Forest Gump was right when he said “life is like a box of chocolates”. Sometimes the Turkish Delight turns out to be a Coffee Cream and sometimes the Coffee Creams turns out to be Turkish Delights. Life is unpredictable, full of surprises, some to be enjoyed some to be endured!
Scott-Peck was right when he said “life is difficult”. Two thousand years earlier Jesus said pretty much the same thing. The sooner we accept life is difficult the better. Until we come to terms with the fact that life is difficult we are ill equipped to deal with it.
Several years ago during a difficult season of my life I complained to God my life wasn’t easy. His reply was as swift as it was surprising: “I never promised you life would be easy, I promised you you would never be alone”. Life – not always easy but never alone.
Albert Camus was right when he said “life is the sum of the choices we make”. That we die is a certainty. That we really live is another matter. To fully live is to embrace the truth that life itself is a choice. To live well is to choose well.
Don’t wait too long to work out who you are and why you’re on the planet. Knowing who you are and why you’re here allows you to transition from life is about “me” to life is about “us”, from what I can get out to what I can put in.
When it comes to life there’s no practice run, no dress rehearsal. So be kind to yourself and your fellow travellers. Basically we are all making it up as we go along. The first time you do anything you are most likely going to get it wrong at some point.
My heart always wants to mark special occasions like dedications, weddings and funerals with words which ensure that the milestones that chart our progress through life are also altars that mark our thankfulness along what is in essence a sacred journey. Today is such an occasion, hence my next post.
Like it or not and sometimes we don’t like it, life is characterised by seasons which mark our passage through time, each with its own rhythm, tempo, challenges and beauty. One of the keys to a happy and healthy life is to embrace our season and find joy in it.
Don’t be slow to ask for help and advice from those you trust. Help and advice is far better given and received when it’s asked for. We were not designed to be able to make it on our own yet many of us struggle through life trying to do exactly that.
The more I grow up the more I slow down not because age is getting the better of me but because the further I travel the more I realise relationships are as important as results. As the African proverbs says: travel fast travel alone, travel far travel together.
Faith does not ignore the reality that life is difficult it transcends it and transforms it. Sometimes faith unlocks miracles in the moment, at other times it partners with hope to sustain us through the chaos and confusion. Faith is necessary because life is difficult. We wouldn’t need it otherwise.
Hope is one of the most powerful transformational forces in the world. Biblical hope is certain, it has a voice that speaks “it will not always be this way, it’s only a matter of time”. Always leave your fellow travellers in life with more hope than you found them with.
If faith always produced instant results we wouldn’t need patience or perseverance. Patience means I wait well. Perseverance means I stand strong. Waiting well and standing strong strengthen my character which means whatever happens to me I will always have hope because I’m certain of the Father’s love for me.
Whoever you are you were created uniquely by God to love Him, love yourself and love the one in front of you. Our capacity to love is limited to our capacity to be loved that’s why “be-loved” is not just a name for the Church but it’s imperative.
As parents we think of our children as works in progress. It’s less likely we think of ourselves this way but we are all works in progress. I think now my children are grown up, so have I and perhaps now they are seeing the best me there has been.
Kids be kind to your parents. They applied for and got the job of being your parents without any experience or qualifications. They might not admit it but basically they are making it up as they go along which means from time to time they are going to get it wrong.
Parents be kind to your children. They didn’t select you following an extensive interview process. Be confident in and help them to be secure in the fact someone much wiser than all of you brought you together and he doesn’t make mistakes. However challenging it gets remember you’re the right people for the job.
From the moment they are born children begin exploring the world for boundaries. As parents our job is to help them create, maintain and live within healthy boundaries. Hard work which requires patience and perseverance but absolutely worth the effort. Healthy boundaries means happy children. Happy children equals happy parents.
Children grow up shaped by our estimation of what they are capable of which in my experience is more than we realise. Talk to them even when you think they’re too young to understand. Trust them and give them responsibility as soon as they are able to take it. That way they grow up knowing they have something to contribute and you trust them with that.
As early as possible give up trying to control your children’s behaviour as a parenting strategy and focus on shaping beliefs and instilling values. The time will come and sooner than you think when control is not an option. At that stage all that’s left is what your children believe and who and what they value.
Don’t allow fear and comparison to influence your parenting journey. Fear of what your kids might say or do. Fear of what other people might think or say. There are no perfect parents and there are no perfect children. Fear drives the need to control. Comparison the need to perform. Children reject both because in their hearts they know they were born for love which neither controls nor compares.
