[Spoiler alert: References to X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) ahead.]
It was a vivid dream, the type you have early in the morning just before you wake up. Sons Stephen and Andrew were still young, in primary school. They were wearing their school uniforms — white shirts and dark blue shorts. They had been running around a garden, and were sweaty and gave off that smell that young boys do after they have been running around. They had stopped at a table and were now reading a comic, a Tintin comic. I wanted to reach out to touch them. I wanted to go back to that time in their lives and parent them with what I now know about parenting. I wanted to get it right this time. I reached out to touch them but I couldn’t. They seemed to sense someone was there but they couldn’t see me. I continued to reach out but to no avail. I woke up and felt profoundly sad. Took me a while to shake off the feeling of sadness. No, we can’t go back in time to put things right. Unless it’s in the movies.
Bernice and I went to see X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) last night. I knew the basic plot since I have the comics the movie is based on (https://marvel.wikia.com/Uncanny_X-Men_Vol_1_141). I won’t be discussing the details of the movie in this piece except to say that the main plot in both the comics and the movie is a mission to go back in time to prevent a terrible mistake, an event that would set into a motion a chain of events that would result in the death of all mutants (including the X-Men) and many human beings sympathetic to their cause. In the comics it is the Kitty Pryde character that goes back in time. In the movie it is the Wolverine. (I guess director Bryan Singer decided Hugh Jackman had nicer buns.)
The thought that we can go back in time to correct our mistakes is a powerful one. One of the most powerful scenes in the movie is the dialogue between Charles Xavier and his fifty-year-older self, Professor X. In that encounter Professor X encourages his younger self to carry out the mission that will save them all. When Professor X first proposes the mission to Magneto, this is the exchange:
Magneto: Charles, are you sure this will work.
Professor X: I have complete faith in him.
Magneto: It’s not him I’m worried about. It’s us. We were younger, more brash. We didn’t know any better.
Professor X: We will now.
If we could only go back in time and tell our younger selves what we know now! If the 2014 Soo-Inn could go back in time and tell the 1980 Soo-Inn how to be a good husband or tell the 1985 Soo-Inn how to be a good pastor. If in my dream I could go back in time and teach my younger self, how to be a better father. If only. In the real world, we can’t go back. What can we do?
1. Turn to the Lord for forgiveness. We can’t go back in time to undo the wrongs we have done but we can turn to Jesus today and give our failings to Him. We can confess. We can repent. And the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sins and removes our guilt. There is real forgiveness (1 John 1:8-9). There is a real fresh start.
2. Learn from life. An unreflected life is a wasted life. We can’t turn the clock back but we can learn from our lives. We can be wiser. In fact many of our most important lessons are learnt in times of pain and difficulty (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). The past is closed to us but the future is wide open.
3. Mentor those younger than us. I can’t go back in time and mentor my younger self. But I can mentor the young people in my sphere of influence. Indeed one way I redeem my mistakes is by passing on the lessons I learnt from them to any who are willing to listen.
4. Trust the Lord with your story. Our God is a Romans 8:28 God. We can give our stories to Him and allow Him to incorporate them into His story. A good story makes sense of all that happens along the way, one where even the mistakes and failures have their part to play in some satisfactory ending.
Recently, son Stephen got married in Melbourne. I had the privilege of conducting the marriage blessing service in Petaling Jaya. And we had the joy of witnessing son Andrew’s graduation in Peterborough (Ontario, Canada). I know I have fumbled a lot in my parenting. Thank God for grace. It’s not all about me. It’s nice to fantasize about doing a better job if I had a chance to do it all over again. But I should restrict fantasies to the movies and focus my energies on doing a better job of walking with Stephen and Andrew, and Mark and John, at this chapter of their lives. That’s real.