The River of Loss and the River of Life – 2 Kings 6
By Christie Purifoy
I remember my mother on her knees in our kitchen. She held a flashlight. With one breath she said, “It’s only a stone. It doesn’t really matter,” but with one more breath she prayed, “God, let me find it.”
She was washing dishes when she noticed the hollow at the center of her engagement ring. An empty hole where a diamond should have been. She couldn’t say when she’d last seen it there. She couldn’t say where it might have been lost.
She dropped to her knees, and she searched every corner of that kitchen floor. She said it didn’t matter, but she prayed like a woman in a parable. She prayed like she was searching for one lost sheep.
I am a grown woman now. The girl who watched her mother search and pray is lost to us both. She wanders in and out of memory like a shadow. She is sometimes glimpsed in the pages of an old album.
I am only thirty-six years old, but life sometimes appears to me like an accumulation of things lost. My mother’s diamond. Myself as a child. The aunt I loved so much. My childhood best friend.
Now I add to that list: the poem my husband wrote when he asked me to be his wife, our firstborn as a little girl, the life we once lived in the city. And even more important things. Like his Grandfather. Like my friend’s infant son.
So much lost, I wonder some days how to go on living, how to go on loving.
There is a river in the sixth chapter of the book of Second Kings. I think of it as the river of lost and broken things.
Those waters cover more than the iron of a fractured axe. There are diamonds there, yes, but so much else. Precious people and places and versions of ourselves.
I see my friend’s younger body. The one she had before she became sick.
I see chairs we never thought would be empty.
I also see this: a prophet prays by that river. He believes no good thing is ever truly lost. He throws faith like a stick out over those waters, and the iron head of an axe begins to float. It is plucked from the river. It is found.
Like Elisha at the Jordan, my mother found her diamond. Her prayers and a flashlight led her to the dusty corner behind the trash bin. Today, she wears the same old stone, but it is set securely in a new ring.
Some might say (as my mother herself once did), it’s only a stone. In Elisha’s day, it was only an axhead. But what if only isn’t wisdom but self-protection? I’m afraid I numb myself to the small losses because I am frightened to think just how much I have to lose.
It’s an emblem for me, my mother’s diamond. Every day good things are lost, but, like the story of Elisha at the river and the story of my mother and her diamond, our own story ends with restoration. Remembering that, I am free to live fully, I am free to love completely.
We are free because there is another river at the end of our story. It’s the river of John’s vision, a river called life, and it is as clear as crystal. So much will float back to us on this river. So many lost things will be returned. Can you begin to see it? Can you trust that God’s redemption extends even to the old river of lost and broken things?
One day we will stand on its banks. In that place without death or darkness, not even sunlight will be lost to us. No more dark and dusty corners. No more need for flashlights. No more desperate, unhappy prayers.
But, for now, we pray. We pray with longing. We pray with hope. My own prayer sounds like this:
Let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from the Book of Common Prayer 280)
Christie Purifoy earned a PhD in English literature from the University of Chicago. She recently traded reading lists and classrooms for a vegetable garden and a henhouse in southeastern Pennsylvania. Now she writes stories at an old desk in the parlor of a Victorian farmhouse called Maplehurst. When the noise of her four young children makes writing impossible, she tends zucchini and tomatoes her children will later refuse to eat. The zucchini-loving chickens are perfectly happy with this arrangement.
The chickens move fast and the baby crawls faster, but Christie is always watching for the beauty, mystery and wonder that lie beneath it all. When she finds it, she shares it at ChristiePurifoy.com.