Wednesday, December 22, 2010
"I salute you. There is nothing I can give you which you have not; but there is much that, while I cannot give you, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today:
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in the present:
The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach is joy:
And so at this Christmas time I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away."
~ Fra Giovanni Giocondo (1435?-1515), Italian Franciscan friar and scholar
How horrible to lose things! I’ve always fretted over any lost thing – even a scrap of paper, or a dollar, even if the thing itself is worthless or insignificant. It’s not the value that worries me; it’s the fact that things can get lost.
Because we’re not meant to lose things. To have something, or someone, near to you, and then have it, or him, stripped away – permanently stripped – is an evil thing. It’s a death. Once when I worked as a book-shelving supervisor in a library, I was told that a book misshelved was the same as a book lost. No one could ever find it. If something is lost, it is dead to us.
When I read of parents whose child has been kidnapped, and is gone for months or years, my heart aches and sorrows for them. Is there any worse loss? What about the death of a child? Would it be better to know the child is dead, and at least laid peacefully in earth, rather than to worry every hour if he’s suffering horrible pain? Hungry? Cold? Afraid?
Often on facebook, parents will note the anniversary of a child’s death. These are friends of mine. They usually express grief, longing, loss – but also some degree of trust and hope. I know they feel the gaping hole in their lives, the emptiness of years they expected to have with that child.
No one wants to sooth those wounds with platitudes. I usually remain silent. I’ve never lost a child. But I long to say – I long to say – that the child is not lost, not gone. You can know exactly where he is. You can be absolutely certain he is happy, care-for, loved. You can be sure that you will be with him again, and frankly it’s not many years away. I’ve never lost a child, but wouldn’t all those certainties remove a lot of the sense of losing someone?
Fra Giovanni’s letter (above) expresses that the joys of heaven and the joys of this earth are intricately connected. The soul-rest of heaven, its peace and joy, are all accessible to us here. We must take them, must grasp them, must believe they are ours. The child who LIVES, right now, with Jesus, is just as much alive as he was when he was here. He is no less himself. He remembers you. And if you had a child living in the middle of Siberia, whom you could never see again in this life because of distance or expense, the child in heaven is no more dead than he is. He is just somewhere else.
But I hesitate to say this. I don’t want it to sound cruel. Is it a platitude? I don’t know.
George MacDonald wrote a dear poem called “The Girl Who Lost Things,” in which he shows that all lost items are eventually reclaimed in heaven. And what is lovely about it is that he makes no huge divide between the losings of this life and the reclaimings of the next. When the girl died (or as MacDonald says, “lost the world, in a black and stormy wind) “she lost her losses, her aching and her weeping, her pains and griefs and crosses, and all things not worth keeping.” Some things that we'll lose at death are very good to lose.
And what did she find there? All the things of value that she’d lost on this fallen, sin-riddled planet. Those that we ache for, long for – would we bring them back here, only for our own heart’s ease? Would we return them from heaven to a place where so much evil needs to be lost, forever?
MacDonald’s advice to the girl? “Be patient till tomorrow; and mind you don’t beweep things that are not worth such sorrow; for the Father great of fathers, of mothers, girls, and boys, in his arms his children gathers, and sees to all their toys.”
God ensures that His children are not lost. That is the whole point of heaven, of the cross. When we mourn our loved ones as if they no longer exist, as if we cannot trust them in God’s hands, we misunderstand their state, and we misunderstand eternity.
If you have a loved one in heaven, be at peace this Christmas. They are found. The God who was willing for His own Son to be murdered in order to be reunited with His children, will not neglect to bring you together again, as soon as the time is perfect for it.