Sunday, April 30, 2006

See You Later, Gordon

A friend died yesterday.

I'd seen him many times on Sunday, said a brief hello. I'd stood on the sturdy wooden stage he helped build for our church play a year ago. I knew his wife and his kids pretty well. But I'd never had a conversation with Gordon until about a month ago. I'd heard Gordon was in the end stages of cancer, so I went to the family's home to see if I could help with some household duties.

We'd barely gotten past "hello" when Gordon told me the deepest longing of his soul. He said he was searching for God's purpose for him, praying to know it. He told me, "I'd just like to know what God wants me to be doing for him right now."

I wanted to say something encouraging, so I told him, "Well, Gordon, I'm sure there will be lots of projects when you get better. The church always has something that needs to be built or fixed or ... "

Gordon stopped me. "I know, and there's a lot of stuff I'd like to do if I get stronger. But what I mean is, I want to know what God would like me to do right now. If I stay sick, if I don't get better ... because I don't know whether I'll be healthy again. But I do know God can still use me. So that's what I'm praying for--that God will use me right now."

His words were profound to me. Right now. I was looking to Gordon's future, hoping and praying he would enjoy a long life. His doctors and nurses were looking to his future, and predicting death, they told Gordon to eat and do whatever he wanted, act however he desired.

Gordon was looking at the present. But he wasn't seeking last moment pleasures for himself. He wasn't trying to strike a deal with God, wasn't bargaining, "God, if you heal me, then I'll do all this stuff for you--after you make me feel better." Here was a man in terrible pain, and his greatest desire wasn't for God to take away that burden. His dying wish was to serve God.

You see, God hadn't sent me to encourage Gordon that day. God had given Gordon a message for me.

Every day, we're inundated with tasks that seem so important: get the bills paid, take out the trash, do the laundry--all the little stuff it takes to keep our lives running as smoothly as possible. We tell God, "Lord, I will give you all of my attention and all of my energy and effort ... as soon as I get some time." That happens to me a lot. As Gordon spoke to me, I realized: My life doesn't need to be in order to serve God. Things don't have to be perfect, and I don't even have to feel well to do it. God can use me right now if I let him.

Gordon was probably the only person in the world who could teach me that lesson. I would have disregarded it from anyone else, passing it off as, "They just don't understand how pressed I am for time." For Gordon, time was at a premium. There were many loose ends he wanted to tie. But he pushed that "to do" list aside and made God his top priority.

Beautifully enough, God created an opportunity for Gordon to serve him ... and a moment for me to learn.

I'm sad I won't get to learn any more lessons from Gordon. I felt a bit guilty for my sadness this morning and tried to disguise it: It seems Christians sometimes put on a false happy face when another Christian dies. We try to act joyful, to "prove" we know our loved one is in heaven and that we'll see them again someday. But inside, we're really sad because we know they won't be a part of our daily lives anymore.

I compare those feelings to when my husband and I temporarily moved from California to the Midwest. I knew we'd return to California someday, that we'd see our family and friends again, but I didn't know when. It made me sad that we'd be apart from our loved ones for a while, even with the certainty of being reunited one day.

So I think it's OK to miss Gordon, even as I look toward the day when I'll see him again. It's a sad parting, but not a goodbye. With hope and confidence, I can say, "Gordon, I'll see ya later."

To ponder:
Had a recent conversation you can't get out of your head? Pray about it: God may be trying to tell you something.

2) We often think of God speaking to us through words. Have you experienced non-verbal moments when you know God is speaking to you?

3) What makes you feel like God is real? (Some examples: seeing the mountains, hearing a laugh, giving/getting a hug, eating something delicious when you're hungry, smelling a flower, holding a baby.)

4) We communicate non-verbally with other people all the time, and God can use all of your senses to speak to you, too. Do you allow God to "talk" to you this way?


Teeriffic said...

H, thanks so much for writing about Gordon.

Anonymous said...

When my dad was dying of cancer, he kept up an active prayer life for others. It made a deep impression on me that he was using his last resources to minister--asking how people were doing, letting them know that he was praying for them even as he was declining. It showed me we never stop being capable of serving God, if we are open to Him using us.