In The Upside of Adversity, Os Hillman tells one of my favorite stories. It’s one that I’ve shared numerous times with many audiences, including our student athletes at Lipscomb. He writes,
“An ancient Arabian fable tells of three merchants who crossed the desert. In the daytime, they would pitch tents for shelter from the desert sun. When the stars came out, they would ride their camels in the cool of the night. At one point, the merchants crossed a dry riverbed under the stars.
“Halt!” said a voice from the darkness. All three men jumped down from their camels and huddled in fear. “Who’s there?” one of them said.
“Don’t be afraid,” said the voice in the dark. “I won’t harm you if you do as I say. See those pebbles at your feet?”
By the dim starlight, the merchants saw thousands of pebbles in the riverbed. “Each of you pick up a pebble and put it in your pocket.”
The three merchants obeyed. Each took a pebble from the riverbed.
“Now leave this place,” the voice said, “and don’t stop until daybreak.”
The merchants mounted up. One said, “What’s this all about?”
“I will only say this,” the voice replied. “In the morning, you will be happy and sad. Now, go!”
Baffled, the three merchants proceeded on their way. As they traveled, they wondered what the voice meant by saying that they would be both happy and sad. When morning came, the merchants stopped. Each man pulled the single pebble from his own pocket and saw that it sparkled in the morning sunlight. The “pebbles” were precious gems. One man had a ruby, another, an emerald, and the third, a sapphire. “Jewels!” one merchant said, his face shining with joy.
“Oh, no!” wailed the second. “There were thousands of jewels all over the riverbed! Each of us took only one! Why didn’t we grab handfuls?” “Look!” shouted the third, pointing behind them. A desert wind had whipped up, erasing their tracks. “We can never find our way back!” The voice in the desert had spoken truly. The merchants were happy and sad. They had found wealth in the desert but they could have taken more!”
As I share with our student athletes, many of them are in the middle of the riverbed right now. As college athletes studying at a place like Lipscomb, they are living in a time and place where there are thousands of opportunities and experiences to treasure. Yet, if they are not careful, they will find themselves so anxious to get down the road to wherever their hopes and dreams may be leading them that they will miss the opportunity to fill their pockets full while they have the chance.
And just like the traders who look back to find that they can never return to that spot along the path, I caution the students that in their rush to reach their next dream, they may risk missing out on many of the special opportunities which they currently have access to only to come to a day when they look back and realize they cannot return to this special time and place again.
It’s a lesson that you don’t have to be a college athlete to appreciate. Many of us have seen or experienced the same. And while I am all for goals and plans and achievement, sometimes, the more goal-driven you are, the more opportunities you have in front of you, the more likely you are to suffer the same fate as the merchants.
It’s the the danger of being a person who believes, “I’ll be happy when…” It usually starts with a dream that the person believes will bring them greater happiness and satisfaction than they currently feel. The person expends all of their time and effort on reaching that milestone. They focus on the goal, and the supposed happiness it will bring, and if they’re not careful, they miss out on the joy in the process and the beautiful moments along the way.
They finally reach the objective – starter on a high school team, college athlete, university graduate, first job, marriage, big promotion, first child, vacation home, retirement or whatever – and they learn that while there may be temporary pleasure once the marker is met, they still don’t have the permanent sense of joy for which they’d longed. Not only that, they also realize that in their rush to get down the road to that next destination, they missed all of relationships, experiences and other moments along the way that could have made the journey so much richer.
So I urge our student athletes to consider, and I remind myself, what I would encourage each reading this to do today.
Pause and appreciate what you have today. Reflect on the relationships you’ve had and have right now. Enjoy the company of the special people in your life. Appreciate the bounty of blessings you’ve been given. Continue to work toward your next great goals, dreams and ideas, but don’t forget to fill your pockets full of the treasures that you’re standing in the middle of every day.
I understand that not everyone has traveled the same path and even among my close family, I know that the past year has not been 100% joy for all. For some, it really is about just taking it one step at a time right now and I can appreciate that. This can be a very difficult time for many and I would encourage each of us to be actively and intentionally on the lookout for those we can encourage during what may be a dark time. But I will also observe that even in those darkest hours, and maybe the most in those toughest times, I’ve personally witnessed those who have found amazing moments of profound gratitude for the health, wealth, friends and family that they’ve been blessed with along the way.
But for most of us right now, the good outweighs the bad by many multiples.
Can you read this right now? Simply by the fact that you are able to understand this message, you are not among the 1 billion people who live on this earth and still cannot read.
Do you have more than $10 in your account right now? If you are living on more than $10 per day, you are not among the 71% of the world who does not do so.
Could the list go on? Of course it could, but the point would be the same. We have so much to be thankful for and if we are not careful, we will continue our rush to “new and improved” and never take the time to stop and appreciate the blessings we have right now.
I’m quite sure that with winter fast approaching in 1621, the Plymouth colonists still had plenty of goals they had yet to reach. But even then, they paused to reflect, to rejoice and to be thankful for all of the blessings that they had been given. In a sense, it was a time for them to stop in the midst of the riverbed and fill their pockets full before they continued on life’s way - perhaps never to pass through that same spot again. My hope and prayer for each of us is that we’ll consider the story of the merchants, that we’ll remember the examples of the colonists and that we’ll do the same today.
Pause. Fill your pockets full. Be thankful.
Director of Athletics