Tag Archives: Sage

Journey’s End

Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
    and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
    and the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
    and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 (NIV)

I remember driving to northwest Iowa while I was still a young man to spend some time with my grandfather. He was well into his nineties, and living in a care facility. It was the last time I remember being with him. We walked the hallways together, me pushing him in his wheelchair. We sat at a table in the common room and had “coffee time.” We talked together, though it was obvious that dementia was beginning to set in. He would sharing a story with me and I would suddenly realize that he was addressing me as a stranger, an acquaintance. In the moment, I it was obvious he didn’t remember who I was. Nevertheless, he was still relatively sharp and was able to articulate his thoughts and feelings.

“I’m the only one left,” he said with sadness as he stared out the window. “Every one I knew is already gone.”

My grandfather was not known for his silence. The man could weave a tapestry of stories and talk non-stop for hours and he was happy to do so for any stranger who would listen. I’m not exaggerating. I have clear memories of tugging gently on his arm and trying to help free some poor, anonymous housewife in the baking goods aisle who was nodding vacantly as my grandfather regaled her with stories about his ice-box cookies that won a blue ribbon at the Plymouth County fair.

“The secret is getting the cookies sliced nice and thin, but they have to be evenly sliced. The best way to do that is….”

“Come on, Grandpa. We’ve got to check-out and get back home,” I’d say as I silently mouthed an “I’m sorry” to the gracious stranger.

I have many memories of feeling the non-verbal signals of impatience from family members and friends who were trapped in the torrent of grandpa’s stories.

On this final afternoon with him, however, I remember long periods of silence as we sat together. The shift in him was obvious to me. He was in the homestretch of his earthly journey.

He felt spent, and alone.

I drove home that evening meditating on many things. It was one of the first times I recall really observing the weariness of life in an elderly person whom I’d once known in the fullness of life’s vigor.

I was reminded of that afternoon as I read today’s final chapter of Ecclesiastes. The ancient Hebrew Sage concludes his treatise of wisdom by penning a poem that beautifully describes the weariness of life one experiences when the end of the earthly journey is a long, slow descent to dust.

“Remember the Creator in your youth,” the poem begins.

Remember the Creator before you find your life spent, and alone,” the poem ends.

The sage then reminds me of where his wise discourse began: this earthly journey is a fleeting fog, a flitting vapor, a transient mist.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the reality that I’m not much younger than my grandfather was when I was born. I am in the same stage of life’s vigor that I remember in my earliest memories of my grandfather.

I began this journey through Ecclesiastes stating that the Sage’s theme was not about the futility of this earthly life, but really about what’s valuable in this earthly life. Here at the end of his dissertation, I still feel it. In fact, I feel it more acutely.

I am reminded by Wisdom to live my life backwards. I find myself prodded to begin each day, to live each day, to reflect on each day with the journey’s end in mind.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Inescapable Fact

The Inescapable Fact (CaD Ecc 3) Wayfarer

All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.
Ecclesiastes 3:20 (NIV)

Like most people, Wendy and I spent much of the year of COVID finding old television shows to watch. We found ourselves falling in love with a handful of British series. There is a bit of a formula that the Brits have mastered. First, you set the show in a gorgeous, remote landscape. Second, you find a protagonist detective who is just a bit broken. Third, you surround the protagonist with team members who have their own unique issues. Then, of course, people in this gorgeous, remote area of the United Kingdom die all the time in strange ways.

It’s predictable, but it works. It always works. Death is the number one ingredient in our stories. Protagonists are constantly threatened with death, escaping death, and chasing a perpetrator of death. Antagonists are constantly threatening people with death, initiating the death of others, and they often become victims of death in the end. Television, movies, novels, and comic books are filled with death.

I am going to die.

This is an inescapable fact.

I have probably been around death more than most people. I have stood over individuals as they took their last breath. I have officiated many funerals. I have buried loved ones and complete strangers, individuals and couples, infants and aged.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed something ironic. We entertain ourselves ceaselessly with stories in which death is the main ingredient, yet most of us want to pull a Houdini when it comes to this inescapable fact. We want to avoid thinking about it. We want to avoid talking about it. We want to put it off as long as humanly possible.

