A Really Hard Thing to Do

I landed on Mars the other day after a long, 6-month journey and boy let me tell you, that was not easy! The trip took six months and ended with what our NASA engineers call the “Seven Minutes of Terror:” slowing down from 12,300 miles per hour to zero in just over six minutes as my spaceship came burning through the Martian atmosphere, slowed only by fiery friction.

Okay, while I wish I could say it really was me (yes, I confess I’m still an astronaut wanna be), it was my name that landed on Mars, on board the NASA InSight Martian probe which touched down on Mars this past Monday. One of my kids gave me a unique Christmas present last year when they arranged for my name–along with just over 2.5 million others’–to be etched onto a microchip onboard the spacecraft. It’ll be the closest thing I ever get to landing on Mars, so I think that’s pretty cool.

Whether or not I actually got to go on the trip, it’s a pretty incredible thing that we human beings are able to do things like send a probe to Mars, with such frequency that some may not even have heard that we just did it. But just because it’s become ordinary doesn’t make it any less difficult. Engineers struggled for years on the design process, aerospace companies painstakingly built the probe and all of our minds would be blown by the science, engineering, and logistics it took to pull off such a feat. Thousands of people worked to make this happen, each one putting in all kinds of crazy hours, with each hour containing strenuous, challenging efforts. And this was an unmanned mission.

NASA announced recently that a new round of astronaut candidates are being sought to fly in the next generation spacecraft that NASA is currently testing, to shuttle astronauts to the International Space Station, to return us once again to the Moon and yes, perhaps even take humans to Mars. When those astronaut candidates get the call that they have been selected, their lives immediately change in every way. They enter into one of the most rigorous training programs anyone endures and put out monumental efforts to prepare themselves for space travel and living in the micro-gravity environment of space. Space travel, whether manned or unmanned, is tough stuff and those involved in it make incredible sacrifices to make it happen.

While I will confess that I am more than a little jealous when I see new astronauts selected and I’m not one of them, it’s also good reminder to me about efforts I am willing to make–and all too often unwilling–in other areas of my real life. If you were to ask me what my answer would be if I were somehow offered a spot in the next class of astronauts, I would answer with a resounding, “Yes!!” Understanding the hundreds of hours of physical training, the thousands of pages of preparation materials to study and comprehend, and the risks still inherent with space travel, I would jump at the chance!

But at the same time, if you ask me what’s most important in my life I would answer with the three “F’s:” Faith, Family, Friends. And this is where the humbling realization hits me, bringing me back down to earth. If I would be willing to sacrifice all manner of things in my life for a trip to Mars, why do I make such feeble efforts in the things that I say matter most to me? I fail way too often in my commitment to be with God whether through prayer, or by increasing my focus on him through fasting, or by loving the least of His brethren. I have huge improvements to make in my role as a husband, father, son and brother. And most of the friends that are important to me are the same ones I too often fail to make the time for.

Maybe you’re like me and some of these failings sound familiar. And maybe you’re also like me in that you’re really good at guilt-tripping yourself about your failings. Well, I think I have a better idea what to do with our time and energy. If I were to get my fantasy phone call selecting me as an astronaut, I know I would do everything I could to make it happen. But instead of guilt-tripping myself about what I don’t do about the things that are more important to me, I’m going to pour some of that hypothetical commitment into my real life. If I take just a fraction of the energy that I would put into my astronaut training and put that effort to my life as a Christian, a member of my family and a friend, I would make huge improvements and all those areas of my life. So that’s what I’m going to do.

What about you? What’s your fantasy phone call? Is it an invitation to join the coaching staff of your college football team? A place on the next Ryder Cup team? CEO of a corporation? Maybe it’s a little less fantasy-like: maybe it’s a date with that special guy or girl you’ve been thinking about, or having another child, or an accepted offer on a house you never thought you could get. And what would you do if you got the call? Think of the new efforts and challenges you’d be taking on if any of those possibilities came to be. Today I’m inviting you to join me in channeling just a portion of that energy into the real-life situations that we’ve been wanting to do better at, and are already happening. Maybe those other things will come, maybe they won’t, but in the meantime we have life as it is.

Yes, life is hard for all of us but let’s be honest: we all make it harder than it needs to be, and we all have reserves of time, energy and strength that we would definitely put into responding to the fantasy phone calls that we’ll probably never get, or even the real-life, heartbreaking situations we sometimes face. But meanwhile, while we wait and hope, real life is calling. Our real-life challenges await the improvements we can all make if we realize even a bit more of the potential God has given us.

My name in a microscopic etching may be the closest I ever get to Mars. And that’s OK because God gives us all the strength to accept the reality He allows us, given in His loving Providence. And it’s even better than just “OK” because the reserves of time and effort I would expend if given that opportunity can best be spent in the opportunities He has given me, right here and right now. Let’s all tap into those reserves and enjoy the abundant life waiting for all of us when we use those reserves for the life He’s given us.  “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”–John 10:10