January 27, 2013
Life is a beautiful forest, and I see that most of the time. But when I’ve bumped my nose on a tree trunk, it’s easy to get wrapped up in thinking about “that stupid tree that’s always in my way.”
It goes like this:
Angry. Short of patience even though I don’t want to be. Frustrated. Tired. Very tired of the same things over and over. “Why does life have to be so hard!?!?” I think.
I know why life is hard in general: so we’ll learn—learn patience, self-control, love, endurance, humility, cooperation (with each other and with God), appreciation for better times, etc.
But why SO hard? Why so hard that I can’t seem to manage what I think I ought to be accomplishing?
Still the wrong question.
Would I really be content with life as it is if I had any clearer understanding of WHY life is as it is? No!
If life is hard so that we learn and grow, then we aren’t even supposed to be content exactly as is—we’re supposed to be growing and moving on, changing our thinking and our approach and our outcome to something better than what comes naturally.
Looking backwards at how we got to the state we are in is helpful, to see consequences of actions so we can make better choices as we go on. Looking backwards can also be helpful in seeing what all we’ve forgotten that we should be thankful for, so we realize that life isn’t as bad as it might seem when only focused on a small part.
But when one is angry and frustrated, then asking “why” life is as it is, is actually mostly looking to blame. Why did God put me in this lousy life? Why don’t other people make my life easier? Why am I so stupid I don’t do something completely different?
Blame breads bitterness, loneliness, and depression. When vented, angry blame only make a problem bigger.
Life is what it is—so far as the present moment. The future depends on our choices.
The right question is “What am I going to do to make things BETTER?”
As long as there’s a plan or an idea to move forward positively, there’s hope for goodness. And where there’s hope and action, there’s joy, and love, and progress toward all good things.
When positivity is radiated, improvement can grow and multiply.
So what are you going to do to make things better?
NOT “What are you going to do for revenge?” NOT “What are you going to do to get free of miserable responsibilities?”
What are YOU going to do to make things TRULY BETTER?
That is the right question. And the answer will make you joyful.
(Images courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, dan, & Stuart Miles, at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/ )
December 7, 2012
Holiday gatherings, and the month of dread which comes beforehand, are some of the most frustrating and depressing times for many people. These are supposed to be celebrations and reunions, but one of the biggest contributing factors which makes these events problems, is that so many people are measuring themselves and others with the wrong measuring sticks.
Tradition is to compare and judge others’ lives against one’s own life, based primarily and superficially on physical accomplishments, because these are the easiest things to put into words and are most similar across humanity in western cultural terms.
Examples: awards and educational degrees earned; prestige or money from jobs and number of promotions; home size, toys, and cars; money spent on gifts; kids and their growth, involvements or accomplishments; fun activities and places visited; number or class of friends; club memberships; books read or written; childhood dreams realized; etc.
But you can HAPPILY look like a failure by all of those standards, IF you have gained (or know you are gaining) understanding of humanity and of God, your reason for existing, and what will outlast the fleeting years at hand. For if understanding a good chunk of those things is what you pour your time and resources into, you can feel confident in your abilities to be an honest benefit to fellow humans and to the entire universe.
Communicating a meaningful measurement of your life is often hard, because there’s so much value in the fleeting moments which are like little pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and just as hard to remember or explain their context.
Examples: the times you made someone smile, were kind to a clerk, gave a hug, answered someone’s nagging question, realized the answer to your own questions, forgave someone, lovingly sacrificed your own desires for someone else’s good. The times God’s Spirit embodied you and shined through to lighten and enlighten the world with love.
So gather with grace, confidence, compassion and love for everyone, wherever they measure up at the moment–or think they measure up–on any yardstick. Hope for meaningful progress.
November 10, 2012
Do you tend to grumble because you have a spouse, sibling, coworker or friend who can never seem to manage to do their fair share of whatever it is in which you are both involved?
Somewhere in the world there are some really lazy, selfish, or stubbornly incapable people whom you might want to avoid, in order to keep your sanity and not be prevented from accomplishing an important goal or your life’s purpose.
But, I propose quite often the problem with one person’s unhappiness in an “unfair” relationship (working or familial), has more to do with one’s own perception and intrenched assumptions, than with the other person’s shortcomings. Let me explain.
