Principle #1: Don’t say, “I can’t do that.” Say, “I can’t do that today.”
It’s easy to look at hard things and say, “I can’t do that.” That’s only partly true. You can’t do that today. But there are many things that you can’t do today that you could do if you worked at them over a period of time.
Many of the things that we admire in others are things that they worked at for a long time. Obviously, certain people’s bodies are better built for professional football than others, but those who become pro football players have put in thousands of hours of work to get there.
Whether it’s playing an instrument, speaking a foreign language, delivering a speech, writing a book, or running a marathon, these skills take time to develop. You may not be able to run a marathon today, but you could run one if you worked on it over a long period of time.
What is true in the area of physical skills is also true in relationships. You may not feel like you are good at connecting with people. However, you can work at it. You relate better to people. For example, you may think that your relationship with your child is not good. Say instead: it’s not good today, but it can be better in the future, if I work at it.
The same is true of our character. You may not be a patient person today, but you can become a more patient person, if you work at it over time.
In the case of skills, relationships, and character, you need a lot of work over a long period of time in order to get where you can and should be. Change is possible, even though it takes time and is hard.
The philosopher Aristotle made this idea the cornerstone of his ethical theory. He wrote in his Eudemian Ethics, “. . . men acquire many qualities neither by nature nor by teaching but by habituation, bad qualities if they are habituated to the bad, good if the good” (1.1). Becoming better takes time. There are many things that you can’t do today that you could do if you worked at them over time. There are many characteristics that you do not have today that you could develop if you worked at them over a long period of time.
There is an important flip side to Aristotle’s quote. There are many bad characteristics that you don’t have today that you could develop, if you let your demons run wild over a long period of time. The small evil thought today can become a terrible one in the future. The small destructive habit today can wreak havoc in the future. Resentment today can become a bitterness that pollutes your entire life. We need a healthy fear of the bad places as well as hope for the good places we can end up in.
The principles for keeping sane and productive in an insane world are about character. They are about developing different habits and ways of thinking and acting. You will not be able to read them and become a better person today, but you can become a better person, if you work on it over a long period of time.
This has been my battle. I have sought to make myself less reactive to things I should not react to. I have sought to have less anxiety and more peace. I have sought to keep myself productive when everything in me and outside of me is telling me to give up. I have sought to show kindness even when others are unkind. I have sought to keep sane in an insane world.
These are the principles that have helped me in the midst of serving as a pastor for 19 years, raising 7 kids, seeking to serve the common good, and trying to do many other good things like writing, higher degrees, world travel, and international ministry. These insights are ones I return to again and again to make me whole and keep me sane when everybody else is losing theirs. I hope that sharing them with you can help you do the same. More than that, I hope they will make you productive, cashing out the sanity that you gain in order to serve those around you in a way that glorifies God, blesses others, and blesses yourself. It may not do that today, but I am confident that if you learn to think along the lines I have written in these articles, you will be able to keep going and keep doing good. May God bless you as you do so.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. I hope it was a blessing to you. If you like it, you can subscribe below. I also appreciate your comments or a shout out on social media. I hope to see you here again.