This picture is of me, my parents and all my brothers and sister. It was taken when I was about four on the steps of my grandparent’s house in Chester PA. We lived about three hours away down on the Delmarva Pennsula in a little town called Frankford DE. Frankford had a population of about 900. There my family lived for all my childhood years and beyond. In fact, they lived in the same house all my “at home” life except for the first year. That year we lived in the house next door. Then we made the big move across the ditch to the new place. We actually moved off the farm into a house my dad built because he decided farming just wasn’t for him. Our family lived there for decades. It wasn’t until some forty years later that my parents sold the home place and moved to Florida.
In some ways you could say those were the good ole days. In other ways they were anything but good. For example, my mother had five kids in a span of six years. By the time she was twenty- five she was the mother of five children, all under the age of six. You think you have it bad. Can you imagine the chaos that reigned? We stacked them up in the bed rooms. We always had bunk beds and at one time all four of us boys bunked in one room, that’s two sets of bunk beds in one room. That bordered on child abuse. Then my dad and my grandfather set to work and added a couple rooms on the east end of the home place and we only had one set of bunk beds in each room.
And what about the car? We had one car, and that was dad’s company car. Those were pre-minivan days. Station wagons were coming onto the scene but we could never get his company to provide one of those. So whenever we went anywhere as a family it was four kids on the back seat and two adults and one kid on the front. Can you imagine the fighting that went on to get the front seat first?
And there was bath time. You are really going to think this was child abuse but we shared bath water. By that I mean, we filled the tub up once and we all took a bath in the same water, not all at the same time. We took turns. Sometimes the boys got in together. So whoever got ready first and in line first got the cleanest water. That was one way to get us moving toward the scrub zone. Showers, they came along in later years.
Sure, those were the good ole days, right. In a lot of ways they were so much more difficult than life today. We didn’t have all the modern conveniences of today. There was no fast food, drive thrus, cell phones, yard services, super stores, or even Saturday mail service. Al Gore hadn’t even invented the internet yet. Computers, in their beginning stages, were the size of houses. No way to put one on your desk top or lap. Highway departments didn’t rush to clear roads when hit by surprise winter storms. We just drove on the white stuff, packed it solid and slipped and slid on hard pack roads most of the winter. In a lot of ways those were the tough ole days.
But there were some things about those days that were good. In fact they were so good things would be much better today if we returned to some of them. For example, LIFE WAS SIMPLER. We didn’t have lives so full that there was no time to enjoy life, family or friends. Part of that was because there were not as many options to fill our lives with. The other part was that we knew more about what was important and we devoted more time to the important than the urgent.
I would argue that one of the best things we could do with our life today is make a determined effort to simplify. And I’m not saying this sarcastically, but many of us can’t because we’ve been sucked into the cultural vortex of busyness. And we’re so busy, busy, busy, busy. Some of you because you’re working so much to maintain your habit of buying things that you don’t need with money that you don’t have to impress people you don’t even like, but that’s a whole another deal. Or some of you, you’ve bought into the whole deal that, your kids should be pro athletes at the age of two, and you put them in…I don’t mean to meddle, but I already have, so I might as well keep going. You put your two-year-old in a league and go all over for tournaments. You know, you keep all the kids in so many activities and there’s no reason. It’s obvious there’s no margin.
So what do you do? You learn how to say “No.” Let me say it again, learn how to say “No.” We live marginless lives. And we will never discover life’s best until we decide that we cannot live without some margin in our life. Until then we will run ourselves ragged chasing all the things that we think make life worth living while all the time missing the best life has to offer.
Another thing that made the good ole days so good was that CONTENTMENT WAS ENJOYED MORE. There was not this obsession for more. There was not this unquenchable thirst to have the latest and best and coolest stuff out there. You had what you had and you enjoyed it and you used it until it could be used no more and you were content with it.
Today we pursue more stuff and stuff and stuff and stuff, and we do it in the name of loving our family. “I want to provide this for my wife. I want to provide this for my kids, and I want to give my kids more than I had as a kid,” and so many of us are providing all of this stuff, and our kids don’t even know us. They don’t even know you, and you think, “If I had more, we’d have a happier marriage,” and you’re about to lose your marriage.
Here’s what you do. You don’t get sucked in to what everybody else thinks you need, because you don’t need what everybody else says you need to really be fulfilled. You don’t need it. I mean, in the world we live in, if you don’t have this size house and this kind of SUV and this kind of TV, you can’t be happy. What’s funny is that many of the things you think you need to be happy and many things that are consuming our lives are the very things that not only didn’t exist in the good ole days, they didn’t even exist five years ago. Seriously, the things you think you need, many of them did not even exist five years ago. And yet, you can’t be happy without them. We need to learn the lesson of contentment.
One more thing about the good ole days was that CHURCH WAS MORE URGENT. In our house there was never a discussion on Saturday night as to whether or not we were going to church on Sunday morning. It was understood. End of discussion. And we loaded into that two-seater car, all seven of us, and drove twelve miles to church and were the first ones there.
There was never a discussion as to whether or not we were going to go to “youth meetings” on Sunday night. It was standard operating procedure. If we wanted to do something else on Sunday night it was after “youth meeting” was over.
Church was the center of the family life and God was far more than a swear word that was flippantly tossed around. Today our schedules are out of control. Schedules have pushed church and God to a position of leftovers. You think, “Well, I’d love to do more, but you know, I am so overwhelmed. I’ve got so much going on.” I mean, truthfully, some of you can only make it to church like once a month, because your life is so crazy and you’re working and the kids are everywhere and you think, “I’d like to do more, but I just don’t have any time. I want to, but I don’t know how. How can I do this?” Again, how about learning how to say “No” a little more and rearranging your life around the spiritual instead of the temporal. That means establishing church and God standards for your life and family and then forcing everything else to stand in line behind them. If you don’t you will become just another victim who has been sucked into the cultural vortex of business while yours and your family’s soul dries up and your desire for God gradually diminishes away.
The good ole days were tough in a lot of ways but they also contained some approaches to life that I believe we would be better off if we just decide to return to, which is not really possible. So meanwhile, why don’t we at least decide to intentionally incorporate a few of these values into our modern family? Then thirty years or so from now your family will be able to look back on this time in life and call it “the good ole days.”