Liz and I recently returned from a long-anticipated vacation to the beach with my son John, daughter-in-law Cassie and the five grandchildren.
The bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstate and the workers and fellow vacationers we encountered in gas stations and restaurants reminded me how frazzled people are now. Impatience and anger seemed to be the prevailing emotions.
It took me the first week after our return to unwind and get my head on straight again.
Much of my adult life, particularly the last 20 years, has been an ongoing quest to become more centered, more peaceable, more self-aware, less striving, less offended.
It hasn’t always been an easy—or successful—effort. I’ve failed often. Still do. But the quest has opened my eyes to changes that have helped me become tranquil to the extent I’ve consistently practiced them.
Here are 10 precepts or guidelines (call them what you will) I’ve tried to implement. When I’ve managed to keep them before me, they’ve helped. Maybe they’ll help you, too. If they don’t, discard them.
Things I try to tell myself:
I don’t have all the answers. If getting older cures you of anything, it’s the errant notion that you possess the solutions to life’s great mysteries, or even that you can solve its lesser puzzles. Most of us are muddling through, trying to get from one day to the next. I no longer see it as my job to “fix” anybody else. Heck, much of the time I can’t even fix myself.
Listen more, pontificate less. This is related to the previous idea. If I don’t know the answers to life’s big dilemmas, maybe I should shut up and pay attention instead of rattling on incessantly. It’s amazing how much wisdom other people possess, if I’ll listen.
Be nice. As I’ve written before, after 40 years of studying the New Testament, I’ve decided this is the gospel of Jesus Christ in a nutshell: just be nice. Give everybody the benefit of the doubt. When in doubt, say something gracious. Be merciful to sinners, because I’m a sinner, too, and need mercy.
Rethink my legacy. As I’ve aged, it’s become ever clearer I’m never going to build a megachurch, win a Pulitzer Prize or accrue a billion-dollar fortune for my grandkids. When I’m gone there will be no statues of me. Instead, I hope to leave behind the best legacy I’m capable of: pleasant memories. I want my grandchildren to smile when they think of me and say, “He was a sweet old geezer, wasn’t he? And fun!”
Tell the truth—to God, to others and to me. I’m trying mightily to cut all malarkey and pretenses. I don’t care to impress anybody. I want to be honest about myself always. The challenge is that to be honest about yourself, you first have to be honest with yourself. That takes work. We humans are notoriously self-deluded.
Accept myself. It’s one challenge to see myself as I am, warts and all, and to be honest about what I see. It’s another challenge to accept myself. The Bible commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This implies we can’t truly love and accept anyone else until we’ve first loved and accepted ourselves. I have to make peace with my own unique set of virtues and frailties.
Hold all things lightly. Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who rescued Jews from the Holocaust and was sent to a concentration camp, said, “Hold everything in your hands lightly; otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.” I try not to overly value temporal things: houses, jobs, cars, baubles, even the praises of people. It’s all too fickle. Any of it can vanish in a blink. Let go of it now, I say.
Trust God. I hope to focus my faith in the Lord rather than in myself. I try to remind myself during difficulties that God’s ultimately in control and I’m not, that he knows best, and that he’s somehow working for my good and his glory, even when that doesn’t seem to be so.
Be the blessing. I spent a lot of my earlier spiritual walk trying to earn and receive God’s blessings. Somewhere along the line, it occurred to me that instead of fretting about how to receive blessings myself, I ought to concentrate on giving blessings to others who need them more than I do. There’s tremendous joy in getting my eyes off myself, in giving instead of grabbing. Generosity is liberating.
Slow down. I don’t have to fume and stress and rage. I don’t have to drive 90 miles an hour to get to my destination 10 minutes sooner. Even if I’m late, so what? Who’ll care 50 years from now? The world won’t collapse if I pause to tell a pal a joke, or to call my son for a chat. Drive in the slow lane. Enjoy the pretty scenery. It’ll be fine.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.