If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us. Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us. We 'have all we want' is a terrible saying when 'all' does not include God. We find God an interruption. As St. Augustine says somwehere, "God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full--there's nowhere for Him to put it." [...] Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for. While what we call 'our own life' remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interests but make 'our own life' less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible sources of false happiness?
c.s. lewis, the problem of pain
it's no wonder, really. look how much we have lost.
Reaping immortal fruits of joy and love,
Uninterrupted joy, unrivald love
In blissful solitude;
and over head up grew
Insuperable highth of loftiest shade,
Cedar, and Pine, and Firr, and branching Palm,
A Silvan Scene, and as the ranks ascend
Shade above shade, a woodie Theatre
Of stateliest view. Yet higher than thir tops
The verdurous wall of paradise up sprung;
And higher then that Wall a circling row
Of goodliest Trees loaden with fairest Fruit,
Blossoms and Fruits at once of golden hue
Appeerd, with gay enameld colours mixt;
On which the Sun more glad impress'd his beams
Then in fair Evening Cloud, or humid Bow,
When God hath showrd the earth; so lovely seemd
That Lantskip: And of pure now purer aire
Meets his approach, and to the heart inspires
Vernal delight and joy, able to drive
All sadness but despair: now gentle gales
Fanning their odoriferous wings dispense
Native perfumes, and whisper whence they stole
Those balmie spoiles.
milton's paradise lost, 4.67-9, 138-143, 146-159.
and all this merely the beautiful wall to keep satan out of the garden. imagine for a minute the rest of what we lost just that one day.
why did adam and eve lose the garden? why do we take away a child's toy? why do we fast?
because loss leads to longing. if a child fails to share a toy with a friend, we take it away in hopes that, in longing for the toy, the child will learn the importance of sharing. as we fast--from a particular food for lent, for example, or from any sort of indulgence--we attempt to use the longing we feel for that thing to redirect our thoughts to God and to sacrifice and to true longing. adam and eve had no idea how good they had it until the garden was taken away. paradise! and God Himself there walking in the garden with them! did they learn to long for God? (does the child learn to share? do we remember to redirect our cravings?)
we experience so much loss in our post-lapsarian world. we lose loved ones, health, wealth; we lose friends, abilities, belongings. we lose home, over and over again. craig barnes hits it right in his book sacred thirst:
Have you ever been at a place where you had gotten your life just right? You had close friends, a wonderful home, a healthy family, enjoyable work, and a good church...didn't you want to freeze the moment by saying, 'This is it. This is just right. Nobody move!'
Well, quick, take a picture, because this is always the moment when Jesus blows the whistle and says, 'OK, everybody out of the pool.' Jesus didn't build a lot of houses; He didn't join a lot of clubs or churches. He just kept walking toward Jerusalem. And if we are going to follow Him, our lives are going to keep moving around on us.
Now, why is that? Why must we keep growing and changing and maturing? Why do we have to keep losing things along the way -- our health, our families, and our dreams? Why can't we all just stay right where we are? What is so special about Jerusalem?
it's no wonder, really, why we have to lose so much. because loss leads to longing. if it's all good enough here, what do we need There for?
'One of the Fathers has told us that joy always depends on pain. Pain is part of joy. We are hungry and then think how we enjoy our food at last. We are thirsty [...] We deny ourselves so that we can enjoy. You have heard of rich men in the north who eat salted foods, so that they can be thirsty--for what they call the cocktail. Before the marriage, too, there is the long betrothal [...] Pray that you will suffer more and more and more. Never get tired of suffering [...] that is all part of heaven--the preparation. Perhaps without them, who can tell, you wouldn't enjoy heaven so much. Heaven would not be complete. And heaven. What is heaven? [...] Your children do not die there [...] You will never be afraid there--or unsafe [...] Nobody grows old. The crops never fail. Oh, it is easy to say all the things that there will not be in heaven: what is there is God.'
graham greene, the power and the glory
we need There. we long for it. and we need to long for it. we must lose good-enough to be reminded over and over again of so-much-better. will my child one day thank me for giving him the gift of taking away that thing he couldn't seem to share? if he won't thank me, at least i hope he'll receive the gift, learn the lesson, and maybe even be grateful for it. even if he doesn't remember the lesson itself or where it came from.
will i thank God for the loss He has given me--given, yes, even gifted to me--as a reminder to long for Him?