Christ Calls Christians to Compassion, NOT Comfort

I know everyone is passionate about what is going on in the country right now. There are a lot of legitimate reasons for people to be concerned about the direction we are heading, and emotions on all fronts are understandably close to the surface, which makes it really hard for us to listen to each other. But for a moment, I’d like to talk to the Americans who call themselves Christians. Everyone else, of course, is welcome to read on, but I’m specifically directing this towards those who strive to be Christ-like.

First of all, no one is perfectly Christ-like. That is simply unattainable. But if we are going to call ourselves by his name, that should be our aim. It is what we should strive for, and we should always be pressing towards that goal, to get as close as we are able.

There are a lot of words that you could use to describe Jesus’ three-year ministry on Earth. But the aspect of his character that always seems to shout the loudest to me is: compassion. Indeed, it is compassion that brought him to Earth in the first place. But almost every interaction that you see between Jesus and nearly everyone he came in contact with (perhaps with the exception of the religious rulers) was dominated by compassion. Here are just a few examples (in no particular order):

The (Samaritan) woman at the well,  John 4:4-26

Even though she was a “half-breed” Samaritan who would have been rejected by many of the Jews of her day, Jesus was not reluctant to associate with her, listen to her, and offer her a chance to accept him as the Messiah (who most Jews felt was exclusively for them)

The woman with twelve years of constant bleeding, Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34, Luke 8:43-48

This woman had exhausted every penny she had going to doctors for healing and had found none, for twelve long years. We don’t know if she was in a lot of pain (although many of the conditions that cause constant menstrual bleeding are quite painful), but we do know that because of the restrictions on cleanliness there would have been many social and religious aspects of life she would have been excluded from.

 The feeding of the multitudes (two events), Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:5-15; and Matthew 15:32-16:10, Mark 8:1-9

Jesus and the disciples were exhausted. A seemingly never-ending stream of people with physical and spiritual needs had left them with no time to rest, relax, and restore themselves. In fact, the “feeding of the 5000” was right after they found out about John the Baptist’s murder. They hadn’t even really had time to mourn. But when the disciples wanted to send the crowds away, Jesus instead asked what they had to offer the hungry masses. He blessed it into enough not only for the crowd at that moment, but enough to send them home with leftovers.

The children who came to him, Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17

 Again, these guys are wiped out. The crowds were pretty much constant at this point, and the wear on the disciples was beginning to show in their crabbiness as they tried to shoo away the children and the parents who tried to bring them to Jesus. But Jesus urged them to allow the children to come to him.

 Mary and Martha (when their brother Lazarus was dead), John 11

There are tons of commentaries on this passage and the background of this family’s relationship with Jesus, and I am no scholar. The point I’m trying to make here is that he cared very deeply about this family, and his compassion moved him not only to tears, but to action.

Even on the cross, he was more focused on his compassion for others than on his own suffering:

Praying for forgiveness for those who were carrying out the orders to crucify him (Luke 23:34)

Assuring the thief on the cross next to him that he would join him in paradise (Luke 23:43)

Bidding his mother and Peter to care for one another as mother and son after he was gone (John 19:25-27).

Why am I prattling on about this? Because I believe that if we are going to label ourselves with his name, then this profoundly fundamental aspect of his character should be something that we are continually working towards. But what exactly does that look like in our current society?

I believe it looks like this:

Whenever we have an opportunity to ease another person’s suffering, we should do whatever we can to do so. Close to home, this may mean volunteering at a soup kitchen, supporting ministries that provide shelter for the homeless, medical and mental health care, sanctuary for abused spouses and children, etc. As we expand our outreach to those beyond our borders, I believe it should include humanitarian aid to victims of natural disasters, war, famine, etc. We should offer what we have to give to relieve the suffering of refugees, immigrants, and the like. Christ didn’t say only to care for those who believe as you do, or behave as you wish them to. In fact, he said exactly the opposite:

Luke 6:27-36 New International Version (NIV)

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.

