We live in a world that more often than not lends itself toward constant comparisons. We compare everything under the sun. Our marriages, kids, jobs, churches, clothes, cars, names, yes! You name it. We compare it. Anything and everything can fall victim to the comparison game that is perpetually in motion in our minds.
Comparison trap is more like it.
The first problem with comparison is that it inevitably leads to a perpetual lack of contentment or satisfaction with your lot in life. This kind of satisfaction or contentment referenced here isn’t about compromising or settling or not having goals. No indeed! All of those things are important. But our expectations (of ourselves and others) shouldn’t be tied to comparisons. They should rather be born out of truth, sincerity, and authenticity. I am talking about expectations and goals that are achievable because they aren’t contingent upon how many likes you get on your instagram post. They are achievable because they aren’t contingent upon replicating someone else’s (perceived) success. Rather they are expectations and goals based on what we want to accomplish in order to make our homes, our communities, and our world a better place, and our life, a better life. For instance, if all of your life you dreamed about becoming a baker, that is wholly different from wanting to become a baker simply because your next door neighbor is a baker and he seems to have it a lot better than you do….better cars, spouse, kids, a greener yard. You get the picture.
The second problem of comparison is that we inevitably teach it to our children. In this year 2018 our kids are already inundated with a plethora of electronics and social networking options. Most of them spell trouble. They really don’t need disgruntled and malcontented adults aggravating that situation. Is social networking fun, productive, and a terrific tool for communication? Yes, to all of those things. But what we must know as parents, what we must understand is this: Most social networking sites spell trouble for our kids. We must teach our kids to be masters of their social networking habits, not the other way around. Comparisons are part and parcel of social networking. Today our young citizens, our children, are navigating dicey, emotional, distressful and confusing social scenarios that I didn’t even dream about when I was a kid. Because all of our communication was done in person with the occasional exception of a land line telephone call. The comparison trap was alive and well in those days too. But today’s penchant for comparison is ginormous. The onslaught of media choices and social networking sites has offered the comparison game a robust revival, a new catalyst for wreaking havoc in people’s lives and in their relationships.
So what happens as a result of the comparison trap?
This. It’s an irony really. Rather than achieving more, we achieve less. Because comparison dictates our pursuits. Rarely do we pursue what is best for us, for our kids, for others around us, when we are so focused on “keeping up with the Jones” So, we achieve less and less, while we continue to want more and more.
And this. Our relationships decline. In dire circumstance, they may collapse. Our work relationships, personal, marital, parenting, and peers. They are all vulnerable. Because as we constantly pine away for what we see as the optimum life or job or marriage partner or daughter or son-well, the one right in front of us is starving for our attention.
I think Paul the Apostle said it best in 2 Corinthians 10:12. “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”
It is time to take stock of what we have. What do we have in the warehouse of our lives that needs to be inventoried? What good things, rare and beautiful treasures, are right under our noses just begging for examination? Take them down from the shelf, dust them off, and remember. How can we shift our focus from what we are missing to what we have? How would this change the way we see ourselves, our spouse, our children, or our jobs? And how will it move us from discontent to joy? I think the answer is critical in propelling us forward on a positive course toward joy and success.
Recently I was perusing a section in Barnes and Nobles entirely dedicated to the empowerment of girls and women. As I did so, I saw a lot of “stuff” related to getting what you want in a “man’s world,” and how to get it. Some of what I saw (as I scanned through it briefly) seemed really plausible, even good stuff. Some of it just sounded like crap. For those of us with daughters, it’s paramount that we can discern between the two. There is a place in parenting for books, songs, and speakers that render quality information about empowering our girls. But we need to recognize the difference between what makes them strong and healthy women versus what teaches them an empowerment largely centered around the ideology of self-promotion. Empowerment is important. We need to raise girls into strong women, full of fight-I agree with this wholeheartedly. I’ve got three of my own, and self-advocacy is something we discuss often and in much detail. And I dare say, all four of us have an insatiable love of books depicting the courage and historical impact of both non-fiction and fictional heroines. But God help us, if in the process of raising our girls to be strong, we fail to teach them compassion and generosity.
We live in a world that speaks out of both sides of its mouth. On one hand, the world is telling our girls to be tolerant of everything and everyone because if they aren’t, then they are hateful and ignorant. This “sounds like” a message of compassion and generosity. But on the other hand, we are telling these same girls that getting what they want always trumps putting others ahead of themselves. These two messages are conflicting. Truly, women in this great country have had to work hard-and in many cases are still fighting-for many basic rights that we often now take for granted, i.e. voting, equal pay and equal recognition, just to name a few. Recently my youngest daughter attended a high school leadership conference and was quite perturbed that the very first girl she met and spoke with had apparently never heard of either Harriet Tubman or Susan B. Anthony. (Who knows how this conversation even came about?) My daughter immediately, and in rapid fire, sent 4 text messages to me-aghast and full of righteous indignation: “I can’t believe she doesn’t know who either of these women are. This is the future of America. It’s women like her who will be elected to office one day-if women are ever elected to office-seeing as young girls no longer care about women in history who went through hell and back so we could even vote.” I loved the spit and fire in my girl as I read her text messages. But the point in sharing that story is to tell you this: That same girl, coincidently, at that same conference, found herself neck-deep in the personal pain of one of her peers. She did not run and hide. She wholeheartedly stepped up to the plate, and full of that same spit and fire, encouraged him with words awash in compassion and empathy. She helped move her friend from a place of despair to a place of hope. That is what her heroines,’ Harriet Tubman and Susan B Anthony, did in their fight for human rights and for the marginalized and abused of their time. They helped move people from a place of despair to a place of hope. Men and women.
