Pursue What Persists, and Enjoy the Ephemeral

Lettersby John Kirke  3/26/14
Author’s Note:  The following essay is the first in what I hope to be an ongoing series of open letters to my children.  •  Kids: I’m writing to you, undoubtedly years before you will actually read this, because I’ve discovered that one of my deepest desires is to communicate, to express things I cannot keep to myself, especially to those I love. I hope that you read this one day, I pray that God will grant me a long enough life so that I can discuss these things with you, and it would be nice if what I write now never comes back to bite me as an embarrassment to my future self.

In the meantime, I’m submitting this essay to the political website StubbornThings because I believe that what I most want to say to you may be worth reading by others.  More than that, I’ve just started writing for the site earlier this year, and I’m more likely to keep writing for them and build a habit of writing to you if I combine the two commitments.

(“A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.” – attributed to J.P. Morgan, though I’m sure you will have heard this quote numerous times from me by now.)

It will be an interesting challenge, writing to you about my most personal thoughts while maintaining the integrity of this pseudonym under which I’m writing.  I trust that you will have my gift for reading between the lines.

I’m in a contemplative mood, for obvious reasons.  I’m quite happy – truly happier than I’ve ever been, and you are a very big reason for that – but I’m becoming ever more aware of my own mortality.

Psalm 90:10 teaches that the span of a man’s life is seventy years:  look at the ages at which my mother and grandfather passed away, and you’ll see a very wide variance, but they average to about 70.  Whatever span God has for me, every day I’m getting closer to the end of my time in this world.

I’m thankfully not terrified of that fact (not yet, and may I never be), for the same reason that bereavement over the last few years has been deeply felt but not poisonous.  I have grieved, but not as those who have no hope, because I have taken to heart Paul’s promises in I Thessalonians 4:  Christ will return, the dead in Christ will be raised, the living in Christ will be raptured, and all will be reunited – gloriously and permanently reunited.

But how does hope for the future inform what we should do in the present?  One of Paul’s practical points in the Thessalonian letters was, stay on task so that you can be found faithfully at your post when Christ comes or calls you home.

To that very good advice and indeed an apostolic command, I would add this:  Be aware of what perishes and what persists.

I’ve been recently struck by three poetic passages of Scripture that distinguish between these two categories.

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
Psalm 103:15-18, ESV

A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
Isaiah 40:6-8, cited in I Peter 1:22-25

Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
but you are the same, and your years have no end.
The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you.
Psalm 102:25-28, cited in Hebrews 1:10-12

What perishes? What is ephemeral?  Man, flesh and its glory, and even all of creation.

What persists? What is eternal?  The Lord’s love, the Lord’s word, and the Lord Himself.

What should we do in light of this?  We should not only be aware of what lasts and what doesn’t, we should live in light of that awareness.

I believe we should pursue what persists.  Spend your entire life seeking what I believe Russell Kirk coined as “the Permanent Things,” and what this site might describe as Very Stubborn Things.

You should pursue truth in the face of even very useful fictions, but more than that you should pursue the Author of all truth.  Seek His word, His message revealed supremely in Jesus Christ and recorded in the written word of Scripture, and seek His love – or, more accurately, trust His love for you, as He has sought you with His whole being, sparing not even His Son to address your sins, adopt you into His family, and reside in your heart through His Spirit.

Since God persists while all creation perishes, you should put your relationship with God first, recognizing that, in faith, your identity resides in His works rather than your behavior.

Everything else is provisional:  your job, your health, everything.  God may end one particular ministry to “reassign you to a different post,” and not even your closest family relationships are secure in this life.  I’m sure I’ve already told you how much my mother needlessly suffered by overemphasizing her day job and her role in raising me.

Let the trajectory of your life be defined by what’s eternal, but as you do so, make sure you enjoy the ephemeral.  A particular blessing from God shouldn’t be enjoyed any less just because it’s fleeting.

An awe-striking sunset, a good meal with friends, or an utterly incredible football game:  savor these things even as you seek the Permanent Things.

Yesterday we had a wonderful afternoon flying a kite in the park, then grabbing a pizza:  it was all a beautiful gift from God, and I find that my pursuit of Him doesn’t lessen the pleasure I have enjoying life and being your father.

