Thanks for Not Being There

Reminiscing 

Tonight, my husband, daughter, and I arrived home to our little Tallahassee abode and began to unpack after 5 days of holiday travel.  After so much catching-up with so many family members in so short a time, my mind was still busy processing the complexities of everyone’s lives: what careers they’ve chosen to pursue, how they’ve chosen to raise their children, how their marriages are going, how their health is, etc.  And amid all the activity still replaying itself in my mind, a memory of my Uncle Gene and Aunt Carolyn–who I still haven’t seen in at least a year or more–kept nagging at me, drowning out all the other emotions and considerations I was processing about everyone else.

Gene and Carolyn Johnson are actually my great uncle and great aunt.  I believe they are in their 70s. Other than that, I can’t say that I’m actually very close to them, as most would consider closeness.  I see them at family functions every couple of years–Christmases, golden wedding anniversary celebrations, and the like, and we don’t correspond regularly.  I’ve been to their house in Alabama just once while passing through on our way to somewhere else, and that’s about it.

However, I know that they love Jesus Christ.

The No-Shows

It wasn’t long ago that the “Johnson” side of my mother’s maternal family decided to plan a HUGE family reunion.  The date was set well in advance to give people plenty of time to make room in their calendars for travel and attendance.  And it was a spectacular success!  Except for one thing:  Gene and Carolyn didn’t come.  My Great Uncle Gene, one of the elder remaining natural and Spiritual patriarchs of the family, would not be in attendance.  I learned upon arriving at the reunion that he and my aunt Carolyn had thought it more important to maintain a previously planned trip to do mission work in a third-world country (Guyana, I believe, but don’t quote me) instead of being with us.  Didn’t they know this could be (and ended up being) the last reunion for some of the elderly matriarchs of the family?  Didn’t they know we would probably never be able to pull something like this together again?  Didn’t they know that they were some of the only members that wouldn’t be coming?  Didn’t they know that some family members were traveling from five states away to be there in hopes to see them?  Didn’t they love their family?

I never forgot that day…not just because of the wonderful time I had spending with family members I rarely get to visit, but because Gene and Carolyn–a couple with every earthly reason to just “retire” and enjoy their family–chose to go to the lost and destitute to serve them right where they were at instead of to partake in reunion with family that was well-fed, well-loved, and already had the Gospel message at their disposal.  This has nagged at me in the most wonderful way imaginable ever since that day.  And I pray it continues to nag at me until I draw my last breath on this earth.

At the risk of my main thought dying the death of a thousand qualifications, I don’t want anyone to hear what I’m NOT saying:

I’m certainly NOT saying spending time with family is wrong.  I’m NOT saying that enjoying retirement by focusing on family is bad.  I’m NOT saying that my husband and I should have gone on a mission trip instead of to our families’ homes this Christmas.  But what I am saying is that we should be WILLING to go wherever the Gospel is needed, at the drop of a hat and with no regrets, if the Lord says to.

Jesus said that anyone who loves his family more than Him isn’t worthy of Him.  Christ obviously wants us to love our natural families, but He’s far more concerned about building His Spiritual family, filling it up with those adopted in by being born again; not of the will of man, or of the flesh, but born of God through faith in the Lordship of His Son.  And so should we be concerned, as well.  In Galatians, Paul writes that, before his conversion to following Christ, he was zealous merely for the traditions of his fathers.  And that is something I think we all must fight.  Far too often, I think I’m zealous to resurrect or redeem “the traditions of my fathers;” the things our culture does and has always done.  We glean our passion from a past sense of nostalgia instead of from a present sense of what God IS doing and constant awareness of what He WILL be doing in the future.

So this Christmas, I’m SO grateful to God for the time I did have with my wonderful, natural family members.  But I am particularly grateful for the constant reminder from my Uncle Gene and Aunt Carolyn that I must never love my natural family or its traditions MORE than I love the calling of Christ on my life to go into all the nations and make disciples of Jesus, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Christ commands.

Uncle Gene and Aunt Carolyn, if you ever get the chance to read this, thank you for the Gift that has kept giving ever since that day you didn’t show up.  I have been so encouraged in my walk with Jesus simply because you refused to come to a family function at the expense of the lost in another land that God had called you to.  So as for that family reunion,

Thanks for not being there.

Spiritual Amnesia

My daughter, Fiona, is now four months old, and over the past two days she has been honing her ability to say, “Mama.”  Granted, it usually comes out first as:

mmmmuh….mmmmmm….maaaah….muuuuuuuh

But after a few attempts, she connects the sounds into a short mah muh, at which point much joyous squealing, bouncing and kissing proceeds FROM the Mah Muh, which makes my daughter very happy.  In order to help her mentally associate this phrase with myself, I will hide quietly, my face just out of sight, while she works on the word.  When she finally says it correctly, I BOUND into view and clap with praise at her accomplishment.  The more we play this game, the faster she is getting at calling for me.

The reason this works so well at her age is because of a little concept called “object permanence.”  Object permanence is the ability to know and understand that something continues to exist even when we can’t see it, hear it, or touch it.  Until recently, anything out of Fiona’s eyesight or earshot did not exist to her.  What is “real” to a very young baby is only what they can see, hear, and feel in their immediate environment, and they posses very little memory of these things once they are gone.  But as Fiona  continues to age and develop, she will be able to go longer periods of time without forgetting who I am and that I exist, even when she can’t see my face or hear my voice.

