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Attentiveness: Saints

Dr. Scott W. Sunquist


Last week I called a retired missionary who has been in a senior housing facility since March.

She outlived her husband who came within months of making it to 100. She is into her 90s. We have shared prayers and concerns about missionary work for 35 years now. Throughout these years we talked about the church, missionaries, Asian Christian leaders and of course, books (“I just read a fascinating book” she told me…using her large floor mounted magnifying glass).

I guess when you visit someone in their 90s you always think it may be the last conversation. The last time I visited her, about a year ago, she had a hard time seeing me at the door. Recognition only gradually dawned. She slowly got up and walked over using her walker. She had been recovering from a “touch of pneumonia” and was in the hospital for a few days. She still had a troubling cough when I visited.

When I talked to her on the phone last week, she asked a predictable question: “Tell me about the seminary. How is it going?” She cares deeply about seminaries. Now that I am at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, she has taken a special interest in the preparation of missionaries here. And, she always asks about Asian Christian leaders. Her heart is really more in East Asia than in the East Coast of the U.S. where she now lives.

I emailed (18 pt. font) to her a list of prayer concerns; about five items. Knowing that she will pray about these every day and knowing that she seems to have a favored friend status with Jesus, I chose the prayer requests carefully. She was very pleased that I trusted her with these special concerns. “Oh, I am sure I will be able to read these under my magnifying glass,” she reassured me.

Then I asked, “What can we pray for you?”

“Oh, oh, there are so many things. Oh, I don’t know. There are just so many things to pray about. Well there is one thing I would like you to pray about. There are so many people here in this retirement home that don’t know Jesus. We have a Bible study and I talk to a number of people, but please pray for the people here that don’t know Jesus.”

Pneumonia? Failing eyesight? Trouble walking? No, the only thing we really need to pray about is for these people who don’t know Jesus.

Was this clarity? Focus? Conviction? No, I think it was love. After ninety-some years of Christian discipleship and reading the Bible every day, the love of Christ for others dominated her soul. Even earthly pains and problems fade into the background when love so dominates our soul.

It made me think about our students at Gordon-Conwell. Are we, in our teaching, our reports to accreditation officers, discussions about “modes of delivery,” in all of this are we helping students along the path of divine love? Is that even our concern?

Even earthly pains and problems fade into the background when love so dominates our soul.

 

We can’t teach what this retired missionary had become. This kind of attentiveness to her own soul (“What should we pray about; there are so many things to pray about…”) comes from daily patterns of attentiveness to the heart of Jesus. What we can do is point students to models like my missionary friend and remind them that daily patterns shape a soul. We can and should help, but this type of character formation takes a lifetime. The result of such attentiveness to one’s soul is absolutely beautiful. We all want to be with people like my missionary friend. Just being in her presence made me want to be more like her, like Jesus. Empty of frustrations, insecurities and false hopes that lead to anger. At peace. Clearly focused on love for others.

The question for us is how can I become someone like this? What must I do today? And then what must I do day after day after day?

SWS


Scott W. Sunquist, the new President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, writes a weekly blog, “Attentiveness” which is posted each Monday morning on the Gordon-Conwell web site. He welcomes comments, responses and good ideas.