Pay Attention and Remember Who You Are
This summer I read Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt. It is a book for upper elementary or middle school students and is a delightful read. As with most of Schmidt’s books, this book is more than it seems.
The story begins with the Butler’s arrival at the chaotic house of a family of 5 on the first day of school. What could go wrong is going wrong and there is more to come.
Slowly but surely, the Butler takes the chaos in hand and begins to straighten it out. He becomes the foundation, the rock the family depends on as heartache turns to tragedy and we realize things could go either way, especially for Carter Jones.
And this story is an example of what to do when life goes off the rails.
What do we do when life goes off the rails? Where do we head and what do we cling to? Daily the Butler reminds the four children to pay attention and remember who you are.
So, how is that to work in our lives?
As God’s image bearers (remember Genesis 1:27) we need reminders that first and foremost we are his children, children who bear his image. This is true of us before we made an A in English, graduated from college, took a position as a doctor, lawyer or Indian chief. Regardless of our career path, who we are impacts what we do and how we live. This is the remember who you are part. This calls us to know who is our foundation and our rock as life goes off the rails.
As to the pay attention part, what are we to pay attention to? We are to pay attention to where God is at work. In this story Carter Jones’ family is falling apart as they learn their deployed father is not returning home. He is not returning home because he has formed another home and family whom henceforth, he will be living with. And this fact is added to the underlying story of the recent death of Carter’s younger brother. As these heartaches unfold, Schmidt provides a real English butler, who will lead this family into another way of living, another way of life despite the tragedies of their story.
My favorite snippet of this book follows. The Butler begins the conversation.
“The living of your life is hard work, young Master Carter. You must actively choose what to do.
You may act the gentleman or the barbarian.
These are the only two choices? [Carter replies]
Yes, said, the Butler, the only two.”
And so, it is for us. The only two choices, to be the gentleman who reflects the image of Christ or to be the barbarian as we live in this world. And at times it is a hard choice, in fact a very hard choice. And it is an unfair choice, as others who don’t make the choice we do, who choose the barbarian way and life seems the better for it. But wait. Wait and pay attention because the final words are not yet written, but are known by God. And it is clinging to His promise, to trust in what we don’t yet see, that increases our capacity to be the gentle person.
When we pay attention to where God is working, like the butler in this story, when we actively choose what is good, what is loving, what offers grace, what builds character, what expresses mercy, what shows patience, what is life giving, our choices reflect living in His kingdom. And when we do this regardless of how others treat us, this is the living of a different kind of life. This is the image following, Christ training way of life that says, nevertheless I will pay attention, remember who I am and make the good choice, choosing to be a gentle person because Christ lives in me.
So, who will you choose to be today? A gentle, loving image bearer or a barbarian? In the short run the latter seems easier, but in the long run it is the former that will train and teach us how to bear His image with glory. And it is there that we “pay attention and remember who we are”, as we live in the Kingdom of God here and now.