33 years and 33 thoughts

Here are 33 thoughts for my 33rd birthday. These are some of the ideas that have been in my head over the past year. You could think of it as instructions to my younger self. But it’s not merely that, as a great deal of it is just what occupied my mind this past year. A great deal of it will come across as didactic, but my job is telling people how to find their best self and giving them steps to get to it, so I don’t care.

  1. Learn the difference between what you can control and what you cannot and meticulously curate your inner life around recognizing that distinction. I have years and years of bad habits of thought based around, not taking responsibility for things beyond my control, but feeling responsible for them. There is a difference. One can choose to maintain or repair a car (taking responsibility), one cannot choose when accidents or natural disasters occur (for which one might feel responsible and therefore sad, anxious, whatever).
  2. Every moment is a gift. I’ve never suffered the way some have suffered. But my life has had it’s share of intense physical anguish as well as long term constant, dull, depressing, and demotivating pain, interrupted by bouts of intense discomfort. The idea that some events are truly evil and ought not be is difficult to reconcile with every moment being a gift, but both are true and until you learn to see things this way, it’s easy to be miserable with your lot, especially the moments beyond your control.
  3. Read broadly and carefully. Sometimes I go through phases of rushing through books and skim reading. It’s such times that I’m reading too much and should slow down.
  4. But don’t read all the time. Sometimes you need to engage in actual thought, not guided by another, and consider an issue. As a young man I discovered the cosmological argument this way sitting in a parking lot by myself staring at the night sky from the back of a truck before I ever heard of Aquinas or Aristotle.
  5. Unless your goal is to be an academic who writes often, don’t read about everything that interests you. There is only so much time and the world needs doers, not just thinkers.
  6. If you’re a Christian who can read, there is no excuse to not read the Bible daily, especially the Psalms, Proverbs, and the Gospels.
  7. If you’re a Christian who is especially interested in studying the Bible at a young age, do not let a youth minister convince you that this is a good time to consider Bible college.
  8. With that in mind, one should never major in something the purpose of which is to automatically be “in charge” of others or an institution upon leaving college. Either go right to work or major in something that forces you to acquire concrete skills for helping others.
  9. Along the same lines, if you’re sure that you were called into the ministry, major in something definitely helpful to others (maybe even trade school) and take some Greek/Hebrew courses to help you understand the Bible. Then go to church for a few years as an adult rather than figuring Bible college taught you everything (which is didn’t) and that you have the best ideas (you don’t) with which to remake a church in your image. The same is true among secular people who major in activist fields. Ayaan Hirsi Ali said it best, “Many students comes to me full of wonderful intentions hoping to change the world; they plan to spend their time helping the poor and disadvantaged. I tell them first to graduate and make a lot of money, and only then figure out how best to help those in need. Too often students can’t meaningfully help the disadvantaged now, even if it makes them feel good for trying to. I have seen so many former students in their late 30s and 40s struggling to make ends meet. They spent their time in college doing good rather than building their careers and futures. I warn students today to be careful how they spend their precious time and to think carefully about when it is the right time to help. It’s a well-worn cliché, but you have to help yourself before you help others. This is too often lost on idealistic students.”
  10. Take care of your body when you’re young. I lifted weights, ran, and did martial arts but frequently ate food that was affordable rather than healthy. I’m still paying for doing that trade incorrectly even now, despite having a low body fat percentage and remaining strong.
  11. Don’t make drinking “your thing.” I never did this, but I observed and known many who did. I’ve seen folks post on online that they drank themselves into a stupor over a political election (see point one again).
  12. Don’t make politics “your thing.” Human are inherently tribal. How you vote has effects on your tribe. So be educated, but your tribe is your thing. The last thing you need to do is alienate yourself from people near to you (you can control this) because you’re concerned about events you cannot control. It’s okay to be involved in politics, but politics on the grand scale is not your family or your tribe. Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness. This means the wellbeing of the church around you (that’s what his kingdom is) and the highest standard of character you can imagine for yourself (based on God’s word, of course).
  13. Always have people in your life you can look to as teachers, examples, companions, and beneficiaries.
  14. On the other hand, be careful of having somebody become “your guy” that you go to for your thought. One can learn a lot from Jordan Peterson, but he’s wrong about a lot of things. One can learn a lot from Aristotle, but he’s wrong about a lot of things.
  15. If you want to avoid the deceitfulness of riches, spend a period of time seriously studying money, learning to save, manage accounts, and invest. By learning that money is a means that can be manipulated by choices, lost instantly, and has no intrinsic value can help you avoid making it a life goal, lifestyle, or a god.
