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simple secrets to a happy life
By Luci Swindoll
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Luci Swindoll
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHonor Your Father and Mother
Most of us know it by heart even if we can't remember where we first heard it. It's the beginning of the fifth commandment listed in Exodus 20. You may have learned it as a child, but knowing this verse from memory and practicing it are two different things. Yet it's a basic tenet when it comes to enjoying a happy life. Interestingly, the commandment is to children, not parents, and since we are all children of parents, this verse applies to every one of us.
Initially, I interpreted the verse to mean "respect your mom and dad," but I now realize that showing honor to them is much weightier than respect. The word in the original Hebrew language meant "to be heavy, rich, honorable, and glorious," and it was most commonly used in reference to God's glory. Therefore, to give one's father and mother honor is to say that we (the children) understand the weighty responsibilities that come with parenting.
The apostle Paul repeats this commandment in Ephesians 6:2 and 3: "Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise) so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth" (NASB). And the Greek word for honor here means "to show high regard for; to revere." I find that very thought provoking and have come to understand there are several reasons why this powerful instruction is one of the Ten Commandments.
First of all, this commandment upholds the principle of authority, without which we would not have a society that works. The first time a child sees authority is in the home, and if this authority is negated or neglected, the child will likely grow up to be irresponsible—and irresponsibility leads to a chaotic life and society.
Second, let's say you had very little love for your parents when you were growing up. Loving someone is not the same as giving them honor. All honor asks is to respect the position parents hold even if we don't like their personalities, lifestyles, or politics. It's similar to respecting the president of the United States simply because of the office he or she holds. The position itself commands honor.
And third, when there is honor on the part of the offspring, that honor will manifest itself in actions that protect, give care and goodness, exhibit generosity, and go the extra mile even though there may be no reciprocity on the part of the parent. In other words, when your parents grow older and cannot take care of themselves, you (as their child) will honor them by seeing that they are taken care of in a manner that is safe and healthy. Even if your parents are unbelievers, it's possible when you honor them in this manner that a door into their hearts will open to God because of your kindness and desire to regard them highly.
I have a dear friend who is a believer. She's an only child and her mother is a reprobate in every sense of the word and a rank unbeliever. To my knowledge, she's never taken personal responsibility for her daughter, herself, or anyone else. Ever. She's currently living in a care facility. Nevertheless, my friend has not missed a moment of seeing after her mother's needs in her old age. That is honoring to her mother, even though they couldn't be further apart in their beliefs and lifestyles. The daughter cares for her mother out of obedience to God. She's created careful and wise boundaries around the care she provides, doing what her mother needs without permitting her to control the money, time, or relationship.
In so many ways, I see God's provision for them both. As my friend cares for her mother, God cares for my friend and it "goes well with her," although it can be painful and confusing at times. I believe it's very possible, through my friend's kindness, that her mother may ultimately see her need for God and invite Christ into her heart. Who's to say? God works in mysterious ways to bring us into his kingdom. Anything is possible.
Chapter TwoBe On Time for Everything
When I graduated from college in the spring of 1955, I went to work at an orphans' home, teaching water sports in the summer and art in the fall. Most of the teachers were still wet behind the ears from graduation, but we became good friends since we all lived in a nearby apartment house affiliated with the school. It was a fun time in life when each of us was just getting our moorings regarding careers and how they might play out in the future. There was always lots of input from everybody. We had the world by the tail and were ready to answer all questions when asked.
One evening Beverly, the music teacher, and I were casually chatting when she threw out an invitation for me to come to breakfast in her apartment the following Saturday. Beverly said some thing like, "Come to my house, and I'll make you a fancy breakfast."
Without giving it much thought, I responded, "Sure," never really intending to go—or not go. The invitation went in one ear and out the other. So on Saturday, when it wasn't all that convenient for me to actually get there for breakfast, I just stayed home. Later in the day I dropped by Beverly's place, and when she answered the door I could see she'd been crying.
"Where've you been, Luci?" she asked. She proceeded to tell me she'd prepared a gourmet recipe that morning, something she thought I would especially like, and all week she had been looking forward to our time together. When I didn't come, she wondered if I'd gotten sick or been hurt or had just forgotten about it. Embarrassed and chagrined, I apologized. Then I confessed that I remembered her invitation but simply hadn't taken it seriously. I was in the wrong. She accepted my apology and was kind in her response, but I could tell she was very hurt.
