Read this, and your life will become more boring.
“Growth is a slow, secret, unspectacular affair.”
That quote, by Bishop Leslie Newbigin, is my go-to encouragement for 2013.
Trouble is the fast, public and spectacular looks so much more exciting.
When Luciano Pavarotti was a child, his father took him into a room and placed two chairs in the centre, telling him that if he tried to sit between the two of them he’d eventually grow uncomfortable and fall between the middle.
“Son, for your life you need to choose one chair,” he emphasised.
Over 100 million album sales later and shortly before his sad death in 2007, Pavarotti could say with authority that he’d heeded those words.
“For life, I chose one chair. It took seven years of study and frustration before I made my first professional appearance. It took another seven to reach the Metropolitan Opera, and now I think – whether it’s laying bricks, writing a book – whatever we choose, we should give ourselves to it. Commitment – that’s the key. Choose one chair.”
I wonder how he felt during those 14 years of relative obscurity. Chances are that a fair few of those 5,113 days weren’t particularly exciting, maybe even unpleasant, certainly hard work; but they were most definitely worth it.
One of the most striking things about the culture in which we live is our near obsession with overnight success. As the latest winner of The X Factor is shortly to be crowned, we can easily reflect on how global success and influence has come to someone relatively quickly. That, generally speaking, is not the natural way of things.
If I want my community to flourish, I’m afraid it’s not going to happen by Friday. It will take decades of hard work and intense focus. If I’m to achieve the influence I want in the workplace, that rarely comes the first day I walk into the office. It requires years of hard service, trying and failing, trying and failing, before finally achieving a modicum of success. For the community that my soul longs for, I cannot expect to develop that in one season. True friendship weathers the storms of a lifetime.
As one leader I respect very much recently put it:
“He who stays around longest wins the battle for influence.”
All of which makes me wonder, why on earth do I end up flitting from one thing to another, skimming in life rather than persevering for genuine depth?
In January I will be giving a talk on Psalm 1:
“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.”
In Robert Alter’s book, The Art of Biblical Poetry, he spots a fascinating distinction between people who are like chaff: restless, without direction, carried here and there by forces over which they have no control; someone who is subject to the winds of circumstance.
This is contrasted with a meditating person, who is not marked out by random movement, but by stability. Sure, seasons come and go, but they’re unmoved, clear on what they’re about.
All too often I’m like the former, enamoured with the latest fad, wanting the easy option rather than disciplined perseverance.
As I stare into the prospect of 2014, I’m determined to do my best to be marked out by picking one chair, rather than half a dozen. I’ll relish the new life of spring, and the fruit of summer, brace myself for the winds of Autumn and just try and stick it out during winter. But if I can keep to one thing – just one chair – I’m likely to bear more fruit, have more joy and gain more influence.
I hope you’re encouraged to do the same.
(image via CreationSwap)