- Only Pray when you need something.
- Only Worship on Sunday morning.
- Only Read your Bible when you are at a Bible Study (that your spouse or parent insisted you attend)
- Only Attend church if you are not working or on vacation or have a case of the sniffles or have tickets to a big game or it’s your favorite second cousin’s birthday party or your kid has a soccer game or a dance recital or you’re tired from a late Saturday night or you overslept because of Daylight savings time or there are snowy roads or wet roads or possibly snowy and wet roads or there is a guest preacher or your pastor is preaching on a topic you don’t like or you have nothing to wear or you are needing a “me” day.
- Only Sing when you have no choice.
- Only Give when you get something in return.
- Only Fast if you are on a diet.
- Only Serve when made to feel guilty.
- Only Speak well of people if you think your words might get back to them
- Only Pursue justice if it costs you nothing.
- Only Promote Unity if everyone else promises to think, vote, and agree with you.
- Only Share your faith… no skip that… never share your faith.
Last night as I watched a basketball game played in the Boston Garden, it reminded me of the time I sat in that arena and watched the Celtics defeat the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2008 NBA Championship. Even though I am not a Celtics fan (Go Pistons!) and I could have lived my entire life without the hugs from the mostly drunk, elated Celtics fans on the way out of the arena that night, it is one of my most favorite memories. I was able to go because my friends, Larry and Lynne, were generous with their tickets and my father-in-law offered to pay my airfare to Boston.
Sadly, Arling doesn’t remember his generosity these days. He frequently doesn’t know me or Karla or even Mary, his wife of nearly 60 years. Alzheimer’s disease has robbed him of so much of his life. He is unable to share his cherished memories with anyone most of the time.
This past Sunday, like every Sunday, my in-laws were at our house for dinner following church. Typically, Karla or I ask the blessing for the meal, but this week she asked her dad to pray. Arling’s Alzheimer’s doesn’t allow him to have too many meaningful conversations. His words aren’t always coherent. Real communication is more guessing what he might be saying and thinking than knowing what he is actually saying and thinking. But at Sunday’s dinner, just like he has so many times in his past, when asked to pray, he had a conversation with our Heavenly Father. Just like old times he prayed for protection, direction and peace. He prayed for God to help us and be with us. It was a beautiful prayer except he forgot to say “Amen.” He just kept praying and praying, repeating his words while continuing to pray. Eventually, more hungry than blessed, we finally helped him out and said, “Amen, let’s eat.”
Later I was reflecting on Arling’s prayer and concluded: Maybe, just maybe, Arling didn’t “forget” to say “Amen.” Maybe he just didn’t say it. Maybe in his Alzheimer’s state, Arling is living in constant communion with the Father. Maybe he’s in a fellowship with Jesus where no hellos or Amens are required. Just because he can’t communicate with us like he once did, that doesn’t mean that he has stopped communicating with the Father. Moreover, I’m convinced the Father is still conversing with him.
My father-in-law has lived his life serving Jesus. He can’t express his faith to us most days. But it’s still there. His communication with the Jesus is different now than in days gone by, but maybe it’s better without the clutter of this world’s chatter. If you heard Sunday’s prayer, there would be no doubt of a sweet fellowship that is shared between Jesus and Arling. Jesus words are true for Arling and all those who suffer, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).
Nearly four years ago, in August 2013, we were on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University dropping off Ben and all his earthy possessions (minus a few old baseballs, video games and other assorted “treasures” still in our basement). We unloaded his belongings into a Chapman Hall first floor dorm room on a hot Friday evening. Sometime during that weekend, University President, Dr. John Bowling, told a room full of parents of freshmen that the next four years would pass in a blink of an eye and that we would gather in May, 2017 for graduation. At the moment, I thought it was college president speak for “time flies unless you don’t pay your tuition then time comes to a screeching halt and your scholar will be flipping burgers at Cheeseburgers-R-Us for the rest of his or her life.” But it wasn’t hyperbole. The last four years have flown by and on Saturday morning I will join the throng of misty eyed parents, grandparents, and loved ones in the Betty and Kenneth Hawkins Centennial Chapel on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois as my youngest cherub walks across the stage and receives his college diploma.
A few weeks ago, Dr. Bowling’s assistant, Marjorie Vinson, contacted me to inquire if I would offer the benediction at the commencement ceremony. I am so incredibly honored to do so. What began four years ago, on that hot August evening will end with my utterance of the final “Amen” on a cool Saturday morning in May.
Not wanting to melt into a blubbering puddle of pride and gratitude, I decided I had better write out the prayer.
Here it is:
Our loving Heavenly Father:
We have been so excited to celebrate with our sons and daughters on this day. We thank you for them and for their achievements of which we are so very proud.
We thank you for Olivet’s faithful administrators, professors, and various personnel and we ask you to bless and keep them and may your light continue to shine upon them.
Lord, beginnings remind us that an ending will one day come. And every ending promises a beginning. Today is such a day.
May these graduates go forth with a passion that inspires us,
May your Word both comfort and challenge them,
May injustice trouble them,
May hope encourage them,
May servanthood define them.
May gratitude constantly be on their lips.
May they get things right from time to time.
And may they laugh when they don’t.
As they leave this remarkable place filled with friends and mentors, having been given knowledge and wisdom and dreams— may they continue to ask the right questions, and may they give much more than they have ever received.
May they always look for the good, never glory in the wrong and trust you continually.
May these graduates on the threshold of so much promise and opportunity never confuse success with fame and wealth, but may they discover that true achievement lies in pleasing you and finding their God honoring places in our world.
May they go in peace. Act justly. Love mercy. Speak truthfully. And walk humbly before you.
May the love that overcomes all obstacles, that heals all wounds, that chases all fears, that brings courage to all who are burdened and heavy laden be found in them and us now and always.
May all of this occur in Jesus’ name,
Parents, Dr. Bowling was right. Time flies. It’s just a blink between sending them off on their first day of kindergarten and praying the benediction at their college commencement. Enjoy each moment with your son or daughter and always keep them before our loving heavenly Father!