Talks we never had
What’s holding us back from telling others about Jesus?
I happened to be in Brooklyn when I checked my phone and it was July 18, a date my memory has not seen fit to delete after 50 years (along with random useless phone numbers of childhood friends). It was Mary B.’s birthday.
On impulse I googled the name and hometown. Lo and behold there was a photo of her, same pretty Irish eyes and smile, but as if she had dusted baby powder on her hair to play the part of an old woman in a school play. Our school. Where we had shared secrets and graduated in the small class of ’69. Under the picture were dates: 1951-2021.
I suppose I wouldn’t have looked her up this year anyway, any more than I bothered in previous Julys. But it was very different knowing that I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to. I had missed my chance by three months and two days. The door was shut and double-bolted now. The raven sits aloft it crying “Nevermore.” She would have liked this Poe allusion.
There is a tipping point in life where you realize that among the people you have known, as many are dead as alive: schoolteachers, my first female college friend, my first serious boyfriend, the other boyfriend I lost a bet to who made me go to the rock concert from which I took home tinnitus as a souvenir.
Mary B. was not a Christian when I knew her. And if I can read obituaries well, she wasn’t one in the end either.
“Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow,” says the psalmist (144:4).
An unusual number of people die of cancer on my street. My first husband started the fashion in 1999. Since then, Marie across the way succumbed, then Catherine three doors to my right, then Steve two doors to my left, then Kathy to my immediate left. And now the lady down the street is battling it. Some say it’s the power lines running like a spine along the railroad tracks behind our houses. I looked it up:
“There is no known mechanism by which magnetic fields of the type generated by high voltage power lines can play a role in cancer development. Nevertheless, epidemiologic research has rather consistently found association between residential magnetic field exposure and cancer” (Environmental Health Perspectives, 1995).
So knowing he had cancer, I invited 50-year-old Steve to dinner, shared the gospel with him, saw him come to faith in Christ, and was present as he passed into the arms of the Lord.
Except no, that didn’t happen. I never invited him to dinner. I kept dithering till it was too late.
I like the 1980s choose-your-own-ending books for children, where the young reader can pick which adventure he wants to take. God does that with us too: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil” (Deuteronomy 30:15). “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil” (1 Peter 3:10). “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25).
These are choices God invited us to make.
The minutest choices are small pebbles we throw into the pond that cause a ripple to the farthest reaches of the shore. Consider: Archduke Ferdinand visits Sarajevo in an open car, where an angry Serb in the crowd throws a bomb at him but misses. The archduke runs for cover, high-tails it back to Austria, and World War I never happens. Except that actually the archduke elected to stay, and the rest is history.
What would have happened if last summer, or the summer before, or 10 summers before, I had thrown fear to the wind and cast my bread upon the waters and tracked down my old friend Mary B. and told her about Jesus?
Ours is not to know the endings of the roads we never ventured on.
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