By Matt Gordon
Life gets crowded, doesn’t it?
I ventured to a LEGO store recently, which is always good for a laugh. I admire the diminutive yet solid structures, the comical round heads on the little LEGO people occupying them, and then glance at the price tags and guffaw.
So while I walked away empty-handed, I did take an image with me—when I left the store another person was cleared to enter. The high-priced LEGO club is one in, one out.
Just as I am not rich enough to afford even the most basic LEGO sets without financial and marital repercussions, I am not wealthy with time and talent. But I live the construct backwards. At the LEGO store a person leaves, indicating available space for another person to enter. In the store of my life, though, when a new or renewed demand enters, it forces something out.
Sometimes this can be good. Like just the other day, I had a kidney stone. First, it caused me to wonder how much different the initial Harry Potter installment would have been if it was based on a kidney rather than a sorcerer’s stone? I’m sure JK Rowling tinkered with this idea, and, who knows? Maybe she will return to it. Second, I was reminded how uncomfortable stones generally are. Especially the ones that take up residence in sensitive bodily areas. The answer to this? Water. A lot of it. So much of it that my daily liter(s) of cola evaporated for a few days. I had capacity for only so much hydration—water, in; soda, out (and hopefully kidney stone too).
Examples like this abound: a loneliness pushes us into a healthy relationship which banishes an unhealthy one; a face-the-music moment with a doctor prods exercise in and junk food out; a rock-bottom allows spirituality to saunter in, which, in turn, shows addiction to the door.
More often, however, my trades are more break-even at best, and often trend toward the bad variety. My weekly commitment to play soccer with friends just subtly sneaks out, while another hour of work trots in. A life-giving spiritual discipline gives way to another mind-numbing binge-watch. Loving my wife and investing in my kids takes leave for feckless people-pleasing. Even these words I’m writing—they are the first in some time. A discipline I enjoy—writing, and reading, the one which fuels it—somehow sneakily displaced by what? Well, I’m not sure.
And that is perhaps the worst part. I live accidentally. I enjoy movies but don’t watch them; I’m invigorated by travel, but stay home; I long to connect with God and others, all while voting with my feet against doing either. This seems a paramount pandemic in our thinking culturally—that we do not think about our thinking and that we trundle on mostly unaware at who we are letting in to take up residence in our lives. Numb and aloof, we, like me in that LEGO store, wander aimlessly through the aisles of existence, perusing without power of purchase.
The other day, I was waiting for a friend to pick me up. The rain had stopped, so I stood outside my workplace, milling about. Finally, I took out my phone. Rather than take in thirty-nine headlines of news stories I wouldn’t actually read or check the sports schedule for the evening for the nineteenth time, I opened the Bible app. I began reading Ephesians 5 and came to verses 15 – 16:
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil . . .
I end with an ellipsis there even though the text does not. The English translation has a period and then carries on with, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” Funnily, I didn’t get to the Lord’s will, but stopped at the word “evil” because the friend on whom I was waiting sent a text message:
“Sorry I’m late. I’ll be there in a minute. There were flu shots.”
The text message sort of said it all, but he went ahead and explained further when I got in his car a few moments later. Apparently, he walked out of his office and the company had some flu shots set up right there. He apologized for his tardiness, but I just quoted back a paraphrased Scripture, “make the most of every opportunity.” A flu shot had begged entrance into his store, and punctuality sidled out with a glance at the watch and an eyeroll.
My friend had made a good, knowing trade.
I’d like to redouble efforts to do the same. Assessing who is in the store, and what waits in line. Determining what lingering ideas and habits have taken up residence, occupying space without the intention or means to buy—unwholesome, unworthwhile pursuits, or, at least, ones that are keeping me from being inhabited by that for which I was made (and hence, that which brings joy to my life and blessing to the lives of others).
I’m years away from buying the expensive blocks the LEGO store offers me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t begin building something priceless—making the most of every opportunity and living wisely.