I had one of those days the other day. You know the kind, you just feel the need to turn off the road and park somewhere with the radio off, the window down and just sit. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but as I drove I found myself in the parking lot of the veterans’ building near my house. It has some grand old redwood trees and grass fields around it, so I found a shady spot, parked, and sat.
As I was pulling in to the parking lot, I noticed a young man walking with his little boy. The boy was carrying a bright orange umbrella and marching as if burdened with glorious purpose. The man walked a little behind as if taking his last walk down the green mile. This father’s shoulders hung off the sides of his body and his hands sat limp in his pockets. His head was down and it seemed like he walked only because he had to. The boy, almost unaware of his father behind him kept striding down the street, occasionally looking up and chattering. Every now and then the father would say, “Good bye. I love you,” but the boy kept marching. It seemed so odd to me, and that’s when I heard the woman’s voice.
The woman was mom, and she met the boy and started talking arrangements for next weekend with the boy’s father and that’s when it dawned on me: Dad was wrapping up his weekend visitation and his son was going back home with mom. In the dialogue, which was actually more like a monologue, mom was chipper and laid out the next weeks’ events, and dad just complied with the obligatory “yeah,” “okay,” “uh-huh.” It was so….sad. I thought about my own kids and how blessed I’ve been to be so involved in their lives, and even found myself wishing I had been even more intentional about leading them and discipling them in life and faith and, well, everything.
I asked God why he’d led me here…now; to see this. It seemed such an odd scene, and often God speaks to me through the things that I see. His voice started to take shape as I began to think about how easy it is, as a pastor, get so wrapped up in administration and study that the relationship with the people to whom I’m called to minister becomes like a dad with visitation rights. We see our “kids” once a week, put in our time, then off they go. We have no real authority in their lives because we just have a visit and keep it pleasant, light. and maybe a little fun once a week. This is a far cry from Paul’s attitude in 1 Thessalonians 2:8 where he says, “You had become so dear to us that we were delighted to share not only the Gospel of God, bout our lives as well.” I can see how we don’t make the investment to become dear to one another–to truly grow to love one another as Christ intended. I found myself afraid that God was telling me that I was failing the people he’d entrusted to me. But there was more.
This train of thought kept on and he also began to show me that his church can often be like that little boy: barely attentive to his father’s voice and eager to move on to the day’s excitement. We can get into the habit of visitation on Sunday, and “real life” the rest of the week. We don’t often give our Father the opportunity to teach us, train us, and form us because we’re too distracted by the demands of our own little kingdoms, the allure of the world, and our own desires. Like the weeds in the parable of the soils, the cares of the world have more sway than the will of God, mostly because we aren’t quite sure what his will is, nor how it applies to our lives.
We are Martha’s, hurried and distracted by chores, duties, and “have to’s” rather than being Mary’s whose greatest desire is to simply be with God. We check duties off the list and hold concepts in high regard and completely miss the point of our salvation. God is not a concept, and our lives cannot be lived like a child who has to visit dad once a week. We value recreation, entertainment, and convenience so greatly that we sacrifice intimacy with the almighty and yet have the audacity to call ourselves blessed by God. “What profit is it if a man gains the whole world and yet forfeits his soul?”
Read this and think on it: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). What are our lives apart from God? What could be more vital to abundant life? Or just life? Each of us needs to consider carefully our lives. What is the priority and who or what gets the lion’s share of my time, attention, energy, and effort? Am I meeting obligations and checking tasks off my list, or am I really communing, daily, with my Father in heaven? Is this a relationship, or is it the drudgery of another visitation?