On a walk, my daughter, Kate, decided to chase her shadow and see if she could catch it. In this obviously unscripted moment, I did what all parents in the smart phone era do–I pulled out my phone to capture her chase.
For those with concerns about my parenting, she did eventually give up the chase and make her way back to me so that we could finish our walk. As much as I enjoyed the moment, it also got me to thinking about the things that we chase.
Two types of shadows appear in the Bible. First, the Bible points out the fleeting shadows of our lives which we spend in pursuit of wisdom, wealth, pleasure, significance and more. We read in Ecclesiastes:
All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied….Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind….For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? (Ecclesiastes 6:7, 9, 12)
We chase success for significance, health for security, sex for pleasure, vacations for fulfillment, wealth for comfort, body image for approval, good deeds for self-importance, morality for measuring up. We pursue so many things but never find real or lasting satisfaction. They are good things, but they are never enough to bring the fulfillment we want from them.
I love what these verses from Ecclesiastes say about our pursuit: “the sight of the eyes is better than the wandering of the appetite.” In our minds, we think these things will bring us happiness, but our actual enjoyment of them is short-lived. Maybe you’ve experienced this before. You chased after something until you got it, but then you found that you wanted something else. You can feast at a king’s banquet table, but you will be hungry again when the morning comes.
When I was a teenager, I had this experience. I had been living in isolation from God, ignoring him and pushing him away in my rebelliousness. At the time, I had what I imagined every teenage boy wanted, even though I always wanted more. I lived this way for quite some time, but one day I realized that I wasn’t happy. I knew that I had been chasing shadows that would never fulfill me. But I also knew where real joy was found. I returned to Jesus that day. In an instant, I sensed that things had changed. Repentance is like that. It didn’t mean everything was perfect going forward, but I did experience a sense of joy in life that had been missing.
We were made for more that the fading shadows of earthly pursuits. In these, we will never find our ultimate Joy and Satisfaction. Augustine famously said in a prayer to God, “The thought of you stirs [man] so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”*
May we be increasingly dissatisfied with shadow pursuits until our restless hearts find joy, rest and satisfaction in God.
Are you too focused on the fleeting shadow of your life’s earthly pursuits? What are you forever chasing yet never reaching your desired destination? Is your soul deeply satisfied with God?
In Part 2, I discuss our need to find joy and rest under the shadow of God’s protection.
*Aurelius Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin Books, 1961).