A few months ago, I opened a Word document and titled it, “37 on 37”. These are not lessons I have learned since birth, because I have no recollection of infancy. However, these are lessons from failure, experience, reading, relationships, and just an awareness of what has been happening around me. As I thought of lessons, I typed them into my document with the intent of sharing them on my birthday, April 25th, to a group of students and adult leaders at an inner-city church I lead. I hope they are meaningful to you. If not, I hope they challenged you to create your own list. I have two qualifiers for the 37 lessons: 1) I have not mastered any or all of them. 2) I am certain I missed a few or many.
1. Stop making excuses.
Do what you say. If you did not do what you said, then be the first to acknowledge it. Do not wonder if someone has noticed, because most likely someone has. They are just not telling you they noticed.
2. No one is born with a discipline trait.
I learned this lesson from my wife. She said this one day and it stuck with me. Discipline is not easier for some people and more difficult for others. Everyone struggles with being disciplined and the struggle is worth it. A disciplined person feels purposeful.
3. Influences matter.
Guard who or what enters your life. Not guarding what or who influences you would be like not applying a high SPF sunscreen to your skin before you go swimming. You are unprotected and you will suffer later.
4. Time is rarely the obstacle for getting things done.
I used to make this excuse. I am not suggesting that anyone adjust to my schedule. I am in a season of life where I have slept less in the last 3 years than any other time in my life, not because I want to, but because I have to. People usually comment, “I don’t know how you do it.” My response, “I have no choice.” Stop blaming time and start looking for gaps in your schedule. Be methodical about listing what you do every day, notice the gaps, and get things done in the gaps.
5. Being aware and taking action is an incredible quality that will benefit every area of my life.
Oblivious people are given one chance, maybe two, but rarely a third. “I didn’t know” or “No one told me” is an excuse that only works once. If it is used more than once, then you may be viewed as oblivious, uncaring, insensitive, disconnected, or unwilling to take an initiative. As a “rookie” or “newbie” they are considered mistakes. If you are neither, a rookie or newbie, then it is a character flaw that must change.
6. Going to college right after high school may have seemed like I would have been in school forever, but it was actually a small percentage of my life, with fewer responsibilities at that time.
This is self-explanatory. As you get older, you gain more responsibility.
7. Bring empathy into conflicts.
This is empathy, to “step inside the other person’s shoes.” Spend more time trying to gain the other person’s perspective and less time trying to share your own. Clarify what you hear not whether the other person heard you.
8. If I am not reading, I am not growing. Period.
And, do not just read what you like, but choose books that will stretch you and make you better. Reading helps you: communicate, write, process your thoughts, gain new perspectives rather than rely on experiences, and much more.
9. More than saying I follow Jesus, it is my responsibility to discover how to follow and if I am one.
This is a game changer. Ask yourself this question, “What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ?” Or this one, “Does my character resemble Jesus’?” If you are uncertain or unable to back it up with Scripture, then it is time to discover it.
10. Reading the Bible is more than an activity found on a checklist.
Shift perspective from accomplishing a task to discovering how to align your life with Scripture. That is a much slower process and it does not require a timetable.
11. Following Jesus requires sacrifice, and it is always challenging.
I am still learning this, but I am certain that my comfort is not the reason Jesus died on the cross.
12. Following Jesus does not entitle me to every door being opened, every prayer being answered, and an increasing income. Sometimes it is opposite.
Reading the Gospels, I am convinced that if the disciples believed this, then we would have no Gospels to read. They would have given up a long time ago.
13. Do not be afraid or ashamed to ask for help.
No one likes being in the position to ask for help, unless of course the person is being manipulative, but a genuine desire for help is humbling for all. And by all means, quit believing, “If I confess it, then it will come true.”
When a person is drowning the conversation does not go like this:
Onlooker: Hey, are you drowning?!
Drowning victim: Don't say that!
Onlooker: It looks like you are drowning. Are you sure?
Drowning victim: I don't want to confess it!
Onlooker: Listen, I think you are drowning!
Drowning victim: No! I'm just swimming (arms flailing frantically and water splashing).
The lesson: People who ask for help get helped.
14. YOLO, but scars and wounds may last for a lifetime.
Do not be foolish with your today neglecting your tomorrow. There are always consequences, always.
15. The Internet is a great resource and can create problems.
Use it wisely. I have seen productivity, jobs, and too many relationships become compromised with social media and Internet porn. Good rule: If you have to hide your activity online, then it is unhealthy.
16. Awareness of weakness rather than boasting of my strength helps keep me pure.
Saying, “I can handle it,” around a bad habit you are trying to quit relies on your own ability to resist something you want—sooner or later you will fail, or give in. Rather than pretending I’m strong, I need to embrace that I am weak, because I do a better job distancing myself from the bad habit. Live weak.
17. Deep hurt (re)defines me.
It makes you bitter or better. I have been both. If you do not want anyone to experience the hurt you have experienced, then make it your mission to be better than the person who hurt you. Deep hurt will change you; it is inevitable. Choose better, not bitter.
18. People really do love me; cherish and keep those relationships close.
Ironically, people who have been hurt usually run from people who exhibit true love and to similar people they just left. It creates further damage. When you encounter people who genuinely love you, keep them close.
19. Say “Thank you” often.
Those two words are powerful. When you do not use them, others believe you are arrogant, selfish, and expect to be served like a king or queen.
20. Everyone loves affirmation, especially when you notice the small things.
Not everyone asks for affirmation, but when they receive it, it is meaningful. Things happen every day, revolving around every one of our lives, and in every arena of our lives. Are you noticing it? The person who sacks your groceries…what is his/her name? Ever thought about writing a card? Be aware of the small things or everyday things, list them, and be specific about affirming another person’s effort.
