It was shortly after midnight. I was digging through the cupboards in my kitchen, having been roused from bed by a son who was sick to his stomach. Up to this point everything had been happening on auto-pilot (having been through this, or similar scenarios many times before). And as I stood there with sleep in my eyes and the family’s affectionately named “puke bowl” in my hands the question slid into my muddled mind … when did my life change?
The question sprang to mind as I held that big green plastic bowl in my hands in the darkened room. Once upon a time this bowl held other things than vomit. It was a gift to a young couple making their way through seminary. A big plastic popcorn bowl full of little treats aimed at fun and frivolity for an overworked and often-stressed student and his wife. We were so grateful for it, and we used it often. Whether it was a night of popcorn in front of the TV or chips set out for an evening with friends, that big green bowl was right there and full of snacks. Those were the days.
But as I said, that all changed.
We are still grateful for it, and we still use it often … but probably never for popcorn again! It has changed from a bowl of fun and frivolity to a bowl of humble service. It is no longer trotted out and set on tables when guests come by. (Especially now that they might know what we do with it!) Now it mostly sits in the cupboard until those dark nights or early mornings when it is placed beside the sick bed, ready to be filled in a desperate moment’s notice.
And as I took that once happy old bowl into the bedroom to perform its inglorious duty, I saw in it a metaphor for life … my life in a bowl. For somehow, by the subtle workings of God, my life too has changed over the years. The glory seeking days of youth, the endless quests for fun and frivolity, the regular need to escape from the tedium of work and stress … all of these have now changed. I wish I could say that they were gone, (just as I wish I could say that a bowl once regularly used for catching sick-up never gets used for other things) … but you know it just isn’t true. Better to say that these juvenile pursuits have been tempered along the way.
It began when I took on the vocation of husband, promising to share my life with another, do everything in my power for my wife and for her sake. It continued each time I was called anew to the vocation of father, giving away even more of myself and my juvenile claims to those who were now in my care, my responsibility. Sometimes gradually, sometimes in flashes of insight my perspective began to change along with my duties. Thus the well-practiced midnight run down the hallway with a puke-bowl in my hands.
Yet in thinking of all this in those few late night moments, I wasn’t sad or regretful. I didn’t mourn the loss of a popcorn bowl, or of carefree days of sleeping through the night. For these are the days I long for! There is a joy and a satisfaction in these humble acts of service to my loved ones, that no amount of fun or frivolity ever got me. These late-night dashes for the infamous bowl, the bedside reassurances, fixing of covers and the tucking in again … these are truly glorious duties – my greatest achievements. “If my life is a bowl waiting to be filled,” I thought to myself stepping on a toy and staggering into my son’s dresser, “it may not be what I would have chosen in my younger days – but it has never been more full!”