Was My Life Better Back Then?
Our family serves in the Himalayan mountains, with the desire to see
the church spread and flourish far into the unengaged villages
confettied on these snowy peaks. The people here, as you might
imagine, have a grit that I havenít inherited from my suburban
childhood. Wrinkled shepherds lead their goats to menacing heights
with learned ease. If you peek inside a brightly painted cement home,
you might see a woman browning onions over a fire, her daughter
wringing out clothes, and her toddler sleeping to the buzz of
Iíve always dreamed of this sort of a place. As a middle-schooler, I
read Jesus Freaks aloud to the kids at my art table, and when playing
Would You Rather on the topic of death, I would argue that martyrdom
is the best way to go out. If I could have seen the place where I
would raise my children, I would have thought all of my dreams had
What I didnít expect was that life here would feel like a meat-
tenderizer to the heart. I didnít see the grief coming in like a tidal
wave. Iím learning a language that puts me in situations where Iím
exposed and embarrassed. We are always the ones asking questions and
bending our preferences to better serve those around us. Homeschooling
five kids and cooking food from scratch doesnít make me feel like
Wonder Woman, but just very, very tired. How was I to know how sharp
the sting of this calling would be, the pain of dying daily?
I have formed a bad habit when Iím hurting. When too many guests come
for chai and my character is as robust as the brown apple core in my
toddlerís sticky grip, I exit mentally. I cherry-pick a golden memory
and think how those were the days.
Imagined Land of Yesteryear
The past is a commonplace to run for escape. Isnít the entire world
wishing for life to go back to normal, before COVID reared its ugly
head? How often do we pine after the freedoms of life before kids,
only to ache for that noisy house a decade later? Donít we wish
relationships could morph back to what they had been before the
argument? If only time could rewind the consuming cancer, the
regretted affair, and the old age from surprising us.
When the call to live in the present feels like cruelty, dealt out by
Godís own hand, we can drown in self-pity and enter an ugly world. A
world based on our memories of the past, but altered. Everything was
right back then. Such good old days are often talked about in passing,
and most people agree how much better it would be if only we could
return. We donít realize the damage at stake in allowing our brains
and hearts to live in this imagined land of yesteryear.
ďWe donít realize the damage at stake in allowing our brains and
hearts to live in this imagined land of yesteryear.Ē
The worst part in exchanging the present for the past is that we can
make ourselves gods. We become interpreters of whatís good and whatís
not. We donít lean on the Lordís providence, but think we know what we
need. We remember ourselves ten pounds thinner and everyone a lot
happier than they truly were. We are most deceived about ourselves,
the memories usually a highlight reel of us at our prime.
Maybe you arenít tempted to live in the past like me. But Luke 15
makes a good case that all of us are running somewhere when the
present feels difficult to swallow. Here are two sons discontent at
home. When life isnít what they want, the younger son runs to another
country to feed his appetite for pleasure (Luke 15:11Ė13). Meanwhile,
the older brother stays physically near his dad, but his heart is far
from home (Luke 15:28Ė32).
Where are we running when life is not what we want it to be? Perhaps
we seek success, to create a comfortable home, or to be thought well
of in our workplace and church. If we seek escape in these places, as
I have in memories of the past, we wonít like where we end up. Life
away from the Father is empty. Like a popped balloon, joy whooshes out
and we are left limp, deflated. The sonsí attempts of finding life
elsewhere leave them homeless and toiling like slaves (Luke 15:14Ė16,
Even if we have a lifetime of sermons in our head, do we live what we
claim to know? If we did, how could we ever run from someone so ready
to love us, who waits with unparalleled patience and pursues us
wherever we are, however painful the present moment? God wants us home
with him. So much so that he left perfection for a world writhing in
pain. He took on the violence of hell so that his children wouldnít
Home Among the Thistles
Maybe we are at a crossroads. Perhaps, like myself, your shoes are
well-traveled. Youíve also formed bad habits in order to escape the
places where life hurts the most. Youíve called God names and arenít
certain you can live with the one who ordained lifeís present pain.
Look again at Luke 15 and dare to believe this is your story, too. The
house is alive with music, and the table is set. You smell meat
roasting in herbs and touch the silk of the slippers placed on your
feet. See your Father run to embrace you. Hear his laughter that fills
your heart with a happiness you were born to enjoy.
ďWe can make our home among the thistles because God promises to be
Or hear the fatherís words to his older child: ďSon, you are always
with me, and all that is mine is yoursĒ (Luke 15:31). These words are
for us, right now. Do we believe it? If so, we can make our home among
the thistles because he promises to be there too. He will never, ever
leave us. And because we have his promised nearness, all that is his
is now laid before us as a feast. Every spiritual blessing is at our
fingertips when we live at home in our Father (Ephesians 1:3).
Especially when our circumstances are January gray, heís waiting for
us to see the rainbow of his love.
Charles Spurgeon once testified,
The worst days I have ever had have turned out to be my best days, and
when God has seemed most cruel to me, he has then been most kind. If
there is anything in this world for which I would bless him more than
for anything else, it is for pain and affliction. I am sure that in
these things the richest, tenderest love has been manifested to me.
Our Fatherís wagons rumble most heavily when they are bringing us the
richest freight of the bullion of his grace. Love letters from heaven
are often sent in black-edged envelopes. The cloud that is black with
horror is big with mercy. . . . Fear not the storm, it brings healing
in its wings, and when Jesus is with you in the vessel the tempest
hastens the ship to its desired haven.
I am receiving more black-edged envelopes right now than I would care
for. Dying daily has been less like Perpetua facing the beasts, and
more like getting out of bed every morning to face the
responsibilities of a calling that requires an unsavory dose of
humility. This painful present, this everyday death is unnoticed by
most, and as with the objects in a room when the lights are off, I
canít seem to find the outline of my old identity.
And yet, the storm of today will not end in shipwreck. Iím not at the
random mercy of the winds. The current rolling of thunder and high
waves only assist me in getting home safe and sound. The presence of
my Father and his continual invitation has repeatedly snapped me back
from the past, allowing me to see the wonders in front of my face,
like my children, the food on my plate, and the way the goats follow
the voice of their shepherd down the valley with the sun dripping into