“This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.”
— one of the “Riddles in the Dark” from The Hobbit by J.R.R.. Tolkien
When I was a girl, perhaps five or six, a book came in one of the boxes of mysterious oddments from my father’s mother, or perhaps it was received among my Christmas gifts that year. Honestly, I am not certain. It was an odd sort of book — fantasy stories, mostly about children, with seemingly no particular significant origin. These were not collected tales from an author or place, they were just…stories. As I am more widely read now, these stories remind me somewhat of George MacDonald’s work. It was a hardcover volume, illustrated in color. The book itself — along with too many others — eventually ended up at the local Friends of the Library bookstore in a particularly traumatic move. I remember little of this book but the vague outline of one particular tale:
There was a girl who somehow came upon an enchanted ball of silver string (I believe there was an odd old woman or a witch involved). What the girl discovered about her magical ball of string was that if she pulled the loose end, it caused an instantaneous and enchanted passage of time: a tug for a moment, a pull for a span.
The ball could not be rewound.
The girl began to use this string in small — and later large — ways to affect the passage of time: first to avoid small unpleasantries and waiting, later to grow up more quickly.
Only too quickly, however, the impatient girl found herself a very old woman at the end of her life…holding a very small length of silver string…facing death.
The girl woke up and found she had been dreaming (to her great relief), but forevermore considered time a much more precious commodity.
Could we all but be so wise.
In America our society tries to both escape death by attempting to eternally cling to the spectral shadow of youth…while also avoiding life by running at a break-neck frantic pace — without rest — in pursuit of “progress.” Time affects us all, and death is the great equalizer. After love and life, time is the next most precious gift we have in this life.
Time cannot be bought…sold…or stopped.
I have held four beloved guinea pigs in my arms as they breathed their last breath (most recently, of course, my beloved Eleanor…Wentworth’s sweet mama). The story was that after a prolonged (but gradual) terminal illness — with baby Annie as her beloved friend — Eleanor was actively dying the Tuesday morning after Thanksgiving. I could not get out of my stupid shift at work. I helped her drink some water when I came home at lunch, and miraculously (by greater grace than can be quantified), I found her barely clinging to life when I came home that day. I helped her drink more water, wrapped her in a towel, and held her on my chest.
We both fell asleep that afternoon; only I woke up.
Time is precious…
measured in breaths…
in sunrises and sunsets…
in grains of sand…
in waves on the shore.
It cannot be bottled, nor saved…
nor kept, nor held —
only savored, cherished, remembered…or else merely regretted for its passing.
Thus far, 2013 has been a rough year. A friend of mine remarked yesterday morning:
“Wish you could wake up in 2014…it’s got to be better.”
My reply to her was:
“No guarantees to that. My Lord and my God is good and sovereign. Against all odds he has still preserved a place for me in this world. His providence brings hope worth anchoring my life on. But there is this — the question of St. John of the Cross — if life with God and Christ comes with NO blessings, is who God is still enough to merit faith in him? (*Hint* — the answer is “Yes,” but a person can’t “own” that from a theoretical perspective. Sometimes the path to heaven neans you have to pass through hell first.)
My friend meant well, I know she did — and I love her well — but even such a well-meant statement given in love and sympathy is downright horrifying when considered from an eternal perspective.
Would I really rather sleep through the next 9.5 months of my life?!?!?!?!
My precious, beloved baby niece is now eight weeks old. In developmental terms, the first year of life encompasses a lot. Infants come into the world as scrunchy little grublings — a novelty for their tiny perfection, but on the whole not very engaging little creatures; by a year old they are well on their way to being their own unique little people — shreiking, squeaking, playing, engaging with the world, expressing opinions.
To sleep through 2013, I would miss all of that my friend.
My beloved little Annie is expecting pups. She and Wentworth are the two nicest guinea pigs I’ve ever had in my life — not a trouble-making bone in either of their bodies (Eleanor, on the other hand, was an absolute imp of a pig!).
Have you ever seen a baby guinea pig? They are about the cutest baby anything on the planet — like most herbivorous herd animals, they are born “ready to go” — all feet and ears and fluff. Eyes open, ears open, alert, they begin to explore their world from the moment they are born. Every day I watch Annie change as we wait together. She’s never had babies before, she doesn’t know what exactly is going on. There is nothing in this world more amazing than new life, and these little expected friends are already beloved.
