Depending on when I fall asleep, I am usually up by 4:00 a.m. Today was no different. I woke up, prayed, read some emails and some news, texted a few people, and simply relaxed in bed, thinking about what I planned to share with you all today. In fact, my plan was to write about a question: “What don’t you know?” But as I thought about it while daylight broke, I picked up a call from my brother. The message of his call broke my heart to pieces and was so painful that I had to change what I had planned to share with you.
I lost a dear brother.
I was with this brother recently - July 19th, to be precise. He looked healthy and strong. In fact, he has always been strong. We talked about so many different things. We went all the way back to the time when we were in Sunday School and learned a particular song. He was surprised that I remembered that song. And then a little over a week after our parting, this young soul passes on.
For what? Why?
These are questions that I can never stop asking. They go to the core of the mystery of who we are as human beings, as people, and as living creatures who have a beginning and an end. You may be asking similar questions, too. I know, for example, a parishioner who had to deal with the loss of three family members within six months. Her questions are similar to mine... For what? Why?
Times like these remind me of the words of James: “Why, you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” More so, it reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the Rich Fool, which we will read in Church this Sunday. Life is given and life is taken away, often without our input and beyond our control.
So, where do we go from here?
A philosophy professor stood before his class with some items on the table in front of him. When the class began, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, each about 2 inches in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
Then the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He then asked students if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor subsequently picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up the remaining open areas of the vessel.
He then asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “Yes.”
“Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things - family, partner, health, children - things that, if everything else was lost and one remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter, like your job, house, and car. The sand is everything else - the small stuff.
If you put the sand into the jar first, he continued, “There is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take your partner out dancing or go for a walk. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party, or fix the disposal.”
Take care of the rocks first - the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.
Remember this: the question is not so much about life being insignificant, empty, or worthless. If it were so, Christ Jesus wouldn’t have died to save us. There is some worth to life, but what do we consider to be the important things in life? What are the rocks in your life? What are the pebbles in your life? What’s the sand in your life?
If I am here today and gone tomorrow with no trace, then what should, or can, I do? What should be my drive? What should be my motivation for life? What should be my dream in life? What does my life consist of?
I may not know the answers to all these questions. But one thing is clear to me: the important things in life may not be money, wealth, or possessions - they never have been and never will be. The important things may be the loving relationships that you keep, so develop them, nurture them, build them, sustain them, cherish them, and give meaning to them.
That may be the answer to our longing questions... For What? Why?