There are few sights more beautiful than an April face, in which laughter and tears mingle. Pure, tremulous joy following on the heels of despair—seeing that is such sweetness. It happened a lot when my kids were small. They’d come to me with some calamity—a rip in the seam of a favorite dress, a dismembered toy—cradling the broken thing in their hands, weeping and appalled, without hope but instinctively turning to me in their grief. And often what seemed irreparable to them was something I could easily set right with glue, needle and thread, or practical knowledge. “Look, honey, that head’ll just pop right back on again. See? Good as new.” “I know it looks like a horrible stain in your gauzy costume skirt, but the fabric’s so thin it’ll rinse right out.” And just like that, all was well. My kid was ecstatic, and I looked like a genius. I liked that. I liked it a lot.
Besides mending the broken, I was also in the business of retrieving the lost. Many a mile have I driven back to various locales to search for stuffed animals and action figures that were left behind. Gwendolyn, Emilie’s furry little jointed stuffed biped of indeterminate species, was lost and found many times. So was Brownie Bear. With what anxious tension did we scan the area where the lost thing had last been seen, and how great was our rejoicing when it was recovered!
But it didn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, try though we might, we couldn’t get the lost things back. It was like they’d just vanished into a void, which was maddening because I knew they really hadn’t. They were out there, somewhere; I just couldn’t get to them. I am haunted by losses—Daniel’s beloved collection of model dinosaurs, a stuffed dinosaur of Anna’s, Emilie’s first rag doll that I made her for Christmas when she was three.
Do I take these things too seriously? I don’t think so. We’re not purely spiritual beings; we have to do with matter and space and time. God made us that way. And when a child becomes attached to an object, investing it with a history and a personality, he gives it an imputed value that exceeds its intrinsic value. The loss of a favorite toy foreshadows future losses of health, opportunity, innocence, and life.
Children grow older, and their problems get more complex. They stop toting stuffed animals around with them, but they don’t stop breaking and losing things, both tangible and intangible. And you can’t always fix that. Sometimes it’s not desirable to rescue them from the consequences of their mistakes; sometimes it’s not even possible. Some things, once lost, are lost indeed and can never be recovered. Some things, once broken, can never be made whole. You want to—God, you want to. You would give your life blood to make things right. But almighty as parents appear in the eyes of small children, we have our limits. Much as I wish I could, I can’t be that genius with the glue gun all the time. Truth be told, I haven’t been that person in years.
Many of my friends, like myself, are the parents of grown and nearly-grown children raised in an atmosphere of love and reverence for God and his Word. Sometimes I look around at all of us and wonder, do we even know what we’re doing? I think in many cases we’re making it up as we go, responding to situations we could never have foreseen when our children were small, praying desperately for wisdom. I say this as one who so far has been spared a lot of heartbreak. And I say it with fear and trembling, because the past is no guarantee of the future. You can’t confer some special immunity on your kid, and you can’t assume that because you’ve escaped major trouble so far, you’re all clear. You never reach a point of being all clear from earthly calamity until death takes you.
But there is hope. More than I ever was as the mother of small children, God is in the business of finding and mending things. I don’t say this in resignation, like those who sigh and say, “Ah well, it’s in God’s hands now. All we can do is pray.” God is the beginning of hope, not the end of it. He’s the one who formed the human body and breathed life into it in the first place, the only one who knows how it’s truly supposed to function in a state free from death and decay. Corruption of mind and body was never part of our original design. It doesn’t belong; it’s an alien parasitic thing whose presence grieves God even more than it does us. And he can defeat it. Those who have fled to him for the cleansing of his blood have access to the full power of his redemptive work. His desire is to restore all, and he can do it. I’ve seen him do it for people I would have given up on and discarded. His restoration defies all human understanding of how the world operates. It’s as if entropy starts working backwards. The new life he promises us isn’t some sorry halfhearted thing limping its way along, crippled by history and habit. New life pushes through in audacious vigor, refusing to be smothered by past failures, seeking light and air and open spaces, growing and blossoming and reproducing. The past is crowded out; there is no room for it.
Of course we shouldn’t forget the grief and failures of the past or what they’ve taught us. There is most certainly a place for genuine fear in the heart of a Christian—fear of real consequences to sin, set up by a just and holy God. But our lives should be characterized by bold joy because of the enormous scope of his mercy and grace and the power of the new life in us. We should have both together, and wear an April face as we walk with him.