October 16, 2022
Welcome back to my Precepts series—inspired by meaningful thoughts, insights, and discoveries I have during each week, and intentionally designed to help make your life just a little bit better. Enjoy!
You can find the Precepts series in its entirety here.
Precept 64: Forever Life
We're often told that we're capable of achieving oh-so-much-more!
We hear things like: Hey, what are you doing with your life? or You should be able to be more of a renaissance man or renaissance woman, or There's more to life than that 9 to 5 grind you are engaged in, or step outside the box, carve your path, follow your dream. As the Disney cartoon princess so often sings, “There must be more to life…”
Look, that's all great, and I'm all for embarking upon your Hero's Journey while achieving something great in life, but I think a big missing component here – and something that results in many people feeling guilt, fear, shame, or a creeping sense of not being enough when they hear this message – is the issue of urgency.
See, when you are told that you're capable of so much more, and that you can and should do so much more with your life, it can put a bit of pressure on you, especially if you're told you need to do it soon. Wake up! You can create so much more, you can be so much more, you can make so much more, you can love so much more, you can invent so much more, you can play so much more, and you can help so much more. People hear this and tend to think, “Gosh, I'm not enough. I should've done more, I could've done more, I should be doing more, I could be doing more.”
Next, two things often happen: either A) people scramble, they over-schedule themselves, they lose their family, they lose their sleep, or they lose some other element of their life, and it's all because of a sudden game-on, pressure-on, time-to-start-doing-everything-you-possibly-can scenario, because why settle for anything less, you amazing human, you? That, or B) people just crawl into a hole and get depressed because they realize what they were capable of, what they didn't achieve, and that, well, the game is now over. Time has run out. You didn't achieve enough. So you better be stressed out and start doing it now, or be depressed that you wasted your life, slacker.
But think about this: what if the amazing blueprint, the amazing machine, the amazing human that is designed to be you, capable of so, so much – so much art, music, creativity, engineering, mathematics, singing, building, cooking, spanning, fighting, learning, twisting, bending, shaking, making, managing and creating – what if all of that capability wasn't limited to seventy years, or eighty years, or ninety years, or a hundred years?
What if there was no sense of urgency to try and fit it all in, to try and do it all, or to try and operate to your full capability? What if there was no sense of shame if you aren't jam-packing every last hour of the day with impact and self-improvement-oriented activities? What if, instead, you knew, and you have that hope deep down inside, that you would exist forever?
Furthermore, if you were going to exist forever, then all those things that you wish you could be doing that people tell you that you should be doing, and all those things that you wish you could learn that people tell you that you should be learning, and all those things that you feel like you're missing out on in life that people tell you is a must-do, bucket-list item, were all things you really aren't missing out on in the first place because you're here to enjoy things forever?
Do you really think God created you, your complex body, and this wonderful planet just to burn it all up and throw it all away someday?
Suddenly, when you realize this, your perspective changes. Specifically, your perspective changes to this: if there's even a sliver of a chance that you and I live in a magical universe where we will go on to live for infinity in these amazing bodies, capable of enjoying the wonders of creation for all of eternity, then what's the very, very best thing that you and I can be doing right now? I can tell you it certainly isn't worrying about whether or not you can “fit it all in,” learn enough, do enough, or be enough.
Instead, the very best thing you can do is to be satisfied with and savor God's creation, while using your hands, your feet, your body, your spirit, and your mind to do whatever you can to help people and whatever you can to love people (e.g. to love your neighbor as yourself). But you do not need to do any of this with a sense of dread urgency – especially the savoring parts – because you're gonna be here forever. As a matter of fact, I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that the only thing there might be a sense of urgency about is that there's a possibility that perhaps everybody doesn't actually know about the possibility of this “forever life.” This means that the very best thing you can do is rescue those folks from their sense of rushed urgency and tell them something like: “Hey, guess what? You get to live forever. Forever! You don't have to worry anymore, and you don't have to be ashamed anymore. That's pretty amazing, and it's pretty magical, and it's totally free. And here's how…”
Precept 65: Cat's In The Cradle
One of my friends recently posted a heartfelt and astute statement on Facebook. He said,
“Being gone for the longest time from my kids (six days) was tough, but them jumping on me in bed this morning was priceless. While I look to grow and expand professionally I am constantly weighing the “cost” on my family. Dad needs to have things he is passionate about and is striving towards but it can’t come at too great of a cost to the kinds. It’s the balance that we as parents all struggle with. For the previous four years we were basically stay at home parents which was great, but that can only last so long before I need to be challenged in other areas. We were put on this earth to add value and to produce. One of the biggest problems in our society today is we have too many lazy people who aren’t willing to work and add value to the world. America is only going to survive if we as a country are able to produce more than other countries. Do you have any metrics or strategies on when you know you have gone to far into the absentee role?”
