Blog

Find YOUR way to GRACE.

Phil Gulley Headshot

The Day You Discover You Can Fly

Our capacity to simultaneously love many things and people reveals our mental and spiritual well-being.

Well, Joan is out of school and enjoying her summer break.  We’re babysitting our granddaughter Madeline on Thursdays and Fridays, which is a treat.  She’s 2 ½ now.  This past Thursday, she crawled up on my lap, put her arms around my neck, and told me I was her best friend in the world.  Oh, that was the greatest feeling ever.  Being a grandpa is the berries, the bee’s knees, the cat’s pajamas, by-cracky.

I was telling her mom, Jessica, about it the next morning, when she dropped Madeline off.  “Madeline told me yesterday that I was her best friend in the world,” I said.

Jessica chuckled and said, “Yeah, well, this morning on our way over, we passed a squirrel, a dog, and a deer, and she said each of them was her best friend in the world.”

I love having a granddaughter with such a capacity for friendship.

Our capacity to simultaneously love many things and people reveals our mental and spiritual well-being.  Children tend to do this naturally.  They see nothing odd or strange about having several best friends, or having one favorite activity one day and another favorite activity the next day.  They are wide open to a range of experiences and able to see those events in a positive light.

But adults sometimes struggle with this.  For instance, if you told me I had to move from the home where we raised our boys, and are friends with all our neighbors, I’d be depressed and not want to do it.  But Joan would be excited because it would mean making new memories and finding more friends.  So some of us retain our capacity for delight as we age, and some of us lose it.

I remember conducting a funeral about ten years for this woman in her 50’s who died of cancer.  She wasn’t a Quaker, but her husband wanted a kind-of Quaker memorial service where anyone who felt led, her friends and family members, could stand and share their memories of her.  The first person to stand up began by mentioning that she was this woman’s best friend.  When she said that, I was watching the congregation, and noticed several dozen people kind of jerk their heads up and look at the woman speaking, and I could tell what they were thinking.  They were thinking, “I thought I was her best friend.”

Now was the deceased lady a liar, who went around telling different persons they were her best friend, or did the woman have such a great capacity for friendship that whomever was with her felt as if she treasured them?  What was she?  A liar, or someone with a tremendous ability to love many people at the same time.

What do we want for the people we love?  Do we want their capacity for love and delight to diminish as they age, until we are the only ones in their circle of concern, or do we want their ability to appreciate a variety of people, places, and activities to broaden?  Do we want their lives to shrink or expand?

I was with a group of ministers this week and one of them began talking about this member who was always at the church, served on a bazillion committees, was involved in every decision the church made, and this pastor thought it was great.

“I wish I had thirty more people like him,” the minister said.  “He has such single-minded devotion.”

But I was thinking how unhealthy it was that the man’s life was so one-dimensional.  Get a life, man.  Travel.  Make new friends.  Buy a motorcycle.

Do we want our lives to shrink or grow?

I’ve been depressed lately.  We thought Sam, our younger son, was getting out of the Army this month.  But now he’s staying in an extra year, and is talking about not getting out at all.  We thought he was going to move back home to Danville, go to college in Indianapolis, get married next summer to Kelsea, who was going to get a job teaching school in Danville, and live in the house we bought next door to Spencer.  I had their lives all planned out for them.

But now he’s saying he could be just as happy staying in the Army and attending medical school at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.  Can you imagine that, a child of mine living in Texas?  Possible grandchildren of mine being raised in Texas?  What is that boy thinking?  Don’t get me wrong, I love my son, though he has always shown this odd tendency to be happy no matter where he is, and in my opinion has a curious appetite for different experiences.  Texas, for God’s sake!

It’s Joan’s fault.  When Sam and Kelsea told us this, Joan just hugged them and said, “You kids do what you need to do.  We just want you to be happy.”

We?  What was she thinking?

So I’ve been depressed.  I talked about it with my friend Jim Mulholland this past week.

Jim said, “You know you can’t keep him.  Remember, this is your son who has always enjoyed new experiences.  Remember that?  You told me when he was five that Sam could jump out of an airplane anywhere in the world, and by nighttime have six new friends, a full stomach, and a place to live.”

My tendency is to always to gather my flock to me, but I do admire my son’s curiosity and zest for life.  I do admire his ability to walk into a room and not meet a stranger.  I do admire that he wakes up each morning wanting his circumstances and community to expand.

I’ve never thought about this until now, but isn’t it interesting that Jesus was always seeking new experiences, always engaging others?  Every other paragraph in the gospels begins with the phrase, “From there Jesus went to…”  Of course, there is the mythical wise man who spends his life in isolation on a mountaintop. Now maybe being at the top of the mountain was supposed to symbolize far-seeing wisdom.  But we never see that image used with Jesus.  What we saw instead was a man who was always engaging and befriending a variety of people—saints and sinners, true believers and skeptics, higher-ups and commoners.  It suggests Jesus had a real passion for new experiences, new faces, new opportunities.

What is your capacity for life?  You only have one, after all.  Do you seek new opportunities?  Can you simultaneously love many things and many people?  Are you excited by the possibility of growth and change?  Imagine the thrill of the ground-bound caterpillar the day it becomes a butterfly and discovers it can fly.  You can do that, too.  What new life are you seeking?  What is the chrysalis holding you in, and what must you do to fly?