Monday, May 02, 2016
Keeping my fork
I celebrated my birthday a few weeks ago, and my mother-in-law gave me this card with a sparkly three-dimensional fork on it. I'm seriously tempted to pull the fork off the card and try eating with it -- very princessy!
I laughed out loud when I opened the card because I knew just why she'd chosen it. Whenever she comes over for a meal and we're clearing up after the main course in preparation for dessert, we always mention "keeping your fork" -- referring to that expression "Keep your fork; the best is yet to come."
Our pastor used this expression a while back, too, citing a man who apparently asked to have a fork placed in his casket with him when he died, to signify his conviction that he knew the best was to come after his death. (In the same sermon, Pastor Mark also mentioned those little pink Baskin-Robbins spoons: how they allow us a small taste of a particular flavour to see if we like it -- and if we do, then we order a much larger amount. As I recall, his sermon was about how the restoration of the temple in the book of Nehemiah foreshadowed a bigger and better restoration still to come.)
I found out you can also get "Keep the Fork" bracelets: click here to see. That actually doesn't look like a fork to me at all, though it could be useful for spaghetti. But I can't imagine wearing it on my wrist!
Who knew that cutlery was such a fertile subject for spiritual metaphors?
If you believe in the afterlife, as a Christian, then "The best is yet to come" holds true. In the Bible passage that Mom's funeral sermon was based on, Jesus says, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:3) As I listened to that sermon, I felt comforted knowing that Mom was now experiencing the very best: she was in the presence of Jesus, and her body was no longer ravaged by the cancer that took her from us so quickly.
But at the same time, "they're in a better place" arguments can sound hollow and trite, too -- especially when someone uses them in a clumsy effort to make us feel less sad at a time when sad is just what we should be feeling. When we've lost someone we love, it's not always easy to accept that the best place for that person to be is away from us. (And for the record: I hate cliches like "God needed her more" and "Heaven must have needed another angel.")
Another problem with focusing solely on what's yet to come is that we may fail to appreciate the beauty and significance of life here and now. If what comes after is all that matters, why not just trash our planet? All we can do is grit our teeth and endure this second-rate life until our "real" life starts. And I just don't see either of those as an option for a Christian. Yet I don't necessarily buy the "Life is short; eat dessert first" option either: seeking only short-term pleasure without taking the long view seems selfish and myopic.
I often find that something I'm currently reading speaks directly to the subject I'm pondering in my writing. I've been re-reading Jerry Sittser's beautiful book A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss. In it he talks about how Jesus' resurrection defeated death so that death no longer has the last word: life -- eternal life -- does.
Of course that is in the future. But we live in the present, which is often full of sorrow and pain. Suffering engenders a certain degree of ambivalence in those of us who believe in the resurrection. We feel the pain of our present circumstances, which reminds us of what we have lost; yet we hope for future release and victory. We doubt, yet try to believe; we suffer, yet long for real healing; we inch hesitantly toward death, yet see death as the door to resurrection. This ambivalence of the soul reveals the dual nature of life. We are creatures made of dust; yet we know we were made for something more. A sense of eternity resides in our hearts. Living with this ambivalence is both difficult and vital. It stretches our souls, challenging us to acknowledge our mortality, and yet to continue to hope for final victory.
The word ambivalence -- which he uses three times in this short paragraph -- is what struck me most. Like all of the most profound truths, this one is a paradox. If we acknowledge this "dual nature of life," which suffering often forces us to do, then yes: we do look forward to what is to come, like a person anticipating the best part of a meal. But we also try to embrace and be grateful for what we've been given here and now -- both because of and in spite of the fact that it won't last forever.
My birthday cards are still up on the mantel; I'll have to put them away soon. But I think the fork image is going to stick with me. It's a good reminder of the in-between-ness of our days and the challenge of living in current reality and future hope at the same time.