Posted tagged ‘Purpose’

The Pursuit of Happiness

March 21, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 21, 2018

                           

National Geographic did a feature article in their 2017 November issue about happiness. What are the happiest places around the world, and what raises their level of happiness? Are there common threads between them?

Although evaluating happiness is similar to deciding what success means and how it looks, the article brought out three strands of happiness that when weaved together brought the prospects of leading a happy life to a much higher level.

The strands are pleasure, purpose, and pride. 

Pleasure is a term that gets boxed in with our personal assumptions as soon as we say the word. The hints of my Baptist upbringing immediately insert the word “guilty” in front of it. Pleasure, however, is defined as “the feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment.” We use it in a remark after serving another person in some way. When the person responds with a word of thanks the reply is often “It’s my pleasure!”

Pleasure, then, has as many categories as amazon.com. However, pleasure as a part of the pursuit of happiness is connected in some way to the community around us, the people we share life with, and a sense of harmony. Pleasure that is simply self-serving leads not to happiness but to a sense of detachment from the very vehicle that drives us towards happiness.

Purpose as a part of the happiness pursuit, in my opinion, is re-emerging. For a long, long time in the American culture we bought into the idea that more was better, that happiness was at the end of the rainbow that included a massive bank account, summer home on the lake, and Oil of Olay bubble baths (I’m not sure why that one popped up into my mind!).

Purpose means that I’m a part of something bigger than myself, that what I am about today matters not only for this moment, but for the days to come. It’s the teacher who understands and believes that what he/she imparts to the students today is important for who they will be in the tomorrows to come.

As a follower of Jesus I link purpose with the two greatest commandments that Jesus teaches in Matthew 22…”to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind…and to love your neighbor as yourself.” Purpose in my life is seen in how I love God and love others. My life needs to be geared in those two ways and, as a result, it will fuel my pursuit of happiness.

Pride is the feeling of satisfaction in a person, group, community, and culture over achievements and shared values. Once again, it is far less about me and far more about the others on the journey with me. Parents say they are proud of their children not for what the parent has done, but rather what the child has achieved or attempted.

National pride rises as Olympic athletes go all out for the glory of the country. Community pride increases as it pulls together to address a major crisis or catastrophe.

The pursuit of happiness is like our local Thanksgiving Day 5K Turkey Trot. It’s 3,000 plus people of different sizes, ages, and abilities running (or walking) together from the start to the finish. Although some people finish quickly and many others finish slowly, the goal of everyone is to finish…and to enjoy the experience! Some people dress up like turkeys or even pilgrims and take on an amusing look in the pursuit. Others are more serious about the pace. Whatever one’s approach the post-race gathering in the parking lot around long tables of fruit, granola bars, juice, and bottles of water is a community celebration of the pursuit. Massage therapists give rubdowns, ice packs soothe aching calves, and friends jabber about the journey. There’s a sense of accomplishment…a feeling of happy satisfaction, purpose, and pride.

I don’t want to give the impression that a the pursuit of happiness can be summed up by a 5K road race, but it is, in my opinion, the perfect pictorial metaphor for how that pursuit can be understood. So, grab some hands around you and pursue it…together!

Living Longer, Living With Purpose

March 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W                                                         March 3, 2018

           

My father passed away two weeks ago three months shy of his 90th birthday. He lived a long life, and for that we are thankful. Carol and I are now the oldest generation of our family. There is no one above us and two generations below us.

Death makes a person ponder and think about where he/she is in the living of their life. I turn 64 in two months and, although I’m fairly healthy and active, I understand that I’m closer to entering the pearly gates than I am to the memories of those high school days.

There’s more research and study being done of the longest-living people around the world. Are there common themes? Are there communities that have a higher percentage of people who are a hundred years of age or older? Are there certain aspects of our world’s opportunities that tend to decrease the possibilities of living longer?

Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones and The  Blue Zones solution draws out some secrets of living long in his books. Blue Zones are places that he has identified in different places around the world that have a high number of people who live long lives. It’s interesting that Loma Linda, California is the only Blue Zone he mentions in his sharing of information with TIME magazine in the February 26, 2018 issue. Loma Linda is a haven for Seventh-Day Adventists, a denomination that avoids meat; eats plenty of plants, whole grains, and nuts; and emphasizes community and a day of rest (Sabbath) each week. Loma Linda Adventists live 10 years longer than their fellow Americans.

This is not to convince everyone to become Seventh Day Adventists, but rather to note a few of the trends that seem to be “preaching” to us.

