Thirty Good Years

Being successful in the world takes one key ingredient.

Talent?  Yes, talent helps, but talent alone will get you only so far.  We all know of talented people who don’t end up being successful.  So is it status, money, luck, opportunity?  Well, all those things contribute to being successful, but even with all of those things, there is still one key ingredient missing.  Commitment.  Commitment is the key ingredient to success.  We see examples of this all around us.  Take the Beatles for instance.  The Beatles are one of the most successful rock and roll bands in the history of music, but did you know that before they ever hit the shores of America, John Lennon and Paul McCartney had been playing together for about seven years?  It was in 1960 when they played a gig in Hamburg, Germany.  And unlike other places they played at, in Hamburg they would play five to eight hours straight.  John once said in an interview about their time in Germany, “We got better and got more confidence.  We couldn’t help it with all the experience playing all night long…. In Liverpool, we’d only ever done one-hour sessions, and we just used to do our best numbers, the same ones, at every one.  In Hamburg, we had to play for eight hours, so we really had to find a new way of playing.”[1]  It was because of this large amount of time playing together, constantly finding new ways to challenge themselves and become better, that pushed them to a whole other level of talent and it was the difference between long-term success and short-lived fame.  It’s what made the Beatles into the Beatles instead of Dexy’s Midnight Runners.  Who is that you might be wondering?  Exactly.

01 Beatles
Did you know Paul and John played together for about seven years before The Beatles made it to America?

Malcolm Gladwell called this level of commitment the 10,000 Hour Rule. 

His theory is that it takes 10,000 hours honing your craft to be exceptional at whatever it is you’re doing.  Whether in sports, entertainment, or even in business, it’s that dedication to putting the hours in that makes the difference.  We often hear stories about our favorite ball players who are the first ones to practice and the last ones to leave.  We hear about superstars athletes who, even at the height of their game, will ask the coach to shag a few more fly balls, to stay late and keep working on their free throws, or to spend just a little more time studying film.  And Gladwell said it was the 10,000 Hour Rule that separated the average from the exceptional.  He put it this way, practice isn’t the thing you do ONCE you’re good.  It’s the thing you do to MAKE you good.  Practice isn’t the thing you do ONCE you’re good.  It’s the thing you do to MAKE you good.  And that’s true in every aspect of our lives – work, school, relationships, even our faith.  It takes commitment to become successful.

Commitment is something the Bible talks about as well.

The story of Ruth opens with a famine in the land of the Israelites and so Elimelek, his wife Naomi, and their two sons Mahlon and Kilion all move to the country of Moab to start a new life.  Eventually, and the Bible doesn’t tell us how long, but eventually Elimelek dies and Naomi is now a widower.  Her two sons marry Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth, but after about 10 years of marriage, both of Naomi’s sons die, too and now Naomi is all alone.  No husband or sons to take care of her and so she decides to return to Judah where she had heard that God had answered the prayers of the people and provided food.  But before she goes, she decides to release her daughters-in-law from their duty to her.  And that is where we pick up the story.

8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. 9 May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”

   Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

 11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me!”

 14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.

 15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

 16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” – Ruth 1:8-17

Ruth lived up to her Biblical namesake. One of the most dedicated people in our church when I served at Palm UMC, she was always willing to help. She is second from the right.

Ruth personifies the very essence of commitment.

She has every reason to leave.  Her prospects of staying with Naomi are not good. Ruth, being relatively young or at least young enough to find another husband, could have made a good life for herself had she gone back.  Without a husband and without other resources, Naomi was looking at possible starvation or at the very least a poor, tenuous life.  But instead, Ruth chooses to stay, even though Naomi, without a husband or sons, was without land and without property.  Naomi was essentially a nomad.  Ruth says to her though, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.”  This is the kind of commitment God seeks from us.  The kind that is faithful in both the good times and the bad, that sees things through and doesn’t give up.  It’s the kind of commitment we’re supposed to have toward God when the Bible tells us that we are to “love the Lord with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind (Matthew 22:37).”

But often we think of commitment as something negative.

Like a burden or an unwelcome task.  When we talk about commitment, we’re as likely to conjure up images of marriage as we are to being locked up in a mental institution.  It’s this kind of perception of “commitment” that makes us think of it as “lacking freedom.”  But the truth is commitment is the ultimate freedom because commitment is a choice.  Commitment is the ultimate freedom because commitment is a choice.  It’s a choice we make every day.  Like Ruth, we choose to stay in our relationships.  We choose to follow Christ.  We choose to follow our passions.  The problem is that in our disposable society we often choose NOT to commit to one another.  We choose instead to leave an escape hatch.  But when we always have one foot out the door, we are never really in it.  We’re never fully committed and thus we can never enjoy the fruits that come from commitment.

2018-05-25 - 16th Wedding Anniversary
Cassie and I on our 16th wedding anniversary!

In the book, have a little faith by Mitch Albom, Mitch and the rabbi talk about these fruits.

Mitch sees them in the relationship the Rabbi has with his wife, Sarah and talks to him about how they are truly a team.  They stick together through thick and thin.  Sarah would often joke with congregants and tell them, “I’ve had thirty wonderful years with my husband, and I’ll never forget the day we were married, November 3, 1944.”  “Wait…,” someone would say doing the math, “that’s way more than thirty years ago.”  “Right,” she would say. “On Monday, you get twenty great minutes, on Tuesday you get a great hour.  You put it all together, you get thirty great years.”  The Rabbi knew there was wisdom in his wife’s light-hearted joke.  He told Mitch.  “I think people expect too much from marriage today…They expect perfection.  Every moment should be bliss.  That’s TV or movies.  But that is not the human experience. Like Sarah says, twenty good minutes here, forty good minutes there, it adds up to something beautiful.  The trick is when things aren’t so great, you don’t junk the whole thing. It’s okay to have an argument.  It’s okay that the other one nudges you a little, bothers you a little.  It’s part of being close to someone.  But the joy you get from that same closeness – when you watch your children, when you wake up and smile at each other – that, as our tradition teaches us, is a blessing.  People forget that.” Why do they forget it? “Because the word ‘commitment’ has lost its meaning.  I’m old enough to remember when it used to be a positive.  A committed person was someone to be admired.  He was loyal and steady.  Now a commitment is something you avoid.  You don’t want to tie yourself down.  It’s the same with faith, by the way.  We don’t want to get stuck having to go to services all the time, or having to follow all the rules.  We don’t want to commit to God.  We’ll take Him when we need Him, or when things are going good.  But real commitment?  That requires staying power – in faith and in marriage.”  And if you don’t commit? I asked.  “Your choice.  But you miss what’s on the other side.”  What’s on the other side?  “Ah.” He smiled. “A happiness you cannot find alone.”

And that’s what commitment is all about.

Commitment is a happiness you cannot find alone.  Commitment is a happiness you cannot find alone.  That statement is true for marriages, for families, for friends, for faith, and for communities.  There is something about commitment to one another, a commitment to an idea or an ideal, that builds character, that helps us grow, that deepens our faith that we cannot find without it.  Commitment is a journey.  It sees us through difficulties and drives us to even greater success.  And when we commit to one another, whether that commitment is to a spouse, a friend, our families, our church or our God, we build a wealth of experiences that leads us to a happiness we cannot find alone.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, p.49.

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