Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Spring Cleaning Discovery

Spring has returned which meant I was doing foreign things last weekend - working in the yard and cleaning the garage rummaging through boxes of books and papers discerning what I no longer needed.  This process of sifting through the stuff of our lives is an important spiritual practice.  Not ony because letting go and saying goodbye is essential to making peace with life and death but because we never know what may lurk under the cobwebs to remind us what we most need to learn.  And you thought you were just spring cleaning!

One of the relics of my life I re-discovered was a paper I had written for a class I was taking in 1990.  The paper is titled "Don Southworth's Mission - June 31, 1990".  This five page paper, with the date that never happened, lays out my mission and purpose in life and my hopes, dreams and speculations about how my life will unfold.  Reading through the paper I am reminded of the ambitious and slightly naive 32 year old dreamer who wrote it.  Most of my professional and personal goals haven't happened the way I imagined.  I'm not yet a grandfather.  I never met my biological mother.  I am not retiring at the age of 55 with a net worth in seven figures.  I haven't published several books.  I am a minister.  My wife and I do tithe.  We have taken a trip to see the United States.  I have a college degree, in fact two of them.

While the particulars of my life haven't happened the way I hoped and imagined they would, I was struck by those things that haven't changed in over 20 years.  I wrote the paper looking forward imagining what my life would be like in six months, one year, five years, twenty years and when I die.  While many of my goals have changed the ones I have for when I die haven't.  "I will be remembered as a person who had integrity and helped many people.  My legacy will be that life is about crying a little, laughing a little, and mainly showing up."  I still hope that will be so.

The paper ends with a list titled: "The assessments of Don Southworth people will hold:"  Everyone of the seven goals on that list are as true today as they were on June 31, 1990.  I think there is a good chance that some of them might even be coming true.  I hesitate to list them because it feels a bit self-serving but maybe my list will inspire you to create your own.  The list isn't as important as the commitment and reminder it can be for creating and living the life we yearn to have.

  • He was dedicated to growth.  He constantly was learning and exploring the world around him.
  • He was honest and told the truth: about himself and those around him.
  • He was a man who lived and taught a message of love and spirituality to everyone he met.  He accepted others and learned from them.
  • He was a human being and made lots of mistakes however, he learned from them and kept his humility because of them.
  • He lived a life of harmony.  He knew how to work and play.
  • He was a great father and a loving husband.
  • He was happy and joyful and shared this with others.
  • The world was a little brighter place because he walked on the planet.
Reading the paper, and especially the things that haven't changed, reminds me of two old sayings, "God laughs when we make plans" and "When there is no vision the people perish."  It's good to make plans and have goals for our life.  They can help shape the trajectory of our lives and can provide inspiration and reminders of what we hope to be.  But we should hold them lightly.  I was struck in re-reading what I hope I will leave behind that there wasn't any mention of books or sermons or companies I have created or jobs I held.  Seems to me that's the way it should be.