Finish the Work

My daughter is many wonderful things, and determined in certainly one of them (some might say “strong willed”).

As a toddler we read to her often and she adored books.  When she was three I was sitting on the couch watching TV and she toddled in.  She stood between me and my TV program, held up Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss and said, “Daddy, teach me how to read!”  How could I turn down such a noble demand?

I pulled her up into my lap, opened Hop on Pop and began to explain that certain letters always make the same sound.  “For example,” I said, “This here is the letter ‘P’.  Whenever you see that letter it makes a popping sound. Pah…pah…pah.”  This impromptu reading lesson was very brief.  Not surprisingly, in less than a minute my 3-year old slipped off my lap and sulked away, disappointed that reading takes longer than one minute to learn and required her rapt attention.

The desire was there, for she loved books and desperately wanted to read, but the willingness to put in the time and effort to achieve that goal was noticeably absent.

Isn’t this a perfect picture of our sad human nature?  We desperately want something but we often fail at execution.  This surplus of dreams and corresponding dearth of discipline to achieve them is a plague on the human condition.  If you want proof, just look around on New Year’s Day.  On this day of fresh starts so many of us “resolve” to finally do that thing that has eluded us for all the previous years (to lose weight, to get out of debt, to read the Bible every day, to clean the garage, to quit smoking, to earn a degree, etc.).  If we didn’t have a chronic problem achieving our dreams, we wouldn’t need to make the same New Year’s resolutions every year.

The Bible even speaks to our penchant to leave great things unfinished.  2 Corinthians 8:11 (NIV) says, “Finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.”  Great advice, Paul, but exactly how do we ‘Finish the work’?

I have no magic formula for instantly solving this curse upon the human condition.  My advice, however, is to prioritize what you CAN do.  I regularly step back from my life, identify what can be done within a reasonable amount of time (like finally starting this blog page!) and attack those things that you are willing and able to knock out now.  This generates the momentum of accomplishment, and that kind of momentum can energize you to accomplish even more.  As leadership guru, Dr. John C. Maxwell says, “Winning starts with beginning.”  So just find a dream and get started!

By the way, my remarkable little girl did teach herself how to read within a year of our aborted reading lesson.  She finally decided she wanted it badly enough to put forth the effort and my determined toddler got it done.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I must get off the Internet and go clean out the garage.