In my work with children I tell a story* in which time is represented by a long piece of gold cord. At the beginning of the story I have the gold cord bundled up and hidden in my left hand. Before showing the cord to the children, we consider the following question: “Time, time, time. What is time?”
It’s both fun and formative to hear their creative answers to that simple question.
When the discussion begins to wane, I use my right hand to pull the cord from my closed left hand, in the style of a magician…one inch at a time, slowly drawing it out. “Some say that time is a line...”
This is a long, long line. It takes a while to see it all laid out in one stretch. It looks valuable so we explore this line, letting curiosity and imagination lead us.
“Some say that time is a line…with a beginning, middle and end.”
With the cord laid out on the floor in front of me now, I point to the end on my right and say, “This could be the beginning.” I move my hand from right to left and say, “This could be the middle and this could be the end.”
We enjoy a moment of silence and another thought comes to me. I point to the left end of the line and say, “Or…this could be the beginning.” Now, I move my hand from left to right and say, “This could be the middle and this could be the end.”
That sufficiently confuses us. How to resolve this conundrum? For every person that says time moves from left to right, there is another that says it moves from right to left. Who is correct? Can there be another way of thinking about it?
“What if we make it so that the beginning and the ending are the same?” I tie the two ends together. The cord makes a circle now.
I point to the knot and say, “Look, here is the beginning and end, together in one place. It is a beginning that is also an ending and an ending that is also a beginning. That is how Christians tell time.”
Over the years, I’ve seen many endings that are also beginnings. Some of them are easy to trace: marriage and fatherhood, relocation, saying goodbye to old friends and welcoming new friends.
Some of them are harder to discern: there was the point in our marriage when I realized I needed to end my choice to isolate myself in order to embrace authentic companionship—and learn to fight. There was the summer I had an epiphany that ministry was about people, not programs. There was the time I set down the ax I was grinding to ask forgiveness and give it. There was the time we let go of something we had made so it would go on living without us.
The beginning of something fresh would not have been found if we had refused to end the old way of being. These beginnings-that-are-endings are so important, I want to make up a compound word to express the idea. I’ll call them bendings.
Today marks another bending. Almost all the bendings mentioned above happened while we were living in Europe. To date, my wife and I spent over half our marriage in Europe. During those years, we lived in four different cities and worked in five different churches for varied stretches of time.
My wife grew up in Ecuador. In the fall of ’88 we met in college in Minnesota and by spring of ’89 we knew we were going to get married and pursue ministry overseas somewhere.
But anything worth having is worth long waiting.
We did not make it overseas until 1998. Nearly a decade of dreaming.
We spent twelve years there, working with an organization called Christian Associates. Twelve years in which we reconciled our dreams with the truth of grace, God’s matter and anti-matter all in one.
During our time in Europe, I learned again and again that grace fully comes into play when we are able to face the truth about ourselves. Like…
Ministers can be selfish jerks.
People can be petty.
I do not really listen.
But God forgives and gives second chances without limit. That is grace. None of us deserves it. As the chief of sinners, I am the least deserving.
I learned that storybook marriages are not real. We think fighting is bad, so we avoid it. We think real marriage is always “happy.” That is a lie. I learned that first-hand. In real marriage you learn to fight or you break up. Facing the darkness summons the light.
I learned again and again that things do not turn out as planned. I cannot tell you how many times I acted as if I was cleverer than God. Such pride!
But it was in those moments of admitting my pride that I experienced grace, sweet grace.
It is only by God’s grace that the work we were privileged to begin is still going on today. And we are grateful.
But now it is time to end the chapter. Another bending. Today is my last day of work with Christian Associates. So, we are starting a new chapter called Play. And, so, today I am grateful for both old and new friends, old and new adventures.
Have you ever noticed that the richest words can be both a noun and a verb? Love, hope, play and God.
Yes, God is a verb. Remember the story?
Moses asks God, “Who are you? What is your name?”
In just one answer, God expresses two verbs: “I AM” and “I WILL BE.”
Only God can be a noun and two verbs. So, is it any wonder that words like love, hope and play feel like whispers of God on your neck?
I suppose time might be one of those words, too. It never stands still. If it moves in a circle, I suppose that’s because it’s dancing.
And inviting us in. Another bending.
As the years pass, I pray I do not become more rigid but rather more playful—enjoying the mystery of grace-in-truth. Bending.
|Photo courtesy of a story entitled "Paul's Discovery"|
from volume 4 of Godly Play by Jerome Berryman
*Note, the story cited at the beginning comes from Volume 2 of Godly Play by Jerome Berryman.