Quite a few years ago, a friend received thirty-six flowers from her husband to celebrate their thirty- sixth wedding anniversary. The flowers were beautiful long stemmed roses, wrapped in green paper. She had never received flowers before and absolutely adored them. She was intent on helping them survive as long as she could. She trimmed the stems and extra leaves. She even placed them in fresh water, which she changed daily. She purchased and used special products advertised to “prolong the beauty of fresh flowers.” A couple of weeks later, she remarked to her husband about how beautiful the flowers still were after two weeks. He began laughing and pointed out that the flowers for which she had been meticulously caring were not real, but expensive silk. They were so beautiful crafted and appealing that it was nearly impossible to see that they were fake.
Flowers are not the only imposters in the world. Everything under the sun can be imitated…even Christians. Christianity is more than a name or title. It is a faith, a hope and a lifestyle. Jesus said: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35).” Our faith and hope in Christ is expressed through our relationships with everyone. Real Christianity is patient and kind. It is not self-seeking but God serving. We serve God best when we support and trust one another. Ours is a faith that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres and rejoices in the truth (I Corinthians 13:1-13). This does not mean that real Christianity tolerates just anything. It means that real faith is expressed not through compliancy, but in actively pursuing and encouraging what is JUST and TRUE.
The month of February sees St. Valentine’s Day and the beginning of the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. It makes it a great time for us to reflect upon our faith journey and intentionally examine the leaves and petals that make up our lives for areas in which we might become more authentic. My friend adored her husband when he brought home the flowers until she found out that they were fake. They were still jus as pretty as before, but they were not real. The beauty and glamour of the gift was found in the reality of life, not its imitation. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (I Corinthians 13:13).”
One of the most frustrating things about raising children would have to be the habits they learn from you. A few years ago, it seemed as if every time I reminded one of my children of something that needed to be done they would respond “I’ll do it tomorrow.” I reminded one that a project needed to be finished and he said, “I can do it tomorrow.” I asked my daughter if she had taken her vehicle to be serviced and she said, “I’ve got time tomorrow.” I even received the same response when I asked my then seven-year-old if he had done his home work for the week. It was absolutely frustrating…until my son asked me to play a game with him and my response was “Maybe tomorrow.”
Procrastination is not a new problem. In the eighth chapter of Exodus the second plague befalls Egypt, the frogs. Now this might not sound like a devastating act of God but Exodus tells us that there were so many frogs swarming the banks of the Nile, they came up into the houses and were found in ovens and even beds. The land of Egypt was overrun by frogs. When Pharaoh had enough, he called for Moses and begged that he pray to God to remove the frogs. Moses agrees and asks Pharaoh when he wants the frogs gone, to which Pharaoh replies, “Make it tomorrow.” Not today, but tomorrow.
The dictionary defines procrastination as “to postpone habitually.” Sometimes fear of the unknown or even a desire for the perfect conditions will motivate us to procrastinate. Many times it is simply laziness. What often happens though is that apathy soon follows and we seem to lose the zeal and zest for the moment and life and all of its opportunities to slip by. We live as though we can expect tomorrow to be better than today, but Proverbs 20:1 says “Don’t brag about tomorrow, since you don’t know what the day will bring.” We waste opportunities because we think we’ll have a better or easier shot tomorrow.
Life is a divine gift that should be lived in the moment to celebrate. The best time to get started working on our problems is now. Ephesians 5:16 says “make the most of every opportunity….” As the new year begins maybe we should try to live as if today is the only day we have. It may be the only opportunity to fix what is broken, to right what is wrong and to enjoy what God has given. One thing is for sure, if tomorrow ever got here, it would be the busiest day of the year.
Quite a few years ago, I was having the kind of day where things kept happening, and most all of
them frustrating. I was returning to town from a stressful day-long meeting just in time to be late for everything. I had picked up my then twelve-year-old son from practice and we were rushing to the elementary school to catch my youngest son‘s play performance. Walking into the school I was still on the phone putting out fires. As I closed my phone with that frustrated sigh, my son said, “I‘m sorry daddy.” I didn‘t even slow my pace when I replied…”Sorry? It‘s not your fault.” ” I know daddy,” he said, “I just thought that you needed to hear it.”
