Betsy and I have been away on vacation this week. Alone. No kids. No work. No schedule. No demands. It’s been restful. Peaceful. Quiet. Restorative.
Sitting on a 15th story balcony overlooking the ocean waves crashing into the shore of the gulf coast as been a welcome change of pace and scenery. I have managed to spend considerable time thoughtless and blank, as only a man can do. But I’ve taken in the view reflectively. The immensity of the sky and clouds creating a canopy over the vastness of the ocean is pretty effective in making me aware of my own smallness. That’s a good thing because I loom too large in my own mind too much of the time.
Betsy and I have taken this vacation with the birth of our sixth child just a month out. If that sounds like a lot to you, rest assured, it feels like a lot to me. I’m a bit overwhelmed as I’ve confessed openly. This week has been a chance to actually catch our breath and consider where God has brought us and where God is taking us. Amid those considerations, beholding God’s glory, mindful of my frailty, sorting through what life is supposed to look like with yet another child in our home, I found myself watching a couple families.
Fifteen floors below me, a gaggle of kids and a few parents were playing on the beach and in the ocean. They were equipped with footballs, frisbees, floats and some kick boards. They had the standard plastic tools for digging in the sand, a number of chairs and a sun-shielding umbrella. They seemed to be having a wonderful time and creating family memories.
I was far removed from it all. I couldn’t hear them over the wind and waves. I could only see them and imagine how they were experiencing it.
Some might be tempted to romaticize the moment. I've been to the beach with 5 kids, plus I'm cynical, so I wasn't vulnerable to that temptation. I was exhausted just watching, grateful to be on the balcony and not on the beach.
As I looked on, I couldn't help but consider the up and down between the beach and condo because of what you left behind; the sand in everything from your bathing suit, to your hair, to your shoes and in your towels; managing the different boundaries in and out of the water which the different kids can go to; one kid kicking down another kid's sand castle and the brawl that ensues; reading the same paragraph in a book 17 times because of the relentless requests and distractions; finally getting sunscreen on everyone and settled in only to have the rain set in as well; and of course the spot on your own back or bald head that gets baked in the sun because you forgot to hit it with the SPF 30. The reality of life on the beach is different than the idea of life on the beach. At least it is when you have 5 kids.
Don’t get me wrong. The beach with a bunch of kids has fun moments. But they’re mixed with frustrating moments and fighting moments that ultimately produce a kind of fatigue that makes you wonder, at the end, if it was really worth it. And your life may looking nothing like my life in these ways. But still, I think life is surfacing that same question for all of us... is it all really worth it?
The responsibilities and pace of life with 5 kids, soon to be six, is exhausting. Even “time off” tends to be time on. Rest is rarely restful. Vacations can feel like more of a sentance than a Sabbath.
But that’s what makes my seat on the balcony this week enjoyable. There can be no renewal where there is no emptying. There can be no rest where there has been no weariness. There can be no restoration where there is no depletion.
It’s the privileges, demands, responsibilities and weight of parenting and pastoring that make the week off from parenting and pastoring so life giving. Betsy and are being strengthened by a week off together only because we're being spent as a way of life together.
Don't get me wrong, by Thanksgiving my heart will likely be clamoring and whining for another get away and some time off. Instead, we’ll get the holidays. I'm staring down the barrel of the sleeplessness of infancy and the relentlessness of a growing family and a growing church. The anticipation of what these next few months will look like is a little daunting. And I don’t know when the next good time of rest and renewal will come on the calendar for Betsy and me. The truth is, a week off or a few days away are to small a hope to sustain us through what's coming and yet it's on such earthly hopes where I too often set my sights. Thankfully, the Lord has reoriented my perspective this week, at least for a moment, toward the greater hope we have.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.*
For now, we return to the beach and we spend ourselves there, with all of its beauties and frustrations. But we do so in view of the fifteenth floor. There is a day coming when we'll sit up there, beholding the glory of God, the wind of his grace blowing all around, drinking a warm cup of Blue Donkey Coffee, and enjoying the eternal rest and renewal of His presence. And we'll look down on those days on the beach, with their fleeting moments of angst and annoyance which will only serve to give taste and texture to the sweetness of being with Jesus. These things we stress over and are overwhelmed by; these real struggles and painful troubles; these "afflictions"; they will only increase the peace and enhance our enjoyment of that glorious balcony.