In his best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People , Stephen Covey listed habit number two as, “Begin with the end in mind.” He makes his point by having readers think about their own funeral and what people from various relationships might say about them. Of course, that is a powerful motivator.
But let’s think beyond the funeral where family and friends come together during a short service and share a litany of affirmative memories about the recently departed person. Instead, let’s focus on the depth of influence our lives could potentially exert on people for generations after we’re gone.
While the runners in a foot race always save energy for accelerating during the last leg of the race, too many of us end up coasting across the finish line. That’s a terrible waste of a powerful opportunity to magnify our influence on people in our lives.
With this post and the two that follow it, we’ll look at,“What does “finishing well” look like?”, and “Where is the “finish line”?
I’m sure a random survey of a hundred people might yield at least two dozen different answers to those questions; maybe more. And I suspect most of us would answer them differently during different stages of life.
We need answers that we can apply with confidence when it’s time to take action.
My thoughts will be primarily for those who live long lives. Those who do are likely to experience to some degree, loss of physical abilities, loss of friends and family, and loss of familiar lifestyle.
What does “finishing well” look like?
To answer the first question, we find an exceptional model in the Apostle Paul who penned the following verses near the end of his life.
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. II Timothy 4:6-7
I see two practical principles in these verses that give us a picture of what finishing life well looks like.
First, “Finishing well at the end begins long before we reach the end.”
In that first phrase, we can see that Paul knew he’d already given everything to the Lord long ago. There was nothing for him to try to hang on to a little longer. There was nothing he still wished he could do or some place he wished he could visit before he died. He’d spent years exercising his faith in God. Doing so at the end of his life required no leap of faith or a new level of commitment. He was able to finish well because the same faith that brought him through life’s challenges would carry him all the way to the end.
So, what’s the takeaway? We don’t suddenly gain courage or peace of mind or a strong faith just because we reach a certain age. As a matter of fact, our current traits tend to become magnified by the challenges of aging. Consider the following two statements from Family Caregivers Online.
- “Chances are good that a demanding 80-year-old was a demanding 35-year-old. So the best way to predict how an older person will act is to look back at her behavior in earlier life.”
- “If we have adjusted fairly well during the first 50 years of our lives, we`re likely to be able to adjust during the next 50 years. On the other hand, if we`ve resisted change throughout our lives, we will probably continue doing so and experience negative effects…”
So, we need to be developing character and tendencies based on biblical principles long before we get old and near the end.
Paul finished life well because he was already totally dependent on God long before the end of his life.
From what I’ve seen as friends and relatives enter and pass through the final leg of life, there will be challenges that make the rest of life seem like a walk in the park.
That reminds me of something my mother-in-law said when we were complaining about getting up all through the night to change diapers and feed our infant children. She said, “Oh, this is the easy part. Before you know it, you’ll wish you could go back to these little problems.” Sure enough, she was right!
As we age, we are likely to encounter challenges that make previous ones seem easy.
The second principle I see in these verses is, “The only way to finish well is to “keep the faith.”
Have you noticed how difficult situations in life trigger different reactions in various people? When faced with distressing events, some draw closer to God while others drift farther away from Him.
The Blue Angels are a fascinating group of pilots who fly precision formations. One wrong move can be disastrous as they fly with wing tips incredibly close to each other. What do they do when they enter a dense cloud and cannot see the plane next to theirs? I’ve been told they simply don’t change a thing until they exit the clouds. They keep doing exactly what they were doing before the clouds blocked their vision. Anything else could mean the unthinkable would happen.
Everyone who lives a long life enters densely clouded times on occasion. We might do well to consider those times as practice sessions for finishing well at the end of life. The key is living out our faith in God all along, then keep it up when we enter “cloudy” periods of life.
Of course, none of us knows exactly when we will cross the “finish line” of our life. When should we intensify our efforts to finish well? Are there markers along the way?
The second post in this series will consider the question, “Where is the finish line?” Hope to see you there.