  16. Build your career before you build your house. Pay for the lessons before the television, plant your crops before you paint the bedroom, and learn your craft before you buy your wine (Proverbs 24:27).
  17. Get your sense of offense under control. Like the poem says, “IF you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise…” People will do bad things do you, but it’s no reason to lose emotional or moral control.
  18. Don’t waste your time with toxic people. For some, especially Christians, this can feel judgmental. But if you’re not somebody’s pastor, counselor, or parent there’s very little you could realistically do by letting them waste your time. It “feels like” ministry or service to let folks like this waste your time, but it’s really a desire to not be known for hurting people’s feelings. You wouldn’t wear ugly clothes if they were lying around, you wouldn’t drink nasty water if it was in your favorite cup, you probably wouldn’t eat garbage food if you found it in your fridge. Why would you spend time with somebody who is corrosive to your character and goals?
  19. Write every day, but don’t make it public. Writing helps your thoughts get to a place where you can examine them. Make task lists. Write ideas. It’s worthwhile. I keep a pocket notebook and when I turn a page I write “Ideas” on the left page and “tasks” on the right with the date in the middle. This way I can write down anything that comes to mind or needs to be finished before I relax in the evening.
  20. It’s stupid not to believe in God. From a risk-assessment angle, this is obvious. But it’s also true from a Platonic point of view. But just as stupid as it is not to believe in God it is also stupid not to show gratitude (see above). The problem for many people is that they attempt to have gratitude for being, consciousness, and bliss but they cannot because they do not think of God as the giver of all three.
  21. Your perceptions are part of the whole of reality, but they may not reflect reality outside of your head. Judge them accordingly.
  22. Jesus retired by 30, started a second career as an itinerant preacher, theologian, philosopher, and folk healer. But by 30 he was a master of his religious traditions and apparently had resources aplenty for his mother, brothers, and sisters to be cared for. He also had a reputation for his craft as a he traveled about. There’s a lesson in this.
  23. God is the source of all discrete entities. God is also the unity between them. God is distinct from all discrete entities. All discrete entities obtain their existence by relying on God. By creating, the God in whom all things have their being becomes a being among beings. Nature not only implies the existence of God. Nature herself implies the fact of God’s incarnation.
  24. While I mentioned caring for your family and tribe above, it’s important to have a big vision (I know, that involves some politics). Think about the whole of civilization. Having a child makes you care more about your tribe and family but also the larger future. Caring about where you leave your shopping cart and whether you throw garbage on the road is a prerequisite to inventing the space program and modern medical science.
  25. Having a child makes it easier for you to be unexpectedly harsh with people or animals that may be a threat.
  26. Having a child makes it easier for you to show compassion to very unappealing people because you see the chain of cause and effect from bad parenting, circumstances, and genetics.
  27. When you get older you’re fine with apparent inconsistencies like this.
  28. Family devotions make life all the sweeter. It’s sad when I find out that people have never had such an experience.
  29. Having a weekly or bi-weekly marriage meeting is a powerful experience because it depersonalizes some of the challenges of marriage and creates an “official time/space” for problem solving and planning without fighting. It also creates a time to revisit specific moments for which you appreciate each other.
  30. Masculinity and femininity are real, even if expressed differently in different people. Learn these polarities in yourself and in your partner. Don’t let people treat you as though you’re what you aren’t. Don’t treat your wife like one of the guys. Don’t expect your husband to be a perfect lady.
  31. Starting without a plan is way better than never starting anything. My whole life I’ve liked to plan everything I do with minute detail. But for larger projects with many moving parts these detailed plans remain unfinished and the project remains unfinished or worse, never started. It also increases the cost of obstacles. When one plans too thoroughly, roadblocks become irrecoverable.
  32. The Internet is filled with pointless rabbit holes. If you love knowledge, you can find a reason to distract yourself from any computerized project. It’s important to use a timer when you get online. On the one hand, I learned to manage my arthritis, improved my Greek and Hebrew, cured my heartburn, and learned options trading using the Internet. On the other hand, I know too much trivia about favorite movies, old video games, dead programming languages, unusual conspiracy theories (a favorite hobby of mine), and meaningless intra-blogger drama.
  33. Time is limited but every moment can be redeemed. This is Paul’s testimony. It is also the wisdom of the Psalms. Jesus died at 33, taking responsibility for the moral and spiritual evils of the entire human race. And I think that subjective and objective meaning can be found in life to the degree that a man takes responsibility for things. That’s how we redeem the time. We take ownership of its passing and the events that float upon its surface into our sphere.

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