I met with our Monday night small group. This group has been a blessing to me in two ways: they help keep my eyes off of my own situations and on theirs, and they encourage me by their faith. In this group are men in their very early twenties to genuine senior citizens. It’s a testament that God is relevant to all ages, and that the Gospel resonates to everyone. When the Gospel takes center stage, it doesn’t matter what age, what gender, what economic condition, or whatever separation, Christ will be glorified and the believers edified.
It also takes the pressure of me to be a perfect leader. I’m far from a perfect individual much less a good leader. So I point them to Jesus.
I’d like to share with you what I shared with them earlier, starting with this question:“If you could choose how the people you truly love will remember you, what would you choose to be remembered by?”
Think about it.
There is an End and Ends Within
The first answers were more like what you would expect from anyone who wants to be remembered, including an honorable state funeral. But I clarified the question, I said, “The people you truly love. How will they remember you? Not how people in general will remember you, but your parents, your spouses or girlfriends, your kids, your grand kids even. The people you say you love, how do you want them to remember you?
The discussion became a lot more sombre from then on.
A sober reminder for everyone came upon all of us. There is an end, and within this end, are many ends, that hopefully were necessary to end (as the famous book Necessary Endings talks about). And interestingly we distilled that the most important thing we would want our loved ones to remember is simply this: that we truly loved them.
This was a wonderful setup for our verse of the day, Psalm 90:12, Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.
I like how beautifully that was put. Teach us to realize the brevity…Brevity. Meaning short or brief.
Here David was saying, teach me to realize that life is short, because when we realize how temporary this all is, how limited time we really have, it makes us consider what is truly valuable. And if what is truly valuable is for our loved ones to know we love them, what are we doing in our brief lives to make sure that is true when our own end comes?
Our parents won’t always be alive. Our children won’t always be young. Our friends come and go. Our associates, even more temporary. And every life that interacts with our’s is affected in small ways, in big ways, for good, for evil, and in that span of time we have with each other, we either planted a garden of roses to bless others lifelong, or a garden of regret that leaves scars to be weeded. Will these people know when I’m gone that I loved them?
At the end of my life, would God know I loved Him? Or will He know I was just using Him?
If we say we love someone, is the result of our life touching their’s lead to beauty?
Or is the result of our life touching their’s lead to a cage? In which case we can say, that maybe we did love others, but not as much as ourselves, and we can’t say we truly loved someone if we weren’t willing to lay ourselves down for them.
Every day our time with others runs out. Our death comes closer automatically. Their deaths too. We don’t need to try. We don’t have control.What we do control are our decisions within the time that we have. Depending on our decisions will those we love remember us as someone who loved them or someone who used them.
There is an end. And there are ends within that end. This leads me to my next point.
Prune Towards Your Desired End
The book Necessary Endings talks about pruning the things in your life that keep you from flourishing. No one likes pruning. Least of all me. I like to hold on to things tightly. But I’ve had to prune and I’ve seen how resources being sucked out of me have now been reallocated to helping more people at less detriment to myself.
Pruning is an important part of life. Every gardener knows this is necessary if we are to achieve our desired end.
One cannot go through life accidentally and feel like a winner. We are a product of our life’s choices.
For the Christian, it’s not enough to just prune. We need to prune towards a specific desired end, and that is a flourishing life that honors God
That’s one huge mistake I must admit I made for most of my life. Even as I pruned and introduced discipline into my life, I was not pruning towards a life that honors God. I was pruning towards a life that honors David. And God won’t bless a life that takes His honor, the honor He alone deserves.
I have had this picture in my head of what’s right for me – and I did not once think if that picture was a God-honoring picture. It was a flourishing rose bush alright but its fragrance was for my respectability, my security, my glory. That is subtle pride but it is still pride. To think that I can plan my life without considering the honor of God.
This is obvious in my decisions.
I live a vain life that is not aware of whether I am honoring God yet I feel entitled and justified, so I have expectations of success, blessing, and peace, even as I am fooled by my own vanity to believing promises of liars. We are never fooled by something we don’t want & someone we don’t trust. We are always fooled by something we desire & someone we trust. The best way to fool someone is to offer him something he already really wants. In other words, we are also responsible for fooling ourselves by desiring and trusting the wrong things. I’ve been a fool myself. At times I find, prayer doesn’t undo the consequences of my foolish decisions. It reassures me that God is with me as I learn my lesson, but the lesson stays, sometimes painfully stays. But if I continue to desire & trust the wrong things then I have not truly learned. I cannot do new versions of old sins and find rest.