The crux of this passage is that we (as Christians) should never sacrifice compassion for the sake of comfort. We should be willing to sacrifice our comfort for the sake of compassion. Yes, that means temporarily sacrificing our physical comfort in order to give our coat to someone who needs it, but I think it also includes something else. I think we are FAR too unwilling to sacrifice our psychological comfort for the sake of compassion. Follow me down this path for a moment, and maybe I can explain what I mean. If seeing a homosexual couple makes you uncomfortable, are you willing to sacrifice your comfort for the sake of interacting with that couple in a compassionate and loving way? If the Black Lives Matter movement makes you uncomfortable, are you willing to sacrifice your comfort for the sake of maintaining a dialogue, coming together in a spirit of reconciliation, and a true desire to right the undeniable wrongs that continue to be an issue? If the militarization of the police force makes you uncomfortable, are you willing to sacrifice your comfort to maintain a dialogue with them, addressing their very real fear for their safety, and the changes that need to be made in selecting and training our police force? If the Women’s March made you uncomfortable, can you sacrifice your comfort for the sake of reaching out to minister to the needs of those women, instead of calling names, labeling, or dismissing them?

Now, I don’t claim to know where the line should be drawn between the expected actions of an individual, and the prudent actions of a nation. But I do know that Christ did not call us as individuals to act out of fear, or greed, or entitlement, or paranoia, or anger, or retribution. If we are attempting to follow him, we should be acting out of compassion. And while I do not believe that a nation can be “Christian” (I believe that is a title that can only be assigned to individuals who have made that choice for themselves), if we would like to claim that we are a nation that is led by at least some fraction of Christian individuals, the decisions they are making should at least in some measure reflect compassion, even when difficult decisions have to be balanced with other concerns.

Obviously my sphere of influence doesn’t include our nation’s leaders. But if you’ve read through this far, maybe I can encourage you. Don’t let fear make decisions for you. God’s love is perfect, and perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18; note that it is in present tense, meaning it is an ongoing process–it continues to drive out fear, not that it drove out fear once and for all). Let us not belligerently withhold desperately needed aid in the name of self-protection, or nationalism, or entitlement. We are one of the richest countries in the world, in so many ways. We should be sharing that abundance. Do we have needy within our own borders? Absolutely. But we are blessed with such abundance that this should never have been an either/or discussion–we should be doing what we can to help both our fellow Americans in need AND our fellow human beings in need around the world.

Is there a way that you, personally, can sacrifice your own comfort for the sake of compassion?

Christians, Let’s Get Back to Basics

You know, sometimes I wonder how often Christ rolled his eyes at his followers while he was here on Earth. I imagine that he was imminently patient with the frustrations of dealing with people who had spent three solid years with him, listening to everything he said, but were still just not getting it. But there is no sin in a sigh as you have to restate the same things over and over, an occasional head shake, maybe pinching the bridge of the nose, or even an eye roll. He was, after all, human.

He tried repeatedly to simplify things for them (and for us). He used parables in the hopes that the important things would click, and because he knew people have a tendency to remember stories far better than lectures. And he tried to break things down to basics. Probably the best example is this: love God, love your neighbor. Three of the four gospels have a version of this quote (John is a little different from the other three, but I’m not gonna get into that–it’s for Biblical scholars). Bear with me as I give you three copies of the same fundamental idea.

First, a little background for the passage. A teacher of the law asked Jesus which commandment was the greatest. Now we don’t know much about this guy other than that he was a Bible scholar (which for him, would have been the Pentateuch (the first five books of our Old Testament) and the books of the prophets). It says that he “tested” Jesus with his question. We don’t really know what his motivation was; it could be that he was a true seeker, and wanted to know if Jesus measured up to the hype, or that he was trying to trick Jesus into some objectionable offense (this was a pretty common occurrence). But it doesn’t really matter why he asked the question. Jesus used it as a teachable moment, one I’d dare say was one of his most important. Here are the three versions of his response, in the NIV (please don’t be upset if I didn’t use your favorite translation–I’ve read lots, and they really do come out the same; you can read yours if you prefer). Note that in the Luke quote, Jesus turned the question back to the enquirer, and the words are his, but then Jesus said he answered correctly.

Matthew 22:37-40

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Mark 12:30-31

30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.”

Luke 10:25-27

27 He {the scholar} answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

Both of these quotes come from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:5[a] and Leviticus 19:18[b], if you want to look them up). While we modern day people think of the commandments as “the big ten”, he was talking about far more than that. There was a huge list of laws, some applicable to the entire nation of Israel, some specifically for the Levites (who were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the nation), and some even more specifically for the Levite priests. But with all those rules to choose from, Jesus felt these two were the most important, and they even managed to capture the essence of all those other laws.

Basically, Jesus said, “There is too much, let me sum up.”