I am a Jesus follower. As such, we believe the bible is the inerrant and timeless Word of God. It is alive and full of promise and the Hope of salvation. On the sacred pages of this book, I find over and over, the need to instill in my girls unconditional love for others. I also find biblical teaching that leaves me without excuse when it comes to raising girls with spit and fire. There is nothing in scripture that I believe supports raising a shrinking violet. Rahab, Mary, Deborah, Phoebe, Priscilla, Rachel, and the list goes on and on-women in the bible-who were both empowered and empowering. But these women were also spilling over the top with love for their people, their children, their mentors, their neighbors, and their God. They weren’t perfect by any standard. (Read and find out!) But they were mountains of inspiration to those around them, and they were an intricate part of God’s plan to bring hope to His people then, now, and forevermore.
I’ve grown weary of our culture sending messages to our daughters that ‘they must self-promote first and foremost, in order to be successful. That love and compassion are okay, only as long as these two tenets do not interfere with their climb to the top of the ladder.’ That is reckless endangerment if I ever saw it. This narcissistic model for teaching empowerment is hardly a worthy prototype for moving our girls towards a life full of healthy relationships and successful and joyful living. It is a model which brings to mind a line from one of my favorite movies, “You have been weighed; you have been measured; and you have been found wanting.” But the powerful punch of this famous line was first delivered to a king named Belshazzar by a young Jewish man named Daniel, the latter of who was fully devoted to God. Daniel boldly told his captor, that his self-promotion and extreme lack of humility were not cutting the leadership mustard. His words were riveting: “God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.” (Daniel 5:26-27)
I think it’s time we show the world a different model, a different kind of girl power. One that is not found wanting. One that is full of spunk and infectious adventure harnessed together with compassion for others and a generous, servant heart. It’s time we teach our girls that these two seemingly opposite character traits cannot only coexist, but that indeed, girls were wired that way from the moment their beautiful, inquisitive, hopeful, and daring little selves entered this crazy world.
My opinions are my opinions. They do not reflect the position of any airline or employee of any airline.
The incident that has spiraled into hellish proportions across the media, and in and out of the annals of cyberspace (as incidents via the annals of cyberspace always do) demands a thorough evaluation. (You know the one: a paid passenger is informed he has to disembark from his flight; he refuses; subsequently, the police are asked to escort him off; he still refuses; and then-well the situation goes to hell from there??-Yes, that one.) But in order to evaluate this incident at United Airlines, there is a bigger problem in our American culture that precipitates this one which demands our attention. Moreover, it demands our unbiased input. It demands our intellect. It demands our common sense. It demands our courage. And, as I always tell my three nearly grown-up daughters, if you don’t have anything to bring to the table, then stay home. In other words, if all you can do is rumble, rant, and threaten, you’re counterproductive to discussion of policy, politics, and community building. Do you really and truly want what happened with this Republic Airlines flight to never happen again? (Yes, it was actually not a UAL flight. They were not UAL pilots boarding the plane. It was Republic Airlines. But that is neither here nor there.) If you can say, “yes, I wish this could’ve ended differently, could’ve been handled differently, and would’ve had a different outcome,” then read on. Otherwise, just quit reading now. Go do whatever it is that makes you happy (complaining.) This incident with UAL flight #3411 begs the question that is in front of every American teacher, cop. and customer service agent (private or public sector) every. where. When the rules dictate certain processes and/or when a situation necessitates a student (for instance) to switch desks or to put their phone away in class, and IN those cases, when the person absolutely (wrongly) refuses to comply with the person in the place of authority, what options do those in the place of authority have for doing their job? I mean really. What options do they have? I am all for not dragging a student out of the classroom by their hair or a passenger off the plane by his limbs. I think we all agree on this. But let’s sit down together and agree that first of all, people cannot just blindly disobey authority-not in a free society! I am not talking about teachers, cops, or customer service agents who are abusing their jobs or acting criminally. I am saying when they are doing their job: Writing a traffic citation; executing a legal warrant; asking a student to put their phone away during instruction (I experience this frequently); telling a pass traveler there is a dress code for pass traveling (had this happen to me); requiring a dress code for the professional work place. In those cases, when protocol is being followed, when what they are asking is absolutely reasonable and expected, what in heaven’s name, can the person in authority do when a student or a criminal suspect or an employee or a customer looks them straight in the face and says “NO!” Do we insist on promoting anarchy in a country that actually became a country based on a constitution where laws are imposed and enforced so that we can be the kind of free country where the exercise of our rights and our freedoms are protected not by the exercise of our rights, but rather by the enforcement of rules and policies that actually anchor those rights. Alarmingly, we are becoming a country where our own individual and personal rights (as we see them) trump everyone else’s rights, and the very rules in place that protect all of us. And as the smart phone cameras are rolling, people (students, customers, criminal suspects) quickly and clearly understand: “I can say NO! I can physically refuse to comply.” Why? Because they believe and know that the minute I lay a hand on them to escort them to where they need to go or the minute the police officer goes to execute an arrest warrant, that they can fight, resist, hit, kick, and scream. It will be filmed (that’s a given) and it will be ugly. They know and understand that if they go crazy, the chance is great that their behavior or wrong refusal to cooperate will be diminished and/or mitigated in the light of a physical confrontation that they know looks really bad on film.
