This morning I was filling out a registration form for something online. One of the questions hit me with a start: “Do you have any children under the age of 18 living in your household?” I had to check the box that said, “No.” I thought to myself, “When did that happen?”
It’s been a year-and-a-half now since either of our kids have permanently been living in our house. I, of course, knew that. But life moves so fast, things transition so quickly, and the calendar pages get torn off and thrown away almost without notice. Sometimes we are jarred into the reality of time moving on.
This time of year, more than any other, seems to do that to people. I think it’s because the holiday season is a time of year filled with tradition and traditions. When traditions are carried out year after year we begin to realize that time moves on. We look back to past years and realize that even our traditions just aren’t quite what they used to be. Some of the decorations seem a bit dated. We notice that there are people who were once part of our traditions that are no longer. Just like that we’re sharing our tradition and traditions with our adult children whom we once carried to our traditional events. When did that happen?
The hymn writer said, “Time, like an ever-rolling stream soon bears us all away.” Not exactly the joyful hymn lyrics you’d expect at this time of year. In fact, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” is usually a hymn used a little later on in the season, traditionally on New Year’s Eve. But the words are incredibly appropriate right now as they go on to remind us that our God has been a “help in ages past,” and will be “our hope for years to come.” More than that, He is “our guard while troubles last last and our eternal home.”
There’s something deeply joyful about that. Nothing ever stays the same. But that doesn’t mean that we have to live in the traditions of the past. What a joy it is now to no longer “have children under the age of 18 living in our home.”
Don’t get me wrong. I miss having our kids in the house, and I miss the joys (and challenges!) of raising children. But “no longer having children under the age of 18 living in our home” means that we get to watch the exciting things that come about when adult lives develop. It means that we have a deep relationship like no other relationship on earth — the relationship between a parent and a child — which brings the joy of middle-of-the-day phone calls, watching them strike out into the world on their own, sensing pride in their accomplishments, sharing theological and political conversations, and the anticipation of seeing one another face-to-face whenever that next time will be.
Time certainly is an “ever-rolling” stream. But there’s something deeply profound and wonderful about that. Things change. But “change” doesn’t always mean things are worse. Often “time” and “change” make things much, much better.
From the bottom of my heart I believe that time marches on toward one Great Day and one Great Purpose. As a Christian, I know that time will never cease. I know that though passing time sometimes makes me melancholy in this life, there will come a day when life (eternal!) will no longer move so quickly, things will no longer transition or deteriorate, and no one will pay any attention to calendar pages. At that time, “time” will be a non-factor, and that will bring me joy.
I, for one, can’t wait to be jarred into that reality…the reality that N.T. Wright calls “life after life after death.” That’s exactly why, at this time of year, through all of our tradition and traditions, we celebrate the new birth of a King who entered into human time so that time for us will never end.
When did that happen? It happened 2000 years ago, and it happens in our hearts and lives in this great season, and through all the changes, challenges, and chances of life. It happens by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
What are your thoughts on the transitionary nature of time?