If you boiled everything down to its most basic roots, you’d have two categories in which all the other laws fit. Loving God involves not worshiping other gods (even things or people we treat as gods). It also includes a desire to please God by behaving as he wants us to behave. And the most important of those behaviours, what Jesus said was the biggest thing in all of the laws and guidelines God set out, was “love your neighbor as yourself”.

And what happens next? The scholar asks what all of us want to know: Who is my neighbor?  That’s right, I want to know exactly whom I have to be nice to. Jesus follows up with one of the most recognizable parables in scripture, the story of the Good Samaritan. The point he’s trying to get across to the people is this: everyone is your neighbor.

Wait, do you mean the meth addict in the line at the pharmacy? The gay couple sitting together at the coffee shop? The single mom on welfare who’s pregnant again? The girl with tattoos and facial piercings who visited the church last weekend? The unemployed man begging for change at the entrance to the shopping plaza?

Yep. All of the above. And everyone else too.

But don’t I get to decide whether they’re worthy?

Sorry, nope. That’s not your job.

There is absolutely no encouragement to do so. In fact, one of the primary points of the good Samaritan story is how lowly the Israelites thought Samaritans were (for cultural reasons), but HE was the only one who was a good neighbor.

Read the next part of the passage: (from the account in Luke)

Luke 10:29-37

29 But he {the scholar} wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

I think it’s kinda funny that Luke added “the scholar wanted to justify himself”. Common disease of the human race.

And after the story, Jesus asked him who he thought was the neighbor. The (potentially imperious) student of the scriptures knew the right answer. Even if he didn’t like it, it was glaringly obvious. And Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus said, Don’t be like the priest, who was supposed to be one of the highest spiritual leaders of all Israel. Don’t be like the Levite (the tribe from which the priests were selected) who were in charge of being support staff for the priests, and caring for the temple and the other spiritual needs of the nation. Pause and think on that for a second. Don’t be like the “spiritual” people, but instead be like one of the lowliest outcasts, and put someone else before yourself. Because the “spiritual” people refused to do so.

The Samaritan didn’t say, “He shouldn’t have been walking through such a rough neighborhood.”

He didn’t say, “He must have been up to no good, or he wouldn’t have been here.”

He didn’t say, “He doesn’t deserve my help. He’s probably in this predicament because of bad choices, and now he’s suffering the consequences.”

There was no victim blaming anywhere to be found in this story.

He didn’t even say what I think might have been most understandable: “His people and my people have hated each other for a long time, and I doubt one of them would help one of us. Why should I?”

It just says, when he saw him, he took pity on him. I think an even better translation of that word, in the context of the passage, is that he had compassion.

At that moment, it didn’t matter how or why the man was in the condition he was in. It didn’t matter what his race, upbringing, or fundamental beliefs might have been. All that mattered was that the Samaritan saw a need and did everything he could to help. He had compassion. In fact, he went above and beyond. He not only lifted the guy out of the disastrous situation he was in, he made sure there was enough money to help him recover fully and get back on his feet. He didn’t offer his help based on whether the man deserved it, or earned it after the fact, or groveled at his feet in thanks for his marvelous generosity. He also didn’t let the innkeeper bear the expense of a decision that he had made. He offered to cover any additional expenses the next time he was around. He lived out his convictions to the fullest. He put his money where his heart was.

So I ask you: Is this how Christians behave? Is this what the rest of the world sees when they look at people who claim Christ’s name as part of their identity? Sadly, it has been far too often not the case. We definitely have a tendency to be more like the priest and the Levite, turning our heads to people in need. And it seems to have gotten even worse lately. This is something that desperately needs to change. If the majority of non-Christians see the majority of Christians acting in ways that are the exact opposite of what Christ called us to do, in fact, the opposite of what he said was one of the most important concepts of all, it’s no wonder there is animosity towards us.

So how can we turn this around? I truly believe it starts with each individual. If I claim that Christ is important to me, then my behaviour should reflect that. I should be willing to reach out to those in need, regardless of whether their need is a result of their own mistakes, or whether their beliefs align with mine. All of the people. I should be prayerfully considering how God can use my own special gifts and abilities to show his love to a hurting world. I should be working on me, not dictating how others should be spending their own money and gifts. I’ll ponder on this, and I ask that you do as well, and next time we’ll delve a little more deeply into specific instances, because there are so many people in need in this world.

Worthy of Love

I saw a post on Facebook a couple of days ago that said, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy”.  And it really got to me.  It was posted on a faith-based page, and I think it’s primarily directed towards Christians, but we could all benefit from adopting this attitude.