But the preferential choice of anarchy in our country to authority figures: teachers, police officers, customer service agents, is frightening when you have children you are sending out into this narcissistic and selfish world to live on their own without the safeguards that are naturally in place inside our house. All of this tyrannical resistance to authority is further aggravated by cases and events not being considered on their individual merits but ALL grouped into a “one size fits all” category. This reckless and truly ignorant way of approaching every conflict we see on the news that takes place between a person in authority and a customer, citizen, suspect, or student is ripping away the very fabric of our nation’s security and it is undermining our teachers, our education system, and the course of living peacefully in our daily lives.
We have three daughters. I will repeat what I said earlier in this blog. We have told them that in the area of politics, policy, ministry, education (their high school and colleges), if there is something they don’t agree with, they better know that there is never an excuse for shutting down the conversation or for misleading others because of their own inability or refusal to gather information and to sort out fact from fiction. I have told them if they don’t come to the table with something to offer, then don’t come to the table at all.
And NOW, a honeymoon couple on a UAL flight who continued to try to switch to an upgraded seat after repeatedly being asked to stay in their own seat is removed and rebooked. In a Boeing 737-800 like the one the couple was on, United considers Row 21 “economy plus,” which is an upgrade. UAL released this statement: “These passengers repeatedly attempted to sit in upgraded seating which they did not purchase and they would not follow crew instructions to return to their assigned seats. We’ve been in touch with them and have rebooked them on flights tomorrow.” What this couple tried to do is shoplifting. I mean would you go into a store and carry something out without paying for it? (In this self entitled world we live in, I am afraid the answer to that is becoming yes, yes, and yes.) This is precisely the same thing as walking into a restaurant and stiffing them by not paying your tab. Or retail shoplifting. What kind of person marries the kind of person-that on one of the first days of the rest of their life together-they would practice-not humility and truth-but self entitlement and rudeness?
You know what? There IS a discussion of policy on bumping passengers that needs to happen. I once tried all day long to get from Oklahoma City to anywhere on the east coast that could deliver me to my home (at that time) in Germany. After a very long day in the airport, I was bumped by a paid passenger who literally showed up for the flight just as the doors were closing. Only I was in my seat and strapped in. Talk about disappointing. I stepped off the plane and eventually got to my destination. But blaming an entire airline for this incident or the one on flight #3411 is reckless and unfounded. Oscar Muñoz is sincerely a great CEO. He brought this company together at a time when the various work groups were quite discombobulated (in a post 9-11 season of unrest and uncertainty.) He did this largely due to his ability to unite people from all demographics, groups and positions. He is a breath of fresh air to UAL and to Corporate America.
My fear (which often keeps me awake at night) is that we are becoming a country, a culture, where generosity and compassion and caring about others is secondary always to “me, me, me.” It only follows then that a pervasive negative and volatile attitude towards those who have the right to tell us “you can’t do that,” becomes an epidemic. Today, (it just so happens), I have a class full of 7th and 8th graders to whom I am delivering a lesson titled “Taking Responsibility for Me.” Wow! Sadly, I have great concern that my expectation for these children to learn this very important attribute for living and for being successful is heavily overshadowed by literally millions of adults in their communities and in their personal lives who have failed to learn and adopt this character trait themselves.
