The Bible speaks of the transient nature of all Creation. The Psalmist wrote: "Of old thou didst lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They will perish but thou dost endure; they will all wear out like a garment. Thou changest them like raiment, and they pass away; but thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end." (Psalm 102:25-27) It is equally settling to read how the Bible speaks of the brevity of human life. In the Book of Job we find this graphic statement: "He that is born of woman is a few days, and full of trouble. He comes forth like a flower, and withers; he flees like a shadow, and continues not." (Job 14:1-2) The human experience of, and with, life verifies this Biblical view.
You need only take a trip back to where you grew up to realize how things change. Old landmarks disappear, and the people there are strangers now. Generations get cut off from each other by time and change. Not many people know anything about their great great grand-parents. Any idea of permanence we may tend to attach to our own lives is diminished when we remember the dusty bodies of friends and loved ones who did not last very long. When we understand the frailty of life, we begin to realize that whatever we want to do, we must do quickly. We are not here for long. No one is. No one ever has been.
People who are here to touch our lives with grace today will not always be here. They will go away, or we will go away. Perhaps life will change in such ways as to make it impossible for them to give us forever what they can give us now. We keep expecting something permanent to develop from what is by nature temporary.
There are people who have suffered so many losses in life they are afraid to reach out or to accept love. Unless we can celebrate the temporary, and learn to accept that which can never be permanent, we will feel terribly lonely and woefully unsupported. We must learn to be partakers of the temporary until we come to that other dimension of life which is characterized by the kind of permanence that belongs only to God. Nothing in this world lasts forever.
People move in and out of our lives, and we move in and out of their lives. We need what happens in those relationships, no matter how long or short they may be. Many of the people who have helped us to keep our lives manageable are no longer in sight, but what they did is forever a special gift.
The coming and going of friends will happen all of your life. Look at the people around you to whom you feel close and with whom you feel comfortable ~ the people you count on and who count on you. Make a list of them in your mind. These are the people you love and who love you. There is something you should know about them. You may not want to hear it. Ten years from now many of them will not be on that list. They will have left you or you will have left them. They will have died, moved away or fallen out with you; or you will have moved away or fallen out with them. Look at them and recite their names to yourself and you will think: "That could never happen! These are my best friends or closest family." But, it will happen. Enjoy them now! Love them and accept whatever they have to give you, for they are temporary, and so are you.
If you still doubt this, make a list of the people who were your closest friends and family ten years ago, if you can remember them. See how many of them have floated to the edge of your life, or how many have disappeared over the horizon altogether.
Someone once said that we should not continue to be angry with people who angered us as much as five years ago. They are not the same now. Neither are you. Since you are both different now, that five-year-old anger is inappropriate. This emotional mistake is often seen in people who have suffered divorce. They nurse old animosities against persons to whom they were formerly close, when in reality they have both changed radically since the divorce. Such an unnecessary expenditure of negative emotion is debilitating.
Every seven years we complete a cycle in which every cell in our bodies is replaced with a new cell. This is symbolic of what happens us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. There are stages of life in which we become different from what we were in earlier stages. Sometimes we are more different from some past self than we are from other people. Our hopes and dreams change. Sometimes even our weaknesses and strengths change.
Not only is it important for us to accept inevitable change. We need to be able to accept and use what is imperfect, partial, and incomplete. Sometimes we fail to reach out to other people in their need because we somehow feel that we are unqualified. We feel that we do not know enough or have not been good enough to qualify to help somebody else. Often past failures rise up to haunt us by making us feel that since we have failed we have nothing to offer to those who are presently suffering failure.
Conversely, this is seen in our rejection of help because we do not feel that we are good enough to be helped. Few times in our lives are we whole. Seldom do we feel whole. If we wait until we are completely adequate, we will always be waiting. Some of the best help is given by those who are up to their ankles in trouble reaching out to those who are up to their armpits in trouble. Help that is temporary, given by the imperfect composes the meat and bread of our spiritual diet. Since temporariness and imperfection are characteristic of all human help, we must learn to live with it or perish without ever having received help.
