our way, we can be tempted to give up. James 1:2–4 reminds us that, when we endure trials, we develop character that is pleasing to God. It helps during tough seasons to remember that, regardless of how dark life seems or how painful our suffering, even “this too shall pass.”
The proverbial saying “this too shall pass” may not be stated in the Bible, but the idea is reflected throughout its pages. Our lives on earth are a mere vapor that will quickly pass (James 4:14). “This too shall pass” reminds us that we must be about our Father’s business while there is still time (see John 9:4). (Quote source here.)
James 4:14 says, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” A vapor is a fine mist like fog. It quickly burns away when the sun comes up. It has no substance and leaves nothing behind. Comparing our lives to a vapor illustrates how fleeting our days on this earth are.
Life can feel endless at times, but the Bible reminds us that, compared to eternity, an individual life on earth is like a vapor chased away by the morning sun. It is important to recognize the brevity of life so that we don’t squander the time we’ve been given. Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” God wants us to live with purpose, recognizing that the clock is counting down to the moment we step through death’s portal and enter our eternal state. At that moment, the books are closed, and we will begin to reap the consequences of our choices on earth (Hebrews 9:27; Romans 14:10; cf. Luke 16:19–31).
During our brief stay on earth, we should live with eternity always before us. Whether we live 5 years or 105, our lives are still as fleeting as a vapor. Even Jesus felt the urgency of being about God’s work while the opportunity remained. He said, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).
Recognizing that our lives are like a vapor interjects a serious note into our daily activities. Human beings in privileged parts of the world are given to squandering time on frivolities that have no lasting value. While entertainments and relaxation are important parts of a healthy life, they must never be our primary reason for living. Our lives are like a vapor, and that means we may not have tomorrow; living always with that knowledge keeps us focused on the things that matter. Our prayer every morning can be, “Lord, thank you for another day. May I do something today that will have eternal significance.” When we live with eternity in view, we are more interested in storing up for ourselves treasure in heaven (Luke 12:33). Knowing that life is but a vapor causes us to be uncomfortable with wasted time and restless to invest ourselves in God’s work.
In his metaphor of life being a vapor, James was reminding his readers that they should not become overconfident about their plans because, ultimately, they were not in charge of their plans. The God who rules all things may overrule our ideas. If we are not holding our earthly treasures loosely, the overriding of our plans can feel devastating (James 4:13–16). God often allows unpleasantries into our lives to remind us that this world is not our home (Philippians 1:27; 3:20). Our time here is like a vapor, and then it’s gone. Like an exhalation in cold weather, our lives show up for a brief moment and quickly disappear from this earth. All those born into the family of God (John 3:3) will, at death, gather in their eternal home and enjoy forever the rewards of serving the Lord on earth (1 Corinthians 3:12–13). (Quote course here.)
In Matthew 6, Jesus brings up five specific topics that are a part of his longer “Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew 5-7. Those topics are (1) do not practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them (Matthew 6:1-4); (2) how to pray (Matthew 6:5-15); (3) how to fast (Matthew 6:16-18); (4) choosing which you will serve–God or money–as you cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:19-24); and the topic most related to this blog post–(5) do not worry (Matthew 6:25-34). Since context is very important, the following passage includes verse 24 to give context to verses 25-34 (it is taken from The Message Bible but the links above include both the NIV and MSG versions side-by-side):
You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both.
If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.
Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.
If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (Quote source here.)
As we end this year of 2020 that has brought so many unwanted challenges, turmoil, and heartache unlike any other year in recent history, and we look to the new year of 2021 about to begin, may we focus our attention on God who already knows in advance what each day of this new year holds for each one of us. I’ll end this post with the prayer Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:9-13 (NKJV):
In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom…
And the power . . .
And the glory forever . . .
Amen . . . .
YouTube Video: “Keep Me in the Moment” by Jeremy Camp: