Relativity: the Problem

 Short men are happy, for they can pass easily through the door. Tall men are happy, for they can stand erect and pluck oranges with their hands. Again, short men are angry, for they cannot stand erect and pluck oranges with their hands. Again, tall men are angry, for they cannot pass easily through the door.  ~  Michael Bassey Johnson

 

There’s a virus circulating on social media sites. It’s the same contagion we’re vulnerable to when we go to the grocery store, turn on the TV or text on our cells. We’re so susceptible that most of us have been passive hosts since childhood. We became infected by phrases like: You should be grateful, others have it so much worse…

It’s embedded in the thoughts that comfort us, sometimes dormant, sometimes flaring up. We reflexively think it and often speak it: Comparatively speaking…

Comparatively speaking the weather is good; the pay is fine; the pain is manageable; the loss is less…

If my contentment lies in anything beyond my present reality, it’s fragile at best and worse yet, it’s a covetous contentment.  The contentment of relativity says I can only find my stability, peace, serenity, bliss in relationship to the lesser security, peace, contentment, and happiness of another.

It’s the It could be worse syndrome.  Yes things could always be worse but that isn’t gratitude that’s just fatalism. It could just as well be better and that certainly isn’t gratitude, that’s greed.

Debbie

 

Relativity: the Cure

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. ~ 14th Dalai Lama

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If my weight is too high, my features too plain, my health too precarious, my finances too tight, I can always look around and find someone who faces greater challenges in those areas. Therein lies the trap: when uncomfortable, seek solace in comfort by comparison.

It seems that much of our measure of pain and pleasure and our sense of thankfulness and peace is based less on our experience in the moment and more on our perception of how this experience compares to that of others.

Comparison carries the pathogens of jealousy, greed, lust, revenge, envy and narcissism- permeating the thin membranes of our mind and the thin skin of our heart, tainting the meaning we assign to life events.

The condition is fed by gaining comfort by comparison, making it nearly impossible to focus on giving comfort through compassion.

If I can only appreciate my situation in relationship to the suffering or to the bounty of others, I don’t know anything about gratitude. And if I know nothing about gratitude, I have very little to offer in the way of compassion which is the antidote to the disease of comparison.

Compassion isn’t relative.

Compassion isn’t reserved for the worthy.

Compassion is what we owe each other simply based on our shared humanity and fragility.

True compassion is poured out freely in light of another’s path or plight, not meted out relative to our own circumstances. Compassion is the inoculation against the rampant contagion of comparison.

Comparison sickens. Compassion heals us. Gratitude keeps us well.

 

Iconoclast

My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast.                        ~ C.S. Lewis

Sometimes I can feel myself teetering on a precipice. I’m drawn to the edge.

I’m not in danger of stepping off and falling into disbelief.

I believe.

That’s solid ground. I’ve believed for a very long time. That can lead to a  different kind of precipice.

It’s the perilous step from the realm of mystery and grace into the free-fall of knowledge and stringency. It’s the allure of a place where I used to live; a land where I could firmly plant my feet and explain the will and actions of the Creator of the Universe.

There are times when I long for the easy comfort of certainty. When I miss well-ordered theology that allowed me to predict God’s moves, determine God’s mind, act as His interpreter.

There are moments when complacency overtakes contemplation. When I’m lulled into worshiping my favorite predictable, explainable, understandable, small god.

There is always an edge. I’m called, again and again, to practice a little iconoclasm; to deconstruct my preconceptions and misconceptions and icons.

He is the great iconoclast. God is the great Mystery.

I’m Done Being Nice

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.
― Henry James

I’ve always been a nice person. By always, of course, I mean overall, not every single moment. But generally speaking, I think even people who don’t like me much probably would describe me as nice. There are many fine behaviors that I lack, but nice I can do.

And therein lies the problem. Nice I can do and have done and in-spite of all my niceness, I’ve remained fundamentally unchanged at my core.

I gradually became aware of the cracks that can’t be papered-over with niceness. My feelings could be easily hurt. I was quick to take offense. But the real tell was that I was critical of other people’s choices when they differed from my own in everything from parenting to politics. I made  character and motive assessments (i.e. He/She is so: raciest, arrogant, judgmental, moody, harsh, deceitful, critical, greedy, selfish, needy, negative etc… )

Get the irony, here? How arrogantly critical and judgmental of me to feel so free to evaluate others. While I kept those thoughts largely to myself, there they were, fermenting and staining my heart.

I’m done being nice. Instead, I want to be kind.

Niceness is a presentation. Kindness is a condition. I want a heart conditioned by grace to be kind. I can be nice in action without being kind-hearted. I can act warm when my thoughts are cold. Kindness requires a depth plumbed by God and infused with His grace.

Nice is pleasant, polite, agreeable, satisfactory. Niceness is about what I do.

Kind is having a sympathetic or helpful nature; having a forbearing (patient) nature; affectionate; loving; gentle. Kindness is about what I am, about what I hope to become.

Being nice wins favor, but being nice is transitory. Niceness easily evaporates in the light of unmet expectations. But out of a kind heart comes compassion and forgiveness and the generous act of thinking of others.

