Name Your Price

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”

-Henry David Thoreau

Unless you are independently wealthy, costs matter. In an age where numbers such as millions, billions, and even trillions are thrown around in political speech and casual conversations, many still have to account for every cent.

I believe Henry David Thoreau outlines the missing piece in the typical cost-benefit analysis: the amount of life and time we are going to exchange for our new home, the new job, or even an athletic goal. While it is a blessing and a noble effort to work hard and provide the best life you can, have you considered the long-term wear and tear on your body? If you are an athlete, will that small window of glory be worth it when the aches and pains remain after the cheering crowds have left? I believe in going after what you want in life, but we must factor in everything that comes along with it.

As Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher put it:

“If you wish to win at the Olympic Games, to prepare yourself properly you would have to follow a strict regimen that stretches you to the limits of your endurance. You would have to submit to demanding rules, follow a suitable diet, vigorously exercise at a regular time in both heat and cold, and give up drinking. You would have to follow the directions of your trainer as if he or she were your doctor.” 1

Epictetus also goes on to discuss the possibility of injury and losing the competition. Epictetus is encourage the reader to take a look at “the big picture” in order to test ourselves and our motives.

“By considering the big picture, you distinguish yourself from the mere dabbler, the person who plays at things as long as they feel comfortable or interesting. This is not noble. Think things through and fully commit!…Unless we fully give ourselves over to our endeavors, we are hollow, superficial people and we never develop our natural gifts…but consider first the real nature of your aspirations, and measure that against your capacities.”2

Jesus also encouraged us to consider the cost of discipleship in Luke 14:25-35. One example Jesus uses is someone who considers building a tower:

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.'” (Luke 14:28-30, NIV).

Before we embark on anything in life, let us ask ourselves if we are truly willing to pay the real price to undertake it. God bless you all.

1Epictetus, The Art of Living, as interpreted by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (2006): 38.

2 Ibid, 39.

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Embrace Today’s Second Chance

By Michael W. Raley

O how the body aches,

O how the heart breaks,

When you realize

That the dream has died.

All of the work, love, faith, and hope you planted as seeds

Has become a harvest of drought and weeds.

We shrug it off as not meant to be or not part of a plan,

Neither of which bring us comfort nor understanding.

Time will go on and somehow so will we,

Keeping our distance and remaining skeptical and leery.

The sacrifice and pain came at such a high cost

That it will take time to get over this loss.

However, some wounds will never heal

As we may become bitter about our raw deal.

Some things we will never get over, with the burden on our shoulders.

We perceive ourselves to be destined like Sisyphus, pushing a boulder,

Only to have it roll down the hill again.

Or consider Job, who sought an audience with God and an explanation,

Only to be pelted with unanswerable question after unanswerable question.

Yes, Job’s family and fortunes were restored,

But why did he have to go through all of that before?

We must hold on to the loved ones and days which remain,

In spite of the sorrow and pain.

We must embrace today’s second chance,

For as Aurelius said, we are meant to wrestle with this life and not dance.

Confronting Our Self-Doubt

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt as far as possible all things.” -Rene Descartes

Doubt- fear’s annoying little brother. “Do you really think you can do this?” “Are you sure?” “What if your gut feeling is wrong?” “How do you know what you believe is true?”

Everyone has doubts- which can be useful at times, as we may avoid potentially painful episodes in our lives. Doubt also allows us to seek after the truth in a world where we cannot believe everything we see, hear, or read.

However, doubt becomes a problem when it brings us to a place of anxiety and inaction. Doubt will make us question long-held beliefs about ourselves, our abilities, or even the nature of our relationship to God. Doubt in its most crippling form brings uncertainty and a lack of conviction. Doubt also causes us to waver and hesitate with our actions. We try to save face and justify not going forward with a statement such as, “It just wasn’t the right time.”

“Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4, NIV).

There is no condemnation here for anyone who has ever doubted or maybe you are going through a time of doubt. Jude 22 tells us to “Be merciful to those who doubt.” (NIV). Show love, mercy, and compassion to those who are going through such a difficult time.

To make use of a cliché, doubt is literally “the oldest trick in the book.” Consider the serpent’s (Satan’s) encounter with Eve in the Garden of Eden.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (Genesis 3:1, NIV).

Satan planted the first seeds of doubt concerning God’s word. However, Eve responded with the truth of what God said.

“The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden,and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”(Genesis 3:2-3, NIV).

Eve 1, Satan 0. Satan then digs deeper into his bag of tricks, where he questions the truth of God’s word and God’s motives for His commandment. In essence, Satan responds with an attack of God’s goodness and nature.

“’You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”(Genesis 3:4-5, NIV).

Eve 1, Satan 1. Eve then eats the forbidden fruit and gives some to Adam. Sin infects all of creation and humanity is cursed through the fall. Eve 1, Satan 2. Game, set, match.

Thousands of years later, Satan tries the same tactics on Jesus as outlined in both Matthew 4 and Luke 4, but is unsuccessful. With his temptation of Jesus, Satan tries to make Jesus doubt His identity by uttering “If you be the Son of God.”

