Here was a man who had achieved his goals in life. But because all his pursuits had been propelled by the desire to please self, he was supremely unhappy.
At the conclusion of yesterday’s installment, I wrote:
...the first thing we need to get straight when it comes to establishing goals for ourselves is what our ultimate desires are to be and from what sources we ultimately are going to derive meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.Let me introduce you to someone who may or may not be a “success” by the world’s usual measurements, but who epitomizes success from a different perspective.
When I was a young guy in my twenties, I came to know a man named Charlie. Charlie was in his seventies back then, a semi-retired housepainter who for a time, still occasionally took on a job here and there.
Charlie’s wife suffered from a disease that ultimately rendered her bed-ridden, utterly dependent on Charlie and the family and friends he recruited to help him for a few sparse hours each week. Until his wife was very ill, Charlie was always in Sunday worship. It was one of the few times in any given week that he left his wife alone.
I saw Charlie sad at times. There was no denying the pain he underwent watching the love of his life suffer and die. Nor did he deny his grief when she died. But I never heard him complain of his lot in life, never heard him rue the hours spent caring for her.
In fact, if there is one word I would use to describe Charlie, it would be grateful. He seemed filled with a constant gratitude.
This impression was only strengthened by something he told me and another twenty-something guy from our church on the day of his wife’s funeral. The service had taken place, as had the committal and the luncheon in the church’s basement fellowship hall. Charlie was up in the sanctuary, making decisions about what to do with the flowers that had been sent in honor of his wife and we had gone to check on him.
Charlie seemed to sense that this was a teachable moment for two young bucks, each of us then married just a few short years.
“Whitey and Mark,” he said, “I’m so thankful to God today. God has always been good to me. He gave me a wonderful wife to share my life with all these years. And of course, because of Jesus, He’s given me the hope that I’ll see her again some day. Only when I do, she’ll be healthy again. I am very blessed!”
But what about all the “lost” years when he could have been doing something else?
If either of us had asked Charlie that question, he would have looked at us as though we were deranged...and for good reason.
Charlie was someone who had his priorities straight. Jesus says that the highest pursuits any of us have in this life are to love God and to love our neighbor, including the neighbors who live under our roofs. Everything else must take second place to that. [Matthew 22:34-40] Charlie believed that was true.
He obviously felt that it was important for all of us to love sacrificially, not to earn spiritual merit badges and not out of grim obligation, but because, through Jesus, Who died on a cross for us, we have been loved sacrificially by God. Sacrificial love is our sensible, appropriate, and difficult response to the God Who has loved us sacrificially, the God Who assures us that even if we lose our earthly lives in the giving of love, we still will have eternity with Him.
The New Testament book of Romans says:
“...while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly [that’s all of us who live with unforgiven sin]. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person...But God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us...” [Romans 5:6-8]And a man named John, often called the apostle of love, puts it succinctly:
“In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another...” [First John 4:10-11]The self-help books tell us to dig into ourselves, get a fix on our gifts and passions, and to adopt a life plan and subordinate goals based on that internal inventory.
The Bible commends a different way of going about our living, the way that Charlie adopted. It begins with gratitude for the love God has given to us through Christ and it makes the pursuit of God and His righteousness our number one priority. In setting our goals, we would do well to remember Jesus’ words:
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.[Next installment: God and your future]
‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. ' [Matthew 6:25-34]