One of the great sorrows which came to human beings when Adam and Eve left the Garden was the loss of memory, memory of all that God’s children are meant to be. ~~Madeleine L’Engle
Behind our home in the lush Pacific Northwest is a gulch with fir trees down in the draw along with maple and cypress. The bottom by the creek is virtually impenetrable with English ivy and pesky blackberry bushes. In the summer and fall the green foliage covers to the extent that you can’t see the forest floor, the creek, or the rotting rowboat that leans against the giant maple.
When autumn comes around and the trees start to lose their summer clothes, the ivy and vines begin to retreat to wherever they go in the winter. From my elevated back deck I can see deeper into the wooded bottom, almost to the creek that flows year round in the draw. The rowboat still isn’t visible because the bank is too steep and the angle isn’t right from the deck, but a few feet away I can see the faint outline of a metallic and skeletal structure.
Leaves fall like small kites landing gently on the ground revealing what’s left of a child’s ancient swing set. The wooded backyard was ruled by laughter and joy. Children once squealed with glee on that equipment, but no child has touched it in years, however the equipment stands tall and erect amongst the firs, ivy, and blackberry bushes. I suppose the metal will eventually rust away and the elements will leach into the loamy soil; maybe the relentless blackberry bushes will pull it down like prey to be devoured by moisture and oxidation into the brown leaves. For now the metal, paint, bolts, and nuts stand in defiance of the inevitable. But make no mistake, death and decay are overtaking the old joy-making machine.
As I stood on my deck with a cup of hot coffee in my hand looking at that partially obscured swing set dusted with a confection of snow, I thought it an apt parable of my soul. There are some harsh realities, always present in my character, and they are being revealed during the darker days of melancholy. I can see the scaffolding of accomplishment, upon which I depended for so many years to bring me joy and a sense of well-being, here symbolically revealed in all of its decrepit glory right before my eyes in that creek bottom. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of my youth.”
Wrapping the fleece closer to my sagging shoulders, I stare at the play set. In it I see meaning, deep meaning. Sociologists suggest that people have a difficult time describing or even identifying something that they don’t have the vocabulary for. Some even suggest that you can have a hard time experiencing something for which you have no corresponding word. The Greeks had a word for the feeling you have when you are happy: makarios. It is a feeling of contentment when you know your place in the world and are satisfied with that place. If your life has been fortunate, you should feel makarios.
Those tubes and chains of metal in the bottom of the gulch remind me of wasted years building my life on false sources of what I long for—joy unspeakable and full of glory. A scaffolding of career success, peer approval, solid reputation, and a sense of accomplishment. And yet they are all mere child’s play when viewed from elevated platform of middle life. They are illusory. They will not withstand the relentless ravages of time and the toxicity of sin.
We used to sing a song in the church I grew up in that makes much sense to me these days:
When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
I wonder if we would put our weight on something altogether different at an earlier age than the external structures this world prizes so highly if we might feel content with our place in the world. What if we stood firmly on the bedrock certainty that we are loved by our heavenly Father? Unshakably loved. If we began earlier in our pilgrimage to rest in that safe knowledge of unconditional acceptance founded on grace the structure hidden in the undergrowth of our soul might remain hidden, for joy is shy that way, but the day is coming when what is hidden will be revealed. If not in this life, in the life to come—eternity waits for no one. Often what is most shy and obscure about our souls is what matters most. Give a care upon that which you play in this life.
Soon enough we will skip and play in the company of the Joy-Giver in an eternal garden.
And laughter will once again rule the day.