To fulfil our God given life assignment we must increase our capacity to dream and at the same time increase our capability to handle difficulty and disappointment when it comes. To encourage our children to dream without equipping them to be able to handle difficulty and disappointment is to have them fly on one wing.
What we say to our children and what we say about them matters because words change lives. Describing them as being in the “terrible twos” or the “rebellious teenage phase” reinforces unhelpful stereotypes and carves out unhealthy caricatures. Take a leaf out of the Father’s book and speak good things to and about your children and when you say “my kids are great” don’t preface it with “I would say this wouldn’t I but my kids are amazing” just say it because it’s true! Can you imagine the Father saying, “I know I’m his father and I would say this wouldn’t I, but this is my son whom I love, with him I am well pleased”. That would be the Hilarious Version!
Bob Hoskins was right when he said “it’s good to talk”. Eat together as a family as often as you can. Our family meal times were wonderful opportunities to talk. An old fashioned concept I know but looking back over twenty years we talked about everything (and I mean everything some of the topics would make your hair curl!) Amongst other things they provided me with the opportunity to educate the kids using my trusty Oxford English Dictionary on the meaning and origin of random words which as you might imagine they absolutely loved.
If life is the sum of the choices we make then it’s vital we encourage and equip our children to make good choices. Today it might be what to eat for breakfast or what to wear for school. One day it will be who to marry. Best to give them as much practice as possible on choices that don’t matter quite as much as that one!
As your children move through their teenage years into adulthood their most important navigation beacon is their relationship with you so whatever you do don’t let anything they say or do cause you to disconnect and never use that as a threat to try and control them. Let them know however tough it gets or however far away they feel, you are right there when they’re ready. Prodigal parenthood 101.
Raising our children was a community project. I would never have attempted it outside of the community of extended family and friends. Welcome other people into the lives of your children. Sometimes your children need someone other than you to talk to. Sometimes others can get away with saying things you never could and sometimes your kids need to talk about you not to you!
The most important question you can help your children is answer is “who am I?” Kids who know who they are are never at the mercy of what their peers think or say. Kids who know who they are will make good choices in terms of companions and careers and when the time comes will choose good husbands or wives.
The difference between the way in which parents and grandparents parent is that grandparents have done it before. It seems the second time they do it there are far less rules, they are far less worried about tooth decay and E-numbers and more concerned about slowing down and having fun. As parents we can learn a thing or two from grandparents: less battles, less worry, less speed and more play.
Disappointment is a choice. The choice to anchor ourselves to what might have been with the question “why?” Hope is a choice. The choice to anchor ourselves to what will be with the question “what next?” To live powerfully is to understand we have a choice and make it, to live hopefully is to transition from why? to what next?
Don’t spend so much time trying find available space to occupy in the world. You don’t make your mark on the world by fitting in you make it by being the best and most authentic version of yourself you can be. In the process it’s important to recognise that making your mark can sometimes be a bruising experience for you and those around you which requires us to be comfortable with and good at giving and receiving feedback.
Whatever you do take more risks and remember we almost always underestimate the risk of doing nothing and overestimate the risks of doing something. Don’t look back on your life and wish you had taken more risks. Start young and remember “status quo” is Latin for your life at the limit of your willingness to take risks.
The size of the rear view mirror relative to the size of the windscreen of a car tells us that whilst it’s important to look back, it’s far more important to look forward. One of the keys to journeying healthily and happily through life is to look where you’re going. Look back in order to learn, look for forward in order to live.
Be, still, know – three counter cultural words found in one of the most transformational verses in the Bible. An imperative not just an invitation, these words are the cure to the plethora of spiritual, physical, mental and emotional disease caused by a culture that values doing over being, celebrates the fast, despises the slow, rewards the head and ignores the heart.
One of my favourite Bible versus in the book of Proverbs says a house is built on knowledge, understanding and wisdom. I think of knowledge as the “what”, understanding as the “why” and wisdom as the “how and when”. Knowledge, understanding and wisdom are important companions on our journey through life. Good to know where to find them when you really need them. What? Why? How? When? Is a great decision making checklist.
One of the keys to a happy, healthy and fulfilled life is to point the crosshairs of your life at the intersection between what you enjoy, what you’re good at and where you find favour. This will allow you to say a big yes to a few things, maybe even one thing, and a lot of no’s to a lot of other things. This creates focus and focus creates momentum without which we risk falling short of some of our greatest achievements.
