Lily Tomlin has won two Tony Awards, a Grammy, and six Emmys. Her net worth is estimated at $215 million.
Has it been enough to give her life significance? The comic once quipped, "All my life, I've wanted to be somebody, but now I see I should have been more specific." She also made this astute observation: "If I had known what it would be like to have it all, I might have been willing to settle for less."
Success is not significance. What we have is not what we are. You've never seen a U-Haul attached to a hearse. As John Ortberg notes, "When the game is over, it all goes back into the box."
The question is: When our lives are over, will they have mattered?
In A Minute of Margin, physician Richard Swenson quotes William Law, an eighteenth-century British theologian: "If you attempt to talk with a dying man about sports or business, he is no longer interested. He now sees other things as more important. People who are dying recognize what we often forget, that we are standing on the brink of another world."
Then Swenson takes us back to New York City, 8:46 AM on September 11, 2001. When the airplane struck the first tower, those on the 103rd floor knew they would likely not survive. Whom did they call? Their spouses, children, best friends, pastors and priests and rabbis.
Swenson notes: "Imminent death has a commanding power to straighten life's priorities with a jolt. At such dramatic moments, people suddenly realize that priorities matter." He adds: "Misplaced busyness leads to terminal regrets. If we don't move to establish and then guard that which matters most, the breathless pace of daily overload will blind us to eternal priorities, until one day we too stand at such a window and look down. Perhaps with regret."
He closes with this question: "If that were you on the 103rd floor, what would have been important? Live it. Don't hide behind the excuse of overload. Daily make space in your life for the things that matter most."
How? By spending time with the only One who knows how to turn daily life into eternal legacy.
When Jesus' disciples returned from their first missionary trip (Mark 6:7–13), he said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while" (v. 31a). Mark explains: "For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat" (v. 31b).
You and I need that "desolate place" as well. C. S. Lewis noted that we live in "a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship." In a culture that measures leaders by busyness, we need the balance of hard work and soul work.
It is vital that we seek excellence to honor our Lord: "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). But it is also vital that we work with the power of the Spirit available only to those who submit to him. Paul combined both priorities well: "For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me" (Colossians 1:29).
In 11 Genetic Gateways to Spiritual Awakening, Leonard Sweet quotes Charles Wesley:
Unite the pair so long disjoin'd,
Knowledge and vital piety;
Learning and holiness combin'd,
And truth and love let all men see.
Charles and his brother John were passionate about excellence. John Wesley followed this reading plan: Monday and Tuesday were devoted to studying the Classics; Wednesday was for ethics and logic; Thursday was for Hebrew and Arabic; Friday was for philosophy and metaphysics; Saturday was for poetry and rhetoric; Sunday was for theology.
Wesley once listed 580 books he read over nine years and found particularly useful. He wrote more than 5,000 works and preached more than 40,000 sermons. But he also warned: "Beware you not be swallowed up in books! An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge."
Lily Tomlin learned what many leaders need to discover: you can only "have it all" when God has all of you. That's why we need both knowledge and piety, learning and holiness. We need a passion for excellence combined with a passion for Jesus.
To find both, spend time today with the One who is both all-knowing and all-loving. His will never leads where his grace cannot sustain.