Ivan Ilyich labored his entire life in the pursuit of worldly success. He made decisions based on a list of society’s materialistic requirements: attend the right school to secure a prestigious job, climb the corporate ladder, marry out of duty and support the requisite family, move to a lovely house in the suburbs embellished with the perfect furnishings. By the world’s standards, Ivan was succeeding because he was following a formula and achieving “the good life.” Leo Tolstoy wrote The Death of Ivan Ilyich shortly after his conversion (circa 1870) but the theme of the story is timely poignant for today.
As he becomes sick and fragile, he glimpses deep compassion through the care he receives from his caregiver, Gerasim. Ivan has wasted years on gathering the fleeting markers of success without seeing that true beauty and compassion are the defining gifts in life. Moments before he dies, Ivan realizes that he lived for appearances and approval of others, pushing aside everything that would give and receive love — his family, friends, and God — in exchange for empty pursuits. Will we wait until the last moment of our lives to lift our eyes to meet Agape?
Striving in shadow, lit by my own power.
Climbing, I grip the rung. Succeed, I must
Pursue phantom time – tyrant of hours.
My aspirations turn to choking dust.
Empty myself for assent, add dark strife.
Confirming my value to hollow hearts.
Tightly woven mirage of a “good” life.
Tangled ropes of purpose tear it apart.
I look from my weak flicker to the Fire
Light undimmed, Agape knows my name.
Awe in the ordinary, captured by
Eyes of pure love, my heart to reclaim.
What once was empty with longings unstilled,
Met love at last, what joy! My soul fulfilled.
1 John 2:15-16
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.
JOHN 1: 1-5
IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD, AND THE WORD WAS WITH GOD, AND THE WORD WAS GOD. THE SAME WAS IN THE BEGINNING WITH GOD. ALL THINGS WERE MADE BY HIM; AND WITHOUT HIM WAS NOT ANY THING MADE THAT WAS MADE. IN HIM WAS LIFE; AND THE LIFE WAS THE LIGHT OF MEN. AND THE LIGHT SHINETH IN DARKNESS; AND THE DARKNESS COMPREHENDED IT NOT.