As a young boy, I can remember picking up seashells from the beach, placing them to my ear, and hearing the cavernous sounds of hollow bone. Adults told me I was hearing the ocean, but even I knew there was nothing in those dead shells...only oceans of emptiness. I often felt sad for the seashell. It had no purpose, no life, and no potential for good or evil, right or wrong. Its fate rested in my hands. Would I cast it back into the ocean or place it in my backpack or pocket for the return trip home? That decision was mine alone.
A few days ago, my wife and five children left for their annual two-week trip to New Jersey to visit family. I don't usually attend these visits because of pastoral duties and other daily responsibilities on the home front. So, as happens to me at least once per year, I find myself home alone this week. Well, not quite alone...our cat Alli is there with me. But she's not much of a companion. She hides in silence most of the time. I like her, but I don't think the sentiment is reciprocated. Consequently, I'm left with a seashell--a home that echoes with loneliness.
Last night, I had a vivid dream that included our middle son, Jack. The dream woke me at around 1 AM, and there was a split second of time when I thought Jack was there with me. But I quickly descended into reality, and I fell back to sleep in the dark acoustics of the room. When my alarm sounded a few hours later, the streams of sunshine came through the windows, making shadows of nothing.
When you are accustomed to the perpetual energy of five children and the bubbling laughter of a joy-filled spouse, the silence can be maddening. It certainly gives you an appreciation for what is missing and a longing for their return. But, more importantly, it highlights for me one of the quintessential meanings of life. Many say we exist to fulfill a purpose, leave a legacy, or make the world a better place. Still others argue that life is about finding joy, peace, and love. And though all of these are important, I submit that a principal objective of life is to give voice to the seashell...to replace the hollow sounds of nothingness with the vitality of life itself. Maybe it's time we stop putting the shell to our ears, and, instead, put it to our mouths. That is to say, maybe it's time to breathe new life into our homes and our families, create relationships that matter, and do that which God called us to do...love Him and love others.
Somewhere, stored away at my parents' home, I probably have a few of those old seashells I collected as a child. And if I searched them out, I'd find they are dead--lifeless and unchanged from 30 years of repose. Could this be the character of life in our home? Is this the way of my friendships? Would people at my church feel this way about the spiritual vitality of our congregation...bone dry and hollow? You see, I have a choice to make: do I exist or do I live? Well, I resolve today to choose life!
Go ahead...put me to your ear. What do you hear?