But Did Not Go
Gospel Reflection for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Think of a dream or aspiration you have had. Can you name it? How much progress have you made towards reaching it? These questions are particularly on my mind this week as I attended a virtual conference for self-published authors over the last few days. Hundreds of people came together over a shared sense of ambition. We shared our stories with one another across time zones, age groups, and cultures. Some were young and taking action on their goals early in life while some had reached retirement in a former career to dive into authoring a book now. The conference ended with an activity of writing a letter from your future self to your current self about what you are most proud of.
In the year ahead, there will generally be two different outcomes in the lives of attendees. Some will be pumped this week about all that they have learned and say that this will be the year. They tell their family and friends what they are committing to make progress on in the year ahead, but soon go back to life as normal and do not follow through on anything they said they would do. On the other hand, some people may be overwhelmed about all of the new information that they gathered and feel unwilling to sacrifice and commit to what needs to be done. They will think, "that's a great idea, but I don't want to do it." As the calendar turns over to 2021, they may find their journal from this weekend as they're cleaning up their office. They decide to set aside time each weekend to write a few chapters of their rough draft and become published by the time the conference occurs next fall. Which one is the published author?
As we imagine ourselves in a year we get to see where we want to be. We write about being happier, more peaceful, and more successful. We tell our current self how proud we are for distinguishing what matters from what does not. We thank ourselves for finding a coach who shows us what to do along the way. As we look at this letter, we may feel like a new person already as we write these aspirations on paper.
How similar does this activity sound to our daily experience of life? What happens after we tuck that paper away in a drawer? After we add our signature to that letter, we feel hope and purpose in saying, "yes." We look forward to the time we can pull it out in a year and read how much we've grown. A week later, many of us will say, "yeah, yeah, yeah, that's cool and all, but it's safer to stay where I am. I'm okay being okay." But, why?
In the Gospel today, I was captivated by the words, "but did not go." It's a short phrase with deep meaning. Jesus mentions many stories in the Gospels about people who did not ask, did not come or did not follow. One of the parts of the confiteor at the beginning of Mass reads "for all I have done and what I have failed to do." Ouch. Sin is not just about the hurtful things we have done, but also includes the times we have come up short.
Where are we making empty promises?
Scenario #1: A friend made reservations with you so you could enjoy dinner together at your favorite restaurant. That night, you find yourself sitting across from an empty chair and table setting because they never show up.
Scenario #2: A friend told you that they could not commit to dinner so you plan on spending a quiet evening at home. You receive a call from them on your doorstep. They brought you carry-out from the restaurant along with your favorite wine and dessert to enjoy together while catching up.
Who is the better friend?
Our words mean something. Jesus never forces us to do anything. It's up to us to let our "yes" mean "yes" and our "no" mean "no." It is hard to stand behind our yes's if we give too many. I know I am guilty of signing up for too many things, committing to too many events, and basically keeping too many doors open in my life. I want to do a better job at giving my BEST YES! I've learned a lot about that through Lysa Terkeurst's book The Best Yes.
I want to remember the impact of a changed heart. I want to remember the surprising smile of the friend on the doorstep rather than the deafening silence of being ghosted. Jesus wants to be our friend and he knows friendships take work. He wants us to mean what we say and He knows what's best for us. Will we say "yes" and mean it? Or be open to Him working on our hearts after we say no?
Now, I challenge you to write a letter from your future self to your current self. What are you committing to? What kind of work is Jesus asking you to do in the vineyard?