Running into Gaps

“If this man should fall, who will lift the flag and carry on?”

Those words are spoken near the end of the movie Glory, just before an all-black regiment from Massachusetts marches into battle against a well-manned, well-supplied Confederate fort. A soldier quickly volunteers to take his fallen comrade’s place as a defenseless flag bearer.

To unhesitatingly take another’s position knowing death likely awaits requires commitment and conviction. The easy choice is to do nothing, avoid it, run away – to leave a gap.

We evade responsibilities like this because they’re difficult, posing risk or even danger. But we don’t shy away only in life-threatening scenarios. We carry this aversion toward self-sacrifice into the simplest, most mundane duties of life.

Gap-filling requires selflessness – setting aside personal preferences, giving up time and energy. And, that’s usually my biggest obstacle – willingly laying down my own immediate desires to do what needs to be done to help my family, a friend, or a neighbor.

I’m not talking about massive feats of service that require hours or days of my time, either. I can walk past a full trash can, dishes in the sink, a shirt on the end of the bed, a toy that’s in the way, or shoes I’ve left out and either not see them or completely ignore them. I don’t want to take the necessary time (seconds of my life) and effort (minimal) to fill that gap.

I leave gaps in others’ lives as well when I fail to engage – spending time online instead of with my kids, staying at home instead of going on a date with my wife, avoiding a conversation with a friend, not helping a neighbor.

Sure, it’s tedious and seemingly never-ending. But how might those simple acts bless my wife? My kids? How might rolling my neighbor’s trash can back to his house bless him?

Serving like this is never glamorous, and it’s often thankless. But is that why I serve? For the recognition?

Filling Gaps

“I don’t see it. What’s the attraction?”

“I dunno. It fills gaps, I guess.”

“What’s gaps?”

“I dunno, gaps. She’s got gaps. I got gaps. Together we fill gaps. I dunno.”

That’s one of my favorite scenes from Rocky. While standing in the refrigerated section of a large meat processing facility, Rocky is trying to explain to his friend, Paulie, why he likes Adrian, Paulie’s sister.

The movie pictures Rocky as a thoroughly simple man with simple desires in life. He’s blue collar through and through – hardworking and humble. Others mistake that simplicity for stupidity or incapability. Yet, beneath that simple exterior lies a man of unexpected depth and salt-of-the-earth wisdom. And this scene captures that well. On the surface, Rocky is a man who can only communicate how he feels in only the most elementary terms – filling gaps. In its simplicity, though, he describes an incredibly poignant sentiment. He has gaps that need to be filled – gaps that he can’t fill on his own.

I have gaps, too. In my walk with Christ there are blindspots, weaknesses, and deficiencies, which I can’t fill on my own. God has given me a loving wife to walk alongside me to help me see those gaps. I have brothers and sisters in Christ with whom I commune who sharpen dull edges and smooth out rugged surfaces. I have the Holy Spirit to do the transforming work.

There are also gaps all around me. My wife, my kids, my friends need me to be an intentional, influential, and consistent presence. My church needs me to serve in a way that accords with who God created me to be. My neighbors need me to compassionately engage with them.

None of this gap-filling happens by accident. It requires willing forethought and specific action. I can’t fill my own gaps, but I can open my life to others. Once I slow down to observe the needs around me (a crucial first step!), I have to respond by stepping into those voids.

Observing Well

More than once I’ve walked away from our refrigerator or pantry unable to find what I’m looking for. After confirming with Jill that the item is definitely where it’s supposed to be, I’ll return to find it about 4 inches from my face.

Sadly, I find that same principle holds true when I consider more significant things in my life, especially as it concerns the people around me.

Do I see my neighbor struggling with a task next door?

Does it bother me that my words have been careless and caused hurt?

Do I notice how much of my time is spent absorbed in my own world when I could be playing with my kids or talking with my wife?

Do I care?

Starting Fresh

I remember the first time I wrote something that I thought mattered. It was in my 10th grade English class. Though it was probably worse than I remember, it set me on a trajectory. Maybe it was the words of encouragement I received from my teacher. But I don’t think so. I got satisfaction from creating and using words as my art.

Since that discovery at the age of 16, I have written off and on – at times formally but mostly for myself. Every time, though, it’s been purposeful…at least for me.

For the past 19 years, I’ve worked for a large campus ministry. During that time I’ve written bible studies, devotions, and papers for seminary. I’ve sporadically kept a journal, both handwritten and digitally. I’ve scribbled down thoughts in random notebooks, on pieces of paper, and on sticky notes. I’ve typed away on documents and in various apps.

A blog is another attempt at being consistent and faithful to get thoughts and ideas into physical form.