Whether it is marriage, career, parenting, ministry or just life, the huge challenge we all face is that of staying fresh. How do we keep our minds, bodies, souls and relationships healthy and growing? Life throws at us some of the most outrageous challenges. Sometime we are quite aware of their inevitable arrival. Other times it is totally unexpected. How do we keep going with passion, energy and faithfulness in spite of anything life dishes out?
Granted, it is not possible to stay on top all the time. Those who seem to are fooling themselves and those around them. It is inevitable that the seasons and circumstances of life will take their toll on our attitudes and actions. We will have our ups and downs. There will be valleys and peaks. But how do we level it all out? How do we lesson the lows of the valleys and enjoy more of the elevation of the peaks. In other words, how do we keep going with a freshness to life that sustains us to the very end?
I will be the first to acknowledge that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to what is needed to stay fresh but I do believe there are some practices that cross over into every human situation. The degree to which these are practiced will be highly reflective of the degree of one’s freshness to life and the responsibilities it brings.
A routine that includes the normal number of hours that is needed to stay fresh is not negotiable. That number varies from person to person. Get to know yourself and what you need to function in a fresh and healthy way and work your daily routine to include those hours. Granted, there are seasons when the rule is broken, like with the presence of newborn or infant children. Throw the rest schedule out the window for at least a few months per child. But there must be a discipline of coming back to a sufficient rest cycle that enables you to stay fresh.
I have been ridiculed and scoffed at on many occasions for going to be at 10 pm each night when there is so much more that can be done at that hour of the night. But I need to go to bed then if I am going to get up early enough to get my day started on time and with the energy I need. If by chance I don’t get the hours I need then I try to sneak a fifteen minute power nap at some point in the afternoon.
Exercise is not a four letter word but to many it might as well be. Whether you have a love/hate relationship with it or you really get into it, neglect it and you pay the price. Our bodies are made to need exercise. Everyone needs it in addition to any amount of exertion your work already provides.
Early in my adult life I developed the habit of speed walking. I kept to a pretty consistent routine of walking 2-4 times a week. As I have increased in age and available time I have sped up to jogging. I have even entered a few races. The ability to step it up with age would never have happened if I had not developed the exercise habit early in life. I can see the retirement age in the not too distant future, whenever I chose to exercise the option. And at this age, I have never felt better physically. The moderate exercise routine throughout life has made it possible.
3. DAILY SPIRITUAL RENEWAL
Nothing is more important to staying fresh for the long haul than keeping a fresh and growing relationship with God. Since God is the creator and sustainer of everything the best thing I can do is keep in close contact with the one who holds it all together. Try what you may to make it happen but it always comes back to two basic disciplines, Bible reading and prayer. Daily spiritual renewal is found first and foremost in spending time reading and journaling in Scripture and talking with and listening to the Father in prayer.
The first thing I do each morning is make a fresh pot of coffee, pour a cup and sit down in my recliner with my Bible and my journal. There I meet with the Lord. We grow together in our relationship with each other as I stick to my appointment with Him each day. Nothing will do more to refresh the soul and spirit.
4. HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS
We are not islands. We were not made to do life alone. We are meant to live in community with others. That having been said, we live in a culture that is becoming more and more isolated. “Cocooning” is a way of life for many. Drive into your garage with the use of a garage door opener, put the “lid” down, as my mother in law called it, get out or your car and go into your closed up house and not have to connect with anyone. Email and text messaging has made the trend even more fashionable.
If it isn’t part of your “normal” routine there needs to be an intentional plan to connect with others that you have things in common with. For us, one of the practices that has been huge in developing relationships has been involvement in a small group at church. In that setting we get to be with people each week that we do life together with. We laugh together, do lots of eating, celebrate victories and encourage and support each other in the down times. “Two are better than one…
5. PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
In order to stay fresh there must be a constant desire to learn and grow. What is fresh today will be stale tomorrow and if we don’t make it a part of our life plan to keep growing we will get left behind. Ineffectiveness and frustration will set in. we will find ourselves less and less able to compete with the real world in which we live and work. We must be willing to have ourselves stretched outside our comfort zone for the sake of growth and development.
That doesn’t mean we have to buy all the latest technology so that we can feel like we have an edge on everyone. I know people with the latest of everything who don’t have a clue about life. It means that you are always looking for ways to better yourself and your effectiveness in your line of work.
I was never an avid reader. For the first years of my career I detested reading. I only did it when I had to and nothing more. I then began to slowly realize that the ones who stayed fresh in mine and any line of work were those who read. So I developed a plan for reading and as I worked the plan reading moved from dread to necessity to desire. Reading a book now is second nature to me.
Carl Menninger, one of the top psychologists in the United States once said, “Giving is a criterion of mental health. Generously people are rarely mentally ill.” There is just something about generosity that brings a fresh outlook to life. Generous people want to face another day to see how they might be a blessing to someone else instead of waiting for someone to bless them. Generosity brings a positive approach to even the dreaded and dreadful aspects of life. Enjoyable longevity in life comes from seeing yourself as a giver instead of a getter.
Giving to God, at least a tenth of our income, has been a major part of our marriage commitment from day one. There were times when we had more month left over than we had money and we did not know how we were going to make ends meet but we always did and God has blessed us beyond our wildest dreams, in ways that money cannot buy. As a result of consistent generosity toward God, we also developed a generous approach to others. Our attitude has been, “Everything we have is the Lords. How can I use it to bless someone else?” What a refreshing way to live
God loves a cheerful giver!” II Corinthians 9:7
7. FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
While we are on generosity let’s move to another practice that is closely related, financial responsibility. We live in a culture where most people make more money than they have ever made in their life yet experience more financial tension than ever. Money is the number one cause of marital conflict and divorce. Though we have more of it than ever it is more of a source of discord and anxiety than ever. The problem is not in the amount of money one possesses but in the use of what one has. Money problems come as a direct result of failure to use what we have responsibly.
