Taking the Long View

by Greg Wiens

I left home to go to college when I was barely 18 and remember calling home and telling my mother that my clothes were shrinking. My mother would tell me to not wash my clothes in hot water, but it didn’t seem to help. I didn’t come home until Thanksgiving break that first year of college, and I can distinctly remember entering through the front door of my parent’s home. My whole family was there waiting for me, and as soon as I walked through the door, everyone started laughing hysterically. My mom told me she figured out why my clothes were tight; I was fat. Sure enough, I immediately weighed myself, and I had gained 25 pounds in about 2 ½ months! 

And the interesting aspect of this was that while I was gaining weight a day at a time, I had NO CLUE. For me, the pounds daily crept on as I feasted on the chocolate soft serve ice cream before and after every meal. The weight was a result of suddenly becoming inactive (reading & studying) while eating anything and everything I wanted. It took me the remainder of my time in undergrad to get rid of the extra pounds.  Since then, I have had to monitor my weight. 

Those who know me may be surprised that I continue to monitor my weight because I don’t look overweight.  This is because I continually watch my eating and my exercise!

This small part of my life has taught me so much about all aspects of life. I have learned that anytime I want to change anything in life, it usually takes a lot of effort expended over a long period of time. I can go on a starvation diet and quickly shed pounds, but these pounds really won’t be the right kind I want to lose, nor will they stay off very long if I don’t change my long-term lifestyle. 

So many things in life are like this. To change something takes time, attention, effort, and consistency for real transformation to take place. It seems like this is true no matter what the venue: physical, emotional, mental, social, and, yes, spiritual.

We don’t develop physical muscles overnight. Only with time and effort through consistently pushing them beyond where they are comfortable will I develop muscles. Most adults learn that we don’t instantly change an emotion that is rooted in childhood trauma or chronic stress. We don’t learn and retain calculus or physics by cramming the whole course in one night. Friendships are built through time, attention, and effort. Sure, sometimes we simply “click” with people; but a deep abiding friendship that lasts a long time takes effort through experiences to develop. And the reason gray hair is celebrated throughout scripture is because the depth of character and an intimate walk with Christ comes through years of abiding, not through an instant prayer.

Again, in each of these areas, there may be ways to reduce the time or effort through hacks, like learning a language. However, for a skill or character to become embedded deeply in your life, it must be diligently participated in over time with attention to being consistent. This always involves stretching beyond our comfort zone. In every case, there is a point of weariness or pain or exasperation when we want to give up. But only in enduring through the pain and beyond our comfort zone do we begin to develop a certain skill, character, behavior, or pattern of feeling which becomes a part of who we are. It only becomes part of “ME” as I go through the pain of making it so.

I think this is because, most often, we must give up something to incorporate something new. It is in the giving up where the pain enters. This is true whether we are adding new muscle fibers in our bodies, neurons/synapses in our brains, feelings to our responses, or faith in our souls. It always comes at a cost or the death of something, which is why there is a sense of discomfort or pain.

Let me suggest therefore there is a big difference between 50 years of experience and one year 50 times. One year of experience repeated fifty times rarely involves discomfort, death, or change. A person simply repeats what they know, feel, do, or think every time. However, to really gain experience implies that over a long period (50 years?), a person continues to pay attention, make deep change, let some things go or die, adjust, and then continue this process as their age or situation necessitates. They are in constant growth mode.

I sometimes wonder how old I will be when I will no longer monitor my weight. I used to think it would be when I hit 65. I am not sure how I arrived at that figure; I guess I thought by then I would be ready to check out and go home. I am now 68, and I am still working on keeping my weight in check. I think that implies I am still learning and growing.

I just talked with an 81-year-old friend who is still learning and growing. He shared that he is really trying to appreciate the “new style” of worship at his church because he knows it is reaching younger people. What a great long-term view of the Kingdom. I have watched his life for over 30 years, and he has always been a learner. That is who I want to be in my eighties.

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