He sat on a rock staring at the city below his lookout point. His mind was miles away, reaching back to his childhood and ahead to the uncertain future he faced. This was one of those rare events when it is possible to dwell in two different worlds at the same time. In his mind’s eye he was a teenager preparing for the adventures of college when his last summer at home ended. He was also a weak old man, signing medical paperwork to enter hospice care. He was both his past and his future. But he also knew that he was neither. The past was long gone, and the future might not unfold as his nervous mind imagined it. All that he really had was his present, but the present was too terrifying to dwell on it. At least not today when the beautiful city below reminded him of roads taken and not taken, choices made and not made, realized and unrealized potential, and fears conquered and stowed away for future use. Today was a day for assessment and introspection. It was a day for reconnecting with that still small voice that once had occupied his imagination and captured his heart.
The past world was full of joy and heartache, promise and uncertainty, adventure and possibility, love and pleasure. As an old movie projected from the back of his head to the screen of his consciousness, he saw the faces of childhood friends and old lovers. He remembered the anxiety of waiting at birthing hospitals and falling in love at first sight with his newborn children. He felt the void and lostness of losing his parents and the terror of knowing he was now the family’s patriarch. He saw himself graduating college, entering the work force, and ascending in his career after much sacrifice and long hours of work. He saw the darkness and devastation of losing the love of his life at an early age and his choice to remain single for life. That had been a hard choice but replacing his wife was never an option in his mind. He felt the pride of a job well done when he was presented with a gold watch and a generous pension at his retirement. He then saw a sequence of births as more grandchildren were added to the family and old family names were resurrected by the newest generations. And he saw that still small voice slowly drowned by the preoccupations of a busy life. His had been a good life but he now felt an emptiness that was new, raw, and overwhelming.
That small still voice first appeared as a gentle stirring in his heart. He had grown so close to God in his childhood that as a first-year student in high school he had wondered if God was calling him into ministry. By his junior year that desire had intensified to the point that he confided in his parish priest what he thought and felt. After trying to dissuade the young man for nearly an hour, the priest had contacted his parents to caution them about the boy’s dreams. The priest’s objections had to do with his own unhappiness, and he was honest enough to admit this to the young man. “If I had a choice to go back and do something differently, I would have never been a priest. I often feel that my life has been a waste of a promising intellect. No one believes in religion anymore. We are modern-day Don quixotes trying to do the impossible. Faith is dead! Psychology has taken over,” the priest had said.
After several ultimatums from his overbearing parents, he became an Architect like his own father and two uncles. His career made him a wealthy man and a good provider, but there was always a restlessness in his heart that never went away. Sadly, he began to distance from his church, and by the time he climbed the corporate ladder, he was a Christian in name only. His church attendance became limited to baptisms, weddings, funerals, and the occasional Easter. Ironically, seeing the priest at the Altar always produced a lump on his throat he could never explain. After a while, it was just too painful to attend church. He had been grateful for all the blessings in his life, but he often wondered how God might have used him if he had had the courage to pursue his dreams. Would he have been a better father and husband? Would he have been a more engaged human being? In a real way, he felt like the man who came to the end of his life and discovered he had not lived at all.
Now, sitting at this look-out point, thinking about his end-stage cancer, he began to contemplate his future. There were so many decisions to be made: He had to tell his children, whom he had not seen since the Pandemic started. He would have to make healthcare proxy decisions. His “Last Will and Testament” would have to be amended to include the newest additions to his family. He would have to visit a few hospice providers and acquaint himself with the dying process. He had friends to visit and loved ones with whom to reconnect. And, lastly, he had to make decisions regarding his legacy and how he wanted to be memorialized at his funeral.
Somehow, however, he felt these decisions would be the easy ones to make. The greatest question he would have to face was far more terrifying: What to do with that still small voice? How does one face the fact that they may have snuffed God’s call for their life? Somehow, he had expected to have more time. He had contemplated becoming a lay leader of his church after he retired, but he never could muster up the courage to approach the local priest. And, of course, he had distanced himself so far from church that he just could not find his way back. So, he went on, waiting for an invitation to become involved and some friendly guide to lead him back into the fold. Sadly, that invitation never came, and he was too preoccupied and timid to take the first step. If he were to be honest, his church never was particularly welcoming. More than half of the people there could not even remember his name, and they had always acted as though they were doing quite well without him. He was not necessarily blaming them, but he now wished someone would have reached out years before to connect him to the ministries of the church. He closed his eyes in prayer and asked himself, “I wonder what would have happened if someone had reached out years ago?”
He also wondered who else might be out there waiting for a similar invitation. These are challenging questions our church needs to hear.