Monday, March 3, 2014

Childhood, intimacy, and Heaven's fulfillment

 (I want to post a caveat up front - this is a post I very much wanted to write, but I also feel like I should say that I'm very much aware that I'm still in a time of seed sowing and not anywhere close to the full harvest. I'm still learning and really don't have much business teaching - especially not veteran moms or older women who might be reading this. These are my thoughts from this point in my journey as a new mom trying to look ahead to the future.)

I've got my little buddy asleep on my lap and both hands free for the moment, so I thought I'd try to get some more thoughts out in writing.

Even though I haven't seen the two more recent Toy Story movies, what I've heard about them really made me think and question some of our attitudes about childhood and life in general. I'll be honest and say that after hearing about the third movie I wanted to pull a Jesus Juke (where you take all the fun out of life by posing some super-spiritual hypothetical question) and rant about people all over the country getting so worked up about the loss of childhood when we're losing thousands of children daily to abortion. There's a loss of childhood right there that should have you staggering around holding your head wondering why a fictional character going off to college is suddenly a Big Deal. As much as I'd love to confront some Hollywood types on their raging hypocrisy that really isn't what I want to write about today - being pretty sure that there aren't any Hollywood types reading this anyway. Also, it's a pretty simple issue. Stop worshiping your own convenience and start loving and cherishing "the least of these."

Digression aside, as a Christian and a new mom, what really caught my imagination is the way we in the American Church seem to have bought into this idea of childhood as some magical time we'll never recover and that must be savored daily and mourned as lost upon graduating high school. On the surface it's not such a bad idea. We live in a busy modern world where it's easy to get wrapped up in work and friendships and our pinterest craft boards and all the mindless entertainment available to us 24/7, and sometimes we need a reminder to really look at the baby sleeping in our laps because there will come a day we realize that our children haven't climbed into out laps to be held for how long now? Was it last week or eight months ago? And that feeling of nostalgia and loss is exactly what I want to write about. 

This is going to fee like a tangent, but bear with me. I've heard plenty of people speculate about how there presumably won't be sex in Heaven. If there's no marriage and no children being born then it makes sense that sex would be off the table. Naturally this disturbs lots of single Christians who are staring down a long road of celibacy. However, if our marriages are supposed to be pictures of something that will be fully realized in Heaven, then it doesn't really matter that there won't be sex in Heaven because God will have something so much greater planned for us. How does this play into our view of childhood? Well, sex is a form of intimacy - so is pregnancy and nursing and rocking your baby to sleep. These are all intimate acts of nurturing which exist in a mom's life for a short period of time and then pass away as our children grow. Just as sex must have its fulfillment in Heaven, I believe that the intimate bond created by serving our children will have a similar fulfillment. God says He will try our works by fire so that only that which is pure will remain. That means God will preserve whatever is Christlike in my relationship with Jacob and transform it by His grace into something more wonderful than I could imagine. Personally I think it's entirely possibly that God has broken up our intimacy with each other into little bites so that we immature mortals have a chance of seeing and understanding what it means to give ourselves to each other, but that in Heaven all the scraps will be assembled so that we're able to experience greater unity with each other than we could possibly imagine on this earth. Imagine, if you can, a world in which the unity of husband and wife, the tenderness of a mother with her child, the comfortable joy of old friends swapping stories over nutella crepes, and the satisfaction of brothers working on a shared vision were all rolled into one all-encompassing experience bonding all of resurrected humanity together with each other and their Lord. Is it possible? Given that the New Testaments points to our earthly experiences as dim shadows and reflections of the glory to be revealed, I think it is.

I believe this idea of our mortal experiences being redeemed and glorified has certain ramifications for how we as Christians view childhood. Instead of all the good things of childhood merely being fleeting moments snatched from the onslaught of time, I think we should imagine these funny, tender little moments as being foretastes of something beautiful about God's nature that we'll get to experience in all it's fullness once we see Him in Heaven. This has led me to a sort of lazy "seize the day" attitude. Let me explain. All these little glimmers of glory are gifts from God and point to His character and should be received with open hands of gratitude. However, I think that all too often we look at God's blessings and then treat Him like a miser. We take in armfuls of blessings and hoard them and count them up like the dragon Smaug sitting on his pile of gold and fearing that we'll miss a single one. Yet God has told us again and again that He delights in His children and delights to bless us. Count up all the blessings that occurred just to get your bowl of oatmeal on the table. You can't do it. If you tried to count up all the individual blessings that happened in the past year for you to have oatmeal today you'd be sitting there all day and longer. We are surrounded by that many blessings. So why be clutch-fisted about it? Don't let people telling you to seize the day and cherish the moments make you desperate. There will be enough days and will be enough moments. How can I say this? "My grace is sufficient for thee." One thing I've learned about motherhood is that the moments always seem too few, and yet God will make them enough for my mother-heart. I don't have to grasp. God is giving these times to me, and I believe once I get to Heaven He will have everything good and pure and lovely about those days waiting for me in some form. Even as my son grows up and away from needing my constant care we grow towards a time when God will reveal the eternal ramifications of that work. This is a God who wastes rainbows and sunrises on squirrels and whales. I think He has enough good things stored up for me - although in this life or the next there have been times I couldn't tell.

Movies like the last Toy Story (or so I gather from the hoopla that went around) seem to present a warped view of childhood and maturity. It's like we create some sort of fetish around children in order to distract us from the virulent child hatred that is prevalent through so much of our culture. I would speculate that when we say to the unborn "nobody wants you" that creates a pressure to idolize the stages of life for those who are born as a sort of atonement. "You, my precious genetic image, are wanted with a desire that will lead me pour money down on your head as a way to convince myself and the world that by wanting you enough I have made you human and worthy of life." It's as if by doting on the children we do allow to be born we can make up for the ones we throw away because they're inconvenient for us. They've built these constructs around children and parenting that I think the American church has bought into without much examination. No matter how many times we talk about Jesus calling the children and telling us to come to him with childlike faith we can't escape the fact that the Bible calls us to maturity. We are called to grow and to grow old in wisdom and love and service. Children teach us so many things about ourselves. I'll always cherish my memories of when Jacob fell asleep at my breast and ducked he head against my shoulder and blew bubbles on the changing table, but my job is raise up a mature man. Him putting away milk and eating meat will be an achievement. This is a good thing. Being an adult is a good thing. It is also a sad thing. Jacob wasn't a week old before I was thinking about the day he'd move away and leave us to begin his own adventures in the world, and it was such a sobering, heartbreaking realization that this tiny infant cuddled in my arms would rapidly become someone I may only see on holidays. That's why I went through all that speculation above about Heaven. God will redeem our works. What is like Him will remain. What reflects His character and brings His people everlasting joy will remain. We are growing into something so much better than we could possibly imagine. It's a cliche, but it's there in the Bible. That means there is something in Heaven better than little boys playing space robots or climbing in your lap for a hug. There's something more precious than little newborn baby breath on your cheek. So instead of looking at these popular images about childhood our culture has constructed and despairing I think we should be looking ahead to the time when God will pull back the curtains and show us the greater joy which all our little joys pointed to if we could have only known.

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