examination

Every Detail.

After more than 2 months, today is the last week of this series, the week where we take all we’ve been discussing and reflecting on and tie it all together. Mostly, it’ll be an entire post of questions, because remember, no one can tell you what is actually important to you.

(Of course, everyone can, and usually does, tell you what should be important to you. Even you know “the right answer” and will happily state what should be important to you. But we are not in high school, we are not in the business of “right answers” and should be’s. We all ‘should’ like Radiohead albums but if we were all totally honest and not pretentious music-snob pretenders, they’re all unlistenable since The Bends.)

So, first and most important, who do you want to be? This question is made up of many factors. Who are you? Whose are you? What gives you peace? What is the deepest desire of your heart? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What do you do that makes you lose time and have that feeling that (fill in the blank) is what you are made for? What gives you joy? What do you want? 

*Maybe this isn’t very difficult. I suspect it will not be, because these things are hard-wired in our souls, they’ve just been buried under many, many years of unconscious routine, too many moments asleep. We’ve been made a certain way, it just takes some time and quiet and honest contemplation for your heart to re-engage.  

Once you start down this path, these answers will inform your concept of weight. We all have internal value rankings of people, actions, possessions, everything. If we don’t give any attention to these rankings, it doesn’t mean we don’t have them, it just means we don’t give them any thought. Instead of, say, Jesus, we give the throne to comfort or laziness or the People’s Court or whatever is popular or pressing or discomfort or fear or what they think. It means we are building our lives on a foundation that shifts and will collapse under stress.    

*In contrast to the first step, this is super hard in practice, because our initial answers are hardly ever what we truly live.

If you decide that honesty weighs heavily to you, but you call in “sick” from work, um… 

If you say creating a safe, healthy home for your children is your priority, but haven’t seen them in days because the demands of work have you working late hours… 

If it’s your friendships, but the second your life goes off the rails, you drop out and isolate yourself…    

If living a healthy lifestyle is your deal, but you spend each evening with cocktails…

If your wife and marriage is what you’ve decided, yet haven’t sat down to dinner with her or told her you loved her or held her hand or laid like spoons in months… 

(See, this is really uncomfortable. I’ve been struggling with questions, here, because I want to build a home of grace and service, but I also want that home to be one where consequences and discipline live together. But sometimes, they come into conflict. If I ask Elisha to put his clothes away (because for some reason HE DOESN”T MIND RANDOM PILES OF CLOTHES AROUND HIS ROOM?!!!???????) and he doesn’t (BUT WHY WOULDN’T HE?!!!???!???) then maybe I would do that for him or I would ground his filthy buns for 6 months so he can learn the values of cleanliness, order, respect for authority, and obedience. Or maybe I wouldn’t ask him at all and put them away because I want to show him what it means to do things to help someone else, for no reason other than you want to do something for someone else. Which weighs more?)

And when we rank these qualities, we must clearly define what they mean to us. Sometimes, words don’t mean what we think they do. For instance, provision can mean a lot of different things to different people. It’s possible two men both rank providing for their families in the top 3, but those ideas of provision bear little resemblance. One believes that being a strong provider carries largely financial implications. The bills are paid, the house is warm and cozy, and the kids have clothes that fit. To do this they might have to work long hours away from the family that is the focus, away from the people who are the motivation. The other man believes that he is called to provide financially, but also spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically in equal measures. He might carry the stress of late fees, but doesn’t miss a game, devotions or date night.  

It’s these small, ‘insignificant’ details that are the bricks of our character and are, ultimately, who we actually are. 

For instance, whether or not to allow space in our lives for pornography appears relatively inconsequential, yet its radius of affect is wide. As a man, such ‘entertainment’ completely transforms the way you perceive sex, women, yourself, and on and on. The word pornography itself has roots in commerce, or the buying and selling of goods and services. Except, in this case, the goods are people. Porn is the buying and selling – the using – of people. Now, how you see the performers – if they are to be consumed, if they are to be regarded only in terms of whatever pleasure they can provide to you, if they can be segmented into only one aspect of their physical makeup instead of as complete, fully integrated human beings – holds to the same rules as everything else. 

How you perceive, or value, one is how you value all. To dehumanize one woman is to dehumanize them all.

How you do anything is how you do everything.  

Do you really want to outsource such important matters?

