I’m not sure why “This is Us” even found its way into my life as a show to watch, but however it did, I’m often amazed by its power to speak to me at so many levels. Aside from being well crafted, the show has lots of freaky parallels to my own story, enough to make me feel, at times, like I’m watching a movie of some sections of my life:
The show has an adopted child in the family – I’m an adopted child in my family.
The sister among the siblings struggles with weight – my sister struggled with her weight.
The dad in the story dies during the adopted son’s senior year in high school – my dad died my senior year in high school.
The death of the dad overwhelms the mom. The death of my dad overwhelmed my mom.
It just goes on and on, so that in last night’s episode, when the son who got accepted to an exclusive college called and said he was going to delay for year to stay at home and care for his mom, I felt every ounce of his pain because I also delayed my entry into an exclusive college to stay home and care for my mom for a year, a year that turned out to be one of the hardest of my life. These episodes have had me reliving family history stuff related to weight, performance, how we dealt with conflict, sibling dynamics, marriage dynamics, parenting styles, adoption, and so much more.
Here’s the point though, for now: Life, Art, and Revelation are, at their best, woven together in a cord, so tightly that it’s difficult to pull them apart, separating the one from the other, so that deep transformation or understanding can arise from short periods of intense revelation. This happened in the past 24 hours with respect to the subject of time.
Life: I’m driving east on I-90 after an intense period of work in the city: big meetings; small meetings; one on one meetings; board meetings. I’m tired yes, but quickly brought to awe and worship as I see the maples and cottonwoods changing color, and leaves falling in the wind. Every autumn is a reminder of both the gift and brevity of life for me. Something about the trees losing their leaves shakes me awake, and I ask God, at least annually, at least in the fall, to empower me to live wisely, and well because I’m mindful that life is short. An autumn will happen, someday, when I won’t be here to see it. That’s why my hope is to keep my daily priorities more or less aligned with my mission statement. I don’t want to get to the end of the game and realize that I’ve lived just to survive rather than serve, to consume rather than create, to gain rather than give. “…teach us to number our days…” said the Psalmist, and yesterday the annual reminder of that prayer was in full color on the trees and in the air.
Art: That episode last night ended with the mom owning up, for the first time, to her passivity regarding her daughter’s struggles with weight – owned up to the fact that her husband’s death, and particularly the circumstances surrounding it, left her empty, with no love to give her children. The daughter owned some stuff too, in a real conversation that came about 25 years later than it needed to because we think that “time heals all wounds” for some stupid reason.
Right there, in the midst of that conversation, the producer embedded a profound Damien Rice song called “Older Chests” which poetically exposes how we speak out of both sides of our mouths regarding time. On the one hand: “I’ll be fine. I just need time” and on the other, “Everything’s falling apart as time marches on”. He exposes the folly that time heals anything at all. Yes, time is needed, but only time plus the hard work of forgiveness, or confession, or a next step of service or generosity, or a reconciliation of a relationship, or a naming of your addiction and getting help, or a step of brutal honesty — only those things heal. Time, without the intervention of our next steps, just leads to decay, and ‘presenting problems’ and unchecked addictions that are either visible or hidden.
Revelation: Then next, I read my devotions this morning, and came to this: The conventional explanation regarding suffering is that God sends us the burden because God knows that we are strong enough to handle it, but this is all wrong. Living in a fallen world sends us the problem, not God. When we try to deal with it, we find out that we are not strong. We are weak; we get tired, we get angry, overwhelmed. . . . But when we reach the limits of our own strength and courage, something unexpected happens. We find reinforcement coming from a source outside of ourselves. And in the knowledge that we are not alone, that God is on our side, we manage to go on. (My paraphrase of a good word from Richard Rohr this morning.)
So there you have it. A theme just keeps coming up over and over again with incredible intensity for 24 hours: “You’re getting older Richard, and your years of enjoying autumn leaves are numbered. Use your time wisely!” Next up: “Time heals nothing Richard, and that show which mirrors your life so closely exposes the steps you need to take toward community in certain relationships because time doesn’t create community – calls, and supper, and conversations, and hikes, and laughter and truth telling – these create community in time. And finally, “There are times of suffering, but these times can be only be redeemed, not by passively riding the waves of more time, but by actively taking steps that move us to whatever we need to move toward, be it forgiveness, gratitude, dependency, truth telling, or whatever.
Time heals nothing. And I know it better today than yesterday at this time because God speaks through falling leaves, TV shows, and text… thanks be to God.