This month we’ll be talking about a couple different things, mostly the topics of hope and Christmas. We’ll be taking an in-depth look at the stories of Scrooge and Jesus and what their stories can teach us for Christmas today, plus sharing thoughts on hope in our lives and the new year. Today we begin our look at Scrooge. If you remember him, he’s the main character in Charles’ Dickens “A Christmas Carol.” He’s a grump, cares only about money and doesn’t show any favors to anyone. In the story he’s visited by his dead partner’s ghost and then 3 more ghosts (the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future) and as a result his life totally changes.
Today we’re looking at the first part of Scrooge’s story. When we’re introduced to Scrooge we are immediately told that he’s an unlikable character. He’s mean and nasty, inconsiderate, very stingy with his money, and on a mission to make as much money as possible, no matter who it hurts. Good writers make you love or hate a character either when you meet them or through the early development of the story, and you definitely don’t like Scrooge from the get-go. You may ask why he is as he is, and as we visit his past we learn that much of who he is was shaped by his childhood experiences and what his mentors (including his first ghost) taught him. In our initial meeting it’s clear that Scrooge is a humbug, an unhappy person, and generally disliked.
Just like Scrooge our pasts have helped mold us into the person we are today, it may be the recent past or the long past, but it’s affected us, and who we are affects others. What impression of you do others have? Do they see you as a humbug, someone to avoid, or an ‘evil person’? What is your nickname around the office or the family? That can be a good indication of how people perceive you.
Do you like how you are towards others and what others think of you? If not, the holiday season is a great time to turn over a new leaf.
This past week we’ve had to face yet again another example of our imperfections on this planet with the shooting in Charleston. We hear about shootings where people go out and shoot people because they’re crazy or feel they’ve been wronged and it amazes me that people think it’s a good idea to take out your bad day on someone else. But then you hear about people who still hold true to old prejudices and beliefs and it amazes me that they haven’t seen and accepted the direction we’ve moved in as a world beyond those prejudices and beliefs. With the internet and tons of tech tools we’re able to connect with anyone anywhere in the world in minutes. We’re finally seeing that we’re all part of one big world. And then things like this happen to remind us that not everyone is in the same boat and accepting that we’re all in this together.
As I was thinking about all this I was reminded of the story in Acts 10 and 11. In Acts 10 Peter gets a vision from God of a sheet with unclean animals and God calls him to eat them. To which he objects because he knows they’re not clean. God’s response is great: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” This strange vision came right before Peter was visited by Gentiles, people who the Israelites believe to be unclean. Based on the dream Peter decides to go with the Gentiles, ends up doing some preaching, they accept Jesus, they were baptized by the Holy Spirit and Peter baptizes them with water.
Where the story gets even more interesting is Acts 11. We’re familiar with the part I’ve shared, of the vision and Peter’s visit to Cornelius. What you may not remember is that in Acts 11 when Peter gets back to his home base people immediately question his decision to be with the Gentiles; they’re really not happy that he went. So he tells them about the dream, and the 3 men arriving and their coming to faith. He says “And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?” (v17) The only reply Peter’s critics had at this point was praise that God worked in that way.
This month we’ve been talking about letting go. It’s not easy to let go of our prejudices and previous assumptions. We like to be right after all. But if we don’t let go of our prejudices we’ll never get past incidents like Charleston this week. We’ll keep seeing them and keep grieving for more brothers, sisters, parents and friends. So what is God challenging you to let go of this week?
This coming weekend we’re celebrating Memorial Day here in the USA, and I’ll be sharing more about that on Friday, but today I wanted to talk about how we make our contributions to the world. Obviously with Memorial Day coming up we’re thinking about people who go to parts of the world on planes and ships and travel through dangerous regions to fight wars and people who are doing evil in the world. We won’t all agree on whether to go to war or not, whether we started the fight or not, but some of us feel that our differences need to be worked out using weapons and violence rather than discussion and teamwork. There are few situations that I unanimously support a violent approach, typically when dealing with someone truly evil like Hitler or situations of domestic and genocide type violence. All those people know are how to be violent, they won’t respond to talks.
However, I do believe that countless more situations can and should be worked out through words and negotiations rather than fists and guns. When destruction becomes the initial goal there’s always recovery, rebuilding and reconstruction that will have to be done, much of which wasn’t necessary destruction in the first place.
So what’s the answer? First, get better at our communication skills. “You suck,” “I hate you,” tears, yelling and bullying aren’t good communication methods or skills but most of us use them. Second, learn the art of negotiation. Everyone wants something, and most times there’s a way for everyone to be mostly satisfied if a little effort is put into it. Third, think win-win-win. This means that the goal of any meeting should be to get the most wins for the most people involved possible, for the most people to be helped by what you’re doing and working towards rather than hurt. It’s unrealistic to imagine that no one ever will get hurt or get the short end of the stick, but I believe that more often than not we can do a lot more to create satisfactory solutions than we do.
