The Lessons of Tragedy

Another week of tragic losses has sobered all of us. The school shooting in Broward County, Florida is heartbreaking. More police officers killed in the line of duty. Deadly accidents. Sadly, I could go on and on.

In church this week we looked at Psalm 90. In that text Moses wrote words that directly apply to the sad news we encounter everyday.

Teach us to realize the brevity of life,
    so that we may grow in wisdom.  (Psalms 90:12, NLT)

What would that look like if we lived that truth?That is one of the primary reasons I wrote Waking Up Slowly. 

Here is an excerpt from the book…

Just this week I sent a consoling message to a friend. Her apparently healthy and robust father died without a moment of warning. Not to be maudlin, but that is the reality of this earthly existence. We don’t know if we have tomorrow or even the rest of today.

Certainly we must be wise to plan and prepare for a long future. But we must also invest in now, in case that is what we are given. I was joking with some friends recently that I wished life were like a soccer match. At the end of my life, a referee would announce how much “extra” time I had before I actually died. One ornery friend looked at me and deadpanned, “What if you are currently on your extra time?” I may well be, and that gives me all the more motivation to live fully in the moment.

Maybe the message that resonates the most for me is that we cannot receive postdated grace. We cannot order grace for the future. We receive grace in the now. Grace is God’s greatest gift of my being present with Him. When we are disconnected or distracted, we miss that blessing of real-time grace.

If I had to write a one-sentence summary of what I learned on this odyssey, it would be very simple. Spend focused time with those you love and with your God.

Speaker-writer Zig Ziglar wrote about spending time with loved ones. “One of these days you will say either, ‘I wish I had,’ or ‘I’m glad I did.’” How heartbreaking would it be to find yourself at the end of this pilgrimage with the regret of “I wish I had” roiling in your soul? My heart’s desire is that I will gratefully say, “I’m glad I did.”

If you want to give the very best present to your spouse, kids, friends, and God, the grace challenge is simple. Be present. When you are with your spouse, put the phone away. While you are with the kids or grandkids, forget whatever is pressing at work. I have never forgotten what entrepreneur Mary Crowley said to me when we were discussing the challenge of parenting. Mary said she had one regret. “I wish I had answered at the first tug.” That is simply being present.

If a friend is suffering, you can show no greater love than to simply be there for him or her. Not offering great theological insight or stories of your own or others’ suffering. Just to be present. When you talk to a friend, be present.

We all can do something. An anonymous writer summed it up perfectly:

People who have a lot of money and no time we call “rich.” People who have time but no money we call “poor.” Yet the most precious gifts—love, friendship, time with loved ones— grow only in the sweet soil of unproductive time.

The world might call quiet moments of presence with God and others unproductive time. I am learning that there is no more productive way we can spend our time. Everything that truly matters springs from that presence-enriched soil. My heavenly Father is always present. I just need to show up for Him. That is the essence of spiritual growth for me.

Just showing up in humility every day, seeking His presence.

I will stumble in this journey to be present. I probably will need a refresher course often. But I am confident beyond confident of one truth that Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, which is true for you and me today:

I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6)

I am waking up slowly in this life. But one day, fairly soon, I will wake up glorified. I believe the epitaph written on Ruth Graham’s tombstone will also describe my journey:

“End of construction—
thank you for your patience.”