Here are the basic parts of a responsible financial plan.
- Keep good records. It’s called the principle of accounting. You have to be fully aware of where your money is coming from and where it is going.
- Plan your spending. That’s the principle of budgeting. A budget is planned spending. It is telling your money where to go rather than wondering where it went. Without planned spending you will never know financial freedom.
- Save/invest for the future. A mark of wisdom is saving for the future. Proverbs 21:20 says, “The wise man saves for the future.” Envy keeps us from saving and investing. Stop comparing and competing with the Jones and decide, “I don’t care what other people have or do. I’m going to do what is right and best and that is to prepare for my future.’
- Give ten percent back to God. That’s called the principle of tithing. We touched on this in point six. “A tenth of all you produce is the Lord’s and it is holy.” Leviticus 27:30.
- Enjoy what you have. This is the principle of contentment. Contentment is enjoying what you have no matter how much you have. Sometimes what we don’t have keeps us from enjoying what we do have. We are so busy getting more and more that we don’t take the time to enjoy what we already have.
My dad used to say, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” There’s a time to work and a time to play. It is easy to live out of balance in both areas. For some there is way too much work and no where enough play. For others there is lots of play and not much productive work. And still others play at their work and some work at their play. But long haul living needs to find a healthy balance of both. Granted there are season in life where there is far more work and very little play, like the early and middle years of parenting. Play gets relegated to a distant back shelf. That’s okay as long as it doesn’t stay there.
This area has always been my biggest challenge. I have been too serious about my work and not as engaged in play like I should have been. If I could live my parenting years over again I would have played more with my sons. I will just have to make it up by playing with my grandkids more. But I am doing better. I just bought a five game package of tickets to see my favorite college basketball team play. I have even found my way to the golf course now and then. And my “dream” is to buy a motorcycle and hit the open road some. We’ll see how far that one gets.
Life and work have a way of beating up on us. Plans do not always turn out as planned. Sometimes they are total disasters. Kids do not always turn out as planned. Sometimes they are disasters as well, at least for a time before they come to their senses. Jobs come and go, sometimes by our own choosing, sometimes as a total surprise. Few things devastate as much as an unexpected layoff or firing. People can be so cruel and insensitive, even the ones we would least expect it from. We live in a world that often leaves us beaten, battered and bruised. We wish we could pull ourselves up by our boot straps and keep going in for another round, and for awhile we can. But there comes a time in life when we just need the encouragement of others. The sooner we realize this the longer we will last in the race of life with a new and fresh spirit.
This is so difficult for our generation. We like to think we can do it all and we can do it well and we can be successful and we really don’t need others to help us along the way. Pride and arrogance are hidden demons that occupy the inner person. Disaster lurks around the corner.
We cannot do life on our own, regardless of the gifts, education and skills we might be equipped with. We all need regular doses of encouragement. We need someone who is cheering us on. We need someone in our corner. We need those who pray for us and lift us up. We need people we can turn to when we just don’t know how we can keep going. And there are times when we just need someone to carry us for awhile. It is the challenge of each of us to connect with those who can be this kind of a person to us and to whom we can be the same. It is a two way street. The Bible says, “So encourage each other and build each other up.” 1 Thess 5:11
And the sensitive one for last.
10. GUILT FREE SEX
Let’s be honest. We live in a sex driven world. Virtually everything is promoted, encouraged and sold by sex appeal. All of this has led to the most sexually active society our country has ever known. For example, more couples now live together before marriage then don’t. You can use all the rational you want for why this is such a great idea but the overwhelming reason comes down to one thing, sex. Sure you can test drive the model before the buy and find out whether or not you can make it together. But here is one sure way to find our whether or not there is real love there, cut off the sex. To put it bluntly, we have a sexually screwed up society. We haven’t even begun to see the devastation and fall out that is ahead as a result of our freewheeling lifestyle.
This is a tough one to share but I need to. It is going to hurt but here it is. It comes from the Bible. “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Heb 13:4 To make it easy to understand that means, in God’s plan, and he is the creator of sex, and he said that it is good, sex is intended for the marriage relationship and anything outside of that brings the verdict of “guilty.”
If you want to live a long, healthy, fresh and productive life, you need to embrace and commit to God’s design for sex. Not only does stepping outside His design bring guilt, it brings a whole boxcar of other issues and problems too numerous for us to discuss at this point.
So, the average life expectancy for a baby born in 2011 is 77.9 years in the United States. Since I was born many, many years ago, my life expectancy is somewhat shorter. The oldest living person in the world whose age can be documented is 115-year-old Besse Cooper, of the United States, born 26 August 1896. Medical research is at work every day looking for ways to extend life. It is anyone’s guess as to how long each of us will live.
However, the most important issue in life is not how long you live but how you live. It is not the duration of your life but the donation of your life. It is not the forecast of expected years but the fullness and freshness with which you live those years, however many they might be.
My final word of encouragement is to take some time to get away from all the demands and distractions of life and devote some time to the development of a life plan that intentionally brings into your life style the practices that assure a fresh approach to life that last for the long haul. It might include the ones mentioned here or it might include others you believe to be essential. The important thing is to be intentional and proactive since you still have a lot of life before you to live.