[This religion column appears in section B-3 of today’s (2/03/13) Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette. Currently, the paper does not include their local columnists pieces on their website. With their permission, here it is.]
At my dad’s 80th birthday party a few years ago on a cold January day, more than 100 friends gathered to wish him well. It was nice since a good number of his buddies already had died.
When dad stood to give his birthday speech, I wondered what he would say. He hadn’t been feeling well. Still, dad never complained so I didn’t think he would mention his health, and he didn’t.
I thought he might reminisce about his 60-year working career, which he loved – 45 years with one company and now 15 with another. He was still working when he turned 80, and he was quite proud of the fact that at 80-years-old he could work 40 hours a week. He did mention that he despised the word retirement, but said little else about his work career.
Then he I thought he might brag on his five children and how great their lives had turned out. My older sister put together a tremendous 80thbirthday party with people coming from far and wide. He did thank her. But he didn’t go on about his children. For one, it wouldn’t have been altogether true. We had divorces and job failures and tense relationships like so many other families.
When dad rose to speak, he was attired like a man who spent his whole life near the big cattle ranches along the Colorado/Kansas border – ironed, button-up Levi jeans (no zipper in front), a heavily-starched, long-sleeve white shirt, a herringbone jacket with leather patches on the elbows and alligator-skin cowboy boots.
With a strong voice Dad said, “I’ve had a great life. What a wonderful 80 years these have been.” Actually his early life was hard. He worked continuously to provide for our family. Dad didn’t mention that. He just said never figured it would not do any good to complain and whine. Dad did not like it when people moaned and complained. “Do they want me to feel sorry for them?” he asked.
Dad felt the world so needed to see kind, pleasant people looking on the bright side of life. No moaning – period. He started his birthday speech saying that is the kind of person he tried to be.
Next he went to counting his blessings. Starting with my mom, his wife of 56 years, he said he was thankful for his health, his home, his job (remember, he hated the word retire), his family, his church, his warm bed, his hearing aids and for 10,000 more blessings besides. Dad exhorted his family and friends to be joyful, thankful people. He felt continually giving thanks keeps you centered and gives your life perspective. “I have so much to be grateful for,” he said.
That led to dad saying, “Find the good in people every day.” If you want to find bad in people, dad said you’d easily find it. But if you want to look for the good in others, you will usually find it.
Proverbs 11:27 says, “He who seeks good, finds good will.” Dad was a man who people liked being around, precisely because he looked for the good in people. No one needs the job of judging another person’s servant, says the apostle Paul in the book of Romans. Do you want people always pointing out your faults? Then don’t always be pointing out there’s. If you do insist on continually fault finding, well, good luck with that. You’ll have fewer and fewer friends as you age.
You can probably guess the fourth point. Smile a lot. Work at it. Don’t be so doggone serious. One of my teen-age memories is of dad smiling when he walked in to the kitchen in the morning. As you greet co-workers through the day, as you walk past others in the grocery store in the late afternoon, smile. “An anxious heart weighs people down but kinds words cheer them up.” Proverbs 12:25. A smile can dramatically change a person’s day. What power you have with your smile. Use it!
Quite simply, these four features are nonnegotiable if you are going to be a pleasant, happy camper along life’s winding, narrow road. If you practice them when you’re young, and then right on into your middle years – no complaining, counting your blessings, finding the best in people and smiling a ridiculous amount of the time – you will not only be easy to get along with now, you won’t be such pain in the back side when you get really old and crusty. We’ve all seen that, and we’re not going there.
As dad might say, “Get on out there, doggies.” Start smiling. Look for qualities in others that are true and lovely and admirable and then tell them. Be glad when people say to you, “Wow you smile a lot.”
People are just going to have to get used to seeing your joy and contentment in the midst of this broken world. You aren’t changing that for anything.