Another 2 months abroad – and the adventure begins tomorrow! Oddly enough, it still feels like I only just returned home to the United States. My family barely made it back from Vietnam this December to celebrate the new year. The weight of gravity doubled over the hazy miles back and, for a few days, the new year was no more important to us than the unpacked suitcases or week of unanswered emails and voice messages. We celebrated pleasurably in soft piles of pillows, dead to the world. Then, almost overnight, our schedule in Asia booked itself solidly through May and our schedule in the U.S. after that. It’s an exciting, eventful time of life. Isn’t time a funny, conflicted fellow? It’s difficult to know sometimes if he’s helping us along with all we want to accomplish in life or if he’s snapping at our heals like Peter Pan’s hungry, ticking crocodile.
Considering the fact that I said goodbye to all my friends yesterday and I’m saying farewell to the U.S. tomorrow, I realize that time is deeply precious when we’re happy, enjoying memories with the people we love. At other moments, however, it seems like a tragic curse separating us from all that used to make us smile or could make us smile again. We can always count on change (and I’m not referring to nickels and quarters).
There’s an old British cliche that says Time waits for no man, (as in “no one is powerful enough to control time”). Time does, however, have the potential to serve instead of abuse us, if we can remember the key to our mastery of it.
1 “There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
11 He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.”(Ecclesiastes 3)
This is an old poem and tough to interpret but the perspective has been priceless to me. If we can get the full impact of the wisdom encapsulated here, time will be a refreshing daily bath like the proverbial fountain of youth. When is it that we age the most? During heavy responsibility or crisis perhaps? Those are the best opportunities to seek time-proven wisdom, wouldn’t you say?
In recent history, the small nation of Haiti endured a devastating earthquake ranked 7.0 on the Richter Scale. Millions of dollars and expeditions continue to pour across the ocean into this little island disaster site and, over a year later, the landscape has barely improved. Ecclesiastes says “There’s a time for everything” but how is this beautiful? Is time whipping the Haitians or is there more going on down there?
CNN, Fox News, CBN, and NBC all reported different angles of the same amazing phenomenon in post-earthquake Haiti. According to Haitian Pastor Chavannes Jeunes in an interview with CBN, “The impact has been devastating, yet we see signs of hope springing up.” Herode Guilomettre, an influential Haitian businessman said, “There’s a kind of spiritual transformation unfolding. In the entire tent camps and shelters people are spontaneously worshipping God, they are singing, they are praying. And this has been happening almost every night since the earthquake.”
In my recent personal history, another kind of earthquake occurred. Brought on by one unlikely, negative friendship but followed by months of trials and questioning that increased in intensity; everything I’d been standing on emotionally and spiritually was mercilessly tossed and the sky could have just as easily been the ground to my weightless judgment. That experience is a reminder to me now of what my life could have been.
There isn’t one person in the world who doesn’t have an earthquake experience at some point in their life. It’s a hopeless, helpless feeling when we simply have one choice: what do I hold onto? Hold onto possessions and you’re thrown; an idea and you skid out of control; a habitual way of doing things or even another person and you’re cast violently down a never ending sinkhole, unable to ever right yourself. The description may sound overly sensational but the feelings are rarely less than traumatic.
We’re ultimately responsible for what we do in times of crisis – even if we’re just responding. Who you really are inside comes to the surface when everything goes wrong. For me, had I not begged God for wisdom, loved even when I was hurting, and had an all-out spiritual revival, I could have missed 6 trips through 13 different countries, influence and friendship with leaders in Vietnam, Malaysia, and China, thousands of decisions for Jesus Christ, and discipling a fantastic group of youth here at home. That’s a lot of future to lose over one bad decision… and not just my future was at stake. As Thomas Merton put it “No man is an island.”
The conclusion, then, is that crisis and pain (whether it be the pain of separation, emotional or physical distress, etc.) is inevitable. I met a man last week named Dave Roever who lost most of his face to a phosphorous grenade in the Vietnam War. He said, “Read what’s left of my lips; everyone gets hurt. It’s all about what you do with it.” For a Christian who accepts Jesus’ death and resurrection, death has no power. We live for something beyond it. If death has no sting, should disaster?
Even in hard times God’s plan is “to prosper” us not harm us, “to give [us] hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). The Fountain of Youth springs from that hope; use it to keep your perspective clean and everything will look brighter and better. Time, according to this verse and others, is just a puppy dog, not a pit bull. Our key to taming it (or rather to tame our perception of it) is an attitude of continual faithfulness and hope. Remember this and, like a child playing in the backyard, losing track of the hours, we can enjoy the moments we’re given today without feeling fearful of what’s coming tomorrow.