Last week, I mentioned two principles for discerning when our intermission is over and how we can prepare for a successful second act in life. First, Say good-bye to regrets. A runner can never expect to win a race while looking back at ground he has already covered. Second, Pay attention to seasonal changes. Jacob had worked for his uncle Laban for twenty years. Jacob’s story involved returning to the Promised Land, reconciling with his estranged brother, Esau, and renewing his commitment to God. Jacob saw the attitude of Laban, and “behold, it was not friendly toward him as formerly” (Gen 31:2). Instead of becoming bitter over his uncle’s unexpected and sudden hostility toward him, Jacob discerned that God was using that change in attitude to move him and his family back to their home so they could experience a new beginning.
Today, I have three more principles.
Deliver your second act script
I frequently encounter people-especially Christians-who are skeptical of planning. “Who knows the future?” or “Shouldn’t we just trust God?” are some common objections to writing out a detailed plan to overcome a failure. The Bible continually emphasizes the value of planning: “Commit your works to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (Prov 16:3). “Prepare plans by consultation, and make war by wise guidance” (Prov 20:18). “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty” (Prov 21:5).
Obviously, any plans we make can be overridden by God. He always has the final say in every aspect of our lives. However, the reality of God’s sovereignty does not negate the value of planning for our second act. I suggest you get a legal tablet and spend half a day writing out your second-act script.
The plan you develop should include four essential components: Clarification of the problem. In a word or a phrase, write down the failure from which you are trying to recover, such as divorce, financial insolvency, wrong career choice, or termination. For this exercise, let’s assume you have experienced a financial disaster that has left you with insufficient funds to meet your current and future needs.
Visualization of the goal. In a sentence, describe your desired outcome for this problem. For example, “I would like to have enough money so I don’t have to constantly worry about finances” is both a worthy and a biblical goal. The writer of Proverbs prayed, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feel me with the food that is my portion” (Prov 30:8). He understood that having too little money might cause him to steal and having too much might cause him to forget his need for God. How would you summarize your ideal financial situation?
Identification of the obstacles. What barriers are keeping you from your intended goal? List the obstacles that must be overcome before you can experience your desired outcome during your second act. For example, if your problem is financial, your list of obstacles might include: Maxed-out credit card, Insufficient monthly income, No savings for children’s college or my retirement.
Specification of action steps. Once you have identified the obstacles to your goal, write down specific action steps you can take to remove those obstacles. For example, under “insufficient monthly income” you might specify several ways to improve your cash flow each month, including reducing your expenses, finding a high paying job, or securing a second job. Each of those ideas may generate additional steps, such as turning down the thermostat, switching to a cheaper
long-distance carrier, checking on different job possibilities with friends in your industry, or developing a plan to ask your employer for a raise. Ideally, your second-act script will contain a number of specific action steps you can take right now to ensure a successful new beginning.
Learn to travel in a fog
We need to learn how to drive in the fog. It would be nice if we could see our future with perfect clarity. We could plan more intelligently. We could move forward in our plans with greater speed and confidence. Collisions with adverse circumstances and people would be rare. Obviously, no one can know the future except God. Nevertheless, some people refuse to act until the fog lifts and they have a perfect view of what lies ahead. So they wait...and wait...and wait. If we are going to experience a great second act, we must learn to travel in the fog.
Moving forward with limited visibility requires.Beth, a recently divorced mother of three, had not worked outside the home in twenty years. When a friend offered to recommend her for a job, she hesitated to accept the offer. She barely knew how to turn on a computer and doubted she possessed the stamina to work forty hours a week and still care for her children. But Beth was tired of having to refuse her children’s every request for clothes, makeup, or special treats. She hated staying home by herself every day and reliving the mistakes of her twenty-year marriage. Only because she couldn’t stand her situation any longer did she take the job.
What is it in your life that you “can’t stands no more?” Working at that dead-end job? Living alone? Worrying about your finances? You will never be willing to travel in the fog of uncertainty until you feel a desperate need to move beyond your present circumstances.
Once you are motivated to launch your second act, you are ready to move forward. If your visibility is limited, you can move slowly and cautiously, just as you would while driving in a fog. The important thing is to start moving. The apostles and the early church did not always do everything correctly. They made mistakes. They didn’t get everything right. No one, not even the apostles, had a perfect understanding.
Many of us want a map, but what we get is a compass. We are not given a detailed outline of how we should live each day. On this journey one thing becomes certain: when you move forward on what you know, things become clearer. When you refuse to act, what you do not know paralyzes you.
Fortunately, we have God who can see through the fog. Once we sense He is leading us to begin our second act, we can take that first step with the assurance of His protection as we keep moving forward. When Moses and the Israelites left Egypt, they marched toward the Promised Land, but there was the Red Sea. When the Egyptians in hot pursuit behind them, they lamented and complained about their dilemma. Then God commanded Moses, “Tell the sons of Israel to go forward” (Ex 14:15). It was no sense to them. But God miraculously parted the waters so the israelites could pass through the Red Sea. Only when Israel made it to the other side, did God close the sea and destroy the Egyptians who pursued them.
Appreciate the importance of now
Television interviewer Barbara Walters was once asked about the greatest lesson she had ever learned. “In life there are no dress rehearsals,” she replied. No dress rehearsals and no repeat performances. Once the Divine Director gives us the cue, the time to begin our second act is now.
We humans, whom the Bible describes as vapors that appear for a little while and then vanish, squander time. Yet the eternal God, who exists from everlasting to everlasting, values time. To us, time is limitless. To God, time is priceless. Our opportune time to begin is tomorrow. God’s favorite time is today: “This is the day which the Lord has made” (Ps 118:24). “But encourage one another...as long as it is called ‘Today’” (Heb 3:13). “Today if you hear My voice...” (Heb 3:7). Has some significant weather vane in your life turned? Have you sensed God’s signaling you that it’s time to begin your second act? If so, stop waiting until... your kids are grown, your mortgage is gone, your future is certain, your hurts have healed. God has given you no guarantee of a tomorrow. And the past is gone forever. All you have is today.
A sign on a businessman’s desk asks, “In twenty years what will you wish you had done today?” Somehow I believe you already know how you would answer that question. Why have any regrets twenty years from now? Why delay taking that first step that is so clear? “Today if you hear His voice...” The lights are dimming; the orchestra is tuning; the director is giving you the cue. The time to begin your second act is now.