I live in a town where people come to die.
My home is in a medium-sized city in SW Florida that most people don’t know much about. But lots of people come here to retire. Some of those folks are wealthy, like Judge Judy and Sean Hannity who’ve both got places here. Others are less well-known but have even more money.
Me? I’m here all year, but I’m not retired. I’m a pastor, and I moved here to minister to these folks. And watching them and how they live their lives has taught me a lot about what matters.
Basically, I’ve learned there’s a mindset that overtakes some people when they retire. Unfortunately, it’s an attitude I want to avoid about the same way I’d avoid the Ebola virus.
I met Bill (not his real name) at the coffee shop on 5th Avenue yesterday. He’s a guy in his 50s who moved down here from up north, and has a similarly dry sense of humor as mine. Oh, and on a random note, he says he’s had a couple of brain traumas in the past…
This could explain our similarities.
He’s been trying to get to know people over the four or so years he’s lived here. He’d hoped God could use those relationships as a Christian witness to others. So far, he’s meeting people but they are still a bit stand-offish.
The other week he went back to his hometown up north. He told me about sitting in a diner with old friends, and then more folks arrived. Conversations ensued, people laughed: you know, fun but nothing earth-shattering. But with that brief encounter, he now feels like he’s missing something.
I just don’t feel that here…anywhere I go. Everyone seems so remote.
Well, I know why he can’t find it here. It has to do with the reason many people come here to Florida in the first place. Please re-read the first sentence of this article and pause afterward for dramatic effect…
People often move here to get away from something – their career, problems, responsibilities, conflicts. So they distance themselves from family and friends and go to a place where few people know them. They spend most of their time now trying to have fun and live “the good life”.
So Bill shouldn’t be surprised when it’s harder to find “community” here: you know, that whole “Andy Griffith Show” thing where we are connected to our neighbors and love everyone in spite of their goofiness. People arrive here thinking they’ve earned the right to spend their retirement playing golf, sampling the latest restaurant, and trying to be entertained. But connectivity and community are commodities in much lesser supply than the golf balls and sunscreen.
So is it any wonder when we spend so much focus on ourselves that life seems more and more meaningless? And the more we try to live for ourselves, the more entitled to enjoyment we feel…and the grumpier we get.
Why? Because life was never meant to be lived for yourself. You will simply not find happiness or joy spending all your time seeking YOUR OWN happiness and joy. It works quite the opposite to that.
It’s funny, but I think we all know intuitively that being selfish jerks should not make us happy. We see “human interest” stories on the news stuffed with statistics about how people who spend their lives helping others are the most fulfilled people ever. And the more we spend our money on ourselves and seek endless entertainment, the more unsatisfied we become.
That’s because selfishness is a drug. The first hit of a drug feels awesome, but that’s just to get you hooked. Then you keep coming back wanting the same feeling, but the thrill lessens every time. So you naturally think increased selfishness is the answer, and stuff yourself full of yourself like a pig who eats himself to death.
Yesterday, my wife was shopping in the local grocery store. The aisles were crowded with people and their shopping carts. Suddenly, an older gentleman decided he needed to get down to the other end of the aisle, and he wasn’t going to wait. So he proceeded the push his way down the crowded aisle, literally ramming each cart on his way down. My wife had our two toddlers in her cart, and she was stunned as he slammed into her in his own version of “bumper cars”!
No wonder people are so angry around us – they’re on withdrawals from a drug called self, and each extra dose leaves them less fulfilled.
SHOPPING AS RECREATIONAL SPORT
I eavesdropped on two older guys downtown one Friday, drinking coffee together. The first guy said, “You know, I buy a new car every two years. Even if nothing’s wrong with the old one, I just like the fun of a new vehicle.”
Then the guy across from him said, “Hey, I just bought a new sports car on Tuesday,”
“Really? What’s it like?”
“Well, it’s OK, I guess…” He looked blankly into the distance and stared for a few seconds. “To be honest, I drove it home and haven’t gotten it back out since…” So the car had now sat in his garage for 3 days, untouched.
As we live this way, an uneasy feeling grows within us because we know we’re missing something. But we keep mistaking what that “something” is. We think it’s some event or activity we’re missing out on. It’s that new sample they’re serving up at Costco, and it must be wonderful because everyone else is gathered around it.
So we line up with the rest, eat several helpings, and wonder why we still feel empty.
The Bible warns us against living these kinds of lives: a hollow existence where we do the same selfish, meaningless things all the other purposeless people are doing, but never find happiness. We waste what’s left of our lives, slipping coins into that brightly colored gumball machine that never puts out, thinking this time we’ll get lucky. And time keeps running out…
“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” – Ephesians 5:15-16
One couple from my church came to me a couple of weeks ago to announce they wee selling their house. I immediately worried they were moving away, but they assured me that wasn’t the case. Instead, they’d decided to downsize.
“We just realized we were both working full-time jobs to pay for the house and all the stuff in it. But none of it gave us any pleasure. So if we sell it all and get a small apartment, we won’t have to be working all the time and will be able to do more for the Lord and serving other people. We’ll have more to give away and be tied down less.”
I suppose I kind of looked stunned when they told me all this, because I didn’t see it coming. Sure, I’d preached on living your life to serve God, and they had also been fostering children like we do. But this was a bold, extreme step God had led them to with no coaxing from me. And it stands in stark contrast to the way most other people in our area live their lives.
In the end, I guess it comes down to who you really trust. You can trust God when He tells you, “I take care of the lilies of the field, so I’ll certainly take care of you”. You can trust Him when He says, “Try to save your life and you’ll lose it, but give it away and you’ll find it”. Or you can trust the man ramming my wife’s grocery cart, and the two men who buy cars just to try to keep themselves amused.
Look in their eyes and watch their frantic, joyless lives. Watch as they climb over each other for just one more sample at Costco, elbowing and jabbing the ones next to them to fight their way to the front of the line.
“So shall the last be first, and the first be last…” – Matthew 20:16
Maybe just because everyone else’s lined up there doesn’t mean it’s the right line. Maybe they’re just following the crowd too, never realizing that line where everyone’s pushing and shoving only leads to an abyss.