The legend of the "Wounded Healer" was made famous by Father Henri Nouwen in his book by the same name. A Rabbi went to the cave of a great prophet and asked, "When will the Messiah come?" The prophet said, "He is already here." "Then, where can I find him?" the Rabbi asked. "You will find him at the gate of the city sitting among the poor, the wounded and oppressed,". "How shall I know him from all the other people there?" the Rabbi asked. He answered, "The others there unwrap all their wounds and sores at the same time to treat them and then put all the bandages back on at the same time, but this is not true with the Messiah. The Messiah will remove the bandages from one wound at the time, treat the wound and then wrap it again. He does this saying 'Perhaps someone shall need me, and I could not go if all my wounds were unwrapped at one time, so I will treat them one at a time so I can go quickly to those who may need me.'"(Nouwen, Henri, The Wounded Healer). This is an important parable about helping and being helped.
You may be surprised to realized this, but perfect people are seldom very helpful. In the first place, they are hard to find, and when you do find them, they are often self-proclaimed. The people who have truly reached some degree of spiritual perfection are usually so far out ahead of us that we do not feel in touch with them. More often than not it is the imperfect people who save us.
Our capacity to help people is not contingent upon whether we have achieved a certain degree of perfection, but upon whether we truly care, as Jesus cared for people. When I am in trouble do not send me some sterile soul who thinks he has never done any thing wrong in his life, who has never tasted his own tears and who has never felt remorse. Send me a sinner. Send me someone with scars, and perhaps an open wound or two. Send me someone who has been redeemed ~ several times!
Temporariness is an essential ingredient of our human incompleteness. Many relationships, by their very nature, are temporary. It is essential for us to be able to say "good-bye" to temporary relationships that have obviously come to an end, instead of trying to stretch them out into an artificial permanency. Sometimes we are caught in a mindset that says a relationship must be permanent in order to have meaning.
We must grieve and give up the people we have lost to distance and difference if we are to make friends with the strangers who are moving into the circle of the present. We will not be able to speak of a friend who was once a stranger, unless we can speak of the stranger who was once a friend. Friends do become strangers in our world of the temporary, just as strangers become friends.
To be sure, there are some people who can claim a life long friend. And, what a rare treasure that is! But, in our rootless society, where so few of us die where we were born, where our children do not know some cherished piece of real estate that has been in the family for a hundred years; if we do not develop new friends, we will soon have no friends at all.
Our ...penchant for permanence, which seems to get stronger as we grow older, is probably a genetic (God-given) arrangement in our nature which prepares us to die. The only people I know who have a genuine permanent arrangement with life are those whose lives have ended. In all the rest of us change is still going on. As a matter of fact, change is a basic characteristic of life, and without it, life as we know it would be snuffed out.
The Psalmist reminds us that permanence belongs only to God. "Thou art the same, and thy years have no end." (Psalm 103:27) It is proper to establish a relationship of permanent expectations with God, but it is not proper to impose those expectations upon frail human beings. People will ultimately disappoint you if you expect of them what can only be expected of God.
Let us be done with trying to set things in stone. Let us be done with trying to fix people and circumstances so thy will not vary or change. God is not finished with us yet. Perhaps God will never in this world be finished with us. We only know that our present condition and present form are not final. Then let us not speak of finished forms, closed knowledge and permanent arrangements ~ not yet. It is much too soon.
Life as we know it in this world is a series of tentative arrangements. We know that we will not reach perfection or permanence results of this kind of arrangement because there is nothing more exciting and precious in life than the process by which we stretch both heart and mind by looking out from the little island of what we know across the vast unknown sea upon which we will someday set sail for an unseen but certain shore.
It is obvious that our greatest source of stability is the experience of the presence of the eternal God, who keeps on coming to us in new and different ways. Who can predict what form God next shall take to speak to us in ways we understand? Let us learn to celebrate the temporary, and draw from it the strength we need on the way to whatever God has prepared for us.