Imagine you have twelve hours to drive to some place unfamiliar. You have this other person on the trip with you, but he can’t drive. He falls asleep in the passenger seat.
Eight hours into the trip you’re feeling tired and wishing he would do his share of the driving, to let you do some of the happy dreaming over there in the other seat. But no, he doesn’t even have a driver’s license because he’s always been afraid to try, even though you think his poor vision isn’t all that bad; after all, he doesn’t have trouble doing anything that else he really wants to do.
You come to a fork in the road which isn’t on the map, and you’re not sure which way to go. You pull over, wake your friend, and see what he thinks. You take his advice because it makes sense, and forty minutes later you see a sign which lets you know you are on the right track—your friend had been right about which way to turn.
Suddenly he wakes up again, and just before a freeway exit he asks if you know you are just about out of gas. You would have passed the exit and run out of gas because you were too tired to think of checking your gas gauge. Thanks to your friend, again, you are on your way with a full gas tank and no time lost.
When you arrive at your destination, you are so happy to be on time that you are no longer angry about having to do all the driving; you’re not even tired because you’re psyched about getting on with the purpose of your arrival.
Now of course by normal thinking, it certainly sounds like the work of the trip was unfairly divided. But consider your assumptions.
- You assume that your friend was happily dreaming for 12 hours. But what about the fact that your friend often wishes he could drive himself about, without having to depend on others? What about the headache he had all the next day because he slept uncomfortably in that car seat, instead of home in a bed, where he could have been if he hadn’t wanted to be along with you? What about the nightmare he had about you falling asleep while driving?
- You assume that you did all the work of driving. What about your friend’s two major contributions, without which you might have been several hours late? Don’t you think knowing which way to turn and when to get gas is just as important as controlling the car, as far as arriving at the correct place and time?
- You assume that your friend could actually drive just fine, if he weren’t too lazy to take responsibility. Maybe that’s true; maybe not. But even if that were true, it’s actually his loss, not yours. If he won’t learn and use a skill, he’s that much less capable and less experienced. But if you can manage to do more where he does less, than you are that much MORE capable and MORE experienced. You might even thank him for affording you the opportunity to stretch yourself.
So the truth is, you did what you could do, your friend did what he could do, and together the trip was a success. Remind yourself what matters.
If life were meant to always be “fair” as defined when we are acting like children who complain, “That’s not fair! I did it last time; it’s his turn now!” then we would all be identical in every way.
While sometimes we feel afraid of standing out from the crowd for fear we’ll make a mistake and be ridiculed, or for fear of being a bit lonely, truly everyone wants to be unique, special, better, needed, appreciated. We’d be so bored if somehow everyone’s life could be just like everyone else’s, so why ridicule or resent someone for not having the same skills or personality traits we possess?
An important key to finding happiness in any relationship, is to look for the virtues and utilities of the other person. Whether they are greater or lessor as compared to yourself or anyone else, does not mean they are not valuable. Appreciate the valuable, and it will appreciate in value.
Now reconsider that person in your life who can’t or won’t do his or her “fair share,” and see what there is about him or her for which you can be thankful and happy. What is his or her valuable contribution, whether great or small? Appreciate it. Build on it.
October 12, 2011
God designed work and rest. Sometimes He set the intervals. Day and night. Summer and Winter. Six days of work and a Sabbath. Six years of cultivation and harvest, and the seventh year a Sabbath for the land (which some modern farmers have found so beneficial that they rotate their plots, always having one at rest). Sometimes God devised or allowed exceptions. There is no winter of rest around the Equator. Slaves, prisoners, and the persecuted were not always allowed a Sabbath of rest. Since Christ, we are freed from strict rules, as were made for the childhood of humanity; we are to understand, value, and aim for what the laws were supposed to accomplish, and we are saved even when we fall short.
For years I thought that at least some of the reasons for resting the seventh day, was for the Jews to gather for listening to God’s word (as they did not each have their own Bible), to exercise their trust in God to provide for them even if they did not work non-stop, to set the Jews apart from the rest of the world in an outward way, and to remind the Jews themselves (as well as the world) that God’s people were no longer slaves—that God was better to them than their old earthly masters. I thought that if God was in my heart and thoughts every day, if I read His word frequently, and lived my life for His glory (sharing Him with others, directly or indirectly), that I didn’t have to follow the strict 6-1 schedule. I didn’t need to put one day aside for God, if every day was for God.
