“The way you treat the person you love the least is the way you love God the most.”
--Glenn Kaiser on “Glenn's Rap”, the last track of the excellent 1984 Live Bootleg album from Resurrection Band
The Gift. Sometimes, going through the motions of living our lives, with all its demands, distractions, pressures, obligations, pleasures, it is easy to forget the things that matter most. I find this is especially true in my own life, being alone and on the road most of the time. It's easy for my perspective to narrow, turn inward, and think everything revolves around me if I'm not paying attention (and sometimes even if I am).
Charles Hummell, in a book he wrote called Tyrany of the Urgent, observed that a great danger of modern life was letting the noisy cry of the urgent take our focus away from what was important.
Sometimes, for me, it takes a radical change to regain my perspective, rearrange my priorities, become centered once again in what matters most. Such an experience came about for me last December.
I had just returned to Topeka after being on the road and everything seemed as it should in most ways. I went to the doctor about some pain in one of my legs that wasn't going away. Several hours later, I was in the hospital. Diagnosis: blood clot.
At such a time, I felt more alone, more disconnected from everything and everyone important to me than I had in a long time. Here I was in Kansas, and everyone I loved was mostly in Georgia, Texas, or California. I felt stranded.
It helped immensely to have the presence and kindness of my great friend Terry Roberts, and his wife, Shannon. When Shannon visited me in the hospital, and later, when I was home, brought home-cooked food by, I was riveted by the fact that in these small acts of compassion and friendship was a reminder to me of what really matters most.
Later on, faced with the prospect of not being able to work for a month, being alone in my apartment, with no income, I could feel myself sliding to the edge of despondency.
Then, my Daddy called. Aware of my situation, he asked me what I would think of the idea of him using his frequent flier miles to fly me down to Florida so that I could be there for Christmas. As he put it, “If you are gonna be out of work and home anyway, it would be better if you could be around people who love you.”
I became like a little kid opening his Christmas presents. Not only did I get to fly to Florida, but we were able to drive up to Georgia, and I was able to spend the holidays with my family there. What a precious gift!
And through the help and support of my Daddy, Mama, and friends, I made it through that month out of work without being late on one bill and without starving (I know, I know, it would take a while – you hecklers in the back there, feel free to move on to the blog down the street).
And, perhaps most important of all, I was reconnected to what matters most.
One Little Boy. Another thing that helps me stay connected to what matters most is the relationship I have with a 10 year old boy and his family here in Topeka through Big Brothers Big Sisters (an awesome organization that does wonderful work across the country). His name is Jon.
Every week when I come off the road, Jon and I hang out for a couple of hours, doing fun stuff, working on homework, watching movies (one of the favorite things for both of us), eating out, playing at the park. It's not so important what we do as that we spend that time together. And every week, when I drive up to the house, and Jon runs out the front door screaming, “Allan's here! Woohoo!”, I am reminded that what I'm doing isn't just spending time with one little boy. I'm involved in what matters most, making an investment in eternity.
Amy Carmichael. When I was in college and just beginning my work in the ministry, I came across the writings and life of missionary Amy Carmichael, who established an orphanage in India. She quickly became one of my heroines in faith and ministry.
One of the first biographies I ever read of her, Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur, by Frank Houghton, recounts a story in Amy's own words of an experience she had as a young girl. The book is in storage in Georgia, so I can't quote it directly, or I would. My paraphrase will perhaps serve the purpose.
When she was young and living in Belfast, Ireland, her family had just come out of church on a rainy, blustery Sunday, and were walking home. Into the crowd of church-goers walking along, coming from the opposite direction, was a poor woman bundled up in rags trying to carry a load that was quickly becoming too much for her.
Amy and her younger brother ran over to the lady to help her with the bags, much to the consternation of the more well-to-do and fashionable church-goers, for whom such an act was scandalous, to be seen with or around one of the town's poor. As people looked and gaped, Amy and her brother helped the woman along the rain-soaked streets of Belfast. They passed a fountain, and from behind, Amy heard a voice as clearly as any she had ever heard: “Wood, hay, stubble; gold, silver, precious stones.”
She turned around to see who had spoken, and there was no one. But what was said shook her, and she was never the same again. “From that moment,” she wrote, “I knew that the only things that would matter were the eternal.”
What matters most.
Warren Buffett. I recently finished an excellent biography of Warren Buffett, The Snowball. One of the most interesting anecdotes in the book occurs toward the end, as Warren Buffett, in his 80's, is looking back over the span of his life. One of the most successful men in history in many ways, the way many reckon success, he said something that riveted my attention and resonated deeply with me.
He said that the measure of his success as a man wasn't how much money he made, how much money he gave away, what happened to all the successes and failures of businesses with which he was associated. He said, instead, that the measure of how successful his life had been at the end would be how many people there were in the world who loved him, and whom he loved in return.
What matters most.
What matters most: a personal story. To conclude this meditation on what matters most, I offer this illustration that serves to remind me over and over again what that means.
A couple of years ago, I was visiting some people very dear to me, whose family I have been connected with for almost 30 years, and who are as dear to me as my own flesh and blood. As I was hugging people and telling them good-bye (I was on my way to move to Topeka), there was present a young lady in her mid-teens who is part of this extended family, and who grew up knowing who I was to them, but had not been around me much herself.
This young lady, at such a young age, has been through much pain in her life. She has family who love her, but the people who should be there for her the most have effectively abandoned her, orphaned her in a practical sense. There is no risk factor I am aware of that she is not touched by in some fashion, and many in society would write her off, say her situation is bleak, even hopeless.
Passing through the house where I was on my way out the door, this young lady happened to be walking toward me, and for a moment there was no one else around. As I saw her, our eyes met, and I stopped. She stopped.
Not even knowing why I did it at the time, but feeling like it was something I should do, I looked at her and said, addressing her by name, “I know you have been through a lot for someone so young. I know you feel like no one cares and you have no one in this world sometimes. But I want you to know that God loves you and is here for you, and I love you and I am here for you. I am in your corner, I am for you, never against you, and will believe in you no matter what. There is nothing you can do or not do, nothing that can happen to you, that will change how God feels about you or how I feel about you. I want you to always remember that.”
She started crying, she hugged me, and she said, “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Months later, I am in Topeka, that incident largely forgotten. My phone rings and I answer. It is this young lady. She was in a horrible situation, scared, lonely, and didn't know what to do. So she called me and talked to me because she believed the words I had said to her that night.
I listened, encouraged, and prayed for her as best I could.
She is through that crisis, is doing well, and I am very proud of the way she has dealt with the challenges she has faced at such a young age, when, by all that's right, she shouldn't be facing them at all.
But every so often, every few months, she will call me or text me, just to say hello and let me know how she's doing or just to talk. All because of a few words spoken about what matters most.
The end of the matter. As I've pondered these things over the past few weeks, thinking about what matters most, my hope in writing this is to prompt you to think about these things as well. What is there in our lives that will remain after we are gone? It's the love we share with those we are connected to and the influence we leave in the lives of others. It makes everything else, all the daily struggles and challenges not matter so much when we consider what matters most.
You can't give away what you don't have, as they say. If you are someone who is trapped in the tyranny and futility of a performance-based religion, and you don't have a relationship with a God who loves like I've alluded to, I would encourage you to find out about such a God.
One of the best things I'm aware of that talks about how much God loves us and, more than anything else, wants relationship with us, is the book The Shack. I commend it to you.
My prayer is that we will all become more aware of and focus on what matters most.
Be well until next time . . . blessings and peace to you.