Community, rest, diet, and (I’m putting this one in there as well!) purpose. Howard Friedman, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside also draws out the importance of some of the values that are a part of a faith community and our religious traditions: respect, compassion, gratitude, charity, humility, harmony, and meditation. Of course, when a faith community becomes more about power, bickering, discord, and being judgmental the opposite can happen. People can lose their spiritual relationship in the midst of the chaos of congregational dysfunction.

Although I grieve that my dad has passed on, I rejoice in the fact that he lived a long life that had purpose. All of those values that Friedman draws out as a part of a faith community were also evident in Dad’s life.

And the thing is…people are more and more wondering how to live longer and seeking to live longer, but living longer just to live longer is kind of like hitting the golf ball twice as many times during a round of golf. It’s not really what it’s about! Living with purpose and, hopefully, longer…like my father, is where I seek for my life to follow!

Year End Review

December 31, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 31, 2017

                                      

Two years ago today I retired…kinda’…from being the pastor of a church. I used that day at the end of 2015 to finish packing up my office, moving the 2,000 books to the confiscated fourth bedroom of our home which had been repurposed to be my home study. I remember piling the books in there making it resemble a book-burning pile…minus the burning.

Now, two years later, many of those books have been handed off to a couple of guys who are in ministry- Bill Hale, just beginning his first pastorate in Kelso, Washington and Rich Blanchette, Air Force Chaplain at the base in Los Angeles. My study has become more organized…sorta’!

Two years into retirement makes certain things fade into the background and other things become more dominant. That is, I now get to make choices on what I invest my time in and what I could care less about. It’s a pastor’s reward for surviving all those church council meetings and church members who were bitter about life and thought you were the cause of it!

Today also happens to be the end of another calendar year. It is that traditional time of reviewing and resolving. I look behind me and see the swerves of the past year’s journey and look to chart the new course ahead.

Today is a time to evaluate what worked and what needs to be cast off, what should be continued and what needs to be put out of its misery.

Here’s my short list:

NO MORE!

Playing early morning basketball at the Y

Basketball Officiating

Serving on committees

Subbing for Kindergarten PE class

Subscribing to Sports Illustrated

Eating green chili

Reading instruction manuals!

Reading Amish fiction (OK! I never actually started!)

Watching CNN or Fox News

KEEP ON KEEPING ON!

Writing this blog

Wrestling with the grandkids

Continue writing the “Fleming” book series

Substitute teach, especially 7th graders

Coaching basketball

Eating blueberries

Getting together with old friends because I want to

Working out at Villa Sports

Preaching to the saints at Simla First Baptist

Increase my laughter

Figure out what brings me joy

Listen to the whisper of the Lord in the midst of the noise of the world!

Read, and try to read without falling asleep!

Go on vacation with my wife!

Go on vacation with the whole family!

That’s about it! Two years into retirement I’m getting a firmer grasp on what needs to stay and what needs to go. In essence, I believe it’s getting more grounded in what God would have me do and be. And that’s a good thing!

When Your Daughter Turns 36

November 8, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             November 8, 2017

                                  

Today is the birthday of my oldest daughter, Kecia Corin (Wolfe) Hodges. She hit the three followed by the six this morning at 1:21 a.m. Being considerate of her pastor dad, she waited until early that Sunday morning back in 1981 to join her parents. I went to church that day bleary-eyed but on Cloud Nine!

Thirty-six years later she parents three amazing kids who have enormous amounts of energy, teaches fourth graders, and keeps her husband organized.

Kecia has always had a creative side to her. When she was ten she went on a mission trip with me to Keams Canyon, Arizona. We had a great week, but the two of us left a day before everyone else on our team, heading back to Michigan so that I could be there for Sunday morning worship. I’ll always remember her entertaining herself in the long, long, long car ride back making a McDonald’s Happy Meal out of paper, crayons, and a pair of scissors. She was detailed to the point of making individual french fries and inserting them in the made-to-order container. That creativity has also blessed several hundred fourth grade students over the years. Even though teaching has become more challenging in recent years due to dysfunctional families, helicopter parents, and prima donna students, she is passionate about it. Her guiding question is “how can I help my students be fully engaged in learning what needs to be taught?”

Kecia is a great mom. Make no mistake about it, she rules the house! Not like a dictator, but rather as a shepherd leading the flock in the journey that includes stumbles, celebrations, problems to solve, and new adventures to tackle.