That experience taught me a huge lesson about keeping my word. I knew better than to just not show up. After all, my father had always insisted his children be prompt, courteous, and on time for everything. But for some reason, it hadn't seemed to matter that day. The thought that has really stuck with me through the years, though, was Beverly's question, "Where've you been, Luci?"
It made me realize how important it is to pay attention. It taught me to listen to what is being said and how I'm responding. If I'm not serious or paying attention, even in a casual conversation, it's not fair to the other person—who might just be inviting me to do something fun or interesting! I never want to disappoint someone again the way I disappointed Beverly, and I don't want them to wait on me, wondering, She said she was coming ... but is she?
To help ensure that I'm on time for everything to which I've committed, I make it a habit to listen, to be focused in a personal conversation, to really hear another's words, to clarify when I don't understand, and to fully engage in whatever I'm doing and whoever is with me. Always. All the time.
Eventually, what started as a conscious effort has become a natural pattern and a personal habit; today it serves as a corollary secret that helps me be on time for everything. Focusing firmly on what's being said to me isn't always easy, but it's always kind.
Here's my A-list for being fully present in a conversation:
? Be sure I listen.
? Be sure I understand what's being communicated.
? Be sure I'm clear about what's involved before I commit to something.
? Be sure I can do what I say I will do.
? Be sure I show up on time!
I remember this list because it started with Beverly, a name that begins with a B, and that reminds me of the word be. That little verb carries a lot of weight. Be has movement in it. It means being alive, inside and out. But it's up to us as to how alive we want to be—how responsible, how engaged, and, ultimately, how trustworthy.
Shakespeare got it right: "To be or not to be: That is the question." One of the simple secrets of a happy life is to be on time for everything.
Chapter ThreeTake Jesus with You Everywhere
I can hardly remember a day in my childhood when my mother wasn't somewhere in the house singing. She had a beautiful soprano voice and would spontaneously break into song. Not only would she sing, but also on occasion she'd dance down the hallway to music on the radio or grab the broom and waltz with it as her partner around the kitchen. Sometimes as she sang she would motion for one of us kids to add harmony. She knew many hymns by heart and sang them frequently and heartily as she did her chores or cooked a meal.
I well remember a favorite of hers was an old hymn called "Take the Name of Jesus with You." Mother believed every word she sang:
Take the name of Jesus with you,
Child of sorrow and of woe;
It will joy and comfort give you–
Take it, then, wher-e'er you go.
Precious name, O how sweet!
Hope of earth and joy of heav'n,
Precious name, O how sweet!
Hope of earth and joy of heav'n.
Interestingly, just writing those words forms a picture in my mind of something that happened more than sixty years ago. I can see it clearly in my head. I remember leaving for school with Mother singing that at the kitchen sink, and when I said goodbye, she looked over her shoulder and said, "Take Jesus with you today, honey."
I knew instinctively that Mother wanted to assure me Jesus would be with me regardless of what happened that day for good or bad. He would be in my thoughts and actions—with me on my walk to school, down the hallways, in my classrooms, when I talked with my friends, or answered questions from the teacher. He'd be with me on the court when I played volleyball after school or met with the swim team. And Mother wanted me to know that on my way home, Jesus would go before me, protecting me and bringing me home safely. She didn't want me to spend a minute of the day without the consciousness of his presence. Although I was walking out the door that morning, I was not alone. I was never alone.
Now that I look back over many years of living, I can tell you it's one of the best lessons Mother ever taught me. She had no idea when she casually threw that phrase over her shoulder what a valuable tool she was giving me.
Or maybe she did.
Trusting that God was with her (and with her family) seemed second nature to Mother. She was a student of his Word and rested in his faithfulness. She didn't worry, fret, or fear. She believed God and knew he could be trusted completely. She didn't just "preach" it, she lived it and sang of it with confidence. What I first saw in my mother, I came to experience on my own; I don't struggle with the sovereignty of God or his faithfulness, and I've never seen doubt in either of my brothers. How do I explain it? There may be many reasons, but certainly one is the assurance of faith in God that our mother demonstrated, both in her words and her example. She reflected the truth of Colossians 3:16 and 17:
Let the word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.
