Archive for January, 2014

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11 (NIV)

Now that I’ve hit age sixty, I think I’m finally beginning to see that my desire for personal comfort is somehow contrary to my desire for personal growth. Why do all the major lessons we seem to learn in life have to come the hard way?

This week the famous golfer Gary Player was being interviewed by the Golf Channel in La Quinta, California where the Humana Challenge is currently being played on the PGA tour. Those who are familiar with Mr. Player know that he has been a health and fitness advocate long before professional golfers knew much about how H & F would bring them to a higher level of competition.

Gary Player has never been one to take the comfortable route in life. Speaking of the health of the average American he said something to the effect that it would be easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than to get the average American to go to the gym and eat a healthy diet! He advocated eating less and walking more as a creative, less painful alternative!

Those of us like myself, who serve in professions where we work with people and love to see them develop are always interested in the dynamics of change and growth. What are the barriers that hinder our growth and development?

After having come through a season of life when I faced some tough discipline issues myself I have come to see that the path of least resistance looks pretty good to most of us, whether it be a physical, emotional, spiritual or relational challenge.

The writer to the Hebrews in the verse above observes the type of discipline that our Heavenly Father often imposes on His children for their good and well-being. The discipline may be painful – cutting out undesirable habits or unhealthy patterns of relating to others. But the good part is that after the discipline has run its course it produces a harvest – one of genuine righteousness and peace.

Recently in conversation with a good friend we just happened to observe that there are people in our lives who tend to cause us pain and “push our emotional buttons.” Quite simply we feel judged around them or inferior because of the ways we interpret or filter messages they send us. I notice that I tend to withdraw from such people for my own sake. Preferring comfort to change and growth, we withdraw and accept the status quo.

It looks selfish when you really examine it.

Not surprisingly, I have several friends in the counselling field. One of them told me on one occasion that the human heart is as soft as a marsh mellow so we tend to encase it in armor for comfort and protection. This is a natural response to the wounds we have suffered in the past.

I’m finding in these years that it takes courage to risk being hurt and rejected to really have a life of growth and positive change. When we move toward others in love our marsh mellow heart may get wounded, but the results may be a harvest of “righteousness and peace” further down the road.

The price of genuine growth is never cheap, but it’s well worth the pain and the price over the long haul.

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But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things” Philippians 3:13b-15a (NIV)

I must admit I find it easier to look back than to look forward.

I suppose I tend to be a more of an introspective, reflective and reactive person rather than a forward-thinking, proactive individual. As I approach my sixtieth birthday on the 8th of January 2014 here are some of my reflections at this fairly advanced stage of life and a few aspirations for the future.

My natural reaction to turning sixty is, “I never realized it would be this difficult.”

Over the Christmas break we enjoyed a visit from my son who now lives in Holland and his new wife, our first daughter-in-law.  During the few days they were here at our home in Ireland she asked if she could see our wedding photos, which my wife happily dug out for her to browse through. I found I was taking a closer look at them myself. Our wedding was over thirty-eight years ago and it’s fascinating to see what we looked like as a pair of twenty-one-year-olds making serious life choices on that day in 1975.

I was struck by several things in our wedding photos. Obviously, at the time we looked much younger than we do now, and thinner too – at least I did! But I was captivated by one thing and that was how “happy” I appeared to look in the pictures.

Now that I’m turning sixty, I never realized at the time of my wedding that it would be so difficult to maintain a happy, positive attitude throughout life.

I think the potential is always there for us to be happy and positive, but all the pain and suffering in life takes its toll on us, at least it did on me. Even though our marriage started out well, we actually had a car accident on our honeymoon that was my fault because I didn’t take time to check the brake fluid on the old car we were driving!

During the course of our marriage, we have had many joyous times and abundant blessings, but we have experienced almost every family problem and tragedy one can imagine. We have had a blessed life and marriage, but not without major challenges and suffering. From parents and siblings dying to having all sorts of accidents and other issues with our six children through the years we have had our share of hard times.

I never realized how much these things would cumulatively affect my life and attitudes but I also never realized how they would shape and mature me either.

I also never realized that it would be so difficult to maintain reasonably good spiritual and emotional health and physical fitness over the long haul. For a season of life when we were raising our children and also heavily involved in ministry and church life, my personal fitness regime went totally by the wayside. I also let my emotional life get into free fall as problems seemed to mount up one after the other and my responses to them did more harm than good.

I never realized that caring for myself in appropriate ways would actually be a gift to my family and others around me who might actually benefit from a healthier “me.” Thankfully over the past few years I’ve begun to do better about appropriate “self-care” in most respects – spiritually, emotionally, relationally and physically. I never realized that this would be such a vital priority and that I would have to intentionally work at it!

I also never realized that being faithful to my wife, my children and my calling would require so much effort and would require so much of me. I think for a season of life I grew weary in many respects and perhaps lost focus of what was most important. Seeds of becoming a workaholic started to bring up some shoots. I had few dreams but only hopes of recognition from peers or those I considered “significant authorities” whom I felt had to approve of me and my work in order for me to feel good about myself.

I’m learning now to be much more process oriented and see growth as a lifelong project that we were designed to enjoy along the way, even with its suffering and apparent setbacks.

Going forward I think I’m trying to live a much simpler, more joyful and expectant life. I want to return, in some respects, to the man with the happy smile in my wedding photos. In order for that to happen I see a few important truths I will have to live by going forward –

  • Gratitude must become a daily reality and be as natural as breathing
  • Life will continue to be challenging and suffering will be part of the process
  • Listening to God and learning from Him and those He places in our path is vital for our health and growth. We were never intended to travel the road alone
  • Proper self-care is not only a gift to ourselves but also to our loved ones

Recently I had some extended time to talk with a friend of mine who has been a caring pastor of a growing congregation for over thirty years. We both agreed that in the church we find “grumpy old men” and we both agreed that we don’t want to become one of them.

I never realized how dependent I was on the grace of God Almighty to avoid becoming grumpy as I age and how completely I would have to trust and cooperate with Him.

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