Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fears, Strength, and Wasting Time

Sunday morning dawned like many of the previous Sundays have; I set my alarm the night before as if I would actually get up before the 8 o clock breakfast time, knowing that I wouldn't, and pushing snooze with alacrity when the alarm went off. I slept-walked down to the breakfast table, downed the food and coffee that my father had prepared, took a shower, climbed into the car, and perused the new biography of Paul Simon I'd bought the day before on the way to church. Equipping hour, as it is called in my church, was the beginning of a video series by John Piper on future grace; the key point of the first teaching was about how we should not serve God, assuming that we have something to give Him (at first glance, this can seem sticky. Think about it, and ask me about it if you still don't get it). By the end of that short slot, it was time to head upstairs for the main service, which was going to be preached by my brother Johnny on the fall of man near the beginning of creation.
In the waiting before the first song began, I saw my dad talking with Johnny and Stephanie at the back of the sanctuary, and wondered what was going on, based on that and some subtle hints exchanged between my parents that morning and the evening before. The first few songs finished, the announcements gone over, and the time of silence commemorating 9/11 completed, Johnny took his place at the pulpit...and something was wrong. There was something in the way he carried himself, something in the way his words as he began to speak weren't flowing like they usually do, something in the way his eyes looked slightly unfocused. He explained that his brain was moving slowly, that he'd had doubts about whether he should give the sermon, but that he'd decided to give it (despite the fact that one of the symptoms of his slow-moving brain was an inability to make decisions).
He began the sermon, full of much of the same profundity and soul-reaching truths that characterize a "Johnny sermon," but there was a haunting discordance, a disconcerting disconnectedness in his words, confusion in his transitions, and, at times, even a complete loss of a train of thought. Something is wrong, something is wrong, something is wrong... my brain repeated as if on a looped track. Despite the awkward wording and evident confusion on his face at times, he concluded with a chill-inducing, hard-hitting series of truths: "As Creator, He made the world knowing  the suffering that He would undergo. He knew that some beauty can only be seen through suffering, that some love can only be shown through sacrifice, some joy only experienced through pain."
Johnny prayed, finished, and the fears began to swell. His conduct worried me, reminded me of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, of my grandfather late in life, of all the stories I had heard of the people who were beginning to be affected by...brain tumors. The tears began to drip from my eyes as thoughts trampled through my brain like a group of renegade elephants: What am I doing, wasting my time on futile pursuits? What if this sermon is the last that Johnny will ever give? What if today is the healthiest I will ever see him again? What if I won't have a chance to pour out my heart to him ever again? What if this is...it? The tears rained down my face, running in rivulets in a volume I'd not experienced since 2009. The reasoning in my mind ran wild, and the fears swelled as I noticed Johnny and Stephanie's absence, of my father breaking the bread in his place, of their children in the arms of Stephanie's family. I walked to the bathroom, tried to get a grip. Up the stairs again, only to discover that they had indeed gone to the emergency room. 
I don't want to waste time. I can't afford to do it. What if today is my last? What if this will be the last blog post I write? What if the time I spent with friends tonight is the last interaction we will ever have? I can't afford to waste time. If I am not influencing my friends and family toward encouragement in and toward Jesus, then what am I influencing them toward? 
"All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field." (Isaiah 40:6)
Time is short. Johnny looks as though he is recovering, but there are unknowns, and there are fears, and I can't afford to waste time on my own selfish desires. May God grant me the grace, strength, desire, and knowledge of my weakness that will enable me to make my days, hours, and minutes count. 


  1. That was a tough day. Been praying for Johnny, and for you. I'm glad to be redeeming the time alongside you, brother.

    God is gracious to us, and to you.

  2. Well put Peter. Praise God!

  3. When I found out Sunday afternoon after our annual family reunion two things came of it. One I felt shocked and worried sick, two I thought it was good I wasn't there or I would have started losing it. :anxious:

    Anyway, praying for Johnny, Stephanie, the girls and you. Please please keep us posted.

    (Amy M)

  4. there are hard and beautiful and true and good things God teaches us when He brings us face to face with death --- if are willing to be humble and let Him. and that part is hard! being willing to trust God and not be bitter about the hard things He takes us or people we love through can bring us so much closer to Him, though.

    i'm glad you're in that place, peter --- it might very well be a place of seeing beauty through suffering and learning true joy with pain. so LIVE fully, with all the grace and strength that God supplies.