When I was growing up, no one-and I mean not. one. person.- in our house ever said the two words “I’m sorry.” They also never said “I love you.” Not that growing up in my house was all bad. (Read my blog “What do we Owe them?”) It was just not conducive for learning how to be a gentle soul, soft-spoken, easy-going communicator in relationships. There was no pattern of such things for me to emulate. It was seemingly more conducive for teaching one how to be a bulldozer in those same relationships. Fast forward to me as an adult, and I still struggle with such niceties as “I’m sorry” and “I love you.” Although, I have come a long way, by the insurmountable grace of God, I still have epic fails. Alas, the bulldozer is still partially imbedded deep inside of me. Not that by any measure of the stick, I am blaming my grandparents or any other of my relatives with whom I spent all those formative years, for my own occasional absolute lack of couth or tact! No, I am definitely a big girl now and have thus formed in my personal beliefs a “whole harmless agreement,” if you will, for my past and for those who heartily influenced my growing up. At some point in your life, if positive change is to become permanent change, you have to release others from responsiblity for your actions and own them yourself. That is not to say that others are not culpable in the whole of how you turned out. Furthermore, I think self disclosure about your past and how you were raised is helpful in dialogue with people close to you in an effort to help them to understand you better. But still here I am on the other side of my life so to speak, many years and events between then and now, and yet sometimes I still find myself defaulting to old learned habits. Perhaps that is where they get the phrase “to bully.” Wikipedia (yeah I worked hard on this research project) defines a bulldozer as capable of “projects requiring highly mobile, powerful, and stable earth-moving equipment.” Just as a bulldozer is capable of distributing its weight over large parcels of land clearing forests and objects in its path, I find myself quite capable of using my mouth and my motives, my force of words and demeanor to distribute my weight, my influence, over large parcels of a person’s heart. Case in point, my daughter failed to do a very simple task for me that obviously I had hoped would be done by noon on this particular Sunday. She did not. It so happened that as we were preparing for worship in church on Sunday morning, she reminded me that she was going for groceries on the way home, and would need to borrow my credit card. I, still irrevocably irritated over her failure to do what I told her to do, stewed over this even as worship began. Then with impeccable timing, just as we were starting the second song, I whispered to her “Halle you know how you want me to give you my credit card for the grocery store, well I wanted you to deliver those donations this morning.” And with that, she promptly sat in her seat and started crying. Success! Land cleared. Parent of the year, not. But kudos for driving my point home while deconstructing her self-confidence at the same time, in mere seconds? Score! Except my other daughter and my husband were both looking at me with that “What did you say and why now?” quizzical and skeptical kind of look. Well, I powered down the engine on my dozer pretty quick at that point, and with the grace that God continually pours over my weary, stubborn soul, I started rethinking my actions. I couldn’t take them back, but I could exercise my learned skills of saying “I’m sorry.” Wikipedia also states “The bulldozer’s primary tools are the blade and the ripper.” These two features I adopted well along the journey from youth to adulthood. But along with that definition, it also states, “The bulldozer’s tracks give them excellent ground holding capability and mobility through very rough terrain.” Hmm that’s no so bad. I can see how useful that feature can be. There are good things about my bulldozing capabilities and undoubtedly, there are bad things. Fortunately, I have a God who knows that all that has shaped me is not all bad. He uses the better, greater characteristics to accomplish His purposes. If only when I do choose to express the negative aspects of my personality, I am quite capable of owning it and saying I am sorry, there is still hope for me and my relationships. That doesn’t mean that I “should go on sinning so that grace may abound.” (Romans 6:1-4) No just the opposite; it means rather, that in the light of God’s infinite mercy, I need to count myself among the blessed, so much so that I am willing to recognize my sin, my not-so-great-parts of my personality, and work to cultivate and implement the positive aspects of all that I am. Thankfully, my God is forgiving as is my family. 1 Peter 4:8 says “Love covers a multitude of sins.” This is one bulldozing girl who is grateful for that truth. Amen!
This just in. We don’t always have to experience things first hand. Talk about a time saver. Not to mention a better view in life’s rear view mirror. We have role models in our lives, both good and bad that have already done the hard work for us. It’s true! Some we know personally, and some we just see on TV or social networking. This could eliminate a LOT of time and trouble for us. They are everywhere and in every industry, country, city, school, religious circle, and home. The bad news is, that sometimes, we, or our children, are in the path of a bad role model and take a direct hit. But the good news is that role modeling-BOTH the awful and the awesome-can be enormously valuable teachers for all of us. If only we will let them.
If you’re a parent, you can readily see that absent fathers (either by divorce or by choice) cause havoc. It’s not a secret. Watch the news. Talk to school teachers. Get to know your neighbors. It’s amazing to me how many thousands upon thousands of crime sprees are committed by those from broken homes; how many victims of sexual assault and abuse have grown up without a father (and/or a mother.) Yet, we never ever talk about this on the news or very seldom when trying to find solutions. It’s forbidden. Well, after all, it could mean we are demoralizing single parents. Which of course is ridiculous. They should be reinforced not abandoned. Bolstered not broken. But just that one variable in their child’s life, puts them at risk for rocky relationships, poor grades and low self-confidence. So if your child’s father is absent, what can you do about that? Can you find someone else to fill the void in her life? It’s perhaps a tall order I know. But can you? Can you look to other families who have successfully negotiated this difficult terrain with their kids, and find out what they did that worked well? And if you’re the absent father, can you start engaging with your child now before it’s too late?
Maybe you’re a college student. There are a lot of role models in your life right now, including fellow students. What do their lives teach you? Have you seen poor judgement and co-dependency result in reckless behavior that in turn, results in pain and heartache? It’s a great time to learn a lesson. Moving out, on your own away from the protective swath of parents, and a comfortable routine, is difficult enough. Recklessness in your new social circles and a need to party until the cows come home, could make you vulnerable and an easy target for some dirty rotten scoundrel co-ed who only wants to exploit you. It’s a ripple effect. This is about prevention. We aren’t exonerating the dirty rotten scoundrel of his or her responsibility for their criminal actions. We are just watching, learning, and then thinking before acting. It’s a natural part of caring for yourself and your friends.
Maybe you are in a season with your marriage or your kids and you have experienced or witnessed your share of bad marriages and poor parenting, but also the opposite, positive (not perfect) parenting and thriving (not perfect) marriages. Then why are you still sitting on your duff and not engaging those who have gone before you? You’ve got questions. They’ve got answers. You’re wondering how to negotiate this argument over finances or your teenager’s rebellion. You’re wondering how to overcome infidelity, addiction, or potty training. Ask someone for Pete’s sake.
