Thursday, October 4, 2007

On Spirituality and "Doing Life Together"

I had a long day yesterday, and then I came across a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that really spoke to me about the importance of "doing life" with others in the Christian community. In a sermon called "Forgiveness," Bonhoeffer asked his congregation if there was anyone in their lives whom they needed to forgive--was there anyone with whom they were not speaking, or with whom their last encounter was one of anger. As I was reading the question, I immediately thought, "No, I can't think of anyone." But in the second paragraph of the sermon, Bonhoeffer remarks, "Or would we be so absentminded as to say we can't think of any? Are we so indifferent to others that we don't even really know whether we are at peace or at strife with them?" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "On Forgiveness," A Testament to Freedom: the Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, edited by Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson, rev. ed. [San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1995], 260.)

I love that! Bonhoeffer is such a challenging thinker. I think one of my top character flaws is that I don't take the time to really relate to people. Often, I am so caught up in whatever project I am working on that I don't slow down to listen to people. I am starting to think that that is where life is really lived--in talking and listening to people who care about you.

I found out yesterday that my dad had a procedure done in which doctors discovered a growth in his lower G.I. tract. It's probably nothing, but there is the possibility that it is cancerous. He is only 55 and he is in good health.

It's amazing how life changes when you find out stuff like that. All I could think about was how I wished I could have more time with my family. Just the thought that something might happen to my dad brought me a deep sense of personal loss and regret. It made me ashamed of all of the silly things that I allow to come between me and the people I love.

Also yesterday I had a conversation with someone else that I love who is probably going through the most difficult life event that she has ever faced. Again, she is far away and I haven't seen her in too long. As we talked on the phone, things that seemed very important a few hours before started to seem pretty trivial.

The events of the past 24 hours got me thinking about the way that Jesus "did life" with people. In Mark 5, a synagogue leader named Jairus approached Jesus and asked him to come heal his sick daughter. Before he could get to Jairus' house, the man's daughter died. Some men came from his house and told him to stop bothering Jesus. After all, Jesus was a busy man and had a lot of teaching to do.

But Jesus didn't just leave Jairus to go preach the kingdom of God. He recognized that before him was a man in pain. This guy just lost his little girl, and nothing else in the world mattered to him at that moment. Jesus took the time to go to the guy's house and use his power in a way that reached that one guy, that one day. Further, it's not as if He used this miracle as a mass proof of his spiritual power--the only people who witnessed the miracle were the girl's parents, James, John, and Peter.

I believe that the most important discipline that Americans need to learn is the discipline to slow down and just "do life" with the people around them. We are so caught up in doing whatever it is that we are supposed to be doing at a given time that we let our lives waste away without making meaningful connections with the people in our communities. My prayer today is that God would teach me to slow down.

"Father, I thank you for the community into which you have placed me. I thank you for my family, my pregnant wife, and my friends. I confess that too often I am concerned about the trivial. I treat people as means to various ends. I value people only as much as they can help me. I fail to see the image of God that is in each and every one of them. I pray that you would remind me of the important things in life. I pray that I would see my neighbors as real people, not just as extras in a story that is about me. I thank you for the example that Christ left behind, and I pray that you would work in my life to conform me to Hs pattern of living. Amen."

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