Greetings friends and family.
I spent the past weekend at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, in Conyers, GA. My wife had been urging me to visit for a couple of years now. When she senses my getting anxious and emotional, I think she feels that solitude is what I need–some time to reflect and refresh. I can attest that the monastery is most definitely a place of solitude.
But there are certainly times when the monks gather. There are 5 services per day in the church, beginning at 4am. The monastery hosts retreats frequently, where they invite outsiders (Christian and non-Christian) to participate in their quiet, structured lifestyle and small conferences on particular activities that the monks themselves might pursue as part of their monastic lifestyle. This weekend was a “writer’s retreat”, which was described as a time to explore the relationship between faith and writing.
So while I went hoping for some personal time, on paper the schedule was pretty filled. As I said in an Instagram post, I went not knowing what to expect, and, still, my time there wasn’t what I expected.
So why the title “Legacy”? The Friday before the retreat, I went for a bike ride with my dear friend, Carlton. I was so happy about to ride because it was the first time that I had been on my bike since before my surgery in April. During our ride, I asked him for a topic to think about and perhaps write about during my weekend retreat. After only a few rotations of his pedals, he replied, “legacy”. This subject was clearly on his mind.
The subject of legacy could go in many directions, but, since my personal journey battling cancer has provided the inspiration for this blog, I had to consider the topic of legacy as it pertained to me with the burden of an immediate threat to my longevity.
Two words came to my mind: affirmation and contentment. I confess to have long lived my life with a backwards mentality, picturing myself at the end of a long life and facing the inevitable end, wondering if my children, wife, friends, God would affirm my life as well lived and having contentment that they would. This in turn would guide my decisions in the present. My actions. What I produced. How I influenced people. And with these aspirations, hopefully to be content with how I live. Ultimately leaving behind some useful legacy.
So what do I want my legacy to be? In my heart, I hope that my children learn from me humility, honesty, integrity, patience, love, work ethic, and the like. In times of reflection like this, it is easy to believe that this is exactly what my children will take from me. But with five other people in my home, I fear the daily scorecard grading my success with the above virtues as a father and husband would frequently be non-passing. Like in my anger with my children and pride with my wife. And what about as a brother and a son? As a member of my church body? Am I involved and serving people well and sufficiently? And then I must evaluate my overall performance with my job. The people I work for and with. Do they really get my best effort and use of my time?
If I fear daily non-passing grades, how can I hope for a stamp of approval on the sum of my life? And what’s more, if the quest for life-affirmation is difficult through the eyes of man, what then becomes of my legacy if the ultimate judge of my life is a Creator who knows my thoughts and my private behavior? Is the pursuit of the “good life” pointless? It sounds like a recipe for bitterness.
So what’s to be done? How can we find the elusive life of both affirmation and contentment? A legacy that isn’t hypocritical and impermanent? For me, the answer is in the Gospel. In redemption. The last say on life. The fully tallied scorecard stamped approved regardless of the result.
I fear some of you may be bored with this story, post after post about Jesus, but honestly, I didn’t really plan to arrive at this conclusion; it just made sense all over again. Christ’s obedience to death and his resurrection is the legacy we can freely inherit and the good word that we should pass on to the next generation.
As a man, Christ sought affirmation from God the Father, instead of man. And what’s more, because of God’s promises, expected it. But he lived his life with absolute humility. It was his continuous obedience to God’s will, manifested in his inexhaustible self-giving love, that earned him, and consequently us, the reward of resurrection. Life not only endless but perfected. Totally affirmed.
And contentment? As he agonized in Gethsemene over the unavoidable burden of the cross, Christ submitted to the Father, saying “not my will, but yours, be done.” OK so far….But wait. He also said, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” And then he was abused, tormented, and ultimately crucified. Contentment? The description of Christ’s suffering doesn’t sound like any definition of “contentment”.
I had to stop writing.
As I’ve said, I spent the weekend at a monastery. I was enjoying it, but as of Saturday night, I wasn’t sure what I was getting out of it. Saturday was my only full day, and it started at 3:45 when my phone awoke me for 4am Vigils. Part of this service is a 30-minute meditation period. Not know exactly what to do, I simply prayed. For my pastors and their families, for friends in need, for my family. The time passed surprisingly quickly. The rest of the day did too. Overall, it was a long day, busy at times but not without solitude.
I was in my room at the end of the day when my brain (or heart) froze upon attempting to describe Christ’s passion as an example of contentment. For some reason, I just had to get out and go for a walk. I found myself on the balcony of the church, overlooking the expansive sanctuary, lit only by the setting sun in blue and purple hues through the many stained glass windows lining the arcing stone walls. At the far end of the sanctuary is a raised granite platform, beckoning yet mysteriously guarded. And though I never sought to view closely this most venerate area, from the balcony I could see the flicker of a small flame before a wooden altar, upon which rested a spot-lit open book. I closed my eyes and rested in the cavernous silence. Rather than pray, I emptied my mind. Over-and-over. Disciplined breathing.
And then a thought penetrated the emptiness. “Did I even think about my disease today?” I really couldn’t recall. It certainly hadn’t been my focus. I wish a photographer had been present to capture my facial expression. Honestly, I think the picture would have shown surprise. Surprised to have had a selfless day on a weekend seemingly all about me. A day of contentment.
In this quiet moment of meditation, when I somehow pushed all thoughts out of my mind, suddenly comes a believable resolution to the question of Christ’s contentment. I think I understand more now who Christ is and what He has done for me. I’m sure He was content, even facing death, because He trusted his Father. Something I’m still learning to do. But the evidence I provide is not an argument but my personal feelings at a special moment. What the bible calls “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith. The believer’s contentment. And this sudden revelation? A gift. From God. To me. A man among billions. Would he really deprive his only son?
So my legacy is pretty simple. It is Christ. Living eternally with affirmation, contentment, and, really, all that is His.
Peace and love.