I climb the stairs and a cool breeze from the open window greets me. I pause for a moment at the top of the stairs to look around at the empty room, but the emptiness makes my heart ache and so I quickly toss pillows to the floor and begin to strip the sheets from the bed. As I pull out clean sheets to remake the bed, the scent of fabric softener wafts through the air and I wonder if that smell reminds my grown children of home as they sleep on what are now guest beds. The house is motionless and quiet, but in the silence I feel as though I can still hear the echoes of laughter and the conversations of young adults that have filled both my home and my heart these past few days.
My son, Jerrod, hasn’t been home since his sister’s wedding last March and I spent last week anxiously anticipating and preparing for his visit. And while we may not have killed the fatted calf, we mowed the yard, cleaned the house, cleaned the grill, and invited family to join us in a cookout and fellowship as we welcomed Jerrod home for a visit. Jennifer and her husband, Josh, traveled the 100 miles home in two separate vehicles so Jennifer could stay an extra day and visit even though Josh had to return to work while Jacob and I both took off a day from work to spend some rare time together as a family. And so for a few days my home was once again full as my adult children returned home to visit.
But today all is quiet. My nephews who have recently joined our household are at school, Jacob is at work, and Jennifer and Jerrod have gone home. I reluctantly close the upstairs window since it may be several days before I come back up to this empty room, but as I leave my eyes fall on the assortment of family pictures I have arranged on the chest and I am reminded how quickly time passes and things change. The world turns a few times and children grow up, parents’ age, and death takes those we love and nothing ever stays the same. And sometimes we find ourselves looking back and wishing we could travel backwards through time.
Funny thing about traveling backwards in our memories though, those sweet memories of pleasant times don’t really bring us pleasure but empty longing instead. Perhaps that’s why Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 7:10 “Say not thou, what is the cause that the former days were better than these?” We long for bygone days when those memories are sweet because we lived fully in those moments and were thankful for the times we had when they were ours to hold; and we long for days past with bittersweet yearning because we remember them as pleasant and joyful and wish we had appreciated what we had more fully when it was ours to live.
But real joy is only found in the present. So while I may miss my children and the days when our lives were closely interwoven, dwelling in the past will not bring me true peace or pleasure. Memories are like dark chocolate or fine wine, they are pleasant only in moderation and I must be careful not to linger long on memory lane or overindulge. So I remind myself that today holds other joys and while they may be different relationships, there are others whose lives still closely intertwine mine. When I live in the past I am slow to appreciate the present and yet the very thing that makes the past a pleasant place to visit -fully living in the moment – that is what I am avoiding when I linger there. Pleasant memories of today will only be mine if I live fully in today with a grateful heart for what today holds.
And so, I take a moment to step outside into the warm autumn day and look around and count my blessings. I thank the Lord for a quiet, empty, house and I pray I use this time I’ve been given wisely. Today is a glorious day; it is the day that the Lord has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it. And while the world turns and time passes and things continue to change, I remember that the joy of the Lord does not change and it can and will always be my strength.