It had been a long and arduous life, but now he sat in darkness. Wasn’t exactly darkness, but it was a perfect gray of neither black nor light, like a cloudy day that didn’t quite deliver the threat of a thunderstorm. Gray, quiet, still. He breathed a sigh. A weary sigh, with a hint of resignation.
He didn’t know how long he had been sitting there. No one really does. He knew there were millions like him, probably billions, but he was amazed at how uncrowded it was. He could sense the throngs of restless people, hear the quiet mutterings of the masses with the occasional sudden yelp of someone wailing or another in the throws of religious fervor. Most were confused and would prefer to sit and observe. Some were scared and sat wild eyed muttering to themselves or stoically staring straight ahead pretending no one else was there. Some wandered from person to person asking if they knew what was going on.
A minority knew. A very small number would walk up to people purposefully and speak with them intentionally, intently. They would periodically come by him, but after a quick smile, a shake of the hand and some pleasantries, he would say he had already heard the story, believed it, but just wanted to wait. They would thank him for his time and tell him that if he needed anything to let them know. More importantly, if he wanted to join them, they would love to have him.
But he wasn’t in the state of mind. He wasn’t angry or contentious, he just knew he wasn’t the best advocate. He believed, but didn’t think he could be persuasive with his own testimony. There were people better suited, better qualified for that mission. Besides, he wanted to sit and contemplate before the big meeting.
In this gray, time flies. Maybe it is outside of time, but finally there was a big ruckus. And the ruckus was astonishing. At first it was hard to perceive, but slowly, on the horizon the gray changed. It started lightening up slowly, imperceptibly, but the strangeness that he thought was his eyes started manifesting solidly. And as it became brighter, the masses started reacting as well. There was no way to predict who would react the way they did. Some of the religious zealots ran away from the brightness, others ran towards it. The ones that looked scared, started looking hopeful, the stoic ones started showing joy.
He knew then the time had come. People were already segregating themselves, putting themselves where they belonged. He was happy to stay in the gray. He felt the urge to run to the light, the darkness held no call for him, but he was content to wait his turn. He had waited this long, and there were others that were more excited about the events unfolding.
The light stayed on the horizon for what seemed like a long time. But it also didn’t seem like any time at all. He was discussing some nuances about an event he had experienced what now seems eons ago, with several others sitting next to him who had experienced the same event. It was rather fascinating to meet people that had a different perspective of the same thing; their stories were very similar, but with slight variations that made the whole thing more intriguing. It was a horrific event that shaped their lives, perceptions of life and what was ultimately important. Although they each came from different religious upbringings, cultures and languages, their perception of the event was similar, its impact similar and what it meant for them for the remainder of their existence. But there was enough divergence in each story, to make the whole event richer. And more informative. He was in the middle of a thought when a couple of very pleasant men came to him and begged forgiveness for the interruption, but there was a pressing matter that needed his attention. The others all looked at him with varying degrees of excitement and curiosity, but he knew it was his time. He thanked the group, made farewells and joined his escorts as they stepped away from his new friends.
They walked a path left open for them that lead toward the light. It was a straight and narrow path, he noticed as he drew closer to the light, that was thinning in population. There were fewer people than he had remembered going this direction, so it must have been either very quick, or there were fewer people than he thought that made it to the light.
He was lead to a door that looked like any other he would have expected back home. The men smiling gently and welcomingly gestured for him to use the door knob and enter the building. He reached forward with a little trepidation and turned the knob. No sudden bolts of lightning, no chorus of angels, no gentle squeak of a well-used hinge; the door opened and he stepped through.
As he closed the door behind him he noticed that it was completely black with the exception of a bright light descending from some arbitrary point, flooding a small spot on the floor. The floor was a comfortable gray shag, nothing more spectacular than one would find in a mid-range home in the suburbs. Comfortable, but not showy. In the middle of the light were two white, overstuffed leather chairs, each with an end table sporting a glass and a pitcher.
The empty chair sat with the back towards him, the other chair was occupied. He slowly walked forward and watched cautiously as a man lifted himself rather spryly from his chair, set down his glass and walked towards him, stopping at the edge of the light. As he approached the man in the light, he saw that the man was wearing a white polo, pants and shoes. The man had nicely cropped hair, was clean shaven and had the look of being about in his mid-forties. The man wasn’t remarkable in height or weight, but had a presence of calm, warmth and a sincere pleasure at having seen him arrive, as well as a look of intelligence and confidence that can only come from someone of great wisdom. As he neared the light, feeling calmer with every step, the man put his hand forward and, with a soft, but strong smiling voice, said “Welcome, my son. Let’s have a chat.”
Both men took their seats, with the man in white gesturing towards the beaker and glass next to the chair that he took. He was a little parched; he couldn’t imagine the last time he had had something to drink. He poured himself a glass but, as he lifted it to his lips, decided to wait until he was into the conversation a little further.
“Am I to assume that you are him?” he said with a bit of reluctance and unease.
The man chuckled a gentle cluck, all the while looking him in the eyes. “Yes, I am Him. I am your maker, your Father, I am God. You can call me by any name that you feel comfortable with, I am just glad we have this chance to talk about your life. So, please, tell me what you thought?”
He sat there for a minute thinking. This isn’t the God that he had been led to believe would be here. This isn’t the person he imagined Him to be. But it certainly felt right. he felt the love and concern that this man calling himself God felt. He felt he knew him, felt that he had felt Him in his life. Yeah, this is God.
“Well, Father, what can I say. You being omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent know already. All I can say is this: I made my choices, I made my mistakes. I accept the consequences. You know my heart and have seen what I have had to live with and through: thy will be mine.”
