Come now, my friend, how can you say, like a bird up to his mountain I should fly away? All hope is gone. This is the end. Now retreat’s the only course that you would recommend. My friend, your counsel of defeat is like a coal. It burns my soul. (Psalm 11, My Soul Among Lions)
In the evenings, Pop would talk. The darkness was heavy; anxiety would find him. He could hardly move those last few weeks. Can you imagine the madness, especially for a strong active man, of sudden immobility in the dark?
So he would talk, a little wildly sometimes, and I was there each night beside him. Toward the end the fear was palpable, like an unwelcome guest in the room. The old, like the young, are simpler. The nightmares were horrible but understandable. He had seen war. He was in war again. He was wounded in a trench, they had left him here to die.
When he heard my voice beside him, I would enter into his narrative. I was a fellow soldier, his mother, his wife, myself, just a young girl… it changed and it didn’t matter. I was with him.
Will they come for us? He asked. Yes.
Will you stay with me?
Yes. And Jesus is with us.
Yes, he said.
Well, everyone who knows me knows how I have missed this old man. All the memories from those last months, every single dear word and the supervision of slow death…. I am still sorting it all out. He was a precious friend, residing for twenty-four years in the interlining of the innermost circle of my heart. He went to Jesus and it was good. Even still it is true that I have mourned him every day and despised the sin of the world that brought separation with the fire of a thousand suns, and this grief blinds me sometimes to the sweeter truth. This world is too heavy for me. My brow is furrowed and my little lips recede into my face.
Then, mercifully so:
There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. (Tolkien, The Return of the King)
I wish I could stop neatly here, but honesty compels me to say: before I get to the light and high beauty moment, I am always found in that forsaken land of Mordor. I have come to realize (to my shame of course which doesn’t help the situation) that I am generally a melancholy soul. I am a woeful combination of a bleeding-heart and crusade-spirit, making me a comical real-life version of Lucy from Peanuts, alternatively giving psychiatric advice and hitting people in the head with a football.
The problem with Fixers is that they need to be fixed. If I speak a counsel of defeat to my own soul, how can I offer words of life to my friends?
I read in a Calvin commentary years ago – “In thinking of the future, it is best to prepare for the worst, to lay in for the long siege.”
This is solid wisdom that I need to hear, but I have found that on either side of truth there is a chasm of error and a handy-dandy catapult with free rides from one pit to the other. Mine is an aimless, indulgent and immature generation. As Zack Eswine said in the book, Spurgeon’s Sorrows:
“… when we find ourselves impatient with sadness, we reveal our preference for folly, our resistance to wisdom, and our disregard for depth and proportion.” However if I am, in response, morose and defeatist concerning the problems that plague me most (that is, my own) I have surely missed the boat of God’s good truth.
My friends and family have been so kind to let me grieve. No one has rushed me, but I know myself that it is time to look up. I will still miss Pop everyday; I told him I would (and he was pleased to hear it!) and he told me in return things I will cherish all my days. And now?
Now I preach to my soul. Now I cultivate joy. Now I read Scripture like a traveler reads his map. Now I strive to think, when the truth is dark and depressing: My friend, but you forget the Lord is on His throne, and we’re His own.