Lasting Change

By: Brien Vuylukson, Columnist
bvuylukson@boynegazette.com

As this year draws to a close, we will find ourselves in the aftermath of all our holiday gluttony.  The guilt we feel for overeating all those rich, delicious holiday treats, and spending mroe that we knew we should, can be overwhelming.[private]

With the new year just a few days away, we once again begin the old resolution game to try to ease our conscience.  We tell ourselves that this will be the year we slim down, finally get out of debt, or begin going to church regularly.

Yes, whether in our excess or our discipline, we still make it all about ourselves, don’t we?  Why do we go through the same ‘cycle’ year after year and never really embrace lasting change in our lives?  Why do we insist on repeating our old mistakes again and again, agonizing quietly while putting on the fake smile that says, “I’m okay, I’ve got it all under control.”

How do we break the cycle of denial and effect a true and honorable change on our character and our disciplines?  The answer: We won’t.  At least, statistically, the vast majority of us won’t.  “I’m not the vast majority,” you say?  Odds are, you probably are.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I still try to live above my means, digging myself deeper in debt?
  • Do I spend enough time with my loved ones, or am I constantly working or stressing to pay off all the debt?
  • Do I give to my church or charities as I should, or am I out of money (or in the hole) after I pay all (or some) of my bills?
  • Do I overeat or over-drink (or over-whatever) because of the stress?
  • Am I unhealthy because I have no time to take better care of myself?
  • How many well-meant promises have I made to my kids, only to disappoint them (for any reason)?
  • When was the last time I really felt at peace with how I’m living my life?

Tough questions – I know, but very important ones we should be asking ourselves.

If some of these questions have hit home for you, it’s okay.  Yes, that’s right, it’s okay.  It’s the first step in changing our lives – the pain of realization that something is very wrong with how we’re living.  Our biggest problems are selfishness and pride.

I know, ouch!  Notice I said “our” biggest problems.  I include myself.  I’m no better than anybody else, but I’ve learned some things, and I’d like to share them with you.

First, I know we’d like to convince ourselves that we work so hard and neglect our loved ones as a sacrifice to give them a ‘better’ way of life.  But let me ask you this: wouldn’t they rather have you around a few more hours each day instead of a bigger flatscreen, a newer car, a bigger house, etc.?  Are we really willing to lose out on joyful memories, traded for more hours of tedious labor?

One day the kids will be grown.  The big house will sit nearly empty.  Opportunities lost.  They may bring the grandkids to visit during Christmas, only for us to help continue the legacy of ‘working too hard to make a living to make a life’.  Second, if we can all be honest with ourselves, let’s admit that it’s nice to have stuff.  Good stuff.  Lots of stuff.  The latest stuff.  Cool stuff.  Better than our neighbor’s stuff.

Friends, that’s pride – yes, selfish pride.

Wouldn’t we rather drive an older car so we could have a few extra bucks on hand and a free day to take the kids to the lake and have a cookout?  Wouldn’t we rather live in a smaller house so we could at least be there to enjoy it?  Wouldn’t we rather give up a little prestige in exchange for attending the basketball game, the band concert, the play, or the open house?  Are they glad we’re at work so they can have more x-box games or a better pair of shoes?  No.  They’d rather have us there cheering them on in life – whatever their endeavors.

Let’s be clear: Life is not about stuff.  It’s about people.  It’s about relationships.  Stuff breaks, gets thrown away, or discarded.  People don’t – at least they shouldn’t.

On our final day, will we be able to look back with joy on a multitude of blessed memories, or will we look back with regret?

The value of our lives is measured by the quality of relationships we have built – the lives we have touched in a positive way, not by how much worthless stuff we have amassed.  Reaching outside ourselves and sharing our time and love with those around us is the only eternal value we’ll ever need.

So, finding ourselves here, in this place of realization, let’s leave denial for those who would rather not make the effort.  For those of us who will, the question becomes, where do we go from here?  How do we overcome the wrong thinking that has been so deeply ingrained within us?

The answers, my friends, are many-faceted, unpopular, and require a true desire and commitment to change our lives.  To begin teaching the next generation a new way (or maybe an old way) of living life.  To truly live – not to be slaves to debt and the timeclock, to be a people – a community of relationships, where our time is focused not on ourselves, but on those we love.

Yes, by all means, let us get out from under debt!  Work more? No – Adjust our lifestyles.  Sell the house with the killer mortgage? Maybe, if that’s what it takes.

Downgrade to a used car? Sure, why not?  Lose my status? You bet.

Would it be so bad to lose the status of an overworked, always stressed-out, debt-laden slave whose children, family, and friends rarely get to spend time with them?

If you need help getting out from under debt, get the help.  If you struggle with any kind of addiction and need help breaking free, get the help.  If you think you’re not good with people or relationships and you need help in learning new social/family skills, get the help.  There are a myriad of churches and community programs that offer a loving, helping hand in all these areas – and more.

You won’t make it on your own.  I know, I’ve tried.  True change will only come when we can humble ourselves enough to say, “I know there’s a real problem, but I don’t know where to start.”  We must not let fear, guilt, or shame hold us back from living better lives.  We must take the first step on the journey of lasting change.

Let’s make this year not our “best year ever,” but the year in which we all finally say, “enough is enough.”  We, the people of the Boyne Communities (and anyone else who’d like to come along with us) can become living examples to our children, our neighbors and friends – yes, even to other communities.  Let our lives shine.  Let’s make some courageous changes that will give our families a fresh perspective on how we live our lives.  Let’s teach our kids what’s truly, eternally important.

And, well, maybe you saw this coming.  If you haven’t tried church in a while, maybe that would be something to consider too.  Yes, I’m a believer.  No apologies here.

I don’t believe in being pushy about it, so I won’t.  I only ask that you consider that as being one of the live changes you make.  There’s a lot of love and support to be found in a church family.

That little knot in your stomach means something, my friend.  It means it’s time for change.  The time is now.  Life is so very short.  Restore every relationship, forgive every wrongdoing, free yourselves from debt and slavery, and enjoy your loved ones – your life.  No more empty New Years Resolutions.  Instead, let it be a New Life Restoration.  God bless our community, our families, and our lives.[/private]

Brien Vuylukson is a faith-based columnist for The Boyne City Gazette who proudly calls Boyne City his home.  His column appears bi-weekly in the paper.

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