Taking stock of the life I lead
December 27, 2023
Many of us have a nonchalant tendency to shrug off the concept of time. I have been guilty of this practice. Offering little more than a wince when another year around the sun finds me sitting in front of a birthday cake, wondering where the days go and why my furrowed brow has an extra line to match the additional candle on my multilayer gateau. Sure, the passing of hours can be taken or abandoned. Still, as the years crash unexpectedly into me, I’m prone to think time is marked by highs and lows.
This thought jolted me recently. After pulling into the driveway and checking the mailbox, I discovered a letter from a former student. This letter was a formal invitation, complete with images of him and a young woman wrapped in a youthful embrace of love and future hope. As I entered the house, I showed my spouse the “save the date” card. For the next several minutes, we calculate how long it has been, substituting memories for numbers. We realize that the boy we knew is now a young man on the precipice of a significant life transition.
I take the announcement and, with the help of a magnet, snap it securely onto the front of the fridge. It rests there between local food menus and artwork supplied by our oldest. Now, when I’m in the kitchen (which is very often), this correspondence stares back at me whenever I fetch cream for the coffee or the bacon drippings for the biscuits. Each time the refrigerator door opens, I think of this young man and our time together. I think of the highs and lows of congregational ministry.
I thought about those Wednesday night meals, where I sometimes sat with his family.
I thought about the youth group he was part of and the discussions we had about faith. Chasing rabbit after rabbit down the next hole, I thought about other students during that same time. Those who kept me going and affirmed me more than an ordination council ever could.
I thought about Katie.
In a season of life where I need reminding that God can move in profound ways, I’m thankful for the highs that a card in the mail can spark. I’m grateful for the people I’ve met who are out there questioning. And I’m thankful for time, a constructed fabrication or not, as it forces me to pause and take stock of the life I get to lead.
It was a typical Wednesday evening, and for several weeks, Katie, the rest of the youth group, and I flirted with the subject of reconciliation. On this particular night, we were exploring reconciliation through the means of creation. When I say this, I’m speaking of the all-encompassing kind of creation as birds, fish, trees, and flowers. You know, the type of stuff Wendell Berry writes about, including humanity.
What is reconciliation with creation actually for? The students and I concluded that God wants us to actively participate in creation. God creates and has instilled in us the desire to create as well. This relationship establishes a “co-creating process” between God and all things.
During the conversation, the terms “stewardship” and “dominion” came up. When the students started discussing the idea of dominion, they associated it with ruling or having authority over something. The more they shared, the more I sensed a negative connotation with dominion. Point taken, but what about stewardship?
They struggled here. It’s a churchy word. Most understood it as to watch over something or to keep an eye on it. Because we had played a game earlier that evening involving a small shoe box, thinking on the fly, I picked up the box, walked over to Katie, and tossed the box at her.
“Look after this. Take care of it,” I said.
Thinking this was a sufficient stewardship answer, I prepared for the conversation to keep moving. However, when I turned my back, I heard a noise. There was a small boom, and I reeled to discover Katie kicking the box away from herself.
Now, students don’t need a reason to do anything. Hell, most adults don’t either. How many times have you asked someone why they did something, and their response was, “I don’t know? I just did it”? Of course, I had to ask her what the issue was, and that’s where things got interesting.
“Why’d you kick the box?” I asked as other students laughed.
“You didn’t tell me how to take care of it,” Katie said.
It was a smart-ass answer with a heavy dose of critical thinking.
It caught me totally by surprise, but only for a second.
I picked up a Bible from a nearby table and grabbed the box to hand to her.
“Let’s try this again. Take care of this box. Here’s a book that tells you how.” I turned to walk away when I heard the same boom of her kicking the box.
“You didn’t tell me how I was supposed to read this,” she said.
This was a special moment. I knew right then that it was, maybe not for everyone in the room, but something was happening.
I picked the box back up and began talking to the entire group about what we had just discussed—our ideas, and our definitions of dominion and stewardship.
“Dominion looks like this,” I repeated, handing her the box and the Bible and asking her again to take care of it and use the book. Promptly, she kicked it. I had a small pen in my hand, and I lightly tapped her on the head with it.
“Wrong. Try it again,” I said.
We repeated the entire scene. Me charging her with the task, her kicking the box, me rapping her lightly on the head. By now, I had most of the group’s attention.
“Now, let’s try it this way.” I picked up the box and took the Bible from her. Instead of standing over her as I’d been doing, I sat “crisscross applesauce” beside her.
“Hey, Katie, this box I have here is significant. I really care about what happens to it. I want to give it to you with the hope that you’ll care about it too. I’ve got this book here, which might help you learn how to take care of it. This book can help you see how I interact with the box, but it’s not exhaustive. Do you know what that means? It means there are some gray areas in there that you’ll have to figure out and work through yourself. It means you get to create how you take care of the box, too, based on how you’ve seen me do it. There’s room for error, so don’t feel you have to do it perfectly. I just want to know that you care and try. Cool?”
She took the box, and when I stood up and moved away, I didn’t hear any “boom.”
In a season of life where I need reminding that God can move in such profound ways, I’m thankful for the highs that a card in the mail can spark. I’m grateful for the people like Katie who are out there questioning. And I’m thankful for time, a constructed fabrication or not, as it forces me to pause and take stock of the life I get to lead.
Justin Cox received his theological education from Campbell University and Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He is an ordained minister affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry program at McAfee School of Theology. Opinions and reflections are his own.