I got an education today from a most unusual source. It came in an unexpected way, but when it happened the power of it impacted me very deeply. At times, the reality of what I am seeing may not grab me in that present moment. However, in pondering things and rolling them over in my mind, the truth reveals itself like the subtle flavors hidden in a rare wine. They always come out as I lingered over and patiently consider the event and those who were part of it.
I did a memorial service for a man who was a dear friend, a fellow minister and a member of our church for the past 13 years. I first met him in 1989 when we were both teaching summer school at a state detention center for juvenile offenders. He died February 15th at the age of 85 and had lived a very rich, vibrant and honorable life. The service was in our church and people came from other states and the local area to share in the event. It was a fantastic tribute to a great man of God.
As the building began to fill with people, I greeted many who had been part of our church at one point or another in the past. Those who were once an active and faithful part of this place now came through the doors as guests and friends. With each handshake and hug, each smile and warm greeting, I could feel a flood of mixed emotions rising within me. They were strangely swirling around and at first began to catch me completely off guard.
I realized these were people I had loved deeply and poured my time, my friendship, my counsel and my mistakes into. Some of these I had married, some had family members I had buried. Many I had baptized in the Jacuzzi under the church floor. We had shared life together and lived through the agonies it presents. We had shared our hearts and finances as well, to build the very place we were now in. Some had been part of things for a year or two while others had been here serving and loving the church for a decade or two before they left. Now they were all going to different churches, both near and far, and continuing on with their walk in God, but without me.
Some had left our church out of frustration or misunderstanding, while others knew it was God who had moved them, and those we sent off with a blessing. Now, here they were, walking back into the building and filling the atmosphere with their laughter, their memories and their new adventures. They greeted me kindly and genuinely, and really wanted to know how things were going. A few looked around the building with approval while others were glad to reconnect with old friends who were still part of this place.
As I stood there and watched the sea of people, I began to realize what I was feeling. It was the same emotional storm that hit when two of my sons signed up for the Air Force and my third son took a promotion and a job in another city. I had done my job as a father and my boys had followed my example and found a good life of their own. By doing so it launched them into their own destinies but it also took them away from mine. When each came to kiss me on the cheek and say good-by, I wept like a baby because I knew our lives were about to change forever and there was no going back.
So as I stood there looking at these people I heard God’s Spirit whisper that the building was not full of my mistakes and failures. It was full of people who were my spiritual kids. I had loved them, guided them, served them, challenged and corrected them while they were part of this place. Some had responded well and others not so well, but growth had come to each. With that growth came the responsibility to hear from God for themselves and do what He was calling them to do. In other words, when my part was over, they needed another to take over. These were people I had impacted as God intended, and each was now living out the destiny I had helped to develop within them.
One of my current leaders came up to me with a look of amazement after I had done the memorial service and whispered, “Pastor, do you realize that all of our old friends who are here today are in places of leadership in every church they attend? Think of that! Do you realize the impact you have had on so many people and how your influence goes where they go!” When he said this everything came into focus and a great peace settled upon me, because it was true. I had planted the seed that was now producing a mighty harvest.
You may have experienced friends, business partners or even relatives leaving your circle of life over the years. Some may have left for the right reason while others may have abandoned you for something that was totally wrong. Whatever happened, consider the importance of reframing that person and event according to where they are today. Did they change and grow? Did they make good choices? Are they better off than when they were with you? If so, part of the reason for that success is because of the seed you planted in them. Whether they know it or not, they are who they are because of you. Take comfort in the knowledge that what looks like failure in one season of life has actually planted the seeds of greatness in a season yet to come.