How was your Thanksgiving?
The dinners are over, family and friends have dispersed, and all that remains are the leftovers.
What kind of leftovers do you have? No, I don't want to offer yet another recipe for those extra mashed potatoes and gravy. But I do want to invite you to ponder with me another kind of recipe -- a recipe for relationship leftovers.
Who did you talk to over Thanksgiving, and what did you say? After an hour next to your sister or cousin or friend, what remains to sustain your friendship? What do you suppose the people sitting near you took home with them after your time together? I'm mulling over my own leftovers because even through we sometimes take our socializing for granted, I've discovered that those moments together can be very precious indeed.
Three weeks ago at Bethany, we learned the value of relationship in a poignant way. We lost a co-worker, a guy who was always willing to pick up an extra shift, help us with our computers and listen to our stories. Keith Alexson, licensed practical nurse, died Friday, Nov. 8, and the following Monday morning we gathered in a daze to say goodbye to a friend who had left us too soon. And, all we had were leftovers to comfort us.
Family members, friends and co-workers stood up to speak about Keith, but Mary Carner, another LPN, said it best: We all knew Keith, but we wished we had known him better. Mary characterized her friendship with Keith as a three-minute, 56-second relationship. Just as a song on a CD lasts only a few minutes, sometimes we, too, only take a few minutes to get to know each other.
We grab a few snippets of conversation here and there during a break or before a meeting at work, and at family get-togethers we share a little, but it's only a bit, a snatch, a brief morsel of who we really are. We rarely have the time, or take the time, to plumb one another's hearts. As Mary said, her best conversations with Keith always took place as they walked down the hall to punch out at the end of a shift.
"There were many nights when I wished the hallways were longer, so that we really could have had more time to talk."
When Keith died, many of us at Bethany not only mourned his sudden death, we also grieved because we hadn't taken the time to get to know him well. After 12 different people spoke in honor of Keith's life, when all was said and done, we knew the whole that was Keith, and our greatest regret was that we had not savored more moments with him while he was with us.
The fault was not Keith's. He always took time for us. No, the fault was our own. We were far too busy or far too content with the smatterings of a friendship, when a deeper relationship had been there all the time, just for the asking. Oh, Keith, why did we learn this too late?
Keith's death -- and the loss of his friendship -- has forced me to consider my relationships with friends, family and co-workers, and it has made me examine my relationship with my most steadfast Friend, my God. What must I do, how should I live so that the precious conversations I have with all of them can be savored? In each situation, the choice of depth and honesty in my interactions is mine. In each conversation, I can drop a few morsels or I can share the whole of my heart.
Surely there are appropriate times and places for relationships to develop ... at Bethany there's no time for talk when half a dozen call lights are flashing ... but, why do I rush the conversations I have been graced with, and why, for heaven's sake, do I only rush to God when I'm desperate? I hope it's not too late to give the people I value and the God I love more than the leftovers in me.
The season of Advent begins this Sunday. Instead of getting caught up in the rush of the holidays, let us take the time to listen and learn from one another. Those moments together may be the greatest gift we can give to a family member or a friend.
Advent also can be the start of a whole, new relationship with the God, Emmanuel, the One who came to earth to be with us. Let's try to avoid the regrets of lukewarm leftovers in our lives this year. May we take the time to offer ourselves wholeheartedly to one another (and even to those we find hard to love), and may we take the time to draw closer to the God of all friendship and all love.
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