Perhaps it is because this year's basketball league is coming to a close that I am becoming introspective about living wisely. We share devotionals with the kids about virtues--specifically, this year we focused on self-control, responsibility, and hope. (You think your ministry is hard? Try taking a 5-year old, giving him a talk about self-control, and then hand him a basketball. See how well that self-control talk has sunk in when he tries to pass to teammates instead of shooting every time.)
The point is, though, I love trying to communicate and pass along to a younger generation things which can help enrich their lives--hints to living wisely. I have given this a lot of thought, and here are the ten things I hope my kids know as they grow up.
Reboot's Ten Guidelines to Living Wisely
1. Pursue Jesus alone, not the things of the world (politics, career, denominations, etc.)
Make understanding Jesus as He truly was the centerpiece of your personal philosophy. Most people say that they do this, but they don't. For most people, something else is the center of their philosophy, and they work Christianity into it. Maybe they have a particular political view and they work Jesus into that filter; or maybe they commit ongoing lifestyle-type sins but justify it through "out of context" verses; or maybe they only consider people of their denomination "real" Christians; or maybe their true philosophy is about leadership and they try to back-door that into faith. All of these are examples of caring more for the world than the Lord. Be willing to drop anything--any practice, any belief, any worldview--if it turns out not to be in line with what Jesus truly taught. If you can get to that point, life will turn out well.
2. Realize that you cannot have it all
At some point--if you are reflective--you will realize that life is all about choices and tradeoffs. You cannot, in fact, have it all. You cannot live like a 20 year old college student, and have the rewards of a 40 year old hard-working businessman. You cannot be the primary influence in your kids lives if they are with other people forty hours a week. You cannot buy the cheapest available car and yet have reliability. You probably cannot go to the same college as all your friends and yet still go to the college which is always best for your future career. You cannot get paid well to do something which is 100% fun all of the time. Life is about choices, and every time you make a choice you (by definition) eliminate other things from the possibility. None of the above things I listed is bad--but they are mutually exclusive. Your job is to realize this, so that you are making choices knowing exactly what you are getting--and giving up. Take ownership for your life, rather than letting pressures of others push you this way or that.
3. The unexamined faith is not worth believing
Yes, this is a play on Socrates ("The unexamined life is not worth living.") But it is particularly applicable to your faith. Too many people 'walk the aisle' and claim to be a Christian, but never actually deal with any doubts or examine the mysteries of the faith. As such, they have either no faith at all, or (at best) a weak faith. They cannot defend themselves from attack, they cannot understand the Biblical wisdom for their lives, and they cannot convince others. And, far too often, it turns out that they don't actually believe in Jesus at all. Examine your faith, test it and try it out. Ask the hard questions, and seek the answers. You'll end up with a richer, deeper love for Christ--one which can abide the hard times.
4. Relentlessly pursue your 10-year goal
As we said in #2 above, you cannot have it all. Every day you make choices which limit or expand your future. (For example, recently I turned down a full-time relocation to Denmark. This in turn has certain consequences for my job--like, I cannot be VP of our R&D department in Denmark if I live in the U.S.) The thing is, most people go through life with absolutely no plans or goals. Christians do the same, but try and pretend that this is spiritual and they are just 'listening to God's call.' Wrong--Scripture is full of planners. God often makes a plan that is decades in the undertaking. Figure out what you think God wants you to be in 10 years, and use this as your decision-making guide. "Should I buy this car?" It depends--where do you want to be in 10 years? Does this purchase help you or hurt you in getting there?
5. Let your alms sweat in your hands
This is a quote from the Didache, as those of you who did that series will recognize. Alms are the money that you give to those in need. Little is as rewarding as helping those who are unable to help themselves. Be looking for opportunities. Carry cash with you in case you run into the homeless. Get excited about finding opportunities to help the less fortunate. Give with a cheerful heart. (And no, I'm not just talking about giving money to your church to pay the pastor's salary--though that too should happen.) Be generous to a fault. If you are short on cash, make sure it is because you are giving to others, not because you are buying more for yourself.
