Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Life Report: How Would Yours Read?

I posted my first web log article in Oikonomia, on August 1, 2008, entitled “God: The Greatest “Subject?” My purpose in starting a blog at that time was to focus attention on our Creator God, “The Greatest Subject.” And upon humans and God’s creation as “The Great Objects” of His love, adoration, and ultimately, redemption.  The title, Oikonomia, represents what I believe is “The Great Responsibility” of humans—stewardship, or managing what belongs to God in such a way as to show our reverent love and awe of Him.

Can you think of any other concept from Scripture that is more all-encompassing of human responsibility than stewardship?   Biblical stewardship invites us to adopt the mindset of a servant (not an owner) who uses all of God’s gifts (time, talents, treasures) to honor and glorify Him for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ and His kingdom.   The biblical command in Colossians 3: 17 supports the notion that stewardship encompasses everything we do:

And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.

Did you make a New Year’s resolution in January?  Resolutions are a way of helping us to set goals to better our lives, or the lives of others.  But, how often do we look back and give ourselves a frank evaluation—or, biblically speaking, evaluate our stewardship.  Again, the Bible gives us a good motivation for evaluating our stewardship.  The Apostle Paul, in Romans 14:12 writes, So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

In his October 27, 2011 New York Times op-ed column, David Brooks gave some of his readers an “assignment.”  Here it is.

If you are over 70, I’d like to ask for a gift. I’d like you to write a brief report on your life so far, an evaluation of what you did well, of what you did not so well and what you learned along the way. You can write this as a brief essay or divide your life into categories — career, family, faith, community, and self-knowledge — and give yourself a grade in each area.

Several of Brooks’ readers responded by submitting their “Life Reports.”  One was especially meaningful to me as an example of one who is giving serious account of his stewardship.  Brooks published this essay, written in the form of a letter from a father to his two sons, on December 16, 2011.  Here is “The Life Report:  Frank H. Wheeler,” followed by my closing thoughts:

 
The Life Report: Frank H. Wheeler
December 16, 2011 6:52 pm

Dear Todd and Brian,
As my three score and ten years come to a close, it seems a good time to muse a bit about my life. Deep in the mire of active alcoholism in my late 30’s, not many people would have bet I would have passed 40, much less 70. But miracles happen in the strangest of ways and I have been given a life far beyond any I could have dreamed: I am married to the girl of my dreams, coming up on 50 years now. You two, your wives and kids put yourself in my presence, seemingly with pleasure. I have a relationship with, and a healthy dependence upon, a loving God. Both your mom and I have sufficient health, financial resources, mental acuity and interests to embrace and enjoy a robust, diverse life. I had a varied, remunerative, fascinating career in three industries. We seem to have balanced our own interests with responsibilities to our broader societies reasonably well. We, individually and as a couple, have a set of reliable, caring, fun friends different enough to provide spice and perspective, congruent enough to relate. At last count we have visited some 60 countries and seem to be at home in the middle of London or the backwoods of West Virginia. Were we perfect? Nope! Did we make mistakes along the way? Yup! Was it on balance pretty darn good? Absolutely!

Not much of this was predictable to anyone seeing a boy born in modest circumstances in West Virginia in 1940. Higher education was not a norm, a world war was starting, a depression was fresh in everyone’s mind, the average life span for a male in that state was around fifty, people stayed put and guys went to work in the mines, chemical companies or the state road. But my parents, both from humble backgrounds, were different. They had a vision for education, although they had little. They knew how to work hard, live within their means, save for the future, and delay gratification. They knew how to be a neighbor, in the pioneer style, and how to respect family. They had core values and lived by them. They knew God and tried to act as He would want them to act, as best they knew. They educated two boys. They mortgaged their house to found a church. They saved mom’s family farm from foreclosure. Were they perfect? Nope! Did they make mistakes along the way? Yup! Did they provide the foundation for me to build upon? Absolutely!

