The Little Things
For the past nine and a half months, my wife Jackie and I have been a home sponsor to Stephen Popadich, a young man that has been enrolled in 24/7, a personal growth, leadership, and ministry program offered by the Church of the Highlands here in Birmingham.
Having Stephen in our home has been an absolute blessing for Jackie and me, in more ways than I would even attempt to describe. He’s become a part of our family during his time with us, and neither of us has been looking forward to the day when he leaves us to head back to his home in North Carolina.
That day, sadly, is today. While both of us are excited for, and proud of, Stephen as he prepares to launch a 24/7 program for his church this August, we are saddened by his departure. I think that in some ways we’re reminded of the days that our sons Brian and Christian left home.
Today, as I reflect on Stephen’s time with us, I don’t want to talk about his departure. Instead, I want to talk about something that his arrival brought into our home.
24/7 is a rigorous program that strengthens the mind, body, and soul. Though I’ve never been in the military, I would liken 24/7 to a spiritual version of boot camp.
As with all programs of this nature, 24/7 came with a bunch of rules! Dress codes, curfew, promptness, and submitting to spiritual authorities were among a long list of do’s and don’ts given to the students.
I’ve always believed that in order to be an effective leader, one must first learn to be a follower. Bearing that in mind, I was of the opinion that the curriculum and rules given to the students would definitely increase the odds of doing exactly that.
There were a couple of rules, however, that I didn’t totally understand…
First, the kids (well, they’re actually young adults ranging from their late teens to middle twenties) couldn’t watch an R rated movie (or worse, of course). At first glance, you might think that there would still be a host of popular movies for them to watch, and you would be correct in your thinking. But you’d also be surprised (at least I was) at the number of box office hits that were on the forbidden list because of “adult content”, i.e. violence, partial nudity, language, etc.
Secondly, secular music (classified as any music other than sacred, or church) of any kind was completely out of bounds! I have to tell you, I could understand some hip hop, rap, heavy metal, and reggae music being questionable. But all secular music? I found that to be a bit extreme.
Like I said, I didn’t understand the why of some of the rules, but it wasn’t my program, and I wasn’t one of the students, so what difference would it make to me in regards to what they could or couldn’t watch or listen to?
When Jackie and I made the decision to be home sponsors last July, we also made a commitment to our yet unnamed student to offer more than just room and board. We viewed home sponsorship as not only a means of serving God and our church, but more importantly as an opportunity to be mentors to an individual that had set aside ten months of his life to grow in Christ.
We also wanted, with his permission, to share his journey with him. Something told us that in doing so we would somehow be served in our attempts to serve this young man. It’s what I like to refer to as “being blessed by be a blessing to others.”
Sharing that journey with him included observing many of the rules that were placed upon him, including what we watched and what we listened to.
So, beginning on September 1st of last year, few, if any R rated movies were viewed in our home, and nothing but worship music was played in our home or in our car. It didn’t matter if Stephen was around or not; we honored what he was going through because that was part of our commitment to him.
Well, to quote authors Shevelove and Gelbart, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Our home became even more peaceful than it was before. The absence of questionable language and music in our home filled me with a sense of, not necessarily being in a church, but being in a safe haven…a sanctuary, if you will. Taking those things out of our home made more room for God’s presence in it, or at least it did for me.
And something else happened that I want to share with you; but first, a confession. I used to have this really bad habit of cursing, especially when I was angry. When I began this “walk” a couple of years ago, I made a conscious effort to…no, it was more than that…I made a promise to myself to quit cursing.
I wasn’t applying for sainthood or anything like that. I wasn’t trying to be better than anyone else. And I didn’t believe that cursing would keep me out of heaven. It’s just that among the many things that I strive for each day is to be Christ-like, and I have a hard time believing that Jesus ever cursed, even casually or in fun, so I didn’t want cursing to be a part of my vocabulary. I want to remove any barriers that stand between me and God, and I believe that cursing, for whatever reason, is one of those barriers.
Well, through the years I’d almost totally eliminated cursing. Almost, because every once in a while I’d let something fly, not because it accomplished anything, but because, I don’t know, old habits die hard. And because, for a split second, I took my eyes off of God.
So all this time that Stephen had been with us, and we weren’t watching questionable movies or listening to secular music, I hadn’t cursed. Call it a coincidence, if you’d like.
The calendar year for the 24/7 program ended on Saturday, May 29th, and with it, all of the mandatory rules for the students. That following Monday night we watched an R rated movie. No violence. No nudity. Definitely contained questionable….check…make that “definitely contained offensive” language.
I don’t know how Stephen felt about the situation, but I was a bit embarrassed by it, but didn’t have the nerve to say anything. Knowing him, he probably felt the same way.
Here’s the worst part: The very next day I probably cursed three or four times. Oh, I didn’t really say anything that bad, but the fact remains that I cursed. Trying to downplay it would be like saying that God doesn’t mind me hitting someone if I don’t hit them that hard.
The good part about all of this is that I feel so badly about it what I did. What some may consider being a small offense against God was, curiously enough, a huge offense against me. I was ashamed of the fact that I had cursed, and if there is such a thing as “good shame”, well, that’s exactly what I felt.
Will I ever watch another R rated movie? Probably so. Will I ever curse again? As much as I’d like to tell you that I never will, I’ve learned to never say never.
And I’ve learned yet another valuable lesson in life…
There are rules in life that we may not understand, or completely accept. We may even question the reason for their existence, or how they could possibly apply to us.
Perhaps they’re there to help us in our walk. Perhaps they help us to become better people. Perhaps, just perhaps, they help us to pay attention to the little things; the little things that help make us big.
See you next week.