Time flies when you're loving life!
- Ben Worley, age 8
One day when Ben was eight years old, he was playing upstairs and I was writing at my computer downstairs. The whole afternoon went by, until it was almost dark, and no one had turned on any lights. Ben came downstairs. "It's already night!" he said, and I agreed.
"Time flies when you're loving life!" he laughed, and ran back upstairs.
Yes, it does.
This month Ben Worley moved out. He was my last boy. At 21, it was time for him to move out. We let him stay until now, supporting a starving musician while he got his feet under him.
It's absolutely right that he moved out. And it's not like he moved to South Africa. Matt did that, back in October. I've experienced two Joys/Terrors in a short few months. One, two: Pow. And she's out.
I find myself knocked out by God's goodness as displayed in the amazing men who are my sons now—but also doubled over with grief, because there are no more little boys in the playroom and the back yard anymore.
I was never a clingy mom. Please. I had my boys enrolled in Mothers' Day Out before they were even born. I danced in the driveway the day Ben Worley got on the bus for kindergarten.
Still, there was really only one thing I wanted to do with my life: get married and have kids. Everything else I have achieved in life has been, like gravy: on the side. There has always been a little part of me that has been greedy for the goodness that has come especially through my family. Like the last day of vacation, when you are watching the sun set on the beach and wishing it would just last a little longer, because it will never be like this again. When you come back, if you come back, they will never be this age. It will never be like this.
Why do we think God is going to run out of good?
These are anxious and fearful times, both of which breed scarcity. We're afraid to lose what we love the most, and we hate that there are no guarantees. There is one guarantee: If we're not practicing gratitude and allowing ourselves to know joy, we are missing out on the two things that will actually sustain us during the inevitable hard times.
-Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
Keeping a gratitude journal is a really good practice. I keep what is kind of a spin on a gratitude journal. It's more like a Joy/Terror journal. On one side of the journal, I started making a list of the circumstances in my life (and the lives of people I love) and my feelings about them. This is happening, and I feel this about it. Flip the journal over and upside down, and I keep a different list there. I list all the good, all the gifts, all the grace, all the joys, all the daily evidence of God for which I am so grateful. One journal: two sides of the same picture. I'm working my way toward the middle, and my goal is that the Joy list will be much thicker and longer than the Terrors list.
The children of Israel could've used a journal like this, as they stood on the edge of the Promised Land and decided whether to go in or not.
You'd think a bunch of people who'd seen God work for them in ways like the plagues that delivered them out of Egypt, who'd actually walked through the Red Sea, been fed manna every day in the wilderness and seen water and quail appear from out of nowhere—people who actually had a pillar of fire living in the middle of their camp—would have a long enough list of Joys, so that the Terrors rumored over the border wouldn't faze them.
Caleb, one of the spies, said, “Let’s go up and take the land—now. We can do it.”
But the others said, “We can’t attack those people; they’re way stronger than we are.” They spread scary rumors among the People of Israel.
They said, “We scouted out the land from one end to the other—it’s a land that swallows people whole. The people are giants. Alongside them we felt like grasshoppers. And that's how they looked at us.”
- Numbers 13:30-33
The whole community was in an uproar, wailing all night long.
All the people complained. “Why didn’t we die in Egypt? Or in this wilderness?
Why has God brought us to this country to die—to have our children stolen?
Why don’t we just head back to Egypt? And right now!”
- Numbers 14:1-3
They flipped to the wrong side of the journal. They just reviewed the list of Terrors and forgot the list of Joys.
They forgot what he had done—
marvels he’d done right before their eyes.
- Psalm 78:11
For 40 years I was disgusted with that generation;
I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray;
they do not know My ways.”
- Psalm 95:10
The story of the children of Israel wandering in the desert for 40 years is a true story, but it is also a powerful word picture. When we forget who God is and what he has done, we do not recognize his ways. He can be raining down quail and manna all around us and we can't see it, because we don't recognize him. We aren't aligned with him; we're lined up under a column of Terrors.
This is the weapon of Satan: to get us to forget. And this is the weapon of worship: to help us remember.
When we forget, we think God has run out of goodness. When we worship, we remember that he can't.
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
- Lamentations 3:19-23
Lamentations, which is journal of Terrors, also gives us this great truth. In church, we sing it like this:
We will remember.
We will remember.
We will remember the works of Your hands.
And we will stop and give You praise,
for great is Your faithfulness.
- Tommy Walker, We Will Remember
Why didn't the Israelites take the Promised Land? Why did they wander in the wilderness for 40 years? They didn't believe. (Hebrews 3:19) They didn't believe God had any good left.
The writer of Hebrews says, "Let's be careful this doesn't happen to us." Because it can. That's why I show up at choir rehearsal every Wednesday night and put my robe on every Sunday morning. It's why I tell Bible stories and teach people to tell them. It's why I get up every morning and read the Psalms. And many days, I don't feel like it. And that's especially when I need to remember. And make a list of Joys.
When this house feels empty and the giants of Loneliness and Midlife threaten to swallow me whole, I need to remember that all the goodness God has for me hasn't finished happening here yet. It is new every morning.
We must remember in order to go forward.
Here's the story of what happened when the Israelites forgot.
Let's not let it happen to us.
Who will you tell this story to?