“The older I get, the more deeply I believe, but the fewer beliefs I have.” (John Shelby Spong)
For me, this little quote that I spotted on the Jack’s Winning Words blog was meaningful. I suspect that there is a “funnel effect” to life that comes onto play in this little saying. Earlier in life, like I think that many do; I had all sorts of beliefs and goals that I thought were important. As I get deeper into the final quarter of life, I find that many of those things have dropped away. They have become unimportant to me and I am becoming more focused upon the only beliefs that make any sense in an end game scenario.
I certainly don’t want to sound maudlin or depressed or anything like that; it’s just that, as one gets older, one begins to weed out many of the things in their life that really have little real importance or consequence and to concentrate on finding out what is important and meaningful and fulfilling. It is relatively easy, from the perspective of age and a bit more wisdom, to see the lack of importance of material things when compared to meaningful and lasting relationships. It becomes more obvious that personal achievements pale next to things like personal satisfaction found in service to others. There is a heighted sense of self, not as the center; but, rather as the tool through which greater good might be achieved. The “I” becomes less important than the “us” in life and much of that turns on what you can do to help others or to love others more and receive their love in return.
I suspect that if you asked Bill Gates what motivates him now and what makes him feel good at the end of a day, it will have nothing to do with the things that he became famous for achieving. It’s no longer about getting more; it now about doing the most good with what he has to give away. Many famous and wealthy people get to that stage in their lives. They just happen to have the wherewithal to do huge things; whereas most of us have to be satisfied with doing the smaller things that we can. The good news is that all of us can feel great about what we did do at the end of the day.
So what does all of that have to do with the opening quote? We all eventually get to a stage in life where we spend some time considering our own mortality. Once you begin to consider that, it is easy to move on to thinking about what is really important in life and what you hope that people will remember about you or what lasting mark you will have made on this planet because you were here. No one is likely to remember how big your house was or what fancy cars you owned or how much money you accumulated (unless, of course, you do some great things for others with that money). What you did in life is much more important than what you had in life.
So, based upon those thoughts, it is easy to see why many “beliefs” that may have served as pillars in your life can drop away. How long will you “believe” that working 70-80 hours a week to provide for your family is really the right thing to do? In fact, how long will you “believe” that you’re really doing that for your family and not just to feed your own ego? How long will you believe that stepping on or stepping over others to get ahead is the right thing to do?
Am I saying that you need to sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor and go join a monastery? No! I’m espousing taking some time to think about what is really important in life. Once you get beyond what is needed for basic survival and some level of comfort and security for your family, what then? Is it more important to earn another few dollars or to spend time with your son or daughter at their game or play or dance? Is chasing that next promotion worth more to you than taking time to hug your wife and planning a little weekend getaway? Is putting in extra time on a presentation for work more important than visiting a shut-in relative or friend? For that matter; is making a new friend by visiting someone wo is shut-in that you don’t even know more rewarding than glad-handing a bunch of people that you don’t know at a work-related meeting?
It may be hard to see that now, but those are all choices that you will face in the middle years of life, when your beliefs are many and focused more on personal success than on your relationships and service to others. Eventually, many of those “beliefs” will drop away. You will realize that some were never worth believing in to begin with, and some were beliefs in things that just were not true or lasting or worthwhile.
It is unfortunate that, for many, it will take most of their life for them to come to these realizations. For a few, these revelations come early in life and they are usually thought of as weird or unusual, because they aren’t dancing to the same tune as everyone else. They go into careers of service or ministry or support for others or they live simple lives that most people can’t relate to. Many times they are thought to be somehow odd; and, the really disquieting thing about them is how oddly happy they seem to be. It could almost make one wonder, who could be in the wrong in that picture?
It’s a good thing to pause and take stock every now and then about the things that you “believe in”. It’s good to ask why
you believe that way and whether those things are worthy of your continued belief. It is also a good thing to ask to what purpose you hold those beliefs; what rewards do they promise to return to you and has that promise proven to be true. Then ask what those rewards were really worth to you in your life. Did they enhance your relationships? Did they relieve pain or suffering for someone? Did they make life easier and more enriched for someone? Did they make a difference in someone’s life? Did someone love you more because you gave them things when all they wanted was more of you, your time, or your love?
Inevitably you will face that moment of truth in this process where you have discarded all other beliefs but one – your belief in what happens next? If you have that one belief left to lean on – that there is a “next” after this life – you will have reduced your life to the most basic belief of our existence. Maybe you can build on that belief to more fully enjoy the here and now. If you get to that point and there is no “next” that you can believe in, nothing beyond the abyss that you can see in front of you, perhaps it is time to get down on your knees and ask for help. The good news is that it’s never too late to believe.