When our kids were much younger we visited a Kids Museum on vacation. Everything was structured for interactive learning and play. There was a pizza restaurant where the kids could dress up as a chef and pretend to run their own business. Play pizza pans and dough were stacked at one end of a bar stretched out with small containers filled with every pizza topping imaginable for kids to make their custom creations. All the details were there…white aprons, towering chef hats, oven mitts, play rolling knives, even a cash register and money. With all the same details, there was also a vet clinic, a clothing store, a gym, and an ice cream shop. I wanted to go back in time and be a kid again!
Our boys immediately raced in opposite directions and spent the good part of the next few hours jumping from one thing to the next. Not more than 5 minutes was spent at any location. They would barely start one thing when something else would grab their attention and off they went. Danny and I coaxed and pleaded with them to stay and play in one area but it was futile. Everyone was exhausted by the time we got in the car to go home. And the play town fantasy bubble was officially popped.
We often live life in the same way that my kids “lived” in the play town. Constantly distracted, our attention is always shifting from one thing to another. Because we don’t know how to focus or where to focus, we accumulate a lot of failed attempts.. we try a little of everything but accomplish nothing. In order to live life on purpose, we need to develop the ability to restrain our attention and desires.
Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.”
One of my favorite visual images of this proverb is of a river. When you think of a river, you most likely hear the rushing water in your mind. Maybe you picture the fish, birds, or wildlife that live in or around the water. What you probably don’t think about is the role the river’s banks play in making the river a river. But remove those seemingly insignificant banks and the river turns into a flood.
The line between beautiful and destructive is held by the river banks and their ability to restrain the powerful waters between them.
Consider this quote by Friedrich Nietzsche from the 1900s:
“The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”
I love the phrase “there should be a long obedience in the same direction.” It speaks of a marathon in the same direction instead of multiple sprints in scattered directions. Which looks very different from our american culture and the ADD way we live life. Nietzsche concludes with the reasoning behind why we should invest time into a long obedience in the same direction by asserting that this is what makes life worth living.
A farmer doesn’t expect an immediate harvest from the seeds he planted the last week. An athlete doesn’t assume great accomplishments will come within the first few months of training. The college student doesn’t look for the diploma to be handed to him or her within the first semesters of learning. Everything worth doing in life requires time and focused energy.
How would your life be different today if you had focused on developing your skills in one area starting several years ago?
What would your marriage or parenting look like if you had honed in on a vision and allowed it to restrain your attention and energy from other things over the years?
What kind of strength and confidence would rest in your relationship with God if you had daily invested time into it year after year?
My point is not to stir up regret but to alter the way we live life by embracing vision and the restraint necessary to see it become a reality.
One of the most powerful ways that Danny and I have invested into today is through the conversations we had years ago. We asked questions about who we wanted to be, what we wanted our marriage to look like, how we should parent our kids. When we disagreed about the vision, we spent time learning and regrouped to talk again. Books, conversations with people we respect, and prayer have fueled our conversations over the years.
One of our most valuable lessons was realizing that long obedience in the same direction is nearly impossible without a vision. The motivation to make all the small decisions that ultimately lead to a great harvest depends on our ability to see what we are working towards. If you know where you are going then even the most mundane of days are filled with purpose. Expectancy of the harvest become the banks to the river of your life. You embrace restraint today so you can drink deep of the sweet cup of fulfillment in the days to come.
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