I still believe that. But however flexible God is, and our bodies are, there remains the rule of alternating work with rest. It’s part of the earthly human existence God put us in. It has reasons and value, which we should appreciate and respect.
Some people may be built to go all their lives on two-thirds as much sleep as other people, but each better get the rest he or she needs. When there are unusual circumstances or people who need our help, we may be able to go for weeks on a fraction of the sleep we usually need, but eventually we will stop functioning well and even collapse without enough rest. We can break down emotionally or physically—even spiritually if we allow the strain to lead us astray. Jesus didn’t take much rest during His ministry, but then He only had to go at it for about three years before He was done with His physical body.
I really extended myself all this Summer, for the sake of others directly, and for the sake of projects intended in the long run to be mostly for the sake of others. I thought that God was my strength, and He was. I didn’t succumb or stray emotionally or spiritually under the strain, and my body lasted the summer. But then I had a month of physical trouble—a month of rest and refurbishing before I could work again. A Summer on, and month off. It’s like a week on and a day off, but on a different scale. I never would have been able to serve the people who desperately needed my love and help, if I’d stuck to observing Sabbaths for only rest and worship. But what I’ve learned is to have more respect for God’s design, and to look for when I should accept rest, rather than expecting to be “on” for the whole of my life. If I’d taken rest just a bit sooner, I could have prevented my physical crumbling. And on top of that, if I plan in regular rest, I’ll be stronger the next time I’m called upon to work a very long stretch.
I’ve learned to accept that “everything” will never be done, and I’ll make myself sick trying (giving me even less time to get “everything” done), so I’m better off taking time to rest rather than being made to take time being sick. The tricky part is knowing what doesn’t have to be done. I’ve learned to trust that God can help me get enough done, without doing all the time. I’ve long known that choices, balance, and respect were keys, but now experience has in one more way made them a reality in me. I’ve felt consequences of over-tiredness before, but sometimes we humans don’t “get it” the first time around.
I have to take care of the dearest tool God has given me to work with—my body. God knows there is only so many hours in each day, and days in our lives; so He knows what we can and can’t accomplish. We just have to not be too busy to hear His guidance on how to make the best of our time.
Someone who knows me may read this and think, “I knew she was trying to do too much; I told her to rest.” But it’s not a matter of how much I’m trying to accomplish, it’s a matter of how. Working fast when I work is fine, if I can think fast or feel guided. Working on a short night’s sleep is fine, when necessary. But what’s new for me is accepting that I can’t always cut sleep to make things work. There has to be another way, most of the time. There has to be something else to cut, or smarter ways to get things done in the given time. I have to look for those solutions, because I have to respect that God wants me to rest. Rest is a piece of God’s puzzle, and if I accept that piece as non-counterfeit, then I can search for what fits with it, until my life works. I can still amaze everyone with what all I accomplish, because God is my guide and my strength, and He is amazing.
Some people hand out advice which sounds rash to me, like ditching your spouse if he or she seems to be holding you back. I believe more often we need to look for more creative and gradual solutions. You may not feel you can commit to eight or nine hours of sleep, and let everything else work out around that. What you can do, is work toward the rest that you need, as quickly as possible, with trust that there is a way to have a balance appropriate and good for your particular body and spirit. If this post is another nudge to you, that you know you need more rest, aim for it, seriously. You can work better with a full battery, and be happier in the processes. Trust God that it is possible.
© 2011 NPM
September 10, 2011
If you are one of us ambitious types, with always too much to do, you’ve probably been through countless bouts of frustration and despair when you felt that you’ve had too many things going wrong and too many problems to deal with. You often feel like you deserve a break–a span of time when everything goes well, long enough for you to get caught up and even to get ahead before the next batch of trouble strikes. After all, you are working for the good of someone–your kids, your spouse, your boss, your customers, your country, the world; the universe should give you a break so you can do good things, right?
Well, maybe it doesn’t work that way. Maybe rather than resenting the relentless difficulties, we should plan on them–the way we plan on other facts of life in this human form on this strange planet. Businesses have to plan on employees taking sick-leave or missing work for various reasons, so why don’t we plan on it for ourselves? Why do we act like our lives should always run smoothly, as if difficulty isn’t part of a smooth plan?
