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A particularly radiant sunset had stained the sky in marvelous hues of orange and purple as I was driving my minivan full of kids home the other day.
“Look guys!” I said. “Look what Jesus made for us!”
My husband is an artist, and the kids seem to have inherited his keen eye — my five-year-old conceptualizes creation as God coloring and always staying within the lines, and she’s proud of God for accomplishing it so well — so they are particularly delighted by the beauty of our planet.
“You know,” I told them, “God made this just for us. No one else in the whole world will ever see it like we’re seeing it right now.”
“What about the people in the car right behind us?” the too-quick-witted-for-his-own-good child in the far back called out.
“Well, their angle isn’t quite the same,” I answered dismissively before deciding to launch into simplifying for them the idea that each creature receives the Creator’s gifts in an eminently individual way — his graces are designed and delivered to me with the attention that only someone who knows the number of hairs on my head could summon.
Conversely, the praise and blessing that I give him can be given by no one else. The Psalmist invites us to sing a new song to the Lord, perhaps because every creature’s song is new, sung from a unique and unrepeatable voice and heart with the notes of an ongoing history that has only been lived once and will never be replicated.
God taught (or re-taught) me this lesson I was trying to give my kids by using my kids:
Perhaps it’s because I became a mother a bit later in life, or perhaps it’s just because I’m ridiculously sentimental, but I’m regularly shedding tears over how fast the time is passing. Milestone after milestone keep being met. And because I see that their sweet childhoods are slipping away, and because I have the memory of a goat, and because we live in an age where I can fall into the trap of conceptualizing my daily life in terms of Facebook posts, there is a constant temptation to want every adorable facial expression, every clever comment, every darling interaction to be recorded by photo and video and journal entry.
So one day, as one of the kids was doing something unusually cute, I readied to run for the camera. But before I could leave the scene of the cuteness, I realized it wouldn’t be possible to catch it — because the camera battery was dead or because the moment would end before I got back, or whatever the reason. But in that second of pause, God planted the lesson: “This moment is just for you, you know. No one else in the world will ever see it like you’re seeing it right now.”
And without the camera in hand, I was able to really see, to contemplate, even, the gift of this child before me.
Not every sunset can be photographed. Not every moment of cuteness can be videoed. And if I try to capture on film each of these only-for-me moments, I might get distracted by lighting and angles and flashes and miss the opportunity of taking it in for all that it is: a specially prepared grace of now, God’s “new song” for me.
Some corollary thoughts: Even with the awesome technological advances of ever ready Focus Pixels and images instantly shared to all your devices, there is no more magnificent device for catching a scene than the human eye. God really did do some great “coloring” when he created it. From behind a camera or an iPhone, we can see so little of all there is to see. We have to be like the elderly woman in that meme that made the rounds some months ago. Look at what’s passing before us. Take it in. Relish it.
But what about the problem of having the memory of a goat? I know that much of what I don’t record on film will be forgotten. (And I need to stop speaking of it that way — who has film anymore?) So don’t get me wrong. I’m not at all opposed to trying to record the cuteness. We invested in a fairly nice camera and pay for iCloud storage for all our pics. My kids are even getting used to the frequent photo-shoots I’m dragging them to, though I expect soon they’ll start protesting the matching outfits. I am recording as much of their little lives as I can. But I’m trying to remember to find in our daily moments more than a photo op.
And in seeking the balance, I give myself one further consolation. I’m hoping that in heaven I’ll be able to watch it all again if I want to. It is often said that every sin will be made known at the final judgment, which will add to our appreciation of God’s grace and mercy. Presumably if the bad stuff is going to be reviewed, the good stuff could be made known too. Mightn’t there be a way in heaven to have a look again at these moments of blessing God prepared just for me? I might not want to turn my attention from his face to relish again the earthly joy of a glorious sunset or a child’s sweetness, but if seeing it again would bring me happiness, it just might be possible. And it will surely be a better image than any camera or video could have recorded.
Kathleen Hattrup is Aleteia’s senior editor.