You ever feel like you’re just marking time?
I don’t know if it’s being cooped up with a cold or if it’s Februaryitis, but it feels that way sometimes. My “on this day” photos always show me at Longwood Gardens on some variation of this date for the past decade, so I know that a case of The Febs hits me this time every year. Going through the motions, marking time.
I’m currently reading through Genesis, and just loving when approximately twenty years go by in a single paragraph break. God promises Abraham a child and a decade goes by before Abe takes it into his own hands. Another thirteen years go by before his wife, Sarah, conceives. We don’t see everything that’s going on during that time – just the highlights, or the lowlights; whatever’s worth mentioning. Twenty three years, give or take, of marking time, waiting to see one aspect of the promise fulfilled.
Then Isaac is born, and he grows and is weaned in a single verse (Gen 21:7-8). You know that took years, though. Sleepless nights. Exhausted days. Nursing and growing and shrinking and napping and correcting and laughing and crying and loving and so many dishes, probably. Anyone who has raised a child knows exactly how those days feel. So much glory. So much exhaustion. Years, though, in a single verse. Just marking time.
Isaac turns forty and takes a wife, Rebekah, who wants children. In one verse, he’s married. The following verse, he prays for his wife to conceive. And the following verse, the children inside her are wrestling. But twenty years have passed in those three sentences (Gen 25:20-22).
Two entire decades of hand wringing and praying and monthly disappointment – I cannot presume to speak into that pain – and all the while, the ordinary life is still happening. Working, cooking, cleaning, laughing, arguing, worshipping, crying, living. Waiting. Just marking time.
A few thousand years later, Paul gets knocked off his donkey and encounters the risen Lord and then goes blind only to have his sight restored and is radically converted and then… he goes home. He goes home, and after three years, he visits Peter in Jerusalem to “get to know him” (Gal 1:18) and stays with him for two weeks. And then fourteen years go by – fourteen years – before he joins the rest of the apostles in Jerusalem, just to make sure he was getting the gospel right, and hadn’t been laboring in vain. What was he even doing for fourteen years?? Maybe he watched the sun rise every day in appreciation that he could see after the scales were removed from his eyes. Maybe he had dinner with his neighbor in Tarsus every Tuesday. Whatever it was, I’d wager a lot of ordinary was happening.
The Word of God is filled with all sorts of accounts just like these, lives passing in paragraph breaks, ordinary people marking time. I like those lives, because they make me think of Ordinary Time; that’s just the phrase for “marking time” that takes up more than half of the (liturgical) church year.
Sometimes, particularly when I have lots going on, I crave these ordinary days – cozy nights with my family on the couch, playing board games or Mario Kart, or watching BBC, or reading a book out loud; ordinary days that turn into ordinary nights that I know are treasured answers to years of prayer, that I know are the years of memories I’ll gratefully sift through when I’m older.
Sometimes, the monotony threatens to swallow us all whole, and the cloudy days stretch on without end, and the kids won’t stop arguing, and nobody wants to eat the dinner I made, and I lock myself in the bathroom to cry because I’m not feeding the hungry or clothing the naked or visiting prisoners or living the Real Christian Life ™ or seemingly doing anything that counts. Those are the times that my life feels utterly small and selfish, because I’m not Elisabeth Elliott, because He already made one of her and He wasn’t pleased to make another, but He was pleased to make one of me (and you) instead. Me with my own calling and own blessings and own limits of a husband and children and commitments to a church and home in New Jersey. Most of which is spent
Every sanctified, stumbling saint in Scripture spent most of their lives in Ordinary Time, save the verse or paragraph where we get to peek in. Decades pass in a comma, or a lifetime passes in a paragraph, but Paul wasn’t always making speeches, and Joseph wasn’t always saving nations. Sometimes, they were just living through February. They weren’t living their best life now. They weren’t (knowingly) changing the world. They were just…living.
That’s where the life is, I think.