This is not about prison. Sorry if the title misled you…
Back in October I started in on one of those “read through the Bible in a year” plans. I don’t do this every year, but I think it’s a wise discipline to take on every few years. Otherwise we tend to read only a narrow selection of books and passages that we are already familiar with, or, more likely, we don’t read at all and if we’re asked about what we’re studying in the scriptures we say things like, “right now I’m just trying to meditate on a few verses and really let them work on me” or we talk about things we read 5 years ago and pretend that we read them yesterday.
Anyway, I just finished up 1 Kings and I’m starting in on 2 Kings. I really like reading these historical narrative books because they make me feel like a time traveler when I read them. In one chapter you may move through 100 years of history and in the next you slow down and get a detailed description of some specific event during king so-and-so’s reign. Then, suddenly, you’re back in the DeLorean with Doc Brown zooming through time at a ludicrous pace. Over and over again in these books you find the entire life and reign of a king summed up with just one sentence. It usually reads something like this…
(Random King’s name) reigned for 35 years and did evil in the eyes of the Lord. Or if they were awesome… (Random king’s name) reigned 26 years and did what was right in the eyes of the Lord… but didn’t destroy all the idols (just a little jab so the grandkids don’t get cocky).
An entire life summed up in a sentence. Even the stories that get expanded on are usually more about significant events in Israel’s history and are meant to tell us about God, not the king. He’s just a side character in the play. An extra who may have a small speaking part. Either way, in the end of his section, he will still be summed up in a sentence like all of his fathers before him.
It’s good to be reminded of the big picture sometimes. It’s good to be reminded that one day my life could be summed up in a sentence. I get so caught up in the day to day details of my own little story that I loose sight of the bigger story that I’m caught up in. It’s easy to do. We’re all naturally very selfish and tend to view the world, and those in it, as side characters in a play about us (or movie about us, if you don’t like plays). And, if we never get reminded about how small our part actually is, we tend to lose the plot of the big story and bury it under a thousand little, short-sighted, less compelling and far less consequential stories.
It’s kind of like when I’m watching a crime drama on TV, like Law & Order or something, and they do an entire episode that revolves around the personal life of a detective. Seriously? What’s that about? I watch this show to solve crimes vicariously through others, not to live out their relationship drama. I have my own relationship drama and my own friends with relationship drama. What I don’t have is a murder to solve in an hour. Let’s just get back to that, shall we?
What I’m trying to say, misdirected anger at television writers aside, is that I’m pretty sure my life would look radically different if I was better at viewing things in the light of the big picture. If I really recognized that, in the end, I’ll have but a sentence to contribute to the story. I think I would be less distracted and affected by all the small things that I tend to spend so much physical and emotional energy on.
I recently read the book DRIVE by Daniel Pink and in it he tells this story,
“In 1962, Clare Booth Luce, one of the first women to serve in the US Congress, offered some advice to President John F. Kennedy. ‘A great man,’ she told him, ‘is one sentence.’ Abraham Lincoln’s sentence was: ‘ He preserved the union and freed the slaves,’ Franklin Roosevelt’s was: ‘He lifted us out of a great depression and helped us win the world war.’ Luce feared that Kennedy’s attention was so splintered among different priorities that His sentence risked becoming a muddled paragraph.”
I totally agree, but I think it doesn’t go far enough. I think every man, small or great will be a sentence one day. The difference will be that some will have really stupid sentences.
Bill lived 64 years and was awesome at World Of Warcraft.
Tim lived 78 years and saved lots of money.
Sheila lived 84 years had over 1000 friends on facebook and posted nearly 10 million pictures of her kids online, which, once discovered, would provide a virtual Saudi Arabia of fuel for bullies to mock them in high school.
I’m not saying that video games, social networking and savings are bad. They are fine, if kept in proper perspective. They just make cruddy gods. And if your life is summed up by a devotion to something so superficial, than your life would be a tragedy. A brief story of wasted opportunities and missed joy.
So, what’s your sentence? Is it worthy of giving your life to?