A Question of Fairness
August 8, 2004
“The Son of Man is coming at a time you least expect.” None of us can tell when dramatic change might enter our lives. In fact, there are two kinds of days: days which unfold according to plan and days which change everything. 9/11 was a day of the latter type for our country. Which one of us getting out of bed that morning could have predicted the dramatic event that would forever change our nation? And yet, for each one of us, there have been days or will be days of crisis that will just as profoundly affect our lives as 9/11 affected the soul of America—a day on which a son or daughter is in a serious automobile accident, a day on which our spouse files for divorce, a day on which the results of the test for cancer comes back positive. These days of crisis change our lives forever. Frequently they come without warning.
The Gospel today says that we should be prepared, that we should be ready and alert for such days. But how can we prepare for the unknown? How can we prepare in a realistic and healthy way? This is an important question because, knowing the days of crisis that will certainly come, we can all too easily become over whelmed with fear. So how do we prepare for these days of crisis in a way that will help us rather than harm us?
I can never ask this question without thinking of Martha. Martha was a woman of faith that I came to know while serving in a community in Akron. She was a woman in her late forties, bright, funny, with three adult children. I liked Martha a lot and had a deep respect for her. She was very involved in the life of her family and of our church community. It was while I knew her that Martha had her day of crisis. While shopping one day in the super market, she fell and was unable to get up. After numerous medical examinations, she was diagnosed with a rare muscle disorder that was not fatal but within a matter of weeks removed her ability to walk. I watched Martha deal with this crisis. I watched her (now in a wheel chair) re-assemble her life, re-commit herself to her family and to her church community and find a new way of living. But although I am sure that there were many days she had internal struggles, I was particularly amazed with her ability to remain positive and optimistic.
One day after a church meeting I could not resist but ask her, “Martha, how do you do it? How do you remain so positive and optimistic?” She must have anticipated my question for she had a ready answer. “It’s not easy,” she said, “I routinely fight a battle against self pity, but what I find most helpful to me is the question of fairness.” “Fairness?” I asked. “Fairness,” she said. “When I met Tom, my husband, the love of my life and my foundation, I did not ask God, ‘why did this happen to me?’ I accepted him as a gift, as a gift for my future. When I had three healthy children and over the years watched them grow into amazing adults, I did not ask God, ‘why did this happen to me?’ I accepted it as a grace in my life. As I met my life long friends and found in each one of them a blessing and a way to open a new aspect of my life and personality, I did not question God, ‘why did this happen to me?’ I accepted each relationship as a gift. So how can I now, sitting in this wheel chair, and ask God, ‘why is this happening to me?’ I am always surprised by the twists and turns of life, but when you look at it all, there is so much more good than bad. I know that it is by being thankful for the good that I find the strength to deal with the rest. To live any other way is dishonest and ultimately unfair.”
To this day, I am not sure that I could live Martha’s faith as well as she did, but I know in my deepest soul that she was right. Each one of us will have to face days of crisis in our life, days that will change everything. But we are called to prepare for those days not with fear but with gratitude. It is only fair to look at all of life. The best way to prepare for the crisis that is to come is to be thankful for the blessings of today.
Love and Detachment as Treasure
August 12 2007
Luke 12: 32 – 48
“Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” This is an extremely important line in today’s Gospel. It tells us that what we treasure will control our hearts. What we value will determine the way that we live. This is so important because we do not have enough time and energy to treasure all things equally. We therefore need to make decisions for what we will place first, what we will value most, what our treasure will be.
I do not think that most of us go from day to day conscious of our treasure. I think we move along trying to do everything. Then, when our time or our energy run short, we end up responding to that which speaks the loudest or to that which seems most attractive. We do not necessarily choose what is most important. Work is important but is it the highest value in our life? Money is essential but should we set that above everything else? Popularity and influence are good but are they worth having at any price? We need to know what it is that we value. We need to be conscious of our treasure.
How do you find out what your treasure is? Take your calendar or your smartphone and examine it. See where you have been placing your time over the last six months. To what do you give your time? How much to work? How much to friends? How much to yourself? Where your time is there will your heart be also. Take out your checkbook or look at last year’s tax return? Where is your money going? How much to your own comfort? How much to your family? How much to those in need? Where your money is there will your heart be also. Examine the data at your fingertips. Roll through your rolodex. Check out your address book in your email. Look at the family schedule on the refrigerator. Notice which web pages you bookmark. Where you place your energy and attention, your heart will follow.
If in these exercises you discover that your heart has been given to something rather secondary, to something that is not worthy, then the gospel calls you to invest in a treasure that will last, a treasure that cannot be stolen or destroyed.
How do we secure such a treasure? In two simple but somewhat contradictory choices: a choice for love and a choice for detachment.
I think most of us in our heart of hearts know that love is necessary to build a lasting treasure. The love we give to others is something eternal. The time and energy that we give to our children, our spouses and our friends, even to strangers will not die. I can witness to this from personal experience. I have been privileged to be with people at the moment of death. I will tell you in those last hours the only thing that matters is love. Nothing else has importance. It is the pride parents feel in their children, the years that someone has shared with a spouse, the good times and the intimacies that have been shared between friends which count. When the heart is given to love, when love is its treasure, then the heart is at peace. Even in the face of death, the heart knows that it possesses something which time cannot destroy.
The second way to secure a lasting treasure is detachment. This at first seems contradictory to love. Love reaches out and holds on, whereas detachment lets go and sets free. But the deepest of love always involves detachment. It realizes that no human love, however deep, will stay the same. The deepest love of a parent includes enough detachment to let go of his or her children so that they might develop their own lives. The deepest love of a spouse carries enough detachment that life can go on even when death intervenes. The deepest moments of friendship contain enough detachment to allow cherished memories to fade without regret.
Love without detachment can become manipulative and stifling. Love that is willing to let go is freeing. It does not seek to control and realizes that every human love, no matter how deep, is only a reflection of a greater love. God alone can satisfy us forever.
Where your treasure is there will your heart be also. So give your hearts to love, and love with detachment. In this way you may savor as deeply as possible every person whom you love and at the same time realize that no matter how deep that love is, you will in time need to let it go. Loving deeply and letting go will not betray us. They will lead us to the deepest love—the love of God who alone is our treasure.