6. Margin is the key to peace
Building margin into your life is the key to having peace in any area. If in the course of normal life you have lived to the limits of your resources, what are you going to do when something bad happens? (And it will!) If you want financial peace, then make sure that you give 10% away and have an additional 10% set aside as margin from each paycheck. This "slush fund" will come in handy when the AC goes out, or you lose your job, or the car breaks down. It keeps you from going into credit card debt during those times, which--due to the impacts of compounding interest--can be hard to get out of. But I'm not just talking about money, I'm talking about everything. Leave margin in your schedule as well. If you need to be up by 7 am to get ready in the morning, wake up at 6:30. If you should be asleep by 11, plan on being at home by 9. If you need to leave for work at 7:30, leave at 7:15. Again, leaving yourself margin helps when those unexpected situations arise--you will be prepared and, therefore, at peace. Worry can be a thing of the past!
7. Understand that love is a choice
There is probably no bigger myth believed by youth than that love is some otherworldly force that sweeps you up and carries you and your loved one on to "happily ever after." That is a lie, and one which has destroyed countless marriages and relationships. Loving your wife or husband is a choice you make every single day. Some days are harder than others...the same is true for your spouse as well. But if you are only going to stick around while you have some puppy-dog feeling of love, then you are doomed to a life of failed relationships. Every day you need to make the choice to love and honor your spouse. And if you are in a tough time...fake it till you make it. You keep hugging and kissing and cuddling and doing things for each other and being thoughtful long enough, and the emotions will catch back up to your choices.
8. All parts of your relationship are your responsibility
My wife and I agreed long ago--the other one doesn't have to do anything. Doesn't have to lift a finger. We aren't in this 50-50, we are in this 100-100. What do I mean? I mean that we don't divide chores. If she hasn't done the dishes, no big deal--dishes are my responsibility. If she hasn't done laundry, no blame--laundry is my responsibility. If she isn't doing a great job teaching the kids...you see the pattern, it is my responsibility. And in return, she feels the same way. We don't blame each other for not getting things done because we both live as though we are personally responsible for everything. If your spouse was in a car wreck tomorrow, you'd have to do it all, right? So how much more should you be willing to do so while they are their to love and spend time with you! I am completely okay with my bride choosing to sit around and be treated like a princess all day...and she, in turn, is completely okay with me choosing to watch football while she is mowing the lawn and weedeating. As a result, the number of real fights we've had can be counted on a few fingers.
By leaving ourselves margin in life (#6), choosing love every day (#7), and taking full responsibility for everything (#8), we have built for ourselves a rock-solid and amazing marriage over these ten years.
9. Find your calling for service
Everyone is called to serve God and His Kingdom, but often we make this way more difficult than it needs to be. We seek desperately to hear a "call" to God, and we give higher value to some callings (full-time ministry, mission-work, etc.) than others. In reality finding your calling is not too difficult. First, you are called to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul (see #1 and #3 above, both have to happen). Second, you are called to love others as yourself (#5 and #7 play in here). That's actually it. God gives you talents and passions, and you need to ensure that those are aligned with loving God and loving others. Do you have a passion for and talent to become a doctor? Great, do it! Maybe you'll be a missionary in foreign lands, but probably not--most likely, your calling is to be the best doctor you can be, and invite Jesus along to work with you every day. You don't have to proselytize to every patient, just LOVE them--show them amazing love, as the Great Physician did for you. Is your talent in engineering? Great, be an engineer! And every day as you create, let God be with you so that you can learn about Him, the Great Engineer.
10. Carpe Diem
Carpe Diem is a Latin phrase from poet Horace, the start of a sentence which means, "Seize the day, putting as little trust as possible in the next day." Essentially it means that you cannot count on things just "working out" for you in the future, so do the work that is at hand today. Horace intends for us to remember that tomorrow is unknown, and as a result we should not spend time and energy in either worrying or in wasting ourselves, but instead to do the work that is in front of us to do. (Literally, the "seize" in seize the day refers to grabbing fruit when it is available to you). The concept doesn't sound much fun to today's YOLO generation, but it is a very biblical one. Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow but instead focus on today (Matt 6:34). He tells us to focus o the work He has given us (Luke 9:62). Solomon tells us that we do not know what the future will bring for any of us, so enjoy the fruits of your labor (Ecc 9:7-12). What I am trying to say is twofold: (1) do the work you know that you need to do, not trusting in it to just "happen" for you in the future, and (2) enjoy the things you have, not simply saving them up for some future unknown. So don't trust that things will just magically work out, but also do not get so wrapped up in the work that you fail to enjoy its fruits. That is what I mean by carpe Diem.