The word restoration has me wending about in reflection after a morning spent relearning its simple yet still hidden meanings. I think we are all yearning for restoration, but the oddness of it is that we don’t know well what we are wanting to be restored to. All we know is the wrongness of it, the brokenness, the pain, the suffering that comes as a result of living in this world. In places where we’ve been hurt, sometimes irreversibly so, we seek to be complete again, like we were before.
At the root of all that is living’s experience, all nature, all creation, all humanity are craving, creaking, yearning for restoration. We are all of us yearning to be in a place where we stop degenerating, where food doesn’t rot, where heartburn doesn’t follow us, where wrinkles stop forming and most of all where death is gone.
I’m fond of old-looking furniture and distressed jeans, and the idea of something restored to its original state of brightness, newness and completeness is appealing, but it stops there. Every time I think about restoration, I am shortcut by the idea that we just don’t even know what the original was. We don’t know what it was like to be in a world and bodies that aren’t broken, hurting, suffering, dying…but we all want it all fixed.
There is little as piercing as the sting of reality delivered by chilly November air and gravestones jutting out of an old churchyard. All throughout my twenties I spent vast amounts of time there–from the small Lake Forest cemetery in a Chicago suburb to Crown Hill, the country’s third largest in Indianapolis, Indiana. My eyes led and my feet followed. From scriptures carved in limestone to sites whose marks were illegible, I too was surprised cemeteries had become my go-to spot. The truth is I found some comfort there.
In the graveyard I was confronted with mortality. The mortality of dozens and hundreds and thousands as I waded through countless places of repose. I found the places where loved ones of yesterday were laid to rest, and I found myself reflecting on the ones who in death have now been restored, and restored to a level of restoration they had never fully experienced in life. And that gave me comfort.
One day every glimpse of heaven we have received through our experience as man, woman, child–all of those experiences will be elevated to their fullest (if the superlative even lives in heaven) and our hearts will overflow with glee, with jubilee, with celebration…eternally.
Everyone wants restoration to some degree, although they might not be conscious of it. When we talk about things not being fair or right or noticed or celebrated, we are talking about a lack, a missing piece, something that has somehow fallen, broken, or moved away from what it should be. Whether the outcome of a situation is through a bad choice we make or the choice someone else makes or simply the brokenness of the nature of this world, we are all yearning for restoration.
Evenings in cemeteries created a space for me to realize that all of us are pining for wholeness. Through the stark reality of staring at those gravestones, the truth of our end, for most of us at a time we cannot predict, met the truth of our now–that our earthly experiences through fellowship with the Lord deliver spiritual restoration day by day. I found those restorative moments came in the moments of silence after great disappointment, the minutes of confusion after a surprising piece of bad news. I found that even though the brokenness of the thing which sought to destroy me did in fact hurt me, that I was not alone.
And when it came time for me to walk through my valley and the shadows there, after Audi was born and the storm of chaos which followed, no words, no gifts, no specific people, nothing absolutely nothing tangible, not even the co-suffering of a spouse, offered the comfort that the presence of God did.
While the presence was a dark and silent one–I did not see God and I did not hear Him–it was one of steadiness. It said, “I will be here in this moment. And this one. And this one. As hours turned into days and days into weeks, that presence never changed. Stunningly and in direct contrast to what the human part of me would do in perhaps a parallel situation, though I did not even acknowledge God during the blackest time of my life, his presence was still there. Though I did not come close to telling God, as so many others do, to do His will, and though I did not audibly submit and surrender to His plan, He was still there.
I might not have had a prodigal life. I might not have run to drugs, to alcohol, to the mass chaos of hedonism. But I had my own going away from God, my own leaving the Lord. Like a swimmer disoriented beneath the waters, not knowing where up is, not able to spot a place to move toward, I closed my eyes. But unlike the ones who drown, when I opened my eyes I had the air I needed to breathe. I might have been underwater still, in the middle of an incredibly confusing time. I might have had all the best practices in tow, but with no energy for following them, I lived moment to moment by the sheer fact that I was not alone, that God was there, that the outcome was uncertain, but that restoration was a promise. And whether that restoration was to be in part and now through a miraculous recovery or something else…I really never pondered.
How thankful I am that the Lord continued in a daily way to restore my soul, to give me my daily bread, to lead me beside still waters, and how fitting that we call her Autumn, born in the fall (in the midst of a fallen world, in the midst of a season where things are passing away, as a constant reminder to me of the temporary nature of everything…). As Audi and the others grow up desiring to understand and analyze the world around them, searching like me for the deeper truths, I will point them too to the restorative virtues found in silence, found in nature, and found in the Lord through incredibly powerful words like these: He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. Yes, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.