It is well recorded that the one thing people on their death beds regret most, is that they were not more true to themselves. “I wish I pursued my dreams and aspirations, and not the life others expected of me.” Or “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” These two statements or much the same; one alludes to dreams and aspirations not met, while the other remarks on not having the courage to live true to oneself – to not have the guts to let the child within run free. Both point to a big mistake we all tend to make: living a life based on the expectations of others. Or rather: based on what we believe to be the expectations of others.
From a very young age we learn to conform – we are taught to “fit in”:
“Don’t make so much noise – people are looking at you!”
“Don’t wear that – they’ll laugh at you!”
“Don’t say that – you’ll sound stupid!”
“Don’t do that – its not done around here!”
And then the inner voice kicks in: “Don’t try that, they will scorn you if you fail.” And so the fear of failure kicks in: “What if I don’t have what it takes?” It takes control of you – sometimes for life. Based on the fear of not conforming with others’ norms and expectations, we allow others to dominate and control the way we set out in life – to control (and destroy) our dreams and aspirations. For the sake of conforming. For the sake of being bland and boring. Killing our uniqueness.
An old man lay dying in his bed. As he looked back at his life, at the little time he was granted on this Earth-school, he noticed how much time he spent trying to be, trying to live like others expected of him.
The truth is, no one expected anything of him – they couldn’t have cared less. They were far too busy living their lives the way they thought others expected them to!
It was a very dry season, and farmer John was getting desperately worried. He’d planted new seeds some weeks ago and had no idea how he was going to get his seedlings to grow. There was no rain. Not even a sign of it. Desperate times, he thought. It was hard for him to see the barren earth holding the seeds he so desperately tried to save. How long before they all die and shrivel up?
But he’s been here before. This was not the first trying time in his life and he knew it wouldn’t be the last.
So, he did what he’s mama taught him to do when he was just a little boy: He went down on his knees, right there in his corn field, and prayed to God from the bottom of his heart. His words were humble, sincere and pleading: ”Please Lord…please…”
John’s neighbour, farmer George, was a corn farmer too. He was hit just as hard by the recent drought. The previous season was just as dry. He drove by and saw his neighbour, farmer John, on his knees in the corn field. For a moment he paused, unsure what to make of it. He was a sceptic when it came to prayer. He also prayed sometimes, but really only when his wife asked him to, like before dinner. He knew that the local farming community were in trouble, but he wasn’t sure that praying would make any difference. The weather was the weather. Nature does its own thing. Not much you can do about it.
But when farmer John was praying, God was there. He was right by his side. And God was not bound by, or limited to, time and space. God was there with him at that moment, but He was also soaring with the clouds a thousand miles away. Over the ocean, two weeks earlier, but at that same moment. God is everywhere – all the time. And as He was listening to farmer John’s heartfelt prayer for showers to quench this dry land, He spoke to the clouds and commanded them to gather closer and draw as much vapour from the ocean as they could hold. He showed them where to go and used the wind to guide them. To a farm a thousand miles away.
That night, as John was settling in, he heard a rumble. Then another. The sweet smell of rain was in the air. John opened the bedroom windows as wide as he could and sucked in the fresh, sweet smell of rain – brought on by rolling, dark and thunderous clouds. Not long and the first big drops started to hit down on the earth, creating little clouds of dust as they hit the sandy dirt road. Nature was celebrating! Creatures great and small opened their beaks and mouths to taste the cool drops of heavenly rain. Leaves and branches waved joyously as the wind blew gushes of water onto them. And farmer John looked up to heaven and smiled. Nature does its own thing, right?
