Saturday, September 28, 2013

Outside of Ourselves

When I was old, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.--Abraham Joshua Heschel

Recently I finished off a business trip to Dallas by changing my usual route home, steering instead toward a small town and a cardiac rehab facility to see an old friend and business associate. When I sold for a radio station in Dallas in the late 1980's he was my manager. Now he was in cardiac rehab having received a triple bypass operation the previous week. I had not seen him in 22 years. I didn't stay long because he was having a tough day during his recovery. Just found out about his condition, a very brief recap of his life since I'd seen him, recalled a couple of memories, then left him to rest.

Over my lifetime I've visited many people in the hospital, but since my heart attack two years ago, I've sensed an increased burden to reach out to people in the midst of crisis and suffering. When, in August of 2011, I lay on the emergency room table with a cardiac team briskly working around me to save my life, I did not fear death, but I realized I still had so much more I needed to do with the life God has given me.

My work ethic and "type A" personality are terrific tools for business, but ill suited for the unselfish intentionality needed to make relational investments in others. So to make a difference in people's lives beyond the material pursuit of increased sales, I have to choose each day to see with new eyes and allow God to cultivate an "other centered" point of view. At the end of my life will I look back and wish I had closed one more proposal, accomplished more ROI for a client's marketing campaign, worked just a little more on finding new prospects? Or will I, instead, wish I had slowed down long enough to notice those around me who quietly grapple with sickness, family break up and any number of heart cracking traumas common to us all? Will I not regret that I didn't show Christ to a dying world around me?

Since then God has given me opportunities to minister to such people. In reality, He merely opened my eyes to see needs that were there all along. Why did it take so long, and why a life stopping crisis for me to step out of my own world that I might enter into the worlds of others?

On reflection I realize that two things are needed to see with such new eyes. First, we must free ourselves from the "tyranny of the urgent", the nattering responsibilities, deadlines, ringing cell phones, chirping text messages, appointments, all shrieking for attention and dulling our senses to the more important yet far less shrill needs surrounding us.

Here's a first step toward this: the next time you are in face to face conversation with someone and your cell phone rings a call or chirps a text, don't answer it, and in fact, don't even look at it. Give full attention to the other person, finish the conversation or wait to get to a place where it is more appropriate to check the phone. Otherwise, pay respect to the person you are in face to face conversation with by devoting your full attention to them. Give more face time to the person than to the hectoring electronic tyrant in your pocket.

The second thing needed is to turn outside of self toward others. Be more interested in their world, ask more about them in conversation, talk less about self. Ask more, tell less. Finish the conversation knowing more about them than what they know about you. Then look for opportunities to be of help, to give a word of encouragement, to lift them up.

Two simple steps needed to change the world of others and as a result, change our own. Armed with this awareness and intentionality, no life jarring crisis should be needed to compel us to step outside of self and serve the needs of others.