“No man ever steps in the same river twice,— Heraclitus of Ephesus
for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
Year by year, changes come.
And not merely in fashion, home decor, vehicle design, or celebrity culture.
The very common fact of change touches the most simple and central things about us. As the years (and decades) pass:
- children grow: the awkward preteen becomes a full-fledged man and your heart can hardly bear the pride and sorrow and delight of it.
- hobbies change: Early in motherhood, your skills and capacity expand. But then at some point, (at least for me this has been the case!) these contract. The hat you knitted or ornament you embroidered is so lovely, and you can neither remember how you made it, nor fathom how you had the time.
- finances ebb and flow: that which was once impossible now becomes a consideration, or that which was normal now feels out of reach.
- our bodies are not what they were: allergies, pregnancy, aches and ailments, new limitations, and diagnoses.
Even the strongest among us bend under the weight of it.
NOW, for those who have followed our zig-zags, you may say–
“Jess, you guys have had a very UNUSUALLY full-of-change journey of life!”
And that is true.
You might then internally accuse (as I have done to myself!)–
“Not everyone experiences as much change as you guys have– and much of y’all’s change has been self-chosen.“
And that also is true. We have moved many times. I’ve been pregnant twelve times and have given birth nine times. We have explored the world. We’ve inhabited many different types of careers.
You’d be justified to think I’ve got a grip on change.
But that’s not true.
The idea of change has been knocking me flat lately.
“Change is the law of life.”John F. Kennedy
Whether I embrace it, or not, it comes. When I hide from it, it comes anyhow. When I think I spot it from afar, it doesn’t come that way. It sneaks around a corner and pulls out the rug I’m standing on. When I try to prevent it, or hedge against it, nevertheless, here it comes.
And my instinct is very much like that of third graders in the Cold War era: to get down under the desk, duck my head, and cover my own neck. I keep trying to use my puny arms to try to STOP the nuclear attack of change that perpetually threatens to blow up my whole entire life.
THEY WARN US, BUT WE DON’T FULLY UNDERSTAND
Though older folks warn us of the changes that will come with aging, and heaviness of it all, we don’t really know it until we ourselves feel it.
It wasn’t that long ago, was it, that her feet fit into in the smallest toddler size of pink Converse? And now her Converse are bigger than mine? How can this be?!
I remember cutting Ethan’s towhead curls for the first time, as he watched Blues Clues in his high chair, and now I’m cutting his hair for the last time before boot camp?! How can this be possible?
How do mothers bear the losses? The fears? The hopes? The sorrows?
How are we to bear up under the weight of such very real and valid emotions?
HOW CAN WE BEAR IT?
- who give our hearts to these delightful, chubby, needy, suckling infants
- who devote ourselves to their schooling, their discipleship, their skills-development, their character formation
- who are moved to panic and sorrow and prayer and fear as we see their sins up close
- who will always always always love them no matter what
- who stay in this place over here while they go to that place over there to live out the things they were made for
How can “we” bear up under the weight of it?
Well on our own, the short answer is: we turn into a bucket of tears.
I mean, I have, just writing this.
Yes, even though I’m a mom of 9, I am not immune. I still feel this loss they’ve warned us about – and the “empty nest” emotions are hitting me square between the eyes. Today, specifically, I am bulldozed by this: the expected “ship off” date for my oldest to head to Marines boot camp is just one month away.
We have had our last haircut, last date, last vacation, and next week’s calendar plans include what will be the Last Christmas of our family looking like, well, our family.
Just writing these things brings out all of my brokenness and emotions. My face is soaked with tears.
Amidst all the changes of life, where can we deposit our hopes, and what should be the substance of those hopes?
THE TEMPTATION TO HOPE IN OUR CHILDREN
By this juncture of empty nest, hopefully, we mothers get to the point of realizing that we should not be hoping in our kids. However, I have seen a great many women who hope there, and I have watched as it came crashing down.