This morning I woke up late – the perfect way to start a morning on a bad foot! As with most mornings, I try to cram too many activities into one morning, despite being late: Prayer and meditation (the day will be even crappier without it), some prioritisation of the tasks ahead (otherwise I’ll get nothing done), replying to overdue emails (before office hours for extra effect), doing a few stretches before my shower (my back kills me if I neglect this) and having a few words with my wife whilst preparing our breakfast protein shake (a quick chat is even more important than the protein shake!). I grab my briefcase before I run out to jump into the car. By now I am really late. Wifey gets a quick kiss and the kids will have to do with a “Enjoy your day guys – love you!” for today as I head for the garage in a frenzy. Once inside, I start the car and head for the driveway. Just then, my one daughter (5 years old) comes running out from the front door. I didn’t give her the hug that she is used to this morning and she’s on her way to demand it! I contemplate a clear and distinct wave as a consolation to her before I drive off – I’m really late and my first meeting starts in 20 minutes! Just as I lift my hand for that cowardly wave, she trips and falls on the hard paving underneath her. Looking up at me, she starts crying – tears running down her cheeks. There and then I stop the car, park it and get out. I run to my daughter, grabbing her into my arms and holding her tight whilst wiping away tears and telling her everything is alright. I slowly drop down to sit on the driveway – legs crossed with daughter on lap – just being with her for a while. The tears start to fade and after a while a smile replaces the frown. We sit there a little while longer, breathing in the fresh morning air, connecting with each other and enjoying our moment as if the world around us does not exist. When I eventually get back into my car, I notice that five minutes have passed. Only five! That’s the time it took to reconnect with my little girl. Was I late for the meeting? Yup – five minutes late. But that five minutes meant all the world to her. I prioritised her over anything else when she really needed me, and the five minutes late at the meeting was forgotten five minutes after the first agenda item was announced. Many a time, five minutes is all it takes to mend a heart or to break it.
Many a time, five minutes is all it takes to mend a heart or to break it.
I am sitting at my desk in our study. It’s early morning, just before sunrise. Everything is peaceful and quiet in our house – my family is still asleep. This is an important time of the day for me. It’s the best time to talk to God and then plan the day ahead. Time to respond to urgent matters before the rush and craziness of the day sets in.
Just as I am getting on a roll, my six year old son comes wandering down the stairs. He woke up early this morning and got up before his siblings. I hear his sleepy little steps on the laminated floor as he comes through my study door, squinting from the sudden light. At first I’m frustrated by the interruption – my time is SO limited and I usually try to fit too much into this early morning session. But as he draws nearer, I see his beautiful olive eyes and recognise my own in them. I stop typing and watch him move closer. “Good morning my boy” I say softly as not to wake the rest of the household. I notice his hair – the wild blonde curls, still bed-head style. I run my hands through it as he comes and sits on my lap. I turn around to the window and open up the blinds to let the first gentle rays of sunshine caress our faces as we sit there and talk. We gaze out the window at a bird hunting for his first catch on the lawn. We talk about birds and animals and how it is that some can fly. And of his dream to one day become a “doctor for strange animals” – animals that other animal doctors can’t or won’t help and how he will make a difference that way. We talk about stuff that constitutes his universe – important observations, perceptions and conclusions being formed in his mind. He wants to make a difference – make the world a better place. This strong willed little man with his (sometimes) wicked sense of humour has always been a champion of the underdog; finding a “place of safety” for a frog captured by the neighbours’ kids and defending his sister who has lost clout with mom.
Suddenly I realize how blessed a man I am. This is my son; the eldest of our offspring of four; the first bearer of my family name. He has already taken up the role of leader, protector and mentor to his siblings, albeit from the limited perspective of a six year old. Sitting on my lap is a most precious gift of God, awaiting my inputs and guidance to make this world a better place – starting right here and right now.
When our chat ends, I kiss the crown of his head before he walks away. This is, without a doubt, the best time of my day – time with my child. His character is now strengthened. His self-worth reinforced and his sense of direction reaffirmed. My little prince is ready to take on the world. He is my son, and I have never been more proud of him.
I am the captain of my child’s heart; the keeper of his thoughts. I will guard and direct his mind so he can grow strong and resilient with a moral compass. I will connect with him often to strengthen and nourish his character. I will pray with him daily to teach him where his Strength lies. And when the time comes, I will send him into this world with a big heart and a strong character. His heart will be big enough to support the needy and strong enough to defend the weak. He is of me, but he is not mine. He belongs to God, and His work here has just started!