This evening I inadvertently found myself watching one of the latest superhero movies. After watching it I noticed my mind shift toward an anxious state. I had just watched the superheroes save the world and the predictable analysis of my own value and worth was once again, as it tends to do, taking the lead seat at the table of my attention.
“What am I doing for God?”
What am I doing to save the world?”
The larger and more disturbing question behind those questions asks, when we get to the end of our life, will we really be able to look back and see that it mattered, that we made a difference?
The older I get, the more terrifying this underlying question can be at times. I learned early on that placing my supreme value in what I accomplish is paramount to fulfilling God’s will in this life.
The contrast to this and the original reason I named this blog, the diary of an imperfect Christian is that my life is a woeful reflection in comparison to the lives of others who have had amazing accomplishments.
In all my searching though I’ve never found that satisfaction or sense of fulfillment like I am truly making a difference in the world. Any accomplishments I have had are quickly dwarfed when I compare them with the accomplishments of others.
Another unfortunate consequence of living life like this is that it makes you prone to neglect of the common, ordinary, everyday things. The quest for meaning and fulfillment is what matters chiefly and nothing can be allowed to get in the way of that, except something inevitably does…disillusionment. Disillusionment left unattended to can lead to despair and hopelessness.
People will try to comfort you if you voice these kinds of thoughts by saying your life matters and pointing to various qualities in your life, but the inevitable vacuum is always there. Deep down, you know the dragon you are fighting is really just a windmill.
So what is the answer? Tonight I was once again reminded of the answer and decided I would sit up and write it down to hopefully serve as a reminder to it because I can so easily forget. I was reminded of it this evening when I happened upon a story once more that I read years ago.
Here’s the story…
In one of the many stages of his amazingly apparently unstable and yet profoundly focused life, Brennan was serving as the chaplain to the last hospital left in this nation to attend to men and women suffering and dying with Hansen’s disease, leprosy. The hospital was in Louisiana. One day as he arrived to make his rounds, the nurses asked him to hurry to one of the patients, a Mexican-American woman in her late 30’s named Yolanda, who was dying that day. It’s worth hearing Brennan’s own description of what happened when he reached Yolanda’s bedside:
“… I went up to Yolanda’s room on the second floor and sat on the edge of the bed. Yolanda is a woman thirty-seven years old. Five years ago, before the leprosy began to ravage, she must have been one of the most stunningly beautiful creatures God ever made. . . . But that was then.
Now her nose is pressed into her face. Her mouth is severely contorted. Both ears are distended. She has no fingers on either hand, just two little stumps.
Two years earlier, her husband divorced her because of the social stigma attached to leprosy, and he had forbidden their two sons, boys fourteen and sixteen, from ever visiting their mother. . . . As a result, Yolanda was dying an abandoned, forsaken woman.
I… prayed with her. . . . The room was filled with a brilliant light. It had been raining when I came in; I didn’t even look up, but said, “Thanks, Abba, for the sunshine. I bet that’ll cheer her up.”
As I turned to look back at Yolanda – and if I live to be three hundred years old I’ll never be able to find the words to describe what I saw – her face was like a sunburst over the mountains, like one thousand sunbeams streaming out of her face literally so brilliant I had to shield my eyes.
I said, ‘Yolanda, you appear to be very happy.’
With her slight Mexican-American accent she said, ‘Oh, Father, I am so happy.’
I then asked her, ‘Will you tell me why you’re so happy?’
She said, ‘Yes, the Abba of Jesus just told me that He would take me home today.’
I vividly remember the hot tears that began rolling down my cheeks. After a lengthy pause, I asked just what the Abba of Jesus said.
‘Come now, My love. My lovely one, come. For you, the winter has passed, the snows are over and gone, the flowers appear in the land, the season of joyful songs has come.The cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land.Come now, My love. My Yolanda, come.Let Me see your face. And let Me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful. Come now, My love, My lovely one, come.’
Six hours later her little leprous body was swept up into the furious love of her Abba. Later that same day, I learned from the staff that Yolanda was illiterate. She had never read the Bible, or any book for that matter, in her entire life. I surely had never repeated those words to her in any of my visits. I was, as they say, a man undone” (The Furious Longing of God, by Brennan Manning, David C. Cook Publishers, 2009).
I have read this story many times, but I tend to quickly forget to ask the question, where did Yolanda get her meaning and purpose?
It wasn’t in her beauty, career or identity as a wife or mother. Those had been painfully stripped away from her and she was left not only with nothing to contribute, but needing others to take care of her.
Could Yolanda’s salvation be the same as mine? I believe so. I believe It is exactly the same, except Yolanda was able to easily and joyfully receive it, where as the majority of the rest of us walk in the wilderness often most of our lives, laser focused on our performance, family and cultural and social currency. What was her salvation and how does it reveal the source of my own salvation?
Yolanda experienced a deeper realization of God’s love for her and that realization was her salvation. In the midst of her helplessness she found love, joy and peace; not from anything she did or accomplished, but the unconditional, transcendent love of God for her that finds its way to each one of us who open our hearts to it, believe it and receive it.