The point of these past 3 months is really mindfulness; active participation in the creation of your own character and the pillars of our lives. It’s not alcoholism or overtime or socks or baseball or messy living rooms or porn or the People’s Court or cake or watch batteries. It’s about all of them. And what you think about each of those is what you think about each of those, the point is that you think about each of those. The enemy of full-on presence is disengagement, distraction and routine. 

The first question in the first entry in this series (after “what is Todd Syndrome?”) was “Sooooo, how do we change it?” This is the answer, and it’s also why there’s so many rules and shall’s and shall not’s in the Bible. Details. Marie Kondo’s method isn’t to clean the whole house now as fast as you can, it’s to look at that one blouse in your hands with thankfulness and decide if it brings you joy, if you’re the kind of person who wears a blouse like that…and if you can do that with them all, with each item getting respect and care, then the house will be the sort of house you want to live in, one you’ve built with attention, intention, gratitude, and most of all, love.  

Advice/Endgame

I don’t usually make a habit out of dispensing advice (especially unsolicited advice.) It has been my experience that most of us don’t care at all what you think, unless, of course, you agree with me. This hasn’t always been my perspective. I used to think we wanted the truth, or at least honesty, but I am no longer a child.

Today is an exception. I have 2 pieces of very good advice.

First, a story. 

Last night, I explained to my boys that the trash was to find its way to the curb and, if not, they would not be staying home from school to see the new Avengers movie with me. (Yes, we all take the day off to see a movie. Do you remember any Fridays in school in late April? Me neither. We will remember today.) My youngest said, “no you won’t,” with a nice smile, not as mean-spirited or disrespectful as it sounds here. And this morning, when I woke to see that they did not do what had been asked of them, I knew he was right. 

#1. Do not ask questions of which you are not prepared for all answers or make threats you are not prepared to see through.

I knew my comment was ridiculous and should never have been said. It was meaningless as it left my lips. They are home today, and we are going to the movies. 

#2. Being ‘right’ isn’t always the most important thing to be.

Instead, maybe a peaceful, forgiving, clear-headed presence is. I was an unbelievably angry young man, and I have absolutely no idea how I was able to sustain that level of energy. This morning, I was mad when I saw the trash (STILL IN THE HOUSE!!!!!) but I went to the gym and took a breath and all of that negative energy quickly dissipated and I was left with us and the facts of the case (that won’t mean anything in a week.) Now, there will be punishment, but it won’t be at the expense of a memory we won’t get back. I know it’s only a movie, but it’s far more; It’s a special day – set apart, holy, a celebration of a journey we have taken, and are taking, together – these boys will spend with their daddy, who thinks they are the sun and moon. This is no small thing, (in fact, as most of us are only too aware, it’s the biggest thing, more valuable than we’d ever acknowledge) and should never be traded for right-ness or wrong-ness. I’m right, they’re wrong, we all know it…now what?

I can’t imagine the regret I’d have if I still was that angry young man and, still trying to prove myself enough, led around by my raging ego, mistaking a simple error for an indictment of my own value, took such a sacred moment from us.

They are sweet boys. This was no rebellion; his innocent (true) comment made it appear to be, but it was not so, only a job half-done (maybe he should read a several week teaching on details) They are sweet boys who are learning lessons about love and kindness and service and becoming who they have been created to be. There will be mis-steps, forgotten tasks, slights and subtle disrespects – by all of us – but we simply cannot lose sight of the bigger picture that gets more and more gorgeous with every moment not taken for granted.

…And now for the ENDGAME!!!! 

         

A Quick Story On The Significance Of Small Things

It’s interesting how often we neglect the smallish, seemingly unimportant elements of our lives, apparently preferring to wait until those elements build a wall that is impossible to ignore. We ignore the toothpaste cap on the counter until it grows into the minty fresh monster that tore apart our once-beautiful relationship, and we wonder how it happened. I eat a peanut or a piece of chocolate here and there and here and there again until I no longer recognize myself in the mirror, wondering how it all got away. In the Bible, David harmlessly stayed home one season and, the next thing he knew, he was arranging the death of his buddy to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. Small things aren’t very small at all.

Here’s a quick story with a happy ending:    

Once, there was a boy on a baseball team who looked just like a ballplayer. He was tall and athletic, as strong and muscular as a 12 year-old can be. Walking on the field, he appeared to have all of what older ballplayers call “the tools.” The only problem was that he couldn’t catch a ball, warmups or infield/outfield practice, ground balls or fly balls. No matter where the ball was or how hard it was hit, he simply could not corral it into his glove cleanly.