The ancient Sage of Ecclesiastes wants me to stop trying to escape this fact. He want me to stop running from the inevitable and look this inescapable fact straight in the eye. He makes it a matter-of-fact statement:

There is a time to be born. Check. April 30, 1966. St. Luke’s hospital in Sioux City, Iowa.

There is a time to die. Date unknown. Location unknown. Still inevitable.

I mentioned back at the beginning of this chapter-a-day trek through Ecclesiastes that the Sage is pushing into what is really of value in this life. In the quiet this morning, I hear him telling me that there is value in considering my day, this very day, in light of this inescapable fact. David Gibson wrote about it in his book Living Life Backwards:

I am convinced that only a proper perspective on death provides the true perspective on life. Living in the light of your death will help you to live wisely and freely and generously. It will give you a big heart and open hands, and enable you to relish all the small things of life in deeply profound ways. Death can teach you the meaning of mirth.

I want to persuade you that only if you prepare to die can you really learn how to live.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself pondering two things as I things as I prepare to press on into this day:

One: I think I should allow the inescapable fact of my impending death to inform what I value.

Two: A disproportionate number of arcane murders seem to occur in gorgeous, remote areas of the UK, if one believes what one sees on the telly.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

My First Lesson in Time Management

My First Lesson in Time Management (CaD Ps 90) Wayfarer

Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:12 (NIV)

When I was growing up, there still existed a tradition of the grand department store chains having nice restaurants inside the store. In Des Moines, Younkers Department Store was the place to go for both shopping and a nice meal. It was there in the Meadowlark Room that I, at the age of about sixteen, met a mentor for lunch.

I had been fascinated by observing how my mentor seemed to manage his time. He had this really cool little three-ring leather binder to which he constantly referred, making notes with his mechanical pencil and double-checking things written there. I was curious and intrigued about the system he used and how he managed it. So, I asked him to teach me about time management.

What I was looking for was an explanation of the system, the brand of that cool binder with all the daily calendar pages, and the method he used to manage each day. Instead, he told me that the first lesson was to memorize and meditate on Psalm 90:12:

Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

He told me that this was the first lesson. It was the foundation. If I didn’t have a spiritual perspective of time, he told me, then the system I used to manage it really wouldn’t matter that much. He then pointed me to a number he’d written at the top of the daily calendar page of his cool binder. I shrugged as I read it. Number had no meaning for me. It was the number of days he’d spent on his earthly journey.

I memorized Psalm 90:12 that day. I got my calculator out. I began keeping track of my days and have been doing so ever since. The simple process has caused me to constantly meditate on time and my life journey. There are a number of spiritual lessons it’s taught me:

This day is not promised to me. There are no guarantees that I will live through this day or that I will survive to see tomorrow. There are averages and odds, but no assurances. I have several specific examples of individuals I’ve known whose journeys unexpectedly ended far sooner than the average or the odds would have dictated. This gives me the day set before me some perspective.

Yesterday is gone. I can’t go back. There are no mulligans on this earthly journey. How I may have wasted and squandered my yesterdays will remain as will the consequences of my actions. Wallowing in shame and sorrow won’t change it, nor will my perpetual attempts to pretend it didn’t happen or somehow keep my mistakes, failures, and foolishness hidden.

This day is a clean slate that sits before me. My thoughts, choices, decisions, and actions will reveal the fruit of my spirit.

Wisdom is required each day to discern the right choices in the constant conflict between that which is desired, that which is necessary, that which is urgent, and that which is important.

Time flies. Today is 19,969. I have a milestone coming up next month. Where have the days gone? Have they counted for anything? If so, how many of them did I spend wisely and how many did I spend foolishly?

Which leads me to the pertinent question:
What am I going to do with day 19,969?

I might share with you tomorrow, but I can’t guarantee it! 😉

By the way, if you’re curious about your days, this website saves a lot of time: https://www.timeanddate.com/

More Than Words

Servants cannot be corrected by mere words;
    though they understand, they will not respond.