And today she begins to tip the age scale towards forty and less towards thirty! Ironically, in my mind she’s still more like twenty-five. Her mind is youthful. She’s more optimistic about life than pessimistic about people. Even though her classroom gets several challenging students each year the frustrations of teaching have not hardened her to the purpose or hazed over the mission.

She’s a great daughter! Carol and I feel that she deeply respects and loves us. She trusts our wisdom and suggestions. We are thrilled by every encounter we have with her.

Thirty-six years ago when she arrived in this world there was a Code Blue that went out. She had swallowed some fluid in the birthing process, and we remember her being treated on the infant table over in the corner of the birthing room. Carol and I held hands and uttered a prayer. This was our firstborn who was teetering on the rim between life and death.

And then we heard the lungs give a cry, and tears flowed from our eyes a few feet away. God gifted her to us and he has used her these past thirty-six years to bless the lives of numerous people.

In fact, I’m tearing up again! Happy Birthday, Kecia!

Out of Shape Churches (Part 3)

April 23, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               April 23, 2017

                             

Jesus’ words to his followers at The Last Supper have new meaning for me this morning. This morning my body feels broken. Don’t worry! I understand that the kind of brokenness I’m feeling is different than the heartache-filled brokenness of Jesus, but I am “feeling it” today!

I got on a treadmill yesterday and ran a couple of miles, and then did some weight-training. My hips and shoulders are having temper tantrums this morning! They are like the stiff wind that was blowing through our middle school track practice on Friday. Besides the 41 degree temperature, the wind blowing in the faces of our runners as they did 200 and 300 meter intervals around the track was biting! What do you tell a 70 pound seventh grader trying to sprint into the wind…and he forgot to bring his school-issued sweats with him? He’s thinking of a dozen reasons why what he is doing is stupid. I’m urging him on each set of sprints. A couple of our more manly coaches ran alongside the sprinters. There’s something about having a coach run with a student that causes the runner to grit it out!

I realize that today is “a quitting point” for me! Even as I write this I’m constructing my list of reasons as to why I should be “unmoved” this morning. Everything from “hip replacement”, to Sunday being a day of rest, to needing to catch up on my bible reading…as well as a few other excuses…are coming to my mind! My hips are warning me “Don’t go past this line or else!”

Years ago I ran the Chicago Marathon. At the 22 mile mark I “hit the wall!” Not literally! that’s just what they call that moment of decision. It’s when a runner is physically fatigued and mentally tired. I had cramps in both legs. I had to convince myself that I could go on, when my body told me to lay down and die! I took my inspiration from the people who lined the streets cheering the runners on..plus the embarrassment of the sixty year old woman who passed me by!

I take these recent and distant memory examples into my understanding of out-of-shape churches. Out-of-shape churches will without question face “quitting moments” in their journeys to wellness. Avoiding pain in the present will lead to debilitation in the future!

Here’s the thing! The uncomfortableness of the needed moves and decisions toward getting in shape have the enormous potential of keeping a church from seeing the long-term. It is the most tempting quitting point. It’s “the wall” moment, and it is “the wall” moment that causes churches to give up and stay unhealthy.

Rough comparison! When I was growing up and had to go see the doctor to get a shot our doctor would give me, the one who just suffered the agony, a sucker at the end of the appointment. It was a reward…and perhaps a way for the physician to ask my forgiveness for making me cry! In out-of-shape churches it would be like giving the kid a sucker and never administering the shot!

Churches are very good at avoiding life-and-death decisions. And even after deciding to move on, the lists of excuses continues to be constructed. Remember! If put to a vote the Hebrew people would have most assuredly voted to return to Egypt! Egypt was what they knew and were familiar with. The journey out of Egypt was the unknown. If put up for a vote they would have voted to return to bondage rather than walk towards the unfamiliarity of freedom!

That Biblical story is still getting played out in hundreds of churches today!

In a personal way, this morning my hips are voting to return to Egypt!

Redefining My Retirement Focus

March 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 4, 2017

                            

    Every May I travel down the street to see my optometrist, Dr. Bettner. We chit-chat for a few moments and then he checks my eyes. I’ve worn eyeglasses since I was in fourth grade. My teacher, Mrs. Riley, had noticed my squinting in the classroom trying to figure out what was written on the chalkboard. She passed along the info to my parents who made an appointment with an optometrist in Marietta, Ohio. They discovered I was as blind as a bat, and have been ever since!

Dr. Bettner checks out my vision each year to see if it has changed at all. A few years ago I went to progressive trifocals. Now he looks for things like cataracts and other unwanted situations. Mainly he looks to see if I need a lens adjustment to sharpen my focus.

