Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Where Do You Live?

I have two friends, and recently I realized they live in very different places.  They are close in age.  Similar backgrounds.  Grew up in the same area.  But they live in very different places.  One of my friends lives in the future, and the other lives in the past.

We think a lot about where we live . . . on a map.  We live on this particular street, in this particular state, in this particular region, and that means we enjoy (or don't enjoy) this kind of weather, and we support this particular baseball team, etc.  But we spend as much time in our heads as we do in our environments.  Where we live mentally is just as important as where we live physically.

I noticed this recently with a friend of mine.  He lives very much in the past.  He still listens to the same music he did when he was sixteen.  He still talks about what he did when he was sixteen.  He relives stories about when he was sixteen.  His worldview is very much rooted in the past.  When he's driving down the street, he's remembering what used to be on that corner back when he was sixteen.  He compares everything to the way things were back when he was sixteen.  And he always seems just a little melancholy about life, because where he lives everyday is in a world where his best days were already behind him when he graduated from high school.

My other friend is always worried about tomorrow.  He's obsessed with his calendar.  Trying to have lunch with him is just about impossible--he's very busy all the time, and he's always concerned about what he has to be doing to be sure he gets to where he needs to be tomorrow.  Of course planning for retirement is a major obsession with him also, and having enough to last him until he's 82.  And of course, when he retires in the future he's going to travel and do all these things he just doesn't have time to do right now because he's so busy making sure he's successful enough and funded enough to do all those things.  He had his first ulcer at thirty.  He suffers from anxiety and is on medication for that.  He also has high blood pressure and is about forty pounds overweight (no time to exercise because he works all the time).  He's worried about his bank account when he's 82 . . . I'm concerned that he might not see 55 in eighteen months or so.  

So one friend lives in a world that no longer exists and another friend lives in a world he may never see. And I live a little in each world.  I remember the past fondly at times, and not so fondly at other times but I don't live there.  I think about tomorrow and plan for such things as retirement, but I don't live there yet.  I tend to focus on today.

That bullet journal of mine keeps track of dates and deadlines in the future so I don't have to spend a lot of time worrying about them.  Most of what I write in there and keep track of in there is what I'm doing today--which is working on things I didn't get done yesterday, things I need to do today, and working towards those project deadlines on my calendar.  I can't change yesterday, and I have no idea what tomorrow is going to be like.  What I do know is what's going on right now so that's where I tend to focus. 

Jesus said in Matthew 6:24 "So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Good words to live by.  So where do you live?


Friday, April 16, 2021

Words Are Easy Things

Have you ever seen so much virtue signaling as we have today? You see it on social media. You see it on t-shirts. You see it on the bumpers of people's cars. People proudly announcing they are against hate.  They are against racism.  They are against oppression.  They are against censorship.  It gets a little silly sometimes, because I'm not always clear who they think are FOR any of these things they are so loudly and proudly against.  But you can be sure that whenever a new social or political issue comes along, here come all the changed profile pictures and a wave of memes . . . that inevitable wave of public virtue signaling so that everyone knows what a great person we are. 

In the end, words don't matter very much--it's actions that matter. Words are easy things. How you live your life should reflect your values.  It's how you treat other people that shows the kind of person you are. It's how you react and interact in the world that demonstrates what you're about. It's about listening to other people. It's about learning from one another. It's about showing compassion to our fellow man.  It's about being kind. It's about being forgiving. It's about being prayerful and grateful. 

So volunteer your time.  Write a check.  Help a neighbor. And do these things quietly and without fanfare and without tooting your own horn simply because they are things you believe in. Let your actual life tell your story, rather than your social media account.

If you live your values you don't have to virtue signal. People will know what you're about if you're an authentic person.  But in the end, it isn't other people we should be trying to impress. Live your life to please God. 


Friday, April 9, 2021

No Rocking Chair For Me

The idea of retirement, like for many people I suspect, has really kept me going through some of the more difficult periods of my professional career.  The idea of staying home, and puttering around the house, and fishing when I want to.  Wouldn't that be great!  All those ideas are very appealing, and I know if I just keep going ,one day I'll get there and all that struggle will have been worth it.

