An eight-year-old boy was angry with his father. As his father was leaving the house, the boy said to him “I hope you don’t come back.”
And he didn’t—a car accident, he died on impact. The boy, now seventy-five, remains haunted by his words.
A child would not fully understand, but an adult does: with life’s uncertainty in mind, we are especially careful with our words and relationships.
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Ps. 90:12)
But we don’t often act on this knowledge because we assume there will be plenty of opportunities to say more in the future. So why rush, especially if our pride is at stake.
My wife was leaving the next day for a two-week mission trip to Africa. Two weeks might not seem that long, but, at least with her, I tend to think of time apart in three categories. One, we don’t see each other during the day but we do in the evening. This is common and tolerable. Two, one of us is gone for one to six overnights. These are hard, but to be expected in a fallen world. Three, one of us is gone for seven overnights or longer. This is equivalent to eternity. So this was a long trip.
As we sat down together on the eve of her leaving, we hit a minor glitch. I did something “in jest” that I had done before. She didn’t think—and had never thought—it was funny, and life suddenly got tense. In the past, I fumbled through these times with explanations of my intentions and other unhelpful attempts to bring peace. This time, on the precipice of her leaving “for eternity,” the road ahead was clear, compelling and surprisingly easy.
“I am so sorry for doing that. Please forgive me,” I said. “I am such an idiot who doesn’t listen to you. I know that what I did bothers you. I am so sorry.” I was willing to do whatever it took to bring real reconciliation.
She smiled at my newly found humility and quickly forgave me.
Scripture has varied means of persuading us to follow Jesus. I know its plea to reconcile quickly (e.g., Eph. 4:26-27), though I can procrastinate when my pride is especially active. This time, that plea was coupled with my acute sense of our numbered, brief and unpredictable days. It was just what I needed. And this way of wisdom would bless so many who will live with regrets if they go a different path.