My original title for this column was “Succumbing to Excuses,” but I’m feeling a little more optimistic than when I thought of that title a couple of months ago. You see, going through middle age causes a person to continually re-adjust expectations in life: physical, professional, relational, financial. The younger man in me (aka George Bailey in the first half of It’s a Wonderful Life) optimistically saw the world as one big challenge to conquer, yet it rarely crossed my mind “back then” that some of the habits, opportunities, adventures and friendships would represent peaks and permanence, not transient experiences, en route to a fulfilled life. Being ever-conscientious, I don’t believe I’ve ever treated people or projects as mere stepping stones, but I do confess to some occasional delusions of grandeur, such as perhaps being discovered for hidden talents that would at least expand if not change my career direction and application of skills. However, like the older George Bailey (middle-aged when he had that terrifying glimpse into being erased from the memory of man), I’ve been overcoming much cynicism and now enjoy seeing the countless blessings of having stayed in JH (Bedford Falls, as it were) despite former yearnings for other (literal) stages or (literal) pages.
As for personal goals, I’ll always have those, but I need not let failure (self-imposed or otherwise) rob me of contentment within the reality of my limitations. After all, many if not all of life’s goals are means toward the end of true self-fulfillment, which is elusive if we can’t enjoy a contented reality that doesn’t live up to optimistic fantasy.
There is another area of life where I don’t have to succumb to sober realism but can still afford reckless expectations for continual growth: all things spiritual. The Apostle Paul wrote, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16, ESV). It is a blessed hope that even as dreams adjust to reality and bodies and social energies slow down, the inner self can get stronger daily. That’s why character teaching in JH always trumps physical skills, and why the life lessons we try to reinforce (or introduce) come with the hope of the longest possible impact—far outlasting any one year, career, or lifetime. Be content with the profound simplicity of inner growth, and keep reaching for all the tools to help that forever goal.