Thursday, September 04, 2008

Cycle of Life

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

I wanted Samuel to sing Circle of Life tonight… from the Lion King, you know?... but he said it was too cheesy. He’s right of course. Too bad though, because it would have been the perfect song…

It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life

And did you hear the words of Turn, Turn, Turn by The Byrds? Straight out of scripture were they not? That wise but mysterious book of Ecclesiastes…

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven

And then it recites all the “time to’s”. It’s great.

My compliments to Elton John and the author of Ecclesiastes who wrote what we all feel… we all feel the circle of life, the seasons, the turning…

How many times during the year is it appropriate to preach about transition? How many times do we find ourselves facing change? Let’s see… there’s New Year’s of course… always a good time to talk about transition, resolutions, and change. And then of course there’s Easter. We’ve moved from Lent and a period of repenting and turned (yep repentance means “to turn”) to Easter, a time of new life and new beginning, transitioning from being dead to being alive in Christ. Then every year there’s always the end of something, the end of summer the beginning of fall, the end of winter and the beginning of spring, the end of the school year and the beginning of summer, the end of a month, the start of a new pay period. Then there the end of an era that comes while the clock ticks too, part of the cycles of our lives… high school, college, your thirties, the twentieth century, a boss at your job retires, a pastor at a church leaves, the era’s, you know? And on the other side of that lies not endings, but beginnings… a new semester, a new job, a new relationship, a new decade, whatever we’re transitioning into next…

And I suppose that’s where we find ourselves today.

Truth be told, it feels like preaching on transitions always falls on the Thursday night I’m scheduled to speak. Holy irony I guess is what you’d call that, or maybe sacred coincidence.

Either way there’s a good chance the Divine wants me constantly facing what is eternally difficult for me to embrace: change, transition, moving into a new cycle of life.

When I’m at my healthiest, I love the excitement of it: a new house, a new chance to arrange your furniture, an opportunity to start fresh. I approach it as an exciting new adventure into the life God has given me.… I used to love the end of summer and the beginning of the school year because I loved buying new school supplies and laying them in my desk in grade school or arranging them in my trapper keeper during middle school, placing them in my locker in high school and finally shoving them into a backpack during college. Granted, most of this need for organization stems from an attempt to help myself feel like I’m in control. If all my pencils are lined up nicely in my plastic pencil holder then I feel better prepared to face the unknown: to acclimate to change.

But mostly its just healthy excitement.

But when I’m not at my healthiest, when I’m not on top of my game, transitioning and confronting change can be debilitating.

Whereas I can handle “a time to be born,” I can’t handle “a time to die.”
And while “a time to heal” sounds appealing, the “time to kill” juxtaposed with that is scary.
I like the “time to laugh,” but not the “time to weep.”
And while I love the “time to dance,” God, the “time to mourn” is difficult.

And being vulnerable to these cycles can be terrifying.

But so beautiful too.

“A time to tear and a time to sew”… I think of my grandma making quilts or dresses for me and my sisters. She’d rip the material and I’d think, oh man, that’s pretty fabric she just tore apart. But then of course she’d cut and fold and hem and those beautiful ripped patches became such a masterpiece of a quilt. Metaphorically when our lives get ripped to shreds, I still marvel at the way God is able to work good out of broken pieces and indeed, sew me back together even more beautiful than before.

“A time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones together”… I picture the wise men who built their houses on sand and hard rock. Sometimes it’s time to gather stones and sometimes it’s time to toss them out. Sometimes we’ve got to clean out our closets, go through the old boxes, and throw the crap away. And other times, we gather what is sacred, what holds us together, and we place it amongst the stones we’ve set up to create our houses and lo and behold we create our homes.

“A time to keep silent, a time to speak”…

Geez, I’ve spent thirty years trying to get that last one down. It’s practically a fine art. Lord knows I haven’t mastered it. But isn’t it beautiful when we do recognize the time to speak truth into someone’s life and the time to just listen…

These are the cycles of life that we are oscillating in and around and through, alongside one another. Some of us are in the same cycle, circling through grad school or starting college together or raising children together. But other cycles of life catch us at different times, the loss of a parent, the surprise of a promotion and new job responsibilities. But can’t you picture us all like the flocks of birds that fly through the sky, changing formation, changing places, sometimes at the head, sometimes on the side, sometimes holding up the rear; circling around following unfamiliar patterns to us down below, sometimes seemingly chaotic circling but other times beautifully revealing a straight V pushing through the clouds. Always moving those birds are, and so are we.

I’m not sure we’re always moving in the right direction though. For example, our world has been stuck in “a time for war” too long and it is imperative that we as lovers of God and followers of Christ stand up and say it is time to move into “a time for peace.” Enough is enough. There is a natural cycle and it is unnatural to remain in a state of war and anger and deprivation. Too much hate has been spread, too many have died and been killed, and too many are weeping, too much has been plucked up, and broken down; we have been refraining from embracing and laughing and loving for too long. If we stay in a cycle of disaster and deny ourselves and other countries the natural, healthy, hopeful seasons of life, well I don’t know where that will leave us.


Sometimes I picture Jesus reading the world bedtime stories. That was probably my favorite time with my parents growing up. In the beginning, the stories taught my sisters and I words or colors or shapes. Then the books moved on to teach us morals and good behavior and cause and effect relationships. But most of all those stories taught us about love. And love was always the constant. Even if it was a sad story, the one who read us the story was full of love and it surrounded us.

And so it is with life. In the sad stories, in the difficult cycles, in the stressful seasons, the one we trust to walk with us is full and overflowing with love for us. And in the exciting times, the new careers, the new schools, the new friends, the Author of Love is still with us, laughing and celebrating right along with us, turning the pages of the great story of us with much anticipation.

And that means it’s time to be thankful.


1 comment:

Liz said...

Sometimes our transitions are thrust upon us (that would be a time to weep, if it's a divorce ...) and we have to cope. Then it's time for the circle of life to head us into housecleaning, of both the real and the mental kind.

I've had to go through this time and season recently -- not fun at all, to have the marriage I thought would last forever implode. My friends (bless them all!) have rallied round in a variety of ways and have helped the kids and me settle into our new space. One gave me this great book, Create the Space You Deserve. Really helps with those transitions -- it's helped me heal by helping me create our new home. I can honestly say I'm starting to see my way to a new life.