About this time in alternating years, I tend to feel bright and optimistic as Labor Day approaches. It’s a time for all of us to pause and celebrate the hard-working men and women whose determination and indefatigable pursuit of excellence built the greatest nation on earth. Labor Day also officially introduces the Fall season here in America, and I love the invigorating anticipation of colored leaves, pumpkin spiced lattes, and the invigorating chill of frosty mornings.
A Different Feeling ~
During the alternate years like this one, though, I feel different. Those are the years when the holiday also sounds the opening bell for another Congressional election campaign season. As we ordinary folks fire up the grills and honor the working men and women who keep this country running, the Washington, DC political establishment and its cohorts in the media fire up a continuous onslaught of disturbing, often disgusting, political shenanigans. A barrage of ads in every media platform known to man will assail us with false accusations, misrepresented data, empty promises, and fear mongering doomsday scenarios. Finding a sense of bright optimism between now and early November is going to be tough. At this point, I feel like I’ve been thrown into the crowd of idiots that line the streets every year waiting for the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.
We may not be subjected to huge bulls running wild here, but like those folks, we know that the political gates will soon be swung open, and a bunch of powerful creatures that also seem to lack normal human sensibilities will be turned loose and freed from all restraints. Like the bulls, they’ll surge forward, prepared to attack whoever or whatever gets in their path with no regard for either the pain they cause or the mortal danger they might represent.
An Intriguing Concept ~
But, whatever unfolds this year, I plan to try to dodge as much of the stampede as possible and focus on things less likely to make my head explode. For instance, I’ve been intrigued lately by an interesting concept that Stephen Covey included in his 1989 best seller, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. While he may not have been the first to suggest the idea, he managed to condense it into a single, concise, easy-to-remember phrase that contained no heavily nuanced, multi-syllable words. He simply said this, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Wow, that sounds easy, doesn’t it? Maybe all of us should scrap our strategic plans for achieving success and happiness and just go do that. But, wait just a minute . . . On second thought, it appears that there’s something missing.
While the admonition is admirable, Covey neglected to tell us what the “main thing” is, and that can be problematic. In the first place, our judgment is impaired. We’re flawed and morally challenged human beings with an incredibly consistent track record of picking “main things” that lead nowhere and often destroy our lives and wreck our eternal future. In the second place, as we go through life, our designated main things tend to have a variable shelf life.
Transient Objectives ~
The things that occupy that category tend to be fickle, unreliable. and subject to unintentional, unanticipated, and sometimes sudden, changes. For instance, when I was 16, resurrecting a 1954 Mercury that had been laid to rest in a local junkyard held the number one spot for me. I hoped it might mean a chance of getting that captivating blonde girl in my English class to go to a drive-in movie with me–if, that is, I could ever generate the courage to actually speak to her. Eventually my treasured chariot did come to life, but that movie date I dreamed about never happened. Life went on, and both of those all-consuming main things yielded the space to other things. Does this pattern sound familiar?
It looks like Covey’s iconic phrase may need an editorial adjustment or two. Maybe he should have prefaced it with something like this: “The main thing is to figure out what ‘the main thing’ really is before wasting your life chasing things that it isn’t.” One thing is undeniable. The main things we often see as so vital don’t tend to stick around. They’re fickle, unreliable, unpredictable, and rarely deliver all that they seem to promise. Or maybe it isn’t the goals themselves that are fickle and unreliable; maybe it’s us.
Truth is, if we’re to have any possibility of experiencing the kind of fulfillment that we really want, then somebody who’s not so fickle and unreliable and who knows and understands enduring value needs to choose the main thing for us. It seems reasonable, then, to ask the One who actually created human life and who will ultimately evaluate what we’ve done with the one we were given what He thinks.
An Impressive List of Possibilities ~
Thankfully, the living God has already addressed the issue. He delivered over 200 commands and ordinances to Moses, including 10 that were so special that He wrote them on stone tablets. All of them are important to Him and all are designed for our benefit. None of the admonitions or restrictions that God ordained were given because He wants to punish us. They were given to establish our peace, ensure our protection, promote our prosperity, and enable relationships to experience the joy and happiness God intended. We are blessed and God is honored by every effort we make to live out any of them.
But wait a minute. We can’t do it all, right? And we’re trying to nail down just a single, dependable “main thing” that we can focus on. Attempting to include all of those rules and directives and make them into a huge, conglomerated main thing in our life would be a chaotic exercise in futility. Isn’t there one that could encompass everything for every one of us and that could occupy that vital spot throughout our lives? And if there is, which one is it?
Thankfully, Jesus was asked that very question by an expert in Mosaic law who hoped to trip Him up with it. Here’s how the exchange began:
But when the Pharisees heard that He [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:34–36 NKJV)
The Key Unveiled ~
Jesus’ response amounted to articulating a passage of Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18) that Jews, including Jesus Himself, repeated twice each day. It’s called the “Shema Prayer” (from the Hebrew word, Sh’ma, for “hear”, that begins the passage). It condenses everything God wants for us into a single command expressed in the context of two relationships. Together, they hold the key to the best that life can ever offer us.
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37–40 NKJV)
There you have it. We no longer have to wrestle with the “main thing” question. The ultimate authority in the universe has identified it for us. So, as our political running of the bulls begins again this fall, whatever we decide to do to respond to the crises and craziness plaguing our nation, one thing is clear. Our actions are to be constrained by one main objective, You shall love. There is potential for transformational power in Stephen Covey’s admonition when that command is the central focus of our heart and mind and the lens through which we view the primary relationships of our life.
So, Happy Labor Day, Everyone, and remember, The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing. Oh, while you’re at it, try not to get trampled in the stampede between now and November . . .
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “One thing is undeniable. The main things we often see as so vital don’t tend to stick around. They’re fickle, unreliable, unpredictable, and rarely deliver all that they seem to promise. Or maybe it isn’t the fickle, unreliable goals themselves; maybe it’s us.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “No admonitions or restrictions that God ordained were given because He wants to punish us, but rather to establish our peace, ensure our protection, promote prosperity, and enable relationships to experience the joy & happiness God intended.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “There you have it. We no longer have to wrestle with the “main thing” question. The ultimate authority in the universe has identified it for us. @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Our actions are to be constrained by one main objective: You shall love. There’s potential for transformational power when that command is the central focus of our mind & the lens thru which we view the primary relationships of our life.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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