Editor’s Note: We asked Dr. Henry Cloud, who was a keynote speaker at Connection 2013, how he learned to live well. We know you’ll get a lot out of what he has to say.
The question was: What is the best advice you ever received on how to live well? I would have to say it was advice I learned that I listed as my life verse in my high school yearbook, from Micah 6:8. I had wondered for a while: “What am I supposed to do? How do I know I am doing OK?” This one verse seemed to answer that question in a simple way.
After I became a psychologist and a consultant, I found out that while it is simple, it is extremely profound. It says: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV). I can think of few pieces of advice that bring it all together like this one, for a couple of reasons.
First, most of life’s problems can be traced to our tendency to divide justice and mercy or, said in today’s vernacular, limits and love. For example, in a relationship like marriage or family or leadership, when we see something that is wrong or are bugged with what someone has done to us or someone else, we are sometimes quick to render “justice.”
We stand up for what is right and bring them to justice by a confrontation or anger or judgment. But when justice is all we do, and we leave out the mercy part, then we end up holding them accountable in very punitive or unloving ways. That always causes problems. Either they conform in fear and rebel later, or they actively resist us and fight back, or they are paralyzed by hurt and become unable to do anything.
Likewise, the converse of the split is true, as well. Sometimes we just want to be merciful and loving, and in our love and compassion, we leave out justice. So we love without limits. We become enablers, in all of those key relationships.
Co-dependency, as it is called nowadays, ruins marriages, families, friendships, people and companies. We must stand up for what is right and hold people accountable, even while we are being loving.
This verse brings those two together and integrates everything we have to do, even with ourselves. We must live in acceptance of ourselves, but at the same time have limits and requirements of ourselves in order to mature.
If we are always beating ourselves up, we will fail and bottom out in a pile of guilt. Acceptance is key, living in God’s compassion and showing self-acceptance based on his love. But we cannot just let ourselves go, not hold ourselves accountable and fail to render justice toward ourselves, either. As Scripture says: If we judge ourselves, God does not have to judge us. So we need to do both.
Lastly, all of this will only work if we walk humbly with God. To me, that means He is on the throne, not me. I have to answer to Him, and submit to what He wants me to do and tells me to do in each situation. He is the one who created it all and knows best, and the sooner I get that right, the better off I will be. It also leads me to accountability and stewardship for my life and gifts. He wants a return on all that He has given me, and it keeps me moving forward.
And finally, putting him in charge, and realizing that I bring nothing to the table, puts me in a humble and dependent position on Him as the “Source” of all I need. He is all-powerful, and He can provide me with what I do not have in every situation. When I am up against the end of my own resources, He is bigger. I can turn to Him, and He will help. And all of that rests on the great truth that He loves me, is committed to me through a covenant, and I can trust him.
I have found that if I try to apply the advice from this one little verse, answers appear in all situations, and at the same time I am provided with an overall plan and purpose for life.
Don’t miss the rest of our series on recommended ways to live well:
- How Do I Live Well? Love Always.
- How Do I Live Well? Be Present.
- How Do I Live Well? Achieve Balance.
- How Do I Live Well? Find Contentment.
See our story “What’s The Best Advice You Ever Received?” in the July 2013 issue of Foursquare Leader magazine.