In his book the 7 habits of highly successful people, Stephen Covey tells us high on our list we should “begin with the end in mind”
He says imagine entering a church in your best clothes, walking down the aisle and seeing all your friends seated there in the church. For some, that would be a great surprise knowing your friends!
Then, imagine getting to the front of the church and seeing an open coffin there. When you look in the coffin, you are face to face with yourself. This is your funeral – three days from today. Everyone is here in church to talk about you. In a few moments someone from your family will talk about you. Then one of your friends, someone from where you work and someone from your community organisation is going to speak about you and your life. What are they going to say? How would they describe your life? What things would you want them to say about your life?
Now this is seriously thinking about the end. Your funeral is the end of this life and we all know it’s coming our way. So Covey is interested in getting you to think about where you will end up (before your funeral) and what significant things you will do through your life. But if you are going to end up somewhere, retirement is not to late to figure out where you want to be. You have to begin with the end in mind. So where are you going this year?
You may think that’s too hard for you to work out but I learned a long time ago that I shouldn’t use the phrase “I can’t”. Instead I should use the words “I choose not to.” That gives me a real insight on why I choose to do, or not do something. Some people are what you might call “reactive people” They believe they are not responsible for what they say and do – they have no choice. On the other hand proactive people believe they are responsible for what they say and do. And if you want to be proactive (another of Coveys habits) it means you can’t blame genetics, circumstances, or learning for your behaviour. You can’t use the excuse – “that’s just who I am” or the excuse “I haven’t got the money/energy or anything else” or even the excuse “that’s the way I’ve done it all my life.”
So where are you going in life now that your workplace in no longer setting the pace and direction for you? What is it that is driving you on. If you boil it down to one thing what is at the very centre of your life? What thing make you tick? What thing give you wisdom and guidance to make decisions, and security against the storms of life and power to keep going? Think very carefully about these question because they help you discover what things really matter to you.
I think it’s easy to say “I need more money to make life meaningful”. But that “money monster” which lives in every one of us is never the real answer. When we feed the monster with more, it is satisfied, but only for a short while. Very soon it reaches out again. You can never seem to completely satisfy it’s hunger for long. And anyway when you reach retirement, unless you take up a career (probably short lived) of robbing banks, it’s not likely your economic position will get much better. But you can decide to make the most of what you have. At least then the monster that resides in money, will then be tamed. And it seems to me that, if money becomes the the controlling factor in your thinking, then you will miss the better things in life that God planned for you.
One very rich man in the bible wrote:- I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well–the delights of the heart of man…. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure…. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
I know it’s probably not a true story but someone once said there was a man who wrote to the tax department saying he had not been able to sleep properly since 2001 when he had cheated on his tax return. He went on “I have enclosed 5 x $100 bills. If I don’t get some sleep I’ll send you the rest”!
The other, thing that takes over our lives is the way we use to get money before we retired. I know people whose life you could sum up by saying “He’s a doctor”, “He’s a fitter and turner” Their whole life is their job. Until they retire!
Now I know most of us once got a sense of identity from our job and I am not criticising that. But when all of who we are is wrapped up in our work, our whole life is vulnerable to anything that interferes with our ability to work. The problem is, work provides no guidance as to how to live, no wisdom for the decisions we need to make and often very little power or security. People caught up in this often assume that everyone else understand that economic demands come before everything else. They says “I can’t be there on Sunday because of work”, or “I cant go to my daughters graduation – I have to work”.
I wonder if you can hear your own voice saying that? It’s easy to fall into the trap of placing work before all else but the truth is all of us know that work is not the sole purpose for which we were created. And when we retire the work excuse comes crashing down.
The same man wrote in the bible:- My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labour. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
Another thing people place at the core of their life is the quest for fun and pleasure. Todays world is the fast food variety where instant gratification is available and encouraged. Every night the TV they proclaim the good life. Great excitement, good living and a life that seems to be constant fun. All work and no play makes jack a dull boy – they say. But pleasure is transient and offers no long term satisfaction. In fact the problem is, pleasure seekers get bored easily with the thing that once brought them pleasure so they are always seeking new things. New experiences, new thrills. The seduction of the person caught in this trap means that before they realise it, their life is gone and they end up like the author I quoted from the bible before. He said:-
I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly–my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worth while for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives…. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
So if work, seeking after pleasure and money won’t satisfy are there any other things?
Another thing that people make the centre of their lives is their family. This at first seems natural and proper. It is an area requiring deep investment & provides opportunities for significant relationships and love. In fact the joy and sharing within a family can make life worthwhile. But as a centre of existence, it has problems and may bring a destructive element to the things you most cherish.
Over time every family changes. People come and go. People grow and change and break away from the inner circle. When family is the centre of your life, you are vulnerable to these changes and often will fight against any change – even if the change is a normal part of growing and developing. Thus parents end up as opponents to the development of their own children. Thus children wear guilt that is exaggerated because of insignificant things and sometimes, simply because they grew up.
So family, possessions, pleasure, work, your spouse or even the church cannot give true meaning to your life. There is only one thing that can give you power and security and guidance and wisdom whoever you are. Whether your family is large or small, close or distant. Whether you have money or an overdrawn bank account or posessions or no posessions. That is a relationship with God. He is the source of wisdom within the universe. He is the source of power for life. He gives guidance to all who ask and he provides security which not only lasts for this life but lasts forever.
The trouble is so few people discover the resources of God. Even fewer put God at the centre of their life. Most people want God involved in their lives but they want him on the edge. They reason that if he was at the centre of their life they would have less control. He may want them to do the things they don’t like. He may require them to give away their money to his projects. He may require them to go places they don’t want to go.
Friends all that is true. God may want you to give away your hard earned cash to His projects. He may want you to go to Bangladesh or Indonesia and help people who’s name you don’t know and whose face you have not yet seen. He may require you to be involved in things that are too hard for you and that involve years of struggle. But would you like to die as Princess Dianna did – with plenty of riches but a trail of broken relationships behind. Or would you prefer to die like Mother Teresa who left a Sari, a bucket and a better world. She made a difference to all she touched. She made the world a better place and she did so because at the centre of her life was a relationship with God.
You see the only way you can achieve your lifes purpose is to get in touch with the one who designed you. The one who broiught you into the world for a purpose. He is the only one who can put you on the right track. He is the only one who can set your feet on the right path.