Why? Was he saddled with hands of stone, poor hand-eye coordination, garden variety fear, or a rare condition that made it impossible for him to catch baseballs? Was he a lost cause? Should he just pack his stuff and take up a sport that takes no coordination or athletic ability, like soccer? (HAHA! That is one terrific sports joke!!)

His coach noticed one day, while watching him fumble ball after ball like so many hot potatoes, that his glove was rigid and unforgiving. This coach took that glove home over the weekend, worked some oil into the leather and kneaded it like dough.

And at the next practice after that weekend, miraculously, that boy could catch baseballs! He didn’t have stone hands (well, maybe a little) or a baseball phobia (maybe a little of that, too), what he did have was an innocent disregard for small things, a blind spot for details. And what looked like an insurmountable mountain was actually a tiny speed bump that was navigated easily.

The End.

Maybe he would’ve given up baseball because he couldn’t catch – and not being able to catch is a big deal.

Maybe we would’ve walked out because he’s a slob or she’s so disrespectful she won’t even put the cap back on – 2 characteristics that are big deals.

Maybe I would’ve kept eating because I don’t have any will power and it’s hopeless to try – a brand and a mindset that are very big deals.

Now, all of these are pretty big deals, they just also happen to be only pieces of stories that may or may not be true. He could catch (his glove just wasn’t given the proper love and attention,) he wasn’t a hog or disrespectful (just oblivious to the effects of his lack of intention to what he perceived as trivial,) I do have willpower (maybe not much, but I don’t need it as much if I make the decision to not keep peanuts and chocolate in the house, right?) and changing a mindset just takes some mindfulness and practice.

The point is, it’s the small things that matter. Everything matters when we’re building the structures of our lives. A giant building starts with one brick, one tiny decision after another, then before you know it, you’re different, a better version of you, closer to who you’ve been created to be. 

What Do You Want?

There’s this story in the Bible: 

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (Mark 10:46-52)

We have spent the previous weeks discussing weight and value and priority, and this is why. Because sometimes Jesus stops, as He’s leaving the city and asks, What do you want?

What will you say??? What He’s really asking is, what’s important to you, what is the desire of your heart, who are you and what are you about?

So, what is it that we want Him to do for us? (…And how you interpret that question speaks volumes…)

It’s entirely possible we don’t really know.

Modern political elections have become exercises in complaint, shouting from a negative stance. We are asked to not vote for him or her, to vote against this or that, to look at problems and grumble over what is obviously broken – the notion that we could support ideas or people and discuss solutions is quaint and hopelessly outdated.

In our lives, it’s easy to focus on what we don’t want. We know what we don’t want to do, where things have gone wrong, where we are unfulfilled, and you know what, Jesus, now that You mention it, I actually have no idea. I’ve been sitting here on this road shouting because I know my situation is messed up, that I am uncomfortable and empty and anxious and depressed and angry, I don’t sleep at night and I have this ulcer and I couldn’t pay my bills last month and my boss is super-mean to me and I’m bored and tired all the time… I know I don’t want that, but what do I want?

Again, I’m not going to tell anyone what they want – maybe I want a fancy pair of jeans or my sidewalk fixed or better health insurance or to build a wall or a new job or a new boyfriend or this boyfriend to treat me better or whatever. That’s between you and Jesus (we’ll get right back to this.)

What I will say is: that blind man could’ve said, “You know, Son Of David, it’s hard being blind, what I want is a new special cane or a service dog or a friend who can lead me around.” Right? We very often settle for less. We settle for the good when we really want the great. We don’t want to ask for too much, maybe, not be greedy. We end our prayers, our answer to this question, with “whatever is Your will.” This man shoots for the moon and makes no apology for asking. “I want to see.”

It’s impossible, it’s pretty narrow in scope, small in relation to the world, but Jesus asked, and this blind man knows exactly what he wants. AND he believes Jesus can – and will – do it.

Maybe He has a bigger gift for us than those jeans. Maybe we are asking for a ‘standard of living’ pay raise when He has a corner office reserved for us. Maybe we’re just asking for the abuse to stop when He has a complete transformation planned.

Maybe He is just aching to say Yes, and give us our sight, give us a vision.

Did you ever think, “you’re so much better than that?” Sarah McLachlan had a song (called ‘Good Enough’ and is my #4 favorite song of all time) where she sang, “you’re so much more than good enough.”