What area of your life do you need to work on most when it comes to getting your goals accomplished in a way that helps rather than hurts?
“I definitely prefer being a lover than a fighter.” Billy Joel
I’ve been really busy for the past month or two, busier than usual, which is a good thing in some ways, but challenging in others. It has forced me to make choices about what I have time for and what I don’t, as well as consider if there are ways to do things quicker or better. More people than ever in this day and age are overbooked, overworked, over tired and frustrated. Unfortunately much of it comes from one thing: lack of self-discipline.
Not sure that could possibly be you? Chances are really good you have yes-itis. That’s the first issue: that you can’t say the “n” word. “No” is one of the most powerful words you can use, one that you probably don’t use enough if you’re overbooked. It can be challenging to say no if you don’t think anyone else will step up or you think it’s a great opportunity for you or your kids. However, as much as every opportunity is probably great, and as much as you might be right that no one will step up, you can’t do it all.
So what choice do we have? We have the choice, the power, and the freedom to make some rules and boundaries for ourselves. Like how late we stay up, how much TV we watch, to exercise every day, to spend time with our partner every day, to only accept or sign up for one activity a week for the kids, or saying no to opportunities that, as great as they may be, just don’t line up with our goals or values.
Beyond just saying “no” is the concept of being disciplined to get what we have accepted done. This means showing up for practices, turning in quality work, and learning how to not procrastinate and work more efficiently. So learn what works for you, write down what’s most important to you and practice saying “no” so that you can say “yes” to the right things, the things that will fulfill you in the biggest and best way.
“With self-discipline most anything is possible.” Theodore Roosevelt
Monday I finished the post with a challenge to each of us to take time to reconnect with God if we feel we’ve been distant, disconnected or if we’ve been ignoring God. Today I want to finish the conversation in a different direction and talk about taking time to reconnect with other people. We’ve done some things we may not be proud of and said some things that we really should not have. But sometimes these things just slip out or we didn’t know that what we said would offend someone. You can’t always know when someone’s had a bad day and you had to say the one thing guaranteed to make them lose the last bit of their sanity. Other times it’s totally on us because we just don’t care about how many people’s feelings we crush in our pursuit of our goals and purposes.
I’m not really someone who tries to trample on people, sometimes things accidentally slip out or I just don’t think about what I’m about to say, so I can’t say for certain, but I would think that even if you were someone who just didn’t care about others you still might feel a little guilty or bad about crushing them. Why? Because that’s how we’re built as people. I don’t believe we’re built to hurt others, fight to kill or eliminate the possibilities or hope for others. No, I believe that we were created to work together to make the world a better place even though we do mess up and hurt each other from time to time.
Why? Because we’ve got the secret to getting past the hurt: compassion. This is when we’re able to look at someone who hurt us and know that they could have hurt us because they’re hurting, or we’re able to find common ground on making change for the future on something that hurt both of us and we don’t want to hurt anyone else.
So today’s challenge is to take time this week to reconnect with friends or family that you haven’t talked with in a while and miss or want to break the ice or just need to be able to move on with your life without it hanging over you any longer.
“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” Nelson Mandela
I always thrill at arriving at a new month or new year because it seems so much more obvious that we’ve got a fresh start. I’m really excited to leave July behind, despite the very important lessons I’ve learned through that month of challenges. I’m looking forward to moving forward and even to applying the lessons I’ve learned. As we’ve talked about self-control over the past month I’ve realized that self-control isn’t always all about the control, but about knowing when to release the control to get what you want. Ironically, discovering this has brought me to our topic for this new month, peace.
Peace, like control, ironically isn’t achieved by external things so much as being able to find that very important center deep within that can help guide us even when things seem to be collapsing around us. The people most in tune with their minds and bodies can easily tune into that peace and that center of knowledge, but the rest of us have to work at it. We think that we’ll be able to tap into it when we need it and not worry about it when we don’t, but that’s not always the case.
I’ve learned though as I’ve gotten closer then more distant then closer again to my inner peace and strength what a real benefit it can be. Because when you’re in control of yourself and able to calm your world you’re often able to influence that same calm in others. Children are a great example of this. When you as the adult are completely freaking out or stressed, they’ll react the same way; not because they’re stressed but because your level of stress is affecting them. That’s not to say that we should isolate our children and wrap them in bubble wrap to never be hurt or touched by pain, that’s not our discussion today.
Today we’re focused on the fact that peace can only be found inside you. You may feel more peaceful while walking in nature or sitting beside a brook, but only part of that is the actual influence of nature, a larger part is your ability to let go of the other stuff and focus easier on touching your core. If we want to be able to tap into our inner core of peace and strength at a moment’s notice we need to work on it a little every day. Take 5 minutes every day to sit, relax, and learn how to center yourself.
“Peace is not made at the council table or by treaties, but in the hearts of men.” Herbert Hoover
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