Some years ago there was a popular song about righting all the wrongs in the world. I don’t remember all the words, but the gist of it was “If I were king of the world, I would do things differently.” There would be no more war, or hate, or suffering, or any of the other evils that plague our planet.
It was a noble thought, at least on the surface, but it failed to take into consideration one important factor: God has given each of us free will, free choice. In that sense, we are each “king of the world.” We may not rule over the whole world or be able to make a visible impact on the grand scheme of things, but it is given to us to rule our own personal world. Depending on how well we do at that, we may then be able to have a positive impact on the world around us.
A team of songwriters, musicians, and singers had worked well together on various projects over the space of several years. They were a rather motley crew and had had their share of ups and downs, but had always managed to hang together somehow. So when nearly everyone’s inspiration level hit an unprecedented and inexplicable low at the same time, the couple leading the team was naturally concerned. They were Christians who depended a lot on prayer, so they asked God to show them what had gone wrong and how to turn things around.
The answer they received was short and simple: “You’ve been cutting corners on love.” Everyone had gotten so wrapped up in their work that they’d all stopped taking time to show one another love and appreciation—the very things that had made them such a good team in the first place.
Some years ago I became friends with a successful young businessman named Henry. Henry was in perpetual motion, but eventually I got him to stop long enough to tell me how he had gotten where he was. During his first year of college, his father had given him some money to invest, and he had gone into business with a childhood friend. They quickly did so well that Henry doubled his class load so he could graduate a year early and go to work full time. He finished at the top of his class, with a double major. (He’d always been an overachiever, he explained.) By the time I met him ten years later, he had made more money than a lot of people make in a lifetime, but he was still putting in fever-pitch 10- and 12-hour days. He also had an active social life. After observing this (and the inevitable toll it was taking) for a few weeks, I asked him when he found time for reflection. That came as an entirely new thought to him.
Life is all about the choices we make, and our health is no exception. Even most health risks that seem unavoidable, like being exposed to the flu in a crowded elevator or hereditary predisposition to a certain type of cancer, aren’t completely beyond our control. Often there is some precaution we can take to improve our chances of staying healthy, like using the stairs in flu season, or following a careful diet. The truth is, we could avoid most health problems, including that nasty flu, without going to extremes. In most cases, healthy living is a matter of consistently doing a few basic things to keep our bodies strong and our resistance high.
I read an article recently in which CEO Jonatha Holland explained her job this way: “I do not have a special parking place. I do not get bonuses. As a matter of fact, I haven’t had a paycheck in 12 years. My job-critical tasks are teaching, counseling, nurturing, and disciplining. I am not always popular. But that’s OK because it is not part of my job to be popular. I am my Children’s Executive Officer. I’ve been entrusted with raising three children to be adults. It’s not vitally important that they become successful in the way that we often define success—lots of money, fame, a specific career. But I do want them to succeed in the way Webster’s Dictionary describes it, ‘to turn out well.’”
Not long before his death in 1990, the British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge wrote, “I see my ancient carcass, prone between the sheets, stained and worn like a scrap of paper dropped in the gutter and, hovering over it, myself, like a butterfly released from its chrysalis stage and ready to fly away. Are caterpillars told of their impending resurrection?—How in dying they will be transformed from poor earth-crawlers into creatures of the air, with exquisitely painted wings? If told, do they believe it? I imagine the wise old caterpillars shaking their heads—no, it can’t be; it’s a fantasy.”
We know that both heredity and environment help make us who we are. We hear from infancy that we have our mother’s eyes or our father’s chin—visible evidence of the role of heredity. It’s also obvious that children who are stimulated intellectually are more likely to excel academically, and that athletes who have the best coaches and training programs are more likely to reach their full potential—proof of the role of environmental influences.
Another year is behind us, and a brand-new year, brimming with possibilities, lies ahead. How can we make the most of it? According to U.S. fitness pioneer Jack LaLanne, it’s simply a matter of setting realistic goals and sticking with them. In reference to a perennial favorite New Year’s resolution, getting in better physical shape, LaLanne said in a 2000 AP interview, “The average person means well, [but] they set their goals too high. They do it two or three times and say, ‘This is too tough.’ And they quit. Staying in shape is a lifestyle. It is not something you do for two weeks or four months to lose 20 pounds. It is something you do for the rest of your life, just like combing your hair.” And LaLanne should know. He is still fit, works out daily, keeps a busy schedule of public appearances, and looks two or three decades younger than his 93 years.