We can believe in the Bible, we can know our salvation is secure, we can know that we are loved, but we can still be riddled by self-doubt. This self-doubt will keep us in a lowly place and continue to feed the negative thoughts and emotions which poison our streams of Living Water. If we are so hindered by doubt, the temptation is always there to quit. Just give up. However, if we reach down and reach outside of ourselves, we can conquer our doubts.

I spent the last two months struggling with doubt and perceived looming failure. I have mentioned this in previous posts, but I decided at the age of 40 to go back to school to start a new career. I was doing great on the homework and keeping up with classwork despite working six days a week. However, I was not unable to pass the certification tests, which are essential to the career field I have chosen. I have always been a pretty good student, but these consecutive failures wore on my confidence. I had placed too much pressure on myself concerning this next test I was scheduled to take. This was going to be my last stand. Failed it. The next morning I wrote an email to my instructor, a school administrator, and the assistant campus director, informing them I was withdrawing. I was fully aware of the financial ramifications of my actions. I placed my failure solely on me, it was not the school’s or the instructor’s fault, it was me.

I received a reply back from the assistant campus director who wanted to discuss the matter further. My wife and my parents were encouraging, and so was the school. I decided to stick it out and the school placed me with a tutor, who worked with me on a previous test, and I passed. I have one certification under my belt. This boosted my confidence and changed the whole dynamic of me believing in myself. I know that abilities come solely from God, yet we must make use of the resources He provides.

If you are struggling in your self-confidence, here are some practical steps you can take to help you reach your goals:

  1. Realize that it’s going to be difficult.

  2. Realize that everyone goes through this.

  3. Focus on what you can control.

  4. Don’t worry about what you can’t control.

  5. Stop comparing yourself to others

  6. Realize your talents are unique to you.

  7. Progress, no matter how small, is progress nonetheless.

  8. Don’t allow your age to hinder you.

  9. Swallow your pride- make use of your resources.

God bless you all.

Scars

By Michael Raley

Accept the facts that this won’t be easy and it will be a long soul’s night.
There will be struggles and tears- that’s all right.
Make the conscious choice to ignore the internal and external negative voices.The voices that say,
“Stay down.”

“Give up.”

“Don’t bother trying.”

“You’re too old.”

“You’re not worthy to be loved.”

“Remember when you failed before?”

“You’re going to mess this up too.”

When the voices remind you of your perceived losses,

Take a look at your scars.

The scars are proof you are a survivor;

You came back from that battle, you’ll come back from this too.

You will get knocked down,

But you are defeated only if you stay down.

So I say to you, you mighty warrior, “Rise.”

Rise in the Light and vanquish the darkness,

For today is the day we raise our hands and fight.

It’s Not Too Late- You’re Right on Time

We live our lives in reverse. When we are seventeen, eighteen, nineteen-years-old, we are faced with the monumental decision of “what do we want to be when we grow up?” We often feel backed into a corner and forced to make life-altering decisions before we even start living our lives.

The truth is that most of us do not know what we truly want in our teenage years. We are in a continuous state of change and have not yet matured emotionally, rationally, or spiritually. So we go in search of a career- most go to college, a university, or a trade school. Some go into the military, and some may just go directly into the work force upon graduation- all of which are very good and viable options.

However, what happens when the ideal meets the reality? We grow frustrated, we may go through an existential crisis, or we may change our majors like some people change their socks. Maybe out of fear, a false sense of obligation, or a perceived lack of better options, we stick with the path we are on and stay frustrated, resentful, depressed, bitter, angry, and fearful. We may even feel like we have failed and have to spend the rest of our lives working toward a material success which will elude us.

Stop. Take three deep breaths. Quit beating yourself up. Quit comparing yourself to other people.

Not everybody will be a billionaire by age thirty like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. Not everyone is athletically gifted to play professional basketball right out of high school like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or Kevin Garnett. Very few people achieve worldwide fame by the age of twenty-five.

The problem lies with our perception of age and success. We spent the vast majority of our lives pursuing what the Stoics called “externals”- fame, possession, wealth, the approval of others, etc., all of which are fleeting and out of our control. We also feel that we have to figure out the mysteries of life before we attain our first bit of wisdom or spiritual insight. When we compare ourselves to others, we will feel inadequate, and think of ourselves as inferior. You are not inferior, you are who God created you to be. Your best years are today and ahead of you.

Maybe you do not have one particular path- maybe you have several paths because you have multiple gifts and talents. Draw on all of your talents, skills, and experiences. Be the best you that you can be and do not worry about what others think.

“I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11, NIV).

Albert Einstein was not the greatest student in school. Winston Churchill had to repeat the fourth grade. Oprah Winfrey was fired in her early 20s. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Joe Montana was a third round draft pick. Tom Brady was a sixth round draft pick.