Violent crimes, high school graduation rates, addiction, assault, broken relationships are all issues that we are dealing with in our communities that need attention, but so is the familial foundations of our children. Family harmony, or the lack thereof, directly correlates to how much pain and heartache will manifest itself in the lives of our children and in their behavior. But talking about this is practically taboo in politics, community policy discussions, and education reform. Even though we all agree on this one point: that children of broken homes and broken relationships are often marginalized in our society. And we also know that this is often generational.
So here’s what we can do. We can take individual responsibility to watch, listen and learn. And we can and should come along beside those who feel alone and are hurting for help. Newsflash: literally millions of others have gone ahead us on the same road that we are currently traveling. The absolute best resource we have available to us as we navigate the stuff of our own lives is the stuff that’s already happened to someone else. Let all of us: single, widowed, married, divorced, parent, child, spouse, ALL of us, take our heads out of the proverbial sand, and enlist the help of a mentor or accountability partner, or prayer partner, or a role model. And when you bear witness to your own relationship casualties, go to the heart of the problem; own your part; stop the cycle. Recalling an old favorite movie of mine, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” we are compelled to take cues from all kinds of role models and from each another as we make decisions about what is right and what is wrong. Just pay attention and learn.
I am blessed with a lot of awesome friends. Sure they are awesome because I know they’ll be there for me in a pinch night or day. And they are awesome because they like me, I like them, and we have fun together. But those aren’t the only things that make them awesome friends. They are also awesome friends because they tell me the ugly truth. They are also awesome friends because they don’t drop me like a bad habit when I tell them the ugly truth. They are awesome because when we happen to disagree on something, I can rest assured knowing that our history together is not null and void. It counts for something. We have credibility with each other. Emotional deposits have been made such that an occasional withdrawal doesn’t derail the entire relationship.
Some time ago, my young adult daughter posted a comment on Facebook which was completely appropriate (in mom’s book of social networking etiquette). She simply stated an opinion on a hot topic in today’s culture as it relates to domestic abuse. Suddenly without any warning, a mutual friend of ours (much older adult woman) zeroed in for the kill. She shot back with several zingers one after the other seemingly in retribution of Shelby’s perfectly appropriate and compassionate (not merely passionate) post. Whether I agreed with my daughter’s views on the matter or not, her post was fine. In fact, it was pretty benign. Even so, Shelby’s post and my attempts to be peacemaker were met with undiluted wrath by this person who we thought was a really good friend. So our “friend,” UNfriended both of us on Facebook. Sure this happens a lot. I know that. But among acquaintances with whom you have no personal history, who the heck cares? On the other hand, when you find yourself unfriended by a person with whom you have a pretty strong relational history, it’s disturbing.
Social networking (and the internet) was non-existent when I was growing up. I was truly an adult in my 40s before it hit our world like a tornado. It’s a blessing and a curse. We have friends all over the world. What an awesome privilege it is to be able to keep up with their family adventures, jobs, kids, activities with just a few keyboard clicks. It’s completely impersonal. But as long as it is understood that it is truly completely impersonal, then no problem. When we make it personal, substituting electronic exchanges for real and necessary conversations, that is reckless. Unfortunately, social networking, especially (seemingly) with the 35 and under crowd, can have a hypnotic effect on them. Hours are spent surfing social networking rather than cultivating real relationships in person. And sadly, ridiculously, the number of likes they have on an Instagram post dictates their level of self confidence and what they believe about themselves. But another thing can happen too. People (such as our adult friend) can use social networks as a weapon. If you don’t say something I like, you’re off my friend list. This begs the question: “So if we come into your town, we shouldn’t call you for dinner? If you come into our town, will you not be staying with us? The once relationship we had with shared interests and shared experiences, those don’t matter anymore? Remember the time we kept your kiddos and loved on them so you could take care of important business? That’s now meaningless? The times we had a laugh together or a coffee with an enjoyable exchange of dialogue, that’s also meaningless?” I have to assume so. Because social networking has contributed to a pandora of shallow relationships. When you use social networking to mask your true feelings, OR when you blurt out your feelings about others unfiltered for everyone’s scrutiny, things that are none of their business, OR when you discard true friends like Saturday night’s leftovers because they posted ONE thing that irritated you-that’s shallow.
Most in ground pools have a water fill line. It’s rarely recommended to let your water levels run much below that fill line. It’s just not safe. And it’s also not fun. Do that, and your swimming pool suddenly becomes a wading pool. Our relationships are like that. If your relational efforts never rise above the the fill line of the relationship pool, you might just be a shallow relationship partner. If you shut down communication with a friend or a daughter or a son or a husband who really needs you, but you just don’t have time for that kind of investment, or if you hide behind the seemingly impenetrable wall of your social networking profiles, and fire off posts (good or bad) like bumper stickers on a car, then you might be a shallow partner in your relationships, not holding up your end of being the real deal. Also if your life is all about you and what you want, but rarely about what others want (your friend, your child, your spouse), then you might not be holding up your end in those relationships either.