Maybe dealing with problems coming at is like baseballs from a mechanical pitcher set on high speed, is as useful in the long run as having to work for a living, interact with other humans, sleep a third of our lives, and eat on a regular basis (all things God instituted).
Maybe we’d get farther if we accepted these unexpected troubles as character-enriching experiences (teaching us humility, patience, faith, respect) and planned time for them: expect the unexpected and greet it with grace.
We wouldn’t expect to keep a job without allotting time for personal grooming and the commute to work. Lets stop complaining and start allotting time for dealing with crashed computers, relatives with bad moods, incompetent people, sicknesses, lost items, mechanical breakdowns, etc.
Sure we should intelligently try to minimize or avoid problems, but we would suffer so much less stress and less-frequently inflict a hurtful attitude on others, if we would understand and accept that we are in an imperfect world, and other people are imperfect, as are we.
As illustrated in the poem “How Did You Die?” by Edmund Vance Cooke, life isn’t about everything running perfectly; it’s about how we deal with everything, however it runs.
Lets plan X hours per week for unexpected trouble, and see how much happier we are–and how much happier we make those around us too.
© 2011 NPM
Oh, how I’ve missed my connection to the internet, and my digital creation tools!!! Sure I’ve got plenty else to do, but I had digital work lined up and waiting. Finally, I’m back online, and ready to work. Things to write, draw, publish; people to contact, books to sell. I’m excited.
But first let me warn you:
If you do anything on a computer that isn’t 100% web-based (i.e. if you have ANY files saved on your computer), then listen up and save yourself some pain.
My computer was its usual self when I went to bed one night. The next morning it wouldn’t boot up no matter how many times I tried “safe mode” and all the other options.
What a terrible shock!
Yeah, we’ve all heard that we should have backups, but we’ve gotten by without them for years without disaster. We think we’ll be okay, at least till after we get the next couple of projects completed…and the next couple, and the next.
A friend checked out my computer, and said the Hard Drive had simply failed–it had died. Not just sick with a virus, nor crashed in need of a software fix, but dead–never to work again.
I had a lot of my files backed up (copied to CDs and a memory card), but not everything. I felt the pain of missing important images and documents, and wondering how long it would be before I even discovered what all was lost–discovered by not having it when I came to needing it.
A technician confirmed the diagnosis, but was able to run the dead drive through a special software program for 24 hours which recovered all my data files. I was delighted and relieved!!!!! Nothing was lost but time and a few dollars for his service.
…And more time: I still had to call in my warranty and wait for a replacement drive to be shipped to me. Then I had to sit through hours of reinstalling the operating system and re-adjusting standard program settings. I still have to reinstall printer drivers and various software programs I use.
But the point is: Would you be happy if your computer files vanished tonight? If your answer is “NO”, than you really NEED to have every file copied and saved outside of your computer. Every file. As soon as you make it. Don’t go to sleep, or even to the coffee pot, without saving that picture or letter somewhere outside of your hard drive. And don’t go back to business-as-usual after one thorough backup session–you need to back up each and every file AS you make them, from now on.
You should be able to pick up your memory sticks, or discs, or external drives, plug them into a new computer and just keep working where you left off.
Okay, even backed-up files won’t save you the hassle of reinstalling your favorite software after a computer crash, but the software isn’t irreplaceable—your personal or professional files are!
I’ve heard about a special software-loaded external drive which makes continual and up-to-the-minute backups of everything you are doing on your computer, without you ever having to remember to backup anything. As I understand the sales pitch, you can reload not only your files, but your programs/settings from it in a of couple hours, so you don’t have to manually reinstall anything. I haven’t tried it yet. Sounds handy against hardware failure, but wouldn’t save you against virus corruption as manually pasting every file to a secondary drive or memory card would. But anyway, do something right now–don’t wait to go shopping for special gadgets. This could be your last chance.
For those of you who think I’m preaching a doom that won’t touch you; for those who think they can just trust in an invisible protection; let me assure you that you don’t want to suffer file loss. And the service which dug up my lost files, only works in 50% of cases such as mine.