HEARTLIGHTSpecial Feature







On Spending a Life Well, by Larry James

    How’s this for a surprising sports page headline: “Penn State Coach Paterno Pledges 43.5 Million to the University"? This eye grabber led readers into a January 17, 1998 story appearing in The New York Times. Since 1950, Joe Paterno has spent his professional life at Penn State coaching Nittany Lion football teams to 298 victories, the most among active major college coaches. Coach Joe and his wife Sue have been discussing making the large gift for the last 25 years. Their generosity will fund scholarships, faculty positions, and construction of an interfaith spiritual center and a sports hall of fame on the University Park campus.

    Paterno regards his success with characteristic humility and perspective: “I make more money than I should make. They let me work, so, thanks.” Sue Paterno said, “Money has never been important to us. What is important to us is what the future of the world will be.”

    The Paternos’ take on life strikes me as unusual and extremely refreshing. People who follow college football have marveled for years at Coach Joe’s ability to recruit, train and field amazingly successful team. Even more impressive is the fact that almost all of his players complete degree programs. Watching Paterno work across the years has convinced me that he operates from core values that have nothing to do with won-loss records and much to do with decency, character and commitment to community.

    The example of Joe and Sue Paterno pulls me up short and forces me to ask, “How should a life be spent?” And, even more crucial, “How an I spending mine?” Life in our “grab all you can, get all you can, take all you can, as fast as you can” world seldom directs us to a path of concern for “what the future of the world will be.” Apparently, the Paternos accept the counsel of Mother Teresa who often noted that, “A life not lived for others is not worth living.” Unfortunately, they seem to be exceptional rather than standard issue human beings.

“How should a life be spent? How am I spending mine?”
    Most of us operate without an intentional game plan for life. As a result, most of us do not grow internally, at the spiritual level. Evidence of our stunted souls pops up every morning as I eat my oatmeal and read the morning paper. Most of us view and manage life in a self-serving manner. Community needs can be recognized, and even appreciated, so long as solutions remain a safe distance from my field of play. Ask anyone involved in community. Resistance to spreading resources can be powerful and surprising.

    Ongoing reaction to the order to construct low income, subsidized housing in North Dallas neighborhoods serves as a case in point. The community wants welfare recipients off welfare and into work. Few jobs exist in the areas where most low income citizens live. Business leaders typically reject inner city areas as suitable for economic development. Transportation remains a huge problem for working poor people. Jobs abound in outer city areas. A logical, partial strategy would seem to involve providing housing closer to existing job markets. Right? Wrong! Why? Individual rights, especially when anchored in property ownership, take precedent over larger, collective community needs and plans. Other examples abound. Recent stories about retirement housing for elderly citizens, statistics relative to child care funding, and attempts to locate special needs “shelters” and halfway houses in neighborhoods come to mind.

    No doubt about it, how to spend a life presents a real challenge, particularly in the details of personal sacrifice for the good of other members of the community. The Paternos set a high standard for replication. But, folks like me, who control far fewer resources, could affect great change for good by pursuing the same selfless spirit of community building and intentional “soul development.”


HEARTLIGHT(R) Magazine is a ministry of loving Christians and the Westover Hills church of Christ.
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Article copyright © 1998, Larry James. Used by permission.
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