I can tell the full story some other time, but the punch line is: “remember that the most important thing, is to always keep the most important thing, as the most important thing.”
Sometimes a punch line is enough.
I appreciated this wisdom again at a recent retreat. All of us who had gathered were people who lead full lives with many daily demands in a dozen different directions. Family, work, friends and many other important commitments and responsibilities were persistently vying for our time and attention.
So it was a bit of miracle that our little group managed to set aside 48 hours of retreat, and an even greater grace was that those taking part accepted my challenge to set aside phones and computers completely for the two days and to spend much of the retreat time in silence and in prayer.
On the retreat I realised that I am now convinced after years of personal experimentation with many different arrangements of my own priorities, that only one perspective delivers me the happiness that it promises, and that is found when I consciously give God alone the central position in my life.
Our marriage partners, careers and friends are not up to the task of taking number one position in our lives. To give them this position, even subconsciously, heaps upon them the enormous weight of our own needs and expectations, enough of a burden to suffocate the strongest of marriages and the bring down the most successful of careers.
Since the retreat I have been thinking a lot about my own efforts to bring stability in my life. I am willing to now (at least in my healthiest moments) to admit that I am powerless, and never more powerless than when I think I have finally got my life in order.
Here in Canterbury in recent years our stability has been shaken tragically by earthquakes. Perhaps the earthquakes have reminded us that we were never more vulnerable than when we thought everything was well and good on the morning of the early afternoon 22 February 2012 quake?
We might also find it a bit difficult to realise how little control we have over future daily events. Too often we pour energy and effort (at the cost of many other important invitations and opportunities) into manipulating circumstances into outcomes that we think will make us happy, only to realise that it is the unexpected and undeserved moments bring the greatest joy and satisfaction.
We know too that on a day when all seems to be going well, a phone call bringing bad news (over which we have no control) can change everything for the day, and even for the rest of our lives.
Living green, eating healthily and exercising well doesn’t guarantee that I will outlive my unhealthy friends and relatives. Being a good employee doesn’t ensure that I’m not made redundant. Saving wisely will not necessarily bring the expected return. Loving my wife or husband is no guarantee against them dying before I do. Children rarely fulfil the dreams their parents have for them, and will even disappoint us.
There has to be a broader perspective.
In short we are left with only a couple of options. We can ignore the reality of our lack of control, and like Sisyphus (remember the reflection here a couple of weeks ago) spend our earthly lives in exhaustion endlessly pushing rocks uphill, or we can accept what our experience is constantly reminding us: we are at our best when we live in the perspective given to us by the God who created us and loves us.
Circumstances will chop and change around us, and while we endeavour to make good decisions ourselves, we still can’t control everything that affects us.
All this leaves the one who seeks happiness with just one viable option: remembering that the most important thing, is to keep the most important thing, as the most important thing.
If you don’t believe me, spend today trying it. Take a moment now to decide that today you will let God be God giving God the central position in every moment, every encounter and every decision of this day, and watch all the encounters and events of the day fall into a new and life-giving perspective.
The second of my three Lenten reflection sessions will be held this evening (Wednesday) at St. Gregory’s, Cotswold Ave, Bishopdale, Christchurch. Topic: we will consider Christian decision making with an introduction to the discernment of spirits. Today’s reflection on remembering to keep the most important thing as the most important thing will also be considered with some practical tips. This session stands alone so no need to have been at the first one. No previous knowledge needed – just a bit of curiosity! All are most welcome.