In the Spring of 2020, I was 69 years old, and while many people were dealing with COVID, four different types of cancer had been discovered lurking in two different parts of my body. After four surgical procedures, androgen suppression therapy, and a total of 50 days in two different sequences of radiation therapy, in early 2021, doctors assured me they had done all they could, and believed I had a pretty good chance of living for a few more years. Great news, but I was a physical and emotional wreck. Lack of strength and ambition, cancer brain fog, and fearfulness induced by repeated doctor visits, scans, and blood tests, were a part of my new reality.
In September of 2021, I started teaching math, science, and Bible two days a week to 5th, 6th, and 7th graders at Providence Hybrid Academy. While I did it for the added income and for something to do, God used this as a vital therapeutic intervention to restore me to a state of healthy perspective and activity.
A 70-year-old dinosaur looking at his last years of life and 30 10–12-year-olds basking in their youth, strength, and potential—what a combination. Could you get any farther apart in stages of life? I discovered that both our age groups had one thing in common: the tendency to think of ourselves as zeros; little cogs that were meaningless or ineffectual in the great gear system of life. The elderly are too old and out-of-date to do or be anything significant. The young were too young and inexperienced to see how they could ever have a purpose in the scary, rapidly-changing world they would have to fit into for the next 60 or 70 years.
Do you ever feel like a zero?
I’ve talked to people who characterize themselves as zeros. Now, I could not let that stand, but I thought arguing with them about their perceived self-worth was not going to be effective. After all, they were expressing deep-seated feelings, and those powerful feelings do not always take second place to facts. Even if I used my imagination and creativity to come up with positive things about them, I could maybe only raise them up to be a 2. No, that would not be an effective tactic.
Here is a lesson that happened at my bank. I took in two checks to be deposited—one for $30,000 and the other for $200. Now I should add that $30,000 checks are not my normal deposits. But when the teller processed everything and gave me the receipt, she had my deposit listed as $320. It was a simple mistake; she just left out a whole lot of zeros. The point is that zeros are crucial in math, and can be extremely valuable in life.
Usually, zeros are thought of as just placeholders. But in reality, zeros can make a number larger or smaller. Take the number 100.55. Add a zero to the left of the decimal point and it increases the value of the number 10-fold (1000.55). Zeros to the right of the decimal point decrease the number (100.00055).
Think about the impact you have on others. Even if you think of yourself as a zero, you can have a powerful effect on others. In the way that we act, think, and interact with others, are we encouraging them to grow in their relationship with God, to better themselves, and to act in beneficial and positive ways? That’s putting our zero to the left of the decimal point. But in our own behavior, we can also diminish others just like a zero to the right of the decimal point. Do we encourage our peers in the path of rudeness, disobedience, or other negative behaviors and thoughts?
God gives us the opportunity and the ability, no matter what we think of ourselves, to have a tremendous impact on others. We may not think so or realize it, but it is real—as real as the impact of the missing zeros in my bank deposit. My prayer is that you will take this as a challenge to think about what side of the decimal point you are on. Then, as you strive to add your zero to the left, you will begin to see yourself differently. You will see the unique person God has made you to be, and the abilities that He has given you. Then, you will begin exercising and developing those characteristics and eventually see that zero is only part of your number, and that God has really made you a 10.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).