In the devil Screwtape’s Letter XV, C.S. Lewis reminds us that we live in time while God destines us human beings for eternity.

“He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time, which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which [God] has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity or with the Present—either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.”

Live in the present, but in the light of eternity:  pursue what persists, but enjoy the ephemeral.

And in that spirit, I close:  somebody here desperately wants me to play with our dinosaur toys.


Your loving father
John R.W. Kirke is a pseudonym of a Christian husband, father, and engineer who has written elsewhere under other names, including “Lawrence” in the comments at National Review Online. He remains deeply moved by the unpublished memoirs of Professor D. Kirke (1888-1949). • (2460 views)

John Kirke

About John Kirke

John R.W. Kirke is a pseudonym of a Christian husband, father, and engineer who has written elsewhere under other names, including "Lawrence" in the comments at National Review Online. He remains deeply moved by the unpublished memoirs of Professor D. Kirke (1888-1949).
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8 Responses to Pursue What Persists, and Enjoy the Ephemeral

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Some interesting messages there, though as one who never had children I’m certainly not one to comment on bringing them up. But I will say that the Morgan quote about the 2 (or more) reasons for doing things is an important lesson, especially when dealing with politicians. I don’t know when I realized that, but I think that realizing it helps lead to skepticism about government activism.

    • John Kirke John Kirke says:

      Yep, and I’ll be making the same point at length in an upcoming essay, but the short version is this: you can fool people about your real motivations regarding a single, atomic decision, but the sum total of your actions are usually MUCH clear indications of what’s really driving you.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Both Washington and Lincoln were clear about this. Self interest is what motivates mankind and fooling ourselves that this is not the case is the road to disappointment.

        Americans are known, internationally, to be somewhat naive about this.

        After living in Asia for a short period of time, I learned that the official explanation for just about anything was never the complete story and sometimes had nothing to do with it at all. Since that time, I try to burrow down several levels to figure out what a person’s motivation/meaning is. Often, this is not an easy thing to do. We all must make decisions based on imperfect information. But the constant is that people, generally, act out of self interest. As someone who knew D.C. said to me, there are no “Dudley Do-Rights” there.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          My view is that most people (aside from sociopaths and narcissists, such as the leadership of the Democraps) want to do the right thing as long as it doesn’t cost them too much (since self-interest is generally the primary concern). This is why most people can be persuaded to feel guilty and then behave properly when their misbehavior is pointed out to them. (One of Ayn Rand’s flaws is that she disliked the idea of guilt, as if unaware of where that leads.)

          A good example that was brought up many years ago in (I think) National Review involves Ivan the Terrible going on a rampage and then eventually stopping when a priest told him, in essence, “Enough.” This only works on people who actually have a conscience. But it can take a lot of effort even then (and a lot of damage can be done before it happens).

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            “This is why most people can be persuaded to feel guilty and then behave properly when their misbehavior is pointed out to them.”

            Guilt in the West and shame in the East

  2. Rosalys says:

    “…not even your closest family relationships are secure in this life.”

    May I add to that close personal friendships. It very recently hit me like a ton of bricks that a good friend of over 30 years is on the verge of dropping me like a hot coal. It is totally because of opposing world views. I am a Christian and she is not. We agree politically on many things and enjoy many of the same pastimes, but we do not believe in the same God. I believe in the God of the Bible and she believes in god. We recently had an article and I was deemed hateful for believing what I see as truth. We patched things up, but for how long?

    I’ve always had friends with those who are not necessarily of my faith, but it is getting harder. We as Christians just see the world differently, from an entirely different perspective than those who are not.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Well, I’m a deist and my housemate is Southern Baptist, so I certainly hope that doesn’t happen with everyone. So far it hasn’t (and I have many other friends with strong religious views, as well as others even less religious). It probably helps that I was raised Episcopalian at a time when they still had beliefs.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Live in the present, but in the light of eternity:  pursue what persists, but enjoy the ephemeral.

    That’s terrific advice. And what a great letter for your children. I hope they read this when they get older.

    We’re supposed to be living in a world where we grant our children the benefit of our wisdom and experience. But this world is now situation so that we actually burden children with debt and chaos so that we can have our bizarre utopian fantasies for the day.

    There’s very little sense in this world. Thanks for making some sense with this fine and heartfelt letter.

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