Several years ago I went to visit my sister in law’s family. I was sitting with my youngest niece and asked her how she liked having her sister home from summer camp.
“I like it better when you come to visit.” she said. And meant it sincerely and at that moment I became the favorite uncle and she the favorite niece.
But we don’t tell the others.
Everyone knows that Katie is my favorite, but we never really say that out loud in front of her brother and her other sisters, who I also adore.
With many of my students, I have the same game. There’s Megan, who I call Meggie and she in turn calls me Mikey back. I check out the latest boyfriend to make sure he’s treating her right. If I owned a gun I’d be sure to be cleaning it in his presence. We’ve travelled to alternative breaks together and I’m often inspired by the way she mothers children that we serve.
She’s my favorite…but we don’t tell the others.
There’s Vineet, a graduate student from India, who was the life of the party on our trip to Cleveland, regaling us with stories and then hitting us with a serious note that gave us all something to think about. He’s off to New York after graduating and I still wear the cross he gave me on our Cleveland trip.
He’s my favorite…but we don’t tell the others.
There’s C.J., a bright medical student who has taught me much, blurring the lines between campus minister and student. He’s got one year left before I get to call him “Dr. C.J.” which I think would be a cool name for a rock star–something he already is to many already.
He’s a favorite….but we don’t tell the others.
And In my prayer, I hear God whisper those same words to me.
“Mike, you’re my favorite, but don’t tell the others.”
Instead, God asks us to treat each one that we encounter as our favorite. And sure, some of those we meet will certainly strike a special chord with us and touch our hearts in ways we could not imagine.
And that love that is shared helps us open our hearts just a bit more to let another favorite into our lives. There is always room enough in our hearts for more and we are often challenged to find that room.
My wife and I have no children of our own. If we did they’d probably be just a few years younger than my favorite and youngest niece. Perhaps that’s why she’s incredibly special to me. I have known her nearly her entire life and can even remember when she first started talking. But we longer for a child that did not come to us. But instead of being disappointed at that, we decided to ask ourselves how we can be life-giving in other ways.
How might we treat others as our favorites, as if they were our very own?
I don’t remember who said this to me, but when I first started at UB as the Campus Minister, a parishioner came up to me and said,
“Oh! You’re the new campus minister, right?”
“That would be me, yes!” I replied and introduced myself by name.
“Oh, so this was a big move to Buffalo from New York–how is your family handling that?”
“Well, it’s just my wife and the dog, so it’s not so bad.”
Parishioner: “Oh you don’t have any children?”
Me: “Nope. Just hasn’t happened for us.”
Parishioner: “Well that’s good because you’ve got THIRTY THOUSAND of them now. And they’re all in college.”
Me: “That’s gonna be one hell of a bill.”
Parishioner: “I’ll put a little extra in the basket this week!”
Perhaps in my longing for a child, God reaches out and indeed blesses me with each one who comes before me, throughout my day. In those moments I am asked to be present perhaps, as a parent cannot, for whatever reason. And as I listen, I need not tell them that they are my favorite, because they sense that this is sacred time, as do I.
And that is always more than enough. And it deepens our relationships and helps us experience the presence of God in our lives where we are all the favorites and at the same time, none of us are the favorites.
Because God doesn’t tell the others.
And neither do we. Instead we live our lives encountering glimpses of God in each one. And in that glimpse, we find favorites and we a rich beyond belief for the encounter.
Each one, every one.
Which is why we don’t tell the others.