For Those Who Wish Their Lives Away: God’s Presence in Our Absentmindedness

“It Goes So Fast. … Oh, Earth, You’re Too Wonderful For Anybody To Realize You.”

Sam Bush / 1.17.20

Oh. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. Good-by to clocks ticking … and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses, and hot baths … and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.

– Emily Webb from Our Town

These days — I am in my first year of seminary with a two-year-old at home and a baby on the way — it is hard to stay in the present. It is hard not to look forward to graduating. It is hard not to be living for after the diaper change but, rather, to be in the diaper change, to embrace the diaper change as my true calling, my raison d’être. My wife and I are constantly reminding ourselves not to wish our lives away, not to look forward to that point when this wacky chapter is over. Catherine Newman, in her hilarious memoir as a mother of young kids, Waiting for Birdy, writes, “Sometimes, when I go to put the kids to bed, I breathe a sigh of relief after they fall asleep, like ‘Thank God that’s over with!’ I mean, what exactly am I looking forward to? Death?” 

You don’t need to be a parent of young children to relate. Perhaps you are a teenager longing for independence or a grad-student aspiring for your career to begin. Perhaps you are single and yearning for a spouse or perhaps you are older and, indeed, looking forward to the day when your worries and your arthritis will no longer afflict you. In truth, many of us prefer our future lives rather than the life that is actually with us. How could we not? To live in the present, as Chesterton once said, is like sitting on a pin — “It is too minute, it is too slight a support, it is too uncomfortable a posture” to live moment to moment. Many parents of young children find a great deal of hope in trusting that “this too shall pass.” 

So — back to Catherine Newman’s question — the answer is sometimes, “Yes, at least a part of me is looking forward to death.” As a Christian, there is deep comfort in looking ahead to the day when death (not to mention diaper changes) will be no more. In a world that is passing away, there is hope in knowing that something is eternal. And yet, by God’s grace, it is possible to enjoy life in the here and now. Of all people, my two-year-old — the very one whose dirty diaper I complain so much about — might be the one person who is helping to show me just how beautiful the world actually is.

Not only does my two-year-old only speak in the present tense (“Daddy, I fall!”), but the present is his only reality. He doesn’t feel nostalgic about his golden infancy days, nor is he plagued by past regrets. He’s not worried about his college fund or aspiring to make something of himself. He’s simply interested in what is right in front of him: a train thundering by, his favorite book, a cat wanting to be petted. He is so fixated on the task at hand that it’s often deeply upsetting for him to be drawn away. I think this is what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” At times, against my will, but by the grace of God, my boy is oh-so-slowly teaching me to linger, to realize the goodness of God’s creation.

I’d like to end there, but the truth is that I am not a changed man. I still check my phone when my two-year-old is not looking. I do not, as James says, “consider it pure joy whenever I face trials of many kinds.” Thankfully, my hope is not founded on changing, but in the One who has changed everything. For there was once a man who chose not to wish his life away, but gave his life as a ransom for many. When I do fail to be present, I can trust that God is present with me, intently focused on me, his child in whom, through Christ, he is somehow well pleased. As Paul writes, “For now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.” My hope, therefore, is not only in one day knowing, but in being known today.