Do you believe everything happens for a purpose? Everything? That is a question my wife and I had to struggle with intensely the dreadful night the doctors told us our six year old son had a tumor in his pelvis and they believed it to be an aggressive soft tissue bone cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma. I will never forget that moment. I am sure you have life experiences of your own which cause you to wrestle with whether there is a purpose to everything that happens.
This morning I came across an article on a popular Christian site called Desiringgod.org. John Piper wrote an article entitled “10 Resolutions for Mental Health”. Each of the resolutions struck a cord with me, especially number 10: He writes, “Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.”
As we walked through Zachary’s cancer treatment we had to work hard to see how our theoretical faith played a real life role in giving us comfort in the midst of the most difficult trial of our lives so far. The idea that God is good and loving, even in the midst of difficult life trials, was comforting to us. But it goes further. God is not only good in the midst of our trials, but we are firmly convinced that God is good and loving by giving us our trials.
God loves us so much that he cares about our eternal happiness more than our temporal happiness. The Lord is always working in our trials. He has a purpose. I think of the number of people who were encouraged and touched, the number of people who touched us, the number of people whose lives were changed forever by encountering our sweet, joy-filled, always-smiling, never-complaining son as he endured all the intense pains, difficulties, and struggles that go along with his treatment.
God is doing things, big things, good things with your trials. This brought us much comfort in the midst of the trial. We could rest knowing that every aspect of that difficulty, no matter how it turned out in the end, had a good purpose. What comfort to know that our God was involving us and our family in His grand plans to pour out His love on others, and in the process was intentionally loving us through the trials He was giving us. One day maybe we will get to see a more clear glimpse of how God used Zachary’s cancer to glorify himself by loving us and the world around us. Until that day, we trust.
Have you ever thrown stones in a lake? For some reason it seems to be one of the greatest joys of boyhood. One of the many things I love doing with my boys is going hiking at local parks. Inevitably, when we come to the edge of a lake, pond, or river, they begin passionately looking for stashes of stones in the ground that they can throw into the water. A competition ensues to see who is able to throw a stone the furthest or who can skip a rock the most times. But have you ever watched what happens after the stone lands in the water? Of course you know that it creates ripples in the water that gradually expand out from the point at which the stone first entered the surface of the water. But have you ever stopped to take a moment to watch it? The ripples, even from a small stone, carry on and effect the water surprisingly far away from the point of entrance of the stone. There is much we can learn about that concept when we apply it to our life. Our lives are made up of a collection of small decisions which create ripple effects upon the lake of our entire life. One of these small daily decisions that has huge impacts on whether we are making progress toward our life goals or moving backwards away from our goals is how we handle our bedtime routine.
Of course, I am assuming you are already on a path of living on purpose or living with what I have called inspired resolve. This means you have written down your life purpose and have written some lofty life goals for yourself which are directly connected to your life purpose. If you have not done that yet, then it won’t really matter to you one way or another whether you have a productive bedtime routine or not. And your bedtime routine will also depend on if you are single, married, living with a roommate, have children or not, etc. But make no mistake, we can trace the ripples that are created by our bedtime routines.
I have done a lot of reading about what makes successful people stand out from those who have no direction or are unsuccessful. There are many things that make them stand out, one of the most important being how they spend their early mornings. Successful people see their mornings as invaluable parts of their day. Intentionally living the early morning part of your day is critical to living your life with inspired resolve and growing towards accomplishing your life goals.
Imagine going through your life always sleeping in until the last possible minute before you have to get up to get somewhere on time. For some of you, you don’t have to imagine. You start your day out stressed, hurried, eating an unhealthy breakfast if you eat one at all. You are speeding to get to work or school, trying to see how many traffic laws you can come close to breaking without getting pulled over. You are wearing a wrinkled shirt because you had no time to iron. You are playing catch up with every aspect of your day from the moment you awake. Sounds unpleasant right?
Now imagine you wake up early, let’s say 5:00 am for the purpose of this conversation. You have a rigidly structured morning routine which includes a time of prayer and inspirational reading, stretching, exercise, reviewing your plans and goals for the day, and giving yourself plenty of time to begin your work. As you sit in the quietness of the early morning before other members of the home have awaken, you hear the birds begin to chirp while you read and drink your coffee. You get ready with plenty of time to spare. You leave for work with plenty of time to be a few minutes early. You are calm, already feel productive for the day, and feel physically and emotionally refreshed and confident as you set out to live your day with inspired resolve.
Which type of day would you like to live? I assume you said the second one, the one where you awoke early and were productive.
Let me ask you another question: What is your normal bedtime routine? Do you have a set bedtime for yourself or do you go to bed when you are just too tired to stay awake any longer. Do you watch tv or movies in bed? Do you stay awake late into the night? Remember you most likely already acknowledged the fact that you would like to live a life of inspired resolve, awaking early every morning with purpose and intention.
