Tag Archives: life choices

What is important?

What is important?    In the busy lives that we live we are flooded with things we need to do.   Often we are overwhelmed by all these claims on our time and energy.   I am discovering  that there is nothing like facing end of life that  inspires us to sort out these claims and prioritize them as to which are important.     I have found by experience that many different criteria may be used to sort out what is important.    Let me share a few of the criteria that  I have found to be helpful as guidelines, not just at end of life, but throughout life. I  try  to place ”  Relationshipw with loved  ones” in top priority.     The following questions may stimulate your thinking about this priority.

If you should die tomorrow do those closest to you know how much you love them?   Have you told them daily and shown by your actions that you love them?  Those of us who have been married a long time may have began taking our spouses for granted and are not saying “I love you” or showing our love for them.    Our spouses may be feeling unloved and unappreciated.   Tell them every day something that you appreciate about  them  and  and be sure to tell them they are loved.  Make sure your actions match your words.   The same is true of  our children.   I have a son and daughter that are middle aged now.   I never hang up the phone from talking to them that I do not close the conversation “Love you much!!”  There are a large number of kids in this world who feel unloved and unappreciated.   I have spent my life trying to insure that my children always feel loved and appreciated.  I’m sure I haven’t always  been successful but I try!

A second area of priority involves communicating things that only we know about to our loved ones.  We wh0 have lost loved ones know that there are many times when we have questions that only those who have passed could answer and the answer went to the grave with them.  

Although we can’t anticipate all of their questions, we can take some steps that may be helpful.   Here are several ideas that might be helpful.   

1,   Write your autobiography.  I have worked on mine several years and had to speed it up as I’m not sure how much time I have left.  Since I have trouble typing, my son helped me finish it by recording it on his cellphone and then transcribing it on the computer.   Not only is this a present you can give your children and grandchildren, it is a gift you can give yourself as you look at the fulness of the life you have led. 

  2.  Journal.  Since I retired from teaching in 1994 I have kept a journal and have added an entry almost every day.   I have filled almost 47 spiral notebooks with my journal.    Not only will it tell much about my life for those who I leave behind, but it has been a way to get down my feelings and understanding of myself.    I typically write in it every morning right after I arise and am having my first cup of  coffee.

3.  Financial and Business records.    As much as possible, we need to make sure our loved ones understand our finances and are able to take them over after we are gone.    It’s best we do it wherever we are in our lives as we have no guarantees we will have time to do so.   

Family Stories.   Pass on family stories to your children and grandchildren whenever you get a chance.    All families have stories about their past.   My son is staying with us since I went on hospice, and I am passing family stories on to him and also to my wife as they pop into my head.   Make sure they are stories about your early life and about their grandparents and aunts and uncles.

A third area  in setting priorities is to ask yourself the question:   If I choose to do this how will my doing this affect others for good or evil?    In other words—How will my actions make a difference in the lives that will be impacted by them?  And will the impact be positive or negative?    Here the choice will be easy—if the action taken  will have a positive impact on others it  should have higher priority, if negative it shouldn’t be done, if it is neutral in its impact it is low priority.

Ask also what difference the action will have on your own life.   For example,   “Will I regret it later if I don’t do this?”  Will I feel guilty?  Will I feel good if I do it?    

Acting according to our priorities is very important.   If we have not set priorities then we tend to react to “grease the wheel that squeaks the loudest”  and that is not a good guide.   The demands on our time and energy that are the most vocal may not be the most important, but too often those are the demands we succumb to if we have not thought about what is important and have no priorities for choosing.  When this happens we often have guilt and regrets for the rest of our lives.     What our your priorities?

Chasing After the Wind…

Honestly!   What is life’s work  all about anyway?    Why do we work so hard to create, build, achieve, write?   I feel sad when I think of this question as I see an estate sale.   I remember the estate sale  that our family had for my Aunt Ruth.   She had never married, and I and her sister (my mother) were her only close family.   She worked all her life as an auditor for Sears, living in an apartment in Lincoln, Nebraska.   She traveled a lot and had many souvenirs of her travel that she carefully placed in scrapbooks and looked at often.  She had a collection of ceramic birds she acquired over the years and loved to tell where each came from.  At her death, all that she had worked for and all that she loved and cherished as far as material goods was concerned went on the auction block, to be purchased by the curious and the bargain seeker for the lowest price possible, with the exception of a few things my mother and I kept.

Perhaps the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes had been to an estate sale recently when he wrote these words about life—“all is vanity, a chasing after the wind.”

