One of the truly fascinating parts of living in our connected world is that you can witness the extremes of many different peoples’ lives all at once. Just this morning, I got to celebrate via pictures with some dear friends who have adopted a brand new baby after a long period of waiting and struggle. Just a little further down Facebook, another friend passed a less joyful anniversary: remembering the death of his beloved father after a long and difficult illness one year ago.
These moments- and many others like them- are beginnings and endings. Your life is full of them. Some are full of expectancy and hope, like the birth of a baby, a wedding day, the first day of school or a new job, the last day of school before graduation. Some are full of loss and sorrow, like the death of a loved one, a divorce, the loss of a job, those words from a solemn-faced doctor, that phone call when you first heard the news…
We think we measure our lives by minutes and days and months and years, but we actually measure them by moments. Moments like these- the big ones and the small ones. These moments are the punctuation marks in the sentences of our days, the book of our years. They divide our lives into befores and afters.
When I became a parent a year ago, I remember someone telling me that, as much as there are so many “first time” moments when you’re raising a child, there are as many “last time” moments. There’s the first time you get to hold your son or daughter- I’ll never forget this moment shortly after 5:30 AM on August 5, 2014! But there’s also a last time. There’s a last time you will be able to take them in your arms, as they grow up too fast and are in a hurry to run off to the next thing. As much as there are many times where the wee morning hours in your home will be punctuated by unwelcome cries as you stumble half-asleep to your child’s bedroom, there’s also a last time, and a whole season of life where you’ll sit in a quiet house longing for those chaotic, sleepless, but wonderfully joyful days once again.
This is true in all our relationships. There’s a day when that husband or wife that sometimes drives you nuts with their shortcomings and habits will no longer be there in your life. There’ll be no more arguments, but there will also be no more laughter. No more clatter in the kitchen as you begin another day together. That child you’re in a difficult season with right now that has you tearing your hair out will be grown up and gone. That parent who you just can’t stand right now and don't want to talk to will no longer be there to talk to. There are first times and last times to every part of life. The really hard thing is that we can see some of these coming. But others, we can’t.
A good friend sent me a fascinating article by David Cain entitled “A Brief Guide To Recreational Time Travel.” It's a fascinating read. Cain argues that we have the ability in our minds to time travel: back to the beginning of things- before the first time, and also to travel to the end of things- imagining after they’re gone, after the last time. He suggests a powerful exercise: when you’re with a loved one, zoom out into the future to when they’re no longer there. This gives you a powerful perspective on the value of the present moment, even with its challenges.
While it seems morbid on the surface, it’s actually a powerful reality check. As Cain himself says “Life is precious to us only because we know it can be lost, but when it’s still present we can easily overlook that preciousness.” Another way of understanding this is that imagining the last times of your relationships, whether a big or small, - can powerfully impact your level of gratitude for today, for this time.
I am a person of Christian faith, so I believe in a longer view of life that extends beyond this earth, but even for people like me, the Bible offers an admonishment to gain wisdom in how we see our moments. In Psalm 90, the writer prays "Teach us, Lord, to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." What we learn from this is that having this kind of perspective on life is not natural, it must be learned. But we gain something of great value: true wisdom- and true gratitude- comes from living life this way.
"Time traveling" back to the past, and forward the future- will help us understand what's truly valuable in the present. We can't- and shouldn't- live in the past, nor can we live in the future. But we can visit them, and a clear perspective– especially when it comes to people –is critical to living a life that values the right things right now.
Where in your life- and especially in your relationships- do you need to learn to time travel, so you can truly understand the value of this time?