I watched an interesting video recently of billionaire business owner, Sara Blakely, talking about her father’s raising her to welcome failure. Every night when his kids got back from school and they gathered around the dinner table, he would ask each of them how they had failed that day, and celebrate it! He wanted them to fail because that meant they were trying new things and not just staying in their comfort zone. Sara continues to do this with her own company employees today, having meetings where she asks them how they have failed and learned something new.
I came across a name of God that I had not heard often before, possibly because it only appears in the Bible once. It is El Roi, the God who sees me. (Genesis 16:13-14) Hagar, servant of Sarai, has become pregnant because she has been offered to Abraham by her mistress. Sarai has developed some serious jealousy and is lashing out at Hagar, even though the whole thing was Sarai’s idea in the first place. Hagar escapes to get away from the torment, and God meets her in the desert. And my expectation for the next part of this story is that He rescues her, carries her off to a new land and allows her to prosper in comfort and happiness. But that’s not what happens.
A few days ago, we were having company over for dinner and I was a teeny bit stressed about the preparation. I always think I’m much further ahead than I am, and I go from totally fine to the-world-is-falling-apart in three seconds flat. My 8-year-old son looked at me and asked innocently, “Mom, what can you look forward to today so you won’t be so stressed and you can relax?” And my jaw dropped open. Here was my child directing me to look past the hard thing to the good—to find the joy in the moment rather than allowing the stress to destroy it.
A couple of years ago, I first got a planner in which you could write about the past week before you planned out the next one. There is a section for memories, gratitude, and progress on goals. Some might make fun of my holding onto a paper planner when I should be able to do it all with a smart phone, but I love the paper still. I’ve noticed, also, that this stopping each week to pinpoint things I’m grateful for from the past week has been so good for me!
Today was a day for unexpected confrontations. Some from other people, and some of my own stuff. I drove over to the thrift store donation drop-off to take some things recently purged from my house. As I got out and popped my trunk, the man who was receiving the donations started in on me. He complained that the stuff wasn’t separated according to the system he used (of which I was not aware), that he had to be in the sun for longer because of that, and that he had to get me a receipt. I stood dumbfounded as he heaped on the complaints, only offering a weak suggestion that since they were donations, maybe he could be more understanding. I figured since I was giving them freely and it was his job to separate them, maybe he would recognize his error and back off. He did not. I finally got back in my car and drove away while he continued to grumble.
One of the hardest things about being a parent or caretaker is the amount of work that is done without any accolades, praise or thanks from those you are serving. It is amazing when you stop and think about what it is you do all day just in caring for people, whether it be kids, elderly parents, friends, grandkids, students or patients. You show up, cook, clean, fold, listen, empathize, teach, discipline, encourage, drive, and so much more. Each little task involved in caring for another person gets done as second nature after a while, but it is always a gesture of love and care for the recipient.
What do you do when the aching fingers of sadness seem to take hold of your heart and your head and won’t let it go? When the thought of getting out of bed and facing the day causes you to roll over and forget the whole thing? When the obsession with all the stupid things you’ve said, the flaws in your appearance or demeanor, or the ways you’ve been let down begins to drown you in self-pity and despair?
Sometimes my purse gets incredibly heavy while I’m lugging it around day in and day out. When I finally decide to figure out what is making it so weighed down, usually it’s a random toy or some other heavy object that I don’t need to be carrying around, but have forgotten is in there. One time it was giant rock that my son had slipped in there for me to carry for him! After the troubling object was removed, I felt so much lighter and my shoulder quit hurting!
I recently watched a TED talk in which Shawn Achor discussed happiness and success. He pointed out that if we measure happiness by successes in our life and external determiners, we have to keep upping the ante. Thus, we are never really happy. If we reach the goal that determines success, we have to push the standard higher or come up with a new goal. We start over and are always lacking. If, however, we turn it around and learn to be content in our circumstances, we can be happy before we become “successful” in whatever terms we use for that.
Last year, my sister-in-laws convinced me to try to run a 10K for the first time in my life. I was running a bit, but only short distances. Six miles seemed ridiculously far away. I often found myself running too fast in the beginning couple of miles, and then I was totally spent and couldn’t go further. I had to slow myself down so I could run for longer, increasing my endurance.
This morning I realized one minute before we walked out the door for school drop-off that it’s 50’s day at school. And I have nothing to make my son look “50’s” at all. He tried to be gracious about it, and for that I’m thankful. But his disappointed look made me run smack into the wall of my own desire for perfectionism in all things. My standard for myself was not met.
I think one of my greatest struggles in life has been to break free from the “religious” performance and recognize Christ’s Life as the source of every good work. I used to obsess on how I was working so hard to make God happy, when that was not His desire at all. In fact, I failed a lot and was completely miserable in my quest to be a perfect child of God on my own. Not to mention I judged a lot of other people in order to try to make myself feel better. Of course, it didn’t work, and I just ended up being a judgmental, miserable human with a prettied up exterior to show off in an attempt to prove I was something else. So much work for nothing!
Often I want to skip the suffering of the cross and go straight to the glory of Easter morning, when Jesus rose from the dead and presented Himself in victory to those who surrounded Him throughout His earthly ministry. I want the celebration without the fight. I want the promises of God to come to fruition without having to wait for them. Basically, I want the easy way out.
I hate being sick. The weakness, the pain, the feeling of being behind on everything while simultaneously feeling like you can’t get out of bed. As with every seemingly negative thing in life, I try to see Jesus in it. I have realized that the last week or so I’ve been praying for those with chronic pain and illness much more than I usually do. Something about the reminder of what those people feel every morning when they get up makes me come before the Father with the realization of how hard that must be.