Listen, my son! Listen, son of my womb!
Listen, my son, the answer to my prayers!
Do not spend your strength on women,
your vigor on those who ruin kings.
It is not for kings, Lemuel—
it is not for kings to drink wine,
not for rulers to crave beer,
lest they drink and forget what has been decreed,
and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.
Let beer be for those who are perishing,
wine for those who are in anguish!
Let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy....
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
from Proverbs 31
The prompt word for today was leave... but seriously, even before I started considering that prompt and I was simply reading ahead to refresh my mind about what God says through this proverb, as I read, all I could think of was how so much... so many people and things and memories and dreams... have been left behind - by me. And I don't write that in a sad or in a melancholy way. Much leaving is hard. Some does, however, bring relief or respite. Some is necessary. Some is beneficial. Some is just heart-breaking hard. Sometimes that is because of selfishness and sometimes that is because of brokenness...
So how in the world did I get to this spot from this proverb?
Well, as I read the beginning, wise words given to King Lemuel by his mother, I started thinking about how because of ministries and opportunities we have, we sometimes have to choose to leave other things behind. In the context of Lemuel, his mother was warning him that wine or other strong drink should not be a part of the life of the wise ruler because it affects the ability to make sober and right decisions that put others first. The life characterized by a seeking out of wine to relax or beer to forget or whatever other beverage - maybe Coke to energize? a coffee to jump start the day? - to deal with some sort of personal discomfort or need is also a life that might tend to judge unfairly, that might forget to stand up for or seek the best for those less fortunate or a part of the minority. Lemuel's mother doesn't say wine is wrong; rather, she encourages Lemuel to leave the beer and wine for others, for those perishing and in anguish, for those who need an escape for whatever reason. But to those who are responsible for others, to those who are leaders, it only traps and distracts, preventing one from doing what is best, encouraging self-preservation and self-interest at the cost of others. Thus, she encourages him to leave wine and beer behind, to not allow them to be a part of his life.
I think of all of the things we, as missionaries, have left behind. And it ranges... from almost ridiculous (college football on TV or international all-in-good-fun softball tournaments) to nostalgic (fall leaves every year or bonfires under a starry sky on a Sahara sand dune) to heartbreaking (parents, grandparents, colleagues, dear friends and neighbors who we know don't yet know Jesus). And yet we leave because we know God has something in store for us, because He compels us. That doesn't make it less painful, but it does give the pain a worthwhile purpose.
Then, I came to almost the end of this proverb, to well known words: "beauty is fleeting." With a wry smile, I say that that is obvious every single time I look in the mirror (not to imply that I've ever considered myself a great beauty - but rather that I see those clear signs of time marching on - gray hair, wrinkles, sags and droops, hands with prominent veins that I remember as being my Nana's... I sort through photos of even just a few years back and faces are less smooth, wrinkles more prominent, weariness in the eyes is evident, age spots appearing where there were none before. Youth and the beauty inherent in the young leaves... or more accurately, it flees, so much more quickly physically than it does in my mind. I forget I'm no longer 25 until I try and get out of bed in the morning. Although, in the interest of honesty, I'd better clarify... that only happens on some mornings. Some mornings I actually get to the mirror first... or it doesn't happen until Mary Michelle points out a new spider vein on my leg or my teens ask me not to wear that sweater over to the school today because it is so out-dated... but you get the picture. All those things that seemed so critical 25 years ago - I couldn't make them work out the way I'd prefer no matter how many hours or much money I invest. The beauty of youth leaves rapidly... leaving me behind.
But for God's grace and the tiniest of glimpses of His perspective, all of that leaving would be depressing... disheartening...
As CS Lewis said, "There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
Which makes me think of this song:
One day when Heaven was filled with His praises
One day when sin was as black as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
Dwelt among men, my example is He
Word became flesh and the light shined among us
His glory revealed
Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified freely forever
One day He's coming
Oh glorious day, oh glorious day
One day they led Him up Calvary's mountain
One day they nailed Him to die on a tree
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is He
Hands that healed nations, stretched out on a tree
And took the nails for me
One day the grave could conceal Him no longer
One day the stone rolled away from the door
Then He arose, over death He had conquered
Now He's ascended, my Lord evermore
Death could not hold Him, the grave could not keep Him
From rising again
One day the trumpet will sound for His coming
One day the skies with His glories will shine
Wonderful day, my Beloved One, bringing
My Savior, Jesus, is mine
Glorious day, Oh, Glorious day