I once read a story to my children that changed the way I think about my life. The story was about a boy who was bored with his task of keeping his father’s sheep. One day, he met a stranger who gave him a spool of magic string that, when pulled, would make time pass quickly and fast forward him into the future. The stranger cautioned him to use the string very wisely. At first, the boy pulled only a little string from the spool—enough to make the tedious workday pass. But as time went on, he used it more and more frequently to avoid anything unpleasant or dull. After some time, he realized he didn’t want to wait to grow up, so he pulled a longer piece of string and became an instant adult. Still not satisfied, he was impatient to marry, have children and—when they proved to be bothersome and fussy—wish them grown, too. Before he knew it, he was an old man, his life was over, and there was no way to wind the magic string back onto the spool.
One man who greatly impacted my view of life is my gynecologist. I was in to see him for a routine physical several years ago and, as he was winding down his peptalk on the virtues of exercise, he paused to ask how I was doing in general. He wanted to know how things were going with my eyes and I immediately began to cry. He handed me a Kleenex, accustomed to this sort of behavior in his presence, and suggested I seek a second opinion no matter where I had to go to get it. He said, “Sometimes, life just sucks. But this is the hand you were dealt and you need to figure out how you’re going to play it. You don’t get another chance.”
Just for a minute, let’s put all talk of heaven and eternity aside. Focus with me on this one life we’ve been given: This one trip, one ride, one journey. We might not be happy with what we see in our hand. We might say, “This is not what I signed up for! I don’t want chronic health problems! I didn’t ask for a disability/divorce/depression/
A certain peace comes with this revelation. Because once you take an honest assessment of what you have, only then can you began to work with what is there. Now you are free from having to sit around and grumble about what is wrong and how everyone else got a better deal than you did. This one is yours—no one else’s. And you can’t switch places with your sister or your friend or anyone on American Idol. You’re stuck.
Okay. So, this is my life. Now what? Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is the thought, “If this is the only life I am going to get, I want to be sure to do all I can to make it the best it can be—and not waste any of it.”
That means sitting in the dentist chair waiting for a root canal: You know the dentist is in the next room sharpening (or dulling) his drill bits. His perky assistant has you trapped in a chair where your head is lower than your heart and you can feel it beating in your eyebrows. That can’t be good. Your mouth is as dry as cotton and you are so nervous your skin aches. You just wish this day were over. Or do you?
You are standing in line at the grocery store. There are 13 carts ahead of yours and all the checkouts are the same. You wait, reading tabloid headings about celebrities who give birth to aliens, and watch a toddlers have a complete and total meltdown when her mother extracts a soggy bag of M&Ms from her little hands. You watch the clock fearing you will be late to pick up your child from school and be labeled One of Those Moms. Finally, you are second in the queue at the register only to discover that, once again, you have managed to pick the worst register in the store. The woman ahead of you needs a price check on a vegetable the clerk didn’t know that God invented yet. To make matters worse, you recognize her as the crabby one who always yells at you for filling in your own check blanks, “I TOLD YOU THE MACHINE DOES IT FOR YOU,” which makes you even more determined to write it yourself. You glance frantically behind you but a dozen new shoppers block your escape. You wish you had a magic string to pull to get you out of this horrible line. Or do you?
You are sitting on the freeway in gridlock traffic. It is a sweltering day and your air conditioner is not working. You roll down the windows, but there is no air outside either. There are children in the backseat fighting and spitting at each other, repeatedly kicking your kidneys through the paper-thin seats. Someone spills a drink. Someone else has to go potty. NOW.
I can think of a million places I’d rather be than in a counselor’s office with my teenager, on a hospital gurney, a crowded elevator with people who smell like garlic and sweat, stuck at the top of a swinging Ferris wheel, in Target with a tantruming toddler, or driving alongside a motorist who is waving at me with hostile hand gestures. But these ARE the days of my life every bit as much as the days at the lake, having lunch with friends, or sipping coffee with my hubby on the back porch. And to wallow in self-pity whenever things are hard or to wish them away is to waste the life I’ve been given. And I won’t get another one.
Am I saying that God cannot/does not redeem us? Of course not. I truly believe that the best is yet to come when we surrender our lives to the One who holds Time in his hands! I am simply saying that whining and wishing things were different never got anyone anywhere. I am trying to teach myself to enjoy the journey—find something in each day and each situation to be thankful for or humor in. Let’s make it a personal challenge not to waste this day we have, the gift we call the Present.