Listening to an audio book by Wendell Berry I heard an interesting phrase. This author was developing a character in the story and saying that he was one of the best basketball players in town. The next line went something like this, “But if you subtracted the basketball player John from the whole man John, there wasn’t much left.”
Wow! what a way to develop a character. Saying, “He was not good at anything else but basketball” gets the same point across but is boring. The writing was good and I was enjoying the book. As I pondered the author’s means of character development, the language of subtraction became real to me.
“What is left of me if things are subtracted,” I thought. Subtract the working man David from the whole man David and what’s left? Is there much there? Is there anything left for my family? Is there any part of David left to serve the church?
These are good questions to ask oneself. I’m not arguing for “balance” in life. There are seasons in life where the focus on education or work or political involvement will take more of our time. There are seasons of home-building, seasons of child-rearing, and seasons of quiet. A time for everything. The point is not for me to divide my time equally; 40 hours work, 40 hours home, 40 hours serving at church, 40 hours working in the community, 40 hours…oops, I’m out of hours for the week.
The point to ponder is whether one thing in our lives is so dominant that we have neglected other important things. And in the process we become less. Subtracting the things that consume our time, are we left with any substance. Do we have any form and weight to our lives if we take away certain things? If my job is taken from me, will I still be a man? If I lose my home, will I live on? If my political party fails, what is left of me?
When any part of me is taken away, may more be found. May the subtracting only reveal the layers of the man.