September 15, 1998
 Keeping Your
Life in Motion

Sometimes Any Action
Is Better Than None
    
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During most of his adult life, Emmett Kirkland worked for Watkins Realty in Pittsburgh. Emmett, my wife's grandfather, was a master craftsman, who repaired and remodeled rental properties for the firm.

As the Great Depression set in, the company's rental income dried up, and Mr. Watkins informed Emmett that he would have to lay him off. Like countless others, Emmett had fallen victim to the economic fallout of the times. Like few others, though, he countered his setback with an unusual response. He told Mr. Watkins that if the company was unable to pay him, he would continue to work for them--for free. He reasoned that it was better to stay active and productive, than to sit idly at home dwelling on his problems.

Emmett's decision to continue working proved to be fortunate in many ways. His can-do attitude inspired his wife and five children to be resourceful, and to find creative ways to meet the family's needs. His dedicated service to Watkins Realty helped it continue to meet its clients' needs and to weather its financial crisis. On occasion, when profits were more than expected, Mr. Watkins shared some of the windfall with Emmett. And, of course, when the company's hard times finally eased, Emmett was the first person to be rehired.

Although I never had the privilege of meeting Emmett Kirkland, he is on the short list of my most important personal heros, for I've seen the effects of his positive attitude upon his son Glenn--my wife's father--and, through Glenn, upon Evie. What is most impressive about his response to the layoff, is that he took action when the natural response would have been inaction. This act of faith brought great benefits to him, his family and many others.

The Curse of Inertia

During our own lifetime, we each experience a multitude of setbacks and disappointments. Too often our natural response to a major blow is immobility. We're stunned by the disappointment, unable to think clearly about what to do next. We're angry at God, at others and ourselves for what has happened, and our anger keeps us from wanting to do anything constructive. Worst of all, we suffer a collapse of hope: God has turned his back on us, we assume, so it's pointless to think he might want to provide for us in some new way that would compensate for our loss. What's the point of trying to dig ourselves out of this pit?

In fact, God gives extraordinary grace for healing in these cases. Yet usually we experience his provision only as we keep our life in motion. Some traumatic setbacks do require that we pull back from life, and take some time to grieve our loss. Yet it's easy to get stuck in the inertia of this stage, and to miss the new beginnings God has for us.

We find it easy enough to get moving when there is some radical new beginning we can make-a major change that, because it is so grandiose, fuels our energy and hope. Sometimes, though, the most extraordinary thing we can do is to continue going through the normal motions of life, which may be exactly what will best allow God to help us get our life back on track again. It's typical, too, when we're depressed, to imagine that only a major change or radical improvement will solve our problems. We look with contempt upon the small and routine steps we can take to improve things. Yet often these are precisely what will break the spell of our depression and open us to God's fresh provision for our needs.

One Small Step Made All the Difference

About four years ago a friend of mine, Eric, lost his wife to cancer. Her death was a devastating blow to Eric, who had been happily married to Linda for 30 years.

A year or so later Eric began dating Janet. He soon grew attracted to her and hoped they could marry. While Janet liked Eric greatly as a friend, she was uncertain about wanting to marry him. After two years of dating, Eric hadn't wavered in his desire to marry Janet, and Janet hadn't moved beyond her ambivalence. Eric, now in his mid-fifties and eager to be married again, felt that he had to get on with his life, and so broke up with Janet. Once again he was heartsick over a major personal loss.

A short time after their breakup, Eric was scheduled to attend a concert with a friend. He visited a record store to purchase an album by the group that was to perform, so that he'd be better prepared to enjoy the concert. While there, he ran into a young co-worker of his. She introduced Eric to her mom, Shirley, who was shopping with her. Eric chatted with Shirley for a few minutes--long enough to find that she had lost her husband to a heart attack several years before.

A week later Eric asked Shirley out. They quickly recognized that they were highly compatible, and began seeing each other frequently. Now, six months later, they have fallen in love and are seriously considering marriage.

This is a remarkably encouraging example of how God can unexpectedly bring an important answer to a need as we go about the normal activities of life. Eric, who had every reason to think that God had abandoned him, benefited greatly from deciding to stay active and hopeful about life. His decision to make the concert experience as positive as possible led to his visiting the record store, which opened the opportunity to meet Shirley. His experience reminds us that sometimes doing something, no matter how mundane, is far better than doing nothing.

A New Beginning for Moses

We find an inspiring example of this principle in the early life of Moses, described in Exodus 2:11-25. When Moses was about forty years old, he faced the biggest trouble of his life. He had killed an Egyptian, whom he caught beating an Israelite. Moses thought he was acting heroically by saving his fellow Jew from the Egyptian's torture. But he soon found that Pharaoh wanted to kill him for his vigilantism; the Jews were also angry with him, for he had stirred up trouble for them with the Egyptians.

