by J. Ellsworth Kalas
When the apostle Paul urges us to imitate him as he imitates Christ, I’m ready to get in line as an earnest imitator. Nevertheless there’s a place where I have to part company with him. It’s during his rousing valedictory to Timothy when, in the language of the King James Version, he declares, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
I’m with him all the way on fighting a good fight and on keeping the faith, but I drop by the wayside when he says he has finished his course. I’m sure that when the Lord calls me home I will explain that I need a few more days — well, weeks, actually — to take care of my unfinished business. I’m not near finishing the course.
Several years ago I tried to determine when I first began falling behind. It was somewhere in the eighth grade. It wasn’t school work that did it, though of course my school assignments were a contributing element. It was about that time that I began having interests and ambitions and visions beyond my ability to accomplish. That’s when I began noting books that I hoped to read someday, and particular ideas that I wanted to pursue. I began making lists, and eventually began losing the lists, which of course added to my sense of failure.
Along the way I realized that I encouraged some of the unfinished business because it stimulated me. It was a high moment of my early ministry when I received what was then a complimentary copy of a little black annual from the United Methodist Publishing House, the Daily Suggester. Thus when someone asked me to speak at their church several weeks or months hence, I entered the future date with exhilaration. I was somehow excited that now I was behind in my work. This has taken on new proportions in more recent years, when I’ve been blessed with the privilege of writing for publication. When an editor talks or corresponds with me about doing a book, the high moment is when I ask, “When will you want the finished manuscript?” I can hardly tell you the rush of joy I feel when I enter in my planning book the date of this unfinished business.
But other forms of unfinished business are less of a blessing. When will I re-organize my book cases in my study at home, or in my office at the seminary? And what about those piles of letters, printed emails, notes to myself, assorted clippings from ancient periodicals that I‘m planning to file? I go through the nearest of these piles from time to time, organizing new piles of urgency: those I will deal with this week, those for next week, those by year’s end, and those I hope to complete before our Lord returns or otherwise takes me home.
I’m making progress. I’m sure I am. But I rarely finish a letter without thinking of two other people I’d like to write for one reason or another. Whoever you are, it’s very likely that you’re on my list. I plan to write you someday, though I’ve forgotten why.
So, as much as I like Paul, I have to leave out his electric phrase when I quote his words to Timothy. In truth, I have a feeling that when our Lord calls me home, some Associate of Heavenly Affairs will be waiting to greet me. It will be with a grand smile. “We’re so glad to see you. We’ve assigned you to the Committee on Unfinished Business. You are Chair of the Sub-Committee on Good Intentions.”
I’ll feel right at home.