BY CHAD BIRD
She’s clad only in a white, wet, silk blouse, as if just caught in a downpour. Her back is slightly turned toward the camera, the curves of hip and breast beckoning the onlooker. Her dark eyes are cast downward, lips slightly parted. Beads of water decorate her dark, exposed skin. She is twenty seven years old.
I look at her picture a couple of times a week. It hangs, poster size, crisscrossed by cobwebs, on the wall of one of the businesses on my delivery route. Near the picture sits a Hispanic woman named Mary. Her back hunched over a sewing machine. Her arthritic fingers stitching together tarps for a living. Her face a patchwork of wrinkles. She is sixty seven years old.
And she is the woman in the picture.
Several years ago, she showed this picture—but a wallet-sized photo then—to one of her young coworkers, who had it enlarged and taped it to the wall. There it has remained, candy for the eyes of men, and liquor for the soul of Mary, to help numb the pain of lost years and fading beauty.
The icons of our idyllic past. We all have them. A photo of a younger, healthier you. A sports trophy. A broken wedding ring. Memories of a united home before the divorce of parents shattered the tranquility of an Eden-like youth. Our hearts are half Amish at times. They hanker to live in the past, for we dislike the present or fear the future. But therein lies a grave danger. Nostalgia can easily become the gateway drug to despair.
There is a seductive quality to the myth of reincarnation. A chance to do life over again, to begin afresh with a clean slate. Or, at the very least, to rewind our own lives before the cancer, before the affair, before the burial of children, before the marring effects of life in a fallen world had their way with us. “If only…” becomes our mantra. If only I hadn’t done that. If only I could change this. If only.
The delusional nature of this desire is lost on us. We assume that, if we could go back, we would do better next time. But even if we rewound the years, we would return with hearts unalterably oriented in the direction of self-destruction. We are recidivists to the core, repeat offenders with a rap sheet that keeps expanding. We would return still a target for hell’s arrows, still susceptible to the ravages of disease, still addicted to the notion that we are the redeemers of our lives.
Mary, let me tell you a secret. There is a better way. That cobwebbed picture of you in your pristine youth will only anchor your soul in a sea of nostalgia that sucks you under its waves. Hope in the present is not found in a frozen moment from the past. We cannot unage ourselves, cannot unbury our children, cannot undivorce our failed marriages. We cannot repeat or redeem our lives. But there is one who can, and who does.
If there is a seductive quality to the myth of reincarnation, there is a hope-filled answer in the fact of incarnation. God has made our human nature his own. But more than that, he has made our lives his own. Our biography is subsumed into his. He takes us back to infancy. He takes us back to youth, to adulthood. What we cannot redo in our own lives is redone in his. To read the Gospels is to read your own story, rewritten for the eyes of the Father. You are born of the Virgin. You grow in wisdom and stature. You speak only truth. You love, you give, you die, you rise.
Christ redeems our past, enriches our present, and ensures the hope of our future. He is humanity reduced to one. Everything he does, we do. Our lives are hidden with him in God. It is not we who live but Christ who lives in us. God knows nothing of our failed yesterdays. All he knows of our past is that we were born in Bethlehem, crucified at Golgotha, and rose again on the third day. God knows nothing of us apart from his Son. And we know nothing of God apart from that same Son.
In Jesus, the mantra of “if only” becomes the creed of “done for you.”
Chad is an author and speaker who's devoted to honest Christianity that addresses the raw realities of life with the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ. Chad has served as a pastor and assistant professor of OT theology, contributed hymns to the Lutheran Service Book, and cohosts the podcast “Forty Minutes in the OT.” He holds Master's degrees from Concordia Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College. In addition to writing the books, Christ Alone and The Infant Priest, he has contributed articles to Modern Reformation, The Federalist, Concordia Pulpit Resources, and other journals. His new book with Eerdmans, Night Driving: Notes from a Prodigal Soul, is now available for pre-order at Amazon. His writings and other resources can be found at his website, chadbird.com. Chad and his wife, Stacy, enjoy life together in the Texas Hill Country.