In the homeschooling circles I’ve travelled in, it can happen through:
- kids who live under pressure to “keep up appearances”
- kids who seem to do things right
- kids who make the choices their parents would have wanted
- kids who mature very quickly and don’t seem to go through a rough patch
And I do not want to act as if those things are always necessarily negative. They are not. If a child grows up and does not go through a crisis of faith, make a decision his/her parents dislike, or falter in their steps, I will not rain on that parade.
And yet, that scenario does seem to set the parent up for hoping in their parenting, or hoping in their children– hoping for XYZ result. In fact, those parents may need to work even harder not to unintentionally begin to place their hope in each subsequent child’s performance, or in their own ability to sanctify their children through their own parenting decisions.
Over the last few years, the Good Lord has seen fit– through a variety of means– to expose in my heart the shifting sand of hoping in my kids. Through observing the lives of others, through my kids and their decisions, through conversations we’ve had with our kids, and experiences we’ve had in life, and through showing me more of the weakness residing in me, God has shaken the grip of that hope from my heart… and I am very grateful.
I see the temptation of it, and praise God that, for now at least, I am not gripped by the temptation to place my hope in my kids.
THE TEMPTATION TO HOPE IN OUR SELVES
This will let down, or perhaps strike fear in the hearts of, women who are used to the rah-rah bootstrap-pulling messages that are often found in best-selling books targeted to Christian women, but here’s the other temptation I’ve turned away from:
I CAN NOT COUNT ON ME.
Girl, I can not just wash my face. Girl, I am not enough. Girl, I am, very often, (especially right now!) just a sad-sack bundle of emotions.
There are times in life when I have appeared “strong” and “impressive”– but these days, often, my mind is racing, my relationships are disappointing, my responses are ungodly, my anxieties are high, my consistency is non-existent, and my self-counsel is very weak.
Through a long “dark night of the soul,” God has taught me MUCH about my own weakness. The way I’m not very dependable. The way I say one thing, and then do another. The way I don’t even live up to my own ideals, much less anyone else’s.
Here’s what I’ve concluded:
if I hoped in me, good gravy, I’d have no hope at all!
God has– through a period of sorrows and afflictions– exposed the shifting sand of hoping in my self. He has shown me, unequivocally, that I am not a trustworthy safe deposit box for my own hope. He has taught me that if I deposit my hope in my self and my good choices and my awesome ways, that will all be lost because I am just a human– with all of the disappointing “jar of clay” weakness that implies.
AMIDST CHANGE, THERE IS ONLY ONE CONSTANT
I warn you in advance:
this is going to sound “churchy” — and lately, amidst the very raw emotions of life, I have grown wary of churchified answers. I dislike them:
- in part because of how often they are spoken as conversation-ending solutions,
- in part because of how often they are spoken by people who have not actually found comfort in whatever answer they are speaking,
- and in part because of how often they are used to silence uncomfortable questions that come from the real landslides of life in a fallen world.
Nevertheless, it’s the only place I can stand and so I’m going to press on to say it, even running the risk that it will sound too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly good:
There is a Great One named Jesus.
He stands in contrast to “we” humans, in many ways.
Here is the truth about Him that, today, brings me great comfort:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.Hebrews 13:8
Do you see why that would give me great hope today?
The same Jesus that:
- heard my prayers while I was a drug-using teen,
- provided for every need when we lived on the opposite side of the world,
- rescued us from a spiritual desert,
- was there at the foundation of the world,
- willingly set his face toward Jerusalem even though it would mean his own death on the cross
He’s gonna be the same:
- the moment my son disappears from my view into quarantine and military life under a Commander-in-Chief I didn’t vote for,
- when the details and circumstances of our lives are not what they are right now
- as each child careens into adulthood, making decisions that change my life
- when I look back at today’s strength, youth, and health, wishing I could have it back,
- and even:
- when the momentary stresses and strains of today are long forgotten in the shiny glory of eternity.
Jesus will be the same.
Though I — like the river in the quote at the top– have been and will be different in each of those circumstances,
Jesus will be the same.
Amidst change, and loss, and fear, and uncertainty, the beautiful sameness of Jesus Christ is the only place my hope can rest.
And it’s a GOOD place. A hopeful place.
Jesus really is GOOD, y’all.
Grace & Peace,
Jess Connell – December 2020