Sunday, December 6, 2009

Make the Most

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5.15-16) 

Times Like These

An old gospel number says, “In times like these we need a Savior. In times like these we need an Anchor.” The song’s popularity peaked in the late 60’s, which most definitely were “times like these.” The world was a crazy quilt of war zones; rage and discontent erupted at dining room tables, on campuses, in city streets, and every other conceivable spot. We who lived through those days can’t shake the sense we’re in “times like these” once again. But this round feels oddly different. Hostilities similar to those reflected in 60’s media are now the stuff of media itself. Average citizens sit at a safe remove, watching rabble-rousers do the work instead personally engaging in the struggle to reconcile our current issues. This might be viewed as an improvement; riots, fires, and looting that plagued any good-sized city 40 years ago are no more. But it’s also a shame, because our perspectives on equal rights, healthcare, war, etc. now cost nothing. We’ve confused passive poses with impassioned involvement, and given how comfortable we’ve got with our laissez-faire attitude, it’s possible we've lost all concern about resolving our differences.

The tragedy of this stalemate plays out in lives wounded by crossfire. In all the talk about Wall Street and Main Street, nobody’s noticed the real drama unfolding on the side streets, where things actually slip and slide. The people there need an anchor. Since pundits avoid putting human faces on stats they bandy about, very few have figured out we can’t wait for “change to happen.” People everywhere need help now. Judging from history, the economy eventually will dig itself out. Opposition to social justice will wear itself down. Left unchecked, the healthcare crisis will escalate to the point it can’t be feasibly ignored. The war will end. Yet while “we” may rebound, thousands upon thousands will not without immediate help. Times like these call for people smart and caring enough to abandon cheap controversy for higher purpose.

Our World Needs Us

Our world needs us. At this stage, every one of us crosses paths with others currently struggling—people without jobs or shelter, homes with bare cupboards, disowned children coping with rejection, war-torn families facing a holiday with one less at the table, a senior sacrificing meals to afford medication. They and others like them live in constant fear and torment each of us can ease at very little, if any, personal expense or effort. Alertness to their circumstances opens new opportunities for our love and concern. Ephesians 5.15-16 admonishes: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” In the context of this discussion, “careful” means more than “cautious;” it implies earnest introspection about our response to situations we can improve. Knowing we possess the ability to lift up others and not doing so is foolish. Making the most of every opportunity is wise.

'Tis the Season

'Tis the season when churches and charities fire up their brigades so those lacking means will not be denied holiday joy. The nobility of these efforts cannot be exaggerated. But there’s also an underside to them we seldom acknowledge. They encourage us to think supporting their causes is “doing our part,” when in fact we’re only enabling them to the make the most of their opportunities. In a way, it’s no different than believing agreement with certain media figures’ opinions constitutes active engagement. Most assuredly, we should support charitable efforts. But writing checks, tossing canned goods in hampers, donating toys, and dropping loose change in a red bucket can't excuse us from actively addressing visible needs around us. “Making the most of every opportunity,” Ephesians says, “because the days are evil.”

Confining our compassion for the needy to contributions shortchanges them and us. It’s a surrogate arrangement—giving by proxy—and, at best, all we stand to gain from it is a fleeting reward quantified by faceless statistics: x families had Christmas dinner, y children opened anonymously donated presents. And let’s be honest: the good we accomplish in absentia evaporates from mind before the decorations and leftovers disappear. We make the most of every opportunity by approaching people whom we know are in need, welcoming outsiders to our tables, marshalling neighbors and family members’ assistance, and so on. In times like these, weary, embattled souls need to know help is on the way and it’s coming from we who genuinely know and care about them.

There’s an even greater benefit gained by all when we make the most of our opportunities. Active giving puts legs on our concern. It imbeds faces and names in our thoughts and prayers. We find ourselves regularly checking on them, asking to do more. By making Christmas a time of discovery, searching for opportunities to make the most of our giving, its spirit and meaning thrive year-‘round. 'Tis the season that never ends.

We possess the ability to bring love, joy, hope, and peace to struggling people we personally know. We should make the most of every opportunity to do so.

(Next: For the Least)

Personal Postscript: Impish Interference

This past week found me recalling an old lady I once attended church with. Whenever she hit one of those maddening stretches where minor problems pile up and become hopelessly entangled, she’d say, “The devil sure is busy.” Though I’m reluctant to give him any credence, it seems like he’s sure been busy around here. We experienced a couple power outages in our apartment building, the last of which sent a surge through the phone lines that fried my modem cables and reconfigured the entire system. Since last Wednesday, I’ve been lost in a sea of connectivity challenges that have interfered with my posting schedule. I’m very close to being fully up and running, and apologize for the delays. Barring any further impish interference, we should be back to normal.


Cuboid Master said...

The loss of your connectivity bridges well with the message of today's post. In the Internet age, we have become oddly and effortlessly disconnected from human suffering. From this perspective, losing the Internet was a powerful event as it caused you to look at people more closely, see them more clearly, and experience real connection. Well, so I assume, as you never seem to lose human connection! No matter what! You're right, it is easy to give to a charity, far more difficult to give of your time and heart. Thank you for the reminder. I have some "house cleaning" to do. Peace to you and Walt!

Tim said...

Ah, CM, how perceptive of you. I would never have put my connectivity problems and the focus on personal connections with those in need together. Isn't it fascinating how God sometimes speaks so quietly during raucous episodes we don't even realize we've heard Him? Your comment brings clarity to my chaos and makes the whole ordeal worth all the trouble.

I've never presumed every (or any) post is divinely inspired. Mostly, I just try to pass along lessons I've learned from others or by experience. But given how this one came about...

Thank you for this.

Blessings always,

Grant said...

In a related vein to both parts of your post - our little church once prayed fervently that we and the city aournd us would become more aware of our need for community (reflecting upon the core meaning of "communion" and the tri-une God). Not too long afterwards that region was enveloped in a winter ice-storm of epic proportions that took out all our electricity for hundreds of miles around, for weeks and in some cases months.

We were forcefully reminded that without the electrons flowing all our perceived "community" through internet and other media was a tenuous connection. We became much more concerned with knowing those who lived around us and how we could help one another weather the storm. Anyone with gas-heated hot water became really popolar! (no electricity required for a hot shower)...

Your words reminded me right away of my committment after that event to become more deeply invested in the lives of Real People around me. How quikly I forget. - thanks!


Tim said...

Grant, thank for this (especially as I'm writing on a day when Chicago is grappling with its first winter storm!). Communal hardship that spurs us to go cross our normal boundaries invariably reacquaint us with the joy and value of extending ourselves to one another. And then, as things return to "normal," the pleasures we experience from more closely knit community tend to fade from memory. We do ourselves a great disservice by letting that happen.

Your comment brings to mind Jesus's story of the good seed that falls on fertile ground, but ends up choked to death by weeds. He identifies the weeds as "the cares of life." Resumed convenience and/or improved fortune invariably bring more cares back to life. Things that seemed so unimportant during our shared crisis--negligible comforts--reassert themselves from "nice-to-haves" to "must-maintains." And our neighbors' needs suffer from us trying to keep all these frivolous preoccupations in motion.

You're so right--how quickly we forget. May God quicken our memories to recall how much closer we can be to one another, and to Him, without having to wait for misfortune to draw us together. And that the misfortune of others is ours, as well. Waiting for times to get tough enough for us to share one another's burdens is no different than waiting for times to get better. From either perspective, waiting isn't worth it.

Blessings to you and yours always,