One thousand marbles please

WINSTON Churchill is known and revered for many things; defiant war-time leader, polished orator, writer of elegant prose, a man of rapier wit.

But he was also an accomplished amateur painter, and bricklayer. Yes, bricklayer.

One summer, when in the political wilderness, he spent weeks building a brick wall around his country home at Chartwell. Assisting him in the task was his son, and future biographer, the talented but flawed Randolph.

During those days of brick-building, father and son shared deep conversation. It was an exercise in what we now call ‘bonding’.

Winston confided to his son that he never had an opportunity of spending comparable days with his father, the tragic Lord Randolph Churchill. Winston was determined not to repeat his father’s mistake.

Many parents do make the mistake of being so bound up with their work or leisure activities that they do not spend sufficient time with their own families.

It is a danger to which the clergy were once especially prone. G.H. Morrison, a popular preacher in Glasgow a century ago, fell into that trap.

He was such a devoted pastor that he is reported to have once made a pastoral visit to London; and you can imagine the logistics of that in the early twentieth century.

When he died, a biographer tracked down his daughter, at that time living in Dublin, in that hope that she would be able to contribute some valuable insights about what Morrison was like at home.

“Don’t ask me”, she told the researcher, “I never knew my father”.

If clergy serving their people have at least some excuse for such a failure, many others have no such defence. One can only ponder how much teenage delinquency springs from parents who could not be bothered to give their children the benefit of their time.

Someone advised, “If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money.”

A caller to an American phone-in programme, responding to a presenter who lamented the busy life he led, provided this panacea, his philosophy of a thousand marbles.

“I sat down one day”, he said, “and did a little maths. The average person lives for seventy-five years, more or less, that’s about 3,900 Saturdays “I realised that at the age of 55, I had already used up about 2,800 of those Saturday work-free days, leaving me little more that a thousand.

“I decided to go to a shop and purchase 1,000 marbles, which I took home and placed in a container in my workshop.

“Each week, I took out a marble, and threw it away. As I watched the marbles diminish, I began to focus on the really important things in my life. It helped me get my priorities straight”.

The caller ended his contribution by saying that that very morning, he had taken the last marble out of his container, knowing that every day God granted him thereafter, would be a little extra time to share with those he loved.

It’s a modern take on Paul’s message from two-thousand years ago, in J.B. Phillips’s translation, “Make the best use of your time” (Ephesians 5; 16).