The Cat’s in the Cradle

by Andy Wood on September 7, 2009

in Executing Your Plan, Five LV Laws, Life Currency, LV Cycle, Principle of Legacy, Time

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

-Harry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle”

reading letterHe’s an old man now.  His physical vision is virtually gone; his heartbeat will soon follow.  His spiritual vision?  That’s another story.  It’s still bright and filled with fire and hope.  But it’s a vision that now sees through the eyes of other men.  He has no children of his own, but does have a relationship with a man who may as well be.  He’s one of those blessed individuals who knows his time is up, and who faces eternity with no regrets.  And now he writes the man he calls his son in the faith.  His future looks bright; he can only pray the same for Tim. 

Stand steady, and don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Bring others to Christ. Leave nothing undone that you ought to do. I say this because I won’t be around to help you very much longer. My time has almost run out. Very soon now I will be on my way to heaven. I have fought long and hard for my Lord, and through it all I have kept true to him. And now the time has come for me to stop fighting and rest (2 Timothy 4:5-7, LB).

 A decade before I became a father myself, Harry Chapin sucker-slapped dads everywhere.  His “Cat’s in the Cradle” reminded dads that catching the plane wasn’t nearly as important as catching a baseball with your son – that ending your life with no regrets makes a father far wealthier than ending it with no debts.  It spoke to me as a high school sophomore who, as long as I could remember, had hoped to have kids of my own.  It continues to speak to me now, at “halftime,” deeply wanting to leverage my life, knowing I can redeem the time, but I can’t relive it.

So I look to this old man in prison, who has danced with death for years.  And for a little while, I’m Timothy.  I’m the preacher-boy he believes in – the one in whom he has invested his teaching, his leadership, his life, and now his last recorded words.  I look at Paul with wonder.  How do you do that?  How do you maximize every moment so powerfully?  How do you avoid so easily the things that seem to push me around at will?  And there in his charge I see them – the red flags to watch for.  The handles that Satan uses to tempt me now, and torture me later.  Armed well, alerted, and faithful to follow through, I can invest in my legacy, my eternity, and my lifetime to finish well.  Steve Farrar  says it simply:  Don’t screw up.  This exhortation to Timothy provides some specifics – six red flags to help you avoid regrets.

Unawake Minds

“But as for you, keep a clear head about everything,” Paul said (2 Timothy 4:5, HCS).  That’s easier said than done.  We live in a world that gladly offers to do our thinking for us, to numb us from our pain, and to entertain us while we stand in line for our own funeral.  It promises pleasure, prosperity, and the chance to feel good about ourselves.  All the world system asks for in return?  Conform.  Get in the boat, but don’t you-know-what.  Don’t think.  Don’t challenge.  The result?  A lifetime of convenience (assuming burying your head in the sand is convenient), followed by the pitiful refrain:  “I never knew….”

Un-endured Affliction

“Accept the hard times along with the good” (2 Timothy 4:5, The Message).  Paul never discussed the possibility of hardship as an issue.  He assumed it would happen, and made it quite clear that it wasn’t just the devil’s idea.  Like a soldier goes to boot camp to learn how to make it in the heat of the battle, God will take us to “boot camp” to prepare us for the times when it really gets tough. 

I’ve never met anybody who regretted hanging in there, trying one more time.  But I’ve met plenty who pulled the trap door on a relationship, a career, a job, or an idea when it got hard – then later wished they could have one more chance to make it work.  “What if” is a painful thing to say on your deathbed.

Unrealized Influence

“Work at bringing others to Christ” (2 Timothy 4:5, NLT).  For Paul, this wasn’t work.  Throughout his ministry, his boldness was creative and consistent.  He was a witnessing machine!  He was an in-your-face leader, and people followed. 

Timothy, however, was a different story.  Apparently more introverted than his spiritual father, Timothy seemed to prefer to let Paul do the talking for him.  He was non-confrontational and passive.  Paul had to remind him to rekindle the gifts God had given him.[2 tim 1:6]

Whether you’re a natural or you have to work at it, you have your own realm of influence that nobody else can touch – starting with the people in your household or family.  People in that realm are going to receive somebody’s view of God.  Somebody’s view of salvation, truth, heaven, hell, relationships, love, hope.  Will they believe a truth or a lie?  Wide road or narrow?  It all depends on what you do with the power God gave you to touch them.

Unfulfilled Callings

Paul encouraged Timothy to “complete the ministry God has given you.”  Timothy’s calling, like yours and mine, is as unique as a fingerprint or snowflake.  But understanding it begins, strangely enough, by understanding more of what our callings have in common.  You can’t identify your unique mission until you’ve committed to the common mission.  “God’s will” is more important than “God’s will for my life.”  The emphasis is not on you.  It’s not about you! It’s about the faithful God who calls you, who will also equip you to do what he called you to do.  When you’re committed to God’s mission, your calling within it will emerge.  But it isn’t enough to find it.  You have to fulfill it.

Unfought Battles

Can you say, like Paul, “I’ve fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7)?  If you intend to be successful in any area of life, sooner or later you’ll have to fight for it.  You will have to fight for your family; sometimes that means fighting with some family member.  You will have to fight for your testimony.  You will have to fight for your walk with God.  And sometimes, when you run to the battlefield, you may discover that you are the only one standing there.

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not talking about copying those people who have made an art form out of living from one conflict or offense to the next.  I’m talking about the spirit of the young David, when he faced down his smart-mouthed brothers and took down a trash-talking giant.  There is a cause that’s greater than your comfort or convenience or popularity.  And there’s a time to refuse to back down.

Unfinished Business

“I’ve finished the race,” Paul said.  This one nails me because of the many pieces of unfinished business I have accumulated in my life.  It got so bad, I declared one recent year “The Year of Unfinished Business.”  That one year Bible reading plan I started?  Finished it.  Okay, so it took fifteen years.  The main thing is, I got it done.

Why do lives gather up such a load of unfinished business?  Many reasons:  discouragement, fear, distractions, mood changes, procrastination, laziness, conflicting responsibilities, lack of organizational/administrative skill, failure to follow through.  But one stands higher than all:  you assume you’ll always have time tomorrow.  The lie of procrastination is that it’s easier not to do it right now.  Those who fulfill their calling understand there will never be a better time than now.


Watch for the red flags.  They will undermine your increase.  The day will come when, like Paul, “it’s time to stop fighting and rest.”  But for now, we have a few things left to do.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Robin September 7, 2009 at 10:50 pm

This is one of your best babe! Just keep beating to that drummer, he has plans that neither you or I know.

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