Friday, June 17, 2011

6-17-11 Life Letter

This morning I sat down with my coffee and decided to tackle the inspirational letter I was asked to write last week by a friend whose son is heading to Boy Scout Leadership camp next month. Luckily, he has no idea this blog exists, so I'm not spoiling anything by posting it here before he reads it there.

Like most stuff I write, I just threw it all onto the canvas, did a second read-through to clean it up a bit, and printed it to send. If I let myself over-analyze and nit-pick, it will turn into something smooth, polished, and entirely without any of my personality. Granted, that might be preferable in academic arenas, but since it is supposed to be a letter from the heart, not the head, I think this approach is a little more genuine. It's also a lot more fun.

Thanks Tammy, for asking.

Hi Tim,

One day you are going to be asked to write an inspiring letter to a young person (at this point you will be "old", or at least an age that sounded old when you were a teenager; believe me when I tell you how surprisingly quickly the "old" line moves back!) and you will probably be tempted to start out with something lame, like defining "leadership."  Don't do it. Everyone has a dictionary anyway.

Mostly what you'll find as you move through life is that it's a lot harder and a lot simpler than you ever imagined when all you had was looking forward to the future.  The more you get into the middle of life, the more it will feel like Alice did in Through the Looking Glass -- what you think now is somehow still true but all turned around and backwards at the same time. Don't sweat it. The more you come to know yourself, the easier it is to let all the other expectations -- what other people are supposed to do, how other people are supposed to love you -- fall away.

The real work comes in that self-knowledge. Pop culture will tell you this is your life, so do what makes you happy and damn the rest.  Here's the rub: chasing after happiness means it is always usually a few steps just ahead of you on the trail. You're chasing a phantom of what life might be like if only you could get there. This is nonsense. You will never get there that way.

Self-knowledge is more about learning to appreciate what you have right now. And appreciating that comes so much more easily when you are giving yourself away. There's always that double-sided thing going on in scripture, you know? He who loses his life will save it; work out your salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who is working in you.  On the surface, that makes no sense at all. But the deeper truth is your life is really only discovered when you throw yourself headlong into loving others.  

Life is relationships. All the rest is details. When you find a friend who is willing to learn who you are and give of himself to serve you, don't let him go. No matter how far apart you get or how much time passes, hang on to those people in your life. You'll be lucky if you find a handful of them in 100 years, the ones who've figured out that life is about giving and are willing to stand by you no matter what. If you can hang on to that handful,  you will be a lucky man.  Give back to them more than they give to you and see what happens. Give back more to everyone, when it comes down to it. But don't ever forget to nurture and appreciate those relationships where that giving is (sometimes sacrificially) reciprocated, because  that is  where the living streams will flow through your life and make everything else worth fighting through.

Life really is short, but mostly that realization comes when you start to look back on more years than you have ahead of you. Right now, to you,  it probably seems that life is a whole  lot longer. Fair enough. But take these "long" years to find people to be passionate about, travel the world when you get those rare opportunities, broaden your horizons as much as possible. Don't let fear -- fear of the strange or the unknown -- rule any part of your life.  Getting lost sometimes, especially in places out of your comfort zones, are the best moments for discovering who you really are deep inside. It confirms what you truly believe instead of just what you've paid lip service to your whole life. Seek those moments out.

And when you are old and writing one of these to another young man just starting down his own trail, be sure to end your letter with a line from a song, especially one that makes you sound even older than you really are ;)

"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

All the best,


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