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.