This past week I was visiting with a good friend of mine whose wife has a serious form of cancer. If you have cancer, all forms are serious and this one appears to be particularly virulent. In our conversation together he made a comment that, in a very real sense, forced me to stop all my thought processes and focus on the moment.
“This week, when I was sitting and talking with my wife, I thought the beautiful person I am talking with may not be here with me next year at this time,” he said. “I thought to myself, in what ways should my conversation be different because I recognize this as a reality?”
If you are like me, we operate as if tomorrow will be here and the people we know will continue to be part of our lives. My friend was suggesting that I rethink this basic assumption about life as I move through each day with coworkers, friends and family. Even more so, he was saying that if I fully understood the reality that those I care about most deeply (and even those I may not care for) could be gone in an instant it would reframe every conversation I have so that, at least in part, the focus of my interaction would be on the relationship and not on the tasks for the day, the week or the year.
At my core, even though I am driven to accomplish, those things I strive to do are to make the lives of those around me better – to help them envision God’s work in this world more clearly and to understand their role in the divine drama. All too often in my work, the person in front of me gets left behind as I move on to do the things that are necessary. If I do not think it, I certainly act as if I can return to the relationship when I have the time.
In his sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis put it this way:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.
Our promise to students at the university is that they will “Be Known.” On a deeper level, Jesus, the person we seek to follow, promises to know each of us intimately – to understand our story, our strengths and our weaknesses, our passions and our disappointments. He promises that in our core being he will transform us and give us life where the “yoke is easy” and the “burden is light.” He will give us a joy that goes beyond life’s disappointments and tragedies because he is focused on each of us as unique creations of God who he seeks to empower and know in the eternal kingdom.
The challenge for each of us is to set aside the work of the day, the assumptions we might have, and to know more deeply those we serve, love and work with. We fulfill our promise and the call of Christ on our lives when we genuinely enter into the lives of those Christ brings to us.