I recently visited a beautiful early 1900 mansion in a small southern Texas city. The spacious grounds filled with nut bearing trees and the winding driveway that leads up to a still elegant country house overlooking the Guadalupe River instills a pastoral restfulness upon its visitors. And yet, lying nearly within the shadow of this tranquil elegance is a stark reminder – at least it was for me.
You see, just beneath this mansion and disappearing into the distant tree line lies a grass covered raised bed of an abandoned railroad spur. Even this earthen foundation that once supported locomotives is today nearly invisible.
There was a time when just the idea of a train conveying family and friends from San Antonio thrilled someone’s heart and imagination. We can only imagine the satisfaction and fulfillment gushing forth when that dream became a reality. One day, about a hundred years ago black clouds of smoke billowed upward as a train announced its arrival upon the front lawn with a shrill whistle. The wealthy and famous of San Antonio disembarked for a weekend visit on his country estate. Imagine the scene. Feel the sense of accomplishment.
However, a mere hundred years later no train arrives. The iron and wood have long vanished. Nothing remains of that previous glory but a grassy lengthy knoll. As the author of Ecclesiastes explained, “I built … I planted … I designed … I constructed … I purchased … I also possessed more … Yet when I reflected on everything I had accomplished and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it, I concluded: ‘All these achievements and possessions are ultimately profitless – like chasing the wind!‘” (Eccl. 2:4,5,6,7,11).
Should we denigrate human accomplishments as completely meaningless? Of course not. Rather they can be stark honest reminders that at best our plans and achievements, no matter how much they might inspire a sense of purpose, are in the end temporary and transitory.
This is precisely the problem. Our hearts yearn for what is eternal and enduring, for what is truly meaningful. We want something that will not be a sand castle washed away with tomorrow’s tide. God has set within our hearts the yearning for something more.
We discover that to lay hold of something so valuable, so durable, so meaningful we must look beyond what our own hands can achieve. “I know that whatever God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken away from it. God has made it this way, so that men will fear him” (Eccl. 3:14).
If we will pause long enough in our busy lives to reflect deeply, we realize that our God has always been at work encouraging us to revere him for that is where we will connect to what endures. As the author of Ecclesiastes concluded, “Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion: Fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13).