As a wise friend cautioned me, our rational minds run at a high speed but our emotions often run at a lower speed, sometimes taking time to catch up with our rational thoughts.
As I write this [at the end of summer], I am looking back over the recent wedding of my daughter, looking forward to the coming wedding of my son, and the imminent sale of our house in Hamilton. Within the span of roughly three weeks, my two children will be married, we will move from Hamilton to Grand Rapids and I will start a new job as a professor at Calvin College. To be sure, we are grateful for these developments: my children have found wonderful Christian spouses and I start a new job at an institution doing what I love to do. These are wonderful blessings after a year of uncertainty for our family.
However, as a wise friend cautioned me, our rational minds run at a high speed but our emotions often run at a lower speed, sometimes taking time to catch up with our rational thoughts. Our experience has borne this out. While all the logistics for a wedding and a move can be carefully planned and managed, our emotions will sometimes show up later, like unexpected guests arriving at inconvenient times. The preparations for our daughter’s wedding were full of excitement and anticipation leading up to a beautiful day. But it was only after the wedding when my wife peered into my daughter’s childhood bedroom that she became overwhelmed with emotion at the thought that this was no longer her home. This unexpected emotional guest visited me as I looked at a picture, taken not so long ago, of a little girl holding her Dad’s hand. Others have shared similar stories, like a friend who shared her experience after the marriage of one of her children, unexpectedly breaking down in tears as she walked through a Walmart.
This has also been true of our move to Grand Rapids. After weeks of packing, obtaining work permits and making careful preparations, the moving truck arrived. My mind was preoccupied with the logistics of the move, leaving little time and headspace to process the event. But it was only after the moving truck had emptied its contents into our new house and drove away that my emotions caught up. Sitting alone in a dark house surrounded by unopened boxes, the poignancy of selling the home where our children grew up and moving to a new country finally hit me. The door post of our old kitchen, marked with the heights of our kids as they grew over the years, was left behind. The feelings were compounded by the realization that our atomic family would no longer be the same. We no longer need the long benches that were once a fixture around our kitchen table. Being uprooted is jarring, especially when your roots run deep.
Perhaps these emotions were so unexpected because of spending too much time as an academic focused on the life of the mind. Perhaps part of me assumed I could handle these circumstances like Mr. Spock from Star Trek – dispassionately processing events in a logical fashion. But Mr. Spock was not fully human, and being human includes having a heart as well as a mind.
It is helpful in times like these to zoom out to gain a wider perspective, to see our lives as nested within the larger biblical story. While we may not understand the purpose for all the twists and turns within this story, we are nevertheless called to participate. In the end, only Christ’s kingdom will ultimately endure – our families, our homes and our jobs are not ends in themselves.
First things first
The text from my daughter’s wedding was a good reminder to “seek first the kingdom.” The pastor quoted from C.S. Lewis, reminding us to “put first things first and we get second things thrown in; put second things first and we lose both first and second things.”
This reminder is timely as we experience change in both our family and our geography. If we hold on to things too tightly, we will ultimately lose them. Our family, our work and our homes do not have meaning in and of themselves; they only have meaning within the wider context of God’s kingdom. As we experience the normal emotions that accompany change, we hold on to God’s promise that his peace, “which transcends all understanding,” will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7).