Fourteen months ago I retired from full-time ministry after almost 37 years.  A number of people thought I’d sit in my recliner watching curling competitions on ESPN all day with a bowl of potato chips and a Pepsi in front of me. Although I like chips and a cold Pepsi from time to time I seldom sit in front of the TV with them. No…retirement has been similar to a Dr. Bettner eye exam. As I’ve entered into it my focus has gradually been fine-tuned to where my time is most productive and meaningful.

Last week I took officiating high school basketball games off the table after sixteen years. Substitute teaching has been put on the table, especially middle school substitute teaching. I’ve discovered the riches of the public library. It has become my second writing spot, next to my Starbucks stool! I enjoy coaching and influencing young people, and now coach three middle school teams while volunteering as an assistant coach with two other teams.

Carol and I are more available for our kids and grandkids. Granddad doesn’t have a church meeting to rush off to, and, beginning next basketball season, will not have a game to take him away for the evening.

My focus has become sharper even though a typical week is not nearly as structured and planned. What I’ve found, for me at least, is that retirement has been a time of defining who I am. For 37 years most of the people I associated with defined me as a pastor, which I was, but the other ingredients in my personal recipe were undiscovered. That hint of creativity went undetected. The pinch of humor was unknown. Like my fourth grade squinting, my focus was fuzzy. The lens of retirement has been a time of clarity.

Some people ask me, somewhat accusatory, “So you aren’t a pastor anymore?” And I respond, “Oh, yes! I’m still a pastor! I just don’t get paid for being one anymore!” People still seek me out for advice, counseling with problems, and prayer.

If God desires I have thirty percent of my life still ahead of me. My challenge and opportunity is to finish the journey with a clear focus instead of a foggy idea!

Discovering Purpose in Abundant Opportunities

November 27, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            November 27, 2016

                      

I was looking for my shaving kit yesterday. I looked all around our bathroom and couldn’t find it. I started fretting that I had left it at the school I had officiated a basketball game at the day before…and then I found it! Sitting on the bathroom counter in plain sight of God and everyone!

That seems to happen to me more frequently in these “senior discount years!” Last month I was looking for my car keys…and then I figured out that I was holding them in my left hand! It is at those times that I self-identify myself as an idiot.

I had a recent conversation with someone about purpose. More specifically “life purpose.” The person was in a time of his life when the opportunities were numerous. In that state of blessedness there laid the problem. He had TOO MANY opportunities. He was an ADD opportunist, not being able to focus on one or two things because of all the others. In so doing he was watering down the potential effect of his life purpose.

Sometimes people are grieved by the lack of opportunities, but sometimes people are blinded by the multitude of possibilities.

In the conversation with my friend there were glimpses of discovery. He was beginning to feel the unrest within him. A couple of opportunities that would be rewarding in the short-term would also keep him from focusing on a couple of areas that had deeper and longer-lasting blessings. Focusing on recreational opportunities in the present would most assuredly have relational consequences in the future. Situations that brought recognition in a certain setting were requiring more and more time, which were resulting in a tug-of-war with his life calling.

He was experiencing what I experience when I sit in my home study surrounded by my library of about 2,000 books. I’ve got so many books to read that I find it hard to read them! Weird and true!

For most of us it takes a majority of a lifetime to hone in on our purpose, our life calling. We are lured to new opportunities like flies on honey. We are seduced by the unimportant while the things that are life-impacting become obscured.

In my life opportunities have been abundant. If my life was DVR’ed and I could go back to the beginning of some of my episodes I’d do a few things differently. I wouldn’t let pastoring a church take me away from family as many evenings as it did. I would have told my kids that I loved them more than I did. I would have spent less time developing church programs and more time growing disciples. And I would have spent more time living my faith instead of sermonizing about it.

On the other hand, as I look at my life I see my life purpose, like a trail in the woods, has become easy to see. There are more things that I am at peace with than areas where I am conflicted. It’s taken a few decades to stay on the path, but in the midst of abundant opportunities I have a clear sense of direction. It doesn’t mean that I have arrived, but it does mean that I’m on course.

I encouraged my friend to focus on those areas that emphasize relationships, and to pursue what he is passionate about. Those things that promote rewards and instant gratification need more scrutiny.

It’s different for every person, but the constant is that every person has a purpose that needs to be discovered and pursued. Like false messiahs there will be many to follow, but few that are worth it! Like my shaving kit quite often our life purpose is right there in front of us. We just need to see it!