Yes, I used mathematical terms in the title of this piece. No, that does not mean I have wavered in my view that math is the devil’s language. However, I have learned something interesting this past year of my life. Or should I say remembered. The first time I learned it I was in elementary school.
I always loved addition. Carrying those ones, discovering the sum, finding satisfaction in the increase. It felt like I was going somewhere. That was thrilling. I hated subtraction. The method was just more complicated. Scanning from right to left, invariably you had to borrow and take away. Just like robbing Peter to pay Paul, you knew at some point, down the line, you were going to have pay the piper. As the numbers grew bigger, it just became harder for me to keep up. In fact, the only thing I liked about subtraction was checking my work with . . . yep, you guessed it . . . addition.
It is easy, as we grow older, to see life as a relentless game of subtraction . . . one that leaves us with a less than desirable difference. As our chronological age increases, the things we lose become more and more evident. Dexterity, flexibility and physical prowess retreat. The 40’s squint kicks in as you realize the words on that page three inches from your face aren’t as clear as they were yesterday. Hairlines recede, skin dries and cracks, hormones diminish leaving you a sweaty, angry mess. Our families spread out. Children leave for college or for life. Good friends accept promotions across the country. Neighbors sell their homes. We live paycheck to paycheck, playing beat the bank with mortgage payments and school tuition checks. We watch some relationships disintegrate; alienation doesn’t knock on the door. It simply moves in. We sit with our loved ones on their death beds. We hold their hands. We sing them away. We ache. Time gets small. And oh, how we feel the irony when we realize that the only thing in our lives that is increasing is our waistlines.
I made a giant move in my life this year. I left a place of employment I loved and cherished for the better part of my adult life for another. And it was scary. And it hurt. Really badly. The only thing I can tell you is that the decision I made that seemed to be a divine appointment initially only felt like a profound loss. I didn’t get it. God was moving in my life, and yet it felt like I was dying. And then one day I wasn’t. I looked up and saw the power of addition. Unfamiliar faces have become more than just familiar. They have become friends. An early carpool commute brings with it cherished companionship and spontaneous hilarity. My students of old have become folk heroes to my new crew. They routinely ask me for stories. And as tales starring Meatball, Horton Haven, flying snakes, strange chapel speakers and A102 spill out, I find myself calculating a most exquisitely beautiful sum. All of those soul ties that I thought I was breaking? I was just bringing them with me. And the people who have loved me through it all? Well, they still do. God was just asking me to die to an idol I had created in my own image so that He could give me more than I knew how to ask for. That’s how dumb I am. That’s how good He is.
I don’t know what you are busy calculating in your life. But I encourage you to use the plus sign. I think you will find the total an overwhelmingly gracious and undeserved gift.