Recounting.

The son was in the Emergency Room with his dying father. He sat in a chair by the bed. Every couple of minutes he would look closely at his dad, and then he would look at me. Eventually, I asked him, again, how I could help.

“Is he going to give some last words?” he asked.

I realized that the son had watched so many media representations of death that he was expected the final speech, the words of wisdom that capture a life and chart a course for the future generations.

I shook my head. “I don’t think he’s going to say anything more.”

And he didn’t.

Last wordsI told that story last week in the last session of a class I was teaching. It was the last course of a Master’s degree for four people in the class. I said, “I’d like you to give us your last words at the end of this degree, at the end of this process.”

I pointed out that there is a tradition of this kind of summary in Scripture. The book of Deuteronomy, for example, is a final speech for Moses, a retelling of the whole story of God’s work during his time in leadership. And then God guides Moses in the composition of a last song. And then Moses gives a final blessing.

Paul calls a group of leaders and gives them a last speech. (I talked about this last week.) Paul will also give a summary of his values to Timothy. He gave a couple of other summaries in Acts and at the end of 2 Corinthians.

And John gives us an account of Jesus’ last teaching to the disciples. Although he knew he would come back, Jesus saw the end of this phase of his life and ministry as a perfect opportunity to summarize everything to this point.

So I’m curious. As you are wrapping up with a season of life, a job, a part of a relationship, what if you spent some time telling the story of that part of your shared life? The process of telling is likely to shape you and the ones you are talking with.

And you won’t leave people waiting, unfulfilled, for your last words.

 

Still.

When I sat down with my coffee and journal the other morning, I struggled to concentrate. I worked longer than usual the day before. I was more tired than usual. And there was more swirling in my mind than usual. I was anticipating a very long day.

And “Psalm 46” came to mind.

It’s the “be still” psalm. It contains the phrase “be still and know that I am God.” Many of us say that phrase to ourselves. It’s supposed to be calming. It’s supposed to remind us that God is God.

And we are taking it out of context.

FullSizeRender.jpgThe writer isn’t talking to himself. He’s quoting God. People see chaos and warfare, battles and belligerence. And God says, “Be still.” It’s a powerful command from God that stills the strife. In this setting, it’s not words to ourselves, orienting our life around stillness.

Not that orienting our lives is impossible or undesirable. But the image in this picture is less like a quiet sanctuary and more like a boat in the middle of a storm. There are a dozen men in the boat who are awake and one who is asleep.The waves are smashing the sides. The wind is catching the mast as if it were a sail.

The waves are smashing the sides. The wind is catching the mast as if it were a sail.  The storm is threatening to undo everything: The boat, the sanity of the passengers, the confidence of the sailors. And the sleeper, when awakened, says, “be still.” And the passengers said, “is this God?”

Some mornings, perhaps, we struggle a bit too much to make ourselves still. Some mornings, perhaps, we need to abandon all pretense and cry out to God for our very lives.

I have no guarantees of the results. It’s not a formula that, if uttered with enough passion, conjures God. But I know that God has a history of speaking order into chaos.

A prayer for Monday (and every day)

Every week at the end of our service we pray together something called the Lord’s Prayer. Or the “our Father”

And every week I think, ”I ought to talk about that.” And then I forget. Until this week, when I started to prepare a message on a day known as “Father’s Day” and I thought, “This is the perfect day to talk about the ‘our father.’”

One time Jesus’ followers ask him for a sample of how to pray. Another time, Jesus was in the middle of a long teaching about many things. And Jesus, wanting to offer an example, taught them this simple prayer.

Fresh breadIt’s not required. It’s not the only way to pray. Many other people in the Bible pray longer or shorter, with other words and ideas and request. Even Jesus, who is our model, has many other conversations with his Father, who is in heaven.

But as I often say, he gives us training wheels. He offers us a template. When we can’t figure out how to start, this short prayer gives us something to say.

“Our Father in heaven,
your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”

Looking into our blind spots – a workshop.

Back in March, I mentioned a book for leaders, written by Terry Linhart, a good friend and colleague. The Self-Aware Leader is written to help leaders look into our blindspots, the places that are just out of sight of the rearview mirror. Maturing doesn’t mean that we don’t have them, it means that we know we need to discover what’s happening just below the surface in our lives.

Joan and AprilI keep talking with people who are complaining about the blind spots of other leaders. That’s not particularly helpful if we don’t spend some time working our own lives with the help of others and God.

As I mentioned in that March post, four of us spent time recording a series of conversations about some of the themes in the book. They’ve been released at 37thepodcast one at a time. As of today, all eight of those conversations are available.

Terry, Joan McClendon, April Diaz, and I had a wonderful time talking together. Having listened to all of these conversations as they happened, and most of them as they were released, I think that it’s a pretty good 4-hour workshop on leadership.

1. The Self-Aware Leader

2. Seeing your Self

3. Seeing your Past

4. Seeing your Temptations

5. Seeing your Emotions

6. Seeing your Pressures

7. Seeing your Conflicts

8. Seeing your Margins

Saying goodbye

Sometimes, I like angel food cake. It’s not my favorite cake, however. That would be yellow cake with chocolate frosting. When I’m not eating one of Nancy’s pies.

My mother, however, was sure that angel food was my favorite, and she made it often when we were coming to visit. I ate as much as I could, to be grateful. But the cake represented who I was at one point, not who I was forever.

IMG_2498.JPGI’ve been thinking about the permanence and impermanence of saying goodbye in the modern era. I watch many goodbyes at the hospital, where people literally see each other for the last time on this earth. Or they just miss it.

I hear people talk about making the most of the time we have, of keeping short accounts with people.

And I’m wondering if we undervalue the significance of saying goodbye as if we will never see each other again. And then being done.

While he was on his way to Jerusalem for his last time as a freeman, Paul asked the church leaders from Ephesus to meet him in Miletus. By land, the towns were about 60 miles apart.

Paul lived in Ephesus for three years, and when the elders arrived, he reviewed what he had done and what they knew. And then Paul says this:  Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 

Paul’s responsibility was done. He handed it back to God.

In the old days, the days before infinite linking, we valued the greeting and we valued the goodbye. And we assumed that in between, things would change.

Now, we can connect with people from every part of our past and present. And often that is remarkable. I love seeing the interaction between those people. However, I also am aware that there are invisible threads of opportunity and obligation, hung with tags of what I should remember and lists of what I should continue to know that wind around my thoughts and sometimes trip me.

There is who I was, and who I am becoming, and who I will be. There is what I was responsible to know back then and what I am no longer responsible to know. There is what I did because I am loyal which is often different that what I did because I loved it.

This essay is not a veiled message of farewell to anyone or anywhere. It’s mostly a word to myself. But I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who might benefit from a simple and heartfelt goodbye to people and places that linger longer than is helpful.