Deconstructing Failure

This month the topic we’ve talked about is self-control. It hasn’t been an easy topic for me, I’ve had plenty of challenges to deal with that have threatened my self-control and made me question things more than I usually would. It’s not easy when your world or the foundations you’ve constructed shake.

I was reminded in a blog post I read over the weekend that we tend to expect the bad stuff more than hoping for the best. We anticipate being fired when called into a boss’s office, anticipate the worst possible things when our partner says that we need to talk, or think the worst when our kids aren’t doing well in school. However, that seemingly ever-present expectation of failure isn’t always, or even usually, the reality. We tend to build up things in our minds, things that aren’t anywhere near the truth and often the lies we assume become more important or real than the truth.

So what do we do? First we start by recognizing that we do look for the bad stuff rather than expecting the good stuff. Until we take this step we won’t be able to do anything about the rest of it. You see, the absolute truth is that how we see things is the way they are. You see things one way and I see them differently even though we’re both seeing the same situation so we’re going to react in two different ways. How we see the world is how we perceive reality. Only when we realize how we tend to view the world can we do anything about it.

If we want more self-control, ironically it means we need to know ourselves well enough that we know when to push and when to let go. Control isn’t just about the iron fist we have around our words and actions, it’s about knowing when to lean into a turn and when to break.

“Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control; these three alone lead one to sovereign power.” Alfred Lord Tennyson

Learning Self Control

This month we’ve talked about a lot of topics on our Mondays, the one we’ve talked about a little each week is our monthly topic: self-control. We’ve talked around it, but never really addressed it. Today, on our last Monday we’re going to take some time to talk about it. Don’t worry, I don’t have plans to go into a long lecture about how we don’t have any control over our lives, how we need to do a better job of controlling ourselves, that making choices for ourselves is pointless because God is in control, or any of the typical control discussions we could have. Instead I want to take a look at Proverbs 1:1-4:

“These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel. Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young.”

If you remember the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament is filled with these amazing bits of wisdom that are still helpful today, many years later. It was actually written with the intention of sharing bits of wisdom with the world. Solomon, as I discussed in my devotional last week had an incredible gift from God of wisdom that surpassed anything we know now or was known before with maybe one or two exceptions.

What I’ve discovered in this month of reflection on self-control, as I’ll share on Wednesday, is that it’s about more than being “in control” as we typically talk about it. What if being exercising self-control wasn’t about denial but about knowing what is best for us and taking actions to make that happen? What if self-control was about being wise, and wasn’t intended to be a punishment?  Would that change your opinion of working on your self control?  I know it does mine.

Just for Today

One of the biggest challenges we have is living for today.  It’s easy to worry about tomorrow or be concerned about what you did yesterday, and it’s also easy to waste today in alcohol or unproductive actions.  I’m not against a drink or two or a vacation, that’s not what I’m saying.  What I’m saying is that we’ve forgotten that today is, or will be, filled with lot of opportunities for growth, happiness and success, and it’s up to us to be open to them.  When we’re so focused on the past or future we can forget that today is full of lots of great moments all by itself and not everything is a race to the finish line or a sprint from the boogeyman.

When was the last time you sat outside on your front step or in a park and watched nature and the world go by?  When was the last time you went into a coffee shop purely for the pleasure of having a cup of tea or coffee, not because you didn’t get any sleep last night, are rushing somewhere or are meeting someone?  When was the last time you sat and tasted your food, not shoved it in your mouth while doing 16 other things?  When was the last time you sat with your partner or kids and just were with them instead of being on your phone or the computer?  It’s in moments like these that we can remember and appreciate what it means to be alive.

What if instead of worrying about tomorrow, we worked on living today to the fullest?  That doesn’t mean that you don’t care about tomorrow, or won’t work to change things so you don’t repeat yesterday, but it means making sure you live today as today, not as the bridge between yesterday and tomorrow.  What are you going to do with today?

“JUST FOR TODAY…” Abigail Van Buren

It’s OK to Say NO

One of the words I enjoy using in my life is one that most people don’t like hearing: the word no.  I love saying it because when I use it it means that I’m making the decision to choose something better, something that will make me happier and more fulfilled than I would be if I said yes.  It’s not always easy to say no though, there are lots of good arguments that others present and even I can come up with as to why I should say yes and why saying no is a bad idea.  Usually it has to do with money or power or politics, which while they hold some appeal to me, they don’t usually hold enough to sway me.

But the reason I can say no to things and people is because I’ve chosen what the priorities in my life are, and I’m willing to stick to them and see them through.  I don’t think those other things are bad, they’re just usually not reason enough to get me to do something.  Don’t get me wrong, I am very well aware of the need for money in this world, I don’t anticipate there being any government financial aid still available by the time I’m a senior citizen so I’m well aware that it’s essential for me to be putting money away each month to prepare for the later years of my life.  I also know that power and connections can be good things, but I’m not the type to play games or dance around things, I like straight, honest dealings.