To live a life that does not honor God, even a good life, is a life that takes His honor from Him. How can I say I love Him while taking the credit for myself even as I know that everything I am today is by His hand?
I need to prune towards a new desired end, an end that honors God.
Where is God?
One of the things I’ve learned is to look for God when I read the Bible. For most of my life I looked for me. I looked for how I could be more like David, or Daniel, or Paul. I forgot to look for the hero. I forgot to look for God. So now I’m changing my approach, and I look for God in each verse. Where is God in Psalm 90:12?
He is the Teacher David is requesting to learn from. David is saying, “You teach me how to live this life wisely.”
My dad explained before, that teachers back then were not like the ones we have in classrooms today. Teachers back then were people whose life you followed. The way they taught their students was by living and sharing life with them.
David here says, “Spend time with me that I may learn that life is brief and temporary and learn to value the right things.”
Everyone will be remembered. We will be remembered by what we value. Not everyone will be remembered beautifully.
Like I said in my 2012 year end post, The loss of a man (or woman) who has lived a beautiful life will be beautifully remembered. Though sad, his memory will bring up gratitude. It’s the opposite for those who live selfishly. Their memory will be resented.
I’ve lived quite selfishly by not seeking the honor of God in my life. Again, it’s time to prune towards a flourishing David that honors God.
First of all, I would like to wish you all a very very Happy New Year! I know 2013 will be the best year yet – though this will not happen by accident nor mere chance. Yes, there will be miracles, unexpected serendipities, but where we find ourselves has mostly to do with what direction we choose and the steps we take. The seeds we have planted in our hearts will inevitably bloom into actions, and then the fruit of our lives will reveal us for who we truly are. I’ve learned that there is no need to strive to prove oneself, the fruit of my life will communicate everything I want and do not want others to know.
Fruits are natural outcomes. A farmer’s control over the fruit comes in only two ways:
1. through the seed he plants (or allows others to plant)
2. through his cultivation (or the cultivation of others)
This 2013, I hope you will be vigilant about the seeds you plant in your life by choosing wisely the sites, the books, the shows, the music, the advice, the opinions, the food, and whatever else you consume. What you plant and cultivate in your physical body will dictate the fruit of your body. What you plant and cultivate in your emotional self will dictate your emotional fruit. What you plant and cultivate in your mind will dictate your intellectual fruit. What you plant and cultivate in your spirit will dictate your spiritual fruit.
All of my life’s regrets have come from planting and cultivating the wrong things in my heart. Unless I want more of the same, I need to change the seeds I plant, I need to change what I cultivate.
It isn’t rocket science.
Now, without further ado, my lessons learned on life, loss, and love.
“I know, but no matter what I choose I have to live with it. Forever. I have to be able to go forward and not look back anymore. Can you understand that?”
– The Notebook
More isn’t always better, Linus. Sometimes it’s just more.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
– Albert Einstein
Life is a beautiful gift from God. Our time on Earth is a precious moment that is hopefully filled with thousands of other precious moments. My dad always told my brothers and I, that every day was like a train loading cargo, every hour represented a box car, when that box car passed we couldn’t store anything anymore. It was gone forever. He taught us to make the most of our time, because someday our train would arrive, and what we are left with are the things we stored in times past. “So make the most of your time”, he would say.
I know now what it means to make the most of my time. And it started by realizing what living a beautiful life IS NOT.
The beautiful life is not about the length of my days, but that faith, hope, and love fill my everyday.
It isn’t about living the prescribed life of the world, but realizing, and hopefully realizing sooner than later, that the life I have means the world – I need to cherish each day.
It is not about valuing the amassing of amounts, but about whether we are amassing amounts of true value.
– More lovers do not mean more love (it may mean more baggage)
– More food does not mean more satisfaction (it may mean for fat)
– More money does not mean more security (it may mean more inequality)
– More power does not mean more freedom (it may mean more corruption)
– More experience does not mean more fulfilment (it may mean more jadedness)
– More recognition does not mean more identity (it may mean more pride – which is insecurity)
– More laughter does not mean more joy (it may mean more superficiality)
– More friends do not mean more approval (it may mean more phoneys)
– More activity does not mean more success (it may mean more stress)
– More pomp does not mean more meaning (it may mean more mirages)
It is best to learn this early.
The beautiful life is not about avoiding suffering, but about finding something, someone, worth suffering for.
