“People lose their way when they lose their why” – Gail Hyatt
A man on a mission has to be on his guard, as there are obstacles and enemies that would thwart his purpose. Bandits will try to rob him, women will try to seduce him, fatigue will try to overpower him and even his appetite will attempt to sidetrack him. If he is at his best, and he remembers the reason he left home in the first place, he will see each challenge for what it is. He will then know best how to overcome it.
I have said before how much I love The Chronicles of Narnia — C.S. Lewis’ series of fantasy novels about a world parallel to ours where animals talk, mythological creatures are real, and the king is a lion named Aslan. In the fourth* book in the series, titled The Silver Chair, two English children find themselves taken from their oppressive school to a mountaintop in Aslan’s Country. Here they receive a charge from Aslan himself to go on a quest for a lost Narnian prince.
Remember the signs
Aslan tells one of the children, Jill Pole, about the quest, and he gives her four signs to help her and her companion, Eustace, stay on track. Aslan demands that Jill repeat the signs over and over, and he tells her to continue repeating them often. He explains that the air on the mountain is clear, but that she will find it harder to remember them in the denser air of Narnia.
No spoilers here
The remainder of the story deals with the adventures that ensue from Jill and Eustace’s remembering or failing to remember the signs. There is so much good there, I’m not remotely tempted to ruin the story for you — you really should read it, though.
Also, I can’t tell you what sort of pitfalls await you on your journey, but I can tell you that no one I know sails a straight course through life. Our air is dense, too, and it is easy at times to forget and fall into trouble. Some hardships result from our poor choices, some from the whims of others, and some from living in a fallen world. I do believe that God is able to use them all to accomplish His will — even our failings — but we must be honest with Him and with ourselves.
What’s in it for you?
On multiple occasions, I’ve encouraged you to discover your purpose and to decide to live a life of consequence. I’ll stand by that advice. One way to help you see the benefits of this is to imagine you are a guest at your own funeral. What would you like to be remembered for? How do you hope your loved ones would sum up your life? What would you want your legacy to be? I hope all of your answers to these questions would be good ones. If they aren’t, it isn’t too late to get busy correcting them. No matter where you are relative to that ideal ending to your body of work, they key is to remember the signs.
Here’s your sign
For most of us, the principal signs are our purpose, our gifts and our relationships. Understanding why you are alive will animate your decisions — what you say yes to and what you refuse. Your gifts are the tools to help you fulfill your purpose and complete your mission over the course of your life. And your relationships provide the context, the teachers and the teammates for your life’s work. So, how do you know if you’re on track?
Go to the mirror, boy
I believe in working on strengths is more productive than focusing on weaknesses. Even so, there are some weaknesses one should work to overcome. In these cases, being willing to confront the need honestly — and calling it by its real name — is the first step to vanquishing it.
If you’re stuck, ask yourself what’s holding you back. If it’s fear, admit it and attack it. Have the difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding. Ask her out. If it’s ignorance or lack of skills, devise a plan and devote the time to do the work and — this is important — measure your progress. Keep a log. Don’t fudge.
Long before he was an action hero, or the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a bodybuilder. On his way to domination of that field, he was dissatisfied with his underdeveloped calf muscles, so he cut off the legs of his sweatpants so everyone would see those puny calves. This motivated him to train them harder, and his fame in bodybuilding set the table for his subsequent careers in movies, politics and movies again.
A little help from my friends
Part of the benefit of relationships is the opportunity to hear the truth from people who love you. A genuine compliment is great, but sincere constructive criticism is even more valuable to defeat self-deception.
An executive I know just subjected himself to a 360-degree review — a management tool where one’s peers, superior and subordinates offer candid critiques of a colleague in order to reinforce what he is doing right, but also to point out those deficiencies that hinder his performance. This process is not for the squeamish of the easily offended, but it can be just the tonic needed to deliver a man from his self-deception. I’ve already seen my colleague make some significant changes as a result of this process. I hope he’ll continue improving.
The kindness of the surgeon — and Simon Cowell
Nobody I know enjoys criticism, but if you trust the motives of your critics, their words can save you years of frustration. The concept, as we’ve discussed before, is understanding the difference between what hurts you and what harms you. Even with modern anesthesia, surgery hurts. But, the purpose of surgery is to heal, not harm. The pain is unfortunate, but necessary, to accomplish the ultimate goal. Criticism can also sting but ultimately it can benefit you.
I haven’t spent much time watching “American Idol,” but I always marveled at the audition episodes. Candidate after candidate would walk confidently into the room, open his or her mouth and — stink the place up. Simon Cowell (God bless him!) would interrupt the embarrassing spectacle and tell the would-be performer that he or she simply could not sing. The most deluded would then have the gall to argue with Cowell regarding his lack of discernment regarding their “talent.”
May God give us ears to hear when we’re off-pitch — and friends to tell us the unpleasant truth when we can’t hear it for ourselves.
So how about you? How are you examining your purpose, your gifts and your relationships to determine whether or not you’re on course? Add your comments below.
*The fourth book in the series by copyright and publication date. Lewis wrote the books out of sequence relative to Narnian time, and toward the end of his life defended the publication order as the correct order for the reader.