I knew he was growing up, but until that moment I had not realized how intuitive he had become. God always seems to give us exactly what we need. My son‘s words chased away not only my frustration, but also my inattentiveness. In that moment he was for me just like the angel who appeared to the shepherds bringing good news of the birth of a savior (Luke 2:10-11).
It‘s easy to let the problems and busyness of life distract and even overwhelm us. We began to focus on putting out fires and all the frustrations around us often losing sight of the moment and each blessing it contains. We become so wrapped up in ourselves that we forget what‘s important and fail to be examples of faith and trust to those around us. There is a greeting card poem that puts it so well:
“If our greatest need was for information, God would have sent an educator. If our greatest need was for technology, God would have sent a scientist. If our greatest need was for pleasure, God would have sent an entertainer. If our greatest need was for money God would have sent an economist. But since our greatest need is for forgiveness, God sent a savior.”
Christmas should be a reminder of God‘s answer to our biggest need: a child to save us…to save us from ourselves. A child to remind us that God is always with us to provide, guide and forgive. That night my son was right. I did need to hear those words, just not from him. I had to stop and tell him how proud I was of the man he was becoming. I had to say, “I‘m sorry.”
I am covered with scars. For years I self-consciously found it necessary to hide them, especially the larger ones. That all changed some years ago when I received a call concerning young teenager who had an accident which required painful treatment. His parents and physicians had requested that I visit him before his procedure. In High School I had suffered a similar injury and undergone much the same treatment. As soon as I introduced myself, he reached up his hand and asked…”Can I touch them?” I knelt by his bed and guided his hand toward the many scars that remain as proof of my ordeal. After touching them, he said…”I needed to see that I can get better.”
I’ve also noticed that my youngest son periodically needs to see and touch my scars. He has a particularly large one on his knee about which he is always concerned. When he’s particularly worried that his is not healing right, he’ll reach up and touch mine asking, “How long ago did you say this was?” Somehow seeing how a scar heals reassures him.
A scar is the visible evidence that something has happened. But it is not just evidence of a wound; it is also evidence of a wound that has healed. In the Gospel of John (20:20), after his death and burial, Jesus showed his scars to the disciples so that they would recognize him. It was only when they saw the scars on his hands and feet that they knew he was back.
Life has a way of leaving its mark upon us. In the same way that Jesus used his scars as proof that he was alive and well…God often uses someone else who has been wounded to bring love, understanding, and healing to others. No one goes through life unscathed, yet we still try to hide our scars. God doesn’t use the perfection of actions to change the world. It’s the scars that remain from our healed faults and failures that God uses to give hope to the hopeless. We only find true spiritual wholeness when we embrace our brokenness for others. We would do well to remember that “wholeness comes more from pain and failure than joy and success (Unknown).”
A few years ago my then seven-year-old son and I were walking down the tooth paste and shampoo isle of the grocery store. He always loved to shop and comment about all the products. At some point he noticed the boxes containing men’s hair color with each box showing a man with a different shade of hair. He reached out and grabbed the box for blondes, and said “You need this Daddy…so that you can have the same color hair as me.” Laughing, I explained that my hair was once blonde like his, and that his was getting darker and one day would be brown like mine. He put the box back with somewhat of a disappointed look and said…”Yea, but when mines brown yours will be white!”
It’s not uncommon to desire being like someone else, or even to have what others have. Occasionally, we may even feel as if those changes would bring a better quality to our lives, maybe more happiness and contentment. Paul writes, “And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life (1 Corinthians 7:17).” Paul’s words remind us that that always obsessively looking for something more or something better can devalue this moment.
It is so easy to become distracted by those things that we don’t have, those places we can’t be and those things that we can’t do. Living life so distracted causes us to take for granted and miss the blessings and gifts of the moment. Yesterday can only be remembered, tomorrow can only be planned…and life can only be lived today with what we have. Its only when we focus on living today as best we can, being as faithful as we can, that we become aware of the real blessings that God has placed in our lives. It does not matter what change you make in your life, you’ll never find happiness where you’re headed unless you take the ingredients along with you.