Mother’s Day: My emotions are always bigger than one day—or even one heart—can hold. How can so many wildly different feelings be generated by one day?Read More
I’ve been thinking about walls and windows and doors lately.
No, we’re not building a house. I’ve seen a number of people “hit the wall” recently, in various ways (and I seem to do it myself all too often). We’ve also had some precious times with grandchildren this winter . . . I love driving up to the house in New Hampshire and seeing eager little faces watching out the window for us to come. And oh yes: we’re getting ready for a trip to Ireland soon to see our family there. I just can’t wait to walk through the door into their house and be engulfed by hugs and smiles and tangles of bodies in the joy of happy reunion.
Also, it’s Easter week as I write this. In the past 10 days or so, there have been too many funerals: A much-too-young husband and father cruelly snatched from his family by a car crash on slippery roads. A much-too-young mother slipping away after a long courageous battle with cancer. Our daughter-in-law’s grandfather.
I keep thinking of author Peter Marshall’s unforgettable proclamation that because of Easter, death is no longer a wall, but a door.
And I am, of course, reading Walter Wangerin’s Reliving the Passion again. He writes of the paradox of the window of heaven being opened to us even as the heavens were, for a few horrific moments, closed against Jesus on the cross, becoming a door into heaven for us: “a doorway made out of nails and wood, a crossing, a cross” (p. 134).
Wangerin also writes of joy, of part of the purpose of Lent being that we prepare for joy. Against the backdrop of all these funerals, against the backdrop of my own life, amidst a world of walls, his words ring truer than ever this year:
“The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow. Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives, happiness dies. It can’t stand pain. Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguring of suffering into endurance and of endurance into character, and of character into hope—and the hope that has become our joy does not (as happiness must for those who depend on it) disappoint us.” (p. 31)
This is the joy we celebrate at Easter. A joy birthed out of the Hope and Triumph of our resurrected Lord. A durable, stubborn joy for all seasons. Not only the endless winter we’ve had (and still have!) in the Northeast. But a joy that sustains us even in our grief. Wangerin, again:
“Grief, while you are grieving, lasts forever. But under God, forever is a day. Weeping, darling Magdalene, may last the night. But joy cometh with the sunrise—and then your mourning shall be dancing, and gladness shall be the robe around you. Wait. Wait.” (p. 138)
“Whooping joy,” Wangerin called it, describing the exhilaration he felt as a young child when his pastor father read the climax of the Easter story. Because of the window and the door, because of the triumph of the Resurrection, I wish you “whooping joy” this Easter—and far beyond.
It occurred to me recently that the answer to almost every question in my life right now is: “I don’t know.” With Woody’s recent retirement, we have made plans to move “back home” to New England. We are in the process of purchasing a condo under construction in the Boston area.
But from there on it’s all questions. When will we move? I don’t know. It depends on selling our current home. When will the house sell? I don’t know. What will it be like to move “back home”? Is it even possible to do that? Or was novelist Thomas Wolfe right when he famously proclaimed “You Can’t Go Home Again”? I don’t know. What about that biopsy you’ve been putting off? When will you get that done? I don’t know. It depends on getting a major insurance mess straightened out. How long will that take? I don’t know. And what about the results…? Well, you’re getting the picture.
I’ve noticed that I’m not the only one living in I-don’t-know-ville. Tons of people I know and love are living there, too. Will the never-ending international adoption saga never end? When will we meet these children? WILL we ever meet these children? When will my prodigal come home? WILL he/she come home? Will this court case ever get resolved and justice—and mercy—prevail? Will the doctors ever figure out what’s wrong? Will the money last till the end of the month? To name just a few questions in my prayers for those I love.
It seems to be an Advent season of I-don’t–know. Which brings to mind the fact that there were a lot of I-don’t-know people at that first Christmas. Joseph and Mary must have had plenty of unanswered questions on that road to Bethlehem. And when they had to flee to Egypt. And a thousand other times in the parenting of Jesus. What was God up to in allowing life for His son to look like this? And the shepherds and the wisemen: What does this amazing birth mean? And Simeon and Anna in the years they waited to meet Him: “How long, O Lord, how long?”
But they did know one thing, and it’s the central truth of Christmas: God is now with us! “And they will call Him Immanuel—which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like living in I-don’t-know-ville. It makes me nervous. I am, after all, half-German, firstborn, and off the charts on the Myers Briggs J-scale. I like answers better than questions. But maybe there’s something to be learned here from those first Christmas people. And more importantly, from the God who invaded their world.
Amidst all the unanswered questions of our lives, there is one Big Answer. What we don’t know, He does. What we can’t control, He can. Wherever our future takes us, He is there already. It’s something BIG to celebrate in Advent. A cause for great joy—yes, Joy! Even in this Advent season of I-don’t-know.