A new year. In the dance of the universe, the annual calendar flip always seems to me to be mostly a non-event, plastic hype, modern media “News Alert” news. I never notice much difference between 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31 and 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1.
And yet . . . I’ll admit that the dawning of a new year might not be a bad time to check our smoke alarms and our priorities. Regarding the latter, the sharp-pointed question is actually this: For what price are we selling the moments of our lives?
Because there is a price.
A friend, a man I respect immensely, recalled a conversation he had with a superior in his company. My friend was being offered a significant opportunity for advancement—and a lot more money. But he turned it down. Why? Because, as he told his boss after considering the hours, the time away from home, the travel: “Happiness is worth a lot to me.”
“Well,” the boss replied, “isn’t it to everyone?”
The answer is No. More than a few people are willing to trade their happiness, and that of those closest to them, for any “advancement,” “success,” and more money. They’ll rationalize the decision and hope their own souls and their families won’t notice. But they are willing to put happiness on the auction block.
I’ve been blessed with a number of friends wise enough to know when such was the actual choice, and who made the best decision. I’ve never known one who later regretted making the selfless choice.
The choice is not always that stark. Some very fine folks advance and reap the benefits of their hard work even as they remain happy, content, and continually pray to be a blessing wherever they work and serve. But they are never the ones who equate “more” with “happier” or who spend time saying or thinking, “I’ll be happy if . . .” They know that “if” never really comes.
They know that selling their integrity for success is deep loss. They know that to become strangers to their spouses and kids is terrible failure, no matter their financial “net worth.” They know genuine truths about real worth. (Remember Harry Chapin’s classic “The Cat’s in the Cradle”? It’s worth a listen.)
A wise person whose name I don’t recall once remarked, “Has it ever occurred to you that most of the worst things most people ever do are done to please people they don’t even really like?”
How many people sell their lives to “reach the top” and find that the “top” is cheap and tawdry, though slithering to the summit cost them dearly. And then the moments fly by, dust returns to dust, and their “place knows them not” (Psalm 103). They got a watch or a plaque. Then another climber climbed into their spot. And the process repeats.
Just a few days ago, a well-known politician in our land got the high position he coveted. But more than a few folks across the political spectrum are left wondering if, after all the bowing, scraping, and groveling he’s been willing to do to some very slimy human beings, what he finally got is really worth having or is now so demeaned that it will become dust and ashes in his mouth. I don’t know. When our two national political parties seem mostly characterized by craziness, cowardice, or, at any given moment, some combination thereof, and do their best to expel anyone with much character or wisdom, I don’t expect much. I guess time will tell. But, just from the reports I’ve heard, I hope I’d not have been willing to pay that price.
Don’t let me sidetrack this with politics. The principle holds true in every arena of our lives and at every level. I’ve seen religious “rock stars” sell their integrity for mega-church fame and neon glitz. I’ve also seen large churches led by folks who were selfless and humble. I’ve seen churches, little and large, split by tyrants, and churches, little and large, blessed by wise and selfless leaders who would “give their lives for the sheep” and were invariably true to the Shepherd. We all know that greedy rich folks and greedy poor folks are easy to find. As are some folks at all levels of income who know what it means to be truly rich.
Name a business. Name an endeavor. Name a church, or a school, or any organization. Name a family.
And then name some names. Think about the people you remember, and will always honor, who have blessed you by loving you and the people around them so much that they “sold” the moments of their lives wisely to be a blessing wherever they worked and served.
Thank God for them. And pray to partake deeply of that same wisdom and blessing. If God gives you the talents and abilities to be a great CEO, use them, and ask for humility, realizing that the janitor mopping the hallway of the company and humming “Amazing Grace” may be a very rich man indeed if he knows happiness, contentment, and the love of his family.
This is sure: One day, sooner than we think, we’ll each reach a moment when we know—we really know—that, though we’ve made many mistakes and taken some missteps along the way, we’ve journeyed in the right direction. We followed the right Leader. And we sold our moments well.
Copyright 2023 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.