There is a vague memory of a house my grandparents lived in. A huge A-frame home with a great big great-room complete with stairs that climbed and climbed and climbed. In my memory, I am wearing Winnie-the-Pooh “footie pajamas.” I am coming down the stairs and there is a Christmas tree reaching into the towering cathedral of a roof. The room is wide-eyed, mouth-opened massive.
Driving by that house a few dozen times as an adult has revealed the place is not as big as I remember. In fact, it seems small in comparison. I can only suppose my physical growth and a little bit of perspective have changed the way I view such spaces. It is a disappointing thing for this to happen. For I would prefer to have kept the memory intact along with the wonder.
Almost every day my son will inevitably say, “This is the greatest house ever!” After a month of living in this house, it dawned on me this morning why he might be so adamant about this. It probably has a lot in common with my memory of my mom’s parent’s home. He is only four years old and the kitchen/living/dining area with the high arched ceiling with exposed wood beams must seem huge to his vertically challenged frame. It looks like a big, wide-open space to me. I can only imagine how enormous he must think it is.
But he will grow up and look at pictures of this room and wonder how he could think it was so magically big. He will be disappointed as we all are about these things. And this phenomenon is not relegated to only homes either. Parks, hills, automobiles, churches and people themselves shrink as we grow up and older. This is the way of things. But not everything.
As I have grown, some things have grown larger and become far more significant than I could have ever believed possible as a young man. The exact opposite of what happened with my memory of my grandparent’s home is happening with my understanding of God and what it means to live by faith. The room is growing larger, not smaller. And with the growth of the room, the magic of it all extends out into places unseen before.
As a young man, I imagined the Christian life as one of 1) Accepting Jesus as my Savior, 2) Being good, 3) Telling others about Jesus. This was pretty much it. A small room indeed. But as I grew up, the room grew also. God started having to do with more parts of my life than just my morality and who I had witnessed to recently. I am just now realizing this after many years of this reality working on me. It shocks me a little. For I’m cynical enough to think the familiarity of the gospel would make it all the more constricting. When in fact everything is enlarging. God now has to do with everything. Everything. And not just my own little need to escape Hell.
The room has become a Universe of inexhaustible ideas and feelings and compulsions and passions and dreams and hopes. No longer is it the closet-like space of getting people to walk an aisle, fill out a card and suppose we have lived the Christian life. The claustrophobia of such a space would kill me now. I’ve sat in the room of hovering stars being called by name and an earth groaning under the weight of original sin. The room of the impoverished the world over and chefs who can work culinary miracles with the raw materials of creation. The room of disabilities and exceptional abilities. The room of weariness and wonder. The room of sexuality and suffering. The room of grace and mercy and failure and falling. And irony of ironies, a room so big, idealism will not fit.
The gospel does this. Or should. The room grew inexplicably large for the Jews who followed Jesus very soon after his death. It grew from a religion of Jews to now include the world. Huh. One sin we just might be in danger of committing but rarely if ever discuss is the transgression of limiting the Christian life to just a few things we can check off. All good things to be sure. Feed the poor. No adultery. Be nice. You know, the usual suspects. But this is all our imaginations can, well imagine. It’s all so small and easy to check off.
But what I cannot help but feel – no, hope for is for it to be oh so much bigger and grander than this. I want to believe my faith in the gospel of grace is not limited to the spiritual things but is exploding onto every single mundane moment in my life. I want the shrapnel of this explosion to imbed itself in every enjoyment and failure and celebration and tragedy coming my way.
We have fallen into thinking that simply because the Christian faith is not less than what it was when we first began, then it needs be no more. Certainly the Christian life is not less than believe, do good and tell. But just because it is not smaller than this room does not mean it should not be bigger. Experience and the Scriptures themselves vitiate against such an idea. The room must grow. Sometimes I look into the details of the gospel itself and a world opens up dwarfing the world I lived in moments earlier. And other times I look into the crevices of my own life and while clearing away the oil and dirt, the grime and contaminating contagions, the room expands.
This is why I like growing older. I’ve no desire to be young again. This would be like trading the great outdoors of a faith for the stuff of pantries. This growing faith that takes in the world bit by bit and takes on years and decades is a pushing back of the Fall itself. The Fall which requires our lives and demands we trade in beating hearts for silent ones takes a body blow when we prefer the aging body with the growing faith. For the room to grow we must also, exchanging bodies of nubility and virility for minds fit for a kingdom expanding.
A great reversal is taking place within us. We grow up and age and must deal with sagging buttocks and breasts. However, a larger reality is overtaking even this. Even though we must age for us to grow in our faith, the growth is taking us back to the wonder of small bodies in cavernous spaces. My hope is we can all sit one day with aching bones, skin no longer taut, and senses failing and say, “This is the greatest house ever.”