One day, mama called me to tell me that her favorite first cousin had passed away. He was only 63. I then shared with her that I had just received news that a good friend who was in my class from college died very suddenly that week. I then proceeded to offer my sincere empathy.
It was then that mama started preaching as only my mama can. There is never any sugar-coating with mama. It is always and only the truth and that truth comes at you so hard, sometimes is like getting hit upside the head!
Mama said, “Jarrett, your life could end any day just like that.”
I then heard this clicking sound. I said, “Mama, what is that.”
She said, “That was me snapping my fingers.”
“Jarrett, life is just a vapor, so you better be sure they make the most the little time you have left.”
As much as it pains me to admit it, the truth is, mama could not be more right. She always speaks the truth whether or not she thinks I can handle the truth. This journey, this trip, this ride we call life is a relatively short one. And it would be a shame for any of us to miss it.
A preacher tells a story of sitting on airplane waiting to take off. His seat number was 14D. The woman next to him sat in 14E. No two seat mates could have ever been more different.
From her dress you could tell she was far from sophisticated. His finely pressed suit and shining shoes reflected affluence and sophistication. From her talk you could tell she was but a simple country woman.
He sat there beside her with his leather brief case and laptop computer. She was surrounded by all kinds sacks and bundles.
It was obvious that she hadn’t had much experience with flying. “I don’t do this much,” she grinned. “Do you?”
He politely nodded a “yes.”
“Well, aren’t you lucky, that must be a lot of fun,” She said.
He groaned—for he knew that it was going to be a long flight.
She volunteered that she was going to Dallas to see her son. And she filled in all the blanks—the boy has had the flu, a stomach virus really. He’s had stomach problems every since he was a baby. He has a back lab. The dog’s name was Wilbur. Wilbur is such a good dog. A little hand-full when he was a puppy, but now a lot calmer. As the plane climbed, she looked and pointed out the window. “Ooooooh—would you look at those trees down there; they look just like peat moss.”
People turned around in their seats and stared. The preacher next to her wanted to crawl under his seat.
The flight attendant came by asking what they’d like to drink. He quietly asked for a coffee. His seat mate asked a second time about the choices. “Now tell me again what you’ve got.”
When her drink came she said she didn’t know that apple juice came in cans, but it sure was delicious. “I thought it only came in a great big jug. I wonder if they got these little cans at the Winn-Dixie.”
And when the sandwich came by she said in way too loud a voice: “Why there’s even a little packet of mayonnaise in here. Isn’t that cute?”
This went on the whole flight. The little woman did not miss a thing.
The preacher said that the men in front of them were discussing a business trip to Japan. The fellow behind them must have been a nervous wreck for he kept ordering two beers at a time. The woman across the aisle had important-looking papers stacked all around her. And as he opened his laptop and began to work, it occurred to him that the only person on the whole plane who was truly enjoying the trip was the crazy woman sitting next to him.
When the plane finally landed, she turned and said, “Now wasn’t that a fun trip?” And as he watched her head down the aisle and leave the plane, he began to wonder: What was it that she had that he didn’t have? What was it that she knew that he didn’t know? Why had she enjoyed the whole trip from beginning to end while he was absolutely miserable?
Jesus took three disciples up to the top of a mountain. It was the midpoint in Jesus’ journey. The clouds were hanging over his ministry. The Pharisees and Saducees were making it increasingly difficult for him. His disciples were constantly bickering with one another. Jesus was beginning to talk to them about suffering, Jerusalem and the cross. He talked about saving one’s life by losing it. He talked about dying to self to live forever. And the disciples didn’t really understand any of it.
And then Jesus took Peter, James and John to very top of a high mountain, and there on the mountaintop something happened. We’re not sure what occurred, but they called it transfiguration, which means transformation, change, metamorphosis. They began to see things that they had never before seen; more importantly, they began to see Jesus in a way that they had had never before seen. Even Jesus’ clothes were transformed.
Then God spoke, saying, just as he did at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my son, the beloved…Listen to him.” Listen.
This encounter turned the disciples inside out. It changed their lives and they were never quite the same again.
Now, you may be wondering what this story of Jesus has to do with the woman and the preacher on the airplane. The answer is: Absolutely everything.
Roger Lovette has said that there comes a time when all of us need to disengage. From time to time all of us need to stop, look and listen. We need to quit doing and just be. That’s very difficult for most of us living in the 21st century. For most of us believe we always gotta be busy doing something.
Robert Fulghum tells about a woman who was so stressed out she went to see a psychiatrist. After listening to her for a long time, he wrote out a prescription and handed it to her. She read the words the doctor had written: “Spend one hour on Sunday watching the sunrise while walking in the cemetery.” Against her better judgment she followed the advice. One Sunday morning, as the sun came up, she stood in a cemetery, listening to the birds and watching the world come alive all around her. On that morning, she found herself back in touch with her life again.
We need to open our eyes to truly see the miracle of this wonderful journey we call life. On her journey, the woman on the plane saw. And the preacher sitting beside her missed the whole experience.
2 Peter 1:16 reads: “We have been eyewitnesses to majesty.” What a wonderful thing to say about the Church! One paraphrase says: You do well to pay attention. For when we pay attention, everything changes. We may see things that we’ve never seen before.
Frederick Buechner has said in one of my favorite quotes:
if you really keep your eyes peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even in the most limited situations, God through life itself has something to teach you.” “Taking your children to school. Kissing your wife goodbye. Eating lunch with a friend. Trying to do a decent day’s work. Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace that God is not present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly.
If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say as a novelist and a preacher it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
When we pay attention to life, everything changes. We are given a brand new perspective. The transfiguration text says that when it was all over the disciples saw only Jesus. The disciples were able to see the big picture. They remembered God had said, “This is my beloved Son.” Thus, even when Jesus suffered, they would later understand that God was in it. Even if it did not work out the way they thought it would—God was in it. Not causing the pain, not willing the suffering, but present, working in it, transforming it, changing it, resurrecting it.
Very slowly they began to see this was a large thing, —this Jesus, this thing called discipleship, this thing called the church, this glorious thing called life. And it was all sheer grace—unmerited, undeserved. And everything changed.
Before I started running with Ainsley’s Angels, I would play golf with a group of retired men from my church. Most were in their mid to late-seventies, some in their eighties. One was ninety.
One sunny morning, as I walked up to join the group at the tee box, I remember making as casual remark: “It sure is a beautiful day, isn’t it?”
One of the men said, “Preacher, every day I wake up is a beautiful day.” The other retired gents were quick to respond by saying, “Amen.”
Like the woman on the plane, the woman in the cemetery and the disciples on the mountain, those retired golfers saw it, they saw it. My prayer is that all of us will be able to see it too. May we take some time to stop, look, and listen. May we slow down and pay attention. Open our eyes to see the sheer grace of it all. And then thank God for it. And live our lives being eternally grateful for it. Taking nothing for granted.
Life is short. Life is a vapor. Our lives are going to be over before we know it. Just like that (snap fingers). I pray that none of us miss it.