How (Good) Endings Shake Me (But Not Greatly)

How are you doing?  Jean asked, care in her voice as we met at the door.

Be real, my heart urged. But not too, my mind replied. This is not the time.

Shaken, I said in compromise. But not greatly. Not greatly shaken.

I didn’t mention the bit about how I’d broken down, teary-eyed with Son #1’s teacher- not once but twice- on the morning of his last day of school. Of school at our school.

Short, Precarious, Temporary

And thinking back to those last-day of school tears I remember something that C.S. Lewis wrote. In The World’s Last Night he wrote about how we should never give our hearts to anything that will end when this life ends. That we should always remember how life is short and then comes the End.

What is important is not that we should always fear (or hope) about the End but that we should always remember, always take it into account. An analogy may help here. A man of seventy need not be always feeling (much less talking) about his approaching death: but a wise man of seventy should always take it into account. He would be foolish to embark on schemes which presuppose twenty more years of life: he would be criminally foolish not to make- indeed, not to have made long since- his will…We all believe, I suppose, that a man should ‘sit loose’ to his own individual life, should remember how short, precarious, temporary, and provisional a thing it is; should never give all his heart to anything which will end when his life ends. What modern Christians find it harder to remember is that the whole life of humanity in this world is also precarious, temporary, provisional.

But I do find it hard to remember. Especially when times are good.

And the last three years have been good.

A Sweet Season

Friday was the boys’ last day of school and it marked the end of a good, three-year season. But school’s out for summer and things will never be the same again

For the last three years, sons were blessed to have the same classroom with the same teacher-Ms. Thomas for #1 and Mrs. Steinhoff for #2. Their teachers might not use that word- blessed. But I do.

Because both boys, when asked to describe their teachers blurted out the same word first: PATIENT. Very patient, one honest son tagged on. Their patience with our sons- two students with very pale noses, not remotely likely to become any teacher’s pet- was a big part of what made the last three years so sweet.

Another piece of the sweetness was that they were physically so close. Son #1 was in the building where I work. That had its perks. I could be that fly on the wall.

For the last three years, I could sneak peaks of #1 playing 4-Square just beneath my schoolroom window (Was he king of the court today?) and at lunch with his friends (He did eat his carrots- but- WHAT?- he traded his cookie for Hi-C?)  It was a sweet season, three years of plenty when he went to school with me.

Yes. There were lot of emotions co-mingled in my mother’s tears with Ms. Thomas at the copy machine yesterday.

And they gave my achey-breaky, and shaking heart away.

Can’t Stop The Clock

My tears unveiled a tell-tale heart that would stop the clock here if it could. I felt this way off and on through the years. Like when they were two and four and life felt so stable and safe, snuggled in our little nest. I wished that time would stand still.

But it didn’t then. And it won’t now. And that’s okay. Because God wants to shake my heart free from seeking security in what will be shaken.

My tears- for goodness’ sake on the last day of school- betrayed a heart too attached to precarious, temporary things. To good, but temporary things, like this life season and good teachers and coming to school with me.

Whether it’s an interruption of my timeor an ending of a sweet time– it’s how I treat the passing of time that unveils the idols in my heart. Which is why a little shaking now, before the Big One comes, is a good thing. 

Inordinate Grief

Because all created things- and time is a created thing- when made into primary goods become little ‘g’ gods. My last-day of school grief was inordinate. I was trying to grasp a fading thing- a special time. It revealed a heart too attached to something that cannot, was not intended by God, to last.

I call that out in these sons all the time. How their extreme reaction to the removing of a small things shows they valued it a little too much. That the thing might be an idol. Like when #2 breaks down when he can’t have his ice cream or #1 when his iPad time won’t come. Inordinate grief, I sigh.

Inordinate grief betrays false gods and misplaced loves. When I broke down not once but twice with #1’s patient teacher in the copy room on the last day of school, I see how a sweet gift of time had become a god.

Sweet, Fleeting Pleasures

And all created things will be shaken. Even sweet created things. All things- even time.

Except one thing. One thing remains. Hebrews 12: 26-27 says, [B]ut now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth  but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken- that is things that have been made- in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.

I love how Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains this,

Man in his unutterable folly tries to find stability in things that not only can be shaken, but in things that can and will be shaken. Man has always been seeking stability and durability in created things… And even time is a created thing.