I’ve never viewed life as the seemingly never ending quest to work out what the will of God is for my life so I don’t miss it, as if somehow there is a detailed set of instructions that I must follow or else. From the moment I became a Christian I felt a strong sense of partnership, a relationship where I have options and am free, in fact, encouraged to choose. If you ever find yourself tempted to put your life on hold because you don’t know what God’s will is lean in and listen for the voice that says “what do you want to do?” and choose. And when you do listen out for the voice that says “sounds good to me!”
Emerging out of my teenage years it didn’t take me long to realise there was no way I was going to make it on my own! So I went looking for “the one” not the “chosen one”, I don’t believe that’s how it works. Not the one chosen by God for me, but the one I would choose and the one who would choose me. A marriage is two people choosing to spend a lifetime choosing each other. Apart from becoming a Christian choosing Sarah and being chosen by her was, and after 28 years is, simply the best!
Marriage, the lifelong journey of choosing and being chosen is beautiful, powerful and transforming but not without its challenges. The Bible describes it as a covenant which I think of as a choice two people make fuelled by love and founded on faith. Love because it’s based on the effect Sarah had and still has on me – married love might be an act of the will but it should affect your heart rate. Faith because in making a life long commitment to me Sarah had no idea what she was letting herself in for!
I don’t believe marriages are made in heaven they are made on earth. Whatever else I achieve in life my greatest achievement, joy and privilege will have been to partner with Sarah to make a marriage that withstood the test of time to become the cornerstone from which we built family and extended community. As the so called “product of a broken home” this is unimaginable grace. A gift I didn’t deserve and could never earn.
As a child I grew up learning the Green Cross Code: stop, look and listen. Over the years I’ve come to see that stopping, looking and listening is not just good advice for crossing the road it’s the key to loving God, loving ourselves and loving the one in front of us.
Stopping is the antidote to the busy-ness that robs us of intimacy with God and one another. Busyness creates a superficiality that leaves us at best with acquaintances and colleagues as opposed to family and friends.
We have to look if we are going to see into the eyes and the heart of the one who loves us and the one in front of us. We were created for a depth of relationship that requires us to see beyond our skin and into our souls.
I’m convinced in this multimedia multitasking world we have lost the art of listening and in the process we have lost touch with our creator and lost touch with each other. Listening is one of the most powerful things we will ever learn to do. To love is to listen and to listen is to love.
As a child I once locked myself in the bathroom. My Dad had to break the door down. He took a run at it because he realised there are some things in life you can only achieve with momentum. Momentum is important. It takes time, effort and focus to create. Once you’ve got it you don’t want to lose it. I believe there is only so much momentum that one generation can create. Which is why generational momentum is so important. As a father and mother Sarah and I are seeking to invest the equity of our lives in, and add strength to, the lives of those who today are running alongside us but one day will run after we are gone. When the hearts of parents are turned towards their children and the hearts of children are towards their parents it becomes a race in which we don’t compete with one another but complete one another. In the process we generate momentum greater than that which one generation alone can create to achieve more than one generation starting from scratch could ever achieve.
When Abigail was two years old she once announced to us that she was going to go and sit on the step and sort out her attitude. There have been many many occasions since when I could have done with taking a leaf out of her book. Attitude is important especially for a plane. In simple terms it is the angle of the wings relative to the horizon which makes the difference between ascending or descending. Our attitude is the angle with which we approach life’s ups and downs. It is the difference between us soaring like eagles or flapping around on the ground like chickens and headless ones at that. No amount of flapping will help if our attitude is wrong. Our attitude will ultimately determine our altitude.
This morning Sarah and I are off to church. Something I have done thousands of times since becoming a Christian 35 years ago. This morning I’m asking myself why? Think about all those lie ins reading the Sunday newspapers listening to Steve Wright’s Sunday love songs! Every time I go to church I am reminded that my salvation was personal but my sanctification is corporate. In becoming a Christian I joined the family of God, an eclectic mix of the imperfect weird and wonderful. A family which invites me to share in the blessings and responsibilities of belonging. Belonging has shaped my believing and both have shaped my becoming. This morning in going to church I’m grateful for the freedom I enjoy to worship God with others and to celebrate with them the wonderful journey we have embarked on together. I realise church is in fact not somewhere I go but who I am and “I am” because “we are”.
I believe Polonius (Hamlet Act 1) gave his son some great advice when he said “to thine own self be true.” I think this is a matter of integrity but also authenticity. Over the years I’ve become increasingly aware of the value Sarah and I have for authenticity. For ourselves and for those around us to be real which in turn allows for the possibility of authentic relationships where no one is pretending or feels the need to have to pretend. Authenticity in a person and especially a leader is powerfully liberating to those around them and expressed though family and community creates a culture where it’s ok to be me warts and all. The Apostle John describes Jesus as making grace and truth real. The Greek word used for truth here is “alethinos” from which the English word “genuine” is derived. Jesus didn’t just come to make us right he came to make us real. I believe the transformational power of his life and ours (to be transformed and to help others transform) lies in the degree to which we are authentic. Put simply if perhaps a little bluntly whatever you do: get real!
