by Aaron Alford
Have you ever heard of a Beard Second?
The Beard Second is a unit of measurement inspired by the light year. As a light year is determined by how far light travels in the span of one year, a Beard Second is determined by how much a beard grows in one second. Nuclear physicists use this measurement in discussing extremely small measurements. It is valued at exactly 100 angstroms per second, and one angstrom is one ten-billionth of a meter.
GK Chesterton, as we have quoted him here, once said, “You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion.” It would seem there is now a mathematically quantifiable parallel to that statement. It’s simple, of course. If a man wants to have a beard worthy of the ranks of Duck Dynasty (or John Michael Talbot if he so prefers), he need only stop shaving off those precious angstroms. A man who has the goal of growing a glorious beard knows that each of the 86 400 Beard Seconds of each day is of vital importance.
It’s strange, then, how we so often think in opposite terms when it comes to our character. We forget that every second matters. We forget that each small decision we make throughout the day is a choice to shave off precious angstroms of character, or to let it grow!
There are thousands of stories of great martyrs of the faith. I’m reminded of two such stories from the 20th century.
Jim Elliot and the Ecuadorian martyrs gave their lives at the hands of the Waodani people they had come to preach the gospel to. When people from this tribe attacked them with spears, these men did not raise a weapon against the people they loved. As a result of their willingness to surrender their lives (and through the dedication and sacrifice of the men’s families afterward), the world’s most violent people group came to embrace the Gospel of peace.
Maximilian Kolbe, a Christian friar, volunteered to accept the punishment of starvation in the place of another man at a Nazi concentration camp. He, along with 9 other men were slowly starved, and all the while Maximilian led them in prayers and songs of worship. He was the last of them to die.
We read stories about men like this, and we’re amazed at their steadfast faith and strength of character. They died with the gospel on their lips and in their hearts, surrendering their lives for the Love of Christ and their fellow man.
Perhaps we say things like, “I can only hope I could be so faithful.”
We forget that men such as these did not attain this strength of character and love for Christ in a sudden rush of heroism, nor in a single act of will power. Men like this practiced their martyrdom, the laying down of their own lives for the sake of others, their whole lives. Their last heroic moments were simply a natural expression of who they had always been.
Every day, we make choices. Most of these choices are nearly inconsequential. But how much attention do we pay to their meaning? Each choice, whether we’re paying for our coffee or passing a beggar on the street, is a choice that is full of meaning and possibility. There are about 86 400 choices to be made each day, either to step beyond ourselves in selfless love, or to play it safe. In these moments we can cooperate with Grace, with God’s continuously outpouring Love, or we can ignore them.
What does it look like to lay down my life for the girl that’s handing me my coffee in the morning? Perhaps it’s as simple as stepping out of my own world of thoughts and worries to give her my eyes and say a sincere, “Thank-you, ma’am.”
What does it mean to lay down my life for the drunk on the sidewalk? Does it mean stopping for a moment to say Hello? Does it mean taking just five minutes to learn his name and to take a real interest in his life?
Over time, these choices add up. It’s the small choices I make today, in this moment, that determine what I will make of the big choices later on. Can God pour out his grace in crucial moments, despite how selfish our previous choices have been? Of course he can. He’s in the business of redemption. But wouldn’t you rather have a history of working alongside his redeeming grace when you come to that critical moment?
We are, each day and each second, becoming more and more who we will be at the hour of our death. Every choice I make, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus or to take an easier path, is a choice toward becoming the man I wish to be. If I want to know if one day I will be the kind of man that would lay down his life for another, I need only ask if I am laying down my life for another right now. If I’m already walking a path of self-sacrifice, if I’m already making choices right now that reflect the love and grace of Christ, I can, with relative humble confidence, know who I am most likely going to be in the future.
A man’s character, like a man’s beard, cannot be grown in a moment of passion. It is grown, it is cultivated, in a slow, sometimes faltering, process. Sometimes the process is nearly imperceptible, just a hundred angstroms a second, but it’s happening. As long as I’m cooperating with the grace and mercy of God, it’s happening. And one day, years from now, the result will be glorious.