I must say that I have also considered this conundrum quite a bit myself, often wondering where a parent strikes a proper balance between impact on the world and living out their purpose in life with caring for their children and engaging in time and presence as a parent. While I address many of my thoughts on this in my article about the myth of making every moment count and the “Cat's In The Cradle” song, I also thought that the responses generated by my friend's post offered many bits of helpful sage advice for parents who travel or who struggle with balance provision and protection with presence, including:
“I used to wrap little things up for my grandkids to find in different places when we were taking longer vacations! Nothing extravagant but little trinkets!”
“Military families deal with absences constantly for extended periods of time. FaceTime makes it a lot easier to stay connected. Even when apart, do things to connect and value their lives. We made pillowcases with iron-on photos of the parent who was gone. Record yourself and make videos of you reading books, singing songs, etc together.”
“The key indicator for me is my kids – they are very good at letting us know when we are needed and when they need space and what the right balance is. It ebbs and flows through their stages of growth. It’s hard to give a metric to this because it’s different for each family’s culture, values, and needs. Maybe not super helpful, but just stay as closely tuned into your kiddos as possible. The older they get, the easier it is just to have authentic conversations about it, and with littles I find it’s more about the health and balance of their emotional state.”
“If you start seeing changes in their behaviors, remember: the kids that need the most love ask for it in the most unloving ways.”
“We have to take care of ourselves first, then set an intention to be present with our kids or grandkids when we are with them. Quality time, it's called. Schedule it so it's predictable for both you and the kiddos. It's magic!”
“Yours are still pretty young now but when they're older and their schedules become more demanding with after school extra curriculurs and sports, you'll notice more then. We see it with the kids on teams: you can honestly tell which kids' parents don't take the time to help them, coach them, etc. When I was a girl scout leader, and when I was a teacher, you can tell which kids were lacking in the parent time. At the age they are now, if they aren't acting out behaviorally then they will be fine, but you, on the other hand…more often than not, my corporate friends or friends who have a schedule that doesn't accommodate parenting feel loss and regret for the time they missed when looking back but never noticed in the moment.”
The ultimate takeaway message from this exchange – for parents or would-be parents or grandparents or caretakers – is this: do what you need to do to provide for your kids, recognize that they won't be around forever, but your work probably will be, give them focused and intentional time and presence when you are home, and stay tuned to the subtle or obvious clues they give you that they aren't getting enough love, time or presence.
Precept 66: Radical Responsibility
During a recent men's mastermind event that I hosted at my home, I “identified” something about myself that I kind of already knew but became more hyper-aware of when surrounded by several other gentlemen in a social scenario: I'm a really hard guy to get to know.
-I'm really good at avoiding deep and meaningful conversations because I have or pretend I have something important I need to go rush off and do or take care of, even though that thing really isn't that important compared to the conversation I should have stayed in.
-I'm really good at inserting a light-hearted joke or creating a swift change of subject when the topic turns to me and my own failures or struggles, to someone else's “mess” that I really just don't feel like dealing with, or anything, really, that threatens me as hard or uncomfortable.
-I'm really good at hiding in the crowd and being super social and likable and friendly without really being friendly and getting to know anyone in the group intimately on a one-on-one basis because there's a high possibility that my own selfish struggles or habits or addictions or other messy aspects of my life might come to the surface if I get out of hiding in a social crowd mode.