“How do I get from here to there? I wouldn’t start from here” is something I find myself saying often in the context of leading and managing change because it’s almost always true that there is a better place to start from than the one we find ourselves in. However the keys to making progress in terms of personal transformation or setting and achieving our goals are: be who you are, start where you are and take the first step. The best point of departure for our journey is be authentic, be real and be realistic. Don’t try to be someone else, don’t be embarrassed about where you are relative to anyone else and remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
I’ve always struggled with the old Sunday school notion that my heart is a castle. Castles are designed to keep people out and those who build them end up being prisoners in their own home. On the face of it castles are perceived as statements of strength but I’ve always viewed them as founded on fear. I build a castle to keep you out because I am afraid you might get in. One of the keys to personal transformation and living a transformational life is vulnerability which I think of as the willingness to live in such a way that it’s possible for other people to hurt me. That doesn’t mean I live with my heart unprotected. I think about my heart as a walled garden not a castle. A space that I guard and nurture but also a space I allow, in fact invite others into. Radical I know but sometimes it’s even good to allow what’s in your heart out! A wonderful friend and fellow traveller said to me recently that I wear my heart on my sleeve and indeed I do. I wear it to commemorate the surrender of the castle of my heart to the Father who laid siege to it and whose love eventually overcame the walls I had so painstakingly built to keep everyone including him out.
Encouraged by the ancient Greeks we have a tendency to slice and dice ourselves into many parts some literal, some metaphorical. Spirit, soul, body, heart and head to name but five. Mind, will and emotions to name another three. My journey has taught me what the Hebrews always knew, that however many parts of me there are they are all connected and I do better when I pay attention to all of them. It strikes me that we don’t always do a good job of looking after the body, that part of us we can see, never mind the rest of us which we can’t. After 50 years of practicing, some keys to living a healthy life: live spirit first, train your mind, garden your heart, and look after your body – your assignment in this world will last only as long as it does!
As the whistle for the start of the second half approaches the words of Antonio, “what’s past is prologue” (The Tempest, Act 2, Scene 1) ring increasingly loudly in my ears as a prophetic voice. Reflecting on my “first half performance” I realise I’m planning to make some significant tactical changes:
Slow down more
When I think about why I’m making these changes, at the heart of the answer is the realisation that during my first half I came to realise that God is infinitely bigger and kinder and far less tribal than I thought. He’s a good good Father.
As a result of making these tactical changes I expect the second half will be less about success – achievement and reward, and more about significance – participation and contribution.
Walking out of the rubble of a broken home aged 15 my life consisted of the contents of a black bin bag. Accompanying me on that journey, my social worker, drowning out the shouts of an old aunt who was busy disinheriting me, turned to me and said, “this doesn’t need to define you”. When I first met Christians who told me God loved me I used to respond rather angrily, “if God loves me he has a funny way of showing it”. Looking at the contents of that bin bag my issue was I had been given a life I didn’t deserve. Thirty five years later I look at my life and my issue is still the same – I have indeed been given a life I didn’t deserve. The difference is unimaginable grace, in fact grace upon grace – the grace to be able to steward the grace of God and the life represented by the contents of that black bin bag such that I might have the life I have. My life could so easily have been shipwrecked on the contents of that bin bag but by the grace of God It wasn’t. Navigating away from the wreckage of a broken home my life shouts loudly of the grace of God. That voyage causes me to be grateful and to be generous. Grateful because my life is a gift. Generous because in a sense my life is not my own and it’s said it’s easy to be generous with that which doesn’t belong to you. The richness of my life is not reflected in what I possess but who possesses me. In ending this post and this series I’m reminded of these beautiful verses and couldn’t resist closing with them and in so doing encourage you to be good stewards of the contents of your “bin bag” and the grace of God.
“7 Throughout the coming ages we will be the visible display of the infinite, limitless riches of His grace and kindness which was showered upon us in Jesus Christ! 8 For it was only through this wonderful grace that we believed in Him. Nothing we did could ever earn this salvation, not even our faith, for it was the gracious gift from God that brought us to Christ! 9 So no one will ever be able to boast, for salvation is never a reward for good works or human striving. Ephesians 2:7-9 (The Passion Translation)”