A good friend of ours from Seattle, Al Erisman, is currently in Singapore teaching a short course at a seminary. We finally met up for breakfast yesterday and had a great morning catching up on each other’s lives. We chatted about our families, ministries, and book projects. In the course of all this, the topic of young adults came up and, as this is a key area of ministry for us, and our four sons fall within this demographic, we got to talking about engaging their passions and helping young adults to grapple with issues such as quarter-life crises, amongst others.
I mentioned the fact that I wished many of the young adults would look beyond the immediate to gain a longer-term perspective on life. At which point, Al repeated something his dear wife Nancy has often said and which has stuck in my head ever since I first heard it from her: “Don’t put a period where God has placed a comma in your life.” Or, as my beloved and I often remind others, our lives are like books with chapters, many of which have yet to be written. God has it all mapped out, but we don’t have the privilege of stealing a peek at how the remaining chapters will pan out. What we are called to do is to remain faithful in living out our lives a day at a time, knowing that God is there walking with us.
In our interactions with young adults, we have often heard of their struggles with trying to find significance in (or even make sense of) the daily grind. Recently, during a church sermon, I was also reminded of the tens of thousands who commit suicide in Japan every year, a large proportion of whom are in the 10- to 19-years-of-age range (Stephanie Lu, “The Mystery Behind Japan’s High Suicide Rates Among Kids,” Wilson Quarterly). But, they are not the only vulnerable ones. With more people entering the third third of their lives as a result of better healthcare, cases of depression among the elderly have also been spiralling. Many periods are being inserted into lives in which God has only placed commas.
Meeting with Al always brings the life of Joseph (Genesis 30–50) to mind. His book,The Accidental Executive (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2015), shows how his life and work have been impacted by Joseph’s. And how we need to adopt a stance of faith and obedience in living out our lives this side of the pearly gates. When things don’t work out as we planned or as we prayed, do we curse God and give up? Or do we beseech God to give us the strength to wait for His unfolding plan?
This morning, on my drive in to the office, I was listening to one of my favourite programmes on BBC World Service — Outlook — and I heard about Renato Sorriso, a road sweeper in Rio de Janeiro who doesn’t just keep the streets clean, he also entertains by dancing the samba as he sweeps, with his trusty broom as his partner. He related how he was initially chastised by his boss for dancing on the job. But he was unrepentant. He just had to move with the groove. And he found that he wasn’t just making his work more enjoyable; other people were being entertained. So, one day when his boss started shouting at him to stop, the crowd actually shouted at his boss instead. A television journalist came forward to interview him and the upshot is he is now a national celebrity. When asked how he felt about the turn his life took, he said, ““When you have a strong God and you have the belief that good things can happen, then things do happen.”
Even though he is so famous that he will be carrying the Olympic torch during the relay, he continues to sweep the streets. He has been faithfully doing this for 20 years, because he is proud to contribute to the cleanliness of his city. When asked whether he will stop working, he said, “Pele still works, Neymar still works, Maradona still works, why am I going to stop? The people around me still need me.”
So often, we look at the failures and disappointments in our lives and think that this life really isn’t worth living. Or we look at the mundaneness of our lives and are bored to death. Or we look at the mayhem in the world (almost daily reports of shootings and bombings; some frighteningly close to home) and we wonder how we are going to cope with the new uncertainties. Do we give up and turn ascetic/reclusive? Or will we make a difference by making the best of our lives, in any and every circumstance? Punctuation is everything.
*Image courtesy of Graphics Mouse / FreeDigitalPhotos.net