Imagine you’re a Jewish child, nourished from a young age by the words of the Torah. You can recite the Torah’s opening lines describing how, just before the dawn of God’s magnificent acts of creation, darkness covered the deep and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters (Genesis 1:2). Those mysterious words signaled that something stunning was about to happen. God was doing something new. You’d hear the story of that first day of creation, the inauguration of God’s creation week when He said, “Let there be light”—and light flooded the earth (John 20:3). Adam and Eve in the garden, beginning the great adventure of human life. What stunning possibilities, what hope! You would know well this story—the story of how God’s new world began to flourish.
Not long after the fall of the Iron Curtain, I traveled to Ukraine with a Christian ministry. One evening, I met with two college students who peppered me with questions about faith and God. I was struck by their open and earnest searching, because they had lived for years under a communist regime in which God and religion were outlawed. They weren’t looking for easy answers, but simply wanted to figure out what they believed.
We introduced our sons to the TV series Lost in which marooned passengers from a crashed jetliner try to survive on a mysterious island. It didn’t take long for our boys to start to groan at the end of each episode, aware of how masterful the writers were at creating cliffhangers. There appears to be no ending, only a series of new beginnings.
Inky the octopus saw his chance and broke for freedom. In 2014, fishermen found Inky, a small octopus (roughly the size of a volleyball) trapped in a crayfish pot and severely injured. The fishermen delivered Inky to New Zealand’s National Aquarium. Though Inky seemed to adjust to his new home, one of the curators observed how they needed to “keep Inky amused” or he’d get bored.
When asked which author he would choose to write his life’s story, author and activist Wendell Berry answered: “A horrible thought. Nobody. As the only person who ever has lived my life, I know that most of it can never be documented, is beyond writing and beyond words.”
Every year during Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter), many churches follow Jesus’ example during the Last Supper by washing one another’s feet. Jesus washed His disciples’ feet and told them to imitate what He had done. Washing feet is a prayerful and powerful act, but it can also upset our sense of pride, personal space, and privacy. It can be truly unsettling.
It’s truly difficult to sit beside someone who’s grieving or in despair, a person who has taken one hit after another and has lost all hope. Whenever we surrender hope, our life slowly ebbs from us. We may continue to put one foot in front of the other, but we can no longer see the beauty around us. We no longer find joy in our life or in relationship with others. We see only gloom, and we find it nearly impossible to move toward light and love.
In spite of my many fatherly mess-ups (and lately I feel as if I’ve had more than a few), my deepest hope for my two sons is that they will know I love them, and that my love comes from God. If you want to prod me to tears, get me to talk about my hopes for my sons. There are few places where I could feel more anxiety than when I consider the uncertain future: Will they grow up to be good men? Will they follow truth and life? But what I do know, without doubt, is that I love my boys fiercely—that I have always done so and will always love them.
After the initial performance of Handel’s Messiah in Dublin on April 13, 1742, George Frideric Handel received acclaim much greater than any expectation he could have imagined. The Dublin News-Letter gushed how the oratorio “far surpass[ed] anything of that Nature which has been performed in this or any other Kingdom.” In a letter Handel penned to a friend soon afterwards, however, he wrote, “I should be sorry if I only entertained them. I wished to make them better.”
When he was a child, Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel’s mother would greet him the same way each day after school. She never asked, “What did you learn today?” Rather, she always asked: “Did you have a good question today?”
A friend once wrote a letter to both bless me and draw me deeper into an honest, true life. My friend quoted lines from the novelist James Kavanaugh: “There are men,” Kavanaugh wrote, “who are too gentle to live among wolves.” My friend invited me, amid a violent and self-protective world, to live with a gentle posture, to refuse to grow hard or defensive. The letter contains words that are among the most powerful a friend has ever shared with me.
In 2015, a country in the Middle East elected its first women to public office. In fact, in the first electoral cycle in which women appeared on the ballot, 17 were elected! I listened to an interview of a woman who had won a seat on her local council, and she exuded ecstatic joy. She acknowledged how difficult life can be for women in her country, but this didn’t diminish her celebration. Many more reforms are needed, but all people should revel in this historic transition. After years of exclusion from the political process, women have now seen the door open a bit with the possibility of something better ahead.
Whenever my boys feel shame or are uncomfortable, they’ll often look away or bury their head in their chest. If they’re wearing a hoodie, they’ll pull it over their head, as if trying to become invisible. I have a similar impulse. When I’m ashamed or feel vulnerable, defeated, or hopeless, it’s easy to try to hide. With my sons, I draw close to them and calmly say, “Look up at me. I need to see your eyes.”
So many of us struggle to feel that our work—the ways we spend the majority of our time and the way we pay our bills—has lasting spiritual value. This is remarkable, given how often Scripture insists that everything we do matters to God.