*Photo Courtesy of: sxc.hu/photo/1143731
"Don't grab the pencils, Finley." I say to my son as he grabs a pencil out of the pew pocket in front of us. He gives me a mischievous grin, and turns to run down the aisle and away from me. I grab the back of his shirt just before he gets out of reach, and gently pull him back. For a moment, I see the look of defeat in his eyes, but it passes quickly – he just noticed the bag of raisins, and he squeals with delight. My face blushes and I feel a slight rush of heat as people around us turn and look at me – the guy whose kid is disrupting the service. But then I realize something – no one is frustrated that my son just made a noise. They are smiling. Instead of condemnation they look on with joy.
Older couples look with a longing in their eyes – for these days, days of squirming children, days that I sometimes wish would pass faster. Couples closer to my age look on with a knowing, their eyes seem to say, "been there!" A few youth in the audience look back with longing in their eyes too – but not to have a baby, they wish they could crawl on the pews and eat raisins.
Meanwhile the pastor continues his sermon,
"Love does not dishonor others. The word “dishonor” is the same word that means “shame.” Love does not shame others. These days, our political system is full of this. Even though we are part of the same human race, we split ourselves into "tribes." And ashamedly, we don't disagree with ideas, but we dishonor others not in our tribe."
Finley spills the raisins on the floor, and I lean down to pick them up. For anyone that has children, you know that bits and pieces of sermons are about as good as it gets. I don't remember the last time I was able to pay attention to a full sermon. I finish picking up the raisins, and that's when I realize Finley has found an infant car seat further down the pew. He begins shaking the seat, trying to see if there's a baby inside. Luckily for me, the parents were holding their baby. Again my face blushed, heat rushed through my chest, and I felt embarrassed. But then I saw the dad laughing, and instead of condemnation – everything was okay. I pulled Finley back to my seat, and once again his eyes went wide as I handed him the bag of raisins.
I catch a few more lines of the pastor's sermon,
"Sometimes we say things where the whole purpose is to dishonor or humiliate someone else -- either in their presence or behind their backs. Have you ever done that? Or maybe a better question is: To whom have I done this? Who have I dishonored, shamed, humiliated with my words?"
Finley decides it's time to color. He grabs my pen from my hand, and begins making circles on my notes. Big circles, that make my notes hard to read, but I smile. How can I not smile at my son who is so proud of his "rocket ship”? He makes a "SWOOOOSH" sound, and squirms out of my hands onto the floor. "RAYZINZ!" He says loudly, and sits down next to me expectantly.
Once again I look up at the pastor,
"Who has Jesus put in your life to honor? Who has Jesus placed in your life to respect? Who do you know so well that you can help pull out their glory -- the things that they are good at? What value can you add to someone else’s life today?"
That question: "Who has Jesus put in your life for you to honor?" Stuck in my mind as the pastor began to pray, and the service moved on. What if that was the focus of Christians? What if we focused on bringing value to others? What if instead of envy, I celebrated the glories and successes of other people? Instantly, the past few weeks come into focus, and I realize the lessons I’ve been learning.
Not knowing who I am leads to envy. When I envy – I don’t love. Envy leads me to dishonor and shame others.
As the congregation stands to sing, I look down at my notes: “What value can you add to someone else’s life today?” What value can I add? What do I have to offer? My life adds no value to other people. What if the core of my struggle to find purpose for my life is the fact that I add no value to the kingdom of God?
The congregation continues to sing, and row-by-row people move into the aisle to walk up front. I pick up Finley and get in line. The closer I get to the front of the sanctuary, the more that final series of questions and thoughts imprints itself on my brain. What do I have to offer?...My life adds no value to other people…What if the core of my struggle to find purpose for my life is the fact that I add no value to the kingdom of God?
By the time I reach the front, my mind has settled on one final thought – right now my life adds no value.
I’m awoken from my thoughts by the pastor. He hands me a small piece of bread and says, “This is the body of Christ, broken for you.” A few steps later, a volunteer holds out a chalice of wine, “This is the blood of Christ shed for you.”
Humbled. I walk back to my seat. I thought for sure my questions and thoughts from earlier – during the sermon – were from God. I thought he was challenging me to make more out of my life – to add value to other people. But that wasn’t God. It was me. I wanted to matter. I wanted to prove to others and myself that I had value.
But a small piece of bread dipped in wine changed my perspective. It’s not because of anything I’ve done or could do – that is not why I have value. I have value because God made me. I have so much value that Jesus died for me.
I couldn’t believe it. I was so close to falling into the same trap that has been holding me captive for years – the trap of performance leading to value. As if the way I execute my abilities determines my worth to God, others, and the world.
As I sit back down in the pew, I sit Finley down beside me. He cuddles up to my chest, and I hold him close. I love this kid so much. I didn’t realize I was capable of this much love. My life is so much better because Finley – my son, is here -- regardless of how many raisins he spills on the floor.
I wonder if God feels the same way. I wonder if he knew how much he was going to love us before he made us. The Bible says that he is a Father, I wonder if, like me, he had any idea that he could love his kids so much.
The service ends and I pick up Finley to walk to the car. As he rests his head on my shoulder, people smile, I smile, and the thought occurs to me – Finley has added a lot of value to other people today. Not because he figured out his calling and purpose, but by simply being himself.
Do you struggle with thinking that performance leads to value? Continue the conversation by commenting below…