I’m working on my year-end finale for my blog, a practice I’ve been doing for years now, maybe as far back as 2012. I’ve been writing even longer than that. To be honest, some of my old writing makes me cringe, but it’s interesting to see the development of both my perspectives and writing skills. Probably over a thousand pieces and millions of words later, I’ve managed to progress into a decent writer with a few works that I am proud of. Am I proud of most of my work? No, not at all. Most of my work remain as drafts, a lot of them I would say are ok, some of them are horrible (the ones that make me cringe), and a very few of them I would say bring me pride. Some people say I can be too hard on myself (and that’s why I can be hard on others), but I’ve only understood where the difference.
When you have a true vision, not some made-up thing you wrote on a piece of paper because some workshop told you it was important, but a clearer and clearer picture of how things should be, and when you’re a true artist, not just someone who has things to express, but someone who will stop at nothing to bring that true vision to life, then you are driven by a force beyond you. You’re not driven to belong, to fit-in, to be accepted; you’re not driven to be praised, to be acknowledged, nor respected; you’re not driven simply by money (though that’s always useful), by more and more stuff, and by vanity records. There is no success nor failure, they are only milestones on the journey. There are no consolation prizes, no “good enough”.
There is only that picture. Like the image on a box puzzle that guides the puzzle master as he or she shuffles through the pieces to find what fits towards completion, a true vision guides us – and reminds us pieces are missing.
I’ll write more about the idea of vision and true vision (because I want to make a distinction between the watered-down vision inspirational speakers use and true vision). For this post, I want to focus on the idea of Missing Pieces. When I look at the puzzle box image of my life, the true vision I want to achieve for the time and place I find myself a part of, I find so many missing pieces, so many gaps and empty spaces.
There are gaps in my character.
There are gaps in my resources.
There are gaps in my abilities.
There are gaps in my faith.
There are gaps in my promises.
There are gaps in my teams.
There are gaps in my marriage, gaps in my fatherhood, gaps in my health, in my relationships, in my service, and in so many other things.
In many of those gaps, while I know that the gap exists, I find that I am missing the piece or pieces to fill it in. It’s not something I have with me currently. And this is many times a good thing, our missing pieces, our needs, our blanks, help guide our search. They clarify for us what we need to be seeking and working on.
Most people see their lack, their needs, and their incompleteness as a reason to feel inferior, to be discouraged, to be worried and fearful. Don’t be like most people. Your missing pieces are guides, a million times better than 99% of the commercial mentors out there. They point you to what you should be seeking for, and as the verse says:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
– Matthew 7:7
Many times, we don’t find the missing pieces, because we’re not actually looking for the missing pieces. We’re looking for security, for comfort, for acceptance. We’re looking for the benefit of the missing pieces, not the missing pieces themselves.
We want financial security, when the missing pieces are probably discipline and contentment.
We want spiritual security, when the missing pieces are probably a better understanding of God and community.
We want relational security, when the missing pieces are probably forgiveness and kindness.
We want a more comfortable and secure world, when the missing pieces are probably more selfless and more generous neighbours, starting with ourselves.
Let me summarize:
When you have a true vision, a picture in your head of what you’re developing, you’ll find gaps and missing pieces.
These missing pieces are guides, they tell us what to look for, what to seek.
Many times we’re seeking for the benefits of the pieces, not the pieces themselves, then wonder why our situation isn’t changing. We’re still missing the pieces!
So look for the piece. Seek for that necessary piece. It’s only that piece that can bring a more sustainable personal peace. (Now that ending sucked. That sounded like a cheesy preacher on a Sunday morning. But you get the point.)
“But you can never go wrong with the priceless things. They’ll always be a steal.”
The start of a new year is always a good time to step back and take deep look at the state of our lives. It’s a good time to evaluate ourselves, our desires and dreams, goals and accomplishments, our challenges and concerns, as well as our actions and decisions.
I actually think we should be doing this regularly – as in all-year regularly.
I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions simply because, based on my experience and casual observance of others, we rarely sustain these grand decisions. Instead, I like to follow the Japanese practice of Kaizen – continuously growing through small improvements each day. So every evening, right before reading a self-imposed number of chapters before bed, I like to evaluate my day, what went right, what went wrong, what should I work on tomorrow or the next few days, what goes on my to-do list, what are the challenges, and after considering them I lift them to God to bless, to redeem, sometimes to forgive. I try to apply this practice of incremental growth powered by God’s grace to the things I do, whether it be business, social work, study, my creative pursuits, or whatever.
Despite this I can still be a jerk (a capital JERK to some), still be selfish, or unkind, or lustful (Yes, you women can be incredibly beautiful – and irritatingly illogical so don’t let your head get too big.). I can still be arrogant sometimes (Ok, more than sometimes.), still insecure (Which is why I’m arrogant.), still fearful (Which is why I’m insecure.), and incredibly limited in my goodness and capabilities (Which is why I’m fearful.).
All these shortcomings are products of wrong decisions, which in turn are products of a skewed value-system. Somewhere along the way, whether consciously or unconsciously, I learned to value the wrong things. Not everything of course, I do have right values, but enough mistaken valuations to leave a mark.
When my brothers and I were kids my parents read us a story from the book No Wonder They Call Him Savior by Max Lucado. It tells the story of an unusual kind of robbery where some thieves broke into a store, and instead of taking items all they did was switch the price tags around. Some expensive things became cheap, and the cheap things became expensive.
The funny thing was that no one noticed the price change at first. So people shopped as usual, buying things at unusually huge discounts and unusually huge markups.
And sometimes our world is like that. We shop around through life sometimes making decisions that cost us more than what we get for it and sometimes taking other things of value for granted. And just like walking through a superstore, walking through life can be overwhelming with all the options calling out to you.
And so to help me remember (because I can be immensely forgetful) I have brought out a shopping list – a shopping list for life that I thought about when I was a teenager, detailing the things I would pursuit. I’ve changed some of the words and ordering but the treasures have stayed the same. Proof that, despite my lack of experience and knowledge at the time, an open heart can see with amazing clarity.
I use the article “a” instead of “the” because I don’t want to suggest that my list is the only list possible list or even the best. This is merely MY reminder for MYSELF that I hope will cause you to evaluate your situation, to see what it is you’re purchasing with your life decisions, and to weigh the cost that you’re paying.
My simple shopping list for life:
1. A real relationship with God
Where I’ll find it: In time spent with Him
Where I won’t find it: Religion
2. A family with a lot of kids
Where I’ll find it: With the birds and the bees, and a ball and chain – Kidding. I’m still trying to figure this one out.
Where I won’t find it: In my chauvinism, E-Harmony (Not that there’s anything wrong with E-Harmony. How do I say it? It’s just not me?)
3. The means to help the poor and unjustly treated
Where I’ll find it: Proper valuation
Where I won’t find it: In my selfishness that only focuses on what I want and what I need
4. The ability to steward the resources that are entrusted to me
Where I’ll find it: In humility – I don’t have it. I don’t know. Father, give me grace.
Where I won’t find it: In my arrogance and self sufficiency
Every now and then I get lost, while driving, while looking for a restaurant, or a shop, or just inside my head. Sometimes I get distracted, by a looming concern, a pretty face, a smart conversation. And even sometimes I lose my way, forgetting what’s really important, purchasing baggage at crazy prices. So I have to keep reminding myself of what I really want, of what’s really important to me. Because you’ll always go wrong by buying something you don’t really want, no matter how seemingly cheap. But you can never go wrong with the priceless things. They’ll always be a steal.