Monthly Archives: December 2013
The brevity of life is one of the harshest realities of life. During the summers my wife and I vacation in Southampton, Ontario on the shores of Lake Huron. In the winters we like to vacation on the Gulf coast in Venice, Florida. Both locations have many things in common but one that hits me every time is the benches along the boardwalks. They usually have the birth date and death date of some person. And I often find my self pausing and wondering what that person’s life amounted to.
What happened in the ‘dash’ the ‘in between’ the birth date and death date?
There’s a fitting line from the movie Gladiator where Maximus the Roman general says just before a climatic battle, “What we do in this life, echoes in eternity.”
Who hasn’t taken inspiration to live a greater life from that one line?
Australian minister Mark Conner uses a thought-provoking illustration to demonstrate the brevity of our lives with the 24-hour clock.
If life were a 24-hour clock, what time is it for you? When we were born the clock began to run. When we die, the clock stops running. What if we get only 24 hours on our clock of life? Under these rules, what time is it in your life? Is it 10:00 am, noon, 5:00 pm or is it nearly midnight?
According to the World Bank, life expectancy for an average human being is currently numbered at 78.4 years. If 78.4 years represents our average life span, we can assume our clock will hit 24 hours when we reach that age. We have 24 hours of time to live and it will take us 78.4 years to live that 24 hours. Therefore, each hour will be represented by 3.267 years of life lived (78.4 years divided by 24 hours of our life clock).
- When your 24-hour clock reaches 3 A.M. you will have lived almost 10 years of life.
- When you reach the age of 20 years old your 24-hour clock reads 6:24 in the morning.
- At 30 years of age, it’s just after 9:00 am in the morning
- At 40 years of age, it’s past noon for you.
- A person 50 years old is looking at the clock and it shows a time of 3:18 pm. That person is approaching dinner time in their life. They have less than 9 hours remaining in life on their 24-hour clock.
- A person 60 years old is looking at the clock and it shows a time of 6:22 pm in the evening. That person has less than 6 hours remaining on their 24-hour life clock
The point is, whatever you’re going to do with your life you’d better get on it because time is running out. The other point is, if you’re not doing something with your life it really doesn’t matter how many days you’ve got left anyway.
So what are you going to do with 2014? How will this year be any different? How many of you would like 2014 to be better than 2013?
Last year may have been a tough year. Perhaps for some of our readers it was a year of challenges, a year of choices. It was a year of changes. It was a year of some crises. The fact is for some of you 2013 was a disappointment. For some, you experienced a loss, maybe you lost a loved one. Maybe for some of you 2013 was a year of a failure.
The good news is this: With a new year we get to start over. In my view of the world, the good Creator brings us life in bite sized pieces, in hours and days and months. Every year we get to wipe the slate clean and start with a brand new year. It’s like starting over. And that’s good news.
How will 2014 be better than 2013? The key is this, you’ve got to have a plan. You don’t just enter 2014 and say, “I hope it’s going to be better.” You’ve got to have a plan to make it better.
The great biblical sage Solomon wrote in our vernacular, “An intelligent person aims at wise actions, but a fool starts off in many directions.” Ouch.
For many of us that may describe 2013. We were headed off in many directions. The key word above is “aims”. That means they have a goal, an objective, an aim, a target. Have you set any goals for 2014? Or are you just going to walk into this year and hope it’s better? You’ve got to have a plan.
A few days or weeks from the start of the new year I would like to offer an oversimplified plan to get you jump started in the direction of some ‘wise aims’ or goals for 2014. But before we do that let me quickly give you four steps and call them the “A, B, C, D’s for maximizing the coming year. These may seem oversimplified but they may be what you need to ‘jumpstart’ you.
And if you’re really keen you might even want to enlist a life development coach to get you moving from ‘here to there’.
A – Accept responsibility for my life.
This is something that is hard for many people to do. Some people would rather blame someone else for the problems and difficulty in their lives. These are people that go around looking for someone who will accept responsibility for them. Someone who will accept responsibility for the way they live their lives and the choices they make. When things don’t turn out the way they hope, they have someone they can blame.
Accepting responsibility for one’s life is not a popular concept in our society, because we live in a culture that embraces a concept called “political correctness”. This basically says, “None of your problems are your fault. Everything bad in your life is somebody else’s fault. Blame the environment. Blame the educator. Blame your parents. Blame anybody else, but it’s not your fault.” If you get in an accident, it’s never your fault. If you spill some hot coffee on yourself, sue McDonalds; it’s their fault. It’s always somebody else’s fault. We will never be a success in life and we will never make our lives count if we have the attitude that it’s someone else’s fault. We must accept responsibility for our own lives.
An ancient scripture says, “Each person must be responsible for himself.””
The timeless truth is this: I am responsible for my own life, if I like it or not.
