I'm stretching a bit this week in calling Dallas Willard a friend. I met him a few times, but I'm sure he wouldn't know me from the tens of thousands of others who attended his workshops and seminars over the years. But in a very real way, through his writing and teaching, he has been one of the significant "friends" in my life. It's safe to say that he is one of the most influential Christians in my faith journey. When he died, I truly felt like I had lost a friend.
Dallas made Christianity both plausible and attractive to me. Somehow, he connected with me in a deeper and more meaningful way than most. I remember when I first read The Divine Conspiracy
, I felt like I was breathing the oxygen of the Kingdom in a way I never had before.
Since his death on Wednesday, many have had much to say about him, and I've enjoyed most of what I've read. I especially appreciated John Ortberg's comments
because John knew Dallas so well. Like others, I knew I needed to post something about Dallas, and my first thought was to post some favorite quotations from his books, but plenty of others are doing that. Instead, I'm opting to share two personal remembrances that have been on my mind the last couple of days.
The first was at a teaching session at Bethel Seminary. There I was, sitting in the second row, directly in front of Dallas as he addressed a group of about a hundred seminarians and pastors. He began the session by asking, "If you could describe Jesus in one word, what would it be? I want you all to think of a word you might choose." Then he just smiled and left a long pause for everyone in the room to actually land upon a word in their mind.
Then he said, "If I
were to choose a word," then pausing to heighten our anticipation, "I think 'relaxed'
would be the one I would choose."
A murmuring sort of laughter filled the room as if everyone one in the audience were acknowledging that 'relaxed' was not remotely the word on their mind. He then went on to explain how the Christ-life was one so dependent, so assured, and so surrendered that most of the things that make us anything-but-relaxed would fade away under the overriding sense of wellness and hope we had in God. To live as Christ would live, he said, would result in us being anxious for nothing.
Years later, I had the opportunity to see Dallas demonstrate this kind of Christ-life in a very practical way. Dallas was scheduled to speak for a number of events in Minneapolis, and I had been given the job (privilege) of picking him up at the Twin Cities International airport. I was told to look for him outside the baggage claim at Door #1
. I was careful to check his flight schedule and made sure to begin making my laps by the arrival doors at least fifteen minutes before his plane was scheduled to land. I didn't want him to have to wait for even a minute.
I watched Door #1
like a hawk, but he never arrived. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes after he should have been there, he was no where to be seen. It was a busy time at the airport and the traffic was about as bad as it gets. Hundreds of people and cars, but no Dallas Willard! I was starting to panic, wondering what could be going wrong. It was now thirty minutes past the time he should have been out by the drive, but he wasn't there!
I had been trying to watch all
the other doors as I made my laps, but the airport police don't let you sit any one place for long. Dallas was definitely not
at Door #1
, and I couldn't see him anywhere else. So, I decided to stick by the curb starting at Door #1
and slowly work my way down the entire walkway. And sure enough, I eventually found him at Door #6
I felt so bad. Would he be concerned or stressed out or irritated? None of the above. There he sat, calm as could be, watching the cars and people pass by, not a visible care in the world. I think he even had a slight smile on his face. I'm telling you the truth, he could not have looked more calm if he had been sitting on a quiet park bench enjoying a beautiful summer's day off.
If there was one word I could use to describe him, I'd say it would be relaxed
"I'm so sorry for the mix-up," I said. "I feel so bad that you've had to wait for so long. I was told you'd be at a different door."
He just smiled and said, "There's no problem. I knew someone would find me eventually."
I put his luggage in the trunk and we got into the car to head to his hotel. Once we were out on the freeway and headed toward downtown, he asked me about my work.
"Do you sense God's presence and goodwill as you do your work?" he asked.
"Yes, I think I do," I said.
And what I didn't say is that I sensed it in a special way that very moment.