In the bible, the book of Daniel chapter 3 tells a beautiful story of 3 teenage Jewish boys who dared take a stand with the King of Babylon in whom they were in servitude. They refused to bow down and worship his golden statute. Of course the king threatened to throw them into a fiery furnace, so that they might burn alive. Their response is incredible. “King Nebuchenzzer, We believe the our God can save us, but even if he does not, we will now bow down to your gods.” Wow! The measure of our faith is not in our responses to what God can do, but rather the true measure of our faith is in our responses to what God does not do!” These three young boys had their heads wrapped around that. They were anything but shallow. They were there for each other no matter the circumstances. They trusted in their past together to carry them through their future together. Whatever that may be. Their trust in God was equally not shallow. Had they only believe that God was omnipotent if he chose to save them from the fiery furnace, this would have been very shallow of them. Their faith would’ve been childish, without depth or maturity. But they believed in God and His power in every circumstance. They believed God was the God of the universe even if He did not choose to spare them from the King’s wrath.
Is someone you know and care for reaching out, but you are not reaching back? It may be on either a professional or personal level. Are you struggling to get the water level in your relationships up to the fill line? You better run the hose a little bit longer. Have you tossed a significant someone along the wayside of your life quicker than you can say “Jack Sprat,” simply because they voiced a different opinion from you? Do you put all of your interests and wants ahead of the people in your life who need you to prioritize their interests even if they are not yours? Have you long since scrapped the idea of a personal God, Creator, who cares for you because He wasn’t there to stop _______ from happening? (fill in the blank) Shallow. Shallow. Shallow. Give yourself a break and start forgiving where forgiveness can build a bridge for you to cross over from bitterness to joy. Give yourself a break and love your friends and family who admittedly don’t always have it together, but yet deserve a second chance, where your relationship history demands it. Depth is the opposite of shallow. How deeply are you rooted in your relationships with your true friends, your child or your spouse? Or are you only “wading” in water that is up to your ankles because you have neither the time or the inclination to do anything differently?
I have a friend whose husband is in remission for cancer. It was, as cancer survivors and their families can attest, a devastating situation loaded with uncertainty for their future. Now, if he gets a cold, upset stomach or any number of even normal maladies, not surprisingly, it troubles my friend deeply. The cancer or the threat of its return is a back cloud hanging over her head threatening to erupt any given flu season. I have yet another friend who was abused as a child by persons in her life she should’ve been able to trust and love without reservation or fear of such atrocities. That was not the case. In the years to come, well into adulthood, it haunted her with shame and guilt, self-doubt and hopelessness. For so long, the abuse and it’s ensuing emotional damage was a foreboding presence in her life, a cloud of despair. It did not leave her side or her mind. I have a daughter whose struggle with anxiety nearly unravelled her as a small child. She was in perpetual fear of her dad and I dying and leaving her to care for her younger two sisters, a black cloud of fear that I could hardly allay with the false certainty that this would never happen. I have yet another adult friend whose black cloud of anxiety wakes up with her in the morning and beds down with her at night. The darkness persists for her into the morning, and it is that darkness, not the light of day which goes out in front of her each morning. Still another close friend of mine wakes up alone Every. Single. Morning. with two small children who wait expectantly for her to provide them with everything they need for life and sustenance. Having been left by her husband for another woman, she not only ponders, but laments each and every day, is she ever going to be a whole person again, loved and respected by others, and is she enough for her children? What is your black cloud? Chances are it has been suspended over your head since you were a small child when events befell you that should never ever have been a part of an innocent growing up. Or maybe it’s only been looming for a fraction of your life, spawned by a tragic loss, a debilitating disease, a horrible accident, or a grave betrayal. Yet the latter stretches out in front of you with no end in sight, a seemingly unsurpassable mountain of pain. Regardless of their origin, black clouds don’t discriminate among people. They can render the most educated and uneducated hopeless and forlorn. They can test the rich man’s faith as well as the poor man’s, leaving them both faithless. Our black clouds are relentless liars and pursue us at every angle, hindering us from the love, forgiveness, restoration, and healing that make us whole.
But how do you tell the difference between a black cloud and something in your life that just concerns you and needs addressed? That’s a great question and an important one. Because if we think our black cloud is a healthy level of concern, if we believe the black cloud is truly normal in every sense of the word, than that thing in our life has beaten us. It has indeed succeeded in plucking the fruit from our tree and rendering us joyless in our day-to-day living, and moreover, useless in helping and serving others. So what is the difference between the two? If we perceive the problem or concern to be insurmountable beyond a reasonable season of its existence, it may very well have taken up permanent residence in your life, your home, and your mind. The length of the season of that trial in your life certainly varies from person to person and from event to event. For instance, is it safe to say that 2 or 3 years into remission, a new season of hope is plausible? Or perhaps as you move well into adulthood, the events of your childhood, though not forgotten by any measure, yet a physical and a prolonged extraction from that place could certainly be a new Springtime in your life. If you have been divorced for five years or even perhaps 4, 3, or 2 but you still cannot see the light of a new chapter in your life, it could be that your trial, that awful event, is indeed a black cloud. I am not so arrogant as to suggest for you when you should be “over something,” not nearly. But I would love to encourage you. I would love to tell you that living a full, exciting fruitful life is still in your grasp.
