The Peace…of Paper

April 15, 2021

by Ken Jones

I have a friend, Rich, whose quiet, reflective, manner makes him a wonderful person to talk to. When I’m around him, the impression I get is that he actually thinks before he speaks—a rare thing in humans—and then, when he does speak, his words are distilled, salient and worth listening to. I like to hear him talk. He challenges me to grow. Several months ago, I asked him when we could get together for lunch.

“I don’t know. Let me take a look,” he said. He reached in his shirt pocket and pulled out an eight-and-a-half by eleven-inch sheet of yellow, lined paper, which he unfolded and began to examine. The paper looked well-worn and covered with notations and hand-drawn lines.

I asked him what it was.

“Oh, this is a little calendar system I’ve made up for myself to keep track of important details and my schedule for the next four months.”

“Four months? You’ve gotta be kidding me,” I said, as I examined his “system” more closely. He had divided the front and backsides of the paper into halves, with each half page representing a month. He divided each of those half-page months into columns and rows, forming thirty little boxes, each box representing one day. They were evenly drawn, symmetrical boxes and all of them had one thing in common—a postage stamp. Every day’s box was about the size of a postage stamp.

As I peered over his shoulder examining the piece of paper that represented Rich’s calendar for the next four months, I noticed his squished and scrunched handwriting in several of the boxes. “Man, that’s tiny writing. You must have to really work at getting everything into a box. How in the world do you get four months of your busy schedule and things you need to do on that one sheet of paper…and what happens if you have several things to do on the same day?” I asked.

“Oh, I run into that a lot,” he said as he finished writing down our luncheon appointment, folded his paper and put it back in his shirt pocket. “Yeah, that happens a lot, but I work at disciplining myself to only write down the most important things. I don’t worry about the rest.”

Well, I do—worry about the rest of it, I mean. I worry about little pieces of paper with phone numbers on them. They drive me nuts, and they seem to multiply on my desk. I control those pesky pieces of paper by transferring the information from the little notes into my smartphone. It doesn’t have a handle, but it has a firm grip on me and my life. I carry it with me nearly everywhere I go, because if I don’t have it, I feel as if I don’t know where to go. I write down virtually every detail of my life and ministry in that smartphone: dates with my wife, what to pick up at the grocery store, ideas for stories, people I need to write letters to, teaching ideas…and all my appointments. They all go into my smartphone.

This week, I’ve been replaying in my head the tape of my conversation with my friend, Rich. I can picture him standing there looking at that eight-and-a-half by eleven-inch yellow sheet of paper that represents four months of his life. One hundred and twenty boxes, all of them exceedingly small. He has to make important, sometimes difficult decisions about what to make room for in his day.

So do I.

No smartphone will be smart enough to tell me what’s important. In the grand scheme of things, each day of my life is smaller than a postage stamp. Not a lot of room for non-essentials. The responsibility for maintaining focus and order in my life is a constant struggle, so it would do me well to pay attention to what I cram into that box called “every day.” My experience is that divine appointments are rarely written down. They come along as I find my agenda and origin in Him and His priorities. Try as I might, I will never squeeze the peace of God into any smartphone, or onto any tiny piece of paper…no matter how fast I run, or how small I try to write.

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