Monday, April 22, 2013

A Successful, Satisfying Day

How do you measure what a successful day
looks like to you?

Margaret Thatcher, the first female prime minister of Great Britain, died recently after suffering a stroke. Serving from 1975 to 1990 as the leader of the nation’s Conservative Party, she earned the nickname, “Iron Lady,” for her personal and political toughness.

After her passing, some of her best-known quotations circulated, but this one caught my eye: “Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s when you’ve had everything to do and you’ve done it.”

There’s great wisdom in that simple statement. Certainly there’s a time for relaxing, for what some people call “chilling,” but satisfaction is most often derived from a sense of having done something – and having done it well.

Mrs. Thatcher’s quote reminded me of a time when my friend, Ed Thompson, asked a group of men he was meeting with, “How do you measure what a successful day looks like to you?”

How would you answer that question?

Each of us likely would have a very different response, given our unique interests, abilities, passions and opportunities available to us. But in light of the reality that we share one thing in common – every day consists of 24 hours, no more and no less – our challenge is how we intend to use those hours.

Psalm 118:24 states, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Understanding God is the author of each day, offering it to us as a gift, how we spend – or invest – the time is a matter of stewardship. Are we going to devote the entire time to reclining on the couch, saturating our minds with inane TV programming, or mastering a video game, or are we going to dedicate the time to something of enduring value?

Again, “something of value” means different things to us all. It could mean working in the yard, painting a room, playing golf or tennis with a friend, visiting a relative, taking a day trip to a place of interest, or even reading a book. (Does anyone still do that?)

Being a writer, for me a successful day often involves one or more writing projects – an article, a blog post, or a chapter in a book I’ve been working on. But even though I’m not a real outdoorsy-type of guy, sometimes mowing the lawn, trimming some bushes or sprucing up the yard in some way also feels “successful.”

For Type-A personalities, checking items off the day’s to-do list can be very fulfilling. But perhaps the most successful days occur in the context of relationships, investing time and energy in the lives of others. The late Ted DeMoss, a man I worked with for years and greatly admired, often observed when it’s all said and done, "all that remain will be the Word of God and people."

It’s been said that no one on his or her deathbed has declared, “I wished I’d spent more time at work.” We can achieve satisfaction from completing projects. But the process of developing and nurturing relationships – with spouses, children, grandchildren, friends, people God has brought into our lives – provides benefits that surpass a daily checklist.

If we can help to make a person’s day better, by offering a listening ear, engaging in stimulating conversation, or simply being there with them, this can pay long-term dividends. And the benefits can be mutual. As Proverbs 27:17 states, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

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