Monday, June 30, 2008

Actual vs. Potential

Two words that you never really think much about: actual and potential. Simply defined:

"Actual" - "presently existing in fact and not merely potential or possible."

"Potential" - "the inherent capacity for coming into being."

Taken at face value, we say, "Yeah, I knew that." But the implications of these two words can be profoundly life altering. Think about them when applied to people. Actual is what you are at the moment. It's the realized reality of all you've done. There's no changing what has actually come to pass. There's no changing what has become actual. It's done.

Potential, however, is all that could be from here forward. It can be a great word when we say, "That guy HAS great potential!" But when accompanied with one's actual, potential can be a horrible word: "That guy HAD great potential." See, our actual impacts our potential. I would even submit that as life goes on, your potential diminishes while your actual increases. At birth, we are 100% potential and 0% actual. At mid-life, we are 50% potential and 50% actual. Near death, we are just about 0% potential and 100% actual. John the Baptist understood this, stating that it was time for him to fade out and let Jesus take the scene. Jesus Himself realized this as we read John 13. His time was coming to a close, and it was time to show them the full extent of His love. I think it's this truth (although usually unknowingly) that drives people into "mid-life crisis." The thought sinks in, "I have accomplished so little and have such a short time's time to do all those things I feel like I've wanted to do. Or at least to live life more fully with what I've got left." The counseling theory here is that a mid-life crisis is an unresolved fear of death and failure...but that's for another blog.

I bring all of this up to share a way to multiply your potential as it actually diminishes! I'm not a fan of math. I'm not current on math principles or trig, or anything else that could be hip about math. But I do understand multiplication, and am convinced that when you take whatever potential you have left and invest in those with potential, you increase their potential exponentially. If I am at mid-life (and at age 38, that's a reality if I live to be 76), and have 50% of my potential left, I can invest my energy and my future in my son, who at age 8 is still 90% potential. If I wisely invest what's left of my life in others, I can raise their potential, and in doing do I increase my potential, too! My youth pastor, Bart McMillan, once told me that the greatest investment you'll ever make is investing in people. Little did I know at the time that he was handing me the key to real success. No matter how long I live, if I will invest my energy in those around me, everyone's future gets brighter. Rather than being depressed or alarmed at how little life you have left, invest it in people and be amazed at what God will do with it. And be amazed at what God will do with you.

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