When my kids were younger, they would often complain of not having anything to do. It was tempting to spring into action, and give them a project or some kind of entertainment to quiet their boredom. At some point in those early parenting years, we stumbled onto something together: Boredom is the gateway to creativity.
When we let our kids be bored, they found their imaginations. Cardboard boxes became space ships. Flour and sugar littered the kitchen because they baked cookies. The couch cushions were fashioned into the walls of a tent kingdom in the den.
I wonder what boredom might uncover in your life. What creativity might you fid if you said no to the many distractions.
The problem of our life is almost never the real problem.
The real problem is what we are doing in response to our problems.
We blame. Point fingers. Yell. Throw things at others, words mostly.
We cheat, and steal, and lie. We manipulate. Shade the truth. We get hyper vigilant and vow to never let “it” happen again.
Demands replace invitations. We set insidious traps for others with leading questions, outright killing any humble curiosity.
We run away (Ignorance is bliss, right?). We deny reality, and fashion a better fantasy.
These are the real problems. We don’t respond appropriately to being disappointed or hurt. And this compounds the issue. Now instead of having one problem to deal with, we add our inappropriate response into the mix, and it becomes one giant mess.
Every day on the way to my office, I drive past a massive mound of dirt that has been excavated from a nearby building site. This pile is enormous and for several weeks it kept growing in size. At some point the mound stopped growing and the makers planted grass on top of it, and covered it with straw. I knew what they were doing, but it was still fascinating to watch.
They planted the grass for erosion control.
Without the grass holding the dirt together, the rains would wash the mound away, which would make a huge mess. This reminds me a lot about life.
We all need to plant practices and habits in our lives and relationships that keep erosion from happening. If measures are not taken, our character, ethics, sexuality, maturity, and responsibility will erode. And it is so much harder to rebuild an eroded character or relationship than to take the preemptive steps to protect what has been built.
I wonder what kind of erosion controls you have for your marriage. For your self.
I wonder what holds you together when the storms of life show up.
I wonder what you plant in your relationships that keeps you steady and firm.
Christmas is upon us, and I wonder how you are doing in it all.
Rarely do I interact with people about the holidays and they share stories of rest as a main experience. Most say quite the opposite. There’s not enough time. Time is flying by this season. It’s so hectic. How am I supposed to get all of this done?
There have been countless others that have written about the idea of Sabbath rest (these are three of my favorites: Heschel, Allender, Buchanan), so I won’t say what they have already said. But I do wonder what kind of rest you need today, or tomorrow, given how challenging this season can be for some.
Family gatherings are stressful, and beautiful. Travel is full, and the destination offers something hopeful.
Work slows down for some, and speeds up for others. The weather is getting colder, and days are getting shorter.
There’s so much happening around us, are you taking time to notice these things? Are you aware of the birds, squirrels, and geese as they flutter and bounce about in front of you?
Perhaps five minutes is all you can spare in your day, and that’s ok. Take the five minutes, breathe, rest, and pause to listen for a moment. And then take 5 more minutes (unless there are cookies in the oven). It’ll be ok, there is plenty of time to get what can be done.
Have you gotten lost in the chaos of gifts, parties, and expectations? Have you lost your way? What do you need help with, and from who? Are you well?
I’m sure you’ve heard someone say it, or perhaps that someone has been you, “I’m so afraid of the unknown.”
If you take a step back and consider that statement, it sounds pretty silly. How is it that you can be afraid of something you have yet to know? The answer: You can’t.
“I’m afraid of the unknown” is almost always a statement about fearing the known. Remember in Jurassic Park how the scientists filled in the Dino’s DNA gaps with frog DNA? It’s the same idea here. We have gaps in what we can know about the future, so we fill in those gaps with what we already know. You can’t be afraid of what you don’t know, so you fill the unknown with what you know.
Existentially, we humans are afraid of being out of control and not being a god. Practically, we’re afraid of being left behind, alone, betrayed, forgotten, and/or insignificant.
There’s no better place than the unknown to illuminate the fact that we humans are just humans. Fill it up with all your known fears, and you’ll never have to face what you don’t know. We’re not omnipotent. We don’t know everything. We’re limited. Fragile. Insecure. Capable of dying. And the unknown has all kinds of things that will hurt us.
And the unknown has all kinds of things that can help us find healing: New relationships. Different experiences. Finding God in new ways.
You should visit it sometime, the unknown is a pretty great place.
Life is full of comparison. Babies are born, measured, weighed, and immediately placed in comparison with all the other records of babies born, “she’s 7 pounds 2 ounces, which is in the 67% percentile”. Kids are measured at school based on test scores, and parents participate by asking their kids to be more like so-and-so.
As if a life of comparison wasn’t enough, we double down and celebrate competition as one of the highest forms of success. While this works great on the field, it is an awful ingredient for home and work life. When there has to be a winner and a loser, everyone is a threat. Sometimes that includes ourselves.
