By: Brian Harris
If you know me, you’ll be aware that I’m in my mid-sixties. There’s something about being 65ish that gets people to ask, “So how are you feeling about life?”
They know I am not retired but suspect I might be soon; they know I’m in good health – but hey, at this age anything could be around the corner (though I could live to a 103); they know I’m still writing and preaching and teaching and training, but then at 65ish you don’t take any invitation for granted. My usual reply is: “I’m grateful for the past, engaged in the present, and open to the future.” I think it’s a pretty tidy formula for living well.
Grateful for the Past
Grateful for the past. You bet! I’ve juggled six main roles along the way – Pastor, Educator, Theologian, Communicator, Consultant, Author. It has been wonderfully varied, very meaningful and great fun. There have been some delightful minor roles. Short term TV star (I’ll leave you to track when that was); Movie Star (I helped create and feature in some great Christian Schools Australia videos); Radio Host (the good old Rosebank Rendezvous days); social worker (a life time ago); chaplain; Board Chair, Champion Christmas Card salesperson at Payne Brothers (also a lifetime ago); Tigger Tiger (also at Payne Brothers – when not selling Christmas Cards); Gymnast representing my state (more than a life time ago!) And then there are the really important roles: Husband (to one wife, Rosemary); Father (to three amazing children); Father-in-law to 3 amazing humans, Grandpa to 3 delightful grandkids, friend to wonderful friends. Oh, and home is three parts of the world – Australia (now); New Zealand (yesterday); South Africa (the day before that).
As I drew up the list (and scrapped a long list of valid contenders), I felt overwhelmed with gratitude. Life is so rich, and offers such varied experiences. I’ve been enriched by each one. Has everything always gone right. Of course not! Am I grateful for everything that has happened. No – some things have been pretty testing. However I think Stoic philosopher Seneca was on to something when he said: “No man is more unhappy than he who never faces adversity. For he is not permitted to prove himself.” That’s a helpful way of reframing difficulty. I think challenging times have left me better, not worse, and I suspect that’s true for many people.
Taken as a whole, where am I on the bitterness to gratitude continuum? I’m wonderfully deep in gratitude territory. I’m so glad I am. I have seen too many people allow past disappointments to morph into deep rooted bitterness. It sours even the most pleasant of memories. And here’s the thing. Some of the most bitter people I know have the most to be grateful for – they just can’t see it. True, some people have had horrific experiences which colour everything. But barring that (and I don’t want to be trite about the suffering of some), it seems to me that gratitude (or bitterness) is a choice, and is often about where we opt to place our attention.
How to Adopt Gratitude
If for no other reason than that you will be so much happier, why not opt for the gratitude end. How, you ask? Well take some time to notice. Spot what has happened in the extraordinary story that is your life. Don’t rush to what has gone wrong. Remember what has gone right. Remember what has gone better than you would have expected. It’s up to you to chose your focus. And if you are a Jesus follower, don’t forget the difference that makes. Remember some of those God turned up moments. I don’t doubt there have been many, but perhaps you have forgotten to remember.
Engaged in the Present
While I am grateful for the past, I am not interested in being bogged down by nostalgia. I’m throughly engaged in the present. I love the work I get to do with AVENIR, consulting with clients doing amazing work (many of our clients are in the not-for profit sector and the work they do is inspiring). I also love the lecturing I continue to do at Morling College, helping to shape emerging spiritual leaders. And I love getting asked to write, speak and debate on AI, Gender, Poverty, Democracy, Human Rights, Climate Change, Reconciliation, Workplace Culture, Conflict resolution, Quiet Leadership, the Bible and more. We live at such an exciting time in history. We have resources my grandparents wouldn’t have known how to dream of (a library, movie theatre, compass, fitness instructor and health monitor all in the phone in my pocket). I’m stunned by people who adopt a “whatever” attitude to life. We live at a time where we can make poverty history, where historic injustices can be ended, where living to a hundred is a distinct possibility. Why wouldn’t you want to lean in to all that life offers. Hans Urs von Balthasar wisely wrote: ‘What you are is God’s gift to you, what you become is your gift to God.’ Being actively engaged is a demonstration of gratitude in the present.
Be Open to the Future
I think I am also open to the future. You might ask: “Is there a choice? The future comes regardless of if we want it or not.” True, but some resist it, others try to avoid it, or drown in sentimentality for the past. I can’t remember who said, “I know nothing about tomorrow except that God’s love will rise before the sun.” That being true, I enjoy the forward look. If God is already in our tomorrow, why would we not be open to it?
Do you remember these lovely lines from St Patrick’s prayer: “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me.” And because Christ is with and before and behind and in, I am grateful and engaged and open.
About the Author: Brian is a sought-after speaker, teacher, leader, writer and respected theologian who has authored 6 books. After 17 years as principal of Perth’s Vose Seminary, Brian is now founding director of the AVENIR Leadership Institute, fostering leaders who will make a positive impact on the world.