Although it has been 16 years since that day, I remember it vividly. It was Wednesday, September 12, 2001. I had walked outside my house midday and noticed that something was strange. There was something eerie about that beautiful, sunny afternoon. You see, we live in an area where there is constant sound. Specifically, there is almost continuous noise from a variety of jet engines flying over (or at least near) the house. Part of this is because we are not far from Dobbins Air Reserve Base. Part of this is because we live very near Atlanta, a city that boasts of the busiest airport in the world. There is never a day without the sound of airplanes overhead. Yet on that day 16 years ago, it was quiet. Absolutely quiet. Dead quiet.
Thinking back to that afternoon when I stood looking up into an empty azure blue sky, I remember well the preternatural silence. I remember how the local wildlife (birds and squirrels primarily) had taken center stage—I could hear them loudly and clearly. I remember the odd mixture of tranquility and foreboding that I experienced—tranquility because of the complete lack of man-made sound; foreboding because of the reason for that lack of sound. It was one of those relatively rare moments in life (so far, at least) where I felt a mix of diametrically opposed emotions (another one—that was to come many years after that day—was the day when we dropped off our firstborn at college). It was a time when I struggled to make sense of what was happening, and a time when I was at a loss as to how to respond. I believe that was true for all of us here in the US. It was a time not only of national suffering, but also of national reflection.
Reflection is a good thing. Reflection, in fact, is a very good thing. It is critical for our maturity as individuals for us to reflect upon the lives we have lived so far, in order that we live well—and live better!—in the future. Reflection by itself, however, is ultimately meaningless. In fact, reflection alone is beyond meaningless—it usually leads to some very dark places. What I mean is this: reflection is not intended to be an end in and of itself. Rather, reflection is intended to motivate us to do a couple of things. First of all, by honest reflection we are able to determine what is good and holy and proper in our lives, and this for the purpose of doing more and more of that which is good and holy and proper. Second, reflection helps us to come face to face with areas in which we are weak. This is not for the sake of dragging us down (although it is definitely a healthy necessary exercise in humility). Instead, this is so that we will recognize where we are short, and where we are tempted, so that we will learn to focus more clearly in areas where we are strong, and so that we will be better equipped to avoid that which brings us grief and temptation. It is so that we will grow, that we will realize that we have value, and that we will leverage that value for the sake of the kingdom.