There is one piece of advice I find myself repeatedly telling my kids (and others) because this has been my experience and learning.
‘Life is a series of trade offs.’
That means you can never have all you want. You must decide your priorities and values and then make your decisions accordingly knowing that every decision to do ‘X’ is also likely a decision not to do ‘Y’. That’s how life works…
It’s not mind blowing advice I will grant you, but until you get this, you will never find contentment and peace. You will never settle and be at ease. You will fear missing out. You will scratch around and struggle to make life work.
So you have to choose what you want to go after and be content, knowing that in doing so you are purposely letting go of some other things. A perfect example is the choice to get married. In doing so you ‘trade’ the ability to play the field or remain single, for loyalty and devotion to one person – for life. Of course that choice has great benefits too, but you have to know that you are consciously making a choice that has these implications. You can’t change your mind later because you don’t like being tied down. That’s the deal… you made that trade right at the start…
Speaking of being tied down, I remember doing a leadership course and meeting with a competent, high profile pastor who had been in the same church for 10 years and he didn’t see himself moving. I was 32, ambitious and driven. I was looking for any opportunity to ‘move up’ in what I then perceived as my ‘pastoral career’, so his fairly vanilla looking stability made me cringe. I asked ‘how can you just plonk yourself down and not get bored to tears?’ He told me had a wife and kids to think of, a family that needed stability and he needed to forgo his own ambitions and aspirations for that to happen.
He seemed surprisingly at peace with the decision. But I remember at 32 thinking ‘what a waste of talent and opportunity…’ Truth was he had made his choice and he was content in it. He traded personal aspirations for ensuring his wife and kids had stability in relationships. A few years later I had kids of my own and I began to understand exactly what he was saying. I needed to forgo my desire for adventure and novelty to provide a suitable degree of stability for them. 13 years later I am in the same church community and around the same people…
So if you find yourself frustrated that you ‘can’t have everything’ then my simple advice is ‘YES – YOU’RE RIGHT – YOU CAN’T!’
Because life is always a series of trade offs.
If you read this as a person for whom faith is not that critical then you will make choices to suit what you feel is best for you and your family at any given time. But if you read this as a follower of Jesus then you are always listening for his voice and his call. This is how we make choices as disciples of Christ.
As we take long service leave we realise that we are in a transition place in life. We have many opportunities and adventures we could pursue. I find myself pondering and imagining many scenarios. But as I distilled down what I am hoping to do, it comes to one core question: ‘What is the most valuable and important contribution I can bring to the kingdom of God at this point in my life?’
I think it’s a question we should always ask when seeking to look to the future. ‘What is it that God is calling me to now – that he wants me to put my energy towards?’ It may be simple and fairly straight forward eg. Raising kids and keeping a job, or it may be unsettling and bizarre? How does taking the family to Lebanon as missionaries sound? It sounds absurd and crazy – unless there is the knowledge that someone is guiding your decisions. In that instance you trust that while your kids have the same basic needs for stability, relationships etc, your God knows that and will use the experience for good in some way.
So if you’re feeling frustrated because you can’t have everything you want, then my rather simple, blunt advice is get used to it. This is reality. And it isn’t adjusting for you or anyone else.
But… come back to the question ‘‘What is the most valuable and important contribution I can bring to the kingdom of God at this point in my life?‘ and you will have a guidepost for how to navigate the choices you are making.