But that’s between you and Jesus. That’s why we’ve spent the last several weeks discussing weight and value and priority. So that we actually give some time to learning ourselves, figuring ourselves out and getting an answer to His question. Because when we do, when we invite Him into this search and self-discovery (sometimes a little at a time, sometimes a maddeningly slow process), He will show us where we have settled, where we’ve been looking for canes, where we’ve been praying for just ok. He will show us who we are, what we’ve been created for, and why we are all “so much more than [the] good enough” we’ve accepted for far too long.    

3 Examples of Weight in Real Time

We’ve been discussing weight and value and our ability to choose and leave behind the hopelessness of victimhood in our daily lives. Next time, the tone will shift to the way these minor choices can affect our lives in major ways, increasing our presence and peace. 

But first, this week I had (at least) 3 opportunities to practice weight that illustrate perfectly the water we’ve been swimming in.  

A nearby theater does a super-cool thing where they play an older film for free at 10am on Tuesdays, and for months I had been anxiously waiting for this Tuesday, April 2, and Fight Club. Everybody knows Fight Club is my absolute favorite movie and The Most Spiritual Movie Ever (and I’m mostly not kidding about that, and I promise I’ll eventually write a detailed defense of that position.) I invited several of the men in our church community to experience this together, with me, and have our minds blown and souls filled together. Then Monday, I picked my oldest son up from school and he looked like he had been run over, the kind of look that, instead of “Hey buddy,” requires “Oh no! What happened to you?” He had managed to make it through the season relatively unscathed by the illness everyone else suffered through until now. I hoped and prayed that it would move through him in a night and he’d wake up new and healthy, hopes and prayers that went unanswered (I say that, but maybe they were answered. Maybe the answer was just no.) 

I had a choice to make. I could call someone to watch him. I could go, and leave him home alone. I could ask my wife to take a sick day to be with him. I could stay with him. I’m sure there are more. I guess I could even take him with me. I had no shortage of options. 

But I work from home for many reasons. One of the very biggest is so my boys (or my special lady) would have their daddy (or husband) right next to them to fill their water, feed them tissues, rub their feet, or worse, hold their hair while they, um, fill a bucket. But the “right next to them” is the point. I usually don’t do any other work, I just am.

BUT THIS WAS FIGHT CLUB!!! It long ago passed through its theatrical release, how often do you get to see a life-changing movie on the big screen with your brothers? He would understand, right? Of course he would.

I didn’t go to Fight Club, we watched DVD’s of Three’s Company instead. Some things weigh more and, as it turned out I didn’t have much of a choice to make at all. I had already made it, long before the circumstance dictated a decision.

Next.

We have a gathering at the Bridge where we eat pizza together and talk about all sorts of things that come up – we thoroughly enjoy each other. This lovely space was scheduled for last night. Last night, I also had baseball practice. No, I don’t play (I’m much too old and my knees and ankles hurt and crack far too much), but I do help to coach. 

The Bridge is my priority, my job, and the people there are my family. No question as to weight here, right?

The son who was sick had recovered and Thursday was his first baseball practice of the year, first practice with a new team on a newly expanded field, first practice at an entirely new level. 

I coach baseball for 1 reason and 1 reason alone, and they live in this house. I coach to spend time with my sons. (The relationships I’ve made with other coaches is second. As a matter of fact, baseball itself is pretty low on the list of why’s. Of course, I do love baseball, have always loved baseball, but the best part of baseball is my dad. I can love baseball and my dad from home.) 

On the field (or basketball court), we worship the God who gave us these amazing physical gifts, we face challenges and our own fears, we do hard things, we learn to pick ourselves up, we discover what we are capable of, we love. 

And we walk into firsts together.     

I went to practice and it was awesome. He was awesome. I missed my Bridge family terribly. No one ever said this discernment of weight was easy, Saying yes to something means saying no to lots of other somethings.

One more. 

I get up early to go to the gym around 4am. This requires me to go to bed before 9, sometimes well before 9. My wife mentioned Tuesday night that she might like me to be up later, until at least 9, so she might have a bit more time with a conscious me. 

There are a million choices to be made in just this tiny example. Do I no longer go at 4? But what about the reasons I decided to go at 4 in the first place? What about sleep? How much do I need? She would surely deal with it easily if I still went down early. But what would that say, about her, about weight, about priority? To live at as high of a level as I value, I do need sleep. But I also need to work out. And most importantly, I need my wife to understand her significance. 

Sooooooo. You’ll forgive me if I’m a little tired this week because I’m now a night owl.

