I recently took family photos, which is always quite an endeavor: choosing sort-of matching outfits, making sure they’re pressed and ready to go, making sure the kids are clean-ish, making sure I’m clean-ish, and getting out the door on time! It’s always one of the most stressful things I inflict upon myself. As I took my (what feels like) annual shower in preparation for this portrait session, I was bemoaning my persistent baby weight to myself. I thought, “I’m not even close to where I want to be!”
As soon as those words popped into my head, another though followed, “…But I’m drinking milk.” What?! It’s a line from a commercial I haven’t seen in decades (P.S. it’s amazing what we remember sometimes). When I was younger, there was a series of milk commercials where kids who were scrawny and small talking to members of the opposite sex, a football coach, or even themselves in a mirror. They’d always say, “You look at me and see this, but I’m drinking milk. One day I’ll look like this.” Suddenly you’d see a picture of them in a few years. They’d be taller, stronger, and better looking.
As I readied myself for family picture day, thinking about what I wish were different, that line was an important reminder. I’m focused on where I am now, but a better focus is on where the choices I make today will take me in a year, five years, ten years. Change takes time. Instagram stories of before and after shots tell us it’s…well, instant. But that’s a lie. Change is made up of a thousand different choices that culminate in an “after.”
This is true for so many different kinds of endeavors. A rewarding career is typically built through day after day of persevering through not-so-great positions and bosses. A deep spiritual life is fashioned in countless mornings of time with God in his word and silently uttered prayers. Loving relationships are built through shared life experiences and meaningful conversations. Books are written one paragraph at a time. A 401K is built one deposit at a time. So many things happen painfully slowly, un-Instagram-worthy moments at a time.
As long as I focus on where I am and how far it is from where I wish I were, it’s overwhelming. I can easily fall into the trap of thinking this is where I will stay. Instead, when I focus on the steps I can take (have taken) today, I am encouraged that I’m on my way.
I’ve always assumed that Paul was only focused on running quickly when he said, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” However, he goes on to say, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Paul is talking about living with focus and purpose, knowing where you’re going and moving in that direction.
Later, as Paul is reflecting on his life, he says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful” (2 Timothy 4:7). Remaining faithful was the point. Of course, Paul isn’t focused on losing weight, building his 401K, or any other endeavor focused on this world, but on doing the work to which Jesus called him, (preaching the Gospel). He knew that endeavor is far more important than any of the other good things that can consume our attention.
What is your “drinking milk” in this season? What one small thing can you do today to move forward?
My prayer for you today is for perseverance. May you walk forward one step today in both the good things that will make this life better and the God things that affect the next. As you move towards the future, may it be intentional and prepare you for tomorrow’s steps.