As I've aged, I have begun to learn an important secret about life -- Life events tend to come full circle. People I met ten or twenty or thirty years ago, and haven't seen since, will occasionally cycle back through my life. Relationships I walked away from twenty years ago will sometimes become critically important to me. Folks I judged as "losers" in my distant past somehow turn into "winners" through the intervening years, leaving me to regret that I ever passed judment on them at all.
People change. We are continually remaking ourselves, being born anew. We seldom remain as we are. The bridges I burn today, I have learned, may be the very bridges I need to cross tomorrow.
Do you need examples? Here are some true ones, from my life: In my college days, when I was first a youth minister, one of the junior-high boys had the worst attitude. He was arrogant, difficult to deal with, didn't get along with any of the other kids, and (one time) he even started a fist-fight with another boy DURING SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASS! Yes, that was one tough kid. I didn't have much to do with him, didn't hang out with him, didn't stop by his home to visit. I just ignored that kid; thinking I could better invest my ministry efforts with "less hardened" teenagers. And where is that kid now, after 30 years? He works directly for Bill Gates, and pulls in more salary in a year than I'll make in my lifetime. I sometimes wish I had maintained that particular relationship.
I had a friend back in my high-school days; he was lucky to pull C's and D's on his report card. He was a nice kid, and one of my better friends. We graduated high school; I went to college and he took a job in a local machine shop. After ten years in that machine shop, he decided he didn't want to do that work the remainder of his life. Even though he was married and had children, he enrolled at the local college, studying to be a police officer. He never made a police officer, however. He discovered he loved learning so much he finished the Bachelor's degree and immediately started working on his Master's degree. Then he completed his PhD. He enjoyed learning so much, in fact, he has never left the university, and is now employed as a Vice-President of that same university. I had the occasion to telephone him last year, needing some advice on problems my son was having during his college career. I'm GLAD I maintained that relationship.
A famous preacher, John Donne, once wrote, "No man is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main ... Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee!"
I came across an interesting story which illustrates my point very well:
"His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer. One day, while trying to make a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and ran to the bog. There, mired to his waist in black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.
"The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman's sparse surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved.
"'I want to repay you,' said the nobleman. 'You saved my son's life.'
"'No, I can't accept payment for what I did,' the Scottish farmer replied, waving off the offer. At that moment, the farmer's own son came to the door of the family hovel.
"'Is that your son?' the nobleman asked.
"'Yes,' the farmer replied proudly.
"'I'll make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level of education my own son will enjoy. If the lad is anything like his father, he'll no doubt grow to be a man we both will be proud of.' And that he did.
"Farmer Fleming's son attended the very best schools and in time, graduated from St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin.
"Years afterward, the same nobleman's son who was saved from the bog was stricken with pneumonia.
"What saved his life this time? Penicillin.
"The name of the nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill ... His son's name? Sir Winston Churchill.
Let us not become weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. And as we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:9-10, KJV)