[This is one of the posts telling a story from the life of my Dad. Click here to see the others.]
In the previous post about my Dad, I mentioned how a couple of years ago, I had noticed myself becoming less like him and more hurried. I also mentioned how I'm grateful now to notice myself being more like him in the way I go about things, which certainly includes being less hurried. So, practically, what brought about the change? It's something that isn't necessarily easy, but it is simple, and it applies far beyond my Dad and me:
I'm doing more of the things that he did, in order to become more of the kind of person he was.
Because part of what I now do for work is to manage his small farm and ranch business, there are plenty of opportunities for me to do more of the things he did. I sit at his desk, I use his tools, I drive where he drove, I deal with people he dealt with, I feed the herd of cattle that he fed, I walk where he walked, and after a year and a half of doing more of the things he did, it shouldn't come as a surprise that I'm living more like he would have lived.
That certainly doesn't mean that my life is a carbon copy of his. I'm trying some things in the business that he never tried, and some characteristics of my life remain very different from his. That's fine, because only he could live his life and only I can live mine, but that doesn't negate the deep need I feel to allow much of the character and qualities of the kind of person he was to grow in me, and the most helpful way that I've found to do so is by doing more of the things he did, in order to become more of the kind of person he was.
Some application beyond the two of us: John Wesley is one of my heroes, and in Dallas Willard's outstanding book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, he points to Wesley and Methodists of today as a clear example of our tendency to admire a person and praise who they were without ever taking the simple step of doing the things they did, resulting in us not becoming the kind of person they were. It takes very little observation of the lives of the vast majority of those of us who call ourselves Methodists today to see that the way most of us arrange our lives has very little similarity to how Wesley did so, and there is a noticeable gap between the general characteristics of Methodists today from Wesley's day.
We simply haven't committed ourselves to doing the kinds of things he did...
- like having a rhythm of regular time alone with God and time in company with others; or the other practices he engaged in and encouraged in his early Methodists, such as
- living distinct lifestyles from the culture around us so that we do no harm to anyone;
- always seeking to be involved in doing good for others, always to meet their physical needs, and when the opportunity arises to meet spiritual needs as well;
- searching the Scriptures by reading short passages every day and allowing them to sink deeply in to our hearts and minds;
- praying, particularly through a method such as Wesley's practice of morning and evening prayer (or fixed-hour prayer) in order to become the kind of person he was;
- fasting (Wesley was serious about this one for himself and his early Methodists, but today we're almost clueless about it);
- "Christian Conferencing" (intentionally arranging your lifestyle around Wesley's firm conviction that we cannot be spiritually healthy individuals apart from spiritually healthy community;
...and therefore we don't regularly turn into the kind of person that he was.
And of course, as much as I admire my Dad and John Wesley, neither of them are the ultimate one to imitate in order to become the kind of people they were. What were things that Jesus did? How can I do more of the things that he did, in order to become more of the kind of person he was? For starters:
- I can learn to practice a weekly day of Sabbath rest in a way that's good for everyone involved rather than about keeping a bunch of rules.
- I can have a rhythm of going back and forth between plenty of time alone with God and plenty of time unhurriedly engaging with people.
- As he would have done as an ancient Jew, I can pray at set times of the day .
- I can let the Scriptures sink in deeply.
Perhaps you can think of others. This is tremendously important... we talk about taking up our cross daily and following him, and for good reason. But I've come to believe that when my cross shows up, I won't be the kind of person who is even able to follow him by taking it up if I haven't also been following him by practicing Sabbath, having a rhythm of solitude/community, saying morning and evening prayers, allowing the Scriptures to sink in, etc. Yet if I have done those things, picking up that cross and continuing to follow will seem like a much more natural thing to do, because I will have become more of the kind of person he was in the course of doing more of the things that he did.