As long as I can remember, one of my greatest hopes has been the hope for hapiness. For much of my life, happiness has meant having the ability to be in control of my own life. No one telling me that I have to be at a specific place, at a specific time, doing some specific thing, according to the directions of a specific person or persons. I thought of happiness as the freedom to do what I wanted, when, where, and how I wanted.
I believe that most people, whether they admit it or not, from time to time, if not all the time, hope for happiness as I have described it. However, most of us, at a very early age, find that life doesn’t work that way. Yes, it seems we are always expected to be in specific places, at a specific times, doing some specific things, according to the directions of a specific person or persons. We find ourselves in that situation almost all the time, for a long time.
That situation .actually begins at birth. Somebody – usually parents – decide when you will get up, eat, go to bed, and everything else that is part of the life of an infant child. Personally, I don’t remember much about that. But I do remember that at age five I was very much under the control of my teachers. They even controlled if and when you could go to the bathroom.
By the time I was in high school I (Ray), like most of the other kids, adapted to that situation. However, I was looking toward a future where I would be free to do a lot of things (not everything) my way. At age 17 I graduated from high school and joined the U.S. Navy. I became a Navy musician, which was exactly what I wanted to be. But I wasn’t free to live life just as I wanted to. I was always under someone’s control. There was always someone telling you when to get up, when to eat, when to put out the lights. Even when I could leave the base or the ship and when I had to be back. So the time came when I look was looking forward to life as a civilian. I was hoping for a life free of someone elses control.
At the age of 21 I left behind the military regimentation that was the rule in the Navy. Over the next 20 years I worked at a number of civilian jobs and attended college at night for six of those years. Here there was almost no formal regimentation. However, there was still always somebody telling me, directly or indirectly, what to do if I wanted to get paid or get good grades. In fact, eventually I became one of those persons who told other people what to do.
Next I spent about a year and a half unemployed and searching for jobs. This required that I spend a lot of time doing the things one does when involuntarily unemployed – waiting in the unemployment line, writing resumes, going to interviews with potential employers. None of that worked, so I ended up doing what I should have done a few years before, when I was employed. I started my own business. Now I was finally my own boss. I could do whatever I wanted, when I wanted, and how I wanted. No one was going to be contolling my life. Except, as it turned out, my clients. Again, if I wanted to get paid, I had to meet their deadlines, and ultimately satisfy their needs.
This led to my going to seminary and becoming a pastor in the United Methodist Church. This would be a totally new situation. I was going to be “in charge” of a church. I was going to be the boss. From now on I was going to have to answer to God alone, and no one else. Finally, at age 49, starting my fourth career, it was going to be just God and me controlling my own life. However, I soon discovered that, even as the “pastor in charge” of a local church, my hope for almost total freedom to do things my way, were not to be fulfilled. There was always someone giving me direction as to how to do my job. There was control from the top – bishops, district superintendents, and others in the church hierarchy. And there was control from some of the people in the congregation. It seems there were always a number of individuals and factions who reminded me, over and over again, “We never did it that way before and we don’t want to start doing something different now” or “This is the way we always did it before, and we want to keep on doing it the same way”.
Before too long I realized there was never going to be a time when it would be just God and me in control of my life. Never a time when there wouldn’t be someone expecting me to be at a specific place, at a specific time, doing some specific thing, according to the directions of a specific person or persons. But then I realized that there would be such a time. It was called “retirement”. That time came, officially at age 66, but in reality, since I agreed to serve as a part-time pastor at a very small church near my home, it turned out to be at age 70.
As of July 1, 2010, after 65 years of having to be at a specific place, at a specific time, doing some specific thing, according to the directions of a specific person or persons, I was almost totally free to be where I wanted to be, when I wanted to be there, doing what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to do it. Now it would be just God, my wife Joan, and me deciding what I would do with my life. To make matters even better, I would be getting paid to have it my way, through pensions, social security, and a small amount of additional income from providing pastoral services that I chose to do. Finally, my hope was being fulfilled. God had come through for me. Yes, I was retired. Now I could do whatever I wanted, when, where, and how I wanted.
