It’s Never Too Late to Plan for the Future

November 9, 2011

Yesterday morning, after IRONMEN, I found myself sitting in the Lodge Cafe talking with someone whom I consider to be a good friend. We do not know one another REAL well, but we have spent enough time with one another, and done enough diverse things together, that I at least consider him to be a good friend.

Jim (not his real name) is older than me. He is retired from his professional life, but still working. That’s the way it goes with many men; so many of us derive our identity from our work, that when “official” retirement comes, we immediately land in something else. So here Jim is, 67, talking about his future.

He talked about the financial realities of life, making certain that he and his wife have enough to make it to the end, whenever that may be. He talked about their home, which he admitted is entirely too big for two people to live in, but that his wife is pretty well invested in it, and they will need to find something with enough space, and all on one level, to be their “last” place. Hey, Jim HAS had both knees replaced.

He talked about making his bucket list, and in conjunction with friends, because he realizes that it is friendships that really matter; particularly the friend in another state who is in early stages of ALS, and what that means. None of us are guaranteed anything; a truck may clobber us tomorrow, or that nagging pain may turn out to be something you never expected.

As an aside, I recall another friend in another city, who about 20+ years ago had a “small stroke.” As the day wore on, he realized that he could not sign his name; in the hospital, tests revealed the stroke. He was there for several days, then home for a while, before getting back to life and work. We had lunch after that, and over our meal he said to me,

“The way I drank, I’d expected cirrhosis of the liver. Given my diet, I knew there was a real possibility of a clogged artery and a heart attack. With my smoking, I understood the chances of lung cancer. I’d thought through all of those, and reconciled myself to them. A stroke never entered my mind. THIS GOT MY ATTENTION! I’ve quit smoking, quit drinking, cleaned up my diet, and started doing the one thing I hate–I am exercising now.”

“How do you feel?,” I asked.

“I’M MISERABLE!” He laughed.

So here I am with Jim, and he is talking to me about being in his late 60s and making plans for his future. “And prayer is a big part of it,” he said. “I struggle with that. When I sit down to pray, my mind launches off in a thousand different directions.”

I told him about Anthony Bloom’s book Beginning to Pray, and how Father Bloom says that whenever we decide to devote time to prayer, we will immediately be consumed with the desire to do everything we have left undone for the last ten years. Then I shared some simple, practical advice about prayer with Jim. Here’s what I said:

1. Closing your eyes in prayer is a relative recent phenomena. It was the practice to pray with eyes open for centuries. It was when the Sunday School movement started that people started closing their eyes (it helped children settle down!) Keeping your eyes open just may help you to stay focused. (then again, it may not–different strokes for different folks.)

2. Making a list is a good thing. When your mind has nothing to focus on, it will naturally wander; Having a list of things and/or people to pray about and for can keep you on task.

3. The old ACTS acrostoc is still a good starting point:

A is Adoration. Take some time to tell God that, why, and how much, you love Him.

C is Confession. There are things we have done that we ought not to have done, and things we have not done that we should have done, and these things have come in the way of our relationship with God. We need to tell the truth, and admit where we have gone wrong.

T is Thanksgiving. The attitude, not the season, or the day, by the way. Take time–a good bit of time–to tell God all that you are thankful for; forgiveness, salvation, eternal life, your family, health, nature, your job (yes, your job!), and anything and everything else. I never tire of hearing my children thank me; why should God be any different?

S is for Shopping List. The old theological word for this is “supplication” which means asking God to give attention to many things and people. Too many folks start and finish with this. Imagine if all your children ever did was ask for money. They never tried to spend time with you just to spend time with you. Save the “shopping list,” the things and people you want to ask God to do things for or about, for the end.

What blew me away was that this man, late 60s, well acquainted with the faith, and a member of the church for a long time, drank this up like it was water for a man dying of thirst. I was reminded that the simple, basic things, really are the best, and the things we all need on a regular basis.

I won’t say that he is “cramming for finals,” but it is impressive that he is planning for his future spiritual growth. It humbles me, and motivates me to do the same.

Maybe it’s time to stop for a few minutes and pray now. Why don’t you do the same?


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