20 September 2012

A Tribute to a Friend I've Known Since Birth

Just today, I happened to find myself thinking about you.  Maybe it has something to do with getting another year older, or maybe it was just a random bit of nostalgia that brought you to mind.  Or maybe it's the fact that you're sitting in my living room chair at this moment, just as reliable and patient and omnipresent as always.

The things I remember most about you growing up are your quiet nature, your calming spirit.  I remember the pensive quality of your gaze, so consistent despite my oscillating temperament.  You were always agreeable too, and loyal, but not to the point of being a sheep.  Maybe you didn't stand up to me as much as you should have, but I could always sense the disapproval you kept to yourself when I was up to no good.  In that way, you were a leader, even as you were a follower.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, you got just as dirty as I did when we were young - if not more so.  We took our leaps together, and - consequently - our falls.  My successes were yours, and my failures likewise.  You had your stitches, and I had mine.  Boyhood was rough on the both of us, the way it should be.  It taught us the taste of grass and fused the sensation of sweat running down our backs with the sense of accomplishment gleaned from hard work.

I think maybe we were so close because you were a reflection of the things I couldn't yet be - characteristics and qualities I wanted, but things for which I had to mature first in order to grasp.  Maybe you were a template, one that wasn't much like me, but a mouthpiece for all my quirks and the recipient all my ideas, all my imaginings, which no one else could possibly understand or handle the way you could.  In that sense, you were my muse, my confidant.  You embodied the songs I couldn't yet write, the stories I couldn't yet transcribe.  You were my first audience and my first critic, but you were gentle and we learned together how to dream big.

It's amusing in retrospect.  As a kid, you don't think about these kinds of things.  You just accept things as they are, at face value.  Things are black and white, hard and easy, bad and good.  The world only becomes complex when you shed that type of binary thinking in favor of adult ideas - gray areas, revelation, and common sense.  As a kid, you were simply my friend, a playmate, company in times of loneliness and celebration.  You were simply there, and I loved you for it.  Time and again, you let me drag you behind me through the muck of life (sometimes literally) and still got up on the other side with a smile on your face - a smile which said, very plainly, "Let's do that again."

I want my children to have a friend like you while things are still simple.  In fact, I want them to have you.  I want their experiences with you to be just as memorable, just as enlightening.  And when they get older, wiser, and more knowledgeable of the world, I hope they look back on their friendship with you and remember the romance of childhood.  My warm, golden summers of the 1990's on the East Coast would have been merely sticky transitions without you beside me to enjoy them; for my kids, I want the same.

And maybe, just maybe, I'll make them read Calvin & Hobbes as much as I did too.

13 September 2012

Living and Active

In my youth group, we are currently teaching through the living and active qualities of the Word of God (as per Hebrews 4.12), and just this morning I was reminded of that very fact in my own personal study.  It's perhaps an ironic example of progressive sanctification: we never learn so much that we don't have any further to go, and often as I ponder teaching on a topic, I find myself needing the very instruction I intend to give.

As of this morning, I have a new life verse.  Job 27.6 says, "I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go; my heart does not reproach me for any of my days."  Job, a man who was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but who had done nothing but pursue righteousness throughout his life, was forced to build a defense against his good-intentioned friends - friends who had heard of his calamity and unanimously decided that Job's personal wickedness had brought about his suffering.  Yet in the midst of his emotional, spiritual, and physical torment, Job famously blessed the name of the Lord and held fast to his innocence.

Reading that verse this morning, I pondered all of my failures just this week alone, and then the failures of my life as a whole, and I found myself thinking, "Wow, I wish that I could say that with the same conviction as Job."  Like Belshazzar, I've been weighed in the balances and found wanting.  But then I remembered that I can read this verse with conviction.  I don't need to build a defense against friends, family - anyone.  I stand redeemed by the saving work of Jesus Christ, and although I have failed time and again, I strive to glorify Him when He gives and when He takes away.  Job's claim to righteousness was not in anything he by himself had done, but in his ultimate desire to remain obedient to the Lord.  Likewise, I have no confidence in my own initiative.  My works of righteousness are nothing more than filthy rags if I count on them independently from Christ.  Furthermore, my failures are covered by His grace.

People always pull out that "no regrets, no consequences" mentality, encouraging others to live like there's no tomorrow.  But I want to live as though there is a tomorrow, a tomorrow where I can open the Word and reflect on the fact that I am consistently walking with Christ, and consistently pursuing righteousness.  I don't want to cram it all into one day because I've squandered yesterday and am worried I might not get another chance.  I don't just want to avoid regret.  I want a lifetime of days throughout which I can quote Job 27.6 with firm conviction - so that when there finally is no more tomorrow, I can stand before my Father and, instead of weeping for shame over of all my wasted opportunities, I can weep for joy instead, and boldly state, "My heart does not reproach me for any of my days."  More than anything else, I long to hear my Father welcome me into His kingdom with the proud words, "Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your master."