There is no passage in the Bible that contains qualifiers for the mandate to love one another.  Nowhere does it say, “love people who deserve it”, or “love people who never sin” or “love people who love you in return”.  It just says, LOVE one another.  There is no restriction on age, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, wealth, or any other of those lame excuses we come up with to justify NOT loving one another.

So the challenge for us as Christians (and I dare say everyone else too) is to decide what actions constitute loving one another unconditionally.  No restrictions or qualifiers.  One need not embrace the homosexual lifestyle to love a homosexual, just as we don’t have to be the same color in order to love one another.  I guess I developed this attitude pretty early on in life, because one of my very best friends in early elementary school was a black girl, and I was completely baffled as to why the color of her skin should have any bearing on whether or not we should be friends, any more than someone’s hair color or eye color should.  I never really have understood that.

This also kind of underlines how prejudice is a LEARNED behavior.  We don’t pop out of the womb automatically disliking someone based solely on some random characteristic; the sad truth is that we TEACH this to our children.  We teach them by words and deeds to treat someone differently because of their beliefs, their race, or who they choose to spend their lives with.

Until we reach the point where it simply doesn’t matter, we haven’t found true equality.  This includes those who think they should be treated better simply because their group has been treated so poorly in the past.  In fact, even if you personally have been mistreated, it doesn’t mean that you are entitled to preferential treatment to “make up” for it.  That’s not any more equality than the mistreatment.

So that should be our goal: to get the the point where it makes absolutely no difference what color you are, or where you were born, or who you love.  I can love you regardless, for I should not be judging whether you are “worthy”.  That is the pinnacle of equality.

35 Gifts Your Children Will Never Forget

This is another great post by Becoming Minimalist.  It helps to redirect the focus towards what really matters in life, not stuff, but people and our relationships.

Read on…

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” – Kahlil Gibran

I have countless holiday memories. Most of them center around faith, family, and traditions.

Very few childhood memories actually include the gifts I received. I distinctly remember the year that I got a blue dirt bike, the evening my brother and I received a Nintendo, and opening socks every year from my grandparents. But other than that, my gift-receiving memories are pretty sparse. Which got me thinking… what type of gifts can we give to our children that they will never forget? What gifts will truly impact their lives and change them forever?

To that end, here is an alphabetical list of 35 Gifts Your Children Will Never Forget.

