I love new beginnings. There is nothing like a fresh start to infuse my soul with hope. Maybe that’s why I love golf. No matter how badly I messed up the previous hole, I can stand at the next tee with anticipation of impending prosperity and contentment. The bright promise of a different outcome keeps me coming back for more. Sadly, my bad results are eerily similar hole after hole after hole. I want to blame my clubs or the course or the weather but at the end of the day I know that I’m the problem. Fresh start after fresh start is squandered because I take me with me on the golf course of life.
Here is a parable my dad told me many years ago. It illustrates the key to making or breaking our fresh starts in life:
A traveler came upon an old farmer hoeing in his field beside the road. He stopped and called out to the farmer, “What sort of people live in the next town?”
The farmer replied, “What were the people like where you’ve come from?”
The traveler responded, “They were a bad lot. Insensitive and lazy too. The most selfish people in the world, and not a one of them could be trusted. I’m happy to be leaving such a miserable place.”
The farmer answered “Well, I’m afraid that you’ll find the same sort in the next town.” Disappointed, the traveler trudged on his way, and the farmer returned to his work.
Sometime later another stranger, coming from the same direction, hailed the farmer and asked, “What sort of people live in the next town?”
Again the farmer replied, “What were the people like where you’ve come from?”
“They were the best people in the world. Hardworking, honest, and friendly. I’m sorry to be leaving them,” smiled the traveler.
“You are truly fortunate,” said the farmer. “You’ll find the same sort in the next town.”
The story points out the simple truth about the portability of our failures or unhappiness. On some level, we all believe that the right external change will create the bliss that presently eludes us. I often talk to people who believe that happiness awaits them in a new job, a new house, a new car, a new church, a new spouse, or new friends. Unfortunately, in most cases the joy they anticipate with each external change turns into bitter and unfulfilling sameness.
At heart of each disappointing fresh start is the misbelief that we are not the main problem in our unhappy past. We believe we are mostly healthy and normal and just fine. Deep in our hearts we embrace the notion that everybody or everything else is at the root of our struggles. Sadly, this common misbelief is a set up for cycles of disappointing relationships, jobs, churches, and locations.
So, what can I do to make my fresh starts truly different? If simply transporting my life baggage to a new context doesn’t work…what does? Good question. Let me offer three questions you can ask yourself as you move into your next life reset:
• Instead of complaining about how miserably people and places and even God have let me down, I need to take a hard look at myself and ask, “How have I been a crummy, selfish and unresponsive friend or colleague or sibling or spouse or Christian? Even though an awesome person like me deserves caring and fulfilling relationships, what can I do to be a blessing in someone else’s life? Shoot, I don’t even get along that well with God and He’s perfect. I might be doing or thinking or seeing something that is contributing to my sorrow.”
• I need to take a hard look at the actual benefits of having me in this world: “Did I leave my last job or church or neighborhood a healthier and happier place or were most people either relieved or disinterested that I left? How can I make my new situation more joyful and encouraging so that when I leave, the place will be richer for having had me?”
• Instead of begging the Lord to deliver me from my bad circumstances, I need to ask Him to deliver me from me. The final question is a prayer: “Lord, show where I’m the problem. Make me as good at critiquing my own heart as I am at critiquing others. Show the attitudes and actions that keep me from representing the character of Christ right where I am now.”
Bonus thought: Most of us expect God to serve up life to us like “coach-pitch” baseball. Coach-pitch is a little league format where players under nine years old hit a baseball that is carefully pitched to them by their own coach. The secret to coach-pitch success involves throwing the ball where the bat will probably cross the plate. A good coach pitcher is essentially throwing at his players’ bats. When the ball hits the bat, the kids gleefully run the bases believing their efforts or technique produced the results. At the next level, kids are pitching to kids. The peer pitchers do not have the skill or motivation to consistently hit the opposing players in the bat. If kids want to play real baseball, they have to learn how to hit the ball under less than pristine circumstances. Most of us want the Lord to throw life in our happy zone. We take the basic same swing over and over and expect Him to hit our bats. When He doesn’t and we strike out in work or marriage or church we are upset. Somebody or something let us down. Instead of demanding the ball find my bat’s sweet spot in spite of my ineffective swing, I might want to change my approach to hitting. Life isn’t coach-pitch, folks. In the words of the great Willie Stargell, “”They give you a round bat and they throw you a round ball and they tell you to hit it square.” Life is hard but His grace has it covered.
But gee…it’s fortnight. A spring fortnight no less. Keep your eye on the ball and hit it where they ain’t.