Don Follis August 27, 2017 Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette Religion Column
(In my Sunday column, I mention 11 things I wish someone had told me when I was younger. After I read the column, though, I thought of many more, and I thought that I probably was, in fact, told about many of these. But alas, life indeed is the best teacher. Still, I think these 11 are important truths.)
Every day on my summer bike ride, I rode through a Scottsdale, AZ, cemetery next to the condo I rented during my summer study break. One morning just outside the cemetery office 10 concrete burial vaults sat next to the building. That seemed odd, until the next day when 10 white hearses pulled into the graveyard and parked alongside 10 newly dug graves.
Just days before 10 Phoenix family members had gone 60 miles north to Payson, AZ, where they swam in a popular mountain stream, escaping the scorching July Phoenix temperatures. Suddenly monsoon summer rains pelted the area upstream from where this Mexican immigrant family swam and relaxed for the weekend. Without warning, a torrent of water flooded the swimming hole. None in this family escaped. Within a few days all 10 bodies were recovered.
For several days in mid-July this tragedy was the top news story in Arizona. This entire family, including several children younger than age 10, was laid to rest in Paradise Memorial Gardens in Scottsdale, just over a fence and barely 100 yards from my condo.
At 5am the day following the burials, I rode my bike over to the graves. I stood there for several minutes, letting grief sink into my bones. I thought, “I wish when I was 25 someone had given me permission to feel such painful emotion and to grieve so deeply.” When I was a boy it was clear that big boys don’t cry. But they do, of course. It is extraordinarily healthy to grieve. “Blessed are those who mourn,” said Jesus.
A few days later I read a piece by writer Frank Viola who at age 50 pondered what he wished he had been told as a young man. I began my list, adding to wishing I had been encouraged to grieve earlier in my life.
“Life goes fast.” Savor every moment. You turn your head and you are getting senior discounts without even asking. I watched some older people dancing this summer and said, “Wow, those old folks can still move.” When I looked closer I realized that some of them were younger than I am. One line in the Serenity Prayer encourages “living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time.” You cannot rewind the clock.
“Life does not get easier.” True, you don’t have to go back to junior high, although some people seem to spend their whole lives there. People will spread rumors about you, practice one-upmanship and act two-faced. You weather one crisis, only to meet another.
“Things are not what they seem.” We don’t know the whole story, not by a long, long shot. I help churches where seasoned Christians struggle with conflict. Every story has many sides. One Old Testament proverb says spouting out before listening to the facts is shameful and foolish (Proverbs 18:13).
“The root of most conflict and division is jealousy.” The human ego has an insatiable appetite. Think of the religious jealousy incited with the murders of Abel early in the book of Genesis and Jesus in the Gospels.
“Fellow Christians will break your heart.” The people who you love the most will disappoint and hurt you the most. Church history is littered with broken hearts. As Frank Viola writes, “Only a relationship with Jesus will enable you to survive without becoming embittered or destroyed.”
“Don’t be so sure.” I remember as a young campus minister in my mid-20s feeling both right and certain. Now I am quite certain that God has hard-wired the universe to challenge human pride. Gosh, wouldn’t it have been great if all of life’s problems had hit me when I was a theologically astute 28-year-old?
“When you ascribe evil motives to another person’s heart, you reveal what is in your own heart.” Making judgments says more about you than the other person. Come on now, if you really are concerned about someone else, ask them directly.
“You will reevaluate your commitments.” For many followers of Jesus, it includes even their commitment to him. There will be a point when your faith is tested well beyond measure. I know and respect very sincere people who wonder if God exists, if the story about Jesus truly makes sense and if the Bible can be trusted. Will that happen to you? I have no idea, but I think you can expect it. This Scriptures are clear that “those who endure to the end will be saved.”
“Your greatest impact on others often is directly proportional to your suffering.” This seems to be God’s way. Sometimes it takes God a long time to clear the pipes so the sludge can get through. God can go to great lengths to break his servants.
“Transformation is a slow, arduous process.” God does change people. Frank Viola says, “Conformity to Christ is an essential aspect of God’s ultimate purpose.” But that takes a long time – years, decades. It is easy to make the mistake of equating knowledge with experience. But with the baggage most of us carry, it takes a long time to know that God finally takes our spiritual insights and translates them into knowledge that only is gained through experience.
Now pass this along to some young people you want to succeed. Hug them tightly and say, “You must increase. I’m for you. May the peace of Christ be with you.”