I’ve been reading a book, Molly Fox’s Birthday. It’s about two women who are friends and who swap houses for a few days. One woman is an actor, the other a playwright. They have a mutual friend named Andrew. In the course of a day, the playwright discovers that what she wants is tied up in Andrew—perhaps it’s not Andrew himself, but Andrew’s self-confidence. It’s a love story without being one. It’s a story about realizing what went on in the past and finally understanding something that happened a long time ago. Hindsight is 20/20.
In the latter half of the book, Andrew begins to tell the playwright friend about his own son, Tony. By happenstance, when Tony was born he looked impeccably like Andrew’s younger (and recently deceased) brother, Billy. For many years, Andrew believed his parents loved Billy much more than they loved him. While Andrew went out into the world and sought a life of his own and became who he wanted and learned what and how he wanted, his brother, Billy, was favored despite his disreputable behavior.
Shades of the prodigal son here, perhaps. The father welcomes home the son who has left him and squandered all his money. What is there to do but celebrate? The son who was lost has been found! And yet, what about the son who did well even when he didn’t receive praise?
Listen to this segment from Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden:
From the moment Tony was born, he looked like Billy. I can’t tell you the shock that was to me. It never occurred to me that that might happen, I just hadn’t thought about it. But he had Billy’s ears and his nose; within a few days he was smiling at us with that same cheeky grin of Billy’s. Here he was, a miniature version of the dead brother I’d never much cared for, and I’d have walked through fire for him.
Sometimes in retrospect, in moments we don’t expect, we suddenly see a truth that seems so obvious. So real. Now I understand, you think. Now I get it. The saying “You’ll understand when you’re older” finally comes true.
Andrew realizes something about his childhood: “It began to dawn on me that I wasn’t so special, that my parents had no doubt felt about Billy the way I felt about Tony.”
Andrew began to see his parents in a new way. He began, at least in a small way, to forgive them, to let go of the past. It wasn’t that he was forgetting the way things were; he’d just allowed himself to move beyond it. Andrew had at one point doubted his parents’ own love for him; the friend doubted something too—that she could ever be as successful as either Andrew or their mutual friend. They both wanted their situations, their feelings, to change. Their lives were somehow…off.
I’ve noticed that I have this tendency to keep on remembering what was. I can’t get it out of my head, all the ways life used to be and how it’s different now. How it often feels worse.
The friend in this book (who is actually never named) at one point hears a phrase running over and over in her head. “‘Nothing must change.’ Repeat. ‘Nothing must change.’ I could hear a child’s voice saying, ‘Nothing must change.’”
This phrase has been sitting with me as well. I have to ask myself, Am I afraid of change?
Moreover, have I, in one way or another, also said that same thing to myself, while at the same time complaining about how much I wish things were different?
This morning the sun burst forth in a hot burning sphere, rising above the horizon of the Atlantic like a force of its own. The sun was, in that moment, a different creature, working both for me and against me. I looked away; the sun stayed. I saw it when I blinked, when I turned. I wondered if the sunspot would go away. They say you could go blind from looking at the sun. Icarus attempted to reach it, and fell to earth. (Humility.) I wondered, Will I go blind?
But the day before the sun shone, the sky was gray and it rained from morning to late at night. And then the air was cool and the streets were dark, the streetlamps glowed orange and the roads twinkled with rainwater. Cars whirred by and the street was a separate world. My body was tight and tired, and all I wanted to do was sleep. But I didn’t understand the force. I just knew everything had felt so wrong that day. I didn’t know why, or how, I wanted to fix it, but I couldn’t. I wanted something to change. Everything must change! Because everything felt wrong.
I was recently encouraged by someone to remember David, the psalmist. This person reminded me of the ways David struggled. The Psalms are full of fear and questioning.
“That’s what the Psalms are all about,” this person said. “Doubting and questioning and fighting with God, asking God for help.”
I’ve rephrased his words just now, but the sentiment is the same: when all we want is for everything to be right, for everything to make sense, we are not alone in that. Just because we grapple with questions and we struggle with sins or doubts or bad habits, it does not separate us from the love of God. “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.” Paul was right. (He was also an optimist. Sometimes, I know, all we feel is this great, vast distance from God. But the words are still true.)
If there is anything to know about God, it is this: God wants us. He knows us, he understands us, he believes in us. But he will not let us stay the same. Everything, something, we will change. And that’s okay. It’s to be expected. God wants us to grow toward him, even if that means we’ll learn something about ourselves we don’t much like. It’s okay. God’s grace is sufficient.