The way we spend our mornings creates ripples throughout our entire day, and then those days turn into weeks, months, years, and a lifetime. The way you wake up each morning is directly related to whether you are living your life accomplishing your goals and, ultimately, your purpose in life.
If you, like me, see the value of starting each day early and living on purpose, you need to realize that it requires you to have an equally intentional and purposeful bedtime routine the night before. Something that my wife and I got into the bad habit of doing is going to bed every night with a digital device and watching our favorite shows on Netflix until we couldn’t stay awake any longer. This became very harmful to our relationship and to our overall life. We both found it very difficult to get up in the morning even though we both wanted to live our early mornings with inspired resolve. We have decided to commit to no longer ending our day this way.
My new routine is to sit down some time in the late afternoon or early evening (before I am too tired) and review what I accomplished that day and what I want to accomplish the next day. I then write out my agenda for the next day with all the tasks I want to finish carefully planned out. I have a very strict bedtime of 10pm so that I can be sure to wake up at 4:15am, my desired wake up time. Some days I am not faithful at this routine, but I am growing. I review my goals every night as a reminder about why I want to do this so that when the temptation comes to break this routine, I am able to remember what inspires me.
Just like my boys and I throwing stones in a lake and creating ripples that effect the water far away from where the stone fell in, we are constantly making ripples in our life with our daily choices. It is entirely up to you how you want your life to go. You just have to realize that the ripples you are living in today are a direct result of the stones you threw days, weeks, months, and years ago. And if you don’t like how your life is going today, then maybe you should begin to start throwing different kinds of stones in new places in your life. The ripples always come, but you get to dictate where and how.
In “Break Free from Our Self-Adorned Chains”, I discussed the need for us to stop limiting ourselves with a focus on our own limitations. I challenged you to identify an area in your life where you have been limiting yourself based on your own false self-limitations. Too often we live our life wishing we could accomplish things we see others accomplishing, but never trying because we falsely believe they are beyond our grasp. However, breaking free from self-inflicted limitations is only the first step of accomplishing your lofty goals. If we are to accomplish much in our short time on this earth, we must not only be inspired but live daily with resolve to work at our goals, even when we don’t feel inspired.
I was sharing with my wife how discouraged I am because at 37 years old, I feel like there is so much I wanted to have accomplished by now. She encouraged me that great accomplishments happen through the mundane daily struggle of daily faithfulness. That is the key! It clicked in my heart at a deeper level than ever before. If I wanted to learn to play the piano, it is not out of my grasp; it is very achievable if I am willing to practice every day. If you want to write a book, it is not just a pipe dream that you should think you will never accomplish, it is very achievable if you are willing to sit down and do the work.
I am currently listening to an audio book by John Maxwell called The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. In Chapter One he tells a riddle that goes something like this: 4 turtles were sitting on a log in the water. Three of them decided to jump into the water. How many were left still on the log? If you think the answer is 1, you are wrong. There were still 4 turtles left on the log. Why? Because 3 of them only decided to jump into the water. If they were going to accomplish it, they still needed to go from deciding in their minds to actually doing.
So as we begin to work on changing our own self-perceptions and beliefs, we still need to take another step–actually begin to do. And that is a very hard step to take. You see it can be easy to motivate ourselves to take the first step towards our goals. (Indeed, you are reading this blog because I made the first step towards executing my decision.) But the real success comes when we commit ourselves to the daily faithfulness of working toward that goal.
I can tell you right now that I am not making rapid progress in learning the piano. I only sit down to practice once or twice per week and usually only for 15 minutes at a time. This blog was exhilarating and exciting for me for the first 4 of my posts. (I am actually surprised it lasted that long without my excitement waning). But today was a different story. My goal is to write and post something every day. But when I sat down to write this post, I initially felt uninspired and unmotivated, and did not feel like doing it. Thankfully, I was able to fight through that feeling, and I hope you are the better for having read this far.
We love beauty. We are wired for it. We vacation to places where we can behold the beauty of the majestic creation. We listen to beautiful music. We enjoy watching professional athletes because they manifest an element of beauty as they compete to be the best at their craft. We appreciate beautiful furniture, clothing, cars, homes, etc. But the greatest violinist or the most gifted ballet dancer, or the most beautiful opera singer did not become that way without hours upon hours of hard work in the quiet places and in the early morning and late at night. They did not work at practice and discipline only when they felt inspired and only when they felt refreshed and motivated. They had to commit themselves to discipline and practice on a daily basis. They lived their daily life with inspired resolve. For while it is easy to pursue your goals when you are inspired, you need resolve to pursue them when you can’t find or remember the inspiration that led you to make the goal to begin with.
As you walk with me on my journey of living with inspired resolve, I hope you and I will both commit to growing in the seemingly boring, mundane, grind of daily faithfulness working towards our goals. For it is in that boring world, that we can truly accomplish great things.