What makes the world go 'round

Saturday, September 9, 2006

I believe you are your work. Don't trade the "stuff" of your life (time) for nothing more than dollars. That's a rotten bargain.

Measuring our lives merely (or even mainly) in terms of dollars earned is incredibly superficial. Yet how tempting it is to use money as a prime measuring stick. In the musical "Cabaret," the song "Money Makes the World Go 'Round" has these lyrics:

A mark, a yen,

a buck or a pound,

a buck or a pound,

a buck or a pound,

Is all that makes the world go around,

that clinking clanking sound,

Can make the world go 'round.

Money is important. I'd be lying to say otherwise. However, there are people who show us by their actions that there are motivators in life other than what can be put in a wallet, a purse or a bank account.

This past Wednesday morning, I happened to be at Southeast Missouri Hospital visiting a patient. On my way out, I spotted one of the hospital's many volunteers, Alene Matthews, manning the desk of the surgical waiting room. In that room, loved ones and friends sit and wait for word about the outcome of medical procedures. Tension and worry are abundant in such places. A kind face, a gentle word, an attitude of helpfulness, go a long way when people are hurting. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: Alene, how long have you been here this morning?

Alene: Since 6 a.m.

Me: Well, you ought to get paid for coming out that early!

Alene: I do get paid. Every day somebody thanks me for what I'm doing. That's my payment.

We all know that the world is built on the backs of people who freely give of their time; our culture is dependent on men, women and children who are willing to do things for a nonfinancial reward. The late C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) -- author of such works as "Mere Christianity" and "The Screwtape Letters," and writer of the Chronicles of Narnia that my children (among so many others) have enjoyed -- believed that the reality of shared suffering is a motivator stronger than money. Lewis once wrote, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our consciences, and shouts in our pains. (Pain) is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

The pain and suffering of others pull us away from parallel play in our own private sandboxes and push us into the common playground of hurt.

Jesus of Nazareth, who lived at a subsistence level during his earthly ministry, once spoke of the notion of motivation.

"Do not lay up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moth and rust destroy … but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven … for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew. 6:19-21)

To all the Alenes out there -- and there are many -- thank you for showing us how to build up a different kind of treasure than can be measured in a bank statement.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies, and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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