“and I lay down my life for the sheep”
Seven years ago I met a man I would not soon forget. He was aged, not old, and sat in the center of nursing home’s cafeteria as if the microverse of that place revolved around him. If it did, he paid it no attention. His face was dry of emotion except for a slight glint in his left eye; he had lost the use of his right many years ago. He could walk, barely. The scars on his arms were almost hidden by the wrinkles and the few strands of white hair left on his head were beginning to lose their grip. He was an aged man.
I sat down across from him, without an invitation. That’s what we honor kids were supposed to do that day. I didn’t come with an expectation. It was just one more thing to write down for community service and I think he sensed that. Neither of us particularly cared for the other at that moment, but we were alive and in the same room.
I started with small talk. He responded, quicker than I had expected. He was sharp and his speech had a comfortable rhythm to it. I believe he could have went into public speaking if he wanted. I asked about his family, his career, his memories. I asked about things that were. He decided to tell me about things that are.
He told me about his health issues and pains of growing old. But he also talked about his grandchildren. He even began to laugh as he told the stories. After the army he had gone into business and did well for himself. But when his wife got sick he put everything on hold to take care of her. It cost him a lot and in the end she went home before him.
I marveled at him. This man stitched story after story together, combing through decades as if they were notecards. He was a man who had lived life.
As our time together drew to a close I decided to ask one more question. “What can I do to make sure my life matters?”
His face grew serious again, bookending our conversation with the way it had began. He made sure to look right into my eyes before he offered his advice, “You want your life to matter…then give it up. It cant grow if your hands are wrapped around it suffocating it.”
Why is this the model for meaningful life? To give your life up for a cause or a person or a country – why is this the path to purpose?
Because God designed it that way.
He wants our lives to model His Son’s. Jesus did not need renown or praise. His life already mattered infinitely more than we can imagine. His purpose was to exist and reign. Yet he saw a need. He chose to do more than simply reach down, he stooped down. He emptied himself taking the form of a human but went still further. The author of life chose death to save his blinded betrayers.
His sheep no longer fear death, their shepherd faced it and won.
This memorial day take time to remember all the men and women who echo Jesus’ sacrifice with their own and put their lives on the line for the sake of others. May our prayers and gratitude comfort them in the days to come.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:25