I also know that sometimes we’ll say no because we’re scared or don’t feel confident in ourselves and our abilities to do something.  This shouldn’t hold us back from saying yes to something we really want.  There are so many resources and tools that can help us accomplish things today that our limitations are really very few.

Each of us have to make our own decisions about what is right for us at that time.  But it’s not just our present we have to think about, we have to consider our future too.  What does your life show are your priorities, and what do you want your priorities to be?  Start saying yes and no to things that will help you get to the future you desire.

“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically – to say ‘no’ to other things.  And the way to do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.  The enemy of the ‘best’ is often the ‘good.'”  Stephen Covey

Who’s Your Support System?

It’s been the joke of countless TV shows, movies and books: “help I’ve fallen and can’t get up.” It’s funny until it’s you of course.  Then it’s not so funny, it’s scary even, especially if there’s no one there to help you pick up all the pieces.  The story of Jonah comes to mind, when he’s finished telling Nineveh to repent, and finds out that they’ve done so but gets mad instead or rejoicing and ends up miserable and alone, so miserable he can’t even appreciate the shade God gave him of the plant/tree. The answer to being stuck and not able to get up is simple: don’t be alone.   Because it’s only when we’re alone and without anyone there to help or support us that we are well and truly stuck without hope.

God never intended us to go through this life alone.  He surrounded us with friends and family, people who we should always be able to depend on.  Unfortunately we’re not perfect and occasionally push others away, intentionally or unintentionally.

This month we’ve been talking a bit about self control, a topic that is challenging because we don’t always like to be in control, or we like control too much and there’s no way to control everything.  We’ve said that we can’t control others, we can only control ourselves.  And while this is true, it’s important to think about the impact of control in situations of teamwork, like families and relationships.

Simply put, it won’t always happen.  We have to let go of some control to let them be themselves.  We can’t be in control of every situation, the best we can do is control our reactions so that we don’t push them away when we know we will need them soon. Have you been pushing people away, so much so that you’re not sure they’ll be there if you need them?  If so, now’s the time to repair those relationships.

“Two people are better than one. When two people work together, they get more work done. If one person falls, the other person can reach out to help. But those who are alone when they fall have no one to help them.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

The Story of Your Life

Each of our lives tell a story.  How we live, who we meet, and the decisions we make are all part of that story.  We each get to write our own story.  Yes, we do have to deal with others trying to influence us, but ultimately it’s up to each of us to choose how much influence we’re going to allow them to have in our lives.  Some of us are good at letting the good guys have a prominent roll in our stories, others of us let the bad guys lead, or we get taken over without our permission.  Getting taken over isn’t the choice most of us make, we like to be independent and the creators of our own future.

The good news is that even if we have control over our story taken out of our hands for a while, we’re still fully capable of grabbing it back and redirecting it in a direction that gives us the opportunity to heal and is better for us.  But again, it’s our choice on how or if we make that happen.

If your story hasn’t been going well lately the other good news is that today is a new day and each and everyday hereafter is as well.  You’ve got a fresh start each day to write a new chapter to your story, one that you’re more proud of than the last.  The challenge we each face is drumming up the courage to write that new chapter and take our lives in that new way.  It can be intimidating or hurt or frustrating to try to write towards a different ending, especially if the people in your life aren’t supportive of the direction you’re going in.  But since it’s your life and your story it’s up to you to find people who will and do support you to be in your life.  If those who are in your life aren’t willing to be supportive, you need to ask yourself if they really deserve you in their life.

What story are you writing with your life and are you satisfied with the ending you see as the inevitable conclusion based on your current direction?  If not, today’s a perfect day to start making changes to your story.

“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.” Beatrix Potter

You’re Equipped for Challenges

Sometimes we feel like our lives are completely out of control, usually because we don’t have any ability to control those around us, and that can be really frustrating.  You can always ask someone to change or improve or do something different, but it’s ultimately up to them whether they do or not, which can really mess up our grand plans for reaching our dreams and goals.

As Christians we’ve been reminded over and over that those tough times and challenging people are what builds character and prepares us for God’s bigger dream for our lives.  Which sounds all well and good, except it’s not easy!  Which is where our topic for the month comes in: self-control.

I’ve said before that the only thing we’re truly able to have control over or impact is ourselves, which means that the best way to work with a difficult situation is if we can control ourselves and our reactions to be able to work through the initial panic without causing more issues and give ourselves the time to come to some solutions.

The Fruits of the Spirit that we’ve been talking about this year and will continue for the rest of the year are gifts from God to us that help us get through the difficult situations in our lives.  It’s our choice to use them or not, as well as to reach out to others He’s put in our life that support us and are willing to help us figure things out when life gets too rough.