Moses then fled from Egypt to the neighboring land of Midian. There, "he sat down by a well." It is hard to imagine anyone feeling more isolated and helpless than Moses must have felt at this moment. He had left the privileged environment of Pharaoh's palace, his friends, everything familiar to him, and now was alone in a strange land. He must have felt that he had no options for rebuilding his life.

But soon an opportunity arose to do something constructive. The daughters of the priest of Midian "came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father's flock." Shepherds came and chased the women and their sheep away. Moses then assisted these frightened women, brought them back to the well, protected them from the shepherds, and helped them water their flock.

From what we know of Moses' assertive personality and physical strength, this act of chivalry must have seemed second nature to him--simply the obvious thing to do. Yet the women reported the deed to their father, Jethro, who was most impressed. Jethro then befriended Moses, and offered him a place to stay. He went on to provide Moses a job tending his sheep, and gave him his daughter Zipporah to be his wife.

For Moses, one act of kindness opened the door for him to find a comfortable place to live for the next forty years, a new family, enjoyable employment, and a partner for marriage. As he merely rose to the occasion and did what was natural to him, God provided extravagantly for his needs.

Finding God's Best by Doing the Obvious

What emerges from Moses' experience is one of the most helpful principles of God's guidance that we discover in Scripture. Briefly stated, it's that we find much of God's will for our life just by doing the obvious.

To elaborate more: Because God's Providence is operating fully in the lives of those who follow Christ, we can assume that much of the guidance he provides us is conveyed through the obvious responsibilities and opportunities of everday life, including many routine activities. Martin Luther spoke of God preaching us a "daily sermon" through these circumstances. He meant that God gives us guidance through them, as clear and important as if he were speaking to us in an audible voice.

We may assume also--and this is the best news--that on occasion, by our merely doing the ordinary, we will suddenly be in a position to enjoy an unusual blessing of God--and the type of blessing we would normally think could only result from our taking a major, carefully-planned step of faith. Moses' experience in Midian is one we should remember often, especially when we've suffered a defeat and can't see any way to make a fresh start.

The Benefits of Keeping Our Life in Motion

Appreciating the way God guides us through the circumstances of daily life can do wonders to revive our hope, not only when we experience a setback, but when the pattern of our day-to-day life gets too repetitive and boring. We can be sure that there is purpose in our plodding ahead and doing those things we would normally do, for as we are faithful to these responsibilities, God is full of surprises.

There are other reasons why we benefit from keeping our life in motion. For one, we are better able to think creatively, and to find answers to problems, when we are actively moving toward a goal, than when we are merely thinking about doing so. As we overcome inertia and move forward, our subconscious rallies, and helps us find solutions to problems which otherwise elude us. This is a vital principle for the artist, composer and writer to understand; just getting started on a creative project is often half the battle in finishing it effectively. Consider this advice which Vincent van Gogh gave to aspiring artists:

"One must not work in a thousand fears, and yet that is what many do who are so anxious to get hold of the right colors and tones that through this very anxiety they become like tepid water. The real artists say, 'Just dash the color on!' Otherwise, we reach the summit of wisdom when nobody has any daring left."

Van Gogh's advice, of course, applies not only to the artist but to any of us, in any endeavor we undertake. We may get too analytical about what we need to do, and wait too long to get started. Sometimes we do better just to "dash the color on"--that is, to do something to put our feet in motion. As we begin moving toward our goal, we are better able to recognize how to reach it.

Another helpful reason to be in motion is that others are more likely to assist us. When they see that we're actively pursuing a goal, they are better able to recognize specific ways they can help us, and more inclined to want to do so as well.

We also present a better role model to others when we're being active and productive, than when we're merely sitting still. When Emmett Kirkland decided to work unsalaried for Watkins Realty, he made a lasting impression on his children about the value of work, the importance of faithfulness, and the benefit of staying hopeful. And his action did more to show them what trusting Christ involves than any words could ever have conveyed. His legacy inspired them to be optimistic, to work hard, to tackle problems rather than run away from them, and to vigorously trust the Lord to meet their needs.

We each have far greater influence on the lives of others than we usually realize. And we do leave a legacy. When we approach life positively, we inspire others to do the same.

Beyond Futility

We so easily fall into a sense of futility about our life. It takes so little for that to happen. We conclude that it isn't worth our effort to try to improve our situation, or to take steps toward realizing our dreams. The prospects of success just seem too remote.

As we come to realize how fully God is at work in the circumstances of our daily life, we can gain the heart to keep pressing on. It is wonderful when, from time to time, we have the opportunity to take a major step of faith with our life. Yet in between times, we can enjoy the same exhilaration of faith in taking the small steps that we would in taking the big ones, for we can know that we are participating in God's bigger picture for our life through these everyday activities.

And sometimes, through taking even the smallest step, we open ourselves to an unexpected blessing from God. This is a basis for beginning each day with the highest expectations, and for doing what we do with energy and hope.
  

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