Tony Woodlief | Author


I’ve been working on contentment, which mostly means I’ve been praying for God to help me be content in whatever circumstances I find myself, then griping at him when I face trials that might help me learn contentment. But I’m trying, I swear. Those of you who know me know that my life thus far hasn’t been what I’d planned. Maybe no one’s is, and maybe that’s for the best, for most of us, given what a mess we tend to make of things.

The point is, I’ve been sick for a couple of weeks now, flu followed by “walking pneumonia,” which is a funny saying because I haven’t really felt like walking anywhere. Some of you who know me well know that I am a worst-case scenario thinker, which will work out swimmingly in the event of apocalypse, but otherwise leads to gloomy thinking. So as I was mired in this illness that has been reluctant to leave my bones, I imagined dying.
St Roch Cemetery Merci
I mean, it’s going to happen, you know. To most of you as well. So I ponder it. In lingering illnesses past, my death thoughts have been to hope it’s not upon me yet, because I have important things to do. There’s an underlying sense that I have within me some greatness yet to be manifested. God would be cheating me and the world, in other words, if he were to yank me from this mortal coil too soon.

But as I lay not dying but contemplating dying, I took stock with perhaps a more measured eye. My children need me, this woman who married me despite all my failings and brokenness needs me, but am I indispensable? There’s nothing I will give them that God can’t give them a thousandfold. I have no great wisdom, no holy practices, certainly no worldly wealth to offer. But I love them. How I love them. Yet God can replace even that, because he, of course, loves them more, and he governs all things, whereas I’ve been doing well these past couple of years just to govern myself.

What of my work? Does my company need me? I like to think I’m valuable, but certainly I’m replaceable. With some difficulty, mind you, especially if the you reading this happens to be my boss. But still.

Yes, but my art. Surely there is some great book I will write? I have written a couple that I hope have some beauty in them, but greatness? I don’t even know what that means any more. Whatever greatness is, I doubt it resides in my head or heart.

But here’s the thing: This is good. It’s better than good. See, because God doesn’t need me for anything he wants to get done in this world, not even the things most important to me, like taking care of my babies and my wife, like penning a sentence that makes someone sigh, like speaking a little of the kind of truth that makes people hiss. I am essential to none of this. I am unnecessary to creation.

Better still, I deserve nothing. Lying, cheating, grumbling lump of self-obsessed narcissistic preening egotistical futility that I have been, I dare not claim one more second of breath, one more dollar of income, one more child’s hug.

And yet, here I am. It’s all a gift, do you see? Every hour from this one forward is an absolute mercy. And if that doesn’t bring a man to believe in the unquenchable love of God, well, I don’t know what will.

In his novel, Peace Like a River, Leif Enger’s narrator, Reuben Land, reflects on what he’s wanted, what he’s lost, what might yet be coming in his life. “Fair is,” he concludes, “whatever God wants to do.”

I didn’t always think so, but now I say: Amen.

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