Now, did I use that foundation? Not for decades. At some point I concluded money and power were the source of happiness. I ran away from the God of my youth. I developed sharp elbows and the ability to “conveniently reinvent facts.” My values, to the extent I had any, were flexible and tailored to any current situations. I ignored obvious and compelling evidence of a genetic predisposition to alcoholism and embraced the magic of Jim Beam. But I did some things right. I worked hard to obtain a useful undergraduate and graduate degree. I had the amazing good sense to marry your mom and she had the poor judgment to stick around. We both shared a sense of adventure that led us enthusiastically to embrace work and other opportunities. I sensed ways to build an asset base by working for fast-growing, small companies and trading short term income for equity. I seemed to be able to do the best job I could at any given time and let the future unfold. We consistently, and to this day, lived below our means. We were able to take prudent risks.

Most fortunate of all, during my alcohol-induced wilderness years, and your early ones, your mom was the steel bands, wrapped in velvet, which held our lives together. As my life spiraled out of control, somehow we survived. I came face to face with the reality of my life, first in jail in Selma, Alabama, and then a moment of clarity in a Nashville coffee shop, Easter Sunday, 1980. Shortly thereafter I prayed, “God, if you are there and you care, I need your help.” God was there, God cared and I got help.

Over time, I did build on the foundation my parents had put in place. I was able to partner more effectively with your mom, expressing my deep and growing love, and joining to mitigate our individual weaknesses and to make the most of our respective strengths. All aspects of life improved and I began to participate in family, community and work in new, enjoyable and largely effective ways. Somehow out of disaster came a confluence of factors that have led to a life I could not have dreamed. I learned not to fear mistakes too much; they were the greatest source of effective learning. I learned to focus my physical, emotional and spiritual energy on things I could change and accept those I could not. I finally discovered that doing the “right” things, in the “right” way and for the “right” motives lead to a general level of contentment even in the face of sadness, uncertainty and legitimate fear. Perfect? Nope! Still much progress to be made? Yup! Largely good and acceptable at 71? Absolutely! Entering the twilight years reasonably at peace? Most of the time!

So, to wrap this up, are there some things I would change? You bet and here are some of them:

  1. I would never have used alcohol or other mind-altering substances.
  2. I would have become much more open to spirituality much earlier. Nowhere else has “contempt prior to investigation” served me more poorly. I looked at God, institutional churches and believers of all ilks with contempt, anger or amusement. I sought and found, only evidence that supported that view, ignoring evidence to the contrary. And my late blooming spirituality deprived you two of a fuller sense of God in your early years. That I regret deeply.
  3. I would have been much more conscious of my footprint on earth. It is amazing how blind I was, and to a large extent still am, to the most sensible of environmental concerns in all aspects of my life. I have not been a good steward of the earth you and your children have inherited.
  4. I would have been much more deliberate and thoughtful about how I spent my physical, emotional and spiritual energy, especially in regards my vocations, thinking more precisely about how my decisions affected those around me.
  5. I would have been much more open, much sooner, to different people, their perspectives, their beliefs and their life styles. I love the diversity of many of my friends…their variety adds richness, openness, texture and interest to my life. Buddies range from 8th grade education to GEDs to Ph. D’s to MD’s, from dedicated socialist to a guy to the right of Attila the Hun, from atheist to Hindu to Muslim to Hassidic Jew to Christians of all stripes, from a murderer to a semi-saint, from multi-millionaire to a guy whose net worth is a dog, from about age 25 to me and the list goes on. I treasure the diversity and work very hard to ignore areas of core disagreements, focusing on what I can learn and share. Dialogue not debate.
  6. I would have become engaged with the political process, especially at the local level. At least be an informed, engaged voter.
So, how to end this? I look forward to musing about four score years!
Love, Dad
                         *   *    *

My thanks to David Brooks for the idea of writing a “Life Report,”  And, to Frank H. Wheeler for providing a good example that has inspired me to begin writing.  Who knows, perhaps if you and I have opportunity, maybe we can share our “Life Reports.”  I’d be honored to read yours.   And while writing, may God give us the attitude of a humble steward--humility that helps us reflect and write so that our focus may be on what God “The Greatest Subject” has done for us, or in spite of us, “His Greatest Objects.”

1 comment:

Larissa Malik said...

Wow, Dr. Silvius, that was a great life report and testimony of God's saving grace and love to Mr. Wheeler! Encouragement for me to keep praying for my unsaved loved ones! I'm not even 30 yet but I trust that writing a life report of what the Lord has done for, in, and through me would be a wonderful blessing and encouragement to keep my eyes on the Lord Jesus and trust Him no matter what is happening! Thanks for posting this! :)