I thought that until I started getting closer to the date when I can retire.  The closer I get, the less appealing the idea of retirement becomes.  I don't have to retire, but the only thing less appealing to me than retiring is the idea of continuing to work at what I do now.  I enjoy my job, but I want to do something more meaningful before I head out to pasture. 

I went to lunch a few years ago with a friend of mine that was coming to the same realization . . . he didn't want to retire, but he didn't want to do the same thing either.  He asked me, "if you could do anything you wanted to do for the rest of your life, what would you do?"  That single simple question changed everything.  I knew the answer almost immediately.

That's how I wound up in seminary--I'm preparing for what I'm going to do next.  God willing, I'll still be pretty young for retirement and could still have twenty or twenty-five years to dedicate to ministry.  What form that ministry takes is still unknown, but as long as my health holds out, I'm going to dedicate my time to spreading the gospel. And just knowing that I'm going to continue to get up every day and go do something has really changed my attitude--I'm not finishing up my professional career, I'll be beginning a new chapter.  And I'm bringing all those things I've learned along the way with me.  

I think sometimes we make a mistake when we think about retirement and getting older.  We see the reward at the end of our careers as not having to work anymore.  Instead, perhaps we should look at it as an opportunity to do something else.  I know a lot of really talented people who have retired.  Many have gone on to encore careers doing something completely different from what they did during their professional years.  They take all that education, and all that experience, and all that ability they've acquired over a lifetime, and they pile it into a brand new way of life for themselves. One of my friends, knowing absolutely nothing about the restaurant business, went into the restaurant business!  I remember hearing people say, "why would he do something crazy risky like that when he could have just collected a pension and retired."  

Believe me. I totally get it now.

I know a few people that have retired and just decided to enjoy a life of leisure--after the initial joy of sleeping in late wears off, they've found they have little to do and a lot of time not to do it in.  They wind up wasting what could be the best and the most productive and rewarding years of their life. One of my former co-workers told me "one of the biggest mistakes I've made was retiring without thinking about what I was going to do with the rest of my life."

It's fun to think of that green pasture of retirement there on the horizon.  Maybe it'll keep you going like it has me.  But think about it.  Just because you're drawing a pension doesn't mean you have to sit on the porch.  Maybe you're not interested in an encore career, or starting a business, or going into ministry.  I'm sure you could think of ways your unique skills and your unique knowledge could be used for good in a local charity for example.  And if you think about it, I'm sure there's something you've always wanted to do. If you're not retired yet, start thinking--what would you need to do to start preparing for that transition now?  And if you're already retired, what would you need to do to make that dream a reality right now?

What's stopping you?


Friday, April 2, 2021

Missing Pieces

My family enjoys doing puzzles--especially in the winter.  We have a big dining room table, and we clear it off and go to work on the most recent acquisition. Now there is one disadvantage of having a bit dopey chocolate lab--if it hits the floor, it belongs to Daisy.  And if you're doing a puzzle, and you don't happen to notice a piece has gone off the edge, you'll most likely never see it again.  

It's very unsatisfying to get to the end of a puzzle and discover you have a few pieces missing--especially if it's a big 1,000 piece puzzle you've worked on a few evenings. The more time and effort you've invested, the more those incomplete parts seem to bother us. 

Life is like that, too.  Sometimes we fail to see the big picture.  We fail to see that we have 99.9% of the big picture complete, and instead of enjoying that part, we tend to obsess over those missing pieces in our life.  And too often, we try and find something to fill those gaps ourselves, and it's never exactly right.  Trying to finish that picture ourselves leaves us even more dissatisfied in the end.  

Why not focus on the abundance in your life instead.  Why not focus on where you have all the pieces of your life together and be grateful for that.  When we live a life with an attitude of gratitude, God has a way of giving to us those things we need.  

God fills in those missing pieces.