Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 5 May 2010
Main Idea: If not today, then when?
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Gal 6:9-10)
I remember Kendal sitting at the front checkout desk of the big spanking brand new library at Regent-College. She has a natural smile and makes an excellent front desk person to help library patrons check their books out. I work at the library too, supporting the computer systems that keep the catalogs and other systems up and running. Sometimes, I interrupt her duties in order to work on the front-desk computer. When nothing else exciting is happening, we chat. Kendal is at that time newly married to a fellow Regent student, also working at the library. Soon, Kendal gives birth to a beautiful baby boy.
Just this week, I hear that Kendal has gone home to the Lord. It was April 2010. ‘Shocked’ is an understatement. My heart goes out to David, her husband, and also to Isaac, the young toddler. I never expect Kendal to leave this world at such short notice. In a way, there is a tint of remorse in my heart. I ask:
“Have I said a kind word to her? Have I blessed her previously? Have I prayed for her and her family? Have I done a good deed today in the Name of the Lord?”
Unfortunately, ripples of regret do little to comfort the sudden news splash. This week, I feel disturbed as I ask myself if I have been missing opportunities to do good, especially to those of the household of faith.
Have I done a good yesterday, that I will be thankful today? Have I made the fullest use of my opportunities then, to love people, for I may never get the chance to care for them next time? Like Helen Rowland says:
"The follies which a man regrets most in his life are those which he didn't commit when he had the opportunity."
A) I AND THOU
Martin Buber, Jewish philosopher is best known for his book entitled “I and Thou.” The circumstances that surround the writing of the book, “I and Thou,” stems from a tragic event. Born in Austria, he came to Palestine in 1938, before the horrible events of World War II in Europe. About that time, a young German soldier came to him for advice. This young man was a pacifist at heart, bent against fighting any war. He had just been drafted to serve the Nazi army, and he could not consciously agree to becoming a soldier of war. He came to Buber for advice. Unfortunately, Buber was too engrossed in his own work, and quickly dismissed him, saying something like:
“Why are you bugging me? Do whatever you think is best.”
Disillusioned, this young man subsequently took his own life.
The news shocks Buber. Upon re-examining himself, he realizes that he is too selfish. He needs to become more other-centered instead of self-centered. He wants to learn to look out instead of looking in. The result is a book, that not only turn his life around, it made him famous too. “I and Thou” essentially talks about relationships. Buber says that there are 2 kinds of relationships; one that sees people as ‘objects’ or I-It, and the other that sees people as ‘subjects,’ or I-You.
B) OBJECTS (I-It) and SUBJECTS (I-You)
In I-It relationships, we treat people well only when they are a means to our ends. When we see people as objects, it is like asking:
- “What use does this person (it) has for me?”
- “What can I gain out of this person (it)?”
- “How do I exact maximum leverage from her (it)?”
“In other words, insofar as a human being makes do with the things that he experiences and uses, he lives in the past, and his moment has no presence. He has nothing but objects; but objects consist in having been.” (Martin Buber, I and Thou, NY: Charles Scriber, 1970, p63-64)
When one uses a person like an object, that person is likened to an inanimate object, dead in the past. It cannot live in the present or the future, unless a new ‘use’ appears. Such an attitude is deplorable, even inhumane. I think about my relationships. If I go look for a friend only because he/she has something I want, I will be treating that friend as an object.
On the other hand, in I-You relationships, we look beyond ourselves to embrace what it means to be humans, not machines. We ask:
- “I know how I feel. How about you?”
- “This thing does not mean much to me. I am interested however about what it means to you?”
- “Can I help you?”
Society has often reduced us to a measly number, like our age, or our weight and height. It categorizes us numerically based on things like our sex or ethnic group. In censuses around the country, we get reduced to a miserable statistic. Worse, if the neighbourhood we are in is too small, policy makers will conveniently ignore us, in favour of a bigger town a few miles down the road. This world runs on numbers, and numbers turn people into objects.
C) Cultivating a I-Thou Relationship
How do we cultivate a I-You relationship that sees one another as people first, people second, and people third? Does that mean we cannot ask for favours from anybody?
No. I am not saying that we cannot seek out help from people. What I am saying is that we need to learn how to behave as people, by first connecting ourselves with the Divine God. When we are sinners, we are prone to using people as means for our own ends. We need to repent. We need to ask God to forgive us, and to renew us to become I-You people instead of I-It machines. The way is to cultivate a I-THOU relationship.
This is because, unless we learn to accept the grace of God, that God is our first neighbour, we will find it hard to practice sacrificial love and extend grace. For man is empty. Man is sinful. Man has nothing to offer in the first place. That being the case, man needs God to fill him up. Man needs to be reconciled with God. Then they can be reconciled to each other. As we learn of Jesus, and his sacrificial love, we will want to follow Christ, to be the person that Christ created us to be in the first place.
Then and only then, we have something to give to others, especially our fellow neighbours on earth.
If we do not have a healthy relationship with God, we will be seeking out the world to fill our empty tank. We will be searching the globe for inferior supplies, like seeking waters that do not quench, or food that does not satisfy our hunger.
I cannot emphasize this well enough. Without God, we can do nothing.
D) Relationships is like Planting Seeds
Friends, what are our relationships made of? Is it made of objects where people around us are given to us to satisfy our wants? Is the wife there merely to satisfy the cravings of the husband? Is the husband there to merely provide the financial income to pay bills? Is the friend a friend only when he/she does what WE want? Do our children exist simply to do what parents want them to do?
No! Let us start with repentance toward God. We love because Christ first loved us. We forgive as Christ has forgiven us. We serve because Christ has served us. Draw near to God. He himself will draw you near to Him. In this living relationship, as we lift Christ up high, let us rejoice to see Christ draw all men to him. If God be gracious, may God use us as a conduit to direct people’s attention and focus to God. then we learn to see relationships with new eyes.
At a recent seminar in North Carolina, Billy Graham and his wife Ruth were celebrating their 60th Anniversary. Someone asked Billy about Ruth’s struggles over her with her health problems. Billy replies with twinkling eyes:
“Ruth is doing just fine. She’s in a wheelchair now and can’t get around too well. So we continue our romance with our eyes." (quoted in Kathie Lee Gifford’s Gentle Grace, MI: Inspirio, 2004, p148)
Instead of looking at the faults or the 'have-not's, why not look at the merits, and the 'have's of the people we meet with? We do not need to look at the faults of fellow humans, and complain about them. We can learn to see with the eyes of love, seen through the eyes of God. Like Billy Graham, why should we despair over the agony of seeing Ruth's handicaps? Instead, we can still encourage one another with twinkling eyes. Such eyes reflect a healthy inside, even while our outside is weakening or decaying.
In this way, let us not look back with regret over the things we have failed to do. Let us look back with thankfulness. Let us look forward with hope. For the present, let us be faithful to God, by being faithful with our time, our resources, and our readiness to love, to care and to pray for each other.
I pray for Kendal’s family. I thank Jesus for the life she has lived on this earth. May the Lord’s peace be with her family. Most importantly, Kendal’s passing has taught me, that I need to love all as much as I can love NOW, to serve all as much as I can serve NOW, and to relate to all, as much as I can NOW. For those of us who procrastinate, and frequently says not-yet, let me ask: “If not today, then when?” Tomorrow may never come. Let us instead live our present days, in a manner that expects Jesus will come soon.
Thought: The fruits of tomorrow will come from the seeds of TODAY. Have you planted a loving relationship today?
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