31 March, 2015

Morning Prayer: Placing a Bookmark

A few years ago I taught at a small Christian school where each day began with a brief devotional time called Morning Prayer.  Over the two weeks leading up to Easter I'm publishing posts derived from devotionals I shared or experiences I had during that year, all having to do with presence and absence, generosity and loss.

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“But all the fulfillments were somehow, it seemed to me, incomplete, temporary, HURRIED.  We wished to know, to savor, to sink in – into the heart of the experience – to possess it wholly.  But there was never enough time; something still eluded us.” 

Sheldon van Auken, A Severe Mercy

When I was a little girl my family had a very good friend named Margaret.  Margaret was from England.  I hadn’t really been anywhere other than small-town Maryland, so Margaret was the most exotic person I knew. She was FROM the country where so many of my favorite stories were set.  When she told us that she used to travel through Sherwood Forest to go visit her grandmother, I just about died from the romance of it all! 

Margaret didn’t have children of her own, but she loved the Heidel kids and she loved us well.  When it was time for my family to move to the Washington, DC area I remember how Margaret cried.  But even more deeply impressed on my memory is what she said as she cried; she talked about how wonderful it was that we’d see each other again in heaven. I’ve thought very often about Margaret and her longing for heaven.  I think it was about more than just being free from the pain of this world; it was perhaps also about finally getting back precious relationships that were cut short.  She constantly lived in remembrance that we are eternal, and her example showed me how that remembrance can help us through goodbyes.

Life brings many different kinds of partings.  Close friends from college fall out of touch and develop lives completely separate from mine.  Best friends and siblings move far away to places like Sweden.  Beloved relatives are taken by cancer.  The DC area in and of itself is simply very transient.  TIME just seems to get in the way of everything.  I've occasionally wondered if it was worth bothering to invest in other people – or let them invest in me – when I couldn’t even be sure how long they’d be around.  The unstoppable movement of time can dampen my pure, unadulterated enjoyment of friendships, causing me to cynically wonder when that friend will move away or this friendship will fall out…as though they are too good to last and because of Time I will never get to FULLY know and enjoy these people.

Somewhere deep in me, a voice rebels.  I rebel against my tendency to hopeless surrender because actually, it isn't natural to be so bound by time.  

We’re made for a life that is timeless, for being in endless relationship.  God is in eternity and has made each of us for eternity.  Time, this thing that orders our days and makes beginnings and ends, is obviously useful in many ways – but it distracts us from the truth about our relationships.  The truth is that a friendship with another person who is destined for heaven is a relationship totally free of an end point.  This heightens the joy in our friendships while we experience them and brings some comfort when we lose them.

I was very close with my aunt Dianne. A couple of years ago she died from a rare form of cancer.  She called me on the phone the night before she died – I think she must have known that she was near the end – and I remember her saying to me, very assertively, “I'm not saying goodbye; I'm saying see you later.”

One of the question marks I have to live with is not being entirely sure if she’s in heaven or not, but I’m hopeful that she is…and honestly, those words she spoke to me that night are one reason.  Maybe she had finally given her heart to God and realized that death wasn’t the end for her or for our relationship.  She’s just going to see me later, and that is so freeing.

Maybe this is all too gloomy for a sunny Tuesday morning!  But I mention these things because this Holy Week is all about a sacrificial parting between Father and Son that was not permanent and that resulted in life.  I’m mentioning these things because we all have to face partings at some point.  I hope this fact that we are not bound by time in the way that we think frees us to pour so much attention and energy into the friendships right in front of us right now – we can’t think about them as investments that might not pay off because we won’t be in each other’s lives forever and ever.  Guess what: If you both follow the Son who assumed exile for your sake, you WILL be in each others’ lives for eternity, so even if you only cross each others’ paths briefly on this side of heaven, let that interaction be full of care and zest! You are hikers whose paths overlap for a few miles; you encourage each other to keep going, maybe share water or Cliff bars, and give assurances that the next stretch won’t be too steep.  

But I hope that we are also freed to say goodbyes with confidence, knowing that when God’s people say goodbye to each other we’re really just placing a bookmark there; we’re putting a bookmark between the chapters of knowing each other, and we will pick it up again someday.  We have all the time in the world.

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