I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20
Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney in the 2009 film Up In The Air is a classic study of the modern business traveler. He has taken his business drive to levels that most people would consider obsessive. He has calculated how many minutes rolling luggage saves over a traditional suitcase. He has become an expert at picking the right airport security lines to eliminate wait time. His goal is to earn 10 million frequent flier miles. Here is a business traveler who not only enjoys living out of a suitcase – he thrives on it. The crisis of the plot for Ryan is not additional travel, but an elimination of it. He’s not afraid of losing his job by being grounded. He’s afraid of losing his way of life. His apartment in Omaha is as plain and regimented as his travel schedule. Simply put, his happiness is based on his itinerary. His Blackberry is his Bible and the hospitality industry is his family.
With this kind of introduction, you might think that Ryan is cold and calculating in all of his dealings, but as the story develops, we find that he is not void of feeling. Here is a guy who gets paid by companies to come in and fire people – a seemingly heartless job. But what we discover is that Bingham has found a way to do his job effectively, efficiently, but in a manner that best protects the dignity of the person who’s life he’s altering. This strange element of professional compassion is left in his work and kept far, far away from his personal life – where his only passion lies with his airline miles. That is, until he met Alex Goran.
Alex is the female version of Ryan. They complement each other perfectly. Work hard and travel harder. Their common ground is in the desire to achieve elite status in business. Their mutual understanding of meeting common needs leads to a no strings attached relationship whenever they can cross paths. This quickly turns into a relationship where they start intentionally looking for rendezvous spots. Their relationship continues to grow, gaining steam and complication. Finally after counseling his future brother-in-law to not run away from the altar, Ryan himself decides to go to Alex and pursue the relationship he’s always avoided, always feared. The door to Ryan’s future opens and inside it we find a mother with children and a husband. Ryan is hurt and confused. Alex is surprised and clearly concerned about this unexpected visit. In the midst of this awkward conversation, the following exchange is given…
Ryan Bingham: I thought I was a part of your life.
Alex Goran: I thought we signed up for the same thing… I thought our relationship was perfectly clear. You are an escape. You’re a break from our normal lives. You’re a parenthesis.
Ryan Bingham: I’m a parenthesis?
For a guy who fires strangers for a living you wouldn’t think this was the worst thing he’s ever been called, but imagine the thought. In a sentence, parentheses bracket additional information that is not critical to the text. You can remove it and nothing is really lost. I imagine if you were to look at the people in your life, some of them would qualify as parenthesis, but who might those people be? The woman at the shoe store in the mall. The guy who puts pizza coupons on your front porch every Tuesday. That person on Facebook who you went to high school with but never actually had a conversation? These are parenthesis. People you care about, people you depend upon and who depend upon you, people you love must not be placed into parentheses. They may represent different parts of the story, but whether they come with question marks or exclamation points, they must be cared for as the valuable part of the plot of our lives they are.
As the author of our story, only God knows what roles every person we encounter will have in our life. Every good story with have its twists and turns. Some plotlines are filled with suspense, romance, sorrow, defeat or achievement and over the course of our lives, we will experience them all. How comforting it is to know that in every story, God has placed His Son into the story as a central character. In Christ we find our leading man, our best friend, our mentor, our confidant, and our Savior – and incredible character, and certainly not somebody lost as a mere afterthought.
I may be a parenthesis in your life – a guy you once knew or will encounter for a short time before my influence wanes over time. But no matter who you find in center of your story, know that Christ is always there ready to meet your every need. Trust in Him and your life will never be up in the air.