My dad wasn't mining opal during his last trip to the Australian outback, even though he had planned to. It was one of those rare rainy days in the desert and he was at the bottom of a sandstone grave. This wasn't where he intended to be, but it was where fate found him.
My father has a passion for gem-quality opal and he had travelled half way around the world from his home in northern California to the tiny town of Yowah in southwest Queensland. During the past 14 years, Dad has made numerous friendships, moved hundreds of cubic metres of dirt and occasionally found a stone worth writing home about.
At the start of the day Dad had planned on mining as usual. However, storm clouds blew in, and then his buddy, Trafford, stopped by to tell him he was heading to the town cemetery to finish digging a grave. The previous day his backhoe had hit sandstone, which was too tough to break. The funeral was the following morning and the grave had to be finished before then. Dad offered to bring his jack-hammer and generator and help with the digging. It took three men six hours to finish the grave!
moments of reflection
"I'd never dug a grave before," Dad told me later. "It was a weird feeling. I couldn't help thinking that someday it will be my grave being dug. As I was working that jack-hammer, my thoughts raced: Will I be ready? Will I be at peace with how I lived my life? What will I leave behind? Once I'm in the grave, it'll be too late to make changes, to make things right with people I've hurt, to forgive people who have hurt me. But then I realised, I still have time. Death will come. But I have a hope beyond death."
His face lit up with a smile as he concluded, "And I have time to tell others about that hope. I have much to do!"
It isn't often we have either the opportunity or inclination to review our life. Without a doubt, each of us has things we'd prefer left in the past. But what about the future? Where are you headed? What legacy will I leave? Will we be ready to go?
We don't live in the future. Pie-inthe- sky dreaming doesn't get things done. It may be fun, but it leads to nights and days with little difference- always dreaming! If we spend our time fantasising about who we will be "one day" we'll miss out on who we can be today.
Nor do we live in the past. When we live in the past, constantly rehashing lost opportunities or berating ourselves for decisions made, we do little good to ourselves or anyone else.
We live in the here-and-now. And it's the here-and-now that shapes who we are. The decisions we make each day shape who we will be tomorrow. These decisions, repeated daily, become habits, which form our character. And it's our character that will provide answers to the grave questions faced by my father that rainy day.
choices of character
The decisions that shape our nature are rarely planned events. None of us have ever said, "Next Thursday at 2 pm I'm going to spend some time working on my character." Character is developed "on the fly," during the journey of life-between here and there-half-way up life's mountains and while we walk through baleful valleys.
Jesus once told a story that described the kind of person who has a pure character. A traveller was attacked by criminals, who beat him, stole his belongings and left him for dead. Three men approached the dying man one after the other. The first two made every effort to avoid him, going to the other side of the path to ensure they weren't tainted by a dead person. The third man stopped and helped.
Jesus explained that the first two were very religious and didn't want to become themselves "unclean" and thus lose the privilege of entering God's temple. Their understanding of what the law required of them was more important to them than the needs of a fellow man in distress.
The third man was more concerned with the well-being of the broken traveller than he was with his own needs, reputation or time pressures. Jesus said that this man stopped, cleaned the injured man's wounds, clothed him and carried him on his own donkey to an inn, where he paid for the man's lodging and medical care.
Jesus concluded by comparing his listeners to the three men who approached the battered traveller. While there are numerous reasons to pass by on the "other side of the road," Jesus explained that those wishing to truly "love their neighbour" will, when the opportunity presents, choose to be like the third man-helping in spite of their own pressures and prejudices.
It is impossible to look ahead on life's path and see the obstacles and opportunities that it will present. But it is in our power to be ready for those character- revealing moments when they arrive. How? By choosing good companionship- in both people and information. Surround yourself with good friends and expose your mind to morally worthwhile ideas and your character will develop accordingly. The apostle Paul said that by beholding Jesus we are changed into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18).
It really is all about choices. Joshua, a leader and general of the Israelites, said, "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve... as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15). No one can choose the direction of your character except you, and you do it by choosing whom you will follow.
We spend thousands of hours entertaining ourselves-movies, books, computer games, crafts, television-and our minds are shaped and changed through the stimulus and information we gain in this way. If it is our intention to develop a noble character, we need to choose wholesome-thought food.
I like the way The Message Bible translates the words of the apostle Paul: "Don't become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out... . Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you" (Romans 12:2, The Message).*
The conclusion Dad came to after climbing out of that grave was that he had much good yet to do before he entered his own final resting place. This is probably the most important choice of our lives: choosing to get out of the grave of our past, present and future, and get into life. A Christlike character developed through focusing on Jesus creates a person focused on others. Like the third man in Jesus' story, we will help the broken travellers when we encounter them on the road of life.
* Scripture quotation from The Message. Copyright