God sat back and rested his first finger gently on His chin as he crossed his legs and bounced his foot, all the while looking him in the eye. Slowly he nodded and said “Yes, you are right, I do know. I gave you many gifts. You have had a frustrating and difficult life. You made a lot of bad choices, but you also made a lot of good choices. You always operated to do no harm, but you also violated some of my rules. You sought forgiveness for some, and some you did not because you accepted that they were sins and you chose them anyway. But you have always had a good heart and strived to do the right thing, regardless of who was there or watching, often times not even caring or thinking I was.”
“Yes, Father, I have always tried to do what was best for me and those around me. And yes, I have had a frustrating life. And I question whether those ‘gifts’ were gifts at all.” he said, looking abashed that he dared to contradict God.
God leaned forward, most engaged by this line. “Please, tell me how this is so. I gave you so many things, and you utilized a lot of them, why did they feel like burdens?”
“Father, you gave me these ‘gifts’ with no outlet. I worked hard all my life to utilize these gifts for the betterment of man. I told you that all I wanted to do was serve you through the gifts you gave me. I struggled to capitalize on them by making them bigger than myself so that I could help society as a whole, but every path I took was frustrated. I was never successful, I was a failure all my life. I could have done so much more but didn’t out of little fault of my own. I was angry most my life because with these things you gave me, I had no platform to exploit them. They were a waste and so was my life.”
Again, he had no sense of time, but it seemed liked quite awhile before God spoke again. God sat and contemplated him, not in a way that would make one uncomfortable or feel as if they were in trouble. It was a contemplation of understanding, a choosing of words. A choosing of words for the sake of him, words that God knew would help him understand. He suddenly sat up and leaned forward. He smiled a gentle, fatherly smile, with a hint of mischievousness to it and said to him “You feel that you made no impact. You feel that you didn’t accomplish anything. You feel that your gifts were for naught because you weren’t able to share them with as many people as you knew you could. You felt you failed because you worked so very hard and accomplished none of your goals. That is why you are frustrated, and frustration in you comes out as anger.”
He nodded. That was exactly the point. “Now, Father, I am not asking you a question, I am just telling you how I feel. I am fine with it. I have made my peace. I accept whatever judgment you have. I don’t expect to ever understand, nor would I question your wisdom. I am content to know I did my best, no matter how frustrating it is and was.”
“Ahhhh, but how frustrating an eternal life that is left wondering. You need to know, because you can never appreciate what I have for you if you don’t understand. I want you to have peace. You earned it, through your hard work, your never flagging effort and your sincere desire to do good. How could I, a loving and kind Father, allow you to experience eternity if you have one parcel of vineyard that is not yielding fruit, when it is only because it is in the shade. Allow me to bring your whole vineyard into the light, my son.”
As if they had been there the whole time, the light was suddenly ringed with people. As he got over the initial surprise, he saw that it was his family. Not just his immediate family, but family that went on several rings deep, several generations. All looking toward him with peace and happiness in their eyes.
“Behold your influence. You feel that your life was for naught, a failure because you didn’t influence for the good. But this is your family, each having benefited from your presence in their lives. You see your grandparents, your parents and your siblings. You see your aunts, uncles and cousins. See your children. And their children. Even with them, with the love, acceptance and patience you showed them by breaking the chain of errors on your parents parts, you improved their lives. They never knew the pain you suffered; they knew only love.
“Now see their children, and all the people that they influenced because of your example.” It appeared as if the light had always been big enough to encompass the hundreds of people that were in the room. There was no movement, there was no shuffling, there was just the expansion of people as if they had always been there, just not perceived.
“And now the people that they have influenced as well. You never knew any of these, but they are my children, and your touch in one life has exponentially affected the lives of others.” Still more people in the room. It was becoming jarring.
“I get your point. Father. I did have some impact.”
The Father laughed the laugh of a dad, helping his child try to understand bicycle mechanics, but not quite getting it. “My son, this is just your family. You did well by them, as well as I know you could. But I am not finished. It was not your family that frustrated you, it was the work you performed that you believe had no reward.”
One would think that if they were in a stadium, they would feel the emptiness and hear an echo, but from the moment that he had stepped into the room, a room in a building that didn’t look any larger than a typical, middle-class rambler, he had not heard or felt such a thing. Apparently when one is in God’s house, physics of a mortal’s understanding do not apply. He thought it was silly that he would have that thought, and sniggered to himself as he saw a stadium-sized room filled with people.
He saw thousands. Maybe even hundreds of thousands. And as he gazed and looked about, not feeling in the least overwhelmed or oppressed, he saw faces he knew very well, but on the whole he didn’t recognize many.
God sat patiently watching him look out amongst the crowd. All were looking at him, all were smiling. All had a smile of gratitude and excitement. That was the overwhelming feeling.
“You see your friends, you see your colleagues, but amongst this group of people are those that you met briefly. Everyone is a stepping stone for another in life, no matter how brief their stay. You made it a point to make your impact one of happiness, delight and joy. Each person you treated as a friend, and made them feel special. Each person in turn did the same, many without even realizing it was you that put the Golden Rule into play. Each student went on to teach, and taught with you as an example. Each laborer treated the customer after you with the same inspiration as you treated them. Your life work didn’t have the impact that you felt it should, but through your work, you came into contact with so many and each you treated with love. You failed at accomplishing your goals, but you succeeded splendidly with impacting people. It isn’t who you impact professionally, it is who you impact casually. The least of my children, you loved unconditionally.
“You succeeded. You are a success, and so is your reward in heaven, and was not on earth.”
He stared at God in awe. He felt the beginning of a tear forming in his eyes. He had never been much for emotion, but God knew him, and reached out and placed His hands on his. With the power of love emanating from God, he finally understood.
He finally found peace.