[Originally published in the Monroe News on August 13, 2021]
My oldest son Luke and I just returned home a week ago from a lovely trip out to Colorado to spend time with my parents and partake of much quality time outdoors. We spent three days out in the wilderness backpacking, fishing, and mountain climbing. My folks took us to their county fair and we spent a night at the rodeo. Good fun! We closed out the trip climbing a couple more mountains one of which was enshrouded in fog and cloud the whole time. No views, sadly.
|I am aware that these are not, in fact, roses.
They are from our recent trip, however.
As my son and I went through these days of adventure doing the things we love to do outside I was struck with an odd realization throughout. It is a realization I’ve had many times in the past. Here’s what it looks like. At numerous moments during our hikes we would be taking in these amazing views and would be doing what we love to do, except, my mind was also set upon “when will we get to our destination?” and “how much further” and “I can’t wait for some good food at the finish.” It’s so very odd. I’m in the middle of something wonderful and yet I can’t help but continue to think ahead and look for a destination or the moment it will be completed. I love it and at the same time I can’t wait for it to be over. It's a conundrum.
I know our lives look like this in many other ways. I’ve seen it time and time again raising kids. I love the moments when they are babies, toddlers, little ones and yet at the same time I yearn for the day they learn to ride a bike or how to catch a ball. It is like at the same time I love their childhood yet can’t wait for them to grow up. Maybe you’ve had this realization on a vacation. You’ve spent time and money to get to a beautiful place and it is all wonderful. Yet another part of your mind is thinking “I can’t wait to be home.”
In trying to make sense of all of this the old adage comes to mind: “stop and smell the roses.” Perhaps it is a conscious effort that is needed to stop the mind and focus on the moment. To give thanks and rejoice in the beauty that is before us and cherish that moment since it will be gone soon enough. Tomorrow is always at hand and it will likewise be here soon enough.
St. Paul wrestled with similar thoughts in his letter to the Philippians. In 1:23 he speaks of being “hard pressed between the two.” He desires to depart this earthly life and be in paradise in the presence of Christ, and yet, at the same time he also has fruitful work and purpose to continue to live this life in the flesh. His quote in 1:21 is a classic “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
We feel this challenge of being hard pressed between the two. We see the life in front of us and we know life is a gift and a blessing. A big part of us certainly wants to find joy in it. When I was out in the wilderness, I wanted to be there, I wanted to hike those miles, I wanted to enjoy the views of mountain streams and aspen trees. Yet another part of me kept looking forward to it is completion. I could see the comforts of home. I loved the moment of doing it all as much as I looked forward to the moment of it being finished. I was torn between the two.
Perhaps we need to pray for and seek the same peace that St. Paul speaks in Philippians. He recognizes the blessings in both. To live this life on earth and to look forward to the peace and rest of the presence of Jesus in heaven. Yes, this life is difficult and we face hardship and sickness and suffering and eventually death. There are great ups and downs. Yet this life is of great blessing. There is joy in living. “To live is Christ” and to live is to be a part of this blessing of love, both receiving it and giving it.
Maybe we can all learn to stop and smell the roses. Which by the way, is not just about stopping and focusing on the moment, it is also about “smelling the roses.” This God-given creation is full of amazing beauty and wonder and joy and to smell it, taste it, see it and all is of great joy. And then there’s more. If to live is Christ and to die is gain then we know that life with our Savior Jesus doesn’t stop with our last day, but it only gets better. To “complete” this life is to take that next step towards the day of paradise with our Savior, the day of resurrection, the day when all will be splendor and joy and bliss and love. That, I can definitely look forward to.
Mark Witte is the pastor at Grace Lutheran Church. Contact him at email@example.com