Ultimately comparison results in two stances in relationships: Inferiority or superiority. Neither of those two kinds of people are enjoyable to be with. It’s either a bottomless hole of pity, or an untouchable pedestal of amazingness. The result: Everyone is looking at someone else to tell them if they’re ok or not.
Want out of the comparison rat race? Celebrate. Rejoice in the successes of others.
Celebrate the gifts, efforts, and attitude of someone (including ourselves), not just the results.
Celebrate them as a human being, not a human doing.
Be a cheerleader, not a critic.
(And try not to compare how well you’re doing celebrating!)
There is a difference in the knowledge of reading about something, and the knowledge of experiencing something.
It’s the difference between the knowing in our heads and knowing from the heart.
If you’ve been to the Grand Canyon, you know with your whole being the expanse of it all. There are no words to describe it. The grand scale of its depth is beyond what any wikipedia entry could ever help you to know if you’ve never been there. Yes, you can look at a picture, study the stats, and recount the history of how it came to be. But that will never get close to the experience one gets by standing on the South Rim.
This reminds me of the powerful scene in the movie Good Will Hunting when Sean confronts Will that not all things in life can be read in a book.
What we know with our heads sometimes keeps us from believing with our hearts. We think we know something because we read about it or watched a Ted talk about it. We are inundated with pictures, data, and the expanse of words that tell us about things in life. Yet we’re impoverished in actually experiencing these same things. Things like adventure, love, taking a risk, forgiveness, healing, or sacrifice.
What might we find out about ourselves, or others, if we moved away from the comfort of knowing, to the comfort of experience?
Empathy is the ability to imagine (or understand) what someone else is experiencing in their life. Authentic empathy is a huge ingredient in a close and impactful relationship. But how do we develop empathy?
A quick Google search revealed pages and pages of tips for developing empathy, such as “Three steps to more empathy”, and “Do these twelve things to develop empathy.” If you want more steps than the one I’m going to talk about below, Google is your friend!
There is only one way that I know how empathy is developed: You have to practice it.
As with anything that doesn’t come naturally to us, we have to practice it. You’re not good writing with your non-dominant hand? The only way to become better is to practice writing with it.
Practice makes progress, not perfection.
Practice empathy in your car driving to work. Imagine the different stories that people are facing as they head into work. Try this: If someone cuts you off, or cuts in line, resist the finger or the outburst …instead, tell their story aloud. Perhaps they got a call that someone important to them is ill, or that their child was dropped off at the wrong bus stop. Those would be legit reasons to cut you off.
Practice with people that you don’t know. Ask them questions that will help you understand what challenges they are facing.
Read a novel. Studies have shown that reading fiction exercises our empathy muscles as we get to look inside a character’s experiences that isn’t a threat to our own ego. (As an aside, the Ego is enemy of empathy. The two with fight against each other)
Your empathy muscle needs exercise. Exercise it to become empathically strong so that when you need it the most, you’ve got it.
When we empathize we put our egos aside and share the space with equally important people. We’re all on this same planet, trying to do our best, working things out in our odd ways often times bumping or crashing into one another along the way. It’s messy, but it’s good.
Empathy makes space for everyone in the mess. How can you practice empathy today?
Book Review for QBQ. The Premise: If you’re asking the wrong questions, you’re not going to be able to solve the problems correctly. Personal accountability is achieved when we ask “what” and “how,” not “why” and “who.” Marriages thrive when those involved take responsibility by asking the correct questions about their situation. Ask, “how can I solve …” instead of “why did this happen.”
My Take: This is an easy-to-read book that has great applications for our relationships. He really nails it by addressing the issues of personal accountability. As a culture, we’re far too consumeristic and “me-centric.” This leads to feeling like a victim and not taking responsibility for our actions. It’s just over 100 pages, with many chapters taking up less than two pages. Pick it up and read a few chapters, set it down. Read it out loud with your wife or husband. Spend fifteen minutes talking about it in the evenings.
Application for Marriages: This is not a marriage 101 book, rather it’s a way of thinking about how and what we do in our relationships. There’s not a lot of practical advice for issues that would arise in a marriage, rather it helps to frame the approach we take in our response to these issues. Too often we get sidetracked with the implications of the questions or statements made to us. Instead we need to focus of what is behind the question or statement.
Depending on the age difference, kids test out their emotions on their siblings. Kids yell, hit, scream, cry, manipulate, shut down, lie, cheat, steal, and pout. They are working out how to be in relationships with themselves and the people they live with.
These tests are pretty safe to run, because kids don’t get a choice to leave or stay. So there is a lot of latitude they have with how they treat one another.
A lot of times these “tests” don’t go all that well. But it’s ok, because kids don’t really know what they are doing. That is not the case as adults. We will run off the people who are close to us if we keep testing them.
At some level, we all keep running these tests with those closest to us, especially in our marriage. Yes, we’re adults, but we’re still trying to figure out ourselves, and life.
If we continue these behaviors in our marriages, it will lead to us treating our spouse more like a sibling than a lover.
What tests are you running in your marriage? What questions about yourself are you trying to answer by testing your relationships?