21. Thinking of only fulfilling my wants will never fully satisfy me.
Looking back over my life, satisfying only my wants (i.e., buying $700 rims for my $1,000 Chevy Cavalier) is never enough; it is short-lived. However, I am filled with joy when I reflect on the moments I gave to others.
22. If I want deep, meaningful friendships, I must learn to become a deep and meaningful friend.
If you just expect friends to find you, to give you meaning, then it is a one-sided friendship. They will not stick around for long, because those relationships are draining.
23. Allow others to raise me to a leadership status, if they ever do.
If I make leadership the priority, then I tend to place more emphasis on myself and my attributes and less on becoming a better follower of Jesus and encourager of other’s attributes. Focus on following Jesus, encouraging others, and allow leadership to be the byproduct.
24. Listening is a more powerful form of communication than speaking.
When you listen, you learn, and can prevent many mistakes. Speaking, without listening, creates many mistakes. Wisdom is not determined by speaking, but knowing when to speak.
25. I do not have to be a parent to learn about parenting or married to learn about marriage.
Think about this: From kindergarten until graduation, we are educated to read, do basic math, to speak, and produce some function in society—13 years. For a bachelor’s degree, add four years—17 years. Master’s degree…you get the idea. At your job, you are possibly learning how to be better at your craft yearly through trainings, conferences, etc. There is a sense of priority for our career. What about the priority of being a parent or marriage? When was the last time you read a book on parenting? Are you doing it yearly? What about for your marriage? Education for your career…possibly yearly or years of schooling. Education for marriage or parenting….(for many) zero.
26. Jesus provided resources to others and ultimately gave himself as a resource. What do I have to give?
Everything you have is a resource—words, time, money, energy, stuff, etc. Discover how to use what you have as a resource, and not just to service yourself.
27. Be the person people want to be around.
There are at least four different perspectives when you walk into a room: 1) You announce, “Here I am.” 2) No one cares or notices. 3) People care and notice, but hide. 4) People care and notice, and announce, “There he/she is.” The last perspective is results from helping others discover their value, not convincing others of yours.
28. Marriage and family is a microscope.
What you manage to hide in public (i.e., stress, anger, etc.) is usually magnified at home, because the mask comes off. You need a place to be real and it usually happens at home. Be sensitive to how the “real you” affects those closest to you. They may think you are being a “fake” when they compare public you to private you.
29. It is better to be single than wish I was.
Do not rush into a relationship because of outside pressure. Be picky. Get advice. Make certain you want to give your time, energy, emotion, and money to that person. No one is happy in a relationship when prolonged thoughts of being out of the relationship are entertained.
30. Love is a more effective motivator than guilt.
When we use guilt to motivate another person to respond to our desires, it is a power move. The person may respond to shut us up (appeasement) or not respond to send us a message (burned bridge). Either way, there is a loss of respect. Love accepts other’s decisions, even when you disagree with those decisions. Guilt rarely draws a person back when decisions do not pan out. No one likes hearing, “I told you so.”
31. My overreactions give others power over me.
Being bullied throughout junior high taught me this lesson. I used to get angry and yell at my bully, when I was kicked. I used to cry too. Then, I realized that is what my bully wanted me to do. Each time I responded, I gave him what he wanted, a reaction out of me. He controlled my overreactions. In eighth grade, I decided to kick him out of the driver’s seat of my responses. Once people discover your buttons, they push them.
32. “Don’t do that/dress like that/act like that in church” can be a damaging statement.
I think this statement was said to show respect for the “house of God,” but the implication of this statement is much greater. I think my generation discovered its implication, “So, when I get outside the church, I can do this/dress like this/act like this?” If it is not beneficial in church, then it is not beneficial outside the church. We learned how to be good church folk with our own language and standards where outsiders had to conform. It was a show and many of my generation now desire authenticity and sadly have been burned by the show.
33. Strive to be authentic and genuine, not to gain a title or a paycheck.
If it cheapens your integrity, no matter what it is, it is not worth it.
34. Life is fragile and can be gone in an instant. Express love often.
I officiated a wedding in a town about an hour away. It was a joyous occasion. I got in my car, hopped on the highway, and started my journey home. About fifteen minutes into the drive, the car 100 yards in front of me veered into the grass median, lost control, and ended up on the opposite side of the highway in a head-on collision with another car traveling about 70 mph in the fast lane. That vehicle flipped over two lanes of traffic and landed upside-down in the ditch. My heart was racing. I pulled over, ran across the median, across the lanes of the highway, and yelled into the upside-down vehicle in the ditch, “Sir! Can you hear me?!” Fifteen minutes earlier, I was in a tuxedo celebrating the beginning of a new life journey. I am in the same tuxedo fifteen minutes after the wedding, screaming into a vehicle having witnessed the end of a life’s journey. The other driver never had a chance to react. Every day, express love.
35. Journal on paper, email, or text.
This ties into the previous lesson, because life is fragile. We are not promised tomorrow. For your family, capture memories, write down how much they mean to you, or what you thought of them. In an age of smartphone technology, it is simple to create an email address for your wife or child(ren) and send emails or take pictures and send it to them. I hope I live a long life to speak to my family, but if I do not, they will always know how I felt about them, because they can read about it.
36. Living with purpose is not some big, unknowable thing. It may be a small daily decision, like “Smile more today.”
Each day, you can live with purpose. Try it tomorrow. Commit to one thing.
37. I am not always right.
Any or all of these lessons may be incorrect. You may disagree with them, challenge them, or correct them. I’m okay with that, because I am not always right.