All of us reading this face two kinds of circumstances.
· Those circumstances which we have no control over. None of us knows what we will face throughout this coming year. There are certain things that are going to happen regardless of what you do and how you plan your year. That is no excuse for not being prepared or having a plan. (Example of some things that we have no control over: We have no control over the weather, the economy, the companies that we work for, or the words and action of others.)
· There are some circumstances that we face as a result of my own choices, actions or lack of actions. (Example: I’ve known people that have had financial problems because they quit their job and didn’t have another job to go to. The reason they quit their job is because they didn’t like it or someone made them mad. Then when things got tight, money and food was low, these people blamed their family, the church or someone in the church because their family, the church or someone in the church refused to accept the responsibility for the decisions and actions of those people. What they really wanted was someone to accept responsibility for their lives and bail them out of trouble. There are people like that in the world. I am not talking about someone who through no fault of his or her own fell on hard times. I’m talking about someone that did something without considering the consequences of his or her actions and how these actions would affect others around them.
· While we may not be in control of all the circumstances that we will face this coming year, we do have control of how we will act and respond to them.
Rick Warren, author of best selling Purpose Driven Life says there are three kinds of people in the world. I’m sure there’s more but this is a good list.
· There are accusers.
· There are excusers.
· There are choosers.
There are accusers. They always blame everybody else for their problems. Their favorite phrase is, “It’s all your fault.” It’s never my fault. It’s someone else’s fault.
There are the excusers. Excusers are people that always have an excuse for not making a decision or doing something. There’s always a reason why they can’t make the most or get the most out of their year. In the long run they end up being the losers. I’ve discovered that whenever I want to procrastinate on something, any excuse will do. The good book says, “A lazy person is full of excuses.”
There are the choosers, they say, “I choose to accept responsibility for my own life, goals and happiness. I’m not dependent upon somebody else. I choose the direction of my life.” I’m not depending upon the crowd. If we do this, we will already be a jump ahead in 2014.
B – Believe I can change
Stop saying, “I can’t” and start saying, “I can”. The person that believes that they can change with the help of God will change. Although I love the little story of the engine that could, I do believe we all need divine help if we are going to truly change.
We all get that ‘divine help’ through a variety of places. I recommend everyone explore this part of their life. Once one gets clear on what is their foundation, what is their center it gives a whole new momentum for optimizing one’s life.
Maybe you were raised in a religion of some kind and found it useless and you moved on. Unfortunately, you didn’t replace it with anything. I would recommend one of your goals might be to go back and see what you left, and if it’s still wanting, then go on and explore some other ‘place’ for meaning and significance.
We are remarkable human beings. There’s nothing I can’t master! That means there’s nothing you and I are going to hit in the next 365 days, no problem, no situation, no circumstance, no hassle that we can’t handle, that we can’t manage, that we’re not competent to handle with the help and strength our Creator gives us
Many people never succeed in life because they believe they can’t change. They never enjoy life because life to them is just one big failure after another. They face a new year with regret rather than the joy of knowing that the good Lord wants to help them.
I have a theory about New Year parties. This is a bit tongue in cheek, but see what you think. I believe I have discovered why there are so many New Year parties were people get so drunk they can’t see straight. They get drunk to forget the past year and because they are afraid to face the New Year.
Generation X prophet Douglas Coupland wrote these words over 20 years ago but I think they are still so true for people today—
My secret is that I need God—that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.”
I don’t know what your values are around belief in a Creator, but I think Coupland speaks to a sense that many people have.
With the help and grace of God I can overcome the past and face the future. I have a new handle on life for this coming year. I believe and know I can change.
C – Clarify what I really want
You must decide what’s important and what’s not important. We have been given each of us an incredible gift called the freedom to choose, the freedom of choice. This is one of the ways that we are different from animals, we have the freedom to choose between good and evil. We have the freedom to choose what we want in life.
The only way can clarify what we really want is to make a list and decide what is important and what is not.
It’s amazing most people never do this. They never stop and think through and write down on paper what’s really important to them. Maybe some of you have never done this. You’ve never written down the things that are important to you. You must ask yourself,
“ What’s important to me? ” What really counts? We can’t do what’s important until we clarify what’s important. Otherwise you’re going to be pushed around by the pressures of life doing this and that then all of a sudden the year is over and you’re saying, “ Where did the year go?”
Your values determine your vision. Your desires determine your direction. Your roles determine your goals.
Most people have never made up their mind what they want out of life and if you aim at nothing, you’re going to hit it. Most people have this vague feeling of, “I just want to be happy.” But they’ve never really sat down and figured out what is it that’s going to make me happy? What does the Creator want me to do with my life? Why am I here? They’ve never written out their values.
