Only a Handful of Things Really Matter

In my role as pastor, I have the privilege of walking with people during their last days. I say “privilege” because most of the time it is a profound privilege to share the journey with someone as they prepare to die. Sure, there is the usual grief, sadness, anger, and deep sense of loss. There is the frustration of having wasted so much time on things that don’t matter.

And then, if time allows, there’s a turning point. A moment when the person says, “OK, the cards have been dealt. I only have so much time. I’m not going to waste a minute of it.” This part of the journey is always surprising to me. Within a matter of minutes, the person will have whittled the focus of their lives down to a handful of things. “Here are the things that matter,” they will say, “and I’m not wasting my life doing anything else.”

And they don’t. They’ll stop watching TV to engage in conversations with friends. They’ll seek forgiveness and offer forgiveness. They don’t want anything blocking their joy in their last few days. They’ll talk more about joy and less about money. They’ll stop surfing the web and not be bothered if their emails pile up. They know what matters and that’s all they’re going to do.

The funny thing is, what matters then is the only thing that matters now. Yet, few of us have the courage to live focused only on those things that matter. We get distracted by the noise of the world. We get turned around in a culture that demands we keep up with everything everywhere. But in the end, none of that matters.

And there’s no pain like the pain of realizing you’ve wasted your life on things that don’t matter.

So, what would you change today if the doctor said you only had a year to live? Go ahead and change them now. Sooner or later, the doctor will tell you that, and you’ll save time by already having your list done.

Everyone is Part of the Healthcare Problem, and Everyone is Part of the Solution

Healthcare is like the weather. Everyone is talking about it, but no one is doing anything about it. One of the reasons no one is engaging this issue in a meaningful way is because of the simple truth that solving the healthcare issue is hard. Just ask Congress.

The Middle Tennessee Initiative has a healthcare component. In church history, healthcare has a been one of the most effective ways the church has engaged the culture around them. So, we’re looking for ways for us to identify pockets of underserved or neglected areas where our ministry might be useful. Believe it or not, despite all of the healthcare companies in Nashville, there are still people around who don’t have access to appropriate healthcare.

So, during my sabbatical I did some research on where our church might best plug in, and here’s what I found out: 40% of all healthcare costs are lifestyle related.

40%!

Almost half of all healthcare expenditures result from poor lifestyle choices. Smoking (23% of all adults in Tennessee smoke), addiction (opioids and alcohol are devastating rural Tennessee), and wait for it…obesity.

Obesity has now overtaken smoking as the number one healthcare issue in Tennessee.

I’m a Southern Baptist. I’ve always been a Southern Baptists, and I know this about Southern Baptists: we love our casseroles. We don’t smoke. We don’t drink. We eat and eat and eat. Most Southern Baptist are overweight, and there are consequences to our addiction to food.

Hips give out. Knees will have to be replaced. Diabetes and congestive heart issues damage our bodies and limit our lives.

Believe it or not, one of the best ways we can make a positive impact in the healthcare debate is to take care of our own bodies. Pay attention to your nutrition. Get some exercise. Lose weight if you need to, and get healthy. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Don’t treat this temple with disrespect or neglect. Take the next steps you need to take in order to get your body to the place where you can serve Christ with your full and best energy.

After all, it doesn’t do a whole lot of good to love the world with a great heart if your body can’t get you to the places where you need to serve.

A Lot of Little Steps

Most problems are difficult and complex. You can’t solve one problem without having to solve three others first. So it goes. We try to do one thing, and we end up trapped in a web of other problems that we didn’t even see at the outset of our efforts. Most of the time, we become overwhelmed by the complexities of the situation.

Think about it. Want to do something about education in our country? Where do you start? College? High school or middle school? Elementary school or kindergarten? Or do you start earlier with pre-K?

Or think about healthcare. There have been a lot of smart people trying to figure out that one for a long time. What makes us think we can do anything that’s really going to matter?

And I’ve just mentioned a couple obvious ones. I haven’t gotten to world hunger, world peace, the need for fresh water, epidemics and pandemics, economic inequality, immigration, racism, or violent crime. What’s wrong with our world is so overwhelming that most of us look at the challenges, give up, and do nothing.

The crime isn’t that we try and fail. The crime is most of us never try at all. Because we never try, nothing ever gets solved.

So, what are you supposed to do in those moments when you’re overwhelmed by the circumstances in front of you?

First, take a step back. Sometimes problems look bigger than they are because we’re standing too close to them. Give yourself a little space.

Second, say a prayer for courage, wisdom, and persistence. Sure, it’s going to be hard. If was easy, someone else would have already done it.

Third, pick a place and start. Big problems are nothing more than a lot of little problems all in the same place. Don’t try to solve everything all at once. Just do the next thing you know to do. Piece by piece, step by step, stay steady, and stay at it. You’ll be surprised at how much you actually get done by simply staying with the process. The longest journey is nothing more than a lot of little steps put one after the other.

Fourth, don’t give up. It took Edison several hundred tries to finally end up with the light bulb. One of the interesting things I’ve found out since moving to Nashville is how long it takes to become an overnight success.

Yep, life’s hard, and no, there are no guarantees you won’t fail.

But you’ll never know until you take the first step.

Living in Like

You should see the looks I get from a newly engaged couple when I asked them, “Do you like each other?” They will look at each other, and then look back at me. One of them will say, “We’ve got more than ‘like.’ We love each other.”

That’s great, I tell them, but that doesn’t answer my question. “Do you like each other?”

Here’s why that’s important: you live most of your married life in “like.” Sure, there are lots of moments that overflow in passion and feelings only poets can describe, but those moments hardly make up most of your life together.

Most of your life is spent doing normal things—taking care of the kids, doing chores around the house, going to the gym, and cleaning up the kitchen. And while you’re doing these things, the person you’re married to is there all of the time.

You’d better marry somebody you like.

Do you have enough in common to make conversations easy?
Do you have enough differences to make conversations interesting?
Do you have a common worldview about life and what matters in life?
Do you have a good mix of adventure and good ol’ common sense to make life fun, but not destructive?
Can you have fun when it’s just the two of you, regardless of the situation?

Yep, the romantic moments are great—when the candles are lit and the violins are playing in the background—but those moments are like great desserts. They taste great, but they are filled with sugar.

The meat and potatoes of marriage are those moments when you’re laughing at each other because the baby just threw up on both of you or how ridiculous you both look trying to clean up the bathroom after the toilet overflowed.

Those are the moments that hold you together. Those are the moments that you remember—the moments you realize how much you like each other and fall in love all over again.