I won’t forget those toys in the sandbox, the ones that looked like little compact excavators. A red excavator sat across from a yellow one, and I would sit on one and my brother would sit on the other, and we’d dig.

There’s nothing quite like miniaturized heavy machinery to get young boys excited. Painted and peeling nuts and bolts atop an inflexible spring. It wasn’t hard to imagine riding a bull or manning a bulldozer, all macho and crazy.

The excavators were planted in the sand so that they couldn’t move. All you could do was sit on the sunburned metal seat and swivel, creaking, all the while lifting and dropping the boom to dig sand. You’d dig out a big hole of grainy oatmeal sand, lift and pivot, and drop it in a pile behind you. You’d keep turning like this – back and forth, up and down, loading and unloading – and it was wild entertainment…

…for a while.

I mean, there’s only so much sand you can move.

Because the toy could never be carried to a different part of the sandbox, you’d be forced to dig a hole or, at best, a circular moat, then turn around and dig up the sandpile to refill the hole. Dig, dump, refill. Dig, dump, refill.

Oh, the beautiful, hot, red, rusty excavator. Dig, dump, refill.

I saw a pair of these toys not long ago at a park (these new ones were plastic and freshly painted and actually kid-friendly). While I still thought them pretty neat, they became quickly boring.

The toy itself is fun, but there’s a problem: it doesn’t actually go anywhere. There’s a certain thrill, a feeling of accomplishment after first sitting down, but once you’ve dug and refilled the holes a few times, it loses the appeal. It’s not that it’s monotonous; it’s that it’s purposeless.

I sometimes feel that way.

Not about my place or job or relationships in particular; just about life. I keep digging, but I’m not going anywhere.

Feeling content doesn’t mean you won’t eventually feel bored. Stagnant, like you want to go to a different part of the sandbox, dig a new moat, but you can’t because you’re rocking back and forth on a spring stuck in concrete in the ground.

It’s not at all an unhappiness. It’s more a restlessness. It’s not depression. It’s desire.

It’s the question, “How can I dig deeper?” It’s the feeling, “What am I digging for?”

And then I think, Man, why am I so selfish? After all, feeling “stagnant” in as good of a position as I’m in – good job, great family and friends, safety, security, peace – is a pretty enviable thing. How many people would love to be “stuck” where I am now? How many people would do pretty much anything to be in my place of monotony?

God, forgive my impatience.

And I think, maybe, the day-in and day-out, to-and-fro routine might feel meaningless, but so did that conversation I had with a guidance counselor in school. So did that one song the puppets sang when I was a kid. So did the time I felt real sick, kind of frail and down.

But now I see they weren’t meaningless. They were getting me ready.

So maybe all these holes I’m digging and refilling in the sandbox are preparing me to dig a deeper hole. Maybe I will dig a cave. Maybe I will dig up gold coins. Maybe I will dig to Africa. Or maybe I will just keep digging to the gravel underneath, and the point all along was to teach me patience. Maybe the point is to humble me.

Keeping it real, I hope that’s not it — though maybe not wanting to be taught yet more patience and humility means I need exactly those things! Yeah, I hope that’s not it, but it might be.

And last of all I’m thinking that this — even this — will not last. He is making all things new, you know. New every morning.

To me, the sand looks the same today as it did yesterday. The motions and the metal and the seat and the hole in the ground all feel perfectly plain, perfectly known. But one day I will be excavating solid glass from this sand. One day this will be pulverized to yellow-light crystals. One day I will move, or the ground will move, or heaven will come down, and I’ll know beyond a shadow of a doubt that, today, something is way, way different.

Everything is new. And everything will be new again.

So I’m going to try to enjoy it. Not just be contentedly bored, but really enjoy it.

Because tomorrow my friends might move to Montana, might have a baby, might get hired somewhere far. Tomorrow I might get sick or be well, might go away, might see the sun differently than I’ve seen it yet. Maybe school will happen again, or there will be a promotion, or someone new will come along and change everything about everything.

I hope so.

But I know, then, I’ll look back and want to remember fondly the good days when I was just digging and refilling the same hole in the sandbox. And even now I think it was a mighty fine excavator, and I got good at digging that hole. So I’ll keep at it for now, digging new, new, again and again, because one day, maybe soon, the world will be completely freshly polychromatic, the way it really always was.

Posted by Griffin Paul Jackson


  1. This is such a perfect description: “It’s not at all an unhappiness. It’s more a restlessness. It’s not depression. It’s desire.” I know this feeling well, but can never seem to find a way to describe it without making it sound more melodramatic than it really is. It’s a waiting for something when I don’t even know what I’m waiting for.