  1. Affirmation. Sometimes one simple word of affirmation can change an entire life. So make sure your children know how much you appreciate them. And then, remind them every chance you get.
  2. Art. With the advent of the Internet, everyone who wants to create… can. The world just needs more people who want to…
  3. Challenge. Encourage your child to dream big dreams. In turn, they will accomplish more than they thought possible… and probably even more than you thought possible.
  4. Compassion/Justice. Life isn’t fair. It never will be – there are just too many variables. But when a wrong has been committed or a playing field can be leveled, I want my child to be active in helping to level it.
  5. Contentment. The need for more is contagious. Therefore, one of the greatest gifts you can give your children is an appreciation for being content with what they have… but not with who they are. (I think I know what he meant by this, that we should strive to continually improve ourselves, but I’m not sure I liked the word choice here.  Our kids need to learn to love themselves just as they are, even though they know there’s always room for improvement and growth.  We just don’t want to encourage stagnation.)
  6. Curiosity. Teach your children to ask questions about who, what, where, how, why, and why not. “Stop asking so many questions” are words that should never leave a parents’ mouth.
  7. Determination. One of the greatest determining factors in one’s success is the size of their will. How can you help grow your child’s today?
  8. Discipline. Children need to learn everything from the ground-up including appropriate behaviors, how to get along with others, how to get results, and how to achieve their dreams. Discipline should not be avoided or withheld. Instead, it should be consistent and positive.
  9. Encouragement. Words are powerful. They can create or they can destroy. The simple words that you choose to speak today can offer encouragement and positive thoughts to another child. Or your words can send them further into despair. So choose them carefully.
  10. Faithfulness to your Spouse. Faithfulness in marriage includes more than just our bodies. It also includes our eyes, mind, heart, and soul. Guard your sexuality daily and devote it entirely to your spouse. Your children will absolutely take notice.
  11. Finding Beauty. Help your children find beauty in everything they see… and in everyone they meet.
  12. Generosity. Teach your children to be generous with your stuff so that they will become generous with theirs.
  13. Honesty/Integrity. Children who learn the value and importance of honesty at a young age have a far greater opportunity to become honest adults. And honest adults who deal truthfully with others tend to feel better about themselves, enjoy their lives more, and sleep better at night.
  14. Hope. Hope is knowing and believing that things will get better and improve. It creates strength, endurance, and resolve. And in the desperately difficult times of life, it calls us to press onward.
  15. Hugs and Kisses. I once heard the story of a man who told his 7-year old son that he had grown too old for kisses. I tear up every time I think of it. Know that your children are never too old to receive physical affirmation of your love for them.
  16. Imagination. If we’ve learned anything over the past 20 years, it’s that life is changing faster and faster with every passing day. The world tomorrow looks nothing like the world today. And the people with imagination are the ones not just living it, they are creating it.
  17. Intentionality. I believe strongly in intentional living and intentional parenting. Slow down, consider who you are, where you are going, and how to get there. And do the same for each of your children.
  18. Your Lap. It’s the best place in the entire world for a book, story, or conversation. And it’s been right in front of you the whole time.
  19. Lifelong Learning. A passion for learning is different from just studying to earn a grade or please teachers. It begins in the home. So read, ask questions, analyze, and expose. In other words, learn to love learning yourself.
  20. Love. …but the greatest of these is love.
  21. Meals Together. Meals provide unparalleled opportunity for relationship, the likes of which can not be found anywhere else. So much so, that a family that does not eat together does not grow together.
  22. Nature. Children who learn to appreciate the world around them take care of the world around them. As a parent, I am frequently asking my kids to keep their rooms inside the house neat, clean, and orderly. Shouldn’t we also be teaching them to keep their world outside neat, clean, and orderly?
  23. Opportunity. Kids need opportunities to experience new things so they can find out what they enjoy and what they are good at. And contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t have to require much money.
  24. Optimism. Pessimists don’t change the world. Optimists do.
  25. Peace. On a worldwide scale, you may think this is out of our hands. But in relation to the people around you, this is completely within your hands… and that’s a darn good place to start.
  26. Pride. Celebrate the little things in life. After all, it is the little accomplishments in life that become the big accomplishments.
  27. Room to Make mistakes. Kids are kids. That’s what makes them so much fun… and so desperately in need of your patience. Give them room to experiment, explore, and make mistakes.
  28. Self-Esteem. People who learn to value themselves are more likely to have self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth. As a result, they are more likely to become adults who respect their values and stick to them… even when no one else is.
  29. Sense of Humor. Laugh with your children everyday… for your sake and theirs.
  30. Spirituality. Faith elevates our view of the universe, our world, and our lives. We would be wise to instill into our kids that they are more than just flesh and blood taking up space. They are also made of mind, heart, soul, and will. And decisions in their life should be based on more than just what everyone else with flesh and blood is doing.
  31. Stability. A stable home becomes the foundation on which children build the rest of their lives. They need to know their place in the family, who they can trust, and who is going to be there for them. Don’t keep changing those things.
  32. Time. The gift of time is the one gift you can never get back or take back. So think carefully about who (or what) is getting yours.
  33. Undivided Attention. Maybe this imagery will be helpful: Disconnect to Connect.
  34. Uniqueness. What makes us different is what makes us special. Uniqueness should not be hidden. It should be proudly displayed for all the world to see, appreciate, and enjoy.
  35. A Welcoming Home. To know that you can always come home is among the sweetest and most life-giving assurances in all the world. Is your home breathing life into your child?

Of course, none of these gifts are on sale at your local department store. But, I think that’s the point.

Relearning to Do My Best. Again.

A week or two before Thanksgiving, I started feeling really crummy.  While I never really got sick, per se, I just had no energy, was having trouble with dizzy spells, weakness, etc.  I told myself I was probably just fighting off some infection or something (poorly, due to my pathetic immune system), and I’d feel better in a week or two.  But it was the beginning of a gradual consistent decline.  For a while we thought maybe the issue was a change that had been made in my medication, but it turned out that I had managed to contract mono (at my age!) from some unknown source.

As I wrote in The Four Agreements, by far the hardest point for me to follow is Always Do Your Best.

  • Your best is going to change from moment to moment;  it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to when you are sick.  Under any circumstances, simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

Yep, I suck at this.  Royally.  I don’t want to do Karen’s best.  I want to do Supermom’s best. AND Superwife’s best.  AND Supernanny’s best.  AND Superdaughter, Supergranddaughter, Supersister, Superfriend, and all the other Supers.  All at the same time.  Without fail.  I don’t care if I’m sick.  I can’t give myself a break just because I’m sick!

