It can’t be avoided. The older we get, the more that life is behind us rather than in front of us. Often I wrestle with this blinding, “under the sun” perspective. I miss much of my past: the chatter of two, little girls and all their activity in our house, the planning of family gatherings, the greatly anticipated arrival of grandparents accompanied by a trunk full of garden goodies, homemade berry and cream pies, and ranger or chocolate chip cookies.
Some people are glad to run from their past. Most of us find the past a mixed bag, but we can choose to remember treasured times above the mysteriously hurtful. Indeed, most treasured times include troubles.
“Man was born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward,” says one ancient sage (Job 5:7). Trouble integrated within the good is a basic principle of this life.
I wish that everyone could have had the pleasant childhood I had. Oh, I had health issues, learning issues, some uncomfortable social issues. A mixed bag. But I had it good. During my first decade, my family lived in a classic, white cape cod on a large corner. Dad, Mom, Elaine Jean (20 months older than I am), and Karen Louise.
Daddy created a neighborhood playground on our property: swing sets, teeter totter, tether ball, driveway hop scotch, basketball hoop, garage a playhouse, school house, and store. Dad hung blackboards on the garage walls, lined up school desks, and placed old school books in the desks. The school items came from the old Bigalow public school that was torn down in Findlay, Ohio, I believe before I was born. A long plank supported by barrels placed across the garage entrance made a restaurant bar, like an old soda shop. A garage? My parents parked out front. Dad delighted in encouraging children to grow happily, creatively, and wisely. He created a wonderful play center for young imaginations.
Mom, a precise, organized, goal-oriented lady, accepted her teacher/preacher/poet husband’s idiosyncratic ways. She shared his love for Christ, for family, for children, and for beauty. Attentively, she cared for her man’s needs, affirming his various dreams and ministries. Dad was Mom’s top ministry for fifty-four years. If Mom and Dad were elements of design, Mom would be line – defining and orderly, and Dad would be color – varied and vivid. Their coupled art would produce texture, tone, dimensional depth, and theme.
I love my childhood memories. I love my thoughts of my parents. I miss them so much. I cannot go back home. I cannot invite them to my Arizona home. I await going home to them – in another country and kingdom.
A dear friend of mine who also treasures many memories passed on her daughter’s advice. After precious family gatherings, Ricky often sighed with sadness. Her daughter kindly challenged her mother, “Mom, don’t be sad that it’s over. Be glad that it happened!”
I take Jessica’s advice to heart. I’m glad that it happened, that they happened: my childhood, my girls’ childhoods, the hubbub of overwhelming activity, the aching back and compassionate back rubs, my stitches and broken bones (my girls skipped these initiation experiences), the sparkling waters, the cool nights around camp fires, the long airplane flights to California to see the other grandparents. . . .
Are you too busy to have occasional flights of memory into your past, your good past? It seems these flights of memory are just that – flights. You don’t need long periods of reflection. Reflections usually mingle with present happenings.
Jessica’s advice promotes a grateful heart, a spirit of thanksgiving. “Don’t be sad it’s over; be glad it happened.” Yes. Every moment becomes a past happening. We can hold on to nothing. Nothing. But that does not mean that the fleeting moments are worth nothing. No! The vapor of yesterday has eternal value!
The sage of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything under the sun, that all is vanity (breath, vapor), yet we should enjoy all these vapors because “God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). What? Reasoning first from the view of our origins, the sage tells us earlier in this chapter to remember our Creator while we are young (12:1, 6), and then in verse 14 he looks forward. Hmm. This ancient text exhibits first an cosmological and then an eschatological eye — furnishing an expanded, eternal worldview.
We become very sad when we view life exclusively as “under the sun,” a motif repeated twenty-nine times in Ecclesiastes, articulating a materialistic, contracted, temporal worldview. Joy is folded into the Ecclesiastes mixture when the viewpoint becomes eternal. The sage takes eternal life as a given. The sage claims that every vaporous experience will be honored with attention from God. We like attention. We don’t want our lives to be ignored. Yet, we cringe at the concept of a judgment, but judgment makes sane and meaningful this present life.
We cringe because of the real fear of punishment, but we must remember and gratefully affirm that Jesus “Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (I Peter 2:24). When we accept Christ’s forgiveness, our judgment is a judgment not of acceptance or rejection by God, but a judgment of the quality of our lives lived rightly for Him.
Since “God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil,” we can trust that justice so often denied or distorted and appreciation so often overlooked will be properly distributed. As a New Testament sage further concurs, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3:23-24).
Jessica’s advice can be taken a step beyond the goodness of gratitude: add the anticipation of God’s attention given to each moment with the possibility of various rewarding inheritances. Then, a third step can be added to our eternal perspective toward our wispy moments.
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away. . . ” (Revelations 21:1). Not only are we going to pass away, but our entire civilization and world will pass away, not in death for death’s sake, but in death for life’s sake. “And there shall no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads” (Revelation 22:3-4).
Jim Elliot claimed, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
What can we gain that we cannot lose? The sages’ Sage directs people to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not beak in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6: 20-21).
What treasure is this? The treasure is belonging to Christ: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved. . .) ” (Ephesians 2:4-5). The treasure is real life: complete, good, and fulfilling. Whatever we think we’ve missed in this life, we will discover better opportunities in the life to come in Christ.
In the coming kingdom, we will build upon the foundation that Jesus has laid and upon the good and God-honoring structure that we’ve established on His foundation (I Corinthians chapter 3). The quality of our choices, lifestyle, heart orientation, and work will be examined (I Cor. 3:12-15 corroborates Eccles. 12: 14). Symbolized by gold, silver, and precious stones, wood, hay, and straw, each person’s current life becomes the raw material for the life to be built in the future. By God’s generous grace, the gain that cannot be lost is the good, God-honoring quality of our current lives (our character, who we really are). What will be lost is the foolishness of the self-serving, dishonoring characteristics of our lives represented by wood, hay, and stubble which cannot withstand the fire of examination. This portion of us, which is not the real us, is “vanity, vanity,” “under the sun;” it is the truly vaporous dimension of our lives.
Therefore, our third step is to regard transformative treasure gathered from this life as preparation for opportunity and service in the coming kingdom. The eternal future is impacted by our transient past and present.
It is rightful that our hearts hold both reverent fear toward God regarding our relationship to Him (“All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” Romans 10:13), and joyful anticipation (the good is graciously rewarded; the best is yet to come).
A reflective eye may transform into an eschatological eye. Pivot. With Jessica, we can say:
1) “I’m not sad it’s over; I’m glad it happened.” Then we add:
2) “I’m glad the judgment will give my life full attention, trading the best of my life for permanent reward.
3). I’m glad that the best opportunities are yet to arrive, shipped in packages of immutable goodness.
I’ll build from the treasures I export by God’s grace to an eternal kingdom — a kingdom far better than my deepest longings.
It’s wonderful to hear your voice, and to renew old memories of mine and memories heard orally through your writing, my dear second cousin. My times visiting your parents were truly joyful. Your descriptions above seem faithful to the fine heritage they provided to you, Elaine, the extended family and their communities. Rick