Proverbs 29:19 (NIV)

A while back my company performed a “pilot” assessment of a client’s Customer Service team. We assessed a couple hundred phone calls between the Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) and their customers over a four week period of time. As with most of our initial assessments, data revealed the team to be pretty good. There was certainly inconsistency across the team. Some team members were naturally better than others. There was also a tremendous opportunity for improvement. Even the best CSR on the team had room to grow.

When that assessment was complete, we presented the results to the team, and targeted five key service skills for improvement. We trained them how to demonstrate these skills, provided examples, and gave them tactics of how to begin demonstrating these skills into their conversations with customers.

The plan had been for us to immediately begin an on-going assessment of calls for the team, so we could track the individual CSR’s progress, provide data on their individual development, and coach each one towards improvement. The client, however, implemented a change in their telephone system which meant we could not access recordings of the team’s calls for three months. By the time we finally had access to the team’s calls, four months had passed since our initial assessment.

So, how had the CSR done with the information and training we’d provided four months earlier?

Of the twelve CSRs on the team two of them did a bit better, two of them did a bit worse and eight of them were statistically the same. It was a perfect bell curve. Customers had not experienced any meaningful improvement in service.

In today’s chapter, the ancient Sage says that you can’t correct a person “with mere words.” A person may get what you’re saying, but they’re not motivated to actually change their behavior. That is going to require more than mere words and information.

Once our team was able to begin on-going assessments, CSRs were able to see how their service compared to their team each month. They were held accountable for their performance, and given the opportunities to receive cash bonuses if they performed at a high level. Suddenly, change began to happen. I’m happy to say that the team eventually became top-notch in providing service to their customers.

There’s a tremendous life lesson in this for me. Being complacent is the norm. Living each day simply driven by my appetites, habits, instincts, and emotions is really easy. Being disciplined, transforming old, unhealthy habits into healthy new ones, and learning to respond in wisdom rather than emotion are things that require intention, attention, and accountability. The Sage is right. I can read every self-help manual on Amazon and listen to every motivational podcast on the planet, but it’s another thing to actually make a change.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself in self-evaluation mode. How am I doing with the things I wanted to accomplish? Have I been able to actually change my behavior in order to progress towards the internal goals I’ve set for myself this week, this month, this year, in life? Honestly, it’s a mixed bag. I’ve progressed well in some things and haven’t moved an inch in others.

In this season of stay-at-home quarantine, I have the time and opportunity to review, recalibrate, and renew my efforts. My Enneagram Type Four temperament risks letting Resistance drag me into shame for all the things I haven’t done, then sic pessimism on me to convince me I’ll never actually do it. But, I know from previous experience on this earthly journey that shame and pessimism are wasted emotions. I can’t do anything about the past.

I do, however, have today lying before me…

Up For The Fight!

Like cold water to a weary soul
    is good news from a distant land.

Proverbs 25:25 (NIV)

As I write this I am sweating profusely. With all the crazy of the global Coronavirus initiatives, my local CrossFit box had to close for a couple of weeks as mandated by the State of Iowa. So, my schedule is a bit off from normal and I worked out this morning at home. Now, I can’t get cooled down as I mop my brow with a rag and guzzle cold water.

What an apt metaphor for our current realities. As we struggle to figure out how to keep our daily routines and rhythms amidst working from home, mandatory lock-downs, and social distancing I can feel the corporate sweat we all feel with the unknown. I feel it in conversations with clients. I feel it in text conversations with our children. I feel it myself as I wonder how all of this will play out. The sweat of fear, anxiety, change, and confusion is something we’re all feeling one way or another.

I was reading my favorite Catholic mystic this morning and I loved what he had to say:

We are in the midst of a highly teachable moment. There’s no doubt that this period will be referred to for the rest of our lifetimes. We have a chance to go deep, and to go broad. Globally, we’re in this together. Depth is being forced on us by great suffering, which as I like to say, always leads to great love. 

But for God to reach us, we have to allow suffering to wound us. Now is no time for an academic solidarity with the world. Real solidarity needs to be felt and suffered. That’s the real meaning of the word “suffer” – to allow someone else’s pain to influence us in a real way. We need to move beyond our own personal feelings and take in the whole.

