Vocabulary is the fruit of understanding, without it there is confusion, incomprehension and conflict. Without vocabulary people can’t express their feelings or articulate their understanding. Worldviews that come from received wisdom, the common denominator of normality, lacking context and substance are commonplace. Without a credible source of knowledge the TV and print media are relied upon. You don’t keep customers by telling them that they are weak, wicked, ignorant hypocrites so tell people what they want to hear because that is all they will pay for. I’m trying really hard to listen. Listening is a rare skill but incredibly powerful if you can get the hang of it. I have only the most rudimentary understanding of how it’s done; I am a beginner. Far easier for me to make a point than listen. Listen for discussions and dialogue between people not listening to one another.
This is my intent; I want to know the views, beliefs, attitudes and opinions that are at variance with mine. I am now beginning to enjoy exploring why and how others think and behave. It’s fascinating and there are a common themes. Many of the unhappy people I meet display: Depression, fear, high self-esteem, procrastination, and bitterness. This is invariably targeted at those who are different: ethnic minorities, foreigners, homosexuals, politicians, clerics and intellectuals, are targeted for people to vent their anger. How is it that we are so much better off, both materially and physically, than previous generations and yet suffer unhappiness, stress and conflict? Why are our relationships under so much strain? There is an answer.
“watch your thoughts, they become your words, watch your words, they become your actions, watch your actions, they become your habits, watch your habits, they become your character, watch your character for it will become your destiny.”
I have been led down a path of considering the values that matter most. The values that have lasting virtue do not come from within, they have nothing to do with me, I am inconsequential. The values that matter will last for all time, they exist, are abstract and universal. It is popular to adopt fashionable values: family values, back to basics, ethical values etc. This is the path of least resistance, the path of consensus, the path that is the societal norm, to go with the flow; I am encouraged to follow convention, to be normal, it’s what everyone else does, the moral majority must be right. What happens when the majority are not moral? Look around. Today’s news included a report that our consumption of alcohol since the 1960s has increased several fold. This accompanies increases in obesity, diabetes, domestic violence, street crime, pervasive and conspicuous consumerism, STDs, abortions and marital breakdown; all wrapped in a climate of spiritual abstinence. Let me not, as is another all to common sense theme, blame the youth. The only people responsible are those who are older. I share with my peers and their parents responsibility for bringing us to this point in time where we are all caught up in our own pathetically short lives. There is a better way. It is not by seeking a life worth living, by countering the desire for accumulating material wealth, by measuring success through positive relationships.
People seem happy enough, what they don’t need is to be patronized by a hypocrite telling them how much more they could get from life. The choices are there for all to see. Many people have heard of other ways of living, it’s just they choose to live life their way, not follow some anachronistic code. It has its merits and maybe they’ll get around to it but in their time, in me time. For now they are busy seeking success. There is a convention that successful people have fun and are seen to be having fun. Fun people are popular ergo they must be interesting. The social pressures to follow the fun people are impressive so people spend their time convincing each other they are having fun. All the photos show laughing pleasure seekers – they must be having fun! I admit that there are great ways of having fun; playing peek-a-boo with a child, throwing a ball, charades, dancing or doing that flexibility test with a broom handle. I am less convinced that some of the way adults choose to have fun is all that enjoyable, especially when the outcomes are so often stress, misery, hangovers and illness. Why am I bothered? Because it would be selfish not to at least let it be known that the alternative could be considerably more rewarding. And I am not convinced people really understand the alternative.
There is a path that rides rough shod over all the nonsense that causes us stress, frustrations, anger, envy and bitterness towards the Russell Brands of life. Calling the moralist to forsake their sins against the God they know exists, to repent and humble themselves before the God who created them is an honour. It doesn’t necessarily win friends, it creates enemies, attracts derision and alienates one from those you we are called to love.
The world is desperate to shield us from our mortality. The alexia of youth is found through beauty treatments, escape from it all holidays to fulfill our dreams and desires, alcoholic beverages help us feel and look sexy and interesting, cigarettes provide strength of character and charm, sexy cars that prove you are charismatic, virile and successful. All these things are deigned to find us a comfortable passage through a troubled life. Wealthy executive, with superb educations and sharp minds know our weaknesses and use them to line their deep pockets with cash from our shallow ones. People buy the fantasy because the route of sacrifice, giving and humility is tough and ugly. Why wait for rewards when there is so much available now? I can have it all; credit, sex, drugs, rock and roll, fun and all the trimmings. This is, of course, extortionate abuse of the ignorant. The bells, whistles and the convenience have mesmerized us. “Thoughtless, greedy, gullible, idle, poorly educated and niaive people, exploiting each other to fuel the furnace of conspicuous consumerism” (my quote). Some retire to their ordered life in their leafy Surrey village, taking skiing holidays in the Alps and Summer breaks in the Dordogne. Meanwhile the others, ordinary common sense folk, spice up their godless lives by borrowing money to fly to overcrowded, overrated, cheap and cheerful parts of the globe to have fun in a drunken stupor. And ironically by the time they arrive the well heeled have moved on for the seclusion and respectable company that their wealth affords them. If you don’t like my characterization then that’s because it’s you and me folks and, apart from Sovereign Grace, we are off to hell in a handcart.
