A little over seven months ago, I received a phone call from my younger brother. He called late one night to ask a favor of me. He wanted me to call him early the next morning.
When I agreed to do that, I followed with a question: “Why are you asking me to do that?” He then went on to say that he was not feeling well, and he wanted to make sure that somebody would know it if he did not wake up in the morning.
My brother lives alone, has no wife or children, and no one to really check up on him on a regular basis. I then told him that if he felt that badly he should get himself to the hospital immediately! He did that and soon realized he was having a stroke, even as he and I had been talking earlier.
That phone call on that Thursday night in December reminded me of a story I had come across some years ago regarding a man in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
One November day in 2002, Jim Sulkers, a 53-year-old retired municipal worker, climbed into bed, pulled the covers up, and died. Nearly two years later, on August 25, 2004, police who had been called by concerned relatives entered Sulkers’ apartment and found his body in a mummified state.
Everything else in his tidy one-bedroom apartment was intact, although the food in his fridge was spoiled and his wall calendar was two years out of date.
In attempting to discover the “why” of this death, authorities found that Mr. Sulkers’ death went undiscovered for several reasons: he was reclusive, estranged from family members, and had a medical condition that prevented his body from decomposing and emitting odors. In addition, automatic banking deposited his disability pension and withdrew his rent, utilities, and other expenses as they came due.
The question that came to my mind as I read that story was, “How on earth could someone, even in our generation, be so very much alone that he could just pull up the covers over his head and die, and no one would notice for two years?”
One expert on media and technology and the twenty-first century, after commenting that technology has enabled people to remain ‘virtually alive’ even after dying, emphasized the point by saying “What we have here is a serious lack of community.” I was grateful that my brother thought enough about his own situation to make sure that did not happen to him.
Dun and Bradstreet surveyed 1,200 executives who had been fired from their jobs. They were seeking answers to the question, “Why do executives fail?”
They discovered that these executives were not fired for their lack of marketing savvy, product knowledge, or financial understanding. Over 85% of these executives were fired from their job because of their poor relationship skills. They could not get along with people.
Is such a thing possible today? Wouldn’t it be a tragedy for someone in your church or even your circle of friends to go for two years and no one would call or check up on her?
And yet, somehow in this coronavirus era, where isolation has become the name of the game, every aspect of our society has struggled with losing an all-important sense of “community,” the sense of relationships, the idea of what it takes to get along with and work beside one another.
The early church in the book of Acts in the New Testament seemed to understand that. We read in Acts 2:46-47 how they were with one mind, being together, working together, and God was honoring their sense of community and relationships.
He made that same provision for us as well. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, we read how important everyone is to the entire body of Christ, how the smaller and weaker members of the body are every bit as important to the proper functioning and the health and vitality of the body as the larger and stronger members are.
The point of the whole matter is that nothing – absolutely nothing – happens outside of relationships, including our need for Christ and for one another.
In one of his books, Rick Warren tells the story of Liz Curtis Higgs. This lady was one of the best-known disc jockeys in America, and she lived quite a wild lifestyle without God.
She had gone through relationships with men like water, and having been hurt by so many so often, she became a militant feminist. But she had a Christian girlfriend who kept inviting her to church. One day after many invitations, she decided to go to church with her friend.
That week, the pastor just happened to be teaching on the Bible verse that says, “Wives submit yourselves to your husbands.”
Ms. Higgs got a little uptight, a little ticked, a little angry. But she continued to listen, as he continued with the next verses which say, “And husbands—you sacrifice yourself; you give yourself for your wives just as Jesus Christ sacrificed himself for the church and died for her.”
Who is asked to give their life up? The husband.
When Liz heard that part, she leaned over to her friend and said with a little cynicism, “I’d gladly give myself to any man if I knew he would die for me.”
And her friend leaned over and said, “Liz, there is a man who loved you enough to die for you. His name is Jesus Christ. That’s how much he loves you.” Not long after that that Liz dropped her guard, surrendered her life to God in love, and became a believer.
Because of her relationship with her friend, today she is a well-known Christian author and speaker.
I am so glad that my wife and I can be there for my brother. It is true: nothing happens outside of relationships. Everyone makes a difference!
No one stands alone! You are important to God and to God’s family!
God bless …
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the News Journal and a former pastor in the area. He may be reached at [email protected].