This is a letter to my son, but as I wrote this, prayed this, over him, I found myself praying it also over my own heart and over the hearts of many friends, so it seemed appropriate to post it here.
It’s the day after coming home from our amazing, long vacation – I have had that vacation in my mind since the summer before you started high school, and I have no regrets about the money or the time we spent. Other than the obvious privilege of enjoying the mountains for 3 weeks, one of the biggest blessings was watching you just be you – no classes, tests, applications, matches, work, pressure, or alarm clocks. No striving. Just you – doing, being, treasuring the time, challenging yourself on that mountain bike WAY beyond my personal comfort zone.
I found myself celebrating the man that you are – your courage, your curious mind, kind heart, occasional quirkiness, the big, deep laugh to go along with your brilliant, nuanced sense of humor.
Coming back to reality – the land of “S T U U U F F!”, as you guys hollered out in the car when we crested the hill into Amarillo, my heart struggled. This STUFF makes me feel burdened and a little dead inside sometimes. That mild despair deepened when the reality of your upcoming departure hit me afresh when I walked in the door. This morning God tenderly helped me sort it out.
Why are we here? There is only one WHY that matters.
This world pretends to have big dreams for you, but sadly, the world’s dreams are deceptively small and slippery. In our constant conversation throughout high school regarding college entrance and scholarships, I am afraid I let my own heart adopt some of those dreams for you as well. My reading this morning took me to 1 Timothy chapter 6 – your namesake, Timothy – that was my first signal that something good was coming. God reminded me what His dreams are for you.
From The Message translation, starting in verse 6: “A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. (I could almost stop right here because there is so much in that one sentence! Being yourself before anyone is a minor miracle, but being yourself before the loving, perfect, creator God? Wow.) Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough… Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after. But you, Timothy (David), man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life – a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses.” (This last part made me think of you and your friends at camp this summer.)
Striving for money is like having a boat anchor around your neck in the middle of an angry ocean. It will take you down. You have heard the phrase, “What you own owns you.” And it’s true. Food on the table and shoes on our feet – those are words to remember. Another thing you will be soon tempted to own is debt, and there will likely be times, for a vehicle or a home, where this is your chosen path as we have at times. But remember that it gets a piece of you, so stick to that food and shoes image as much and as closely as you can.
You are pretty darn smart and heading off to study smart things with smart people. If you can frame your pursuit from day one with the idea of using whatever you learn to honor God and help others, you can take your studies as far as He leads you. You have the beautiful freedom to consult your heart instead of consulting only your future bank account.
My favorite prayer book is called The Valley of Vision. Here is a portion of the prayer that “happened” to be next in line today – reminded me that God is faithful to tie things together for us when we listen.
“LORD OF ALL BEING, There is one thing that deserves my greatest care, that calls forth my ardent desires, that is, that I may answer the great end for which I am made – to glorify thee who hast given me being, and to do all the good I can for my fellow men; verily, life is not worth having if it be not improved for this noble purpose. Yet, Lord, how little is this the thought of mankind! Most men seem to live for themselves, without much or any regard for thy glory, or for the good of others; they earnestly desire and eagerly pursue the riches, honours, pleasures of this life, as if they suppose that wealth, greatness, merriment, could make their immortal souls happy. But, alas, what false delusive dreams are these! And how miserable ere long will those be that sleep in them…”
Our society is obsessed with standing out and being special. I buy into that at times with myself – trying to figure out what my grand contribution is supposed to be. It’s not that my brain, my writing, or my art are unimportant. They are simply unimportant in the traditional thinking about success. Followers, viewers, and listeners do not define the value of my contribution! The only measuring stick for any of it is whether or not it answers the “great end” for which I was made – glorifying God and doing what good I can for my fellow man.
You have grown up in a strange land, a land of excess, of sameness – a land where many spend as much on their vacations as the average citizen makes in a year. You have also been observant enough to realize that these riches do not make people happy. If anything, they are distracting and dividing. C.S. Lewis says, “Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is “finding his place in it”, while really it is finding its place in him.”
You have not had much of a place in the high school social strata (thank goodness). It might be tempting to “find your place in the world” as you swim into friendlier waters. My hope is that you find your mission to the world instead. If, along the way, your journey includes a sizable paycheck, find ways to remind yourself who it truly belongs to. (Food and shoes, food and shoes…)
So you and and your gifted brain – go try to figure out how nanobots can cure cancer, or help design some brilliant machine that improves eyesight or a medicine to end Malaria – OR – maybe one day you will find yourself doing some job just to put bread on the table and shoes on your kids’ feet – and your GREAT END will be to love your family well and show kindness and compassion to whatever coworkers you are thrown together with. Our measure of what is great and what is important must be constantly brought back to God’s measuring stick. It is absolutely the only one that will matter in the end.
You will leave this world one day with only your soul. No penny, no person will take that particular journey with you. So, fill your soul. Listen to your heart. And don’t forget the first words that Paul uses to define the righteous life for Timothy. He starts with “a life of wonder”. Such wisdom! The wonder of creation, of science, of poetry and beauty – wonder will always lead you back to the God of Wonders!
So, when you catch yourself slipping into the sticky web of the world’s idea of success, get outside or read something amazing. Break the cycle and come back. Find the “rich simplicity of being yourself” before the God who made you and loves you – beyond your wildest imagination – exactly as you come.
Of course, a letter of this nature from a Mom of my nature, must end with a quote from my favorite.
“Power, success, happiness, as the world knows them, are his who will fight for them hard enough, but peace, love and joy are only from God.”