Wear your glasses to look back.
Recently, I stepped on the campus of my alma mater, William Jewell College, for the first time in several years. I’d been near the campus several times in the last decade, close enough to see the improvements that had been made to some of the buildings, but I hadn’t actually set foot in any of them.
You know, in my day, that stout building on the west side of the quad was the Curry Library. Now it’s just Curry Hall. I walked in to discover that the various library accoutrements were gone. Honestly, the ground floor was pretty sparse. “What have you done with the library?” I yelped to a lady standing behind what used to be the library circulation desk.
“They moved it downstairs,” she said, smiling.
In my day, the stacks of that library filled the entire second floor of that building. Now they’re crammed into a claustrophobic, low-ceilinged space that used to house a warren of faculty offices.
In my day, the library would have been bustling with students. Now, a couple of student workers were the only others in the space. It was sad.
William Jewell is still a fine school. I’m sure they haven’t jettisoned books as they’ve downsized their physical library. It’s just different. Some changes are for the better; some for the worse, but we tend to see changes from what we liked as uniformly bad. Sometimes we remember the past in inflated terms. Sometimes it is just our taste.
And yes, sometimes things actually were better in the old days. But that’s not the point. The point is living today.
- What are some things are definitely better than they used to be? What things are clearly worse?
- Can you name some changes that, while not clearly better or worse, just don’t suit you? How do you adapt to those?
- Pray that God will help you adapt to the bulk of changes in your life while trying to improve the changes that are clearly worse.
Cross generational lines.
I want to imagine Moses for a moment. Traditionally, he spent 40 years in Egypt, then 40 years in exile in Midian, and finally 40 years in Wilderness with the people of Israel. Whether those precise segments are accurate, Deuteronomy 34;7 tells us that their sum, 120, was Moses’ age when he climbed Mt. Nebo, unable to cross over into the Promised Land with the others.
At what age did Moses retire from active leadership of the tribes? That’s right, he didn’t! Can you imagine Moses having this little, unrecorded chat with God and saying, “Lord, don’t tell them, but I’m kind of relieved that you’re not having me cross over the Jordan. I just can’t handle these young people and all their new-fangled slang!”
However long Moses stayed up there atop the mountain before he died, I’m sure that Moses wanted to be among the people he had led for so long. Yes, everyone from his generation had died, but Moses seemed to still have the fire. What was his secret?
The Bible doesn’t tell us how Moses managed to remain a cross-generational leader, but I suspect an answer. You see, no matter how much the people around him changed as he aged, Moses kept his eye on the unchanging personality of God. Time and again, he found the people frustrating. Time and again, God pointed him back to his duty.
Whether we find the older or the younger people difficult to understand is irrelevant. When we do our best to understand our unchanging God, He’ll insist that we continue to cross those lines of age.
- What is the most fascinating thing that you find about the younger generations? What is the most frustrating thing?
- What do find frustrating or fascinating about your elders?
- Pray for someone particular–one older and one younger–asking that God open up a connection for you with that person.
Enter the other’s life.
Yesterday, I jumped right to the heart of the “Woman at the well” story, but if we look at the beginning of that episode, we can see something perhaps more remarkable than what Jesus told the woman there.
Think about Jesus, a man in His thirties, traipsing around Galilee and Judea (and Samaria in this case) trying to teach a bunch of people the truth about God. How frustrating must that have been?
In verse 6, we learn that Jesus was tired. Do you think, in His eternity of existence in heaven, He had ever been tired? A couple of verses later, Jesus asks the woman for a drink. Why? Presumably He was thirsty. I’m pretty sure that when you’re a part of the Godhead and dwelling in heaven, you don’t get thirsty. Where were the disciples? They had gone into town to buy food, because, unlike in heaven, people on earth get hungry.
What else did Jesus not have to put up with in heaven? He didn’t encounter sinful people there. He didn’t discover people who hated Him for his ethnicity–like the Samaritans–or for His teaching–like the Pharisees.
What kind of fool leaves all of that to come dwell among humans, knowing that He’d end up murdered horribly? What kind of fool? A loving fool. A loving person, a person who wants to create a relationship, enters into the life of the other.
Honestly, any sacrifice we make to enter the life of someone else on earth is absurdly tiny compared with the sacrifice Jesus made by that entry.
- Do you have relationships in which you refuse to enter into the life of the other person? How does that work for you?
- What limits are there to how we should enter into the lives of others? Does Jesus’ life offer insight there?
- Pray that God will show you steps you need to take to become a meaningful part of the life of some meaningful person.
Maintain Relationship #1.
Not all relationships are created equal. As I write this, I’m in my office at school, a room that I’ve occupied for more than twenty years. Just recently, I’ve learned that my two best friends on this hall will most likely be moving elsewhere on campus in the near future. That bothers a bit, but I have other relationships that are more important. For example, if the college were to decide to move away from me–or move me away from them–then I’d be very troubled. No matter how happy I am with my employment, I wouldn’t be very settled if I had serious problems with family relationships. And family relationships I can manage so long as my primary human relationship, with my wife, remains healthy.
At Jacob’s well, Jesus tried to teach a woman who had given great effort to establishing a human relationship. That woman had been married five times and now lived with man number six (at least). The reality that Jesus tried to convey through his water metaphor was that human connection and worldly concerns will provide, at best, temporary salves to our hurts and needs. But when we drink from the living water, when we establish that relationship with Jesus, then we never thirst again.
Human relationships are hard, but they can be immensely less hard if we keep our relationship with Christ in good order.
- What is the hierarchy of your relationships? Do you put anything above God? What comes next? Are they in the right order?
- What maintenance does your relationship with God, through Jesus, need? Are you willing to put in the work to make those repairs?
- Bring the needs of your relationship with God to Him in prayer each day this week. Make sure that two of you are talking meaningfully and regularly.
We’re not made to be alone.
Back in my college years, I worked at a One-Hour Photo store. One of my co-workers, Tammy, could be described like this: Everybody found her wonderful so long as she never had to be around anyone. If you read that sentence carefully, you’ll see that she didn’t bother other people so much with her presence as other people bothered her with theirs.
Customers almost always annoyed Tammy. She didn’t so much mind the regulars who came in and gave us a couple of rolls of film to process. It was the others, the people who had three Christmases on one disposable camera or who wondered why we didn’t think they should blow up to poster size their underexposed shots on the smallest size film available. Those people made Tammy nuts.
I’ll admit that when I started at the store, I made Tammy nuts, but we eventually became friends, provided I didn’t ask too many questions.
One day, I suggested that her dream job would be working in a basement lab under one of those old parking lot photo booths. People would drop their film into a chute, and she’d never have to talk to them. She smiled. It sounded good.
But really, Tammy wasn’t that much of a recluse. Very few people really want constant solitude. Those who say they want it will wind up talking to a volleyball if they get it. God made us to have relationships. We will have relationships. The only question is how healthy those relationships will be.
- Take an inventory of the relationships in your life. Which ones are healthy? Which ones need some fixing up?
- Are the problem relationships in your life the result of choosing the wrong person with whom to relate or relating in the wrong manner?
- Pick an important relationship in your life that you can pray over each day for the next week. Then actually do it!