As we navigate our way through life, it becomes apparent that we all have strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others. We may be great at managing our money but poor at managing our time. We may be effective at work, but not very good at home.
And that’s okay. That’s “realistic.” That’s where we are.
But we need to also understand what’s “real.” We need to recognize that work matters, family matters, time matters, and money matters . . . and in order to create life balance, we need to invest in developing at least a basic level of competence and wisdom in all four.
We also need to remember that life itself matters. As Emily cried out in Our Town: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?”
Almost universally, the answer to that question is: “No.” Most of the time we don’t realize how short life is and how foolish we are to waste time, live with grudges, close our hearts to others, and refuse to forgive. We don’t realize how precious each moment of life is and how much good each of us can do.
There are times when we look at the Helen Kellers, the Mother Teresas, the Mahatma Gandhis, and the Nelson Mandelas of this world and realize that one life can make a difference. But if we are wise, we discover that often we don’t have to look any further than our own backyard.
About a year ago, my father—who had just turned 80—passed away. As I prepared to speak at his funeral, I had some wonderful moments thinking about his life.
My dad was not famous in a popular, public sense. But he was a successful man. More importantly, he was a good man. Many times, after a full day’s work, he would drive Mom and me to hospitals, prisons, USO dances, and other places where we put on variety shows that brought laughter and enjoyment to people who had significant struggles in their lives.
One day toward the end of Dad’s life, when he was very ill, I sat by his bedside and together we began counting the neighbors he’d helped by tilling gardens and doing other such projects. As we mentally went down the street in both directions, there was hardly a home where he hadn’t helped somebody. As I thought about all the friends and neighbors he’d helped, all the people whose lives were better because of his work, and the influence he’d had in the lives of three generations of family, I realized that you don’t have to be a Mahatma Gandhi or a Mother Teresa to make a difference in this world. All you have to do is act within your circle of influence—no matter how large or small—and do and be the best you can. And that will make a difference!
Each life matters. Your life matters. Our lives matter. And it is often in the quiet daily doing that they matter most.
In our busy, entertainment- and media-saturated world, it’s easy to get so focused on events that we forget that the real joys and contributions in life are in day-to-day living. But the truth is, while events are like punctuation in writing—and great events may even be the exclamation points—the meaning is not in the punctuation. It is the crucible of day-to-day life that renders knowledge, experience, and wisdom. And most often it is in the crucible of day-to-day living that our greatest contributions—often unknowingly—are made.
As we’ve said before, it’s a process of becoming. We’re going to make mistakes. The key is to keep living, keep loving, keep trying.
When our three oldest sons were young, I spent a great deal of time taking them camping and fishing. We were good buddies and our relationships were a source of joy to us all.
But as these boys got older, we went through a period of time when I was very busy at work. One day, I discovered that my oldest son—then a senior in high school—was beginning to get testy about several things, including curfews and being home on time. “What’s the matter?” he’d demand. “Don’t you trust me?” Frequently, he would come home late.
Behind the words and the actions, I could sense that our relationship was beginning to weaken. I realized that I had unintentionally allowed my life to get out of balance, and I hadn’t been spending the time I needed to spend with him. I felt that what I really needed to do was take him camping.
I went to great lengths to rearrange my schedule to create the time. But when I approached him, expecting the same excited “Camping? Great!” response I’d gotten when he was 13 or 14, I was disappointed when instead he hemmed and hawed about parties and girls and basically didn’t want to go.
So I laid a guilt trip on him. I told him I had created this time for him at great sacrifice and reminded him of all his mother and I had done for him throughout his life (Parenting Mistake 2a). He still didn’t want to go. Finally, I resorted to parental authority. “We’re going. Get your bag packed.” Resigned, he finally complied.
As we headed out, he apparently decided to test me. He asked if he could turn on the radio—to his station preference. I gritted my teeth as the loud, obnoxious music filled the air. But after a few minutes he reached over and switched to a quieter, more pleasant sound. I guessed I’d passed the test. “Wasn’t that awful?” he said with a grin.
A few minutes later I decided to pull out my new “wounded rabbit” call. (In attempting to come up with an activity for us to do, I’d talked with a friend who assured me that hunting coyotes would be an exciting and environmentally positive thing to do . . . and that this “wounded rabbit” call was the very thing to entice them out into the open.) So I blew on the call. Before long the horrible, mournful sound had us both choked up, so I put it away.
When we arrived at the place to set up camp, we decided it was too late to hunt coyotes, so we went for steaks grilled on an open fire. After dinner we started making “stick bread”—our tradition al family camping treat. (It’s made by sticking a wad of biscuit dough on the end of a stick—about two inches in diameter and carved clean at the end—and cooking it slowly over low burning coals. The end product is a biscuit shaped like a cup, which you can then fill with butter and honey or jam.)
The great thing about stick bread is that it takes a long time to make, so it gives you a lot of time to talk. So we did. Huddled by the campfire, with the Milky Way overhead and miles from any electrical lights, we talked. And before long he began to open up. To my surprise, I discovered that he had been “going” with a girl for months, and it appeared that everybody knew about it except me. One of the reasons he hadn’t said anything to me was because he knew I disapproved of “going steady.” Evidently, this girl had started talking about getting a lot more serious than he wanted to, and he’d broken up with her just the night before.
I felt terrible. Here was my son, going through a major event in his life, and I didn’t have a clue. As we continued to talk, he began to share other deep concerns about his future—about graduating, going to college, and facing some of the responsibilities of adult life. We talked long into the night before finally going to sleep.
In the morning when we got up, we decided it was too late to go after coyotes, so I packed up my “wounded rabbit” call and we cooked up some bacon and eggs. I guess we never were any real threat to the coyote population—which is fine with me, as I much prefer to do my “shooting” with a camera. After breakfast we hiked, did some target practice and enjoyed just “hanging out” together. Eventually, we made our way, happily, companionably, toward home.
As meaningful as that time with my son turned out to be, the real payoff came a few weeks later. Some of the senior boys were getting together for a night of fun—a dance, games, movies, and bowling—and our son wanted to go. I didn’t feel it was wise for him to be out all night, so I asked him to set a reasonable time to be back. He suggested 2:00 a.m., which I thought was plenty late.
When the clock struck two (I just “happened” to be up read ing at the time), he walked through the door. Considering his recent attitude toward curfews, I was pleasantly surprised.
As he headed toward his room, I said, “I just have to ask—I honestly thought you’d be late. I thought you agreed to the time because you figured it would be easier to get forgiveness than permission. What’s happening?”
He looked at me for a moment, then said, “Well, Dad, I decided our relationship means more to me than staying out.”
This son is now married and has a beautiful family of his own. Once, when I asked him if there was anything I had done right during those years, he replied, “The thing I appreciated most is that you just kept trying.”
And each day of life is an unknown, unwritten page.
But if we value principles, learn from our experience, and invite and live in harmony with inspiration in our lives—and we keep trying—we can develop the wisdom to live joyfully and well.
We hope our sharing will help you on your journey . . . because we know that your life matters.