Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Most Important Thing

A couple of things I’m teaching right now have me thinking...  
I wonder if my students are thinking on these topics as much as I am...
Teaching and thinking.... Thinking and teaching.... hmmm...
My third/fourth graders are currently reading “Because of Winn-Dixie” by Kate DiCamillo. It was made into a cute movie with AnnaSophia Robb, but the book is even better (as is usually the case, don’t you think?).

In chapter fourteen, there’s a beautiful scene where our young heroine has a revelation about the reality of human weaknesses.
India Opal Buloni is visiting her elderly companion, Gloria Dump.  (My students giggle about these characters’ names every time we read them.)  She tells Gloria that the man who works at the local pet store spent some time in jail in the past.
“Do you think I should be afraid of him?” Opal asks.
“What for?” Gloria replies.
“I don’t know. For doing bad things, I guess. For being in jail.”
Gloria then leads 10-year-old Opal to a big tree at the back of her property. 
Opal describes what she sees:
I looked up.  There were bottles hanging from just about every branch. There were whiskey bottles and beer bottles and wine bottles all tied on with string, and some of them were clanking against each other and making a spooky kind of noise. Me and Winn-Dixie (her dog) stood and stared at the tree, and the hair on top of his head rose up a little bit and he growled deep in his throat.
“What do you think about this tree?” asks Gloria.
“I don’t know.  Why are all those bottles on it?” Opal puzzles.
“To keep the ghosts away,” Gloria says.
“What ghosts?”
“The ghosts of all the things I done wrong,” Gloria answers.
Opal looks up aghast at all the bottles on the tree. “You did that many things wrong?”
“Mmmm-hmmm,” says Gloria. “More than that.”
“But you’re the nicest person I know,” insists Opal.
“Don’t mean I haven’t done bad things,” Gloria explains.
“Did the whiskey and beer and wine, did they make you do the bad things that are ghosts now?” Opal asks.
“Some of them,” says Gloria Dump. “Some of them I would’ve done anyway, with alcohol or without it. Before I learned.”
“Learned what?”
“Learned what is the most important thing,” Gloria says.
“What’s that?” Opal asks.
“It’s different for everyone. You find out on your own.  But in the meantime, you got to remember, you can’t always judge people by the things they done.  You got to judge them by what they are doing now. You judge Otis by the pretty music he plays and how kind he is to them animals, because that’s all you know about him right now.  Alright?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Opal says.

It’s a precious (albeit fictitious) conversation between these characters, don’t you think?  
I see no shortage of topics for discussion here!
First, you’ve got the issue of mistakes we make and how they haunt us.... Which could also lead to talking about God’s never-ending grace and forgiveness and how HE can forget our mistakes even when we continue to beat ourselves up over them.  That’s a big issue.
Then, you could talk about the judgment issue--the age-old “don’t judge a book by its cover” lesson...Except, in this case, it’s “don’t judge a book by what you’ve heard other people say about it.”  
My students couldn’t figure out WHY anyone would tie bottles in their tree.
But, what I’ve been thinking about is the thing Gloria talked about.
The one thing that is the most important.
What is that one thing?  Is it really different for everyone?  Or, it is the same...but we come around to it in different ways and on different paths?
What was the most important thing for Gloria?  What is it for me?  What is it for my kids?
The Disciples once wondered about the most important thing.  In Matthew 22:36-37, they ask Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?”
Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
So, there you have it--the one thing according to Jesus.
Too often, my one thing is not the thing it’s supposed to be.  Too often, my one thing is money...or my kids...or my work... or my frustration over something that didn’t go right in my day...or any number of other things.
Loving God with all my heart, soul and mind takes a lot of work and concentration.  But, I know that the days when my one thing is what it’s supposed to be, all those other things that worry me seem more manageable and I am more content.
If Step 1 is figuring out what the most important thing is, then Step 2 is figuring out how to make it and keep it the most important thing.
I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking Step 1 is the easy part! 
So, do I have you thinking now, too?  
What’s your most important thing today?  Is it what you want it to be?
James 1:5 "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you."

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