Occasionally a phrase jumps off a page (or, more likely, a computer or smartphone screen) and grabs me. That happened the other day with a tweet, although I’ve forgotten who tweeted it. What I recall was the insightful statement: “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” Fortunately, I kept the link the tweet pointed to, which was this article – a review by Maria Popova of Annie Dillard’s book The Writing Life. While the review takes a different path with that memorable phrase than I will take here, it makes the prospect of reading the book intriguing, especially since it is a book about writing.
As I ponder the title of this post, I am immediately convicted. I imagine on the one hand that person I wish to be, that I perhaps already imagine myself to be – that person I would like to one day be remembered as. Then, I look at how I spent my time today, and the two don’t necessarily look the same. It is such a simple, obvious, yet profound truth that if the sum of my life is to be “X,” I don’t get there by filling my days with “Y.”
A few examples…
- If I want to be highly educated, then I must learn something today.
- If I want to lose weight, then I must consume fewer calories than I expend today.
- If I want to be remembered as a good family man, then I must spend time with my family today.
- If I want to accumulate wealth, then I must spend less than I make today.
- If I want to be generous, then I must give something away today.
- If I want to achieve specific long-term goals, then I must complete a small step in that direction today.
- If I want to grow in my relationship with God, then I must spend time with Him and His Word today.
- If I have a career path I want to follow, then I have to take a step along that path today.
You get the idea.
In considering this subject, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a married couple many years ago. They were several years older than me. My inclination is to respect my elders, yet when the conversation turned in this case to the subject of charitable giving, their reasoning seemed hollow and disingenuous to me, though not uncommon. They were heavy into a multi-level marketing business, always driven by time spent building their network and attempting to accumulate wealth. Their reasoning related to charitable giving went something like this: “We don’t give much to charity now because we’re concentrating on our business. If we work hard now and really do well with our income, just think of how much we’ll be able to give later on.”
We haven’t lived in their city for 30 years and we weren’t close friends, so I can’t say for sure what happened to them. My suspicion is that they are still operating under the same self-deception that somehow, someday they will be generous with their giving, while in reality they are probably still consumed with accumulating. They will wake up one day and realize (hopefully) that their lives have not been examples of generosity because their days have not been examples of generosity.
I understand that early years of life and even adulthood are naturally somewhat different than later years. We don’t live static, unchanging lives exemplifying our ideal existence for decades. But neither should we delude ourselves into thinking that something is really important to us if it is not important to us enough today to do something about.
There are things I did not do today that I should have, especially if I claim such matters as important to who I am in this world.
What about you? How do you need to spend your time today so that you can ultimately know that you have spent your life in the right way?