Maybe no word has more power to crush us than “never”. It can slide into our lives at almost any age. The hearts of parents break when they watch kids realize they will never be a great athlete—never play for a Division One university or go pro. “Never” sweeps away dreams. Some in college will butt their head against their own limitations and realize some goals or majors are out of reach. The ubiquitous myth that we all can do anything if we try hard enough can make these “nevers” feel like personal failures.
Adults face even more devastating “nevers.” Infertile couples may face never having children. Those in failed marriages face the possibility of never knowing what it means to be loved, respected, and cherished. Some singles face never marrying. The death of a child floods lives with “nevers” too sad to catalog. As we age, we may realize career dreams will never come true—that we will never be a successful artist, writer, actor, musician, or athlete. Some respond with a midlife crisis; others sigh and trudge along in disappointment.
Less than a year before he died, my Dad and I sat at our kitchen table talking about revival and the moving of God’s Spirit that sweeps people into His kingdom. Dad said, “My one regret is that I have never been a part of a revival.” He died of cancer that December.
Hope and joy must run a gauntlet of “nevers”. Making this more difficult, in some ways, is that Scripture urges us to keep hoping and believing until the end. We have the examples of Abraham and Sarah who had given up having children but then had Isaac. Or Anna and Simeon who all their life had prayed to see the Messiah, and then one day in the temple held Jesus in their arms. So believers often have to qualify their “nevers” with a “probably”. This too is sad, no matter how much room we make for faith and God.
But recently another word ambushed my soul while reading the prophets and psalms. Again and again the word “forever” jumped off the page. Prophets would announce all the trials, judgments, and exile coming upon sinful Israel, but declare a day when God would gather his people back to Jerusalem and reign as king over them forever (Micah 4:7). I had usually not paid attention to these “forevers”, but on this day they exploded in my heart and mind—a blast of joy.
Something like a vision intensified this joy. My mother died two years ago. After a lot of sorting, rearranging, and painting, Teckla turned her room into an office and guest room, but sadness lingers. The room still has some of their books, photos, and Dad’s carvings. The other day I was thinking of my Dad’s unfulfilled dreams and the sadness I often saw in his face and heard in his voice. In the midst of this daydreaming, an image of my Dad’s face came to me. He looked about 30 and his face was beaming—full of strength, health, and joy.
He said nothing but his face said everything. I knew I need not be sad for him. Forever had swallowed up all grief, all broken dreams, all unfinished projects, all unrealized hopes. He was okay—better than okay. I saw glory.
Forever swallows up every “never” just like life and resurrection swallows death. The sadness of each “never” is still real but so much more bearable when seen against the tidal wave of “forever” about to break over every believer’s life. Seen against the coming wave of eternity, our “nevers” aren’t just small, they are momentary. They still hurt, but can’t destroy us, or our faith. Forever is, after all, forever.