What Really Matters in Life? People!

There is nothing like the age-old question of What really matters in life? to get you thinking. Maybe only What is the meaning of life? rivals it. Maybe they are both sides to the same coin. Both questions give us pause to consider how we are living and are we doing it well. I tackled this subject as an overview in a previous post, but wanted to go deeper on each point. Here is the summation in case you don’t want to read the whole blog post.

Here is my definitive list of what is important in life.
1. People. The ones you love. Relationships and connections. Investing time and mentoring others. People!
2. Purpose. Authentically coming to terms with who you are.
3. Substance. Developing a deeper you, becoming a person of character, and resolving any regrets.
4. Contribution. Giving yourself to something bigger than yourself and making a difference in life.

There are so many things that seem important in life, and so many things that urgently need our attention. But from all the reading of articles online about what really matters, most everyone’s lists boiled down to at least one item: people matter. Not things, not our possessions or toys, not jobs, not accomplishments or awards, not bucket lists, not full passports. We’ve heard quotes that say something like “at the end of my life, I wish I had spent more time with my kids and spent less time at work.” And we know the haunting story developed in Harry Chapin’s song Cat’s in the Cradle where a dad is too busy to spend time with his child and it comes back to bite him in the butt later in life. So let’s be about what does really matter in life…starting with people.

During my depression from 2002 to 2005 I was so keenly aware that I needed people around me…sometimes to talk me off the ledge and sometimes just not to be alone. During that season, the song Every Minute by Sara Groves really gripped me.

And I wish all the people I love the most

Could gather in one place,
And know each other and love each other well.
And I wish we could all go camping,
And lay beneath the stars,
And have nothing to do and stories to tell.
We’d sit around the campfire
And we’d make each other laugh,
Remembering when…
The lyrics spoke of community, of laughter, of togetherness, of fitting in, of getting away, of putting what really matter first.It didn’t speak of needing anything else to make that time meaningful, just being with the people you love. I loved that picture then and still do. Wouldn’t it be nice to get away from all the craziness of life and do nothing but tell stories and laugh? If that picture stirs us, why is it that we have such a hard time making events like that happen in life? There are certainly some things that distract us, and we may need to develop some decisive convictions so the distractions don’t control us.

Technology creates more isolation than community. Let’s face it, we can make more comments on social media than actually talking to people. All sorts of research is out there on how in spite of the presence of social media people feel more alone today than ever. Suicide rates are at the highest in history. Loneliness is at epidemic levels. We need a move back to creating real live community, even with the messiness that comes with relationships with real, imperfect people. Video blogger Jefferson Bethke says, “I’d rather take the messiness of community and possible joy than the cleanliness of isolation and sure despair.” I’d easily agree. But we will have to make intentional choices for community and putting aside technology to make it happen.

Possession are meant to serve our life not give it meaning. We’ve all heard the cliche You can’t take it with you. Literally, all our possessions can be taken or lost, just ask people in Baton Rouge after recent floods. If we put too much importance on possessions we will certainly face disappointment because they never deliver on all their promises. Switchfoot has a great song called If The House Burns Down Tonight that speaks exactly to this issue.

There’s a fire coming that we all will go through
You possess your possessions or they possess you
And if the house burns down tonight
I got everything I need when I got you by my side
Jon Foreman, the lyricist of Switchfoot, addresses how possessions either own and control us OR we utilize them for the purpose they were made. If our house burned down, would our spirits be crushed as well? Foreman says he’s got everything he needs by just having his wife at his side. He says that relationships are everything. People matter and possessions are just tools. Do you need to evaluate how much importance you place on purchased items? Is there something that controls you that you need to let go of and sell? That is a hard choice. But relationships matter and possession rust and break. I encourage you to take some honest evaluation of items in your life.

God’s intent for us is to not be alone. When God created everything, he first made Adam, but it seems He then realized something when it says in Genesis 2:18, “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'” I don’t want to be putting words into the mouth of God, but it seems to conclude that man being alone wasn’t good. We need people. I need my wife. She is a voice of reason for me at times, a companion, a co-parenting teammate, an instrument of love, a mirror to my own selfishness, someone to enjoy the ups and downs of life with…so many reasons I need her. It’s not always comfortable, but I know she is God’s best choice for me.

We need friends too. People we can be honest with, and can speak honestly with us. Sometimes they are someone to go and do something with, or someone to talk about the stuff of life with. We all face overwhelming circumstances at times, too much for us to handle on our own. A brother can help carry some of the load, and a sister can talk us through what seems impossible to bear. Do you need to initiate with a few people to get to that level of friendship that you can lean on somebody when life is difficult?

