I had an encounter recently with my chief nemesis. He is well known to me and some of you have had occasion to meet him. He is not my favorite guy but he is always challenging when he is not being morose or too cavalier.
“So,” he says to me, “what is driving your life?”
“What do you mean?” say I, for it is apparent that my adversary is armed with agenda.
“You know my life quite well,” I continued. “You know how I live and what I do and what my vocation is.” As I said these words I tried to look deep into his eyes with all the conviction I had. He didn’t even blink.
He looked away—purposely and then as he turned his gaze back to meet mine I knew it was coming…“So, are you maintaining the Ideal or moving toward the Ideal?”
Do you see what I mean about this guy? This is how he is. Always making me second-guess my priorities and evaluate the trajectory of my life. Our relationship over the years has been profitable in that I tend to listen to him more than just about anyone else and it isn’t because he is the wisest person I know, but more because he listens to the wise and tends to assimilate their thinking into principle. So I am appreciative of the fact that we occasionally have these tete-a-tete sessions. But they are never easy and furthermore, they tend to alter my life, which can be and usually is, uncomfortable.
“I’m not sure what you mean or quite get your distinction between ‘maintaining the Ideal or moving toward the Ideal’…aren’t they the same?”
“That depends on your flexibility.” He answered with a grin.
Now if a person knows that you play the odds then they also know when their hand is likely to beat yours. This is a very happy time for them and it is when they grin that you realize that the chips are all in and now it’s too late.
“I’m flexible,” I bluff…in hope.
“Really, then what are some of your Ideals?”
“Well, let’s take Courtship for instance.” I offered.
“You mean like Ruth bundling with Boaz?” he snarked.
“Homeschooling.” I parried.
“You know, don’t you, that Moses was educated by Egyptians?” he countered.
“Liturgy.” a thrust.
“Would you include any songs or music written by another ‘failure’ like King David who had a rap sheet that included adultery and murder; not to mention a very dysfunctional home? Or perhaps worse, would you lower yourself to sing anything written in the last 20 years?” His eyes were flashing.
“Agrarianism. The simple life.” I shot back. I was determined not to yield.
“Poor in spirit.” He stated quietly. And it was then that I knew I had lost.
We stood there for a while. He had won but he looked tired and a bit sad. And it was then that I realized that he always won but never at my expense. Somehow, I always took the winnings home.
When he finally spoke again it was with great care and concern. “Laurence, if you spend your life trying to maintain the Ideal then what you are saying to yourself and to everyone else around you, your wife, your children, your friends, your congregation is that you have arrived. Laurence, no one in this life ever arrives; though the Pharisees thought they had. And, my friend, that particular group had THE IDEAL put to death on a cross.”
Our encounter, our conversation was over.
I left the room and have been reflecting on his wise words for some time now and I think that I get it.
None of my ideas are bad. In fact, they all are quite good. His argument wasn’t, after all, against any of my ideas but the way I held them so very tight. What was it that he pointed out? It was that maintaining the Ideal and moving toward the Ideal are the same only if you are flexible…able to allow the plan and providence of God to take your ‘good’ so that He can give you His ‘best’.
After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?”
Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”
Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”
Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”
Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”