Bedtime is always a time of revelation and sometimes self-revelation in our household, particularly with our youngest child who is eight-years-old. We have noticed since Thanksgiving that he has been easily frustrated, trying out unsavory words on his older brother, and bursting into tears quite regularly. Some child development experts say that children go through periods of equilibrium and disequilibrium based on developmental milestones. Clearly, we are in a disequilibrium time.
Last night, the tears started falling. His legs hurt. His mattress was too hard. Then he queried, “What is the meaning of life, if we all die?”
I knew that this question must be taken seriously for he has been asking many more existential questions lately. I paused and said, “Well, it depends on your perspective.” I explained that as Christians we believe our lives have meaning because God has created us and given us life to know God and love others and share God with others.
Then he countered, “Is there an afterlife?” I said that I believe there is some kind of life after we die. We know of that eternal life through the promises of God and because Jesus destroyed death when he died on the cross and was raised from the dead. But, I said, “I don’t know what that feels like because I haven’t died yet and have never talked to someone who has died.”
Quiet first, then the predictable follow-up, “But, how do you know if you can’t prove it?” And, thank goodness for some good, old C.S. Lewis. I asked my son, “Do you think Mommy loves you?” Luckily he nodded. I said, “I can’t prove that I love you. I can kiss you and hug you and help you find your lost Dragon, but you don’t know if I do these things because I love you or maybe just because I’m bored :).”
His eyes opened a bit and I almost got a smile. I explained it was the same way with God. We can’t be sure that God loves us. We could always point to some heartbreak or some injustice in the world. But, we can trust God’s promises and God’s words and believe that God loves us. It seemed that was enough intense discussion for the night because the too hard mattress was mentioned again. I tucked him in, sang prayers, and relayed the whole conversation to my husband.
I couldn’t help but think of the almost insurmountable struggles Florence Li Tim-Oi faced as a priest ordained eons before others even considered women for ordination. Not only was she ordained long before women’s ordination was a reality, but in a part of the world where her culture and honor were paramount.
In 1941 Florence was serving as a deaconess in Macao, China when her country’s fighting with Japan intensified. Priests could no longer travel to Macao to celebrate the Eucharist, so Florence stepped up her ministry. Her work came to the attention of Bishop Ronald Hall, who decided that “God’s work would reap better results if she had the proper title” of priest. On January 25th, 1944 Florence Li Tim-Oi was ordained a priest in Christ’s church.
When World War II came to an end, Florence’s priesthood became the subject of much controversy. She made the personal decision to resign her license (though not her priestly orders) until it was acknowledged by the wider Anglican Communion. However, she continued to minister with great faithfulness, and in 1947 was appointed rector of St. Barnabas Church in Hepu near the Vietnamese border where, on Bishop Hall’s instructions, she was still to be called priest.
When the Communists came to power in China the following year, Florence once again had to hide her priesthood. Churches were closed and expressing one’s Christian’s faith was prohibited for thirty years.Florence was forced to work on a farm and later in a factory. Accused of counter-revolutionary activity, she was even required to undergo political re-education. It wasn’t until 1979 when churches reopened that Florence could resume her public ministry.
Like my son, Florence would have been right to question the meaning of her life. She could have given up hope in light the communist society, culture, and critics who surrounded her. Instead she remained steadfast, open to what the Spirit might be doing. While she was relegated to a life outside her calling, she continued to trust that her life had meaning, and used it to glorify God in whatever way she could. Today on Florence Li Tim-Oi’s feast day, enjoy a time of bedtime revelation with your own children about where they find meaning and what the Spirit might be doing in their lives.
[Image Credit: Renison University College Archives, used with permission]