I have wonderful memories from my childhood, swinging on the old porch swing on soft summer evenings. Nothing is quite as lovely as a porch swing, especially those made of real wood. I didn’t even mind when the swing made creaky “music” as we gently swung back and forth.
When I was quite young, my mom would sit at one end of the swing, and I would lie down with my head in her lap. While we swung, she stroked my hair. I loved it. Usually the motions made me sleepy, which may have been her intent. I loved it then, and I would love it now. But alas, I have no porch and no swing.
If we cyber friends had the opportunity to share a swing, I imagine we would easily slide into a comfortable rhythm while talking about our lives. Maybe our conversation would get real, even sharing something heavy from the burdens we carry. This kind of exchange takes risks ~ daring to delve into one’s personal pain. If we share with someone equally scarred by tragedy, she would understand, would she not? When the porch swing stops, and we say our goodbyes, we are perhaps changed in some way and likely we have made a new friend as well.
Switching gears now, do you remember the New Testament story about Nicodemus? Let’s bring him in from the past for a closer look. Nick desires to meet with Jesus privately. He has some questions he wants to ask the Teacher. Being a power player in the Jewish ruling council, Nick cannot risk criticism from his peers, so he arranges to meet with Jesus late one night when most folks are off the streets and behind closed doors.
Nick arranges the meeting in a grove of olive trees way off the beaten path. In my mind’s eye, I see Nick peering into the semidarkness looking for someone. He seems nervous. Perhaps he is fearful that someone else may have followed him, but Jesus is the only one who appears. The two men greet each other in the courteous manner of gentlemen in their day. They sit down on a swing. It might have seemed rather odd for a swing to be in an olive grove, but to me it would have been the perfect place to have a private conversation.
I imagine some anonymous, generous soul had secured the swing with thick ropes tied around huge branches of two olive trees. And who could have made the swing? Why not Jesus? After all He had years of carpentry experience. No doubt it was a beautiful swing, smooth to the touch and comfortable. But let’s move along with the story.
Likely Nick is a bit nervous and comments on the weather or some daily drivel, but he is eager to get to the weightier matters on his mind. He approaches his topic by mentioning to Jesus that he and his friends have been discussing the work being done among the people by Jesus and His disciples. They have concluded that He must be from God to be able to perform amazing miracles. Jesus never wastes time. He has a habit of zeroing in on what is important when He’s given the opportunity, and He did so this evening, too. Shall we listen in?
Nick went to Jesus and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher sent by God. No one could perform the miracles you are doing unless God were with him.”
Jesus answered, “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.”
Quite puzzled, Nick quickly fired a question, “How can a grown man be born again? He certainly cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time!”
“I am telling you the truth,” replied Jesus, “that no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. A person is born physically of human parents, but is born spiritually of the Spirit. Do not be surprised because I tell you that you must all be born again. The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” asked Nicodemus.
Jesus answered, “You are a great teacher in Israel, and you don’t know this? I am telling you the truth… You do not believe me when I tell you about the things of this world; how will you ever believe me, then, when I tell you about the things of heaven? And no one has ever gone up to heaven except the Son of Man, who came down from heaven.”
In a nutshell, Jesus covers several topics with Nick, and all of them deep. Then He spoke words that are familiar to many:
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior.”
Dear reader, you may be scratching your head and wondering what does this story have to do with grief? Perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch, but here is where my imagination kicks in. I, too, long to meet Jesus face to face. I can picture myself wandering through the same dense olive grove where I come across the same swing, lovingly crafted so long ago, and still nestled among thick branches. Over time the trees have spread their leafy green into a group hug, hiding the swing in a tree-like sanctuary. What a nice surprise, I think to myself. I sit down and start to swing back and forth. Back and forth. A minute or two passes, and I hear footsteps. Should I be frightened and make a hasty retreat? No need. There He stands in the shadowy moonlight, smiling down at me. I invite Him to take a seat, and together we swing back and forth. Back and forth.
Neither of us speaks, but the silence between us is peaceful. Topics and questions jockey for top positions in my head. Where to begin? I so want to ask Him “the” question which has troubled me for a long time. Of course He knows my thoughts, and before I open my mouth to speak, He opens His:
“I know your grief journey is difficult for you,” Jesus speaks softly, and as He does, He casually brings His arm to rest lightly around my shoulders as if to help His words bring warmth and understanding to my heart. “It’s hard for Dad and Me, too,” He continues. “We planned for your firstborn long before you were ever born. We knew you would be the perfect mother to raise our precious child. We knew we could trust you to carry out your parental responsibilities with love and devotion and that pleased us. We knew you would love him with all your heart, for you were eager to have a family of your own.”
“It may be hard for you to understand,” Jesus pressed on, “but we already knew this sweet child’s life would be cut short. And, trust Me when I say, knowing this was heartbreaking. Should we give him life? Should we share him with parents? Should we take him out of the pages of history just because his parents will outlive him? After much agonizing discussion back and forth, Dad and I agreed. Allowing you to raise your cherished, prayed-for child was worth all that would become a part of your story.”
Heaven had agonized. The difficult decision was made. Our sweet son would be born to us, making us a family. Thankfully we did not know the future. We would only have each day which would turn into many happy years together. Heaven would love and support us every step of the way, celebrating our joys and carrying us in our sorrows. God knew that my relationship with Him would be severely tested . . . but over time and through all the trials and pain, it would grow to be richer, deeper, closer. Ultimately we would have the opportunity to be drawn into an unbreakable bond of love which will last forever.
We kept a steady rhythm on the swing as we swung in silence. Jesus has given me much to ponder, to think about . . . but still I hadn’t asked the burning question that had troubled me for years . . . actually since my firstborn died by suicide. I was conflicted and having a personal argument in my mind:
Maybe I’m the only mom who has struggled with this thought: If my son should not get to enjoy heaven, then I don’t want to be there either.
There. I finally admitted it. It almost made me cringe to even think the words. Why was I reluctant to ask Jesus when I had Him right next to me? Was I afraid He wouldn’t answer me? Or was I afraid of what His answer might be? Even though the time didn’t seem right to ask Him, I have no secrets. He already knows what’s in my heart. I can’t hide my thoughts from Him any more than you can hide yours.
Finally Jesus breaks the silence. “It won’t be long now, you know. When you see Me next time, I will be coming in the clouds, surrounded by all the heavenly hosts of angels (1 Thes. 4:16). It will be a time of great rejoicing! Do you know why?” I smiled, took His nail-scarred hand in mine, and nodded. He smiled too. “I can’t wait to raise up ‘our’ boy and see you and your family jumping up and down in joyful embraces. I live for that moment.”
Me, too, Jesus. Me, too.
Scripture story, John 3:2-17 Good News Translation (GNT).