Ugh.  Alas, I was so dreadfully ill that I had no choice. I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to do.  I couldn’t even do most of the things that I NEEDED to do.  But that didn’t stop me from beating myself up for it.  If only I was stronger, or tried harder, or pushed myself a little more….

So I’ve had to reevaluate what is critical.  It’s especially hard this time of year.  I usually make home-made Christmas cards, and some home-made soaps.  Neither of those things are happening this year, and I hate it.  But it’s just not physically possible.  Intellectually, I know people will understand, but I still find it tremendously disappointing.  I tell you guys that Christmas doesn’t have to be Martha Stewart perfect to be memorable, and I believe that, but I still find myself striving for that ideal.  I have to constantly tell myself that my best today is not my best yesterday, nor is it anyone else’s best but my own.

If I get too down on myself, I actually end up accomplishing less than if I had just allowed myself to do what I am capable of, right now, in this moment.  Maybe one day I will actually learn this lesson.  I’ll keep trying.  And I’ll do my best.  🙂

How about you?  Does anyone else do this to themselves?  Does it make you feel better to know that you’re not the only one?

What Makes Life Worth Living?

I think this is a question that people often ask themselves, but tend to answer very superficially.  In the article “What Makes Life Worth Living?“, author Dustin Wax reflects upon some of the things that are really important to us.  With Thanksgiving in our so recent past and Christmas right on the horizon, and many friends doing the “30 days of Thankfulness” on Facebook, it’s nice and fresh in our minds.  I don’t want to marginalize this exercise, because I think anything that causes us to focus on what we have over what we don’t have is a good thing.  But let’s not let it be a superficial thing, or let it only last for the month of November.  Dustin came up with these great points on what makes life meaningful:

  • Creating: Writing, drawing, painting (though I’m not good at it), playing music (though I’m not especially good at that, either). For others, it might be inventing something, building a business, coming up with a clever marketing campaign, forming a non-profit.
  • Relating: It’s not “family” that makes life worth living, I think, but therelationships we create with members of our family, and the way we maintain and build those relationships. Same goes for friends, lovers, business partners, students, and everyone else.
  • Helping: Being able to lend a hand to people in need – however drastic or trivial that need may be – strikes me as an important part of life.
  • Realizing: Making, working towards, and  achieving goals, no matter what those goals are.
  • Playing: Maybe this is a kind of “relating”, but then, play can be a solo affair as well. Letting go of restraints, imagining new possibilities, testing yourself against others or against yourself, finding humor and joy.
  • Growing: Learning new things, improving my knowledge and ability in the things I’ve already learned.

I think we all want to live fulfilling lives, ones that make an impact, lives that leave a legacy after we’re gone. But sometimes we don’t really know how to go about doing that.  It’s far too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life, especially this time of year, and end up just getting through instead of leaving our mark.

I know I am much happier if I have done at least something in one of these categories each day. Even on days when I can’t manage to check much off my “to-do” list, as long as I’ve done something fulfilling, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.  And sometimes I have to celebrate even the smallest accomplishment.

I’d like to make two points here:  First, let’s not beat ourselves up for not making every second of every day a Mother Teresa level activity.  Everyone’s gotta have down time, and everyone has times when they feel overwhelmed by everything that they have to do.  All the greats had their times of inactivity, and I’m sure they had times when they felt like they weren’t accomplishing much.  Seriously, they were human just like the rest of us.

Second, on the flip side of that coin, I think it helps to evaluate the value of an activity based on its lasting worth.  If I have an hour to spend, do I really want to spend it playing a video game, watching reruns of my favorite sitcom, or spending time with my family?  My time is at least as valuable a resource as my money, and what I choose to spend the majority of it on shows pretty clearly what is most important to me.

Ultimately, I think it all comes down to balance. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional mindless activity that has no real value in the light of eternity.  But if the majority of my time is spent on meaningless things rather than the things that will make a difference in someone’s life, I’m very likely to come to the end of my life with some pretty significant “death-bed regrets”.

So try to go though your coming days with this in mind.  Take an extra second to hold the door for a fellow Christmas shopper.  Make a call or send a message to a friend of family member you haven’t reconnected with in a while.  Take time to recharge your own batteries so that you have something to spend.  And give yourself the Christmas gift of reasonable expectations.  A Christmas celebration does not have to reach Martha Stewart level perfection to be memorable.  After all, it should be all about the time with loved ones anyway, shouldn’t it?

