A mostly fictional story.
Growing up, like most boys, your grandfather was an iconic figure. He flew planes in “The War” and you are pretty sure he was shot down at least a few times. He named his bomber after “his girl”, your Grandma, who he’s been married to for almost 60 years. He could fix anything. When he died a few years back, the family was convinced there was something broken in heaven that no one could figure out how to fix, so God called Grandpa home to fix it. He had tools, some you’d never heard of and would never personally use (and he probably didn’t either). When he spoke, he did so from a level of confidence you could only dream of. And he loved his family. Man did he love his family. There was something amazing about him.
As a kid, you loved going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house because grandpa would always take you into the garage and ask you to help him fix something. He swore he had been waiting for you to come because there was “no way” he could ave fixed it without you. And it would take forever. Way more time than busy Mom and Dad had for stuff. And Grandpa talked alot during those visits. He had alot to say, and alot of experience to speak from. Even as you grew older, no matter what situation you were in, Grandpa had the right thing to say. Or more often, the right question to ask. He didn’t always say alot, but what he said mattered. Grandpa’s words were burned into your memory. He spoke at your wedding, and the room was silenced. Not because he made the most eloquent speech. Quite the opposite. He spoke plainly, but from the perspective of over 50 years of being married to Grandma. And he always, always spoke with love. Tough love here and there. But love. Grandpa was amazing.
That was all a long time ago. Grandpa passed away more than a decade ago. And since then, you’ve also lost your Dad. Some time has gone by, and you’ve handled all the “business” that follows losing a dad. Now it’s time to start sifting through Dad’s things and figuring out what to do with it all. First stop is the hardest, the attic. Who knows what’s up there and how much junk has piled up over the years. As you cautiously rise the rickety “ladder” that unfolds from the ceiling, you shine a light and it’s not quite as bad as you had expected. You climb in, being careful to step only on the rafters to avoid rejoining your wife and kids downstairs by way of a hole in the ceiling.
Then you see it. It’s a trunk. A pretty large one. It looks too old to even be your Dad’s. It’s not locked, so you open it. The hinges creak and the leather straps make that stretching sound unique to old dried out leather. Inside you find Air Force stuff. You knew Dad was in the Air Force but it was never a huge topic of conversation. But this stuff is kind of cool. Letters from superior officers in the dry matter-of-fact tone so unique to the military mindset. Then you see it. A bundle of letters that look older than the rest. Through the backs of the sheets you can tell these are handwritten letters. Clearly not military letters addressing posts and quarters and such.
You instinctively handle the bundle carefully, feeling its age and a sense of its weight. You fold back the long-pressed crease in the page to reveal the words, “Dearest Mim.” “Mim” is what Grandpa call Grandma. Her full name was Miriam but this was his little pet name for her. You realize that these were letters from Grandpa, to Grandma, and as you read you realize these were sent while he was away in Europe during World War II. Suddenly these take on a whole new meaning for you. You immediately forget the mundane task of sorting through and organizing Dad’s things and sit down across the dusty aged sheet of plywood laid across the rafters and start reading.
A few of these letters are to Grandma. But then you find a bundle tied with a thin ribbon. You begin reading the first letter, and it is written to your Dad. Dad was a tiny baby when Grandpa left for the War. But it would seem he wrote your dad letters knowing he would read them some other time. You wonder if Dad ever even knew these were up here. These were full of words of encouragement, advice, admonishment. Literally writing to a son he was not sure he would ever see again. Wanting to fill him full of the years of wisdom that Grandpa had inside. This was amazing.
Without realizing it, you’ve let a couple of hours pass by when you hear your wife making her way up the folding ladder. You’ve been up here for three hours and at some point it occurred to her that she wasn’t hearing any movement. She was initially frustrated, wondering what you were up to and knowing your propensity for distraction. But when she saw your face under that single dangling bulb she knew something was up.
“This is amazing,” you said. You showed her the trunk, the Air Force stuff. And the letters. All of them. “Have you read all of these already?” “Some more than once,” you reply. This was years of wisdom poured out onto paper under some of the most terrifying of personal situations. Bombs litterally dropping a hundred yards from the pen writing these words. You dove into them with an abandon, absorbing every word over and over again. That was Grandpa’s years-long dissertation to his son on how to live well, with integrity, with faith. How to raise a son. You realize Dad must have read these because you see so much of how he raised you in these letters.
This was gold. You set aside the rest of the day and crawled down through the access hatch with letters in hand. You sent an email to the boss letting him know you wouldn’t be in the next day and apologizing. Work was giving you a lot of leeway in light of the loss of your dad. There were a decent number of letters to go through, and you couldn’t wait to dive through them and extract everything you could from these pages. Suddenly Grandpa was back with you. You couldn’t help but hear his voice in your head while reading his words.
This is how I would react to a stack of letters written for the specific purpose of filling me with the wisdom of the ages. Or at least I think it’s how I would respond. But the fact is that I, and just about every household in the United States, has a stack of letters just like this in their home and don’t even know it. We don’t know it because we’ve never really taken a look at the stack of letters sitting on our shelf. The stack of letters was written by Paul, living in perilous times and under just about as much danger as our fictional Grandpa above. The letter are amazing. Filled with wisdom. Practical wisdom. Things that can change my life. Change it in such as way that my kids will say after several decades, “Wow, I know Dad must have read these because I see it in the way he raised me.”
We dismiss these letters because they are full of rules we’d rather not follow. Or at least we assume that’s the case. Or if we don’t dismiss them outright we pound through them with our study guide in hand and force ourselves to gulp down the prescribed number of verses needed to get through the New Testament in a year, or some other goal like that. And it takes us about a week and a half to fall hopelessly behind to the point that the letters go back on the shelf.
Why don’t I see these letters as the gold they really are? Why don’t I stop everything and fly through them absorbing every word as I go with abandon? Honestly I don’t know. I even wrote this blog post and still haven’t done it. But somewhere in my head it makes sense that doing so would change my life.
And maybe that’s the problem. The Bible was written to a desperate church, a church on the edge of extinction and under intense persecution. It was written to people desperate to soak in its words of encouragement and guidance and even correction. But now I’m pretty comfortable. I’ve got it good enoough that just about any change would be a change for the worse. At least by my worldly standards.
So the letters sit on the shelf. And they sit. And they sit. At some point, perhaps with the blessing of a touch (or heavier dose) of adversity in my life, I’ll run to those letters and absorb them as they were meant to be absorbed.
We were built to be heroes.
It’s about time we started acting like heroes.