Thank you for your messages, texts, calls and kind words this last week as I turned 50. I was truly blown away by them. Armed with that encouragement I feel inspired to add a few more life lessons!
So please bear with one further indulgence this week. I am continuing to reflect on the implications of turning 50 with the hope that it may help some as well as at least provide some guidance away from mistakes I have made.
While there is a world of difference between 50 years of experience and 1 year of experience repeated 50 times, these are lessons I am continually having to remind myself of (to at least avoid another year of bad experience repeating itself up to 50 times!)
So here goes:
4. Remember the video is playing and you are never really alone (even if it feels like it!)
Through much of my life, I’ve perceived myself as being alone and without people who really understand or ‘get me’. I’ve allowed myself on more occasions that I dare count to fall into self-pity and despondency. I studied Shakespeare’s Macbeth at school and allowed myself at times to believe the quote from the play:
‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Now I am more than ever convinced how far that is from the truth. When we feel down or discouraged it is so easy to believe that what we do is worthless and meaningless or that we have no value. (For more on this do listen to the podcast interview on Combatting Depression with the author Jo Swinney).
Negative self-talk is nothing new either. The Ecclesiastes writer, King Solomon (who reigned from 970-931 BC), was one of the richest men who ever lived. He had access to unimaginable opportunity and resources, but during a period of great restlessness and emptiness in his life, famously repeatedly wrote, ‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’…
‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’ (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
That may be a strange thing to read in the Bible, until you understand that Solomon is writing about “life under the sun” (a phrase repeated several times in the book). That phrase Bible scholars understand to mean life with no infinite reference point.
After going through his turmoil and maybe what was even a mid-life crisis, Solomon concludes in the final chapter of his life thesis:
“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:
fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”
At first glance I am not sure that is much of an encouragement! Basically Solomon seems to be saying, buckle up and submit to God because there is a non-stop video of your life playing – everything that is hidden will be revealed! As a child growing up I remember my Dad telling me that when I went into an exam I would have to give an account of how I had spent every minute of my time up to that point. It use to terrify me! Later on when I reached adulthood I began to realise how it was actually a good analogy of the Final Exam at the end of time when we will have to give an account of every detail of our one and only life.
The problem is that we all know deep inside that along with the good, there is much that is bad and even ugly in our own lives. We have not lived up to our own standards let alone those of an Infinite Majestic God!
That is why the death of the Jewish Messiah as a substitute on my behalf is so important and so liberating. Rather than my own fickle performance, I look to God as the One who justifies my standing. (If you are interested in exploring this more see Why I Struggle With Religion and Is This The Best News You Have Ever Heard?)
5. The importance of right thinking and what we say to ourselves.
For many years I have personally experienced the power of negative thoughts to lead me into a downward spiral of discouragement and despondency. However, I have also learnt that it is equally possible to encourage oneself in a positive direction.
The photograph below illustrates this powerfully. Just notice the difference as you read it first from top to bottom and then from bottom to top. Stop now for 2 minutes and do that.
Did you read the passage downwards and then up again?
Isn’t that so surprising? The same words can have dramatically different effects on your state of mind depending on your perspective.
(For more on the importance of the right self-talk see The Difference Between Talking To Your Heart And Listening To Your Heart).
That is the power of reframing our experiences and looking for the bigger picture. Which leads to:
6. your life is a whole movie and not just a single scene.
It is so easy to allow a single experience or setback to dictate how we look at our whole life. Discouragement, despair, disappointment, disease and death are so much a part of human experience. Any one of those experiences is a single frame in the movie of our life. What ultimately matters is not the single frame or even that experience, but what that frame or experience means in the wider context of the whole movie.
That is powerfully illustrated in the life of Joseph in the Old Testament (Genesis 37-50). He was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, unjustly accused of rape, sent to jail and largely forgotten for many years before his life dramatically turned around to become Prime Minister of Egypt. However, when reunited with his brothers he was able to see the hand of God and graciously say at the end of his life:
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)
Several centuries later, Tim Keller summed it up with the following powerful saying:
“In Christ, our bad things can turn out for good.
Our good things can never be lost.
And the best is yet to come!”
Breaking down that powerful saying what that means is:
The bad things which can really hurt and damage us are not what we might expect – things like sickness or poverty or being single all your life or being married to the wrong person or being the victim of a bomb explosion (or whatever it is that terrifies you). Rather the really bad things are character issues like pride, foolishness, selfishness, hardness of heart, denial of my flaws and weaknesses. Ultimately its the denial that I can get through this challenging and complex world by myself and with no infinite reference point.
The good things are again not what we normally look to as good things – money, fame, beauty, good health, a good education or loving relationships. The reason is that they can all ultimately be lost. Rather it is the person who we are becoming. As a disciple of Christ, I understand the ‘good things’ to be the transformation of my character into greater Christ-likeness. Or as someone has once said, “Jesus Christ suffered not that we might not suffer, but that when we suffer we may become like Him.”
The best things to come literally have to be out of this world. I close with two particular quotes worth pondering over:
‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”
And the 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich:
“Bliss is lasting’ pain is passing….. It is not God’s will that we should linger over pain; but that we should pass over it quickly to find joy that last and never ends.”
That is a much more positive way to look to the future! (For a podcast and more resources on the subject of true success see here).
Thank you for putting up with this indulgence – I trust it can be an encouragement to wherever you are at in your life. (Lessons 1-3 are here).
Do feel free to add any comments, reflections from your own life or insights that you may have.