Glenn Adsit and his family spent years as missionaries in China. During the Communist regime change, they were under house arrest. One day a few Chinese soldiers came to their house, and said, “You can return to America.”
The Adsit’s were celebrating, when the soldiers told them, “You can take only two hundred pounds with you.”
Well, they had been in China for years. Two hundred pounds? They found the scales and started the family arguments. Each–wife, husband and the two children–had an opinion. Must have this vase. Well, this is my new typewriter. What about my books? What about my collection? And they weighed everything, took each item off the scales, weighed and re-weighed until finally, right on the dot, they had two hundred pounds.
The soldier asked, “Ready to go?”
“Did you weigh everything?”
“Did you weigh the kids?”
“No, we didn’t.”
“Weigh the kids.”
And in a moment, the special vase, the new typewriter, the collections, all of it, became “trash.” Just stuff.
This is not an easy story. And using it to nurse regret is a waste of time. Even so, it’s still a necessary question for us today: “Did you weigh the kids?”
How do we weigh the things that really matter?
I have read a lot of articles, sermons, books about the few things that matter, and the lists and opinions vary. So, I cannot presume to make that list for you. But here is what I can tell you for certain:
One, we are all pushed and prodded and pressured and easily out of balance. And we attach value to stuff (things and internal storylines) that in the end, weighs us down.
Two, in today’s world, the noise is ratcheted up, and a premium is placed on winning or being right, and we miss what it means to be human or real or wholeAnd three, we can’t know what really matters, unless we slooooow down. Only then can we see. Only then can we pay attention.
I remember a conversation I had with my son Zach when he was 9 1/2 years old.
“You know Dad,” Zach is talking with his mouth full of cereal, “I think my life has been pretty full.”
“Really?” I say to my son.
“Yeah. I mean, think about it. I have actually held a Serval Cat. In my lap. I have touched a real NASCAR race-car. I have been on an Aircraft Carrier. I have ridden in a real Ferrari. I have touched the actual Spruce Goose. And I have been within one foot of a Crossbill, and he didn’t even move. Not bad.”
No, son, not bad. Even better that you see it that way.
At the bookstore, a magazine caption “Life Aspiration to be a Millionaire” caught my attention. I shake my head, mystified. Not because I don’t daydream about having a few million set aside (and I just finished a book called The Number about the amount we need to have in order to “retire the way we want;” and yes I’m still shaking my head, mystified). It’s all about the measures we have by which we gauge the progress in our lives. And our perspective about success is not too subtle.
It’s all about size isn’t it? What are you worth? What did you accomplish? How much bigger (in value or bank account or faith for that matter) are you than the next guy?
As a result, we put each moment through its paces, evaluating it, judging it for significance and worth. We want to know if it measures up, and then, and only then will we embrace it, and make it a part of our lives. It is not surprising that many of us live lives based upon comparison, and in the end, shame or regret.
“We teach children how to measure, how to weigh,” Rabbi Abraham Heschel reminds us. “We fail to teach them how to revere, how to sense wonder and awe. The sense of the sublime, the sign of the inward greatness of the human soul and something which is potentially given to all men, is now a rare gift.”
On a recent trip I’m at a pub in the airport. (Not atypical… name the airport I’ll tell you the best pub). I have an hour before my flight departs. My papers are spread out. It is a Sunday, I have preached three services, and I am trying to write a Sabbath Moment. (Yes, of course it is last minute. Deadlines and chaos motivate me. I have a book idea on Sabbath for ADHD Procrastinators.)
I have just reread the story about weighing the kids. And what I want to know, is how to practice this–you know, giving weight to those things that really matter–today?
I love this… Did you know that to honor means “to weigh heavy?” In other words, to give value, or to literally embrace the sacred in this moment.
“Sitting at a bar, eating and working and answering your cell phone,” the bartender is saying to me (while I’m doing my best to ignore him and think of something meaningful to write). “Either you’re dedicated or slightly crazy.”
“Crazy comes close,” I tell him, “But you know how it goes. I have stuff to do, and too little time to do it. I have deadlines and I’m on my way home.”
“Say no more,” he says. “This beer is on me. But only if you put your papers away, and just enjoy it.”
“Thanks,” I tell him, “but I’ve got to finish this, so I face my family in a good mood.”
“Ok,” he says. “Just don’t forget the flowers.”
“Thanks,” I tell him. I write his inspiration on the back of a bar napkin, double his tip and head for my plane.
For the past few days I’ve been the Potomac Highlands, West Virginia. The landscape here rests on shale, and is littered, for as far as the eye can see, with deciduous trees, many now without leaves, save for the Oaks which are the leaf hoarders of the forest, waiting until spring to give up their cornucopia. I’m with my friends Martin and Barbara Townsend at Shepherd’s Croft. We walk the forest, the entirety covered in a caramel colored sisal carpet of leaves. As we walk, there is the crunch and crackle, reminding me of my Michigan childhood. In the Pacific Northwest, it’s not easy to find a dry leaf.
We spent an evening celebrating Fort Ashby (built by George Washington for the French and Indian War), gathered in a building constructed around 1785, serenaded by Shanty Irish.
There is an advantage to the boonies; poor wi-fi and cell service means involuntary withdrawal from the news cycle. And not reflexively getting sucked into the gravitational pull of whatever newsflash may be sordid or ignoble.
Here’s the deal: As long as success is measured by keeping score (weighing or honoring the wrong stuff), we lose track of most everything that makes us human and therefore, glad to be alive:
–small gestures of kindness and hospitality
–acts of inclusion or community to someone left out, or someone on the fringes (extending a hand of healing or acceptance to someone who hurts)
–reveling in the gifts of the senses
–resting in a moment of gratitude
–sharing laughter, a smile, camaraderie or joy
–finding a friend, a family member, or someone important to you… and not forgetting the flowers.
Tomorrow I’ll be with a group of Episcopalians at Shrine Mont, Orkney Springs Virginia. We’ll unpack Plato’s quote, “What is honored will be cultivated.” Oh yes, I’ll get help from Ralph Waldo, “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Note: (1) The Adsit story is adapted from Fred Craddock’s book Craddock Stories.
(2) In the glad to be alive department, I am grateful for notes from Sabbath Moment readers who are juggling life, and finding solace in the permission to sit still and hear a voice of grace. Just so you know, your notes mean the world.
POEMS AND PRAYERS
I once spoke to my friend, an old squirrel, about the Sacraments–
he got so excited
and ran into a hollow in his tree and came
back holding some acorns, an owl feather,
and a ribbon he had found.
And I just smiled and said, “Yes, dear,
St. Francis of Assisi
Translation by Daniel Ladinsky
Love Poems From God: Twelve Voices from the East and West
We give thanks
for the invention of the handle.
Without it there would be many things we couldn’t hold on to.
As for the things we can’t hold on to anyway, let us gracefully accept their ungraspable nature and celebrate all things elusive, fleeting, and intangible.
They mystify us and make us receptive to truth and beauty.
We celebrate and give thanks.