These are the days.
This is a narrative of our time, isn’t it? Maybe it has something to do with our individualistic societies, or the millennial narrative. We seem intent to fix our gaze on the present, on living in the moment, on mindfulness. It is not that any of these narratives are implicitly wrong. But have we exchanged our sense of place in history and our focus on hope for a temporal and fleeting fixation of the moment? We give little thought to growing old well or modeling the wisdom of aging with grace. Even more, we spend very little time fostering a holy imagination for how we will spend the days after life on this earth. Our focus is here, right now.
The problem is, if your “right now” has been anything like mine, it is a bleak place to fix our gaze. Is it possible we need to lift our eyes a bit, and shift our focus from ourselves and our daily realities?
A couple of years ago, our family stayed for a month in a lovely old farmhouse. Lining the walls were photographs of family weddings from generations back. My children and I poured over those pictures, noticing the details of their serious expressions, the intricate dresses, the ways they were standing or seated. We asked our friend who owned the home about the photographs, about the people in them, the stories represented.
Recently, I walked down the hallway in my home with new eyes. On the right side, lovely black and white photographs that my brother took of our daughters line the wall. On the left, far down past the doors, we have two large frames with our extended families featured. While I framed and hung each of these photos in our hallway, this time I only noticed all that was lacking. Where were the photos of our parents’ and grandparents’ weddings? Where were the family photos from a generation ago? Where is the photo of my dear nephew that we lost last year? I wanted these faces on my walls too.
I distinctly recall walking through one of my aunt’s hallways; it was lined with photos in a mix match of frames, all shapes and sizes and colors. I studied those photos; some were current, but most were from years, and some many years, ago. I could not walk down that hallway without feeling a sense of history, a distinct recognition that there was a lot of life before me. As I think back on many older homes I’ve been inside, it seems previous generations have acknowledged and understood their places in history far better than our current one does.
The writer of Ecclesiastes has similar musings about time, and after beautifully reminding us that there are seasons for everything (Eccl. 3), writes this:
“[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
This moment, this present we find ourselves, filled with challenges and grief, with glories and joys – this time is a gift. And we are meant to enjoy it. But we are wise also to see that it is not all that we have. There is a reason for our dissatisfaction with these days, our constant warring against the concept of time. We were created for hope, created for more that this world can offer, even on the best of days.
C.S. Lewis, in a letter to a friend who thought she was dying, penned words quite different to that of our present day, “Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret? There are better things ahead than what we leave behind.”
Perhaps our generation has lost something of late. Perhaps we have mistakenly focused so intently on the present, on these days, right in front of us, that we miss our sense of place in time, our place in history, our small stories in the large tapestry of the redemption story, and most especially all that we have to come in eternity.
How do we proceed in this journey of life with a holy focus? Perhaps it looks like releasing any guilt or shame or regret we have that we cannot live to the full as we wish, and trusting God for the grace to live each day well. Perhaps it looks like accepting seasons we would otherwise wish quickly away. Perhaps it looks like refusing the lie that we should be fully satisfied in these days.
More than anything, I am learning, a holy focus looks like fixing our eyes on Christ for the strength of these days, and for our hope of heaven.
What helps you remember that there are “better things ahead”?