If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? Luke 9:23-25
My first career was that of an intensive care nurse. I loved the work. I knew my presence at my job made a difference. I also had the experience of resuscitating more people than I can remember. Some of my patients were ready for death. Some were not. Some families were prepared for their loved one to breathe their last. Some were not.
Chaim Potok grew up in Buffalo, New York, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland. When he was a teenager his mother encouraged her intelligent son to, “Be a brain surgeon. You’ll save lots of lives and makes lots of money.” Chaim’s mother was persistent with her suggestion until one day Chaim countered her with unusual insight for a teenager.
“I don’t want to save lives,” he said sincerely. “I want to teach people to live!” Chaim became a best-selling author and rabbi.
When I heard the story, it spoke truth to me. While I loved and valued my work as a nurse, I also had the growing sense that I was being called not to save lives, but to teach people to live. For me that is about life lived in relationship with Jesus. I had witnessed many people facing death in my work, and I understood that death can come suddenly, without warning. I wanted to do what I could to help people prepare for death without fear, and be confident of their new life that would begin when their time on earth was done.
Unlike Potok, I haven’t written any books, much less become a famous author. (Maybe in retirement!) And if my body is ever broken or sick, I pray that I have access to good medical care. But I was pleased to be called and ordained as a pastor. Some days I wonder how I can convey the passion and love I have for God in a way that can be received by others.
In both of my careers I have worked with people of great means, and with those who can barely scrape out a living. I know that a certain amount of financial security certainly does make life easier, but I have also witnessed over and over again that money truly cannot buy happiness. I have lost count of the times I have heard people lament the amount of time and effort they put into “making it to the top,” only to find it was pretty lonely there. The glamorous lifestyle was not what they imagined, and oftentimes relationships had suffered along the way.
One of our daughters spent a year in Kenya during college. She volunteered in an orphanage on the weekends. As she walked to the orphanage she passed a man she came to call fondly, “Gramps.” He lived in a mud hut. He had next to nothing but he was always willing to share what little he had with our daughter when she stopped to visit with him. A piece of sugarcane or a bit of fruit. Katie didn’t want to accept it because he had so little, but she didn’t want to offend him by refusing. She experienced the generosity of the Kenyan people often, and also the presence of God. She wrote in an email to me, “Out of everything I have seen here, my faith has gotten so much bigger. God is in the midst of everything!”
“Gramps” hadn’t “obtained the world”, but he and many others who lacked worldly possessions shared from their deep faith with my daughter. They lived to the best of their ability in God’s will, and recognized the many blessings in their life. They danced and prayed fervently. They recognize God’s presence. They are grateful people.
“The one true freedom in life is to come to terms with death, and as early as possible, for death is an event that embraces all our lives. And the only way to have a good death is to lead a good life…. The more we do God’s will, the less unfinished business we leave behind when we die.” – William Sloane Coffin (1924-2006)
Questions to ponder:
If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
What would you need to give up to give your whole life to Jesus? Why is that so difficult?
Prayer for today:
Gentle Jesus, you are always more ready to hear us than we are to speak to you. Thank you for this day and for the blessings you give us. Open our minds to hear the word you have for us this day, open our hearts to receive your love, and give us the courage to be your hands and feet in the world. Amen.