I spent a decent amount of time in my teenage years babysitting other families’ children.  Oftentimes, the younger ones would beg me to let them call their parents after they had been gone for a couple hours.  Initially, I would do everything in my power to prevent the children from interrupting their parents’ date by using distractions and giving verbal reassurances that everything was fine.  Over time, however, I began to realize that this was a perfectly normal stage in a child’s psychological development.  Though these children knew the parents existed, anxiety would settle in after too many hours of their absence as their memory needed to reestablish proof of what it was holding to be true.  However, unlike a baby who needs the parent’s physical presence in order to be reassured, these older children could be calmed by just a few short minutes of the sound of Mommy or Daddy’s voice.  A brief, “Yes, your mother and I are fine.  Are you playing nice?  Okay, take your bath and go to bed, and we’ll be home soon after you go to sleep, I promise,” and they were back on track for their play date with the babysitter!

I can personally recall an even later stage of development experienced during my own high school days, when I would come home from school and find that my mother was already out running errands.  On the kitchen table would simply be a note, in her own unique handwriting, with a list of things for me to do before she came home:

  1. Unload the dishwasher
  2. Move the laundry from the washer to the dryer
  3. Fold the clothes in the laundry basket
  4. Take the chicken out of the freezer to thaw for dinner
  5. CLEAN YOUR ROOM! (Don’t make me tell you again…)
I’ll be home soon.  Love you,
Mom

I didn’t need her physical presence to know she existed—that had long been established.  I didn’t need to hear her voice to believe she was still alive—I was big enough to take that on faith and reason for much longer periods of time without tangible contact.  I knew she loved me as she had spent years caring for me, but now there was work to be done.  I had a list of things to keep me busy to help keep the house in order, and I needed to get on them since I knew she was coming back “soon,” whatever THAT meant!

SPIRITUAL AMNESIA

When a new Believer first begins seeking God, the Father often makes His presence undeniably clear through love and support from others in the Body and almost tangibly intimate moments with Him by His Holy Spirit.  Objects in our environment that were once common now seem to jump out in declaration and confirmation of His manifest glory.  Then, He will begin to hide His face just out of sight so that we know how to call on Him; that He is never far from us in our times of need.  As we continue to grow, we learn to respond to His still small voice even when we don’t see clear evidence of His presence around us.  And eventually, if we continue to mature as intended, we set about to simply do His work faithfully, no longer doubting His constancy, character and calling even in the longest, loneliest, and darkest of nights.

Now imagine a 30 year old, financially accomplished man sitting at his desk in a nice, high-rise office building.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, he breaks down into frantic tears, sobbing, “What if my parents never did really love me like they said they did?!?!?  What if I just imagined all those nice things they did for me?!?!!  What if…what if…THEY DON’T EVEN EXIST????”  We laugh, and yet many times, we followers of Christ appear to suffer from a similar spiritual amnesia.  It’s as if our faith in the permanence of God’s presence, His promises, and His character disappears.  We become again like babies who question the very existence of our Creator and His redemption through Christ the moment it isn’t being spelled out on a neon, flashing sign right in front of our faces.  The author of Hebrews addressed this very problem as he wrote,

By this time you ought to be spiritual teachers!  Yet you still need milk, not solid food.  Let’s stop going over the basic teachings of Christ over and over again.  We don’t need to reestablish faith in God, repentance for dead works, the doctrine of baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.  The great champions of faith died for what they believed, and they never got to see the fulfillment of it in the life they lived on this earth.  Jesus was faithful, Moses was faithful, and that’s whose house you’re a part of if you hold fast until the end.

 (MWV from Hebrews 5:12, 6:1-2, 11, & 3:1-5)

So let us continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, not forgetting what God has already proven:

I CREATED YOU.

Genesis 1:27

I WILL SUSTAIN YOU AND PROVIDE FOR YOU.

Matthew 6:25-34

I HAVE LOVED YOU WITH AN EVERLASTING LOVE.

Jeremiah 31:3

I WILL NEVER LEAVE OR ABANDON YOU.

Hebrews 13:5

I HAVE SENT MY SON TO DIE IN YOUR PLACE, ETERNALLY REESTABLISHING YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ME.

Galatians 2:20-22

I HAVE GIVEN YOU MY HOLY SPIRIT TO COMFORT, HELP, AND GUIDE YOU.

John 14:16-18

I HAVE PLACED AN IRREVOCABLE CALLING ON YOUR LIFE TO MAKE DISCIPLES OF CHRIST AND ADVANCE MY KINGDOM ON EARTH.

Matthew 28:19-20

I’VE GIVEN YOU EVERY TOOL AND GIFT YOU NEED WITHIN CHRIST TO ACCOMPLISH MY WILL IN THE EARTH.

Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 13-15

I’VE GIVEN YOU A COMPREHENSIVE LIST OF WHAT TO DO AND HOW TO DO IT.

2 Timothy 3:16

MY SON HAS REQUESTED THAT HIS FAITHFUL FOLLOWERS BE WITH HIM FOR ETERNITY.

John 17:24

AND HE IS COMING BACK.

Revelation 22:12