    1. Griffin Paul Jackson August 4, 2014 at 11:53 am

      Your last sentence — “It’s a waiting for something when I don’t even know what I’m waiting for” — strikes me as exactly right. I know what you mean that it can come across melodramatic to talk about wanting/waiting for something more/better/next, but I don’t think it has to be this way. We should try to be content in our circumstances, but I think it’s still natural (and probably good) to want something more.


  2. I’d love to hear your honest reaction to this paragraph from Future Grace: …one of the main claims of this book is that the Bible rarely, if ever, motivates Christian living with gratitude. Yet this is almost universally presented in the church as the “driving force in authentic Christian living.” I agree that gratitude is a beautiful and utterly indispensable Christian affection. No one is saved, who doesn’t have it. But you will search the Bible in vain for explicit connections between gratitude and obedience. If, as I will try to show in Chapters One and Two, gratitude was never designed as the primary motivation for radical Christian obedience, perhaps that is one reason so many efforts at holiness abort. Could it be that gratitude for bygone grace has been pressed to serve as the power for holiness, which only faith in future grace was designed to perform? That conviction is one of the main driving forces behind this book.
    My personal experience with those raised on the Heidelberg, is a strong negative reaction to the above paragraph. BTW, I much, much, much prefer the Westminster!


    1. Griffin Paul Jackson August 4, 2014 at 12:14 pm

      This whets my appetite once again for this book. I’ll have to pick it up.

      My reaction: I certainly think I’d have to read more to get a broader context, but I must say I don’t have a negative reaction to this, though it gives me a little pause because it seems contrary to much of what we hear. I think Piper is clear that gratitude is right and essential — “beautiful and utterly indispensable” he says — but I tend to agree with him that it doesn’t work well as our primary motivator for righteous living.

      As you’ve seen in another post I wrote about a similar issue, I think simple duty is a powerful motivator. That is, I know I must do the right thing even when I’m not feeling grateful.

      But as you and Piper note — and I agree — our “faith in future grace” might be the chief propulsion for obedience. Perhaps this is a fuller, more convicting picture of gratitude as motivator. That is: we live well not simply because we’re grateful for what God’s done in the past, but also what he is continuing to do and what he promises to do in the future. This seems a more heavenly, eternal perspective than an earthly, temporary one.


  3. Wow…you’ve said so much here Griffin. Thank you. I’ve felt the restlessness for the next thing in life before (pretty much my whole early 20s!). I prayed that God would teach me how to live contented. At one time I thought that meant just sort of willing myself to accept things as they were, to just “get through” the period because surely something new and better would be on the other side. I thought this was patience, endurance, faith. But living that way didn’t bring joy or peace. It wasn’t embracing and appreciating the present as it was always a reaching out for the future. What’s particularly profound in what you’ve said here is the recognition of desire. God did not leave me hanging when I prayed for a contented way of living. Rather, he answered my prayer just in the past several years by transforming that prayer into a deep desire for a life of obedience to him and his will. This desire that you’re sensing, Griffin, I don’t think it’s a desire for something new in your future. I think it’s a desire to truly see the newness of life right in front of you in the present — the gift of newness in each day. You’ve expressed this awareness so well here, and I just want to encourage you to lean into that desire. I’ve come to understand true obedience to God not as limiting or something to do to just get through the day to day. Obedience is liberation to fully seek that desire — to humbly submit to God’s hand that is shaping each day for his good purposes and plans, but to do so with a genuine sense of anticipation and gratitude. In this way, the obedient life is not monotonous, but it thrives out of the desire to be a witness and player in God’s new day. How blessed we are that he would make us part of his glorious plans in both the simple and the extraordinary! So lean in, as you’re doing friend, and never lose that desire. Sorry so long…your words and reflections inspired me to do the same! ;). Your sister in Christ, Maggie


    1. This Maggie Obermann, by the way. Slugbug6mo is not very descriptive!


    2. Griffin Paul Jackson August 4, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      I like what you’ve said, Maggie. Especially about your own experience getting past mere contentedness and approaching a greater desire in the here and now.

      I hope that becomes more true for me. I have joy and purpose in my life presently, but I do desire to feel it even more. Perhaps it takes time to recognize how these things are felt in the present, as opposed to things wanted for the future.

      It’s clear to me I can and should grow in that desire — because everyday really is new and full of grace — but I also think the longing for things in the future is okay. God’s promises are already being fulfilled to us, but he will continue to grow us. Perhaps what is really being longed for is not attainable in this life — we long for “another world” as C.S. Lewis said — but we long all the same.


  4. […] year, so much felt so stagnant. Sometimes I actually went backwards. Promises fell through. Some things I thought were promises […]


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