Richard Rohr

The (sweat-marked) t-shirt I’m wearing right now says, “Fight Pessimism” and I consciously chose it after my workout and shower. I have a feeling that we are just at the front-end of the “weary” we will experience in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Nevertheless, in the depth of every dark valley is the opportunity to ascend a new mountain.

The ancient sage Solomon tells me in this morning’s chapter that good news from a distant land is like the cool water I am absolutely loving right now as it refreshes my tired body. In the same way, I have an opportunity right now to be “good news” and refreshment to others in this moment of global insanity. I can offer to help others. I can share words of love, kindness, and encouragement. I can grocery shop for shut-ins. I can share toilet paper with those who can’t find any. I can reach out to old friends through social media to reconnect, share memories, and share a drink over FaceTime. I can get my mind off the sweat of my own fears and turn it into being cool water to another weary soul.

Fight pessimism. I’m up for the fight. You?

Let me know if you need a roll of toilet paper.

God’s Will for Your Life. Really.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

I have noticed that throughout life’s journey there distinct stages in which followers of Jesus spend a lot of time preoccupied with the question of “What is God’s will for me?” For those who are not so spiritually inclined to consider God in the equation, there are still natural periods of life’s journey when we ask, “Where am I going?”

The first major phase of questioning comes around the time of high school when decisions about college or military service or entering the work force are staring down at you. This can be a nerve wracking time. So many options leading down different paths. Which one is correct? Does God or fate have a role to play? What if I choose wrong?

Another round hits post college or military service when careers and/or family generally merges with life’s natural path. Wendy and I have walked along side our daughters in recent years as they’ve navigated those decisions. “Where am I going?” “Where should I live?” “Do I take the job I’m not sure I want or hold out for the one that I do?”

As a child, I observed that my grandparents and parents generations often settled onto a path for 35-45 years until retirement, when the next round of “What do we do now?” began. Increasingly, I observe that mid-life career changes, a rapidly changing economy, and a mobile society have thrust some of us into ceaseless questioning. It can create all sorts of anxiety, fear, and doubt.

On occasion our daughters and others have asked me my thoughts on these big decisions about life’s direction. I don’t profess to be a Sage, but there are a few things I’ve come to understand. The bad news is that I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t tell you with certainty God’s will for the choice of your life’s direction, college, spouse, or vocation. The good news is that I can speak with certainty about God’s will for you.

I think we do ourselves a disservice looking for some singular, well defined path that God has ordained for us. While that may be the experience for some, I’ve definitely found that it’s the exception and not the rule. Jesus definitely foreknew that certain things would happen, like Peter denying Him three times, or Judas’ betrayal. Jesus even gave Peter a shadowy prophetic word about how his life journey would end. But Jesus fell far short of providing his closest followers a detailed road map for their lives after His ascension. Life is a faith journey, not a Google Maps prescribed expedition.

What is God’s will for us, however, is well defined. It’s simply and directly provided in today’s chapter.

Rejoice always. Good times are for thanksgiving. Stretches of monotony are for developing patience and persistence. Bad times are all about growing perseverance and character. Rejoicing in each moment, no matter where we find ourselves on God’s road, is God’s will for us.

Pray continually. This life journey is about process. It’s not just about our destination, but about the development of ourselves and our relationship with God. God doesn’t abandon us to figure it out for ourselves, but is with us each step of the way. If we continue to ask, seek, knock, and conversationally process with God, I believe we progress much faster. That’s why it’s God’s will that we dialogue with Him.

Give thanks in all circumstances. It’s easy to fall into the cycle of self-centered pessimism. I do it all the time. Willfully choosing to think about each and every person and thing for which we can be thankful gives us much needed perspective throughout each stretch of life’s journey. I have one acquaintance who, every night before she retires, tweets what she is thankful for. I appreciate her example, and it reminds me that God wants me to do the same.

What is God’s will for your life? If you’re asking me what college you should go to, what career to choose, or whether you should get married then I’m sorry I can’t do any more than help you weigh your options and apply what wisdom is available in making your choices. I can tell you however, without question, God’s will for your life:

  • Rejoice always.
  • Pray continually.
  • Give thanks in all circumstances.

Perhaps if we focus on these three every day, the answer to all the other questions we have about God’s will for us on this life journey will organically take care of themselves.