Is there a life goal you want to live for?
Are there intermediate goals that seem out of reach?
Enjoy reading about a strategy that is still transforming my life and can impact yours as well.
The physical challenges in my life have provided some of the clearest metaphors for pressing on toward excellence in other areas. When I get up in the morning, my mind tells me I can’t run or exercise for an hour, and my aching body seconds the motion. But there is something I can do! I can walk for a short distance. I can make it to the front door.
Once I’m on my way, I tell myself that I might as well run for a little while. I often pick out a telephone pole, a road sign, or some pathetic remnant of roadkill. I prepare my body and mind to run full speed to that marker. I choose a marker far enough away so that it’s a challenge, but close enough so I won’t kill myself trying.
Note: My “full speed” will not get me a spot on the Olympic team! It doesn’t matter. I give my best.
If your doctor gives you the thumbs-up, you can rest assured that strenuous exercise is not going to kill you. Your body will stop you long before you keel over.
How great it feels to sprint past that telephone pole! That pole becomes the finish line to my own imaginary marathon. I raise my arms in victory, acknowledging the cheers coming from the invisible throngs lining the road. Then I slow down, catch my breath, and choose yet another marker where I will set a more intermediate pace for my run.
That possum lying in the middle of the road is perfect. By varying the pace between poles, mailboxes and possums, thirty minutes have passed before I know it and I turn around and head for home. Running from pole to pole never seems daunting to me. I don’t have to run six miles or sprint for an hour. I only have to make it to the next telephone pole.
The same idea works with other kinds of disciplines. My friend Steve, a recovering alcoholic, called me one night in a panic. He was sitting in a distant hotel room overcome with the temptation to go down to the bar and have a drink, but he’d been down that road enough times to know that it was a dead end. For Steve there was no such thing as one drink. If he gave in to this temptation his record of sobriety would be broken, his confidence shaken, and his family and career could be at stake. “I don’t know if I can do this the rest of my life,” he confessed.
I identify with Steve even though I’m not an alcoholic. We all face decisive moments like this on the battlefields of life. I could only give Steve advice that had served me well in times of spiritual combat.
“Steve, you don’t have to resist for the rest of your life.” I said. “You only need to resist tonight. Don’t drink tonight. Tomorrow is another day, and you can face tomorrow when it comes.” Steve didn’t have to run a marathon; he just had to make it to the next telephone pole.
“Take it one day at a time,” I told my friend. When he woke up the next morning, the overwhelming desire for a drink was gone. Steve said, “I can do this for the rest of my life, one night at a time.” He has thanked me many times for the encouragement I gave him that night.
If you are seeking to enhance some aspect of your spiritual life, pick out a telephone pole.
- Find that Bible you haven’t read for a while. Sprint, run or walk to that pole.
- Choose a study guide to follow. That’s another pole.
- Set a time for reading, prayer, and meditation.
You get the idea. No matter what aspect of living fully alive you are striving for find a pole that will take you further down the road and go for it.
Thirty years ago, my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird’.
There you go. Bird by Bird, pole by pole, road sign by road sign, or carcass by carcass, you make progress toward long term goals by setting short term goals.
As Paul said, “Keep pressing toward the mark.” You only have to do it today, then tomorrow you can do it again. Facing challenges and lofty goals with that strategy in mind makes life doable.
One telephone pole at a time, one day at a time, one decision at a time—making progress on the road to living fully alive.
What poles have helped you keep moving toward your goals?
What strategies can you share that have helped you make it to the next pole? [reminder]