When I witness my peers displaying the same habits we shared when young, trying desperately to show their youthful vitality by partying hard, committing their very being to success, throwing their heart, soul and life into reaching their goal I wonder what is going on. I see sugar glazed cynicism, misery and despondency. Am I missing the happiness or is it simply not there? Now here’s the paradox because in amongst all this misery I find myself enjoying a life full of hope, love and meaning. It seems unfair. I have done nothing to deserve being in such a privileged place. The only thing I can really do is let people know that every breath is a gift. Many people have told me that running a marathon is too great a commitment. They admire those that do and part of them would like to run. I have learned though if you start your training gradually, carefully and thoughtfully, if you believe and persevere, not only do you run the race but you also complete the race.
Imagine you are a London City financier, it isn’t very hard I know. You have one client, in fact he is the City’s most important client. This is a prestigious account and you clearly have valued talents that enable you to manage his assets. However, there are idiosyncrasies to be considered. Each day he provides you 86,400 units to be invested. You can save none; all must be invested. The choice of investment platforms is yours. Whether you choose judiciously or in error, your client will continue to top up the account each day with 86,400 of his precious units. Most importantly, there is no saving any on deposit if the market is difficult, they must all go today. Only you have the measure of the value of the holdings. At the end of the day you can consider the value of the investments and at the outset of each day you can consider your investment strategy (this can be reviewed as the day proceeds). Your client is available 24 hours each day to provide you counsel on the investment path you take but he will always, always allow you to choose the direction. You have been empowered as the manager of these units and he would never undermine your authority. However, there is a catch. Whilst there may be dividends along the way, from which you may benefit, ultimately there will come a time when you will have to give an account for your decisions. There is no telling when that will be, it may be soon but being such an important client, who has already been so generous to you by bestowing upon you such awesome responsibility, you certainly do not have the temerity to ask when the account is to be closed. You will discover soon enough. Can you guess what it is yet? That’s right, it’s time. 86,400 fleeting seconds each day to do with as you think best. So, what is a useful investment strategy?
I try to follow one of my father’s guiding principles, “easy come, easy go”. Those things for which you have worked hard tend to be the things you value most. This works for just about anything I can think of. Marriages, in which you work hard each day to cherish, support and love your spouse. Belongings, that you have diligently laboured to create or maintain, have an intrinsically high value. Ever stood back from a thoroughly cleaned bicycle and felt its value to be so much more than when it was caked in winter grime? Investing wisely in physical training and carefully selected scholarly endeavours, overcoming obstacles and distractions by remaining diligent through trials can provide a healthy return. Work hard is therefore my guiding investment strategy.
So where are the flaws in my investment planning strategy, where can it go wrong? One word – “idleness”. Lazy minds and bodies are wasteful. Let me start by suggesting what lazy is not. Laziness is not an extra hour’s sleep, it is not cuddled up with the one you love on the sofa for an evening listening to music with a glass of wine, it is not taking a stroll or sitting in the rocking chair listening to the dawn chorus. These are activities, no matter how sedentary that you can invest your soul in. Idleness is passivity of the heart and head. Letting life wash over you carelessly and selfishly with your thumb up your bum and your mind in neutral. Falling victim to the world’s time stealers is the big threat. The TV sits in the corner of the room sucking in your intelligence by thinking for you. It takes over your creative neurons by providing pictures that rob your imagination of its proper role, it pumps out a narrative that is devised to appeal to our appetite for poisonous gossip, it seeks to satisfy our desire for watching others more miserable than ourselves, providing a kind of perverse satisfaction. We see actors pretending to have depths of emotions that we only wish we had. We become voyeurs in an unobtainable world of beauty, sexuality and knowledge that ultimately leads to a feeling of emptiness; that’s lazy. Have you ever finished an evening of TV watching and felt strangely void of any love for life? The TV is the first among many time stealers. Whether Facebook, online forums, aimless moments in shopping malls. Once we know our personal time stealers we can deal with them.
Of course it depends where your heart is, for one person’s time stealer provides another with connectivity, reward and insight. Activities that may seem futile to me, standing in supermarket queues, photocopying, raking leaves, sweeping streets, can be redeemed if your heart is set on Jesus Christ. Your boss seems an imbecile, your job mundane, your work colleagues dull or your debt grinding; there are ways to joy in these circumstances. Tackling adversity needs humility, determination and diligence. Try these – offer your adversary the hand of friendship, tackle a futile task with a sense of purpose, treat the least deserving person you meet today, maybe in the supermarket queue, with dignity and patience beyond any measure. Take care though. Try these things by your own efforts and you will be no different to the self serving moralists that set our cultural mandate. It is easy to be deceived. Only with Jesus Christ as your Lord, the author of life, the one who died for you, can you love others with the authentic love with which he first loved you.
86,400 fleeting seconds, make the most of them, there are no refunds.
At the gates of heaven there is a porthole to hell. (John Bunyan).