Past, present, future. This is the summation of our time here on a spinning blue ball. I’m sure you have heard the saying, “The past is history, tomorrow a mystery, but today is a gift- that is why they call it the present.” – Unknown. I like this quote, but I find that it leads me to the conclusion that our thoughts should remain in the present. Why focus on the past if it is “old news?” Why put stock in the future if we have no way of knowing the outcome? Why waste our time in anything other than our current circumstances? I believe that to ignore our past, present, or future would be to our own detriment. Our past guides us, our present provides the opportunity, and our future brings the hope of growth and prosperity. But where do our thoughts most often lie? It is possible that your answer might be different than mine. However, I imagine that we are similar in that we spend a disproportionate amount of our focus on one aspect of our lives relative to the other two. If this is true, then I would like to make a case for devoting our attention to our past, present, and future with greater emphasis on balance. I believe that by placing similar attention on each of these parts of our lives, we can be healthier and wiser fathers.
Here is a personal example of the need to balance our focus. As I had mentioned recently, I have been struggling to juggle all the responsibilities I have as a father. When I am not performing at my personal best, I begin to ask myself, “Is it me? Am I lazy? Do I just need to try harder?” However, I was speaking with my youngest brother the other day, and I recalled my experience of going back to school for my graduate degree. At one point, I was working full-time, in school full-time, doing my homework with any spare time I could find, and trying to care for my wife and first, newborn child. I was a wreck! At one point, I ended up breaking out in shingles due to the stress. After having to spend a month at home in recovery, I found myself in front of a panel of my professors, who encouraged me to take some time off. Instead, I got caught up in my schoolwork, I made it to all of the classes, I spent time with my family during the day, and I completed homework during the night. All this to say- I am not lazy. When I view my current circumstances through this lens, when I use my past to understand my present, it helps me to steer my mind toward thoughts that are productive. In this case, I thought, “Maybe the solution is not trying harder, but trying something different.” If I hadn’t taken time to reflect on past experiences, I would likely be following the same course of action. By evaluating the past and changing my current trajectory I am more likely to find a favorable outcome in the future.
The Past Is History: Listen to the Past
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana
The past can be a powerful tool. When we trace the path of previous decisions and their respective outcomes, then we can come to a better understanding not only of what was successful or unsuccessful but why this might be the case. Taking a close look at what brought us to our current circumstances can help us to determine what alterations we might wish to make as we find ourselves in similar situations. Do I have regrets about how I disciplined my son when he talked back to me? Then, perhaps I should consider a different approach. Was there ever a time when I felt good about my weight? Maybe I can go back to habits I had back then. Have I deeply hurt people with my words over the past few weeks? Perhaps I need to take more time to select my responses before I share them. When we couple past experiences with the relevant knowledge we have gained over the years, we get a delightful byproduct: wisdom. The past can be a good teacher; sometimes it is harsh, but it can also be reliably honest. Though it is not good to live in the past, it would do us no good to ignore it. We all know people that have led us to think, “Man, he just never learns, does he?” Let’s not be one of those people.
Tomorrow A Mystery: Prepare for the Future
“Hope for the best, plan for the worst.” – Lee Child
It’s true- we do not know what the future holds. However, we can make decisions today that are likely to shape our future. Rome wasn’t built in a day, right? There were a lot of intentional decisions made that led to a massive empire that spanned the known world. As is the case in our lives. If we want to be sitting at our son or daughter’s wedding, listening to them share about the impact that we had on our children, we have to make intentional decisions to get there. We cannot assume that life will take us there naturally. What we can assume though is that life will happen. We are going to experience setbacks. Though we may not have control over what life throws our way, we can prepare ourselves to be able to withstand what comes our way. That is why I spend more time focusing on developing our personal character than I do creating a “to-do list for fathers.” I believe that developing ourselves as men of virtue and inner strength has more value than just following some new “dad trend.” If we can look to the future and determine what we want of life, we can begin preparing ourselves to be the man and father that can function in that world. We prepare for that moment, and for the challenges that we will face along the way.
Today is a Gift: Cherish the Present
Yesterday has gone, and tomorrow is not promised. We have been graced with today; we are a steward of this moment. What then shall we do with it?
When I was younger, Christmas morning was a bitter-sweet experience. On one hand, I was thrilled to unravel gift after gift, seeing all the cool things that loved ones had gotten me (I was spoiled). On the other hand, I always felt a little sad as I came to the end of the line and realized that there were items that I had hoped for and had not received (I was spoiled). Forget about how everyone else felt or what they got for Christmas (I was spoiled). I could not be satisfied (I was spoiled). Looking back, those were embarrassing and sad moments in my life. I wasn’t able to embrace the moment, see the experience from the perspective of others, or allow myself to be content. Instead, I suffered. I suffered not because of what others had done to me, but from what I was doing to myself. I’ve discussed this before, but it applies here as well: we can’t let the “would have’s,” “could have’s,” and “should have’s” rob us of our joy. Today is a gift only when we don’t treat it like a burden. Carpe diem: seize the day! If you want richness and fulfillment in life- look for it. If you want to have meaningful relationships- make them. If you want peace of mind that surpasses understanding- go to the source. We can’t change the decisions that we have made, and we can’t control what will happen tomorrow, but we can choose what kind of dads we wish to be today- right now.
As you can see, our past, our present, and our future are all valuable. This week I encourage you to balance your attention. Make note of what you have achieved, learn to appreciate what you have, and have the wisdom to direct your efforts toward a desirable future. Do you agree with today’s message? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
As always, stay Rock Solid, dads!