Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The question

It was somewhere around 1989 and I was sitting in the class of my favorite religious studies professor. I took so many of his classes that I can't even remember the name of this particular class but I think it's safe to say it was about religion. And on that day, in the last minutes of class, Dr. P proposed a rather interesting question to his group of raggedy 19 year old scholars.

Imagine you will be asked one question at the gates of Heaven, what do you think that question will be?

The responses came slowly at first and then gained traction. Some were funny, some were personal, and some were deeply theological. I remember Dr. P leaning back against the table he had been lecturing from with a big smile on his face. He was clearly reveling in hearing kids with scarcely two decades of life experience to their names distill the meaning of life down to a single question. I don't remember giving an answer myself, even then I was pretty content living with the unknown and not trying to have all the answers. But I enjoyed the banter and I remember waiting to hear how Dr. P would draw the discussion to a close.

He started to gather his papers which was always the signal that class was wrapping up. You could hear papers shuffling and books closing as students began to follow suit. But before everyone could disperse one brave teenage soldier dared to ask, "But, Dr. P.... what do you think the question will be?"

He stopped. Looked around for a moment. Looked up. Seemed to take a deep breath and then simply said,

Did you know you were loved?

I've thought about that question many, many times over the years. Knowing Dr. P as I did, I always knew the question wasn't about salvation. It wasn't a test. Having been a pastor and university chaplain for decades he was well acquainted with the kinds of life stories that might lead a person to answer that question with a bitter, "no". It wasn't a question designed to wound, but to heal.

Which is why in time I began to hear the question as a redemptive one. I came to hear it as, Did you know you were loved? And then, gently, the next question would be, Do you know it now? 

And that's how I heard it for a long time. But lately I've been hearing that question in a different way.

In the past few weeks as I have left one child (who is not so child-like anymore) two states away, and have been helping another one make decisions about his future and where he might land as he takes off a year from now, that question has taken on a new tone. Suddenly, the question I have carried in my soul for over 20 years has a new voice.

It is the voice of a parent. A father. A mother. It is the voice of the one who has loved you most of all, who has always wanted the best for you, but has sometimes had to stand silently by while you stumbled through heartache, missteps and failure.

Did you know you were loved? 

All those years... When we took turns eating dinner for the first three months of your life because someone had to be bouncing you from 5-8pm every evening to keep you from screaming your little head off...When we made you give up your beloved binky....When we didn't bat an eye about you wearing your pirate costume to the grocery store in the middle of June... When you wore a coat and tie to PreK for three months straight.... When Dad ran around like a crazy person on Saturday mornings trying to coach two soccer teams at the same time... When we drove you to the skatepark hundreds of times... When we went ten rounds over cell phone privileges and responsibility... When we taught you to drive... When we asked you to clear your dishes five thousand times... When you did great things and stupid things and funny things and brave things.... All those years...

Did you know you were loved? 

Do you know how much you still are?

In the end, isn't that the only question that matters?