Merry Christmas to you all, and shower the people you love with love!

Seven Harsh Truths That Will Improve Your Life

http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/7-harsh-truths-that-will-improve-your-life.html

This is such a great article, I just had to share it.  I have found time and again that the better I am at applying these principles to my life, the happier and more fulfilled I am.  I’ll add my input in blue, as I have done in the past.

7 Harsh Truths That Will Improve Your Life

AUGUST 15 BY DANIEL WALLEN IN COMMUNICATIONMOTIVATION | 2.3K SHARES

Truth hurts, but someone has to say it. Your life is what you make of it and the only person who can help you is yourself. If you’re ready to take personal responsibility and improve your life, I invite you to apply these seven harsh truths today.

1. No One Is Going to Fix You

If you are waiting for a knight in shining armor to gallop into your life and heal your broken heart, you will be waiting forever. The only person who can help you is yourself. Be happy for the other people in your life, but do not become dependent on them for happiness unlike (I think he meant “unless”) you like to be on a never-ending emotional roller-coaster that is far beyond the realm of your control. Are you alone? No, far from it. But no one is going to fix you, so it is in your best interest to take personal responsibility for your own life. When you do that, you’ll discover you are more powerful than you ever thought possible.

The original article includes a short video by Oprah Winfrey on exactly this idea.  You CANNOT allow the entire foundation of your happiness to be based exclusively on one person, or their existence in your life, or their behavior.  Nor can your relinquish control over your behavior and choices to someone else (ie, “so-and-so makes me angry, so I do “x” bad behavior”)  I need to stress this one over and over again:  NO ONE IS GOING TO FIX YOU.  If you’re not happy where you are, it’s your job to do what you need to do to get where you want to be.  Can you lean on friends and family for support?  Certainly.  But it is not their job to be responsible for your happiness or your perceived level of fulfillment.  That responsibility is yours alone.

2. Life Will Never Be Perfect

If you are waiting for the “right” time to do something — pursue self-employment, begin a fitness plan, dive into the dating pool, or move to a new town — you’re going to be waiting forever. There is no such thing as a “right” time to do anything. This reaction is based on your fear-of-change, plain and simple. If you keep waiting for that mysterious “perfect time to act” (please tell me, when have you ever experienced such a thing?), this means you will never actually have to take action and confront your fear.  Do the scary thing. You will be so glad you did.

This is hard.  It’s hard to take risks, and so we excuse our inaction by saying it’s not the right time.  There will never be perfect timing, with every variable exactly as you want it.  Once you’ve decided it’s something you want to do, go after it wholeheartedly.  Jump in with both feet. As Ms Frizzle always says, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

3. You Might Fail (a Lot)

If you attempt to achieve an ambitious new goal, then it is possible that you will fall on your face while pursuing said goal. Welcome to reality. It’s time to change your thinking about failure. It is not a big, bad thing that you should be frightened of. Failure is a learning opportunity and nothing more. If successful people quit pursuing their goal after failing the first time they tried something new, then there would be approximately zero successful people ever. There is no such thing as a “hole-in-one” in life. Do you want to know how many times I’ve failed? Over a hundred. The only reason I’ve managed to accomplish anything is because I am a firm believer in continuous improvement. If you fail in something, distance from the event for a day or two, because agonizing over the problem will not make it go away (and will make it a lot worse). Read a good book, catch up with some friends you haven’t seen in a long time, or go on a nature hike. You will be able to look at the issue with a fresh perspective. After you have done that, ask yourself: “Why didn’t this work out and how can I do better next time?”  This process very well could repeat itself several times depending on the nature of your goal, but if you keep making a firm commitment to continuously improve yourself, you will develop so much that the only option left is success. Consistent hustle always wins.

Failure is not a big, bad thing that you should be frightened of.  It is a learning opportunity and nothing more.  I’ve said this many times about relationships, because even the worst relationship can at the very least teach you what you DON’T want.  But it applies equally to every other potential failure as well.  One of my favorite quotes from Thomas Edison is “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”   (more quotes about being willing to fail)  The biggest thing is that you do not let failure, even repeated failure, stop you.  You may have HAD a failure, but you will not BE a failure until you give up completely.

4. The Past Is Already Written

Have you ever made a mistake so monumental that you wish you could go back in time and do it all over again? Join the club. It’s called being human. I know you might feel immense regret, but beating yourself up over something that is already done serves no purpose. Shift your attention to the present, where you can take control of your life and move forward into a better future.

