I bought a backpack for my son, not that he has much need for it at the moment.
We’re on the final countdown to the first day of school. Every summer, we reach this place of finality and sadness mixed with celebration of the new. School Open Houses dot my calendar. Every daytrip might be our “last before school starts.” We pack in movie days, haircuts and ice cream outings because we want every last drop of summer, all while prepping school supplies and praying over new teachers and new classes.
We savor the now. We hope for good in the future. It’s both contentment and anticipation, this bittersweet place where one season ends and another begins.
That’s the same every year.
Of course, this year has the curious taint of “pandemic” on it, which means even with so much the same it’s all a little different.
I bought my son a backpack because the strap on his kindergarten bag broke in January. I mended it at the time and told him it was fine because he’ll have a new backpack for next year. Then I asked the all-important question: “What kind of backpack would you like for first grade?”
Usually, he’s a superhero kind of guy when it comes school supplies, but this time he announced he wanted a Jurassic World backpack with dinosaurs on it.
(Just to be clear, my six-year-old son has not actually watched Jurassic Park or any of its many PG13 sequels. But he does love dinosaurs. A lot. So, Jurassic World it was.)
Three weeks ago, I strolled through the school supply section of Wal-Mart on a whim. I felt a little moody that day as I walked past so many school supplies knowing we won’t need 90% of them since school is starting virtually this year.
I love school supplies. Not buying school supplies is hard for me. I am compelled to purchase pens, index cards, notebooks, and organizers of all sorts.
But I strolled past them all, exerting incredible self-control until I saw the Jurassic World backpack hanging on display, surrounded by superhero backpacks of all sorts.
I bought that backpack. Sometimes you just need the reminder that a season will indeed be a season and not forever. There will be a day when my son puts on his dinosaur backpack, steps onto the bus and heads off to school.
Sometimes you need to dig that anchor of hope down deep, deep, deep in the ocean floor.
For now, of course, the backpack hangs in our closet. Meanwhile, he has a pencil box, some composition books, and a cleared makeshift desk all prepped for the virtual start to our school year. My first grader feels excited that he won’t have to go to school on his birthday in October. My older girls are excited that they won’t have to get up before dawn to start the school day.
We rejoice about what’s beautiful now. We look forward to the beauty to come.
In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet continually urged the Israelites who were in exile to live in this same balance of contentment and hope, engage now and hope for the future. He told them to build houses in Babylon, plant gardens, get married, have kids. They were in exile and they would be there for a while, so settle in and make it count. Don’t long for the future so much that you miss out on all that God is doing in this present moment.
But then, Jeremiah would remind them that one day God would lead them back home to Jerusalem. It would come. Exile won’t last forever.
There is hope for your future—
this is the Lord’s declaration—
and your children will return to their own territory (Jeremiah 31:17 CSB)
We also have hope.
Eugene Peterson wrote:
“Hope acts on the conviction that God will complete the work that he has begun even when the appearances, especially when the appearances, oppose it” (Run With the Horses).
Even though exile is hard, even though it isn’t comfortable, even though it lingers, even though it is unfamiliar and even though it isn’t ideal, God is still with us in exile and He will be with us when we trek back to Jerusalem.
His presence makes the difference in both places.
So, here I am, doing my best to help my kids kick off an unusual school year, considering how to live “in exile” with celebrations and end-of-summer activities and virtual schooling set-ups, never forgetting that one day we’ll be back in Jerusalem.
There’s beauty now even in the hard things. There’ll be beauty then so we have hope.