The book of Ecclesiastes is one of the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament.   We know the writer’s name only as “Qoheleth”, often translated “preacher” or “teacher”.    Ecclesiastes is about his experiement he conducted in honesty.   It is probable that Qoheleth was an old man looking back on his life and trying to determine the meaning of it.   He looked over every aspect of life—all human endeavor—and attempted to discern what endures, what lasts, and what it all means.   He summed   up  his conclusions in these words:   “I considered all that my hands had done, and toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after the wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun”  (Eccl 2:11)  and he asks “What gain have the workers from their toil?”   (Eccl. 3:9)    

Qoheleth recounts all his efforts in the first few chapters, saying:  “I built”, “I made great”, “I planted”,  “I made”, “I acquired,  “I gathered”, and yet all of this doing he found to be a mirage, an illusion.  It all goes down unto death and “there is nothing new under the sun.”   Is Qoheleth being too pessismistic, or just being a realist?   I think he raises an important question, which is:   What is the purpose, then, of work?”   Why bother?    And I think Qoheleth gives an answer that is often overlooked.

For an achievement-oriented society such as ours, I think that the question of the purpose of work is a one we need to attend to and to seek  for an answer.   Qoheleth speaks persuasively to those with great and ambitious plans for success, who are ripe for disillusionment, whether in the business world, a profession, politics, raising children, ministry, or academia.   He reminds us that in every vocation there is the personal struggle to make progress that can bring one to the brink of burnout and despair.    Qoheleth reminds us that:   It is all too easy to fall into the trap of pinning one’s hopes on our human capacity to fulfill our dreams and goals, no matter how lofty and worthy, only to have those hopes sacrificed upon the altar of meaninglessness and failure and loss.   When we do this we are “chasing the wind!”

Qoheleth is NOT saying that one should not have goals and objectives, but that THE DANGER LIES IN ATTACHING PERSONAL FULFILLMENT TO THE END RESULT OF THESE GOALS AND OBJECTIVES.

He is saying that not much endures, but endurance is not the true test of our work.   If that is the case, what is the test of our work?   Qoheleth says it is for the joy of just using our skills and abilities and living day by day.      He is NOT saying that work is pointless and therefore to be avoided.  He IS saying that work should be enthusiastically and vigorously engaged in.   Listen to him:   “Whatever your hand finds to do, do with all your might.”  (Eccl 9:10)

Qoheleth IS SAYING:  Our achievements through our work ought to be enjoyed for their own sake, for how they fill our days, and how they celebrate our God-given gifts for creativity and productivity.  IF YOUR WORK IS SOMETHING YOU DO IN ORDER TO GET SOMETHING ELSE, THIS WILL LEAD TO FRUSTRATION AND DESPAIR, Quoheleth says, ENJOY IT AS AN END INITSELF, AND THERE IS YOUR REWARD. THE REWARD IS NOT IN THE ENDURANCE OF YOUR ACTIVITY FOREVER, BUT IN THE ACTIVITY ITSELF.

Let’s face it, most of the trouble we have with our work is when we fail to keep our work in its place.   We become obsessive, presuming to secure ourselves and define ourselves through our work.   How much do we define ourselves by what we do?  What happens when we can no longer do it?   If we have defined ourselves personally by our work, then when we cease to be able to work  we become nothing.  We’ve been chasing the wind!!   PEOPLE ARE NOT WHAT THEY DO, THEY ARE WHO THEY ARE—living beings created in the image of God and blessed with his love and grace.

Qoheleth reminds us that since what we produce by our work is mere “chasing the wind” that comes to nothing, then we should just enjoy the simple pleasures of life, the day-to-day routine, the rhythm of it all, the good feeling of creating our little piece to add to  the whole picture of God’s plan for the world.    The Romans had a word for it—-carpe diem—-“seize the day”!!  Our achievements ought to be enjoyed for their own sake, for how they help fill our days, and for how they celebrate our God-given gifts and skills each day!

For example:   I like to do woodworking.   One of the things I have built is a grandfather clock.   I always wanted to do that when I retired!   I love my clock and I take great pleasure in looking at what I have created and listening to it chime.   I doubt that it will last forever.   It is not the greatest clock ever built, but I enjoyed building it!    Hopefully it will be kept in my family, but I have no guarantee of that.   It may wind up in an estate sale someday in the future.  It won’t last forever.   But I have taken a great deal of joy in its creation and in the using of my skills in woodworking to create it—and that is all that I can hope for, and that is enough!!  To do otherwise would only be “vanity” and “chasing after the wind!”.