Fast-forward 20, 30 or even 40 years in your life. Imagine thinking back over the choices you have made in your life, and feeling a deep sense of joy and satisfaction about what you have done with the time God has given you. Sound good? If so, here are some "backward thinking" principles you can use now to live a life that will culminate in experiencing a sense of joy, not regret, about what you have done with your time on earth.
Author and counselor Richard Leider has done interviews with more than 1,000 senior citizens who retired from leading companies after successful careers. He says that "almost without exception, when these older people look back, they say the same things-things that are instructive and useful for the rest of us as we make decisions going forward in our lives." The consensus of these seniors (who were very successful by the world's standards) was that if they could live their lives over again, they would be more reflective; take more risks; and, take the time to understand what really gave them fulfillment. Here are some of our thoughts about how you can implement these important principles today:
1. Be more reflective. In our 24/7 world, taking time to reflect and think about your life and what you are doing is counter-cultural. Taking periodic "time-outs" to think about why you are doing what you are doing is essential, however, if you want to discover and do the things that God put you on earth to do. Taking time regularly to assess what you are doing and where you are headed can help you avoid crises in your marriage, family and career.
Leider's interviewees wanted to warn those younger than themselves that, "Life picks up speed. The first half of your life is about getting prepared and getting established. Then time shifts gears. You hit the second half of your life, and everything moves faster. Days turn into weeks, weeks into months, and all of a sudden, you're 65 years old. Looking back, they say, you realize that time is the most precious currency in life."
When was the last time you took an extended "time out" to reflect on what you are doing, where you are going, why you are doing what you are doing, and what you believe God has created you to do with your life? Don't wait-block out some time right now for a "time out" within the next week or month.
2. Take more risks. Are you trapped in your "comfort zone"? Most of us have a carefully constructed comfort zone of familiar people, places, things and habits. We tend to resist anything that threatens our status quo. Pushing the boundaries of our comfort zone by making changes in our lives tends to evoke anxiety and fear, so we stop. We choose familiarity over risk. But that's a short-term response with long-term consequences:
The problem with choosing to stay in our comfort zone is that it can come with a terrible price tag-one with eternal consequences. Each time we blockade ourselves further within our comfort zone, it becomes more difficult to hear God's callings in our lives. Jesus never hesitated calling people to leave their familiar lives for the unfamiliar path of following him....Living your calling is possible only if you are willing to hear God's summons and respond in spite of perceived risk (Live Your Calling, p. 194).
The Apostle Paul said that you are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared beforehand for [you] to do (paraphrase of Ephesians 2:10). God has created you to participate in His work on earth. The catch is that you will need to take some risks in order to discover and do what He is calling you to do.
3. Take the time to understand what really gives you fulfillment.Ultimately, what will give you deep-down fulfillment is becoming the person God created you to be and doing the things He designed you to do. Discovering and living this calling takes time, courage, resourcefulness and the willingness to confront new and unfamiliar challenges.
We have been on the "front lines" guiding people in this process, and can assure you that your investment of time and energy to discover your unique calling will pay off for you over and over again. If you make the investment now to find and do what God has created you to do, you can avoid experiencing a deep sense of regret at the end of your life. You will know that you have finished the race God set out for you to run; that you have finished the work He called you to do. You can then have confidence that you will one day hear those longed-for words, "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Master."
Excerpts from Live Your Calling (2005) by Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck. Used by permission of Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint.
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