Congratulations to me on having finally arrived at that wonderful place wherein it doesn't matter to me if people don't find me bright, interesting, engaging, articulate or attractive. I am finally -- at 52 -- happy with who I am. I have finally decided that I have things to say that are worth taking note of.
To that end I have prepared a list of the most important lessons my life thus far has taught me. And here they are. If they bless you or resonate with you, then the time spent jotting them down has been worthwhile.
Love generously. But be highly selective about who is the recipient of your generous love. God is vast enough and powerful enough to absorb rejection and exploitation. Your heart however is not. There will be those, even those closest to you, even those who claim to love you most, who will watch as you give generously and love generously to the point of depletion. And they will remain silent. They will wonder why you cannot give and love even more.
Yes it's true that we must love when we least feel like it, and yes we must love even when it hurts, but not everyone deserves lavish love. Love generously only the ones who will keep it circulating. God does not ask us to love lavishly those who will reject us or hurt us or who cannot love us back. That's his job. Our job is to love a small number of people in a big way, and be kind, compassionate or at least polite to the rest.
Your body will make every effort to remain faithful to you but you must do your part also. Somewhere along the way you will realize that it's not about your dress size or the number on the scales, or about whether your body shape is well suited for this or that specific style. It's about living long and living well in a body that enables you to move easily, to jump to your feet, to run with your dog, to sustain occasional heavy work, to lift and carry, to push and pull and to accept occasional abuse gracefully.
You can choose to ignore the warning messages that your body sends you when you are inconsiderate of it, but it will eventually ensure that the messages get through. They will get louder and louder until finally you are forced to attend. But you don't have to wait that long. Make friends with your body. Make friends with its disappointing parts, its quirks. its deficiencies; and show it love by keeping it moving, by fuelling it with good things, and by allowing it to rest... and at times to be still.
Your body will take you into old age and it will have tremendous impact on what those years will look like. It will shape your independence, your state of mind, and the extent to which you engage with the world. Be thankful for it and be good to it. It will escort you to the next life, and deserves your attention.
Your mind is the most fragile component of who you are, more fragile than your body or your spirit or your heart. I have learned to be wary of advice about trusting your inner voice or listening to what your innermost self tells you. I have learned that I can't always trust my own counsel, and that my thoughts can be distorted by fatigue, by depression, by pain, by frustration, and by the hurtful and insensitive words of others.
Your sense of self, your sense of well-being, and your sense of competence are all impacted by the extent to which you care for yourself, you engage in stillness, you guard yourself against negative influences, you rest, you play, and you make time for creativity. Receive everything with an open mind, but employ filters with respect to what you allow to penetrate and shape your worldview. Otherwise you are a rudderless ship being tossed about on the waves by every new idea, every counter-cultural claim, every declaration of truth, every profession of spiritual insight. Recognize that you have wisdom and knowledge, and don't be afraid to stand your ground on that basis.
With very few exceptions your job is not worth dying for. It's not even worth crying about, losing sleep over, or missing a family meal for. It is certainly not worth neglecting the people you love for. Goals are good. Achievements are worth celebrating. Moving forward in your life is better than being stuck; but there is nothing wrong with stillness. There is nothing wrong with contentment. And there is nothing bad about deciding not to accept the next challenge. So much has been said about this that that I risk using words that sound like platitudes -- words about deathbed conversations that don't include career choices, tombstones that don't remark on the work ethic of the deceased, and parenting that doesn't resemble Harry Chapin's Cats in the Cradle song.
But until you hit the wall and realize the cumulative impact of years of sleep deprivation, eating your meals in the car while driving, spending more time sitting in front of an electronic device than walking in nature -- until you realize that your choice to make your work your priority has had repercussions for your body, your relationships and your general sense of well-being, you will continue to open every conversation, every email, every social interaction with an appeal, a disclaimer, a justification and an explanation that busyness exempts you from being the kind of friend, coworker, partner or parent that you would like to be. No job deserves that status. Unless your life's work is directly related to ending illness, conflict or human misery on a mass scale, then it doesn't entitle you to be absent from your relationships. Refuse to believe the lie that busyness equals productivity equals living a meaningful life.
You can't make your life work without God at its center. Whatever else you are organizing your life around will fail you, will leave you, will disappoint you or will come to an end. It's not enough to be a good partner, a good parent, a good employee a good neighbor. All of these things are fine and noble, but they are not enough.
There will come a time in your life whether it's in your youth, in your middle-age or in your senior years when everything that you've built your life on will suddenly fail you. It might be pulled mercilessly out from beneath your feet or you may simply realize one day that it is no longer there, and that you'd been standing for some time on a crumbling foundation: a misconception that the love of others was enough to sustain you, a conviction that your family or your life's work would always provide you with a sense of purpose, an arrogant belief that you would always have good health. But when that moment comes -- when you find that there is no one to hear or acknowledge your aching -- you will also find that God was there the whole time, waiting to be given a place in your life.
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