“Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well (3 John 1:2).”
“The cowards never started
The weak died on the way
Only the strong arrived
They were pioneers.”
In the movie “About Schmidt”, Warren Schmidt is reflecting on his life after visiting a memorial arch to the people who crossed Nebraska to settle the west. Among the other exhibits is a sign with the above quotation.
At the close of the move Schmidt, played by the indubitably great Jack Nicholson, is driving home in his RV from his daughter’s wedding in Denver to Omaha. He went to Denver, not to attend the wedding, but to try to convince his old maid daughter not to marry the loser she intends to wed.
His thoughts are recorded in a letter to a foster child he sponsors in Tanzania.
You’ll be glad to know that Jeannie’s wedding came off without a hitch. Right now, she and Randall are on their way to sunny Orlando, on my nickle, of course. As for me, I’m headed back to Omaha. I’m driving straight through this time, and I’ve made only one stop. The impressive new arch over the interstate in Corney, Nebraska. An arch that commemorates the courage and determination of the pionneers who crossed the state on their way west. You’ve really got to see it to believe it. And it… kind of got me thinking, looking at all that history and, reflecting on the achievement of people long ago kind of put things into perspective. My trip to Denver, for instance is so insignificant compared to the journeys that others have taken, the bravery that they have shown, the hardships they’ve endured. I know we are all pretty small in the big scheme of things. And I supposed the most you can hope for is to make some kind of difference. What… what kind of difference have I made ? What in the world is better because of me ? When I was out in Denver, I tried to do the right thing, tried to convince Jeannie, she was…making a big mistake but…I failed. Now she is married to that nincompoop and there is nothing I can do about it. I am… weak. And I am a failure. There is just no getting around it. Relatively soon, I will die. Maybe in 20 years… maybe tomorrow… It doesn’t matter.Once I am dead, and everyone who knew me dies too, a little, it will be as though I never even existed. What difference has my life made to anyone ? None that I can think of. None… at all. I hope things are fine with you.
Warren has had a tough time of it. He has recently retired, his wife has died, and his sense of purpose has dried up.
One day he sat at home watching TV and saw an ad for the support of African orphans. Warren is moved (and a little bored), and writes a check.
Throughout the movie he poors out his adult thoughts in letters to a six-year old boy. As a woman whom he met at an RV park told him, Warren is sad, lonely and even angry.
Warren, however, has sold himself short. In the movie, despite a few quite human mistakes, he proves his character.
He calls a close friend to tell the man he forgives him for an affair he has discovered his wife was having with him 30 years before. During the wedding reception, he compliments his daughter’s new husband and is completely gracious in a speech he gives.
Even the attempt to strongly dissuade his daughter from marrying is an act of courage. He endures her abuse and anger for his efforts.
Yet, he tried to save her from herself. It is she who has made the choice.
Unbeknownst to Warren, the transparent letters he has been writing to Ndugu have worked a healing he did not know about. As he walks in his office after arriving home, he opens a letter from Tanzania.
It is written by a nun and conveys Ndugu’s pleasure in receiving Warren’s letters. Ndugu wishes his friend a good life and health, and although he can neither read nor right, he has enclosed a “painting”.
The drawing shows a picture of two figures, one adult and the other a child, standing in front of a huge sun ball. They are reaching toward each other and grasping one another’s hand.
Warren begins to cry, then smiles. Nicholson perfectly captures Warren’s emotions and own healing at that point. The movie ends, since there is nothing more to be shown or said.
Early in his own suffering, Job felt as Warren did. He wanted God to kill him. Furthermore, like Warren he considered himself too weak to go on:
“But I do not have the strength to endure. I do not have a goal that encourages me to carry on. Do I have strength as hard as stone? Is my body made of bronze? No, I am utterly helpless, without any chance of success.” (Job 6:11-13, New Living Translation)
Even great athletes sometimes get discouraged when things go wrong. Peyton Manning, the stellar quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts , got very upset when he was recently disabled by neck surgery.
Manning had played in over 200 consecutive games and was a football “Iron Man”. Without him, his team is floundering.
“I walked around for a while angry, in a bad mood. … ‘Woe is me,'” Manning told The Indianapolis Star on Friday. “I’ve gotten over that. It doesn’t do any good. I’m learning to deal with it and trying to have a good attitude. I’m not walking around looking for any pity party.” (from NFL.com)
What seems to be helping Manning is that he does indeed have a goal:
“I do hope to get healthy, and when I’m healthy and cleared to play, I want to be out there,” Manning said. “This is new to me.”
Health is a great goal. I have determined that this is my aim for the coming year as well.
This summer as I sat in the midst of a group of pastors, elders and a pastoral intern, the latter of all people made the most poignant statement about what my objective should be. To paraphrase, he said I needed to do the things that lead to health.
At the time of that meeting, different areas of my life were in poor condition. One of the unsound aspects has led me away from my family in the coming year. This intern’s comments, brief and almost drowned in the statements of the others in the room, were the most significant of all.
What will give meaning to my life in the coming months is to get healthy: physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, financially. The list could go on.
With this end in mind, I hope to give my life new energy. When I reach my aims, I want God to be up there like the Spanish language broadcaster who, after a score in a soccer match, yells into the micophone:
I suspect He will. I bet I’ll get a letter or a postcard from God that heals my soul.