What would you do if your doctor told you that you only had a few months to live?
I heard that question posed to an audience recently, and the questioner went ahead and answered it for everyone present: “Well, I’m sure that we would all spend the remaining time telling everyone about Jesus and how much he has done for us.”
The question was a good one. The answer? Well, it seemed a little odd and incongruent to me at the time. I recognized it as “Church of Christese,” code for “get out and door knock or go on a mission trip.” Maybe that’s not what he meant, but since the question and answer were left hanging with little clarification and practically no meat to the bones, that was the impression that was left with me.
It was as if a “proper” preordained answer had been shoehorned to fit into the sacred space reserved for very private reflections on a matter of utmost, even ultimate, importance. In fact, knowing how staged and managed everything is these days, I think the shoehorn analogy works quite well.
Our friend Barbara died recently of a brain tumor. She had been battling bravely for two years, and in keeping with the openness and sharing that characterized her charismatic Christian faith, there was not a single health care provider or fellow patient who had not had Barbara grab them by the lapels at some point during that journey and have her ask pleadingly, “Is there anything that I can pray for in your life?”
And she stayed that way all the way to the end. But when she was told in mid-March that all options were exhausted, that the tumors were growing uncontrollably and that this time she really, really did only have a few weeks left, you know what she did?
She gathered up her family from far and wide and they all went to Disneyworld.
An image of Barbara in her Mickey Mouse ears popped into my mind when the speaker asked that question, and I thought: I would do what Barbara did. Or maybe Rome and Florence (never been to either but want to go badly) with a side trip to Lausanne, Switzerland to meet Brady and his family.
Or maybe I would do a spin off of Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture” and try to come up with a “Last Blog.” Randy is the Carnegie Mellon professor who is dying of pancreatic cancer, and I had heard about his lecture last fall but had never listened to it until I was browsing in Barnes and Noble recently and happened upon his recently released book.
I sat down in one those comfortable chairs with a cup of coffee (half high test, half decaff–it was afternoon after all), and started reading some excerpts. It seemed to me that Randy was probably a Christian (he is) but didn’t spend a lot of time using “Jesus-speak” to describe his experiences. In his own words, this is what he was trying to do:
I was raised by parents who believed that faith was something very personal. I didn’t discuss my specific religion in my lecture because I wanted to talk about universal principles that apply to all faiths–to share things I had learned through my relationships with people.
The result is a lecture and book that are infused with love and wisdom and give sound, practical advice on how to live a full life, chasing and fulfilling your dreams and loving the people you encounter. It’s more about creating a “little heaven on earth” now than it is about “saving souls” for some distant and ethereal heaven down the road.
I can feel my life changing for the better as I have come to know Randy this week. His book and lecture are focusing my eyes in a way that no overtly “Christian” book, sermon or church service have in a long, long time.
I think sometimes we feel pressure to say the all the right things at the appropriate times when our hearts may be telling us something entirely different. Randy’s work these past few months is evidence of a heart touched by God, and the result is a both a reliable guide to living life now, and when our time is up, laying it down with grace, humor and class.
It may very well be that the best way to live a life of faith is not to spend as much time yapping in a language and dialect that many will not understand, but instead to live well-grounded and lovingly–speaking a more universal tongue–and letting those around us draw their own conclusions.
Actions really do speak louder than words.