A beautiful life is not a search for one’s self, but about seeking to love others and in the process finding myself.
A beautiful life is not about butterflies in my stomach, but about commitment that does not flutter away.
The beautiful life is not about the being able to do whatever I want, when I want, how I want, why I want, but about finding freedom in the boundaries of exclusive intimacy.
More on a beautiful life coming up, please read on…
“The reason it hurts so much to separate is because our souls are connected. Maybe they always have been and will be. Maybe we’ve lived a thousand lives before this one and in each of them we’ve found each other. And maybe each time, we’ve been forced apart for the same reasons. That means that this goodbye is both a goodbye for the past ten thousand years and a prelude to what will come.”
– The Notebook
You know what’s wrong with you, Miss Whoever-you-are? You’re chicken, you’ve got no guts. You’re afraid to stick out your chin and say, “Okay, life’s a fact, people do fall in love, people do belong to each other, because that’s the only chance anybody’s got for real happiness.” You call yourself a free spirit, a “wild thing,” and you’re terrified somebody’s gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you’re already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it’s not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It’s wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.
[takes out the ring and throws it in Holly’s lap]
Here. I’ve been carrying this thing around for months. I don’t want it anymore.
– Paul Varjak, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Rosebushes and other plants produce more buds than the plant can sustain. The plant has enough life and resources to feed and nurture only so many buds to their full potential; it can’t bring all of them to full bloom. In order for the bush to thrive, a certain number of buds have to go…
He (the caretaker) prunes them…
…You have to know the standard you are pruning towards
– Henry Cloud
I don’t particularly like endings, especially when it’s the end of a good story. But every story has to end at some point, in one way or another, and it’s really so that a new one can begin – hopefully, if we choose right, a more beautiful story. Our lives don’t have to be like a movie series, always a comedy, or always a romance, or always a horror story, and each sequel just more of the same.
Why settle when your life can be an epic?
Whether the end comes because of necessity or choice, here are some of my thoughts on loss:
– When you prune a bud from a bush it is pruned forever.
– It is not just about pruning, but about knowing what I am pruning towards. If I prune every time there is trouble, pain, risk, or threat, without knowing what I am pruning to become, I run the risk of pruning forever what could have been a beautiful rose.
– If my life is looking like some badly written, badly produced, badly casted, badly directed, badly acted, badly edited movie that is badly received – I need to change the writer, change the producer, change the cast, change the director, change my acting and my co-actors, and change the editor. I need to lose them and it is a good loss.
– The loss of a man (or woman) who has lived a beautiful life will be beautifully remembered. Though sad, his memory will bring up gratitude. It’s the opposite for those who live selfishly. Their memory will be resented.
– If we are always losing in the same way, then it’s maybe time we played a different way, or maybe it’s time we played a different game.
– The worst reasons to lose are because of pride and fear. The best reasons to let go are faith, hope, and love – and interestingly, they are also the best reasons to hold on.
– How do we know if we should hold on or let go? Ask yourself, “Is my holding on because of faith, hope, and love?” If it is not, let go.
– Ask yourself too, “Is my letting go because of faith, hope, and love?” If it is not, hold on until you have clarity. Like I said earlier, once you prune a bud from a bush, it is pruned forever.
– The dead cannot hear our words. Don’t wait until it’s too late to say and do the things you need to do. Too late is when our time with a person has run out, when it is now impossible for them to receive from us.
– Always, always, always make sure, that when you say goodbye, you left that life better than when you said hello.
Losses usually come as bad news, but the good news is coming up. I told you, more on a beautiful life. Please read on…
“She would tell him what she wanted in her life–her hopes and dreams for the future–and he would listen intently and then promise to make it all come true. And the way he said it made her believe him, and she knew how much he meant to her.”
“You and I were different. We came from different worlds, and yet you were the one who taught me the value of love. You showed me what it was like to care for another, and I am better because of it. I don’t want you to ever forget that.”
– The Notebook
I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice
To worship you, Oh my soul rejoice!
Take joy, my King, in what you hear
May it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear
I posted this on my status earlier this week:
“What can we say about a world that praises a drunk, gambler, and adulterer as long as he wins in the ring, disdains him when he loses a match, and blames a faith that won him his wife and family back?”
I think most of you misunderstood my status message. That was not a rebuttal to Pacquiao’s critics. It was an interrogative sentence for us to ponder.
