“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” – C.S. Lewis
The things we leave behind…. This time of year always finds me in a reflective state of mind. A state of mind that has become nearly as traditional as all the traditions that bring on such erstwhile musings – the cherished Christmas tree ornaments, Christmas carols from my childhood, the art of writing Christmas letters, watching Rudolph on TV for the 47th year in a row, holiday baking, and wrapping presents “just so”. It’s hard not to be nostalgic for those rose-colored times of yore when life was simpler, laughter was more frequent, wonder took precedence over skepticism, and I was naive to the rushing, crushing ways of the world.
While yesterday may not have much to be desired for, yesteryear seems downright resplendent! You know, before the pandemic, before things fell apart, before illness, before betrayal, before saying yes, before saying no, before Mom and Dad died, before moving away, before graduating from college, high school, kindergarten… Before, before, before: insert your own “past-tensity” here.
When present times are difficult the past is a much more inviting place to reside – and with each passing day, the past becomes longer and more encompassing. In the comfort of the past, you have seen it all and you know how to make it through each day. You are, in fact, living proof of that certainty, you tell yourself.
The past few years I have lived in that foregone certainty. It really is an idyllic setting. Time and distance do wonders for the past. It’s amazing how good it looks and feels with age!
A time and place that didn’t know immense grief, betrayal, and most of all constant pain. A place where I had control of life – before things went haywire. Ironically, 5, 10, or 15 years from now I will probably be saying the same thing about today.
Last year as I was decorating my Christmas tree, I was in tears – longing for the one gift that could never be mine – the past. There was just too much wrong with the present and the future was too unknown to be hoped for.
The unhappy person is never present to themself because they always live in the past or the future. – Soren Kierkegaard, Danish poet, author, philosopher, and theologian.
Kierkegaard said that the more a man can forget, the greater the number of metamorphoses which his life can undergo; the more he can remember, the more divine his life becomes.
When you are in the thick of things it is sometimes easy to forget that you survived the very past you long for. Your past has prepared you for your present and your present is laying the foundation for tomorrow- whether you are aware of it or not. While our present can only be realized by surviving the past, our future depends on the now.
Indeed, in my Yuletide tears of yore – as recent as last Christmas – I could not have fathomed how different my life would be today. This realization struck me as I was hanging the last of my mother’s and now my heirloom lace snowflakes on my Christmas tree – my past melancholy had melted away. My present was my present!
Well actually, there are many gifts this year that steered me to my present – gifts that may not have been perceived as such at the time – like a deteriorated hip which led to a total hip replacement and a huge medical bill, not to mention the complete loss of “control” and independence that comes with recovery from major surgery.
I spent most of the summer recovering from surgery. I liken it to time spent in a cocoon. Sounds like a great time, right? Certainly not! Or so I thought. But in truth, the pause in daily life as usual I was forced to observe gave me life – not just my life back – but gave me life. Being forced to rest and “deal” with my life rather than running through it as my modus operandi had always been finally put me on a positive pathway. I have a whole new appreciation for who I am, and who I can be. I also learned to trust again – seeing that others wanted to and did come through for me – including the Health Care Sharing ministry I joined years ago but never “tested”. At some point in my life I lost the ability to trust others – having been used, hurt or betrayed one too many times. Trusting beyond the boundary of myself again opens so many doors to life.
I missed out on so much life because I was just trying to manage my physical and mental anguish in ways that were not helpful. Not everyone gets a second chance at life – this will be my third. They say the third time’s the charm. I’m not going to waste it!!
In the months since my metamorphosis, I have been revisiting past joys and embarking on new adventures. I haven’t had this much outright FUN in ages! I pondered all of this as I hung that last heirloom snowflake. I realized that I was happy – that I am happy in all its wonderful present tense-ness. Who I am is who I am.
That my life isn’t what it used to be or how I had once imagined it to be or what I think it should be, makes it no less worthy and no less worthy of joy! I am also no less worthy of rest, no less worthy of respect, no less worthy period. I am a survivor of life – a divinely inspired one – every bit as much as you are.
Theologian Henri Nouwen gave words to my moment of divinely inspired contentment, (emphasis mine):
“I know that, alone, I cannot see, hear or touch God in the world. But God in me, the living Christ in me, can see, hear and touch God in the world, and all that is Christ’s in me is fully my own. His simplicity, his purity, his innocence are my very own because they are truly given to me to be claimed as my most personal possessions… All that there is of love in me is a gift from Jesus, yet every gesture of love I am able to make will be recognized as uniquely mine. That’s the paradox of grace. The fullest gift of grace brings with it the fullest gift of freedom. There is nothing good in me that does not come from God, through Christ, but all the good in me is uniquely my own. The deeper my intimacy with Jesus, the more complete is my freedom.”
It is frightening to contemplate how much of our lives we cede to despair, pain, frustration, anger, sorrow, contempt, fear, control, etc., I could go on. If only we could always be mindful of God’s gift of grace in our life and leave those other things behind.
I am so grateful I was given the opportunity to dare to know myself again, to dare to live again, and to hope again – that we might all see, hear and touch God in this world, always.
“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.” – Soren Kierkegaard
Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas filled with all the joys and grace of this most wonderful life.
Let your light so shine!