(If you need to know what this is all about, start with the first post in the series and click through the succeeding links. Also, as posts are added links will be placed in that first post to each one.)
Today, I want to…
Choose Something Worth Keeping.
One of my favorite movies is “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Two scenes from that movie really highlight the importance of wise choices. The first is when Jones, Dr. Elsa Schneider, and Walter Donovan were together in the Grail room. The Grail Knight explained they had to choose the right cup from the numerous chalices. It was the final test. “But choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.” Schneider and Donovan searched among the cups and found a golden, jewel-encrusted cup—a cup fit for a king. However, when Donovan drank from it, the life was sucked right out from his body. The knight’s response: “He chose poorly.” Jones, however, chose the cup of a carpenter. It wasn’t shiny. It wasn’t gold. It had no jewels. In fact, it didn’t look like anything anyone else would want. However, it was the real cup. It was something worth keeping.
Then there is the moment of truth scene. The Grail Knight had explained the Grail could not leave the cave. Yet, Schneider had tried to take it. An earthquake ensued. Schneider, trying to reach the cup, had a choice. She had fallen into a crack and was only saved because Jones was able to grab her hand. The cup was almost within reach. She could either keep reaching for the cup and fall to certain death, or choose to go back with Jones and have life. She chose the cup and joined Donovan in death. In an amazing turn of events, Jones found himself in the exact same situation. His father holding on to him as he swung above the dark abyss. The cup was at the tip of his fingers. If he just could stretch a few more inches he could get it. He wanted to get the cup for his dad. But the elder Jones simply said, “Junior, let it go.” Indiana Jones chose his father and life over the cup. They road off into the sunset.
Both scenes highlight choices—poor ones and wise ones. We all have choices. Every day we make choices. Today, I want to choose things worth keeping.
Making Choices that Last
The great struggle, however, is that instead of choosing lasting things worth keeping, we usually want tochoose things that provide a moment’s pleasure. How many have destroyed relationships because, in a moment of bitterness, instead of choosing the words that would keep the relationship alive, chose words that allowed them to let off their steam and gave them a momentary payoff of malice and anger? How many have destroyed their health because at meal times they have repeatedly made the choice of momentary pleasures instead of long-term health? (I put that one in as a reminder to me.) How many have destroyed their homes because instead of choosing the hard work it takes to have a close intimate relationship with a spouse, they have chosen the momentary pleasures of a lovers’ tryst?
Sadly, the momentary pleasure is the great enemy of choosing something worth keeping. Don’t get me wrong. Momentary pleasures are not always wrong. However, we need to take care. The shiny, golden, jewel-encrusted, thrilling choices of the moment often defeat the long-term goal of choosing things worth keeping.
I remember my dad trying to teach me this lesson. Perhaps for my birthday I had received some money. Burning a hole in my pocket, it would practically leap out of my hand to purchase some trinket that was shiny and promised big things, but broke quickly. I often remember those times now that I’m trying to teach the same lessons to my children. How easily we revert to childish choices. Ever heard of buyer’s remorse? That doesn’t come because you simply spent too much money. It comes because after you’ve spent the money, you realize it really wasn’t something worth keeping. After all, which would you prefer to keep, that shiny ski boat with its monthly payments that over the next five years will end up being three times what the boat is worth or financial security?
In a moment of rigorous honesty, we need to admit that choosing what is worth keeping is not easy or natural. We are drawn to the momentary. As Adam and Eve gave up a long-term stay in paradise for a few moments of pleasure with some luscious fruit, we are often drawn away from wisdom because something simply appeals to our eyes, our flesh, or our pride.
With your natural tendency stacked against you, how can you make these choices? Let me share four steps to make wise choices and choose things worth keeping.
Four Steps to Choose Something Worth Keeping
- Figure out what is really important. Is it more important to have the latest gizmos and gadgets or to have some financial security? Is it more important to get to pig out at the Chinese or pizza buffet or to have good health? Is it more important to check Facebook page again or to get your work done this week?
- Look at tomorrow. Normally, I encourage focusing on one day at a time. However, in this case, looking to the future is the best course. When you make this choice in front of you, what will happen next? How will you feel about it after you’ve experienced it? How will you feel about this choice tomorrow, next week, next year? If you choose to spend 4 hours watching television this afternoon instead of getting your work done, what will happen? I’ve done that before. I know where it leads for me. I’ll be grumpy when I get home because I didn’t get anything productive done all day. That means I’ll be waspish with my wife and a fight will likely ensue or I’ll be short with my kids and overreact in disciplining them. That will drive a wedge in my family relationships, increase my guilt and shame, and cause even more problems. Tomorrow, I’ll have to get twice as much done, but because the pressure is increased I’ll feel the need for a break even more. Further, come the weekend, I won’t have my work done so family time will be out the window. Can you see the progression here? If I just think the choice through past the moment, I’ll choose more things worth keeping.
- Be anchored in reality. Most of our bad choices are made in a fantasy world. For instance, I remember the time Marita and I bought our first car together. We had been married two or three years and her car was acting up. We convinced ourselves she was in real danger. That car might die in the middle of the road and she would probably get plowed by an 18-wheeler. Or she might get stranded on the side of the road (this was before we had cell phones) and get kidnapped by some crazed maniac. It was really a matter of life and death to buy her a better vehicle. Not to mention, even though we didn’t owe any money on it we were making repeated repairs. Those repairs were going to put us in the poor house. Getting a new car was the only option for our financial peace. We were sure of it. Not to mention, we had always wanted a Camry. That Corolla just didn’t say enough about us. I called her up one night and said, “Let’s go down to the car dealer, we absolutely won’t buy anything tonight. We’re just looking.” About four hours later we were pulling into some friends’ driveway to show them the new car we had. Of course, it wasn’t actually new; we couldn’t afford those payments. We ended up with a used car that quickly need monthly repairs, but still had a monthly payment. Hmmm, reality check. I wish I could say that was the last of our awful mistakes with money. However, I think I can say that every financial mistake I’ve ever made came right down to this point. I was living in a fantasyland. I worked up some kind of scenario in my head in which I was absolutely sure I was making an amazing choice. What I needed was a reality check.
- Get the reality check by checking with someone who is living in reality. Swallow your pride and ask someone about the choice you are making. Is making the move, taking that new job, buying that new car, seeing that new special someone, or whatever the choice may be really as awesome as you’ve made it out to be? Or have you created a fantasy world in your mind? Folks who don’t live in your mind will be able to tell. The fact is, once your living in the fantasy world any stranger off the street could probably give you better advice than you’ll give yourself. Do you really think spending several hundred dollars on an electronic planner or a phone that syncs to Outlook is really going to fix all your discipline problems? If you talk to someone who lives in the real world before making that choice, you’ll much more likely choose to do something with that money that is worth keeping. Sometimes, I’ve learned that just having to spell the case out to others in a logical way so they can give some feedback causes me to see through my own fantasies. I’ve often figured out the better way by the time I finish asking the question and don’t even need to hear their answer at that point.
Choices are everywhere. Don’t worry, every single choice we make is not earth-shattering or life-altering. However, you do need to choose wisely. Like the true Grail, choosing things worth keeping will give us life.
(Come back next Wednesday to learn about Sacrificing Something Worth Giving Up.)