On Wrestling with Time

My oldest walked out of our family room to join us at the dinner table, and said, “Oh, I don’t think this was supposed to be left on the stove.” Our eyes all went to the stringy, melted mess of plastic she was holding; it was a Fisher Price kitchen pot from my childhood days. My daughters had been playing Little House in the Big Woods, and naturally, were cooking on our working wood stove. At some point in the hour before, my husband had built a fire and not noticed the plastic pot sitting on it.

Tears filled my eyes and, before I could stop them, spilled onto my face. I got up quickly, and walked down the hallway. It is only a toy, I chided myself. To be crying over a toy, shame. No matter that it has been played with so many hands for dozens of years. No matter that I have childhood memories of playing with that pot, of playing with my brother. No matter.

“We’re so sorry we left the pot on the stove, Mom,” my girls gently watched my face as I returned to the table. “It’s okay, it’s only a toy,” I said. A toy with memories. It’s really just about the memories, it’s about time. How it passes like a vapor, how we are with people in special places and then suddenly, we are not anymore. I smiled at my girls, and we resumed dinner, I setting aside these conflicted thoughts for a later, solitary mulling.

The passing of time. If you have been around here, you will have noticed this is a theme for me, exploring this concept of time and memories and the many conflicted emotions accompanying it. Why is it that I can never be at peace with the passing of time? When will I be able to relive childhood memories without a longing to return to that precious, free, growing season? When will I look at photos from college days, from those frigid winter days of falling in love with Ben without wishing for a brief return to those thrilling moments? When will I see my children as tiny babies and not feel my heart lurch with pain for the fleeting season that is their childhood, under my wings? When will I think of my nephew, reliving the many memories with him throughout his 11 years, and be at peace with seeing him again someday?

As my own years pass, I have realized the answer to these questions, and all the others I have related to time here on earth… is not here, not now. So long as we are walking through time on this broken planet, we will feel the longings and lack of peace. The passing of time, and the joys of days gone, are part of the curse’s cosmic effect. How else can we explain it? When I think of Adam and Eve in the garden, back in earth’s earliest days, communing with each other and with God, I imagine their contentedness, their enduring love, their minds fully at peace and hearts with joy uninhabited. There was no sorrow in life, no brokenness in the world, no personal or cosmic effects of sin. Untainted.

And, oh, but how our lives are tainted, every hour of every day, by all that is broken inside and outside of us. In 1670, Blaise Pascal wrote,

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself” (Pensées).

Ah, but here are wise words as we mull over these complicated thoughts. Perhaps, as in many aspects of life, this longing for bygone days, these sorrowful emotions over time, can be yet another opportunity to lead us to the heart of God; another realization of our vast need for him. Yet another opportunity to turn our eyes toward him.

As I write this, we are in the middle of the Lenten season leading up to Easter. Though often an unfavorite time of the Christian year, it has become one I have grown to value. The denying ourselves of what has become easy, cheap joy. The removing of extra distractions. A short-lived monastic experience, really, where we are living with more awareness of our lack and our need, of our pain, and from where our joy truly comes. In other words, during Lent, we are looking over the edge of that infinite abyss, feeling the cold air rising around our faces, and reminding ourselves that yes, there is a way out of this.

It’s coming. God, in the fullness of love, will through his risen Son fill that vast abyss, in both the wide earth and our private hearts. It doesn’t mean that we still don’t feel the terrifying breeze at times, or ache from the remains of a life empty, before Christ filled us up.

And so, when I am on the edge of time’s abyss, wondering where it has gone and where it is going, I am grateful to be reminded that Christ’s work on the cross is vast enough to redeem not just my heart and yours (though that alone is a wonder!), but the whole of earth with it’s cursed effects. Christ’s work will redeem the time, and while my heart wrestles with the how of this reality, I can be led to the heart of God in the midst of my wrestling. For now, that is where you will find me.

On Turning Three and the Passing of Time

Over this past weekend, my youngest turned three years old. She’s been convincing everyone in her path that she’s B-I-G for a year now, no argument there. Her requests for her special day were a “sparkly” cake and paper dolls. Anything for you, Babe (because she is my baby). And so with butterflies hanging from the ceiling and three candles flickering on her sparkly butterfly cake, we celebrated her growth and the gift of her life.

For me, as the mother, the day held a lot of emotion and reflection. As mothers everywhere do, I reflected on the privilege of carrying and birthing her; for us, right here in our home, in water, just as the sun crested the hill through the window. “Shut the curtains please!” I pleaded moments before my body would be pushing her out, the heat of the sun and the heat of the work too much at the time. As she took her first breath, the light of her life entered our world, forever altering it. The older girls marveled at this new little sister, so brand new, and covered with all that white… what? That first day of her life was a hot late summer day, and I rested in my bed with my baby, the fan on us, the loving gaze of God on us, the miracle of birth a mystery in us yet again. How could that be three years ago?

I reflected on one year ago, how we managed to make it back to South Africa in the middle of the pandemic exploding across the wide world, the day before her second birthday. The US president addressed the nation while we were in the air over the Atlantic, with announcements of borders closing and our seat mates frantic with questions of how to return. “Let us just make it home,” we prayed, boarding our next flight to take us as far south as Africa goes. We landed, hugged our waiting teammates, and deeply worried about that the days after – had we brought COVID with us, to these people dear to us? We marveled at the timing of God, filled with joy and gratitude for being back. How could that be a year ago, bleary eyed and jet-lagged, whipping up a cake in my dear own kitchen finally, for my two-year-old baby?

The passing of time is such a mystery, and like life itself, is tinged with joy and grief, with growth and loss. I am so grateful for my healthy, growing children, and I also miss them as tiny babies, snuggled into me for hours of each day. Time is something I contemplate often; our experience of it in minutes, hours, days, and years it is a construct of our fallen world. Time in God’s kingdom looks far different, “with the Lord, one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). “How old will we be in heaven?” my eldest daughter asks me. How do we imagine an eternity absent of time as we know it?

As with much of the rest of life, I find I must open my hands and heart again to God, and trust him with the mysteries beyond my comprehension. May I grieve and celebrate the growing of my babies, all in the same breath? Yes, I may. Life is a miracle, a gift, a mystery, and we feel the fullness of it in our honesty with ourselves and with God. May I be filled with gratitude and marveling at life, and feel its incompleteness in the same moment? Yes, I may. Life is a joy, a light, and experiencing it in this world is not all that we are meant for. Our aching, our melancholy, is a poignant reminder that our experience of life this side of heaven is lacking, these beautiful lives we live are fallen, and are in need of deep redemption. For those of us in Christ, we have the immense privilege of knowing the earthly side of gospel redemption now, and have the glorious hope of full redemption one day.

And in the meantime, this is where you’ll find me, holding my children close and opening my hands again to our Father, day after day, year after year.

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:12