I am not a crier. I’m the kind of person who naturally keeps that stiff upper lip, and there isn’t much that causes my emotions to ride too high or to sink too low. It’s probably the Canadian in me. And yet there is this one thing I do on a regular basis that almost always overwhelms me with a deep sadness. If it doesn’t actually bring me to tears, it brings me awfully close.
A few months ago I downloaded an app called Carousel; this app pokes through all the thousands of photographs I keep on my computer and once a week it packages up a collection of highlights from this week in years past. My phone buzzes, I open up the app, and suddenly I am staring into the past. And it just about breaks my heart every time.
This week there is a photo of my son that was taken on May 11, 2008. He is wearing his brand-new Athletics jersey, ready for another season of little league baseball. He is making a goofy face, masking his discomfort in front of a camera by hamming it up. He looks so young. So young! He was 8 back then, but is 15 today. What happened? Where did the 7 years ago?
The next photo goes back 10 years to 2005, and my daughter is at a princess party, looking so tiny and looking as cute as a button. She was 3 then, and is 12 (going on 19) today. How is that even possible?
And then, right between the two, is May 4, 2006. My two oldest children are in our living room, meeting their little sister for the very first time. Could that really have been 9 years ago? 9 years! 3,285 days!
There are thousands of these photos, each one a little link to days gone by and to time that has already passed. While there is joy in looking at those old shots and losing myself in memories, there is also a deep sadness. Why? Because every photo looks like an opportunity lost. Wasn’t it just yesterday that the kids were toddling around, barely able to walk? Wasn’t it just last summer that they ran in circles outside trying desperately to get some dollar-store kites to soar into the air? No, according to the timestamp on the photos that was in 2008. I will never see those 7 years again. They are gone. And what did I do with them? How did I love and serve my children with them? Where did all that time disappear to? Why wasn’t I outside with them, trying to get those kites in the air instead of just snapping a few photos of the action?
This is the tragedy of time. Time is one of the few resources in this world that is given in finite measure. I can always make more money—I just need to work harder or work longer or invest better, and more money will come. But there is not a single thing I can do to gain more time. It ticks by and is gone forever. Every one of those photos shows a moment that has come and gone and will never be repeated. Every one of those photos shows opportunities taken, but also opportunities lost. When I stare into the past I am faced to grapple with all the things I have done and all the things I have left undone. It is nearly impossible to look at those photos and not feel the sorrow of failure.
And yet I know that the photos are just a few snapshots of a few moments, and that our lives are much more than these pictures. They captured some moments, but not the most important moments. No one took photos of me reading Bible stories to the children. No one took photos of Aileen cuddling the girls while talking about life and eternity. No one took photos of our family sitting together in church, singing together, praying together. We don’t have a single picture of the family devotions we do just about every day. No one took photos of my son when he suddenly came to the realization that Christ had died for his sins. These photos record reality, but only the smallest sliver of it. Few of life’s most important moments can be so easily captured.
Note: Watch picture courtesy Shutterstock