The answer is this: This is the world WE ALL live in. I do not value winning in the ring more than winning in life, but I do live in a world that does. My response should not be one of defensive pride but of humility before God, who is God of all Christians by the way, Catholics included. Some of my favourite people in the world are Catholics. Three of my favourite writers, whose books have truly influenced my relationship with God, GK Chesterton, Peter Kreeft and Matthew Kelley, are Catholics.
So to say that Pacquaio lost because he changed some traditions, while growing His faith in and love for the same God, is to very arrogantly say that a certain interpretation of Christianity has a monopoly on God’s goodness.
No can say that. And no one should.
In very simple terms, there are two incredibly wrong things I’m pointing out:
1. A world that values the gaining of power, recognition, and money over faith and family.
2. A faith that automatically equates a person’s achievement with God’s blessing
I am guilty of both. We all are.
And who can blame us? Have we not been taught since children that the student with the highest grades gets the honour and the student with the lowest, dishonour? Have we not watched our elders applaud achievement and criticize failure? The smart student gets the grade, the kind kid gets what? The strong athlete gets the medal, the good sport gets what?. The beautiful girl gets the bouquet, and the friendly one? What about the kind one? Sure there’s a sportsmanship award, sure there’s a Ms. Congeniality, but who wants those? Life is a competition, the ones on top are the winners. Everyone else is a fan.
This is the world we live in.
Why do you think endorsers works so well?
Because we like seeing success and achievement, and we like associating ourselves with success and achievement – even if it is so superficially done through driving the car they drive, drinking their coffee, doing their workout.
This whole Pacquiao argument on religion has revealed more about us, you and me, than it has about the reality of Christianity.
This has revealed that we sometimes put our faith, at least part of our faith on “poster boys” and not completely on Jesus.
Manny Pacqiao becoming Christian doesn’t make Christianity more real, neither does his losing a boxing match make it less real. The problem is when Christians, you and me, take a person and make him a Christian poster boy. We take a good speaker and say “This guy is gifted. God has given him a leadership anointing.” We take a guy whose business is picking up and say, “He’s obeying God. God is blessing him.” We take an active person or a vocal person and say, “They’ve been so active. She really loves God.” When that poster boy fails, and he will because he’s human, our faith is shaken.
Maybe it’s not a poster boy. Maybe it’s a pastor. Maybe it’s a leader. Maybe it’s a relative, a prodigy, a talent, an achiever, a mature person, whoever he or she is, whatever it is, if we make it our source of faith and security, our lives will go nuts when that source fails us.
I think we should stop equating material blessing, recognition, and comfort as automatically the fruit of Christianity. Those things are nice but they’re not what the Bible calls the fruit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, grace, gentleness, and self-control. If my small group grows, if my business profits, if my star rises, if my pastors commend me, yet I do not love, have peace, practice patience, if I am unkind, if I am evil, especially to those I can take advantage of, if I am self-justified, if I am harsh, and if I have no discipline, how can I say that this is the will of God?
So if Pacquiao had kept winning in the ring, kept getting big contracts, kept earning, kept getting respect, this is proof of God’s blessing even if had kept mistreating his wife?
No wonder there’s so much brokenness.
This has revealed we have a genie problem…
We think that the proof of God, the proof of His goodness, is seen when He acts for our benefit. When something costs us or is difficult or requires a fight or sacrifice, we automatically think “this can’t be God”. What this really says is, “God is here to promote my security, recognition, comfort, and make my dreams come true.” What this really says is, “I’m God.”
We will miss so many amazing things waiting for us if we can only see great things in ease.
We will miss the miraculous. We will miss the overcoming. We will miss the breakthrough. We will miss the beauty of knowing that we were loved at our worst.
Thank God that He is not our genie or we will get our selfish wishes.
This has revealed we have a basic thinking problem…
Two boys played basketball, one of them won, who has a better religion? Any answer to this is non sequitur. Now change basketball to boxing.
Do we really believe the ways of the Maker of Heaven and Earth are proven by who won a match between two sweaty guys with padded hands?
Does this now mean that the world’s most accomplished boxer, whoever he may be, has the best religion?
Finally, this has revealed that we care more about a person’s achievements than we do about a person. We never cared whether Manny Pacquaio was throwing his family away, or the pain of adultery his wife must have felt, or the consequences of his gambling and drinking as long as he made us all proud by winning in the ring. Now we have nothing to be proud of, at least not something the world will reward him for, but watching his peace in post-fight interviews, and seeing a genuinely affectionate wife embrace him, I think that losing a fight was a small price to pay to see a man’s faith and love prove real.