I want to challenge each of you to, make a list of things that are important to you, a list of things that you want to accomplish. What do I value? What do I want to change? Put it down. Then make this your reflection list. Pin it up on a wall and review it everyday and reflect on it. Then make a plan of action that will help you accomplish your goals for this year. Then do what ever you have to, to make and get the most of this coming year. Then see if any miracles occur in your life. Clarify what you really want.
There are some things in life that we will do that are permissible but may not be necessarily to our advantage. There will be some things that all of us will do this year that will not benefit us at all.
We are going to have to make a decision between what is good and what is better. Between what is better and what is best. There are many that we can do, but not all of them will be beneficial. Some things aren’t necessarily wrong; they’re just not necessary. We don’t have time for everything. We need to clarify the two or three things that we’ve got to get done this year. What are the things that are really important?
May I suggest two or three things that need to be at the top of your list?
· Your spirituality or what I call my relationship with God. What are you going to do this year to strengthen and improve your relationship with God? What are you going to do to become more intimate with this Being?
· Your relationships with family and friends and colleagues.
What are you going to do to build a stronger and better relationship with your family? What are you going to change about yourself that will help you to accomplish this?
· Your relationship with a faith community if that’s important to you—a church, a synagogue, a temple, a self help support group. What are you willing to do to improve the quality of your community?
These are the three things that I have heard people on their deathbed, wish they had given greater priority to. I have never heard anyone say, “ I wish I had spent more time at the office, at work or building my career.
So, Clarify what’s important.
D – Don’t wait to begin.
Do it now! These three words can change your life. Do it now. If you and I wait for the right situation or the right kind of circumstances we will miss out on life all together. There will never be an ideal set of circumstance to start out on. To make the most of 2014 and to accomplish the things you want to accomplish, start now. Don’t wait to begin.
An ancient proverb says, “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.”
We always say, “ When things settle down.” Or “When things get better.” The problem is things may never settle down or get any better. That’s called life! If you’re out there using that as an excuse, “ When things settle down or get better, I’m going to start having a daily quiet time to reflect on my life, you’re never going to do it.
You learn to reflect and pray when things are unsettled and not so good. “When things settle down, I’m going to spend more time with my kids.” They’ll be grown and gone!
There are a lot of people that have missed out on life waiting for the ideal set of circumstance or waiting for things to get better. While they were waiting, time just kept right on going and passed them by.
We must learn to enjoy life under circumstances that are less than perfect. Whatever you’re going to do, that which you want to do, start now! Because things may not settle down or get better until you’re in the coffin.
Some of you are saying to yourself, “ I’m going to make the most of this New Year. I am going to set some goals and accomplish them. Right now you are being motivated, you are pumped up to make the most of this year. However when you turn this program off, there will be no one to motivate you or to encourage you. You have to determine right now that it doesn’t matter what happens or what comes your way, this is going to be the best year yet. What kind of person will you be this year?
So as you discover what time your life is at on the 24 hour clock, don’t just sit there and sulk about it. Do something about it. Get a jumpstart on the new year by considering some of these ideas.
One of the best examples of a perfectly balanced human being was Jesus of Nazareth. Whether you are religious or not, Jesus is a pattern for many of us in basic human relationships. Below is a view of his life from infancy and an expression of how he grew through the various stages and areas of life. Perhaps this brief model could be a way of you formulating some initial goals for 2014.
MY PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT GOALS
“Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature, and in
favor with God and favor with men.” Lk. 2:52
- INTELLECTUAL: What do I want to learn in 2014?
Timeless Wisdom: “Do yourself a favor and learn all you can; then remember what you learn and you will prosper.”
- PHYSICAL: What will improve my health in 2014?
Timeless Wisdom: “Being cheerful keeps you healthy. It is a slow death to be gloomy all the time.”
- SPIRITUAL: What will deepen my relationship to God in 2014?
Timeless Wisdom: “Grow in spiritual strength.”
- SOCIAL: What will be my service to others in 2014?
Timeless Wisdom: “God has given you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other…”
Who will I be close friends with in 2014?
Timeless Wisdom: Friends love through all kinds of weather,
and families stick together in all kinds of trouble.
For many of us this time of year, in spite of the cold weather in some parts of our world, is a time to reflect on the past year. I must say, it’s all a difficult time for many especially if they are suffering loss of a loved one, unemployment, loneliness, financial crisis, all kinds of heartaches. Nevertheless, it sometimes helps to remember not only what we have lost but what we have left. Easier said than done.
If someone asked me ‘What do you like most about the year end holidays, starting with Thanksgiving and moving through to Christmas and the New Year?”, I would say, It’s a time to reflect.
The food is spectacular but who doesn’t mind a ‘cheat day or two—those delectable, fattening morsels that make Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s so special. So are the parties and the people . . . the songs, the smiles, the smells. Each weaves its way into the fabric of our minds in such a beautiful manner that we live in the warmth of them for days. Sometimes a lot longer.
