I was recently at a men’s group where the question was asked, “as a man, what is it that you want?” One man said, “I would like one more day with my father who died three years ago.” Another said, “I would like my children to grow up, move away, and miss me.” The third man said, “I would like my children to grow up, move away and miss me too. But if they don’t miss me, I would like them to at least grow up and move away.”
Carey Looney was a great man and mentor of mine back in the early 80’s. He was a psychologist who worked in the office next to mine and also a leader in the church where I was the youth pastor. One day he invited me to his office for a mixed drink and I thought this may very well be the beginning of the end of my career in ministry. Turns out his idea of a mixed drink was Diet 7-Up and cranberry juice. We had many of those in the following days and I still drink them. During this meeting he told me about attending his 40th high school reunion the previous weekend. I asked if there were any interesting accomplishments among his fellow high school graduates. He said one guy had become a state senator in Alaska and several others were successful in various types of business. One story he told me I have never forgotten. He said a woman approached him at the reunion party and said, “Carey, you probably don’t remember me.” He replied, “I'm sorry I don’t”. “I was a year behind you in school and one day in the cafeteria I dropped my tray and food and silverware scattered everywhere.” She went on to describe how everyone in the cafeteria clapped, jeered and laughed at her clumsiness but “you Carey got up from your seat and came over and helped me get it all together after that spill.”
Carey didn’t make a big deal out of her story only to remark that she never forgot his act of kindness even though he couldn’t remember it all. Well I remember that story like he told it yesterday.
I was 24 yrs old looking for Godly men to pattern my life after and I remember distinctly thinking, “I want to be a man like that, who gets up in the middle of the cafeteria, in the midst of all the jeering and helps someone pick up their tray.”
There was a survey done of 100 people who were 95 yrs old and older and they were asked “If you could live your life over, what would you do differently?” There were three answers that far outnumbered all the others. The first thing they said was they would reflect more.
1. Reflect more…
Imagine this: you’re in the cafeteria of your peer group, community, industry, faith or culture. Trays are falling and crashing everywhere, people are slipping, and being pushed. They have way too much on their trays or maybe they have dropped a tray before. Nonetheless, you see and hear the clanging trays hit the hard floor. Stop right now and reflect on who you are and what you do.
The way I see it, there are 3 groups of people in this cafeteria who are not currently dropping their trays: one group are the sitters. They just sit there and they sit there for various reasons: to clap, jeer, and insult. They make fun of people hoping to feel better about themselves but they never do. Perhaps they are passive, weak, without any source of real power to do anything. They have no real depth of understanding what it is like to drop your tray in the cafeteria. Perhaps they are afraid. Afraid of what you ask? Afraid of getting up, leaving their normal peer group, going against the social flow, and joining the person who is on their knees trying to get it all together again.
There is a second group in the cafeteria: the pretenders. They pretend nothing has happened. Full blown denial. They heard a tray fall, they hear the clapping and jeering but they quickly dismiss it in order to avoid letting it touch with their soul. I have a friend who was eating in a nice restaurant once when another fellow starting choking on some food. His wife who’s a nurse got up and ran to the guy and started applying the Heimlich maneuver. The guy kicked a chair over, knocked his water off the table and spit the food across the table. Joe said when it was over, no one in the restaurant looked up. Everyone avoided eye contact. Joe said it was the most shocking display of denial he had ever seen. These kinds of things disturb the soul of many people and they don’t want to be disturbed. They are some of the nicest people you’ll ever know, unless of course you drop your tray. They are in denial and they don’t get out of their seat.
There’s a third group. These are the people who move toward the person who has dropped their tray. They are aware they may be alone in caring and assisting. They feel others eyes looking at them but they don’t care about what the sitters and pretenders are thinking. They may or may not have dropped a tray themselves in their own life. They know many of the reasons and circumstances that cause people to drop their trays but that makes no difference to them. They know what really matters, and what really matters is people.
So which person are you? Are you a sitter, a pretender, or do you know what really matters?
The second thing the 95 year olds said they would do differently was take more risks.
2. Take more risks... I believe these senior citizens are screaming at the rest of us to spend less of our time, talents and treasures hanging around the sitters and pretenders playing it safe. You will be a sad person on your 95th birthday if you are required to come to terms with having no band aids, bumps, or bruises in your life because you always sat back and watched others do the things God created for you to do.
The 3rd thing these seniors said they would do differently was do more things that would live on after them.
3. Do more things that would live on after them... You wake up every morning with a limited supply of time, talent, and treasures. Make a difference with your life and invest those things in something that will live on long after you die, longer than bricks and mortar, invest in people who matter to God.
Carey Looney always had a one liner for just about every circumstance and moment. One of the things I heard him say more than once was, “if what we reap comes from what we sow, then what we water determines what we grow.” Carey did many things that have lived on beyond his life here on earth. I was blessed to have had the opportunity to drink with him almost 30 years ago.
Have a great day. I welcome your comments. God bless, Matt.