US President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, was angered by an army officer who accused him of favoritism. Stanton complained to Lincoln, who suggested that Stanton write the officer a letter. Later, Stanton told the President he was ready to send the strongly worded letter. Lincoln said, “You don’t want to send that letter. . . . Put it in the stove. That’s what I do when I have written a letter while I am angry. It’s a good letter, and you had a good time writing it and feel better. Now burn it, and write another.”
Uncle Mark (not his real name) had his big toe removed because his arteries had become blocked after years of smoking 60 cigarettes a day. My husband and I used the traumatic event to talk to our kids about the consequences of destructive habits. We realized just how much Uncle Mark’s story had impacted them when a few days later we heard our son telling another family member to quit smoking or his big toe would need to be cut off!
The memory is vivid. My wife Merryn and I sat in emotional pain, talking. “If this really is our last chance to have a baby and it doesn’t happen,” Merryn said, “I need something else.” We’d spent the past decade trying everything to start a family—IVF treatment, healing prayer, adoption—all without success. We now awaited the result of one final IVF round. “If it doesn’t happen,” she said, her face downcast, “I have to have something else to look forward to.”
Sociologists at one university recently completed a study on regret. In it, they examined whether people felt more regret over what they had done or what they had failed to do. The researchers found that people’s regrets over their actions or inactions were roughly even when asked about the past week. Nearly the same number said, “I wish I hadn’t done that” as those who said “I wish I had done that.” But when asked to consider their life’s largest regrets, the vast majority said they were more troubled about missed opportunities. As John Greenleaf Whittier wrote, “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’ ”
What do soldiers, athletes, and farmers have in common? Discipline. Soldiers go through drills day in and day out. They want to be battle ready. Athletes undergo strict training so they can compete in the race. Farmers work from the rising of the sun until it sets, patiently toiling in hope of a bountiful harvest.
As we pause and reflect on another 12 months gone by, we’re often quick to aim for greater balance in all areas during the new year. Author and pastor Andy Stanley suggests that we aim to find a rhythm in the changing seasons of life. Instead of trying to carve out equal amounts of time for each activity in order to attain and maintain a balanced lifestyle, there are seasons which require us to work longer or shorter hours, spend less or exercise more, cut out or add certain foods to our diet, and so on.
Near the climax of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a villain shoots Indiana’s father to motivate the distressed son to enter a booby-trapped temple and retrieve the Holy Grail. “The healing power of the Grail is the only thing that can save your father now,” he said. “It’s time to ask yourself what you believe.” I deplore what the evil man did, but he was on to something: What we believe determines what we do.
When the temperature dipped to -27 degrees Celsius in my city, newscasters cautioned the public against going outside. An authority in a neighboring state declared, “In 10 minutes you could be dead without the proper clothes.” After hearing warnings such as these, my husband said what I was thinking: “I think I want to go outside . . . just to feel what it’s like.”
At the start of this year, a friend of mine made a statement that set the tone for the rest of my year. Nicola remains convinced that “control” is at the root of many of our internal struggles—with self-control being the most challenging to master. We get angry or lose heart when we can’t control people or circumstances. We lack discipline and lose control over our own thoughts, words, or actions, and spiral into a self-destructive cycle—hurting ourselves and others.
In early 2014, the attention of the world turned to Sochi, Russia, where Olympic athletes pursued their lifelong quests. Our family loves the Summer and Winter Games—the global pageantry, the athletes’ grit and fight, the goodwill expressed among countries.
I recently attended a meeting of leaders that could have become contentious and disastrous. It could have resulted in more fireworks than Chinese New Year! Thankfully, however, difficult issues were addressed with honesty and transparency. The big “I”—integrity—led individuals to speak words of truth, love, and forgiveness.
Pay it forward entails the beneficiary of a good deed repaying it by doing something kind for another person—not the original benefactor. In our fallen world, however, we sometimes “pay forward” pain by hurting someone in response to offenses committed against us—perhaps in the past—by a different person.