• Your team was down in the bottom of the ninth inning. A runner was in scoring position and all you needed was a single to win the game. You struck out.
  • You longed for reconciliation for years with another person, but when a potential healing conversation arose, your broken heartedness and love for the other person did not come through.
  • A teachable moment with your three-year old arose spontaneously, but you were tired, annoyed and lost the opportunity.

In 1998 a prime moment–never to be handed to me again—came to me but I did not know how to handle it. Here’s what happened.  

I returned from the Brazilian Amazon where I had gone to collect information for a book.  Marilyn, my wife, had gone ahead to our new pastorate to buy us a home and I was flying to our new city, Waterloo, Iowa, and the good people of Walnut Ridge Baptist Church.

Having never before assumed the leadership of such a large ministry, I was not relaxed as I anticipated meeting a few people of my new flock at the airport.  We were coming off a crushing experience in our previous pastorate.  

Marilyn and I had been apart for about three weeks, so I was eager to see her.  I knew a few people from the congregation would be on hand.  But I did not know that about 60 people would show up. I knew almost none of them. 

What a moment!  I have relived this moment many times, wishing it ended a different way.   

As I came off the tarmac into the airport, I was surprised by the size of the crowd. I was tired from overnight,  red-eye travel. I was self-conscious, not knowing whether I should kiss my bride passionately, or give her a peck on the cheek and a loose hug.  I was intimidated.  I was to be their spiritual leader–was a show of affection appropriate?  The members of my new church were watching my every movement and facial expression.  

On the other hand, looking back, was it foolish to concern myself with what they would think?  So why not go ahead and plant a serious kiss on her in public–the people needed to know that I loved my wife and they looked to me to model a happy marriage?  To kiss or not to kiss–that was the question. 

I recall feeling exposed, unsettled, and uncomfortable. Just wanted to get out of there. 

How should I have reacted?  How I wish—looking back–that I had remembered Carpe Diem.[1]  I should have given my wife a medium-passionate kiss, shared about being on the Amazon, told them of my joy at being their new pastor, preached my first impromptu, spontaneous sermonette, thanked them for coming and challenged them to make Jesus Christ famous. 

Likely the reader has also had such an experience—not seizing the moment and looking back, wishing you’d handled it differently.  How does one prepare for such spontaneous opportunities? What can be said of such situations? 

First, most of us will have such moments. The sense of having not done well, becomes motivation us all to do better next time.  We can make up for what we wished we had done. As someone said, “Failure is not final.”

Second, such moments educate us and we are less surprised by our next big moment. 

Third, God will help us as we gain confidence in life and we will handle the next big opportunity better.    

[1]  Carpe diem (pronounced car-pay dee-um) a phrase that comes from the Roman poet Horace, means literally “Pluck the day”, though it’s usually translated as “Seize the day”. A free translation might be “Enjoy yourself while you have the chance”. For some people, Carpe diem serves as the closest thing to a philosophy of life as they have.