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Thinking Out Loud

This is Your Life

by Michael Jinkins | Apr 18, 2017

This is your lifeI suppose you'd have to be at least as old as I am to remember the television program, "This is Your Life," in which a person was presented with several surprise guests, people from the person's past who had been important in their lives, often decades earlier. For some reason the phrase "this is your life" came back to me recently as I was sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Atlanta waiting for the final session of the conference I was attending.

It is striking how often we seem to think that our life is something that we will get back to or start, once the present thing we're doing is finished. In my case that particular morning, I was keenly aware that in the most recent three-week period I had only been able to be at home and on our campus in Louisville a day-and-a-half, just long enough to empty and re-pack my suitcase, quickly catch up on the work piled up on my desk, meet with senior staff, and attend a couple of conference calls with trustees before heading out again.

Sitting in the hotel lobby in Atlanta that morning, suddenly, it occurred to me, "this is your life."

My life does not just consist of the settled relatively routine round of familiar work among the staff and students I so enjoy working with and talking to. My life consists in the moments I wait for a workshop to start, as well as the workshop itself, the time spent waiting in the line to get a hotel room and talking to a desk clerk, the hours spent in planes, in dinners with strangers or long-distance colleagues. Sitting there, it suddenly hit me (although I know I knew this): This is your life! Right here! Right now! Not back home! Not somewhere else when things "settle down" (whatever that might mean)!

The same is true for all of us.

So I had a little talk with myself.

"If you want to locate the meaning in your life," I said to myself, "If you want to locate the vocation, the purpose in your life, you have to discern these values right here. If you want to experience joy, let alone happiness, you can't defer joy and happiness to sometime or somewhere else. This is your life. Don't waste these moments not appreciating them, not paying attention to them. You live here just as much as anywhere because you are alive here now."

It was a good little talk.

And as I mulled over what I told myself, I also reflected on a passage in the Gospels I had always taken to be a text mostly about the messianic life - until that moment. Jesus says, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." (Matthew 8:20)

Surely the passage should primarily be taken to mean that, while even the lowliest of creatures have homes, the messiah does not. If the phrase "son of man" in this context is construed as a messianic title, as it often is in the Gospels, then it means that Jesus the Christ, the Son of Man, has no place of refuge in this world which was created through him and in which he pitched his tent.

However, there are also references in the Bible in which "son of man" is simply a designation for a human being, one born of flesh and blood. From that perspective, the passage may also speak to the uncertainty, the fundamental insecurity, the groundlessness every human being experiences cast precariously upon the fragile reefs of existence.

If "this is our life," suspended always between birth and death, always between right and wrong, always between the past and the future, always between here and there, always between history and eternity, then being at home means coming to terms with the reality that life (our life) is indeed what happens to us, not when we've arrived at a destination we identify as "home," or "refuge," but also on the way, and not just when we're "busy making other plans," as John Lennon has said, but when we're waiting for the next meeting to begin or the connecting flight to arrive, or this mound of dirty dishes to get washed, or the kids to be driven from school to dance lessons and soccer practice, or caring for this loved one who struggles sometimes to remember our name, or waiting for the surgeon to invite us into the little family room to hear what he has found.

This is your life. Right now. Right here.

We're not waiting for life to happen. It is happening, whether we are paying attention or not.

But if we do pay attention, I think we'll notice something really important: God has a way of showing up in our lives, wherever we are, even if we're just resting our heads for a few dozy minutes on that weirdly impossible pillow they give you on the plane, suspended somewhere between here and someplace else. Even sitting in the lobby of that hotel an hour before the last session of a conference that keeps me "here," instead of being "there." Even holding the hand of a friend whose life is ebbing away, or waiting for the birth of a new child. We're there already.

Our refuge, our home, as the Psalmist reminds us, is moveable, because our refuge, our home, is in God, and God is always with us. "This is your life," then, always with the God in whom we live and move and have our being.

Let's not miss our life by mistakenly believing that we're just sitting in life's waiting room.

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