But there is a day coming when God will shake not only the earth, but the heavens also. The Bible gives us the explanation as to why this is the case. It is this: It is God who does the shaking. He never meant these things to be permanent…God will not allow man to have stability apart from Himself.

But still I try. I try to find stability apart from Him.

It’s how I drive in big city traffic- I hold the wheel so tight my knuckles get white. My soul-fingers grip so tight they get white around my life’s steering wheel. And who’s really got the wheel, anyway?

I need God’s grace to see that unseen, unshakable Kingdom. Only then can I sit loose to my earthly hopes and sweet dreams. To distinguished sons and published me. Even to earthly stability and security. Because all of that will be shaken.

And things that are shaken are taken away. That is, things that have been made- in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.

It’s God’s time-marching-on, can’t-stop-the-clock mercy that shakes my heart free.

A Severe Mercy

Because I don’t want to settle my hope and security on created things. I want my greatest pleasure and treasure to be one that I can enjoy forever. I want them to be what remains when the shakable, created things are sifted through and shaken out.

And only one thing will remain.

But there is in us, what Puritan William Greenhill called, a great suitableness between the world and our corrupt hearts and natures. Yes, he says, even saints are prone to love this world. 

This, I know, is true. Because I hum along along thinking I’m doing just fine at not loving the world. I’m fine without the finer things and run my race, by grace, less enticed by man’s praise. And then an end like the last day of school comes along and I realize I still have issues with misplaced loves. And they usually cluster around one created thing: TIME. 

And so in mercy God shakes our hearts free. Sometimes little 2.0 tremors will do it. Waylaid writing plans and the end of three years with good, sweet Ms. Thomas. But sometimes the shake is a 9.0 on the Richter scale. Such was the case when Sheldon VanAuken’s dear wife Davy died.  A Severe Mercy is the name he gave that kind of quake.

But it’s where Van Auken quotes a letter from Lewis that I want to share as I close.

Not At Home In Time

Because I know that I’m not the only one who struggles with change. I know I’m not the only one who grieves the end of sweet seasons. I’m not the only mom who has ached to the core to slow down time and stop the clock at a precious, golden moment. A four-square moment now, or a snuggly-bedtime moment then. 

VanAuken called them timeless moments. He wanted to stop the clock, too.

C.S. Lewis in his second letter to me at Oxford, asked how it was that I, as a product of a materialistic universe, was not at home there. ‘Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always been, or would not always be, purely aquatic creatures? Then, if we complain of time and take such joy in the seemingly timeless moment, what does that suggest? It suggests that we have not always been or will not always be purely temporal creatures. It suggests that we were created for eternity. Not only are we harried by time, we seem unable, despite a thousand generations, even to get used to it. We are always amazed by it–how fast it goes, how slowly it goes, how much of it is gone. Where, we cry, has the time gone? We aren’t adapted to it, not at home in it. If that is so, it may appear as a proof, or at least a powerful suggestion, that eternity exists and is our home.”

The Big One will come. God promised he would shake the heavens and the earth. And when the shaking stops, when that End comes, one thing will still remain. It’s not time.

We’ll know that this unrelenting, march of time was really God’s mercy. He was helping us not give our hearts to things which will end when our lives end. All the while God was using time to get us open-handed ready to seek and receive a lasting Kingdom. He was shaking our hearts so save our souls at the End. 

The writer of Hebrews ends that section about the shaken things with these words, Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28). Time marches on. Sweet seasons and bitter seasons and all this life’s seasons pass.

Timeless moments really aren’t. Endings are meant to shake us. Only the Kingdom of God will remain. It’s only there where full security and enduring sweetness and complete stability can be found.

It’s only with our hearts tethered to a heavenly Kingdom that we shall not be greatly shaken. 

He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress;

I shall not be greatly shaken.

Psalm 62:2

Dear Lord,

Thank you that in your mercy you shake us free from the idols of security and stability. With small shakes and large quakes you help us see that it is only in Christ that we are secure. So, Heavenly Father, will you help us see every shake and quake in light of eternity? Will you help us sit loose to our dreams for ourselves and our kids? Help us sit loose to our health and our wealth? In your mercy we ask you to shake us free from every single thing that is not anchored to your eternal Kingdom. We know that it is only when we look to Jesus and the joy set before us that we will ever sit loose here on earth. Be our treasure and our very great reward. Thank you that we are receiving an eternal kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.