As I was rejoicing and thanking God for all this, I was not planning to spend the rest of my life doing absolutely nothing. Shortly before my retirement I had made a list of things I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I realized and accepted that there were more things on that list that I could ever get into, let alone finish, in my remaining lifetime. But there were some things which I knew I wanted to do and could do. So I began to schedule all of these things.
Before long I had everything tightly scheduled. I had so much to do. The good news was that nobody else was telling me what those things had to be. The bad news was that I was now doing to myself what other people could no longer do to me. I was telling myself that I had to be at a specific place, at a specific time, doing some specific thing, according to the directions of a specific person. The specific person was me.
Over the past year and a half that I have been fully retired, I have been trying to live according to my self-designed schedule. The result has been that I never seem to get enough done. I’m still working on some things I hoped to have done six months ago. I’m not getting to other things. None of the things on my schedule are what I would call a “waste of time”. All are things that I believe in some way are my response to God’s message to me that while I am no longer an active pastor, I will always be called to some kind of ministry. But I also believed that whatever I chose to do or not to do had to be in accordance with God’s plan as to how He wants to use me for the rest of my life on earth. There would be few if any occasions when human beings would be planning my life for me. From now on that would be between God and me. And God would never give me more to do than I could accomplish. And God doesn’t require me to develop a rigid schedule for myself, Maybe that was necessary in years gone by. But now it isn’t.
It’s one thing to sense that as God’s message for me. It’s another to accept and apply it. The reality is that the Devil is always somehow saying “you’ve got to do this thing or God will be very unhappy with you. And if God is unhappy with you, He’ll make sure that you aren’t happy. There will be no hope for you. “
Sometimes God has to not just tell you, but show you, that the Devil is wrong. Recently God decided to show me. During most of the week this happened, I wasn’t feeling well. In fact, I was feeling so bad that I couldn’t get anything done. Pretty much just take medicine, pray, and sleep. When I was awake I was either in too much pain or too tired to concentrate on anything. This was really upsetting me, even though there was no one telling me that I had to get certain things done according to schedule. I was back in the old situation. But instead of other people controlling my life, now I was doing the controlling.
About a week later, my physical problem eased up. Now I could focus on my situation. Now I could focus on God. I’m sure God didn’t make me get sick, but I’m sure that God used my sickness as a means of showing me that the Devil was wrong in telling me that God would be unhappy with me, and would make me unhappy, if I didn’t get those things done. God’s message was along these lines. “You know very well that the Bible says that nothing can separate you from my love for you. You know that I usually let you and expect you to decide about the details of what you do with your life. You also know that when it comes to the bigger picture about your life, it’s not what you want , but what I want for you, because I know better than you what is best for you. After all, I made you. I want you to observe that during this week, when you were sick, and didn’t get anything done, nothing bad happened. There was nothing to worry about. I was with you all the time and always will be. Not as some kind of taskmaster, but as the only One who can and will give you all you need to accomplish all that I want you to accomplish. And whatever that is, you will get it done – accordng to my schedule – not yours.”
God wasn’t telling me anything new I had heard it many times before. All I have to do is discern God’s will for me, believe He will never give me more than I can accomplish, and He will give me everything I need (grace) to do whatever that is. At the same time, I need to discern and accept God’s schedule and be patient. Finally, even if I don’t get all of that just right, it’s okay. He will still love me and never give up on me. If I have failed Him, He will forgive me, and either help me start all over again, or move onto something else.
My recent experience has been that it all comes down to this. I am happy that for the most part, my life is no longer under the control of other people. But happiness is much more than that. Happiness is what happens when my hopes are in agreement with God’s hopes for me. Happiness is letting God control my life, and knowing that will be good for me, because God is good.
Grace and peace, Ray
Thanks for your attention. We look forward to hearing your comments about our web-site. We also invite you to send us stories of your experiences and observations of present hopes and hope fulfilled, so we can spread them around the world via this web-site. This is one way we can all join together to help keep hope alive.
May God be with you,
Patty and Ray