Let Your Life Speak
Lessons Every Child Should Learn & No Adult Should Forget
Sunday, November 17, 2013
A group of adults in our church have been spending Sunday evenings this fall reading a discussing the book Dangerous Wonder by Mike Yaconelli. It is a thought provoking look at some of the characteristics of childhood that we often try to grow out of as we get older. Yaconelli makes the point however that sometimes retaining rather than maturing beyond these qualities is actually best for our faith lives. In other words, childhood characteristics like maintaining a healthy imagination, making time for play and continuing to have a sense of wonder in relation to God’s creation can be good not bad disciplines that are worth holding onto.
In the book, Yaconelli tells a great story that I really appreciate. Yaconelli was a pastor in small town California before his death. One year, the Northern California State Finals in high school track and field were held in their little town and he attended. When it came time for the girls’ finals in the 3200 meters, Yaconelli noticed a particular young girl who was preparing to compete. She had obvious limitations and seemed from the beginning to be way out of her league in comparison to the other competitors. In fact, when he first saw her, Yaconelli thought that maybe she was the team manager rather than a runner.
When the race started, his fears about her abilities were quickly confirmed. With each passing lap, she drifted farther and farther to the back of the pack. In fact, as she made her final lap, all of the other competitors were long finished, yet she, because of her determination and sportsmanship, gained the lion’s share of cheers as the crowd rooted her on and celebrated her simply finishing the race.
Afterward, Yaconelli learned what had happened. She was from an area of the state with very small schools and few athletes. In turn she had qualified for the finals because she had been the only athlete from her area that ran the 3200 on the local level and so even though her ability was very low, she automatically qualified for the state meet.
In the end though, she was an inspiration as she refused to allow her abilities or her competition to stand in her way of doing her best. She didn’t walk away or give up in light of the circumstances she found herself in. Instead, she simply committed to making the most of a less than perfect moment in her life.
In telling the story, Yaconelli ends his memories with this statement, “to this day I have no idea who won the girls’ 3200, but I will never forget the girl who was last.” Said another way, this young girl’s heroics spoke to Yaconelli in a powerful way that continued to impact him long after the fact (Dangerous Wonder, Mike Yaconelli, Navpress, 2003, page 146).
The book of Acts, when you think about it holistically, exhibits a similar principle at work. Like the young lady in Yaconelli’s story, the key figures in the early church were consistently working against overwhelming odds. Generally speaking, they were small in number, their resources were limited and they faced huge opposition from both the Jewish leadership and the general culture of both the Roman Empire and the overall ancient civilized world.
In all likelihood, the average sane person would have surveyed the situation and walked away seeing the mission as a hopeless task. Yet, perhaps one of the most enduring qualities of the earliest followers of Jesus is that they did not do that. Instead, they did their best to make the most of the situation that life dealt them. They didn’t walk away, throw up their hands or simply say that the assignment of growing the church in the midst of a less than perfect situation was overwhelming or too much to ask. Instead, they went to work where they were and made the most of that with which they have. They chose to bloom where they had been planted. They committed themselves to letting their lives speak where they were rather than waiting until life made a turn for the better or things got easier.
This holistic attitude of Acts is illustrated in a very direct way in our text for today. Paul was moving toward what was apparently the end of his life and career. He was under house arrest in Rome while awaiting trail for his commitment to the growing Christian faith. Yet, notice how he spent his time. He didn’t lament where he was. He didn’t throw up his hands and say that the situation was impossible. Rather, he chose to let his life speak right where he was rather than twiddling his thumbs while waiting for the storm clouds to dissipate and for life to get better. In turn, he continued to work as a missionary and to call people to faith even while under arrest for two years.
The lesson for today, the last in this series is very simple yet very needed, I think, by all of us. It is also an invaluable lesson for those who will follow in our footsteps. We are called to let our lives speak, that is to say to let our lives make a difference. And, we are called to do that right now and right where we are regardless of the circumstances or the situation that we find ourselves in.
I worry greatly these days about how our world approaches situations that are less than perfect. More times than not, we are a society quick the throw up our hands, point out the problems and explain why we can’t work or thrive in the midst of our current circumstances.
Likewise, we are very, very prone to allow our children to develop similar habits. We are often willing to remove our children and our grandchildren from those life situations that in our mind or theirs are less than ideal or where things are not happening or transpiring as any of us would like. But, in doing so we are create the false expectation for them and for us that ultimately life evens out and that life ultimately is a fair or level playing field most of the time.
Yet, the truth is that in life and in the Christian faith, more times than not, the un-level playing field is more the rule than the exception. In turn, the question becomes not will we wait until things get better. But, the question becomes what will we do with the places where we are? The question becomes are we willing to risk being people who are able to live where we are and to grow and cultivate children who are willing to thrive right where they are rather than where we or they may want to be? Are we willing to say that even in this moment and even in this situation, I want to let my life speak? I want to make a difference right here and right now.
When many people think about the comic book character Superman, they also think about the actor Christopher Reeve who played the Man of Steel in four films in the late 1970s and 80s. Yet, what really made Reeve a super human being was his response to a horseback riding accident in 1995 which left him paralyzed. After the accident, Reeve did his rehab work at the Kessler Rehabilitation Center in New Jersey. There his epiphany came in the form of other patients who showed a remarkable refusal to allow their difficulties and disabilities to keep them from continuing to live long, full, productive and powerful lives. Because of their examples, Reeve pledged to do the same. Part of his quest to be the best person he could be right where he was and with what he had to work, led Reeves to produce a documentary about other people who were choosing to bloom right where they were planted too. The documentary had a rather interesting title. It was called Without Pity: A Film About Abilities and it won an Emmy Award for the story it told. Sure, the folks profiled in the film had numerous life issues that prevented them from functioning at 100 percent. Yet, they had all chosen to make the most of the place where they were and to let their lives speak in the places they found themselves—there was the 6 year old boy without arms or legs going to school, a blind man who was also a computer expert and a history professor with polio—all choosing to do make a difference in the world that they inhabited. (Christoper Reeve, Wikipedia entry at Wikipedia.com)
I believe the same can be true for all of us. Sure, we can throw up our hands, walk away and assume that one day when everything gets better and life is easier, we will live up to our potential and finally make a difference. But, the truth is that life rarely works that way and in truth often times those perfect days never come. Instead if we can find a way through the power and the wisdom of God to make a difference right where we are and if we commit ourselves to letting our lives speak today not someday, we might just be amazed what God does with us.
For let us remember, God doesn’t promise to simply walk with us and guide us on the mountain top. Our God is the one who promises to walk with us, to guide us and to lead us in the valley too. This is God’s promise to us and to all of those who will follow us. And through that power, we can change our world—not some day when everything is going well, but right now, today right where we are. Amen.