Kindness is spiritual practice. It’s a deep current that runs beneath the surface, supplying the grace to respond to both adversity and adversary with a gentleness that doesn’t come naturally. Grace is required and that grace is abundantly supplied to all Seekers.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

How to NOT to Help the Hurting

We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. ~ C.S. Lewis

We’re often at a loss when it comes to coming along side someone who is hurting. In this post, and the next, I’ll share a few suggestions. Sometimes it’s helpful to look at what comes naturally that doesn’t help before moving on to some ideas that might be more useful. Here’s a partial list of things not to do if we want to encourage a person who’s experiencing emotional or physical pain.

  • Don’t view pain as a teaching moment.

Be sensitive and compassionate in your use of Bible verses and exhortations. We are very hard of hearing when we’re suffering. Leave the megaphone to God.

  • NEVER say: I know how you feel

Of course you don’t. Each person’s pain is unique.

When you’re hurting, I have no idea how you’re feeling no matter how similar I may think our experiences are because I’m not you.

It’s tempting (and often preached) to try to understand how someone else is feeling by walking a mile in their shoes; putting yourself in their place etc… In other words, I should try to understand how you’re feeling by thinking about me. But I’m not you!

While we may have gone through similar situations, every other experience that has led you to this moment has shaped you into who you are and how you experience emotional or physical pain.

In our eagerness to show empathy, we often share our story, inadvertently changing the focus of the conversation from the other person to ourselves.

  • Toss the cliché’s

Time heals all wounds. Time isn’t magical.

What doesn’t kill you makes you strongerBlatantly untrue. What doesn’t kill you will change you but it may or may not make you stronger.

Other’s have it so much worse. Comparing pain is minimizing.

You need to be strong. Why? For whom? What does that even mean?

Take care of yourself. Don’t tell a hurting person what they need to do when they’re already doing all they can to hang on.

Your loved one wouldn’t want you to be sad. Completely irrelevant (and may or may not be true). This moment is about the hurting person, not someone else.

I’m sorry for your loss. This isn’t all bad, but the word loss is problematic and once again, minimizing. Try just I’m so sorry (leaving off the loss). It’s genuine and doesn’t sound like you picked it up on Law and Order. 

In the next post I’ll share a few thoughts on ways to help and encourage someone who is hurting.

Fake It ‘Till You Make It

God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be. ~Brennan Manning

Fake it ’till you make is a popular catchphrase in successful sales programs and some good recovery programs. It hasn’t, however, worked well for me as a spiritual practice.

I took a special math test in 7th grade. I scored high enough to be in the small group that were ‘fast-tracked’. That meant skipping 8th grade math and going straight to Algebra. I was a good student. It would have been great except I really didn’t get math.

From Algebra all the way through Calculus, I was completely lost so I faked it. It’s tricky, faking math. There aren’t any subjective Blue Book exams. There was a right answer, period.

Mr Huth, who sang at weddings and taught all of the advanced math classes, had only one struggling student (me) and one solution. I’d ask a question after class (not during because everyone else got it) and he’d send me home with his Teacher’s Guide. We did that same dance for 5 years.

I had the problem. I had the solution. I had no idea how to get from one to the other so I memorized everything. I memorized pages and pages of sample work and applied it well enough to maintain a B. I tried. I listened. I took notes that I didn’t understand and I faked it.

The same+ b = c  happened to me when I was on the spiritual ‘fast track’. I’d have (a) problems and (c) The Answer Book. I tried so hard. I listened. I took notes. I memorized Scripture. Still, I often didn’t (b) know how to make real life equations work.

Everyone else seemed to be getting straight A’s so I faked it. I didn’t fake my faith – that was real. But I substituted what I truly thought and felt for how I thought I should think and feel. I gave all the right answers until I was numb.

We long to know the grace and mercy of God in our lives but we find ourselves tripped up by failure, by temptation, by ambivalence. Fearing disappointing others and the ensuing pep talk (usually a scriptural exhortation) and the have more faith talk. Or worse, that internal voice that says you (and you alone) aren’t getting it right, compelling us to continue to fake it ’til we make it.

The message of grace shatters our fake facade. Grace says:

(aGod loves us as we are  + (b) not as we should be  = (c) because no one is as they should be

Grace frees us to love each other as the Father loves us. We can weep with those who weep because real people weep. We can rejoice with those who rejoice because we’re freed from self-obsession.

No grades, just grace.

Losing Time

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance ~ Ecclesiastes 3

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. But sometimes I step out of that season. When that happens, I lose time. I’ve lost time by mourning when I could have been dancing. I’ve lost time with people I love by dreading their death while they were still living. I’ve lost time anticipating how much I would miss my children when they left for college when they were only beginning high school. I’ve even lost bits of vacation by thinking about how soon it would be over.

I’ve been on a journey to try to live more and more fully in the present. It sounds so simple but sometimes my mind wanders. Last week, for example, I got the unexpected news that my job would be coming to an end. It isn’t a monumental thing. It happens often in this business. I may be without work briefly, but probably not for long. I have enough to get by until a new spot opens up. I wasn’t worried but I wasn’t happy.

I wasn’t happy because I didn’t want things to change. While I was grateful for the present good, I reacted as if I’d used Aladdin’s 3rd wish. As if I’d rubbed out God’s last bit of blessing. I didn’t want anything to change, even if the change was good for me – even if the change might be something better. I wanted what I had to stay as it was.

How easy it is to give up the gift of joy in the moment by giving in to fear or worry or dread or anxiety or sadness or the need for control. I started grieving the loss of what I had before I lost it and in doing that, lost it before it was over. I lost time for a day or two.

There will be a time to mourn, but it isn’t today. It isn’t this moment. This is the time to dance!