Saturday, July 6, 2013

Forever Chai: Navigating What's Supposed to Last...When it Doesn't

Sometimes, things disappear. In fact, with time, almost all things do.

"My David, that's a bleak way to start, don't you think?"

Stick with me, and you may enjoy where this is going. It's going to get good.

A few days ago, I set up a meeting at one of the only places I know of to get good, home-brewed chai in Chicago: Safari Cup. Imagine my surprise when I arrived to an empty shell of the coffee shop that once provided by most beloved substance. (Sound familiar? Something similar happened with me in regard to Borders Cafes years ago.) The only trace of the haven where I once enjoyed such solace with my beloved beverage was a sign with the old shop's logo on the side of the building, boasting of what had been but is, alas, no longer. After some discouragement, I was actually encouraged by this stark reminder of a truth that feels very important for me to remember in this season of letting go and preparing for what's to come. That's what I want to spend some time exploring today.

I am someone who places great value on people, experiences, places, and anything else in my life that provides me with the rich flavors of life. I value these so much, in fact, that it is very hard for me to let go of them when they are longer present. Something feels irreconcilable in this, as if I could never forget these rich fountains that once flowed so beautifully and freely in my life but have stopped flowing for various reasons. In my heart, I'm longing for the eternal, as Solomon wrote in his famous book of wisdom, Ecclesiastes:

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart..." -Ecclesiastes 3:11

Unfortunately, we live in a tension of this temporal life on earth and the promise of all things being made new through Jesus, banishing death once and for all. So what are we to do in the in between, the reality of things passing away and the equal reality of our human desire for what's beautiful to remain forever? I think the answer may have to do with one word: process.

Process implies movement. In life, there is movement from one moment to another, one stage to the next, and in order to move to, there must be a moving from. I spoke earlier about wanting to hold onto what's beautiful from the past. And while memories have their place, they are not a very sustainable place to live. A prophet named Isaiah hit this right on the nail as he was claiming to speak on God's behalf. I think God was giving the people of that old time a key to life that also applies to our lives here today. He says,

"Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland."
-Isaiah 43:18-19

Did you catch that? It seems impossible to forget the past completely, especially those things which were very beautiful or even painful. Both beauty and pain can cut us so deeply. Sometimes, beauty can cause the most pain when it's no longer a present reality. And I think that's what Isaiah is getting at here. Forget the things of the past in as much as they are causing you to live in the past. There's no life there. There's no chai at Safari Cup in Chicago any longer. It's somewhere else! So take your eyes off of the rearview mirror and look ahead at the surroundings in front of you so that you can see where the chai is located now. I use the metaphor of chai, but you can insert just about anything here.

What I often do, and I think what many of us end up doing when some major, life-giving establishment no longer remains is that we fixate on the ruins, either lamenting or re-imagining what was inside, and hoping that this will somehow change things. It doesn't. The next big thing might just be across the street, or a few blocks down. Maybe it's being built so it's visibility is not the highest on your reality radar. But if we'll take our eyes off of the old thing and look up, we might just see what's coming. He says, "See, I am doing a new thing!" I love that. "SEE!" I also love that the places where God builds something new for us are often in the places that we would least expect, the places that are hitherto unexplored by us...the wilderness...the wasteland.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned a verse from Ecclesiastes, but I specifically left off the second part of the verse, until now. Here is the full version: "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."

Beginning to end...If we can live in the present, enjoy the process, and look to the future, we won't get stuck dwelling in the past...or trying to drink chai in a building that's vacant.