But the best part for me of these traditional holidays, is a time to pause, to reflect, to remember. It’s a good time to just sit silently, thoughtfully, alone. To remember the past without the shock interruption of routine tasks. It’s a time to walk on a snowy evening in a neighborhood with your kids in tow, or to walk the beach if you are blessed to live in a warm climate, taking time to stop and listen. And think.
A particular highlight might be to be by a warm fireplace with all the lights out, staring into the heat, and letting thoughts emerge, drift, and linger. A time to listen to some holiday music or read some lines from a good book or poem.
It’s a time to say, “You know what? It’s been a long year. I need some time to savor the days past, and to enjoy the season.
Clergyman Charles Wesley said it best when he sang, “it’s a time to ‘be lost in wonder, love and praise’.
And to do this in quiet, in unhurried leisure, where I reap some rich benefits of peace and joy and tranquility. Whether one believes in God or a higher being or not, this time of year does tend to sensitize us to the hope that there is Someone over us, watching over us, caring for us. And in our own way, we quietly say, “thank You”. In my case, times like this end up with me thanking the Almighty for something specific, for something or someone that He has provided in the past of my life and that makes my life today much more fulfilled.
In recent days I have been recalling the loss of my mom and dad as well as younger brother who died an untimely death. What makes this time of year bearable and even positive for me is when I think about their lives and what they contributed to me while they were here. I draw strength from each of them as I think about who they were and what they meant to me and rather than be sad, I ask them in a spiritual kind of way to be with me as I face the uncertainties and challenges of my life.
This happens to me year in and year out. We have developed a ‘tradition’ in our home, since our kids were little kids. Now we have grandkids, and hope to do this with them.
Over the years we have so enjoyed reading a book by Shel Silverstein called The Giving Tree, a simple fanciful piece about a tree who loved a boy. There is no religious connotation to the story but one can read that into it if one wants to. For our family it’s become a metaphor for how we all want to be ‘when we grow up’, like that tree. By the way, we have even enjoyed neighborhood get togethers where I would get up and read the story to our neighbors and then reflect as a group on the story’s impact on us. Talk about a community coming together. Here’s a brief summary of that story.
They played hide ‘n’ seek in his younger years. He swung from her branches, climbed all over her, ate her apples, slept in her shade. Such happy, carefree days. The tree loved those years of the boy’s childhood.
But the boy grew and spent less time with the tree. On one occasion the young man returned. “Come on, let’s play,” invited the tree . . . but the lad was only interested in money. “Take my apples and sell them,” said the tree. He did . . . and the tree was happy.
He didn’t return for a long time, but the tree smiled when he passed by one day. “Come, play, friend. Come, play!” But the boy—now full grown—wanted to build a house for himself. “Cut off my branches and build your house,” she offered. He did, and once again the tree was happy.
Years dragged by. The tree missed the boy. Suddenly, she saw him in the distance. “Come on, let’s play!” but the man was older and tired of his world. He wanted to get away from it all. “Cut me down. Take my large trunk and make yourself a boat. Then you can sail away,” said the tree. And that’s exactly what he did . . . and the tree was happy.
Many seasons passed—summers and winters, windy days and lonely nights—and the tree waited. Finally, the old man returned . . . too old, too tired to play, to pursue riches, to build houses, or to sail the seas. “I have a pretty good stump left, my friend. Why don’t you just sit down here and rest?” He did . . . and the tree was happy.¹
As I read this story to my adult children and their children, I watch myself pass in review as I grow older with the tree and the boy. I identify with both—and it hurts.
And in my time of reflection, I think, How many Giving Trees have there been in my life? How many have released part of themselves so I might grow, accomplish my goals, find wholeness and satisfaction, and reach beyond the tiny, limited playground of my childhood? So, so many. Thank you, Lord, for each one. Their names could fill this page.
Now I, like the tree, have grown up. Now it’s my turn to give. And some of that hurts. Apples, branches, sometimes the trunk. My rights, my will . . . and even my children and grandchildren.
So much to give. Thank you, Lord, that I have a few things of value to give. Even if it’s a lap to be sat on . . . or the comfort of a warm hug.
As I get older, it’s times like this that make aging a joy rather than a burden. The times of remembering and reflecting draw me close to my Lord, and to all those in my circle of my family and friends.
I can go to sleep night after night during this holiday season with gratitude to my Creator. I am a thankful man.
Thankful I have had a time to reflect.
How about you? Who have been the Giving Trees in your life? Before 2013 is out, who do you need to just say, “I love you’ to, and who do you need to ‘thank’ with a full heart?
Who knows maybe you will even start the same tradition we did 30 plus years ago.