Nevertheless, I manage to enjoy many of them. Just today I received one from a beloved graduate studying abroad in Spain who wants to catch up and tell me what she's learning these days. Earlier this week I received one from another studying in Argentina who is, during her free time, reading a little theology and has some questions. Yesterday I received a "think-out-loud" message from another former student who wanted to just share some of his thoughts on his own spiritual formation. I consider it a remarkable privilege to have these sorts of conversations...
For the sake of confidentiality I will certainly not share his email, but he described some thoughts and questions he has about his own ability to stay focused on the things he cares about the most in the midst of many other competing priorities. He referenced some verses from Romans 7:
The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate... And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. (vss 14-15, 18-19)He reflected on his own desires to keep moving forward proactively, but getting stuck in bad habits. His questions remain with me 24 hours later:
The cure for a weak will is developing a strong will. But how is this done? More to the point, how does one do this without a strong will already?I responded with a lot of sympathy and understanding. Not exactly, "Been there, done that," because heck, I battle with my desires, my will and God's will every day. They aren't something I can conquer or check off my list. Instead, my prayer is that of John the Baptist in John 3:30,
He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.I told him that I have learned to strengthen my will over the years in part through keeping my "eyes on the prize," focusing on my long-term goals and less on the day-to-day. In other words, I have learned from good ol' Stephen Covey that I want to "begin with the end in mind," and build my life and daily actions according to how I want to be remembered. This is also resonant with the classic "running the race" passage in Hebrews 12:1-3. I can't wait till I am older to shape how I am remembered. Put another way, I have sought to shape my decisions according to who I want (and feel called) to be rather than what I feel.
All of this ran through my mind as I read the Common Prayer devotional today, which noted that on this day in 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed. Stunning words were quoted from a sermon that I will share here:
“Every now and then I think about my own death, and I think about my own funeral. Every now and then I ask myself, ‘What is it that I want said?’ I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.”I am humbled by these words... and saddened that his hopes expressed here were realized far too soon. But nevertheless, I am also grateful that he remained faithful to his calling. He didn't do things based on how he felt. Rather, he did what needed to be done, and relied on God's power to do it.
I have learned to think this way from some wise leaders and role models in my life. But I'm happy to say that I have also learned to "live with the end in mind" from my life with students. They make me want to be a better person - both by the reality that they are watching me, and by their own witness. In their earnest, optimistic, energized desire to know Jesus and live life to the fullest, I stay young. What a good life I have.
Consider the life of Dr. King and those worthy role models you have known. What is it that you want said?