Chapter FourLet People Know You Care
Several months ago, Mary Graham and I were talking about kindness, having a tender spirit, and caring about other people, and I asked her to tell me the most caring individual she's ever encountered in life. Since Mary's in her sixties and has lived a long, full life of reaching out to thousands of people all over the world through Campus Crusade and now as the president of Women of Faith, I could hardly wait for her answer. After a couple of minutes she said, "I'd have to say Thidwick."
"Thidwick, the Big-hearted Moose by Dr. Seuss."
"You've gotta be kiddin' me! There's a moose named Thidwick?"
"Yes! Dr. Seuss wrote a book about him sixty years ago. I memorized it when I was a freshman in high school. It's a poem that tells the story of Thidwick letting all these little animals live in his antlers for free. There's a bug, a spider, a couple of birds, four squirrels, a bobcat, a turtle, on and on. Even a fox, a big bear, and a whole swarm of bees. Thidwick had such a big heart he couldn't say no, so everybody moved in and took over. I've quoted that poem to all my nieces and nephews through the years as I babysat them because it has such a good moral—although in the end, Thidwick took the concept a little too far."
I loved the fact Mary knew that book and answered my question with a moose. (Never look a gift-moose in the mouth!) Being generous, softhearted, and sweet to others is almost a lost art in today's world. Even though there are lots of Scriptures that make reference to caring, it takes time to care, and few people want to give that kind of time. Matthew 5:7 says, "You're blessed when you care." And in 1 Corinthians 13 we're reminded, "Love cares more for others than for self."
But the story of Thidwick teaches another truth about caring that might be more important and leads to an even happier life. It's learning how to say no to those who want to take advantage of us when we care. The bevy of animals living in Thidwick's antlers wanted too much. They called the shots, told him where to go and what to do, and invited more "guests" to live with them.
Some of us are like that. We move in and invite others to come along. Or we allow others to move in and invite guests.
Where's the balance between caring and being careful? Where's the boundary line? As caring people, when we let others run over us and take advantage of us, we're in a pickle before we know it. That's what happened to Thidwick:
You couldn't say "Skat!" 'cause that wouldn't be right. You couldn't shout "Scram!" 'cause that isn't polite.
So when should a boundary line be drawn? When the degree of caring negatively affects our quality of life and inadvertently invites carelessness on the part of the other person. Dr. Seuss himself once said, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better."
That's true, but as he beautifully illustrated in the life of Thidwick, balance is required. In order to do the two simultaneously (and it can be done), we need to turn the whole ball of wax over to God, who gives us balance. For guidance, look to the promise in Psalm 91:14–15: "I'll give you the best of care if you'll only get to know and trust me. Call me and I'll answer, be at your side in bad times; I'll rescue you, then throw you a party."
As Christians, we're to show kindness to others and care for them. But while God's Word teaches us to put others' needs before our own, it also reminds us to care for ourselves as well—as his cherished children whom he created with love. That means striking a balance as we care—with caution.
Chapter FiveLearn to Organize Your Stuff
If your stuff isn't organized, it has the potential to drive you crazy. For me, I simply can't concentrate when things are out of whack: my files are a mess, my closet's in chaos, or dirty dishes wait in the sink. I may try to ignore out-of-place things, but they're so distracting. All I can think about is straightening things up. Call me crazy, but it's the truth. People often ask how I manage to keep "order in my court." If you're one of those people, here are half a dozen ideas that might help:
1. Decide what you want organized and find time to do it.
Take time to figure out what's important to keep—and what can be stored or given away. Start there. Don't rush. Look through what you've treasured all these years and make sure it's still important in your life. Even if this chore takes weeks or months to finish, it'll be worth the effort. If you decide to keep it, find a place for it right there and then. Don't put it off.
2. Make lists and follow them carefully, marking off what gets done.
Lists keep you on track and your sanity intact in this chaotic world. Write down where you put things, what you want to keep, and what means something to you. You can store the list in your iPhone or BlackBerry, but write it down somewhere. In a busy life, how do we remember things without lists?
Excerpted from simple secrets to a happy life by Luci Swindoll Copyright © 2012 by Luci Swindoll. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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