-It's relatively rare that you will find me sitting down with a friend or brother or sister or family member, or anyone else to just “get to know them” or to simply “have a conversation.” I get antsy. I get impatient. I get uncomfortable. I get short. Can we go do something already, please?
But – despite it being important for me to note this about myself and admit it to others – my own personal struggles with being an open, vulnerable male who is good at making friends and listening to people is actually not the point I want to make here, and is definitely not a “special snowflake” situation applicable to me only.
Nope, instead, the point I want to make is this…
…when anything like this happens to me, I take note, take responsibility, affect change, pray, evolve, become, as 2 Corinthians 5:17 in the Bible says, “a new creation” and simply move on.
So, related to this situation, here's the deal: I've recognized this sinful aspect of my personality. This means that immediately today, upon identifying it, I have taken a mental note, I have publicly let others know a struggle I'm having, I have dropped to my knees during my morning prayer to God and asked Him to make me a more approachable, vulnerable, and caring person, I have jotted down a note in my journal to keep praying that until I feel I've really remarkably changed, and I have then stood up, brushed off the knees of my pants, and moved on.
But here is what I have not done, and what I think should not be done in situations such as this, but is done far too often. I have not “identified” with some mental malprogramming or neurochemical imbalance that has made me an unapproachable person. I have not searched out what kind of “father wounds,” “mother wounds,” “taking after a parent,” or “pre-existing trauma” caused me to fall into a pattern that doesn't serve me, bro. I have not played the blame game, not sought out specialized therapy, and have not scheduled a plant medicine session to explore the deep recesses of my mind underlying this issue. I have not purchased a book that walks me through a ten-step program to tackle conflict-avoidant disorder, although I once heard that term and feel like it could possibly apply to my situation. I have not labeled myself. I have not joined a support group of others who may also identify with my same issue.
No, instead, I have simply discovered something about myself that I would like to change, I have asked God to help me change it, then I have stood up to move on and become a better person today, and to continue to become a better person each day in the future. I have said, yep, I've been a shitty person when it comes to being a good friend and listener; yep, I take full responsibility for that; yep, I'm sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you. Things can and will be different now.
See, sometimes you just need to take full and radical responsibility, make a significant change with no frills or bells or whistles, play no blaming or shaming or trauma games, and just move on.
Let's take this exercise for example: sometimes you need to quit reading magazine articles about the fear complex that keeps you from going to the gym, and you just need to strap on your shoes and go experience some pain and sweating and discomfort and even embarrassment because when it comes down to it, you've just been lazy. No excuses. If someone at the gym glances at you all judgy-like because you may appear to be so unfit, you need to look them back directly in the eye and say, “Hi, I ate too much over the past ten years and decided I didn't want the discomfort of exercise, and now I'm having to deal with it, and it's really hard, but guess what? I'm going to be here every day fixing it, and even though it sucks right now because of my own darn fault, it's all going to be amazing and better each day because I've decided to change.”
There are obviously a million other examples in addition to exercise that I could detail, such as a relationship struggle, a parenting failure, a co-worker issue, a harmful habit or addiction, etc., but I think you get the point here: just take radical responsibility, then change.
No excuses. No blame. Sometimes it's as simple as admitting, I f&*ked up. I'm sorry. I'm going to repent and clean up the mess I made, I'm going to lay this all at the foot of the cross because I know that Jesus died for everybody and God is a loving father who will forgive anything, and I'm going move on and be a new me.
So now let me ask you: “What aspect of your life are you currently not changing because you either A) think it's some enormously complex issue that you need all sorts of fancy bells and whistles to fix; B) you're blaming somebody else for the problems that, in reality, you yourself created or, at least, helped to create?”?
Now, take radical responsibility and, by the grace of God, go fix it. No excuses. As a friend recently told me, sometimes you don't need to turn to any specific healing technique other than God and your own awareness and desire to change.
That's it for this week! Please leave your thoughts below if you have questions, comments, or feedback. I read them all!