This is not to say we should be flippant about the monumentally stupid thing we did, or refuse to apologize if it involved hurting someone else, but seriously.  Ask for forgiveness, and give it to yourself if necessary, and move on.  Try to think about how you would treat a beloved friend who made the same mistake.  I hope you would be able to say, “Yeah, that was dumb.  Just make sure you don’t do it again.”  If you’re not capable of saying that to your dear friend, you have a whole other issue that needs to be dealt with.  But often it’s harder to say it to ourselves.  Self-flagellation can’t erase the mistake.  We need to learn to admit that we had an attack of temporary stupidity and then get on with life.

5. Tomorrow Is Not Guaranteed 

Steve Jobs said it best, so I’m going to defer to him for this harsh truth:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

The next time you catch yourself playing the “I will do it tomorrow” game, remember that tomorrow is not guaranteed. Traffic accidents, heart attacks, and acts of violence do happen. Live in the present and take action today, because that is where progress happens.

This seems a little morbid, perhaps, but it really is true.  Live like there’s no tomorrow.  Love fiercely, and fight for your dreams.  Don’t wait for tomorrow.

6. Just Because You’re “Busy” Doesn’t Mean You’re Accomplishing Something

If you like to brag about how great you are at multitasking, stop it, because you are only kidding yourself. Changing tasks without rhyme or reason is wasting your productivity, stressing you out, and possibly causing you to make mistakes. It will probably take you longer to complete two tasks that you are switching back-and-forth between than it would to complete each one separately. If you want to save time, instead of multitasking, try grouping similar tasks together. Have a bunch of e-mails you need to send? Do them all at once. Have an article or essay you need to write? Get it done before moving onto anything else. Different tasks require different mind-sets, so focus on one thing at a time. Being “busy” does not guarantee that you are doing something useful (it probably just means you are doing a lot of things badly).

I have a problem with this.  If I do not stay focused on a task, it may never get finished.  I’ll start something, and then get distracted by something else that needs to be done, and forget to finish the first thing.  I find I am infinitely more productive when I keep myself on task, especially if I have a to-do list that allows me to tackle things in order of importance.  I just have to remember to be pleased with what I have accomplished instead of fretting over the things that are left on my list.  I like these suggestions for making a to-do list effective.

7. You Have More Time Than You Think You Do

You should eliminate the phrase, “I don’t have the time,” from your vocabulary, because it is profoundly untrue. There are 168 hours every week. Let that sink in for a moment. That is a monumental amount of time. Where could it possibly go? The average person spends 4.09 hours on leisure activities per day according to a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most of that time, 2.8 hours per day, is devoted to the television. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think watching TV does much to help me grow as a person. You could spend that time creating art that adds value to the world, reading books that will help you improve your life, or exercising for a better body and health. The next time you say you “don’t have the time,” change your wording to say “it isn’t a priority.” No time to exercise? Your fitness isn’t a priority. No time to prepare healthy meals at home? Your health isn’t a priority. No time to do something nice for the love of your life? Your relationship isn’t a priority. It’s harsh, but it’s true. How you spend your time is a choice, so spend it wisely. You also might want to check out this article that will help you get more done in a day.

In some ways, this is just delving deeper into the previous point.  There is an age-old adage that says, “Work smarter, not harder.”  That is so true.  By making sure that your time is spent getting things done that you really want to accomplish, you’ll find that there are far more hours available to you than you thought.  Now, I’m not dead-set against television.  Everyone has to have some down time, and veg out a bit.  I usually prefer to do this with a book, but to each his own.  However, if keeping up with the new episodes of the seventeen different series you “have” to watch is keeping you from getting done what you need and want to get done, it’s a problem.

But how do you decide what’s important?  Ask yourself what you really want.  Most of us are not at exactly where we want to be in our lives right at this moment.  Perhaps we want to learn a new skill, train for a new job, start our own business, or whatever it might be.  Think about the steps that are necessary to reach that goal.  Spend at least a little time each day planning or working toward that goal.  Chances are, that’s going to help you decide what to focus on.  Think of your time as a valuable resource, and you are choosing how to spend it, just as you choose how to spend your money.  Do you really want the majority of your time to be spent on things that will not help you towards your dreams?

And then the problem becomes whether or not we have talked ourselves out of pursuing our dreams, because they are unattainable, impractical, or just plain difficult.  But I’ll tackle that one next time.

What do you think?  Which of these points resonates the most with you?