A few weeks ago, I made a life-altering decision: I introduced my son to Thomas the Tank Engine.
…Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but Thomas has definitely become The Next Big Thing in this household. Baby Bear is completely in love, and even my girls enjoy the show. I am personally a little disappointed that they don’t as much enjoy the “old school” version (sans computer animation), but hey…whatever works.
Anyway, as I was mulling over my post topic this morning with Thomas playing in the background, it suddenly dawned on me how well the underlying message of the episode tied in with my post theme. In this episode, Thomas finds a local farmer trying to protect his fields from a flock of crows. Thomas discovers that his whistle can scare away the crows, so he volunteers to watch the field while the farmer is away repairing his scarecrow. Unfortunately (and those of us who know the episode formula are greatly shocked), Thomas gets a little distracted from his mission. Instead of staying and watching the field as he’d promised, he gets caught up in chasing two particular crows all over the island. And of course, he returns to find the field overrun with crows.
In case you didn’t catch the sarcasm in the parentheses there, this is a common theme in many of the Thomas episodes. Engine is given a mission; engine sets out with good intentions; engine somehow gets off on the wrong track (often literally); engine’s lack of focus results in broken promises or “confusion and delay.” Of course, it’s pretty easy to see it coming in a kids’ show. But in real life, it’s not always so simple to see where our decisions are leading us until it’s too late.
Sometimes I feel as if I’m speeding along life’s track, and suddenly realize I’m nowhere near where I intended to go. Or, like Thomas, I realize that the things I thought were so important were only a distraction from the things of true value. Sometimes I even begin to question why I even bother to continue chugging along in the first place.
When this happens, it is important to first slow down in order to gain a proper perspective, as I discussed in my last post. After I’ve slowed down, though, what do I do next? How can I keep myself on the right track? How do I even find the right track?
I’ve struggled a good deal with questions like these over the past several years. My husband and I started our marriage by having three children in four years, and let’s just say the family life was not exactly what we expected. Things were a bit crazy. We didn’t have much of a plan, and what little plan we had was soon mostly thrown out the window. We were completely making things up as we went along. It didn’t feel possible to consider anything more than the very next step.
Now, of course, that is actually true and necessary in some cases. You can’t plan for everything, and nothing goes quite how you plan it. We had no idea, for example, that our third child would be born with a birth defect requiring major surgery when she was 7 months old…We just had to trust God and take that one step at a time.
But I believe it is a healthier course to have some plan, albeit one that may have to be redirected down the road. At the least, it is good to “begin with the end in mind” – a habit covered in Stephen Covey’s bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. (Disclaimer: I have not yet read the whole thing, but I plan to do so soon!) In the chapter on this concept, Covey begins by having you imagine your literal end: your funeral. It may sound rather morbid, but it does put things into perspective. How much would my actions change if I focused on the kind of impact I want to leave behind when I am gone?
If I can establish what my overall goals are, it is easier to see where I ought to begin. It may help to brainstorm some questions to consider. Here are some of my ideas…
When our children are grown and gone, what kind of relationship do I want to have with my husband?
As a wife:
- Looking beyond academic excellence, what practical skills and knowledge do I want them to gain?
- When my children look back on their childhood someday, what will they recall?
As a mother:
- What kind of a mother do I hope to be in their minds?
As a teacher:
- What are the top three most important things I want my children to learn in life?
- What are some of his life goals that can I help him accomplish, and vice versa?
As a human being:
- What is the ultimate purpose of my life?
- What kind of impact do I see myself having on the world at large?
I can then use the answers of these questions to evaluate. Is everything is fine and on track? Did I just need to slow down long enough to catch my bearings? Am I perhaps headed in completely the wrong direction, needing to turn around? Or maybe I’ve just been chasing after two crows all this time when there is a whole flock waiting for my attention. Once I can get the perspective of where I am and where I want to go, I am then able to focus on my purpose and begin working on the plan of how to get there.
Now… off to answer my own questions! 😉
“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:13b-14
Photo Credit: second, third, and fourth images by Jessica Cole.