What Matters

Standard

It’s the middle of the night, 4:30 AM. I know that’s close to getting up time for some of you. I’ve been trying to keep more reasonable hours, go to bed around 1. “Reasonable” for me. That didn’t work tonight.

I’ve been thinking a lot about getting older. It changes your perspective. I realize I’ve been trying to say a few things in my writing and I keep coming at them from different perspectives, hoping to zero in.

What we do matters. What we say matters. We have a chance to make a difference.

Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote ” I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory.” My dad lived sixty-eight years. Rachel Held Evans died at 37. My friend Fred only twenty-nine. And you might think, “Of course you’re thinking about death–it’s the middle of the night!” But I’ve been thinking about these things all the time.

Big events are happening now. We’re in an election year. People are screaming and arguing that this is the best President we’ve ever had, the worst President we’ve ever had, that the fate of the world rides on this election. We’re trying to change a racist, sexist culture while some fight back that our attempt at change is the problem.

We’re in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. We’re learning to do life differently, those of us with the resources to protect ourselves and rearrange our lives. Many more can’t protect themselves. I’m watching my wife, Kim, relearn how to teach after twenty-plus years. We laughed today that it should make her feel young, trying to figure out how to do this, just like she did when she started.

Everything feels huge right now, oversized, overwhelming. We’re enduring too much stress. We’re debating over masks. We’re debating if the sky is blue, if water is wet, if U2 is great (duh). But it’s intractable because somehow both sides believe they have reason on their side, both sides are shouting, “No, this is what ‘wet’ means!”

So I find myself thinking about death a lot, and meaning, and purpose. What of this, if any, would matter to me if I knew I weren’t going to be here. I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory.

I was missing Nicaragua today. It hits me hard some days, catches me off guard, slams me in the ribs, knocks my breath from me.* I was driving this afternoon, when suddenly I missed people and that time and place so badly I literally gasped in pain. But our life in Nicaragua wasn’t Shangri-La; I wasn’t in some perfect state of bliss there. Sometimes I was miserable. I had insomnia for seven years.**

So here it is, what I’ve been trying to say: First, none of this will go as you plan. It isn’t under your control. God didn’t give you that power to make it work as you see fit. Today Kim left for a meeting expecting she would have one school year and returned knowing she would have a completely different one.

I had so many plans and such determination to make things go a certain way and, for the most part, they haven’t. Do I despair? Quit? Try harder? What matters?

Here’s my answer:

I will love you in this time that I have. It’s getting light now. Day is coming.

I will love in this time that I have. Love is attention and love is encouragement. For those who can, love is fixing plumbing or sewing masks. We express love in a million ways. Love is forgiveness. Love is helping others see they are God’s beloved, beautiful, and worth loving.

Today I heard from a friend who has had it–like when Dad shouted “I’ve had it!” Done. Rudeness in exchange for her kindness. Incivility flung at her civility. She concluded that people suck…but she said it a lot stronger. We’ve all been there. Actually, I’m more concerned about anyone who hasn’t been. If you’ve never gotten overwhelmed trying to love these horrible people–I mean, people–then either you are the most shalom-centered, spirit-filled person I know…or else you’re choosing not to love.

It’s such a clichΓ© to tell you that we don’t have much time so you should love people…but we don’t have much time. So love people. Give yourself for the people who can receive love from you. Spend yourself on them.

I feel like we’re following Jesus into the darkness, into a world that gets meaner and smaller and harder all the time, that mocks us for offering or expecting anything different. “When someone is polite to you why can’t you respond? Why do you give filthy looks or just ignore me altogether?” It becomes horribly tempting to do unto others as they’ve done to us.

I’m overwhelmed and exhausted and so tempted to lash out. So bleeping tempted.

My friend matters. Today. My friends who haven’t quit loving and my friends who feel tempted to quit. So I refuse to give in to that temptation. Jesus, give me strength to love and not hate.

No to returning hate for hate.

No to meaner and harder and smaller. No to “everyone lies so what does it matter?” No to “there is no truth.” No to “kindness is meaningless in a world like this.”

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Yes to that.

I ache for my time in Nicaragua because I gave my heart there, not perfectly or even adequately at times, but with intention. Heart longing that feels like an elbow slammed in the ribs is a strange reward, but I wouldn’t trade it. Yes to giving our hearts.

Here again, in this vastly wealthier place, I don’t know how to love well or even adequately, and it’s hard here for all different reasons and sometimes I’m miserable, but the light shines in this darkness, this “land of plenty with an empty soul.”*** Yes to that light.

Yes to offering what light we can, what light Jesus gives us, in this darkness.

Yes to believing light is coming.

Yes to loving our children, even when they don’t like us.

Yes to loving our friends and remembering to tell them we’re grateful for them. I’m grateful for you. I hope you know that. Please know that.

Yes to holding out hope that the people in darkness, including those who seem willfully ignorant and callously cruel, who look to me like the dwarves in The Last Battle, choosing darkness and refusing light, will yet have love break through. Yes to praying for them. Yes to offering them light, even still.

