The other night my family had something that seems to be rare these days: down time. We wanted to watch a movie, so I fired up the online movie service trying to find something worth watching. We argued over what to watch. Most of the list was either inappropriate or made up of movies we had never heard of. Then I stumbled across the movie “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” from 2011. I knew it was a movie about the events of 9/11, but I didn’t know much more. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s narrated by, and centers on, a boy who tells you he was tested for Asperger’s, and who lost his father in one of the Twin Towers. He is extremely close to his father and struggles to find some meaning in his loss. He spends the movie following what seems like a convoluted trail of clues from his father, trying to discover the purpose of a key he finds in his closet. The boy’s mom seems like she is dealing with her own issues and is distant. This allows the boy to wander all over New York, contacting people with the same last name as the one printed on the envelope the key was in. With each stop on his list, he grows more frustrated with the fact that no meaning is surfacing. His goal seems further and further away until he reaches a boiling point. What strikes me about this movie is how much my life has mirrored it. When our first son was born, it made no sense. Two months premature, in the ICU for a month. Two years later, we got a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. The truth is this was just a label for what we had been and continue to deal with twenty years later. I can remember trying to find some meaning in it all. At times reaching a boiling point. Swinging my fist in the air and blaming God for what I thought was an inexplicable wrong.
We want meaning, and many times we will go to great lengths to find it. The times in my life when I have felt a sense of purpose have been my most rewarding. When I don’t see meaning, I will do downright ridiculous things to try and find it. I could sympathize with the boy in that movie. It’s frustrating; the more I look to the world for answers, hoping some person or thing will satisfy me and give me purpose, the more it seems I come up empty. In the movie, the boy finally snaps, runs to his room, and starts to scream and shred all the things he had been using to organize his quest. It is at this moment that his mom walks in and lets you in on her secret: she had been watching over him the whole time. Not only had she been watching him, but she had been visiting every person on his list before he did, explaining what he was doing and asking them to be compassionate. She doesn’t tell him that it all makes sense; she tells him she is hurting too. She doesn’t make everything right, but she tells him she knew he had to deal with the pain in his own way. She shows him just how much she loves him by letting him go through it, even when she worries about his safety out in the world. She knew that if she stopped him he would never be able to move on, to get where he needed to be. This made me realize God has done the same things for me. He didn’t fix my family’s situation; it has served His purpose. I may never understand His plan this side of heaven, but at times I have gotten a glimpse. He let me rage and run all over trying to find meaning until I finally gave up. That’s when He reached out and let me know He was there the whole time. He assured me that He loves me. It didn’t happen overnight, but I can finally say that I am at peace with who we are, and I am eager to see what’s next.