As I write this post, I am two weeks away from turning forty. I do not feel forty. I am not looking at the calendar with dread, but optimism.  In fact, the difficult and painful events of the last year-and-a-half, have only invigorated my spirit and I believe my best years are still ahead of me. I have re-enrolled in school and I am pursuing a new career. If you are reading this and you are under forty, relax, enjoy life where you are at. If you are over forty and reading this, you are entering the prime season of your life.

No matter your age or place in life, you still have time to achieve your goals and pursue your dreams.

*Ronald Reagan was in his 50s when he found a second career in politics.

*Harland Sanders was sixty-five when he opened his first Kentucky Fried Chicken.

*Sam Walton was forty-four when he opened his first Wal-Mart store.

*Anna “Grandma” Moses started painting at age seventy-eight.

*Henry Ford was forty when he founded the Ford Motor Company and was forty-five when the Model T came along.

*Abraham Lincoln found a second chance in politics at forty-seven.[1]

While you have today, make it count. All of the events and experiences of your life have converged and brought you to this point for a reason, for this season. God bless you all.

[1] http://www.lifehack.org/370180/20-people-who-only-achieved-success-after-age-40. Accessed 8 January 2017.

Rebooting Our Spiritual Lives

For millions of people around the world, the hours leading up to midnight on New Year’s Eve represent a time of collective optimism and hope. We see a calendar change as a clean slate, a way to wipe out the pain and struggle of the last year. Though going into a different year does not change what happened, we see the New Year as a way to put it behind us.

However, we must be careful not to drag the same old emotions, feelings, and thoughts with us into the New Year because we will be caught up by the same old bitterness, frustration, and anger. Our lives will become frozen in the past, regardless of what year the calendar says it is.

When our computers and/or phones freeze up, a hard reboot becomes necessary. In other cases, we may have to back-up the device to a certain date in order for it to work. (Ironically, I was having problems with my Wi-Fi connection as I wrote this post).  As we come into the New Year, it is important that we do “a hard reboot” in our spiritual lives. We must look at what happened, how we responded, and how best to go forward. We must “reset” our relationship with God and ask Him for His forgiveness and grace anywhere we have fallen short.

Although we can look back on the past year’s events with sorrow and disdain (as I have at times), we can instead be thankful for God’s grace to endure the trials. Romans 8:28 does not say all things are good, but says that all things work together for our good. God in the mystery of His sovereignty can work out the most tragic of circumstances for our greater spiritual well-being. If God brought us through 2016’s trying times, He will certainly guide us through any and all of 2017’s difficulties.

As we go into this New Year, let us be hopeful, but realistic. Let us be mindful and prepared for the difficulties that will arise. Being prepared does not mean being overly pessimistic, but it allows us to embrace the moment and be thankful for the loved ones in our lives. Let us view each day as if it were our last and carry on with faithfulness and love. God bless you all.

 

Embracing Our Experiences

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’” – Eleanor Roosevelt[1]

Experience is rarely gained in a comfortable temperature-controlled environment. A simulation can give a soldier an idea of what to expect during combat, but it is the actual battlefield where the soldier applies his or her training. It is the same with our lives- our trials are opportunities to apply the wisdom we have learned.

 “The only source of knowledge is experience.” -Albert Einstein[2]

Another Christmas season has come and gone and the focus turns to 2017. I know for myself and the people I know and love, 2016 has been a traumatic year- full of pain, grief, loss, sorrow, despair, depression, and heartache. Sometimes in war there are no victors, only survivors. The dark storm clouds gathered around you, but by the grace of God you have made it this far. You will find your way back.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” – Confucius[3]

In matters of faith and philosophy, it is our experience that truly shapes us. How we apply our spiritual and philosophical wisdom is influenced more by our trials and tribulations than any sermon, book, or essay. Our experiences serve as a mirror reflection of not only who we are, but of the world around us. There are people out there who are hurting just like we are and they are looking for something authentic. If we are to share our faith and experience with someone, it is okay to admit you do not have the answers. The last thing people want to hear is common tropes, clichés, and talking points.

Our experiences give us that unique personal testimony about how we walked through our personal hell and back. Our life is a culmination of all of our experiences- good and bad. We cannot change what happened. We must also face the possibility of not getting answers as to why something did or did not happen. Life gives us no choice but to soldier on, not only for ourselves, but for our loved ones. We must embrace all of this life we live and the experiences which shape us into who we are.

Experience is an opportunity for us to examine what we believe and why we believe it. Our belief system must be able to stand up to our scrutiny. It is okay to question the nature of God, the Bible, life, death, and faith. Our beliefs serve as a foundation for our lives and we must examine the foundation for cracks. If there is a weakness, we can fix the damage or rebuild the foundation, which will require deep digging and a lot of labor. The reward of confidence comes after we have done the hard, soul-searching work.

“For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12, NKJV).

 

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who ask you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15, NKJV).

I pray that the Lord will comfort each of your hearts in this coming year. I pray that 2017 will be a year of joy and rejoicing for each of you. God bless you.

 

 

[1] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/e/eleanorroo121157.html Accessed 26 December 2016.

[2] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins148778.html Accessed 26 December 2016.

[3] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/confucius131984.html Accessed 26 December 2016.