I’ve realized, probably a little slow, that for some I am the enemy. I talk about Jesus and believe in God’s love, compassion, and justice. I don’t fit their party lines. I insist on seeing a bigger picture. I won’t turn a blind eye.

Yes to following Jesus, even against party lines.

Yes to loving those who call me “enemy.”

Yes to loving you, friends who give me hope and carry me when I’m hopeless.

Yes to Jesus.

Yes to what matters.

*Much like trying to box out Boone, who is one of the people from there I miss.

**I know, I know, but the difference is I can choose to sleep now.

***”They were making available the dreams of the past
For a limited time, while the supply lasts
Got in line, and I gave the man my cash
I was buying fake diamonds, buying fool’s gold
I keep them in a big sack shot full of holes
In a land of plenty with an empty soul” –“Offer” Bill Malonee, Vigilantes of Love

17 thoughts on “What Matters

  1. Mitchell R Yoder

    Bien hecho, hermano. Me encanta. It’s important to me that you preceded “willfully ignorant” with “seem.” Tengo que tomar eso en cuenta.

    • Gracias, Mitch! My friend Trish just reminded me yesterday that some also look at us as being willfully ignorant. It’s really good for me to remember that I don’t actually know what others are thinking nor their real motives. Honestly, I struggle to identify all of my own motives, you know?

      • Mitchell R Yoder

        Great point. I’m sure that I seem willfully ignorant quite often. And hey, ignorance can be bliss, especially when standing in my shoes. Whether or not I remain in ignorance is not always something I decide consciously, but it’s always my decision. Keep writing, brother; maybe you’ll explain all my motives for me πŸ™‚

        • Yes. I’m pondering this a lot right now, because it appears to be at the center of our conflict in the macro. I can’t decide someone else’s response. I know how I think they should respond when I present them with information (the assumption being that information would dispel ignorance). Is the decision to reject the information I offer “willful ignorance?” Sometimes. But of course it’s so much more complicated than that and so many things reinforce our own views and buffer against taking in information that contradicts what we believe. So I’m learning, so slowly, to accept when people don’t want to hear it and and also have grace for their choice. Neither argue with someone nor get frustrated or angry about it. Did I mention “slowly?” That’s why the steps are “hope,” “prayer,” “offer them light, still.” “Offer” versus “force.” Thanks for engaging this with me, Mitch. As an extrovert, I see all this more clearly as I figure out how to express it.

          I promise to keep writing if you promise to buy the next book. πŸ˜‰

          • Mitchell R Yoder

            Yes, I can’t decide their response, and they can’t decide my response. Something I’ve been ruminating on is that MY desire to dispel THEIR ignorance is probably mirrored by THEIR desire to dispel MY ignorance. But maybe together WE can dispel OUR ignorance through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

            So the next logical step is that when I engage with others, I need to be willing and open to modifying my views, siempre y cuando I take our interaction back to the discernment of Scripture. Admitting that I might have some theology/doctrine out of line with God’s teaching is difficult for my arrogant self, but not doing so means elevating myself to Jesus level. And if I have learned anything in this life, it is that I am NOT at Jesus level, not even for a moment.

            Keep writing; you can consider this a pre-order. πŸ™‚

  2. Kathleen Tiemubol

    Thanks, Mike, for writing and sharing these reflections. It is good to remember to whom and to what we say “Yes!” I’m with you there. I also hear how much you are missing a place where you lived and loved and are grieving that loss. The Lord sees and knows…

  3. Suzy McCall

    I feel as if I am getting tireder and tireder on every level. Fatigue forces us to prioritize, so I have been asking Jesus to help me hang onto WHAT MATTERS MOST (loving Him by loving my kids and friends and ministry), and not waste energy on extra words and feelings. I could wish to do more, but right now I can’t, so I just want to try not to be, as you say, little and mean. πŸ™‚ Lots of love to your beautiful family. Thank you for encouraging our hearts.

    • Suzy, I feel that so much as well. I think this is the time we all have to make those choices. In fact, I had already started thinking that my next post needs to be “picking our battles.” Let me know if you have any insights for me!

      So much love to your family and to you. I hope you know you are a tremendous encouragement to me, not because you’re on a pedestal but because you’re right here in the mud with me and still we’re doing it! Thank you, Jesus!

      As I look back at your comment, I’m also going to pray exactly that. I’m wasting far too much precious energy getting wound up about things that truly don’t matter that much. Thanks for that. <3

  4. Sherry Dearborn

    I have read this twice. I enjoyed it immensely. I have noticed that I am thinking about death much more lately. Some of that probably has to do with me and many friends being in our 70s, 80s. Feeling less and less time, Your words help me a lot. And this upcoming election scares me to death. I have actually found myself thinking of how to leave life if 45 wins. But then your words help me feel love for my family, friends, and associates. And I smile. I pare down the size of my world. Then I can handle that.

    • Sherry, this is why I write. I couldn’t ask for a clearer explanation of calling for a writer than this.

      I want to say “hang in there, Friend,” but it’s much deeper than that. Keep hope. Keep the faith. God is with us, even through these frighteningly dark days. You know that I know the feeling, all too well. Paring down the size of our world. Breathing. Praying. Keeping faith. Supporting one another. Here we go. <3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *