Words to live by

I love aphorisms — short, pointed, insightful observations.

It all started with writing speeches for the Optimist Club.  They once sponsored “oratorical contests” and I loved competing in them.  Each year they advertised a new topic and the assignment was to write, memorize, and deliver a speech of five to seven minutes in length.  The first year the topic was “Optimism, youth’s greatest asset.”

It seems kind of corny now, but it prompted me to think, read, and build my vocabulary.  I don’t rely nearly as much on the quotations that I once used in those speeches, but I am still attracted to the sharp, short, observation that has sticking power.  That is the genius of proverbs.

The beginning of a new year is a good time to review some of those proverbial bits of wisdom.  And, on balance, I think that kind of wisdom is a better bet than a boat load of resolutions that are too easily abandoned in the first week of February.

I’ve tried to identify a shortlist that have spiritual import.  Here’s my list.  It’s random in its selection and listed in no particular order.  If you don’t find one that is helpful to you, feel free to offer one of your own.

  • If you are going through hell, keep going.  Winston Churchill
  • We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned to have the life that is waiting for us.  E.M. Forster
  • If you aren’t going all the way, why go at all?  Joe Namath
  • The most misleading assumptions are the ones you don’t even know you are making.  Douglas Noel Adams
  • Nature provides a free lunch, but only if we control our appetites.  William Ruckelshaus
  • Stop living life for what’s around the corner and start enjoying the walk down the street.  Grant L. Miller
  • In a moment the ashes are made, but the forest is a long time growing.  Seneca
  • Kindness is a language that the deaf can hear and the blind can read.  Mark Twain
  • Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.  Unknown
  • The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.  Nelson Mandela
  • I would rather regret the things I have done than the things I have not.  Lucille Ball
  • Discovery consists in seeing what every one else has seen but understanding it for the first time.  Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
  • Vision without action is a daydream; action without vision is a nightmare.  Japanese proverb
  • It’s not how busy you are, but why you are busy.  The bee is praised; the mosquito swatted.  Mary O’Connor
  • Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.  Theodore Roosevelt

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and consulting editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, as well as several books: A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009), and The Dave Test (Abingdon, 2013). He and his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), live in Highland Park, Illinois, with their Gordon Setter, Hilda of Whitby. They have four children and four grandchildren: Henry, Addie, Heidi, and Sophie.


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