My Google calendar still dings on our anniversary.
Time is the one variable we cannot escape.
My husband left when my son was two. My toddler’s pudgy cheeks and dimpled fingers didn’t understand the cycle of a twenty-four-hour day. He thought every time he woke from a nap was a new day. My son, who could not pronounce most words correctly, asked me a dozen times a day if he would see Daddy today. I would hold my breath and ride the waves of emotions with every “No, not today.”
How do you teach a toddler about the passage of time? How do we learn the passage of time? Visually, I suppose. Plans spilled out over the outlined squares of a calendar. Wrinkles appear and deepen on a face and across hands. The yearly changing of the Christmas card mailing list—take his name off; they aren’t married anymore, don’t forget to remove the neighbor who passed away this year. Have they moved? Cross that one out; we aren’t really friends with them anymore.
Two is too young to understand the twenty-four-hour cycle. Sometimes I think thirty-two is too young as well. Clothing kept going out the door with my husband, instead of coming back in. A whole frozen chicken came once, a work gift. “Would you like it?” he asked. No, not really. But I’ll save it for a future celebratory dinner on a day your clothes walk back in the house and we close the gap on the time you’ve been gone. That damn chicken sat in the freezer for the passing of months, haunting me, until I finally gave it back to him. Sometimes you count time as before and after a frozen chicken.
Time is the one variable we cannot escape. It levels the playing field for every mortal, eternity-restrained creature. Does it render our existence meaningless? Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, calendar to Google calendar.
My Google calendar notification still dings at me on our anniversary. Even all these divorced years later. Do I keep the reminder on? Delete it? Grieve it, celebrate it, throw confetti at it, scream at it, screenshot it? Is there any escape?
This is all feeling very Ecclesiastes-esque. Sometimes I want to sit in the darkness, bobbing my mind in a hot cup of meaninglessness. Is steeping in my pain okay with God? Does he approve of plumbing the depths of all this suffering?
I think so. The stories of God’s people keep showing me people holding cups full of pain tea. David and the psalmists, Hannah and her tears, Jesus and his promise of trouble in this world.
The steeping is part of sense-making. Of finding the peace in the midst and the aftermath of the pain. Day after day, week after week, low after high, high after low, moment to second, how do we make sense of the minutia, sadness, grief, and happenstance of our life?
I think it is accomplished by feeling the darkness and worshiping God’s transcendence. We are meant to feel our emotions, not be ruled by them, allowing ourselves to feel them from the inside out. I scream-cried songs and prayers to him in a dark, empty house. The privacy of my car became a sanctuary for worshipping his presence amidst my pain until my voice was hoarse. I fought for time to take myself on regular dates to experience stillness, quiet, and sabbath. His voice doesn’t typically overpower our screens and devices.
I would watch the calendar turn to a new year, and watch the ball drop on shattered dreams, which dropped emotional, mental, and physical symptoms to get my attention. How does God meet me in this emptiness? I’d ask all the what-if questions. Ask your what-if questions. What if this isn’t healed? What if he leaves? What if my child never turns to the Lord? What if the baby never comes? God is both inside our circumstances and outside of our time. He transcends our human experience, and thank God he does, because what else could we hope in?
I remember the time I sat on the microfiber brown sectional couch of my living room. Couch cushions sagged while friends gathered around me for our weekly Bible study group. I was asking for prayer, and fell all the way apart, right in front of them. I wept and shared the hope I had lost. They laid hands on me and prayed God’s words right to me. Somehow the Holy Spirit gave them the words I didn’t know I needed to hear. I felt God’s presence in that room. Suffering brings about a particular kind of holiness and closeness to the Lord. You can feel utterly alone and like he isn’t real, and then, there are the moments he shows up so viscerally you know you’ll never be the same.
One thing is certain and not at all meaningless: affixing our hopes on the eternal and outside-of-time nature of God. We can hope for earthly milestones and pray for deliverance, but our hope should not be in them.
I pointed to stickers with my two-year-old on the wall calendar. This is the day Daddy will come. This is the day he won’t come. See, today is Monday, but tomorrow is Tuesday, and it has a sticker.
Pointing to the cross, this is the time Jesus came to walk in our time and space limits. And see here, this is the time he ascended back to the Father. And here we are waiting for him to return once more.
The flip pages of a daily desktop calendar get caught in a blustery windstorm of time, each page tearing off one by one. Slowly at first, and then whipping off one after another with increasing speed. With it, the trees change from green to bare before your eyes, like a movie montage. The sky moves from bright and blue to dark and moody. And the calendar pages keep flying, down the path, into the woods, sticking in the trees, until everything stills, and the plastic easel they were affixed to stops sputtering and lies flat on the ground, still and alone. But one day the scene will come to a screeching halt. The pages will fly back together. The dust will resurrect, and he will make time better than new.
Cover image by Marissa Grootes.