2020 strikes again, this time very close to home. My father in law, Daddy Olatoye, fell asleep and not even our loudest wailing could wake him up.
Although he spent the last 22 years in a wheel chair, nothing was an uphill task for him. If you weren’t told, you would never have deduced that he was physically disabled. In the midst of grief, I find myself reflecting on the question: how did Daddy Olatoye manage to make a life that was so obviously constrained go far? How did his five loaves and two fishes feed thousands?
Please don’t read this thinking I’m a self-help guru who can wave a ‘3 winning ways to abundant life’ wand. I ain’t got nothing like that! If you have, please hook me up 🙂 Rather, below are my reflections on how I believe my father in law managed to stretch out a life that could have become atrophied and withered.
#1 Live for the audience of One.
Although he had to take a step back from active ministry, he never stopped being a pastor – that is, if you define a pastor as someone who shepherds and nurtures the flock. Although the days of mounting a pulpit and dishing out sermons with a thunderous voice were over, he never stopped praying for and counselling people around the world over the phone.
He really showed me that you don’t need a position to serve. In fact, the titles sometimes have become convenient ways for people to obfuscate their abdication from the actual job of a leader.
So, why would my father in law continue to faithfully shepherd his flock from his wheel chair without an award or any recognition? I believe it’s because he lived for the audience of One.
Though he lost the use of his limbs, he did not lose the consciousness of being a steward. Though he carried the burden of his own compromised health, he continued to shoulder the burden of his flock and pour out into their lives in ways he could from afar. Though he had nothing (materially) to gain from looking after his flock, he knew he was accountable to God and still sought to please Him.
So, even though he didn’t get to climb the proverbial ‘ministerial ladder’, he was still greeted with a resounding ‘Well done’ because he kept his eye on the One person in the audience who really mattered – God.
Please, take your eyes off the crowd.
Would you still perform with integrity when no one is watching? Would you take the absence of the applause to mean a permit to be selfish and sloppy with life? Would your house (and life) be tidy if you didn’t have to take photos for Insta? See, the end of my father in law’s time on the pulpit and the exit of the audience was his perfect excuse to down tools and lick his wounds in private and no one would blame him for that.
Rather than retreat, he sought for ways within his reach to impact others far and wide all because he knew that although everyone has left, God NEVER leaves the stands. He is always watching for faithful workers who commit to the task and keep digging, even if they have to do it with one hand tied behind their backs.
#2 Invest in relationships
Because he didn’t quit, my father in law instead spent time investing in people and nurturing relationships. It still surprises me that in a world that is saturated by smart phones and other devices, people still battle with loneliness. We’re supposed to be more connected than ever before yet loneliness still casts a dangerous shadow over many lives.
It’s very easy to be deceived into thinking that just because you have a smart phone and a few social media profiles, you have friends. That is a big lie. My father in law was great at keeping in touch with people at his own cost. He would travel to events organised by friends and in-laws to honour them and also show them that the relationship mattered to him.
It was not in any way convenient for him; in fact, on a couple of occasions, we discouraged him from doing that because of his health and associated risks of travelling. Thankfully, our (rightfully placed) concern did not stop him; he kept going.
In the aftermath of his passing, we have been inundated with people sharing memories of how Daddy Olatoye would attend their weddings and other occasions even though it was not comfortable for him to do so. They saw his sacrifice and that endeared him to them more. When he couldn’t go, he sent money and other gestures to show that they mattered to him. Simply amazing.
Despite his limitations, he stayed connected. In fact, most times he was the one with the latest information on what was going on with friends and family and had to brief us, the younger but socially distant generation in possession of more social media apps than you can count on one hand.
Please, nurture real-life relationships and show up for the people in your life. If you’re one of those who wrap themselves up in the false blanket of 5,000 followers on Facebook or Twitter and you think all is well, you’re in for a rude awakening. It is the friends you call, celebrate with, cry with, laugh with, encourage, pray for and I dare say argue with (sometimes) that’ll have concrete memories to share about you. The rest I’m afraid are just well-wishers (if you’re lucky).
#3 Be generous
Because he lived for the audience of One and took time to invest in relationships, my father in law was incredibly generous with his resources. Somehow his own need did not stop him helping others. His disability could have left him frozen in place but instead he decided to share the little he had with others.
That selflessness is what enabled his life to stretch beyond the confines of a wheelchair. Where his legs couldn’t go, his money and resources went. His prayers and counsel traveled farther than his physical legs could ever imagine. That my friends, is how to live a limitless life.
We soar over our problems when we choose to look beyond them and be selfless regardless. No matter how vast your challenges are and how little you think of yourself, you still have something to offer to others around you. If you choose to hoard your five loaves and two fishes, you’ll never witness the miracle of it feeding thousands. I can truly say that my father in law died empty; there’s nothing more we could have asked of him.
Funny thing about all of this is that whilst alive, he didn’t think he was doing anything extraordinary. He thought he was just living like everyone else, trying to make sense of the hand dealt to him by life.
That’s the same for you. Right now you are swimming against the current and doing your best not to drown in the stormy seas on life and you don’t see that what you’re doing is commendable. For the mere fact that you woke up today and chose to give life another go, you are extraordinary. You are already living a limitless life.
So, thank you Daddy Olatoye for giving life a good go and refusing to back down. I promise to do the same.
Sleep well, and yes I’ll definitely see you again and this time, no lockdown will stand in the way.