Last Friday I go where few grown-ups have gone before: I attended our church youth group's small group.
Well, now I've made it sound like it was intimidating! I have a son who just turned 13, and he's involved, so it was totally legit for me to come (in fact, he asked me if I would). However, I do think that we adults can have a tendency to shy away from groups containing more than one or two teenagers at a time. Maybe we think that, I don't know, acne is contagious, or that they will call us "old bald person" or something (although the Bible tells us that if they do, God will avenge us... just kidding!) Anyway, the kids in the youth group at our church are the greatest kids ever; I actually enjoyed the evening quite a bit!
One of the things we did was a game where each team (we had three) was given a plain old can of soup, and we took it around the neighborhood, knocking on doors and asking to trade it for something. We could trade it for anything we were offered (well, anything except for a human or animal!) but the idea was to try to "trade up" - get something more valuable than what we were offering. The story is that in the past, teams who have played this game have traded up to quite valuable things, like cars. We didn't expect to get a car, but we did our best to get something cool!
My team actually had the most interesting story to tell when we got back. We traded our soup can for a real, whole pineapple. Then we traded the pineapple for a pretty cool CD carrying case; it was made of red plastic, and it could open on both ends and folded out like an accordion. We traded that for a ceramic statue of three ducks with an umbrella; the umbrella actually had a solar cell on top, and under the umbrella it was supposed to power a little light; we couldn't get the light to work. In our last trade, we got a racketball racket with good strings but a kind of sticky handgrip for the ducks. When we got back, the response from the other teams was, You had CERAMIC DUCKS, and you traded them for THAT??? Apparently, the other teams thought we had traded down on our last trade. The ducks were cool, and they might have won the game if another team hadn't traded up for a working Keurig coffee machine (!), but in my opinion, a racketball racket is actually useful. A broken duck lamp is not.
My wife likes to go to the grocery store on the weekends. I still don't really understand why she wants to do that and take up time we could be doing something as a family (or resting!) when she could go during the week while the kids are in school and I'm at work, but that's how she likes it so that's what we do. Usually she goes by herself, but sometimes for various reasons she asks me to go along. Now, I'm not going to lie to you and say that I'm happy to go or that I don't put up a fuss to get to stay home, but if she really wants me there, I go with her. I push the buggy sometimes, I load the stuff into the car, I take it up when I go home. She's my wife, and she needs me. I can afford an hour or two for that.
We have a friend named Danny Cahill. Now Danny is quite famous, but we did know him before he was in the public eye. In the autobiography he and his wife co-authored (it came out a few months ago), Danny talks about how as a young man he dreamed of being a professional musician, but because of some errant ideas he was taught growing up, he believed that when he got married and wanted to start a family, he needed to give up those dreams and (basically) "get a real job." When he gave up his dreams, he gave up on himself, and wound up weighing 460 pounds with a crushing gambling habit. (After years of struggling with his weight, he scored a spot on season eight of "The Biggest Loser", a "reality" game show in which very overweight people compete to lose the most weight in a certain number of weeks. Danny lost 239 pounds and won the show!)
The point of the game we played in the youth meeting was to think about making trades. The team who wound up with the coffee maker obviously traded up from a can of soup. We and the other team (who ended up with a case of bottled water) traded up too, but most of the teens thought we had gone backwards with the racketball racket. After everyone told the group about their adventures, we discussed the story about Esau trading his birthright (the right to become the head of his clan after the death of his father) to his younger father for nothing more valuable than a single meal at the end of a long day. It's pretty clear that Esau did NOT "trade up." We talked about making choices that we later discovered (or knew all along) amounted to trading something valuable for something less valuable - choosing to hang out with friends at the expense of studying for an important test in school, choosing an exciting-but-no-good boyfriend/girlfriend over a better-but-less-flashy one, and so on. Teenager-level stuff.
But later I got to thinking about things that happen to adults. Danny had traded the most valuable thing a person can have, a dream that gives them a reason to get out of bed in the morning, for a lie. Later, he traded that lie, which had brought him to a point where he was so unhealthy that he was very likely to die young, for the truth that hard work can lead to extreme results; in the process he got his health back, and he even got to play a song he had written on national television. Now Danny is a recording artist and a motivational speaker; look him up on Facebook sometime!
I haven't done anything that extreme, but I have given up little things for what seems at first like a lesser reward. Giving up my Friday night, for example, for the opportunity to go tromping around a neighborhood trading soup cans for ducks. Trading part of my weekend afternoon to push a shopping cart around for my wife. Even giving up my chance to watch a TV show I like so my kids can play a video game, or not buying some electronic gadget I've got my eye on to pay for dance lessons for my daughter or a band trip for my son. As a married person and as a parent, there are so many things that you sacrifice, knowingly and without hesitation, and it doesn't feel like a sacrifice at all; it's just what a parent does. Danny does that too; I know his wife and his children, and he would do anything for those guys. But Danny went one step too far: he sacrificed a destiny God had given him for the sake of a picture of a family man that was not what God intended for him. If he were standing here right now, I know he would tell you that was the wrong choice. Some things, things from God, should not be sacrificed.
Don't get the wrong idea: I do not think that an adult should sacrifice his family on the altar of his career either. After your personal relationship with God, your career should take distant fourth place to your spouse and to your kids. But if God has put something in your heart, God knows how to make it happen without causing suffering for your family. In fact, if you are honestly chasing God's plan for you and for your family, they will flourish because of it.
Don't trade something precious for something hollow. Plan your course, but let the Lord order your steps. When you do, every trade will turn out in the end to have been a trade up!