So what can we do to get out from under that cloud, “the great sadness,” as it was so aptly named by author William Young in his book, “The Shack?” I think the first step we have to do is to acknowledge that your concerns about this event in your life, though absolutely valid, have moved stealthily out of the season to which they were assigned and have taken up residence in your heart and your mind. This is the first step necessary in toppling the cloud from its lofty position in our life. The psalmist says in Psalm 51 that “God loves a broken and contrite heart.” That is good news. The Psalmist, who was himself heavily burdened, seeks and receives that coveted restoration and healing in that same passage. The second step that may be necessary for you is seeking help. This may be professional help. We sought counseling with my daughter when she was in the 3rd grade to tackle her extreme separation anxiety and fear of loss because we needed both the help in identifying the source of her anxiety and help with how to help her. We still talk about that experience fondly and how it navigated us through that difficult stage. And along those same lines, cultivate close friends of your same gender. There’s a proverb in the bible that says “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.” When I couple that with another Proverb that says “A Friend Loves at all time” and “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother,” I feel like this 3rd solution to removing that black cloud is win-win. What would I do without my close advisors/friends? I don’t even want to think about it. Fourth, and finally take an inventory of your physical space around you! Is it a mess? I believe that our emotional and spiritual health is more connected to our life logistics and organization than we give it credit. Purging material possessions we don’t use, getting rid of piles of papers, and making our work spaces pleasant and conducive for being productive, goes a long way in contributing to our happiness and helping us regain a sense of self-control in our life, a trait that is so important when talking about that black cloud, the latter of which toys with our self-control and self-worth. Sure there are tons of other steps you can and should take to extinguish your cloud and banish it into the abyss of nothingness: exercise, serve others, volunteer, but these former four steps I feel are paramount in clearing the path to do the latter. Don’t get the cart before the horse.
I have had my share of black clouds hanging over me. The deaths of my parents; April 19, 1995; and others. When I moved to Houston from Germany, I felt like my heart was imploding. I readily admit this event may seem docile compared to the others in my life I mentioned or compared to your troubled situation. But nevertheless that move seemed to thwart my plans. Spiritually, physically and emotionally. That cloud of discontent and unhappiness taunted me and sadly informed a lot of my decisions. Truly that cloud was afforded way to much opportunity for input in my life and my relationships. I came to the conclusion (by implementing the four steps I mentioned earlier) that enough was enough. The lie is this: this event in my life defines who I am and there’s not a thing I can do about it. The truth is this: I could not stop the event, nor the black cloud from making its unwelcome entry into my life. But rather than let it reign in my life, I will allow the experience to shape me into a better person. I am compelled to live in the light-a light emitted with brand new lenses of who I was, who I am, and what God has yet for me to be.
How do you spend the majority of your time and your money? Do you believe the statement, “How you spend most of your time, and where you spend most of your money says the most about who you are as a person?” Why or why not? Okay, you can answer those on your own. But here’s a starter for you. The majority of my free time (free time from work paid or unpaid-however you define your “free” time) is spent_____________________. (fill in the blank) The majority of my money (after rent, mortgage and household utilities) is spent_______________________.(fill in the blank) I realize that some of you will struggle with the money question, because beyond monthly living expenses, you actually have no idea where the money goes, other than it goes. True for many of us at some chapter of our lives. If that’s you, then this message is well intended. You can’t possibly be putting your money to work for you, your family, or towards other worthy contributions, wisely if you have no idea where your money is going beyond monthly fixed expenses. Furthermore, if we apply a brutally honest examination of how we spend our free time, many will discover that we have exchanged reading a book for watching television. We have exchanged playing a board game (or outside activity) with our kids for social networking. We may discover that less and less time has been committed to the kitchen on either week days or weekends, and that more and more time has been spent in the drive-through. How we spend our time and money will certainly impact our relationships and our health. We can’t devote all of our free time to our hobbies, for instance, at the expense of our marriage. On the other hand, if we spend all of our time at work, at the expense of either hobby or marriage, that isn’t good either. Social networking isn’t the same as a real cup of coffee face to face with a real friend. You can’t exercise if you’re sitting on the couch. You can’t learn a language, start a bible study, go to the gym, work on your finances, At. All. UNLESS…You decide you are going to do so. How we budget our time effectively is different for all of us. Some of us may need to move our rear ends off the couch. Some of us may need to plant ourselves there once in a while. The inability to rest can be just as bad a habit and hard on your relationships as lethargy. The singular way to find a valid, useful and credible solution to poor time and money expenditures, is to evaluate your own personal tendencies with a very introspective approach and answer those two questions we have already talked about. How do you spend the majority of your free time and free money? There’s an old saying “Majority Wins.” When I was a kid, my sisters and our cousins spent a ton of time together. We would often “vote” on a game or activity. With hands all raised in the air, inevitably one of us “winners” would yell triumphantly, “Majority Wins.” Sadly, the losers knew it was true. Maybe that’s applicable to us as adults in answering these difficult questions. Bottom line, we can hope that we are doing what we need to do most of the time (NO one gets it right ALL the time people!) We can even believe that we are generous and compassionate, and that people like to be around us (and/or our children). We can allege that we are healthy and mindful of our good health habits. We can wish, assert, even say out loud many many things about ourselves and our priorities. But I will submit to you that “Majority Wins.” Whatever we are spending time and money on, IT wins. To be sure, SomeTHING. or SomeONE loses. It may be your relationships, your peace of mind, your job, or your dog, but, in the end, “Majority Wins.” We cannot simply hope and wish that our time and our money will tell the story about us that we want told. We have to take practical measures. Evaluate (Your time and budgets) Elevate (Family, marriage, your job, your friends, specific events, specific activites-WHATever in your life is crying out to be elevated) Erase (Negative behavioral patterns, poor spending decisions; time wasters-Ouch!) and then finally, Execute (Implement that budget; Add family night back into your week. Eat dinner around the table. Have that difficult conversation with a colleague. Make time for coffee with a friend; Get counseling; WHATever needs to be done, put IT in place, make a plan. Then Execute!) Change your “Majority” (if necessary) to reflect the love you want to give, the good you want to do, the people you want to spend time with, the goals you want to fulfill, and the life you want to live.
