I’ll confess that January always seems to bring a slight depression into my life. For starters, I’m not a fan of the weather at all. By the time the calendar rolls into a new year, I’m ready for spring to arrive. By February, you’ll find me singing Jimmy Buffett songs and looking for flights to somewhere, anywhere, with warm weather. Fortunately, I’ve never shot six holes in my freezer, but if you know that reference you might just be a January-hating Parrot Head like me.
My other problem with the first month of the year is that Christmas is over and I’m never quite satisfied that it was all that it should have been. On December 31 of this past year, our family drove around for one last look at Christmas lights. I found myself wishing we’d spent just a few more evenings during December doing this activity together. I thought about homes and neighborhoods we failed to go see. There is one house located only a few miles away that puts on a light display rivaling Calloway Gardens. We only drove through their property one time during this holiday season. Only once! Why? Why did the Christmas season seem so short this year? Why didn’t we enjoy it more? Why didn’t we soak up all of the joy of this season with more energy and tenacity?
That evening — the last of 2019 — I began to ponder these questions. Suddenly, I was Clark Griswold, sitting in my attic and watching old home movies on a 16mm projector. Instead of looking at thirty-year-old film, I was reviewing the last thirty days, wishing it could’ve been more. Wishing that it had been, well, the perfect Christmas.
I’ll do this on vacations as well. Our family enjoys going to the beach (see the above paragraph and reference to Jimmy Buffett). Leading up to our trips, I will find myself imagining a week of blissful perfection. My oldest son and I head to the golf course, both playing our best rounds of the year. We join the rest of the family on the beach, where everyone is happy and together we build an award-winning sandcastle. We enjoy a perfect dinner at the house and then head to the ice cream store, where the line is surprisingly short and they have the flavors everyone wants. We then return to the house and watch a family movie together, exhausted from the day but all smiling and happy.
Does it ever go that way?
I think it almost did one time. And in my mind I keep going back to that one almost perfect day, hoping that with just a few tweaks, we can make it 100% perfection and repeat that day for seven full days. Almost like the movie Groundhog Day, but in a good way.
In reality, most days come nowhere close to what I’ve naively anticipated. The round of golf is miserable, with both me and my oldest son ready to throw our clubs in a lake. Our younger children spend most of our beach time fussing, and this goofy family hanging out next to ours builds a far superior sandcastle. Dinner is late, the ice cream store is crowded, no one can agree on which movie to watch, and I go to bed feeling an incredible amount of sympathy for ole’ Clark. All the effort and planning, yet things never seem to work out the way I’d imagined.
I just bet you’ve had similar experiences. Unless you are a diehard pessimist who only expects and is happy with misery, you likely find yourself dreaming of the perfect holiday, the perfect night out, the perfect vacation, the perfect party, the perfect whatever… only to find yourself incredibly disappointed.
Why is this? Why do we have this longing that is so rarely ever satisfied? Why do we yearn for perfection?
I’m convinced that this desire has its roots in Genesis 3. Prior to their rebellion against God, Adam and Eve lived in a world without pain or heartache. Every day was full of complete joy and pure happiness. Every interaction with one another and with their environment fully met their expectations. Their existence was blissful. They only knew perfection.
Then the fall happened. Sin entered the world. Their Norman Rockwellian lives exploded. They fought. They experienced disappointment. Their family vacations were not what they’d hoped or expected. Holidays were a letdown. January was cloudy and cold. Nothing was as it had once been.
Yet, the memories were there. Eden remained in the back of their minds. They had experienced perfection. They remembered the ideal.
Somehow, in some way, we all have this taste of Eden within us. We all long for what was lost by the first humans. We aren’t able to actually experience it; yet, we know it’s there, out there, somewhere, and our souls yearn for a return to the Garden.
Lately I’ve been reading through the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. It is undoubtedly the worst book of the Bible to read in January. I’m already struggling with the blues, and now I’ve got to deal with Solomon’s junk as well?
However, there is a powerful line Solomon stuck in his existential treatise on the meaningless of life. This particular truth helps me make sense of the rest of the book and to understand why it is included in the Bible. Solomon wrote that He [God] has also set eternity in the human heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11). In other words, God has allowed this taste of Eden to remain within each of us. Not to frustrate us, but to remind of how things ought to be. The longing is there to direct our hearts toward God, toward heaven, toward that day where we will get to experience perfection. This desire is intended to get our attention and cause us to consider our own return to Eden, a place we normally call heaven. When life isn’t going the way we expected, dreamed of, or hoped for, that experience ought to remind us of the truth that there is more, much more, than just what this life has to offer. There is an eternity that awaits.
The desire for Eden is just a hint, but it’s enough. It’s enough for us to know that no matter how hard we try, we cannot achieve this state of perfection on our own. We cannot plan well enough, purchase enough toys or Christmas lights, book just the right place for vacation, or manage our relationships in a way that brings us what our hearts truly desire. As hard as we may try, we can never by our own efforts manage to find our way back to Eden.
The best we can do is to accept God’s free gift of salvation that is only found in Jesus Christ, and then to look forward to the day we get to return to the Garden. The place where it’s never cold or rainy and our sandcastles are always perfect.
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Kevin Mills is the Lead Pastor at Northway Church in Macon, Georgia.