Parenting at the End of the World

When I was woken up at 6 AM this morning by my hungry baby, it interrupted a dream about a daycare centre and the apocalypse. I was checking to see if this centre would be a good place for my daughter Anna, and the most notable feature besides the open sunny play spaces and rustic wood furnishings was the fact that the staff and children here were actively preparing for the end of the world. Unfortunately (fortunately?) Anna’s  real life wake up cries came before I discovered what these preparations involved or how the world was going to end. I do remember that, in the dream, the assumption that the world would soon end didn’t seem strange to me.

Worries that the world might suddenly end don’t seem that far fetched even when I’m awake. Global warming is real. North Korea is testing nuclear weapons. There is genocide in Burma. Trump is…I can’t keep track of what Trump’s doing, but it’s not good.

I look at the little girl curled up next to me in her bright purple diaper, chubby legs, two bottom teeth that show when she smiles, soft wisps of hair that shine red and gold in the sun. What will her future be? What will the future of her planet be?

This belief that the world is ending isn’t new to this time. I hear from friends that are my parents’ age, that the Cold War threw into doubt the future of humanity and made it difficult to decide whether it made sense to bring kids into the world at all.

Going back farther, much farther, to the time when Paul was writing letters, it’s clear that the early Jesus followers believed that Jesus would come back any day and the world as they knew it would end. To the believers in the city of Corinth Paul writes:

 I tell you, sisters and brothers, the time is short. From now on, those with spouses should live as though they had none. Those who mourn should live as though they had nothing to mourn for, and those who rejoice should live as though they had nothing to laugh about. Buyers should conduct themselves as though they owned nothing, and those who have to deal with the world should live as if all their dealings meant nothing – for the world as we know it is passing away.

(1 Corinthians 7:29-31 The Inclusive Bible)

But here’s the thing, the world didn’t end. Jesus didn’t return in Paul’s life time. Even as they knew that Jesus might make a second appearance any day, the believers in Corinth had to figure out the logistics of how to actually go about living as a diverse community, not just waiting for the end to come. Speaking about how the community should eat together when they gather, Paul scolds:

For as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anyone else. One remains hungry while another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes where you can eat and drink? Surely you have enough respect for the community of God not to embarrass poor people! What can I say to you? You’ll get no praise from me in this matter!

(1 Corinthians 11:21-22 The Inclusive Bible) 

In other words, the Corinthians had to live through this tension of wondering when the world would end while still figuring out the rules of the church potluck.

In times like these, the apocalyptic and the mundane collide everyday. It’s a little bit dizzying. 

When I am awake with Anna at strange hours, my heart turns often to a poem by farmer/activist/poet Wendell Berry called “The Peace of Wild Things.” You might know it. It goes like this:

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

This poem is balm to me. It soothes the ache in my chest and calls me out into the garden, into the woods, into the fields, where I feel most free. And yet. And yet.

I can’t ignore the reality of the trouble that swirls all around me. To carry on like nothing is wrong in the world would make me not free but ignorant.

It sounds like fear mongering to put it into words, but I think lots of us are thinking it: the world as we know it must change. Nothing about how the world is operating is sustainable for very long. As Jesus followers, it is our job to work for peace among all people and peace for the earth. It is our job to be hope in the world.

All that to say, I’m back at PiE now after seven months of parental leave. I’ve changed since I left back in February, and the world has too. So here we are. Yes there’s trouble in the world. But we are still here. We have this day to live and to partner with God in transforming the world. 

Now excuse me while I go change that purple diaper and dream up a better world.


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