“It doesn’t last long…”

On Sunday evening I found myself sitting in front of my laptop watching a slideshow my daughter had put together for her brother’s wedding. Sandy and I had only been home for a few hours. We had just finished the last leg of our nearly week-long trip to Columbus, Ohio for our son’s wedding, a full day’s drive back to Thomasville.

If your kids are grown, I am sure you have their childhood photos stored in a bin somewhere, in the back of a closet or on a shelf over your head. The old photos wouldn’t mean much to someone else and you try to be careful in showing them off to others. The interest they feign can last only so long. Do you really want to stare at my son when he is four years old? Yes, the woolen cap on his head is cute, but you have seen this kind of thing before and you haven’t the attachment.

But when we have invested the prime years of our lives raising a child, the old photos pull at us in a particular way. It is like standing in the wide brook behind my in-law’s home, after a hard summer rain, the water runs fast, and I can’t stand long before I am swept downstream. When the slideshow comes to an end, I let it play through again. I can’t help myself. I am swept into a past that will never repeat itself and I am realizing now that details have begun to fade.

We have children, many of us, and when they are young the days seem endless. We look forward to the time when they will be out of diapers, out of the car bumper seat, out on their first date, and on those difficult adolescent days, out of the house. Then, it happens. They build a life. We raise them to make a home of their own and would have it no other way, but truth be told there is some melancholy in our accomplishment.

When Sandy was pregnant and when our children were young, we were given all sorts of advice and perhaps more so because I was a pastor. We had a congregation full of grandparents watching our family grow and evolve. We were told what to with a crying baby when he wouldn’t sleep at night, how long to stay in the classroom when we dropped him off on his first day of school and how to handle a fussy child in the church pews. I even had a woman tell me my wife held our baby too much. She talked and I held my tongue. Most of the advice was unsolicited, much of it presumptuous, but occasionally what was said was worth hearing and we took it to heart.

Olivia spoke to us in this way. She was a grandmother with a brood of her own and our parsonage lady. In Methodist circles this means she looked after the fixtures and furniture in our home. She had come for a visit to make sure we had what we needed for the new addition to our family. Our son, who was our first, was just a few months old. We must have been complaining about our lack of sleep, or some adjustment that comes with new parenting when she simply said, “It doesn’t last long.”

Her tone was not a reprimand, but an invitation. It was an invitation to embrace the bleary-eyed change that had come to our lives, wrapped in a blanket and most nights suffering from interminable colic. She was right, of course. It didn’t last long, though at the time it seemed otherwise. Like the Psalmist said, our life is but a “blink of the eye.”

Soon enough our children graduate from crib to bed, and for our son, from his own bed to share one with his wife. Lately I have been considering some words from novelist Annie Dillard, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.” Spend them well my son. They move fast like a storm-filled river.

I looked at the slide show one more time before going to bed.

“…and he said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh…” Mathew 19:5