Recalling Some Life Lessons

Traffic Jam

Normal is getting dressed in clothes you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.   ―Ellen Goodman

Time has been called “a great healer” because it helps ease the pain of physical and emotional wounds.  Unfortunately, time also sometimes causes us to forget some of the best lessons life teaches—lessons we ought to have held on to.

Such was the case for a life lesson I recently recalled—something I originally learned while serving as a Civil-Military Operations Officer in southern Somalia some 20 years ago.

In 1993, Somalia was engulfed in civil war, much like today.  One day I visited a refugee camp run by the United Nations. Hundreds of Bantu people were housed there in small, igloo-like huts made from long bent sticks covered with plastic sheeting.


The Bantus were brought to Somalia as slaves in the 19th century and remain so to this day. They are a small people of very different ethnicity and appearance than the Somalis.

The Bantus I saw that day were living in absolute squalor. Yet despite their situation they seemed remarkably happy.  When I asked a UN worker about the reason for the Bantus’ apparent joy, he provided a life lesson.  “These people were once slaves,” he said, “but now they’re free, well fed and together.”  The things they held dearest were freedom, family and a full belly.  They enjoyed all of these in the squalid camp where they were living.

Over the course of my time in Somalia and several other deployments during my Army career, I learned other lessons about how little we humans truly need.  For months at a time I lived with no possessions beyond what would fit in my rucksack and duffel bag.

With no car to wash, no lawn to mow, no gutters to clean, no leaves to rake, no Internet, no TV and no long commute to work, one has freedom to discover the gift of time.  Personal productivity can increase significantly in such situations, as can relaxation and renewal.

My unscientific observations suggest that as possessions increase, freedom decreases. A multitude of possessions tend to chip away at the gift of time. While I am not a practicing minimalist, I do believe it would behoove most Americans to consider reducing their material possessions.  Garages were designed for cars, not unopened moving boxes. The primary purpose of an attic is to allow proper ventilation of a house, not to store a lot of stuff.   According to the Wall Street Journal, only about 20 percent of the clothes in a person’s closet are regularly worn. You get the picture.

Relearning Some Past Life Lessons

After each long military deployment, I returned home with renewed enthusiasm for life and a deeper appreciation for my freedom, family and the many blessings God had given us. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm and appreciation always slowly faded as I became increasingly re-engaged in the daily, mundane distractions of life and work. After awhile, many life lessons just seem to vanish.  Some of us are fortunate enough to be have an opportunity to relearn some of them.

About a year ago, two major changes in my life occurred.  First, my wife and I moved from a house in Johnstown into a condo near Pittsburgh. Then, only four weeks later, I lost my job.

I had wanted more free time and I got it.  Sometimes God has a real sense of humor!

Laughing Jesus

Two of the main reasons we moved into a condo were to reduce our material possessions and to escape the workload that accompanies owning and maintaining a house. We simply wanted more freedom to do the things we enjoy.  Losing my job wasn’t part of the plan.

However, over the course of the past year I’ve relearned some valuable life lessons, ones I should never have forgotten.

First of all, I remembered that I really don’t need a lot to make me happy.  We have a lot less space and a lot fewer possessions than a year ago, but we also have more time and more freedom to enjoy life.  It has been a great tradeoff—so much, in fact, that my wife and I are already discussing another major downsizing.

Living without abundance makes one more aware of God’s daily provisions.  Instead of asking Him for specific blessings, I’ve learned to pray each day that God will provide my family and me just enough to satisfy our needs and that His perfect will may be done in our lives.

During the past year I also remembered how little it takes to make me truly happy.  We have adjusted to living on my military pension, something that seemed nearly impossible a year ago.  I also have remembered that it doesn’t take much more than my freedom, family and a full belly to make me happy–just like the joyful Bantu people I observed in Somalia many years ago,

Well, there is one other thing. The gift of time has allowed me to dig deeper into the Scriptures than ever before, bringing me closer to the only true source of joy. As the Rev. Dr. Sam Storms so clearly explains, “Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering, it is the presence of God.”

May you find true joy and peace in your pilgrim’s journey!

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.”  —Matthew 6:19-21 (ASV)

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Paul Privett on September 30, 2013 at 7:03 pm


    I see that your email was sent at 3am or so in the morning. I have not given in to waking up at those times and seeing what insights are awaiting… but thank you for your doing so. This was another outstanding message. I believe as we grow closer to the Lord we realize how little we really need and when we move on we obviously don’t take anything with us except the maturity of our relationship with Him.


    Date: Sun, 29 Sep 2013 22:45:54 +0000


  2. Posted by John on September 30, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    Great reminder for all of us. Nicely put Zack.



  3. Posted by John Miller on October 1, 2013 at 9:14 am

    Great advice… I thought about how I have spent the last 3 months cleaning my garage and I am not even close to finishing (it is a big garage).. But I could be doing something better with my time… And there still is the attic and a closet full of things that I no longer wear
    I hope your job situation changes for you and thank you again for helping me with re-writing my résumé … It paid off with a permanent position, which fits my skill set.
    Much appreciated!
    John Miller


  4. […] Also see: Recalling Some Life Lessons. […]


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