A second generation of beloved tiny friends? I wouldn’t miss raising those little ones for anything in the world.
And as for so many I love? None of us are getting any younger, and the future is never certain. Last night I watched a man nearly run down by a car ten feet in-front of me, as I crossed in the same intersection from the opposite corner. I’ve had many close calls, and several instances where I was spared from certain death. I’ve lost dear friends who were not old and still had much living to do. That any of us will live to greet the following morning is neither known nor certain. Every moment of every day in this life is a dear and precious gift. Time cannot be bottled, nor saved…nor kept, nor held — only savored, cherished, remembered…or else merely regretted for its passing.
Life in this world is to short and too precious to live with regrets.
Life and time are dearly precious, but love is the single greatest gift in all creation. Do you know it? Do those you love know you know it? Do those you love know you love them? Seriously. Those you hold dear and love — all of them — do they know without question that they are loved? Do they know without question they are loved by you???
It’s a valid question, though perhaps a disturbing one: Do you say “I love you” enough — and mean it unquestionably — such that there can be no room for doubt in the minds of those you love that they are loved?
It’s not that hard (unless you don’t mean it). If a loved one suddenly comes to mind, pray for them, and drop a very quick line or two of love and encouragement in their direction (not that complicated, don’t overthink this…). Most of us have camera phones, if you see something fun or beautiful that someone you love would particularly enjoy, send the moment along.
Because the truth is, the greatest cost to you will be a few moments of your time.
There are likely a few among my own close friends reading this with a wry smile at this point.
The truth is, “just because” is the most wonderful, beautiful, important reason in the world to love and bless someone. Let the sun never set on your anger, truly, but just as important? Never part company with those you love lest your parting words be that you love them — you never know if or when you may ever meet them again (and life in this world is too short and to precious to live with regrets).
I wouldn’t be a good friend to opt-out of the chance to love, bless, encourage, share wonder, and pray for all those I love (especially if I am opting-out of 9.5 months of life for the expressly selfish purpose of potentially avoiding personal suffering — that’s inexcusably shallow!).
Whether I am a good disciple or not I will leave for Christ to work out, but it does not follow for a good disciple to be one self-seeking comfort for one’s own sake in a way that divorces herself from life, love and all humanity. I simply love life — and love my Lord and my God — too much to ever wish such a thing. And if my friend only meant that by my sleeping my life away, that she wished it so that I may be further protected from suffering and harm? I remind that to be so-protected from harm not only means I will be unable to experience pain and suffering in my slumber…but that I will be unable to experience all the joy and love possible in this life as well.
In the First Week of his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola wrote:
“Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.
And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.
From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.
For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.”
Now, my friend’s wish for me had two clauses…the second part being that the reason for sleeping until 2014 would be because “it’s got to be better.”
Does it? I’m not sure that’s actually true. I’m not signing up for a lifetime of masochistic asceticism, but “being comfortable” isn’t on the list of promises associated with being a faithful disciple of Christ. The Bible has a lot to say about suffering, we are also promised comfort for our afflictions, and we are promised glory both in heaven and when Christ comes again…but there are no promises that following Christ will be a comfortable journey. To be clear, I’m not seeking suffering, but I also do not seek (nor do I explicitly prefer) a life of insulated apathetic comfort.
Because like it or not, life is under no obligation to “get better,” and God is under no obligation to “make things better” in accordance with our particular requests. However? My Lord and my God is a good God, a loving God, a merciful God, a gracious God — a God who keeps his promises. If I strive to live my life prayerful that my desires be in alignment with God’s will for my life, “better” becomes completely beside the point because living life in alignment with God’s will is already “best.”
And can anything I wish for myself possibly be greater than what God wills for me?
Q. 1. What is your only comfort, in life and in death?
A. That I belong — body and soul, in life and in death — not to myself, but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all of my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
— The Heidelberg Catechism
By no means would I ever say I don’t want life to get better — I absolutely do — but I also believe life is only worth living when you can find God in all things (sometimes a stretch, but always possible). “Life always getting better” didn’t make the list for “only comfort, in life and in death,” but God’s love, mercy, sovereignty, and providence did.
I can live with that. — VKS