Today I read a great story about Delta Airline pilots who broke tried and true rules of flight by returning to the gate to get a grieving family. Through no fault of their own they had missed the last connection of the day to Tennessee where they were going to attend their father’s funeral. The pilots saw their crying and grieving faces in the window, and though it’s true, I was not in the cockpit, I’m pretty sure both of them looked at each other, and said something to the effect of “To hell with it,” and proceeded to carefully and competently turn that jet around and return to the gate for this distraught family.
My husband is a commercial pilot, and on top of that, I do a fair amount of air travel myself. I know the seriousness of that decision. It is definitely breaking the rules. What could have possessed the minds or hearts of these pilots to put their own jobs in jeopardy to do such a thing?
All of us have had a “To hell with it” moment in our lives. As the New year of 2016 is upon us, once again, we are contemplating past and present resolutions: I am going to lose weight. I am going to get fit. I am going to get control of my high blood pressure or type 2 Diabetes. I am going to attend church. I am going to take my kids to church. I am going to be more generous, get out of debt, quit swearing, (I know-the irony of this post!) Maybe you have committed in this New Year to tithe, or to give some of your earnings to good causes. Maybe you have committed in this New Year to being a more loving parent or spouse, to institute game night with your kids, or to find time to say yes to a friend in need. Maybe you think, “This is the year I am going to have company over for dinner, or invite people to my house.” Maybe you’ll write that book or finish school, or go after the dream job you have always wanted. I will submit to you that we can make resolutions all day long. We can say, “I’m going to try.” But until we face the truth of our absolute unwillingness to change that bad habit or start that good habit; until we face the reality that “trying” is really defined as, “I’m talking about it; my lips are moving, but I’m not demonstrating practical change,” until we say “To hell with it, I can do this,” I’m not sure that we are ever going to make the decisions that are the healthiest, or best for our family, our marriages, or our professions. Having defined “trying,” we should also define “To hell with it.” The latter is on some level, abandoning traditional norms or even rules. Traditional norms, absolute rules, prevented the Delta pilots from getting that family on board. “To hell with it” said I am going to make an exception (albeit in their case-isolated and unusual). We need to decide we are going to make exceptions in our lives from social norms and traditions, and from our own poor behavioral patterns, in order to achieve these very important goals. Spending every dime we have at the expense of paying off our debt or saving for our futures is pretty typical among Americans. We have to quit “trying” to do the right thing with our money and get real about budgeting, planning, and assigning each dollar a job. We need to quit “trying” to improve our marriage, and look on our calendars and block out a date night or (for those of us married to pilots), a date day. We need to quit wishing our spouse would conform to all our desires and find positive and possible ways to adjust my attitude. The same goes for opening up our homes to others. Quit “trying,” and add some margin to your calendar each month. Find a Saturday night that’s open, dedicate it on your calendar and send out an email to your friends.
I absolutely love the idea of “To hell with it.” Some of you (I know) find this title understandably, a coarse use of language. But in its literal sense, I find it very appropriate. Sending the negativity in our lives, metaphorically as it may be, to the depths of hell where it belongs may be the Single. Solitary. Strategy. for our success. Sometimes you have to just quit. Quit procrastinating. Quit Trying. And as the saying goes, “To hell with it.” Ask the girl out. Ask the girl to marry you. Leave the dead-end job you hate and pursue the job you love. Give a dollar to the homeless guy at the busy intersection near your house without going through the same old twenty reasons in your head why this complete stranger doesn’t deserve your kindness. Volunteer. Start exercising. The endless possibilities effect not only your happiness and fulfillment but also that of your family, spouse, children, and co-workers. What do you have to do to make this happen? Make a list. Get on it. Think about what has not worked for you in the past and say “It ends here.” What has not worked for you over and over? That jelly donut? That dead-end relationship? That expensive mortgage? Get rid of whatever jelly donut is keeping you from becoming what you need to be. I have had so many “To hell with it” moments in my life. But unlike what you might be thinking, “To hell with it” is not an abandonment of common sense. In this case, it is more an embracing of common sense and what you know to be the right thing. It is the climactic point of a journey you have already been on for years, but perhaps have not grasped fully the practical steps needed to make the same old New Year’s resolutions a reality. “To hell with it. I’m going to do this thing.” It doesn’t mean you abandon your family to become a rock star. It does mean you abandon the fears that keep you locked into the same old cycle of failed resolutions. Oh and one more thing, it also doesn’t mean that if you’re sitting in the Starbucks at the airport with your ear buds in and don’t hear your boarding call, the pilot is going to come back and pick you up. Nope. Not going to happen!