“The Benediction Project”
For this posting and the next I decided to take a break from the series “Books that Have Shaped Me.” There is no particular reason for this other than that I have been thinking recently about what I really love most to participate in, and actually do, and what other people might really love to do, and actually do.
This seems important to me because, out of a 168-hour week, we devote (broadly speaking) about one-third to work (including travel), one-third to sleep, and one-third to everything else. It is in this third category where we may find out, if we wish, who we really are. Our true self—who we are at our core—is not necessarily revealed at our paid job. We may do a good job at work but have a not-so-good life outside of work.
During the third of our lives when we are not asleep or at work, most of us do some necessary things to keep ourselves and our households going, and some things that may be called relaxation, entertainment or pleasant diversion. In this two-part posting I am presenting the top ten things I most love to do during the relaxation-entertainment-pleasant diversion category of my time.
I am not presenting this list in any particular order of importance, nor am I suggesting that my top ten should be your top ten. But I am writing to encourage you to consider carefully what your top ten might be and whether you should add or delete any practices while trying to limit your total to ten activities. Don’t compose a list of ideal favorite things, but an honest list of your real favorite things—how you actually spend your diversionary time. Just as Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” so I believe he is saying to us, “What activities occupy your time, there you can find the real you.” Here is my list which I recently composed for the first time in my life.
Observing Beauty. I am so very thankful that God gave me eyes, a mind and a set of emotions to enjoy the beauties of the natural world and the beautiful creations made by people. I love the shapes of trees, shrubs, flowers, pine cones, grasses, bark, rocks, sunrises and sunsets, any body of water, the deserts, animals, the faces and forms of human beings, lightning, the northern lights, and gazing into the starry night away from city brightness.
Only twice in my life have I literally had my breath taken away by something I saw. Once was when I caught sight of the Grand Canyon for the first time. Its depth and immensity struck me with an overpowering emotional force as it suddenly came into view, moments after I had been hurrying toward the rim but without having seen any of the canyon. Seemingly out of nowhere it burst upon my senses as nothing before.
The second time I had such an experience was when viewing Michelangelo’s “Pieta” – the famous sculpture in St. Peter’s Basilica. Mary is holding in her arms the lifeless body of Jesus after he was taken from the cross. I remember most the exquisite curvature and balance of the human forms, and the look of serene compassion and sorrow as Mary gazed down at the body of her son.
Reading. I have always loved to read anything stimulating. I enjoy good fiction, non-fiction, poetry, autobiography, and biography. The latter two categories, along with the Bible, constitute the most profitable block of reading materials for me. The Bible, more than any other book, repays slow and careful reading of specific portions, over and over, after a quicker first-read. I also read a major daily newspaper and several valuable magazines and journals.
There have been many times throughout my life when the advice, “Read for your life,” was literally what I did, especially in the years of serious suffering before and after my heart transplant. Sometimes it was a major escape mechanism for me, as when I read many Louis L’Amour novels of the old west – sometimes several a month. Sometimes my reading was for comfort and gentle advice, as when I gave a full year to the Psalms or spent many hours lingering in two sensitive and powerful works by Amy Carmichael (Rose from Briar) and Claire Weekes (Hope and Help for Your Nerves). High quality writers and their high quality writings are some of God’s greatest gifs to men, women and children of all ages.
Learning. I love learning about almost everything. I love to grow in head knowledge, practical skills, experience and wisdom. I also enjoy growing in people skills – the most important of all categories of learning after the knowledge of God. I love learning history, the sciences, human cultures, languages (I have studied seven, but speak only one), biblical teachings and backgrounds, and the lives and thoughts of wise men and women, especially those who have known and served God well. I hope to be a lifelong learner, and one who is always grateful for the privilege.
Gathering With the People of God. I cannot imagine where I would be today if I had not been welcomed as a new Christian into a group of Christ-followers who gathered regularly (twice on Sundays and two other times during the work week) for collective worship, learning, giving testimony, hearing the Word of God preached, discussion, prayer, evangelism, proportionate giving, and the benefit of one another’s company.
Over the years, many strong churches (including two I was privileged to serve as pastor) have welcomed me and built me up spiritually, socially, intellectually and in the practice of shared ministry. Even though, because of poor health, I have not been able to gather with large groups of God’s people for several years, I love to follow and pray about the activities of my local church and welcome individuals and small groups from the fellowship into my home. Sometimes we sing, read scripture, share the truths of God, and celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. These times are very special, and for them I am grateful.
Working. I actually enjoy work, even as a diversionary activity. For this reason I am including work in this list. I can’t say, however, that I loved every kind of work I have ever done. Slashing with a machete through tangles of weeds, brush and vines on a hot, humid day while fighting off mosquitos is only “enjoyable” (if such a word is even appropriate) in the sense that one may watch the overgrown briar patch begin to fall away and leave the ground exposed for its intended use. There is a sense of satisfaction that is quite pleasant when the work is done, and in the midst of work itself.
Most people have to work for a living. This is a good and noble thing. It is significant how often the Bible denounces idleness and laziness, and even states that those who do not work should not eat. I have great respect for workers, whether they work in the home, outside the home, for pay or for some good purpose without pay.
While my work in recent years has been limited—almost totally—to writing on a small scale, I enjoy very much thinking back on the kinds of jobs I have had since the age of eight or nine: landscaping, tree trimming and removal, chain sawing, splitting wood, selling ice cream on a daily route, building construction and demolition, directing traffic for “the world’s largest automobile dealer” (their advertisements), cleaning to perfection every day (as required by law) the huge circular vat in a milk pasteurizing plant, being a grader and teaching assistant, a high school counselor, an accountant’s assistant, a filler of sheet-music orders, a newspaper columnist, an all-night clerk at a convenience store, a high school custodian, a scholar earning several professional degrees, a youth pastor, a senior pastor, a writer of both popular and scholarly materials, and a teacher of preaching, biblical studies, theology and ethics in three different schools of higher learning for twenty-five years. I am exceedingly thankful for being able to learn (and give, I trust) something in the midst of each of these forms of work.
In the next posting I hope to present five more of my favorite things. Until then, may the good Lord who made us guide our thoughts and actions toward enjoyable, fruitful and grateful lives.