As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. Psalms 103: 15, 16
I was given a name. I was taken to a church. I was enrolled in a school. I was taught how to behave. I was introduced to languages, ideas and concepts of this world. I was encouraged to dream. I was pushed to achieve. I have possessed and I have lost. I was told I could like certain things, colors, places and people. I loved some people more than others. Some reciprocated my love (sometimes more than I deserve) and some didn’t. The people I called close friends are now mere acquaintances. And the people who were strangers are now my friends. I have made decisions that brought me joy and others that brought me sorrow. I may have to echo King Solomon and say that transience prevails over permanence on this earth.
And today, on the anniversary of my birth, I am left with memories. Memories – both good and bad. As the clock kept ticking for nearly three decades, my mind kept recording events tirelessly. For many people, a thread of good memories bring a sense of permanence and meaning in life. As much as I am thankful for good memories, I am also fully aware that even my memories will fade from my mind eventually. But here’s the anchoring thought that brings meaning to my life. Even though my life is like a blade of grass, that is here today and gone tomorrow, it still managed to impact an eternal being. My memories are also His memories because He walks though life with me. And we are not done creating memories quite yet!
“Serve the Lord with gladness!” Psalms 100:2
It was 4:30 am. The trauma pager started beeping. The blinking display read “Level 1 trauma: 35 year old male with gunshot to the chest. ED Room 2”. And that was my 16th surgical consult from the ER that day. By then I have worked for 23 hours straight, skipped two meals and had three dictations pending and a whole list of patients to round on before 7 am. My response to that page at that moment was apathy. With physical and mental exhaustion, my mode of operation was survival. Not service.
Later that morning after I silenced my pager, threw it on the floor and closed the curtains in my room to sleep, I doubted if residency would even qualify as ‘serving the Lord’. I wouldn’t doubt that I was serving the Lord if I had crossed the ocean and did the same job in Malawi. Why could I not be serving the Lord in Michigan? I could look at my job as a means to earn a living and nothing more. But that would be a tunneled view to look at jobs in general. In some ways we all are given certain tasks to serve fellow human beings in the society and through that we serve the Lord. The society may value certain jobs more than the other but heaven doesn’t. The question is, do we see our daily activities as service to the Lord? And if we did, how would that change our outlook on the many mundane tasks we perform everyday?
When I sat in that wooden church in Nicaragua years ago and decided that I wanted to serve as a medical missionary, I didn’t know what I was signing up for. Even when I took the physician’s oath in medical school, I didn’t truly understand the cost of service. Let’s just say that I’ve had my rude awakening. If serving the Lord is all about serving fellow humans, it is draining and downright exhausting. The psalmist wants us to do it with gladness and he is not mocking. For some of us it’s an annoying sibling, a grumpy coworker, a struggling fellow student or an angry customer. For me, it’s an emergency pager. When it goes off, someone is in dire need. I could either show up grumpy or with a smile on my face.
I am reading a book called “Walking the Bible”. The author of the book travels to the land of the patriarchs and journals his experience of the modern day version of ancient biblical sites. As he was describing how people stand in line to see a site where Abraham might have attempted to sacrifice Isaac, I asked myself a loaded question. What did Abraham achieve during his lifetime that made him such a celebrity for so many centuries? He did not conquer lands. He didn’t even build a town. He was a nomad, perhaps a rich one. Yes, he interacted with some political powers of his time but that’s not what he is known for. It probably never crossed his mind that one day he would achieve such celebrity status.
I have to acknowledge that there are many answers to that question. His life story is part of the most famous book of all times, the Bible. He is known for his faith in ‘one God’, which gave birth to monotheistic religions as we know them today. But he did not set out to accomplish any of these. He woke up everyday and lived an ordinary life just like most of us. This is what I came down to. He is famous because he was a father and a friend. He fathered a family that survived the test of time and turned into a nation. His wasn’t the only family around at that time but only his became a people and remained a people over the centuries. And he was a friend to a God who blessed his family just as He promised He would. Fortunately, he was not the last father who was faithful to Yahweh. And his was not the last family to be blessed. My father is not famous and his name will never make it to the bible but he somehow managed to introduce me to his God and that has made all the difference in my life.
I watched the movie “About Time” last weekend. It was about a young man who discovers that he has the ability to go back in time. All he has to do is find a dark place, clench his fists and think about a desired time in the past that he wants to re-live and he is instantly transported there. While in the past, he could change his course of action which then alters the course of his life. His repeated attempts to right the wrongs of his past makes for one fascinating ride. The fantasy of ‘time travel’ is nothing new. And yet there seems to be no shortage of fiction based on this theme. On the other hand, the unidirectional flow of time from past to present to future and its implications on our lives have been the topic of hundreds of non-fictions including numerous theological books. My brain hurts whenever I read a book dealing with how God might be experiencing time based on biblical passages. But lets not go there now.
As I was watching the movie, I was wondering what I would do if I had the gift of time travel. I decided that I didn’t have to change my whole life, I just have to go back to about three specific days and change my decisions. I think that would probably alter the course of my life significantly. But with that I assume that my life is solely a result of my past decisions. Honestly, there were so many things I did not choose. I did not choose my race, my parents, my place of birth or even my name. And I don’t get to choose the people I come across on a typical day. I make hundreds of decisions every single day because I have to. God doesn’t make good decisions on my behalf nor does He stop me from making bad choices. And in His infinite wisdom, He saw it fit not to give me the power to turn back the wheels of time. I am made to face life as it comes. I realized that its not always a depressing thought because I would like to think that God faces his time uni-directionally much like I do – because he relates to me in my time.
Towards the end of the movie, the main character lives each day twice. Once facing events unexpectedly and the second time savoring each moment as it comes. I don’t have the luxury of living each day twice. But perhaps if I can stop regretting my past and quit worrying for my future constantly, I may learn the art of walking with God, savoring one moment at a time.