But, like any other gifts we get it’s up to us to take them out of the box and use them.  When it comes to the Fruit of the Spirit we have to not only take them out of their box but also put in lots of practice time so that when we do actually need them we’re able to access them to their full capacity.

Have you been preparing for the challenges that life might send your way or just pretending they won’t happen?  Pretending they’ll never affect you means you’ll have no chance to prepare and the challenges will cause unnecessary problems, ones that could have been avoided with a little preparation.

“God has equipped you to handle difficult things. In fact, He has already planted the seeds of discipline and self-control inside you. You just have to water those seeds with His Word to make them grow!”  Joyce Meyer

Do You Know God?

Do you know God?  Sometimes things happen in our lives that make us question if we really know God, or if He really knows us. It is in those moments that we forget about the verse “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully” (Ephesians 3:18-19). If God is all-knowing, and we are not how can we truly know everything there is to know about God? It’s kind of like being with someone for many years and finding something out about them that you never knew before like they like country music or have a secret love of the Mets.

We can be so wrapped up in our little corner of the world that we have no way of really judging what we don’t know. For example, rain forests aren’t something I spend a lot of time thinking about, so someone with moderate knowledge of them could completely blow my mind if they started telling me about some of the secrets and sharing pictures of places that few people see.

So why are we so surprised that God has more to Him than we realized? Why does it blow our minds when He goes out of his way to save someone, to make someone successful, or to show love to someone, especially those we don’t think deserve it? What we can’t believe is that God knows something we don’t know. It’s hard to be told you don’t know everything, but that’s reality.

We’re not all knowing nor should we be. Us as all knowing people would only cause more problems than we have. A little mystery can be a good thing. But we have to welcome new information, new perspectives and new people into our lives. Our hasty and arrogant “I don’t need that” isn’t helping anyone, let alone ourselves. Will you join me in being open to seeing God for who He is this week?

What I Really Want is…

I read a great quote by Princess Diana this week: “I don’t want expensive gifts; I don’t want to be bought. I have everything I want. I just want someone to be there for me, to make me feel safe and secure.”

I agree that money can do great things for people.  It can mean the difference between life and death for some.  But I do not believe that money is the end-all, be-all of things.  The significance of someone like Princess Diana saying this is important: she may have had everything as a princess of England, but what she really wanted more than anything else in the world was someone else to love her for her.  Love in this case covers all kinds of love: friends, family and romantic (and even pets), not just romantic, because love is something we all need.  It shows up in different forms from the different people in your life, but there’s something about who we are that requires love to live and thrive.  Without it things in us shrivel and die and make us less than who we could be as people.

Money in and of itself won’t give you warm fuzzy feelings during the holidays, the kids opening and playing with you and the great presents will.  Money from your job won’t make you happy, but seeing the transformations that happen in people because of your work, or the great places you’re able to go with your family will.  Money can’t fix a house destroyed by a tornado, builders have to be hired to do that.

When we expect money to be the answer to all our problems we’re missing out on what money really is.  Money in and of itself is a tool to get us what we want. We don’t usually want money just so we have money (piles to play in and count etc.), we want money because of what it can bring or get us.

If you’re struggling with money this week I encourage you to take time to think about what it is you’re really struggling with, because there’s a good chance that money isn’t really the issue.

Getting Unstuck

Each day we make the choice about how we will live our life that day.  Will we help someone out, will we be rude to someone, will we ignore someone, will we do a random act of kindness that someone can’t repay, or will we trudge through the day knowing yesterday was bad and figuring tomorrow will be too?  Sometimes it takes a few days to realize that we’re stuck in a punishment loop, if you will, in which we’re thinking about what went wrong or the bad thing that happened over and over and we just can’t pull ourselves out.  We all should expect that we have a few of those experiences in our lives.  But we shouldn’t allow others to completely dictate how we live our lives or decide our life isn’t worth putting any effort into.

We get stuck in holding patterns because we get used to where we are and what we have.  We close our minds to letting in new things and avoid the changes that should be made, because we are OK with life as it is, even if it’s not great.  But in doing this we crush little by little our personal spirit and energy, the stuff that makes us unique.  I’m always reminding business clients that they don’t sell products, they sell products to people; individual, unique, special people.  They may sell the same type of product as another company but there has to be something that makes them specifically unique as they sell that product. Just like there may be another accountant at your job, or another secretary or another stock person, but you’re not them, you bring something unique to the table.  And the sooner we all realize that, the sooner we’ll be able to tap into and take advantage of (in the best way) our unique abilities.

The choice we have to make is that we’re not ‘just’ another person.  But we’re a person with unique skills, talents and abilities, and deserve respect for that.  We don’t deserve to be treated as an inanimate object or robot, but rather with respect, dignity and humanity.

“The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own.  No apologies or excuses.  No one to lean on, rely on, or blame.  The gift is yours – it is an amazing journey – and you alone are responsible for the quality of it.  This is the day your life really begins.”  Bob Moawad