God meant for others to speak into our lives. First our parents, then friends, then teachers, and later, supervisors and mentors. Some we get to choose, some we don’t. Most we don’t appreciate at the time. I don’t think any of us liked when our parents disciplined us, but we can look back and be thankful they protected us from our childish stupidity. Their advice wasn’t always received well, but later we can see it’s wisdom. Teacher’s remarks on papers, supervisor’s job evaluations, or coach’s critiques on our form usually felt heavy-handed, but their intent is usually get help us perform better. We grow from their feedback. So we need to continually grow in willingness to receive feedback from others. It pushes us to get better and even excel. We need that. Growth comes from receiving feedback spoken into our lives.

God meant for us to be in community. You have heard the phrase “It takes a village.” It seems always in reference to raising a child and the benefit each family derives from other families helping. There is the help community gives us, but there is a lot more. Community gives us a sense of belonging, a sense of place. It is a place where we are known by more than just our family. When we are a part of a community we serve others in that place…for their benefit and as contribution to something bigger than ourselves. Do you need to start planting yourself into community?

God meant for community to speak into our lives. Being a part of community is part of our growth into maturity, our process of healing, and a voice of accountability. When I lived in Southern California my job had a number of older women employees, and many of them were like bonus moms to me. Lots of times I would ask my bonus moms questions about life and relationships. I learned a ton but I also felt loved on immensely. On one occasion, one of my bonus moms came and told me something I didn’t really like hearing. She asked permission to share something, then told me how my angry attitude affected her and wondered whether I might be willing to look at that area of my life. She spoke truth but kindly, and although I was stunned I did start to work on that area of my life. I love her dearly for saying that difficult thing.

When we isolate ourselves, we cut ourself off from people who can speak into our lives. This is the danger of the social media life, no one gets to know the real us. We have to take intentional steps to engage in real life relationships and allow ourself to become known. It opens ourselves to be hurt, but it’s the only way to allow ourselves to be truly loved. There is a “messiness of community” like Bethke mentions above, but it is in that messiness that we grow into mature adults. It is within community that we experience relational healing and can then turn and give of ourselves to others. That is a beautiful cycle.

God meant for there to be mentors to teach us about life. In turn, for us to then learn how to mentor others and invest in their lives. This isn’t just for our personal growth but also about our legacy. Mentors rarely come out of the woodwork to find you, so we usually have to seek out someone we admire and initiate a mentor relationship. It is worth the effort to seek one out because we always have things to learn about life.

Recently I watched The Intern with Robert deNiro. I love the way the movie paints the character of Ben as an older man who still wants to contribute to society. He gets a job as an intern assistant to a busy, start-up clothing purchaser. It doesn’t seem like Ben intended to be mentor, but they way he shows kindness, commitment and dedication in his job wins over people’s respect, even Anne Hathaway’s character Jules. It is a movie character after all, but look for respectable older men and women to learn from. As we learn, we may see our character grow and mature to where some day we realize we have something to give younger people.

God meant for US to pass along what we know to our children and to younger generations. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” We are to teach our children to live wisely, sometime that means letting them make mistakes they will learn from. In Titus:2:3-5 of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul encourages his protege Timothy to teach older women to invest in younger women. Mature men and women need to gain a vision for investing in younger people. We have experiences to share that can benefit others, but often we need a nudge to start doing it.

I was having a conversation with my friend Jay a while back and said I felt like I was waiting until I was old enough to take the mantle of a mentor. He told me not to wait, that I had wisdom and experience to give and should start right now. It was the nudge I needed. I went away from that conversation with a vision of becoming a mentor and immediately called one of the guys I had been thinking of investing in. We met that week and started a great give-and-take relationship of learning from each other. You could say it is part of my DNA now thinking of myself as someone who has something to give. You don’t have to wait either. Who is someone you could initiate with to include in your life and share your experience and wisdom?

We may need to make some changes in life in order to focus on what is really important. Don’t let any more time go wasted. Invest in things that matter. One more final punctuated thought comes again from singer Sara Groves song Just One More Thing.

I’ll be there in a minute

Just a few places to go
You wake up a few years later and your kids are grown
And everything is important
But everything is not
At the end of your life your relationships are all you’re got

Photo was taken at T-street beach in San Clemente. Shot on film, Canon A2 2004


2 thoughts on “What Really Matters in Life? People!

  1. Great to read your thoughts. . .
    Yes, we really need to live in community. And I love to think about being a person of substance. Good word.


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