Remembrance of opportunities lost

We all carry regrets from the past. What we cannot fix, we try to forget. Sometimes, though, the memories linger for a while; they refuse to be lost in the mists of time now expired.

I remember a college cheerleader—I’ll call her Lori. One summer she and I were among the first students to return to campus for the new school year. We first crossed paths at an all-campus party for returning students. I happened across this party by accident and remained at the edge, not wanting to be surrounded by the crowd. Somehow, Lori and I noticed each other and began a conversation. The conversation continued back at my dorm room. (Nothing else happened; we merely talked.) She encouraged me to attend a scrimmage the school’s football team was holding the next day. Because of her invitation, I went to the scrimmage. It seemed odd to me—the team was recreating the closing minutes of the game they had lost to our biggest rival at the end of last season. They were experimenting to see what might have happened with our new quarterback in charge of the offense’s final drive in the place of last year’s quarterback. The scrimmage was designed to turn into a pep rally (celebrating the win that might have happened but didn’t); the pep rally included a meal, and Lori asked me to attend, but I declined. I wanted to get back to my room and finish unpacking, and I wanted to see if my roommate and other friends had arrived. Although some of my roommate’s possessions were in the room, he was not around when I returned, but a couple of other friends were there. While we visited, Lori dropped in again. I meant to introduce her to my friends, but somehow—in the confusion of the moment—introductions were not made. Instead, I pulled out a wooden box I had made that summer. Picturing it in my hands today, it would have made a nice cage for a cricket or other large insect. One of my friends asked if it was made from toothpicks, and I answered no, that it was made from splinters pulled off an old railroad tie. I did not say this, but I was thinking that no cheerleaders had been around to encourage my work on this piece of art. It seems that somehow Lori read my mind, because she suddenly ran out of the room, sobbing. At that instant, I was torn—I wanted to go to her, to comfort her, to have her come back so I could introduce her to my friends and make her part of the group. At the same time, I was reluctant to leave my friends for her, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to say to her. Before I could resolve the dilemma, I awoke.

Yes, this was all a dream and Lori, like the wooden art project, was only a creation of my dream mind. She didn’t even have a name in the dream; she was only “the cheerleader.” But the regret I felt was real. I appreciated our brief friendship, I wanted that friendship to continue to grow, and I hated the knowledge that I had hurt her feelings, even if it was only in my thoughts and in my dream.

I didn’t mention the earlier parts of the dream in which I visited a classroom where I had earlier taught a class, spoke with some of the students in that classroom, watched the new professor hand out candy and pizza to the students, then left and tried (but failed) to find my car in the parking lot, all of which led to the party where I met the cheerleader. I’ve been having (and remembering) a lot of dreams this year that are like this dream—vivid, filled with related happenings as well as people and places, and often shaping my feelings for the entire day following the dream. These dreams may be due, at least partly, to medications I am taking, but they obviously come from my own mind. I dream about people I remember—family and friends and coworkers, including some who have died, others who I haven’t seem for years, and some I still see nearly every day. At times the dreams are so vivid and realistic that I confuse them for memories of actual events or scenes from movies I’ve recently watched. (Did I recently see a deer, dream about a deer, or watch a movie that included a deer. That’s right—the deer was in last night’s movie.) In no way do I consider my dreams to be messages from God or predictions of the future. Dreams are mental problem-solving devices, managing hopes and fears, often in symbolic ways. But I still feel bad about upsetting Lori. If I could, I would let her know that I am sorry and that I still want us to be friends. J.

Contentment, part two

God says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17).

Luther explains, “What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.”

Salvageable adds: Some things belong to our neighbors because they were bought with money. Other things, living things, are attached to our neighbors by loyalty and not only by money. Envying a relationship is as wrong as envying a possession, because such envy reveals that we neither love our neighbor nor trust God to give us all that is good for us.

If you are unmarried, you have the right to become married. But do not end another marriage to find for yourself a wife or a husband. Do not even think about what it would be like to be married to a person who already is married to someone else. You can be friends, if that person is willing to be your friend, but in your friendship continue to support that person’s marriage.

If you wish to hire a worker, advertise the job opening and choose your new worker from those who apply for the job. Do not target or recruit the workers of your competitors or hire someone for the purpose of robbing that person from the competition. Hire the best workers that apply for your job, and do not even think about how to steal away the people who are working for your competitors.

If you need work animals, such as oxen and donkeys, go ahead and obtain them honestly. Do not steal them from your neighbor or trick your neighbor into letting them work for you. Do not even think about how you can take away your neighbor’s ox or donkey. Instead, if your neighbor’s work animal is wandering, lead it home. If it is lost and you do not know who owns it, advertise that you have found a missing animal, and take good care of it until your neighbor arrives to claim it.

Of course this applies to pets as well as to work animals. You can be kind to your neighbor’s dog or cat or exotic pet. Do not try to win its loyalty away from your neighbor by your kindness or your treats. The old ploy, “This dog followed me home from school—can we keep it?” is dishonest. It is far better to tell that dog to “go home,” to stay with its owner and do its duty.

An additional relationship is not mentioned by God or by Luther, but I think it is covered also under “anything that belongs to your neighbor.” That relationship is friendship. We all need friends, but we should not try to steal friends away from other people, whether by lies and gossip or by promising better rewards for our friendship. Bitter competition for friendship peaks during junior high and senior high years, but the feelings that provoke that competition never disappear. Most of us simply become better at hiding our feelings, and the rest become better at manipulating people without their efforts being obvious.

One relationship we never need to avoid coveting: our relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the timeless God, so he has enough time for each of us. He also has enough love for each of us. He has enough forgiveness to cover all of our sins. No matter how tightly we cling to him, we cannot rob him away from anyone else. He is always with us, always quick to forgive our sins because of the price he already paid to remove them. He wants us to be content in our relationship with him. He even wants us to tell other people about him so he can have the same relationship with them. Although the devil and the sinful world try to entice or force us away from Jesus, they cannot succeed, because nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. J.