This was originally posted 31 May 2012.

“All things are passing.” We’ve heard this before, maybe when someone dies, or a relationship fails, or we lose a job. It’s usually said to bring comfort. But it speaks great truth. All things of this world are impermanent.

This idea is an important understanding in many faiths such as Buddhism or Christianity. Christians see our life on this earth as the first step to an eternal life. All things are passing but those things eternal, like our relationship with God or going to heaven, are what our focus should be on. Saint Ignatius would say that all the temporary things in this world are simply there to allow us to glorify God and ultimately save our soul – so we need to be attentive how we use impermanent things.

For Buddhists, impermanence is one of the three marks of existence:

According to the impermanence doctrine, human life embodies this flux in the aging process, the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara), and in any experience of loss.


Attachment to impermanent things becomes cause for future suffering. Ignatius might say the same thing, calling it a “disordered attachment”. Disorder because an attachment to a material thing does not glorify God. When we have a disordered attachment it is much easier for the evil spirit to attack, pulling us away from God, causing suffering. It’s not to say that sometimes suffering doesn’t exist even when we are right next to God and detached from the passing things of this world.

Peter Himmelman, Bob Dylan’s son-in-law, wrote a beautiful song called “Impermanent Things”.

Just about every lyric speaks loudly the truth.

All these impermanent things
Oh how they fool me
Dominate and rule me
They keep me waiting here forever

When we end our time on this earth we leave with what we came in with, nothing. So why do we let materialism dominate us? Things fail to ultimately satisfy. We reach a point where we’re waiting for something better.

All these impermanent things
Present yet elusive
Passive yet abusive
Tearing out the heart in utter silence
All these impermanent things
Well they point in all directions
Like secondhand reflections
And they’re leading us to subtle shades of violence

Sometimes they silently destroy us as they become idols, leading us to dead ends and brokenness. The evil spirit works like a crafty salesperson trying to get you to buy the next hot product or quick-fix solution. It always fails but you can’t get a refund. Himmelman seems to understand this well, how the evil spirit tries to get you to trade the eternal for the immediate satisfaction of the impermanent.

All these impermanent things
Well they all add up to zero
They make-believe that they’re my hero
Then they fill my mind with doubt and false desires

So what lasts? Love lasts. Our relationships with others, if based in authentic love, are worth spending time on. And if God is love, then we can count on our relationship and love for God to continue growing. God is ultimately what and who is eternal. All impermanent things are gifts used to help us grow in love and relationship. But at the end, we must let go of those things with freedom. During our lifetime we must lessen our grip on those things we fear losing; they’ll slip away from us anyway.

What rules you in this life? And what are those eternal things needing more attention?

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