What I’ve Learned About Life So Far
By Jeff Salter
Having been quite sure – when I was a teen – that I knew just about everything worth knowing… the most significant thing I’ve learned since that point is that I know relatively little and am only vaguely aware of the multitudes of things about which I know almost nothing.
“But,” you may ask, “doesn’t everyone reach a similar conclusion as they grow and mature?” To which I could respond, “the problem is, not everybody matures… and many people continue to believe – firmly, and even violently at times – that they still know everything worth knowing. And there’s not a scintilla of available space inside their noggins – or within their hearts – to process any NEW information or knowledge.” Sad, but true. And if you don’t know at least one opinionated person who’s like that, then you’ve been very fortunate, indeed.
But this week’s topic is not about the narrow-minded or empty-headed — it’s about ME. What have I learned about life so far?
When I worked in adult literacy long ago, one of the major tenets was for people to think of themselves as “life-long learners.” I didn’t give it all that much thought at the time, but now I believe that mantra was at least partly a means of assisting folks to view learning – whether that was basic literacy, or something more advanced – as a NORMAL, on-going part of life. As opposed to thinking of “returning to the classroom” as a stigma-filled remediation penalty.
So while I’m not at all eager to return to the classroom, per se – having spent enough semesters in those hallowed halls to attain a masters degree – I am considerably more open, now, to LEARNING than I was even 15-20 years ago.
But this intro is getting long and my column should be short enough to be digestible to time-challenged readers… so let me move along to a partial list of what I’ve learned about life (so far).
Life isn’t fair
I can look around and see many people with advantages, opportunities, and privileges that will never come my way. Whether that’s about money, influence, authority, acclaim, physical appearance, or medical soundness — it’s easy to notice that others around me appear to be more fortunate. Since there is no way for everyone to be equally blessed with all the same positive characteristics, I’m left to decide how I will react to those inequities. Will I be jealous, bitter, resentful, and other negative responses? Or shall I choose to be pleased on their behalf … and grateful for the many blessings that I DO already have. What I’ve learned is that I’m much more content with life in general if I count my own blessings and not fret about perquisites [perks] that have NOT come my way.
Bad things happen to good people
I’m sure I’ve noticed this for most of my life — that (too often) people who are harsh, hostile, and even evil sometimes achieve fantastic wealth and fame… while ordinary, kind and pleasant folks (too often) are ground down, used up, and run over by the proverbial bus. But never was that realization clearer to me than when my dear friend and weekly prayer partner for 12 years – Jeffrey McDay, an ordained minister – was diagnosed with aggressive pancreatic cancer in March 2002. During the period after his diagnosis, when we’d meet – in person for most of those 12 years, but by phone near the end of his life – Jeff would occasionally talk about the people he’d met in the various medical offices. They would have been other patients, technicians, or the medical staff — sometimes it was the doctor. He would relay conversations and experiences that had obviously made a tremendous impact on them… and on him. One day, Jeff said that he’d only recently realized that the Lord must have allowed him to experience pancreatic cancer so that he could witness to and minister to all those other individuals. I thought that was quite a revelation to someone who was enduring the extreme pain of that condition and the knowledge that his life would end soon. As many of you already know, aggressive pancreatic cancer often ends the patient’s life within about six months. My friend Jeff lived for nearly 32 months after diagnosis… and he attributed that longevity to the Lord’s use of him to comfort those other patients and minister to the people he met along that difficult road. He’d kept a full schedule of preaching & ministering (& travel) for most of the first 18 months or so… then he began to slow down. He was still driving & working up until about September 2004 (about 30 months after diagnosis). He died near the end of November 2004, a few months before his 41st birthday. My conclusion: when bad things happen to good people, some of those VERY good people – like my friend, Jeff – manage to turn that experience on its head and use it as a blessing to many others.
The Lord can use you in ways you’d never predict
I’m a rather solitary guy and when I took my early retirement from full-time library work and moved from LA to KY, I looked forward to writing full-time, staying active in the library profession, and basically keeping to myself. One morning I was standing on our front porch, sipping my own coffee, enjoying the peace and quiet, and thinking, “Lord, you’ve certainly created a beautiful place.” I’m not telling y’all that I heard an audible, spoken voice, but I received a message at that instant that I knew – then, and ever since – came directly from Heaven. The Lord convicted me by saying, “I didn’t bring you here to enjoy this selfishly. I want you to share.” I wish there had been a camera around to record the expression on my face. My immediate reaction was, “Share what?” Share how?” Well, the very next Sunday, one of the deacons – who had been leading the Royal Ambassadors group (with the church’s children) for many years – got up in the pulpit and made an announcement: he needed helpers for the coming semester. Now, I’d worked with kids (briefly), in my younger years, most specifically in 1978-80 in a different LA town… and while I’d enjoyed that experience, I’d never had even a single moment of wanting to do so again. [Nothing against kids, but they take so much energy to keep up with!] Well, to make a long story short, I asked the Lord in prayer if this was the type sharing He had in mind. I was convinced it was, so I connected with that deacon and told him I thought the Lord had nudged me in his direction… in case he had a spot for me in the RAs. He did. Thus began my five years of work with RAs, which transitioned into six more years with its replacement program, AWANA. And each summer (starting in 2008), I’ve helped in Vacation Bible School. Did I have the slightest idea, when moving here, that I’d spend a goodly chunk of my retirement years working with the church’s kid’s programs? Nope. Do I regret it? Not a minute. Watching these kids grow up and seeing many of them later get baptized is a thrill that’s difficult to describe. The Lord can use you in ways you’d never predict.
Giving is better than taking
As kids, we often hear that it’s better to give than receive… but the entire mentality of most kids is more accurately centered on “I want that and that and that, and some of those.” What I’ve learned in the past few decades is that there is true joy in giving, provided I had the proper motive and attitude in the first place. About 16 years ago, I inherited a modest sum when my father died and I determined – even before I knew how much it would be – that I would give away one-tenth. Since I was already tithing to my church, I didn’t feel led to give any more to them… but there were numerous charities and non-profits and missionary trips that I could donate to. And I did. And I had the right attitude about it because all the gifts were made without any fanfare, without any “recognition” other than a receipt for tax purposes. Sending those gifts gave me considerable joy and peace. And, to my knowledge, this is the first time I’ve mentioned it to anyone other than family.
Obviously, these four items are not the only things I’ve learned about life… but they are the ones which came to mind when this topic popped up on our 4F1H schedule. I’m sure I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and think of more life lessons — and besides that, this life-long learner is continuing to learn! For now, perhaps these few examples can suffice.
What about you? What have YOU learned about life?
[JLS # 448]