Next time, we’ll talk about a GIANT question Jesus asks. But for now, I’m going to take a nap.

Wisdom of My Dad

Now that we’ve introduced the concept of weight, there is an obvious question: how do I know what weighs more to me? We will completely omit the word ‘should’ here, as in “how do I know what should weigh more to me?” and add the words “to me,” because as we’ve discussed, weight might be different for each of us… and that is ok.

This question and how we answer it is vital because every single thing about how we live our daily lives hangs on our internal ranking system. My dad used to repeat, over and over, with disdain, shaking his head, “Priorities, man.” He also used to say, “Girls are strange, man,” and “Be really careful who you marry, man,” with the same tone and shaking head. (In hindsight, my dad was much wiser than I ever understood.)

Should I sleep an extra 10, or 30, minutes or eat breakfast?

Should we eat out tonight or put that money into savings?

See what I mean? Every single thing. Do you make time to floss? Eat vegetables? Go to the gym? When you’re there, do you lift weights or run on a treadmill? Do you show up late to appointments? Do you read your Bible or pray or watch Game of Thrones?

Every. Single. Thing.

If you don’t flow, you’ve decided that it’s not important (or at least not as important as something else.) If you show up late, you’ve decided that your time is weightier than mine, that those 5 minutes are worth more than sending a message of respect. If you eat vegetables or go to the gym, you may have decided that taking care of your body is emotionally and spiritually valuable as well as physically, at the expense of any number of other tasks or hobbies.  

If you stop at the bar on the way home instead of going straight home to eat dinner with your family or refuse to pay child support or drink too much or tend an addiction, you’ve made decisions. And, for the record, nobody’s here to judge whether those choices are good or bad. We just need to agree that every decision we make is based upon our discernment of weight.

Once we agree on that, everything becomes an intentional act of will.

That’s important because we live an awful lot of our lives as if things are out of our control, mindlessly sleepwalking through the beautiful moments of each of our days.

Have you ever thought consciously about breakfast? Or sleep? Or being late? Or spending time with your buddies? And what messages each of those decisions sends – to you, your soul, your family, and your God?

The enemy of mindfulness – and gratitude – is numb disconnect, having eyes but not seeing, ears but not hearing. 

The other part of the Scriptural invitation is to connect and finally wake up to the amazing gifts of love that are our lives.     

Confirmation Classes

My dad took me to my confirmation classes every Sunday morning. There was a Lutheran church half a block from where we lived that we ‘belonged’ to, that confirmed me. (Who knows what I was confirmed as? I suppose I could look it up, but it makes a better point to not know, right? Maybe I was confirmed to be awesome. Or super-spiritual. Or something.) I don’t know how old I was, maybe 10 or 11, and I have absolutely no idea what they taught on those Sunday mornings. My dad told me it was important, and I’m sure it was to some of the other kids in my class. The problem, the reason it didn’t sink in, that I have totally forgotten it, that as soon as I was confirmed I left that church and never went back, was that even though he took me every week, even though he told me how valuable it was, he lied.

Now, that’s probably way too harsh. To say he lied implies some sort of intent, and I don’t think he meant to deceive me in the least. He probably thought he believed it was important. 

He just didn’t. 

This is nothing that is particularly unique to him, I’m the same way.

I tell my boys it’s important to eat lots of fruit and vegetables and stay away from sugar and other junk foods. And maybe someday they’ll write that I lied. I suppose I don’t really think it is too important, because any time I have the opportunity to eat a donut, I do. And I think most vegetables are punishment and to be avoided at all costs.

There’s a saying, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words.” This speaks to the simple fact that the most effective, honest way to communicate our beliefs is our actions. We are all teachers, even if we are completely unaware of this fact. And if, in our lessons, our actions don’t match our words, which one do you think wins?

If I am constantly drilling Samuel with the value of telling the truth, then he walks in the room to hear me call off “sick” from work so I can sleep in, which do you think makes the deeper impression?

If Elisha constantly hears me listing the virtues of exercise, yet never get off the couch…     

My words might be 100% spot on, they’re just not part of the curriculum I’m teaching.

I remember that surprisingly powerful commercial when the boy, after being found with drugs, screams, “I learned it from watching you!!!!” Could that dad tell his kids how important it is to ‘just say no,’ while he was saying Yes? 

Well, sure, he can. They’re just not listening.

So, the BIG question is, do I really believe the things I say I do? My dad didn’t think church was a big deal, never set foot in a church. (Maybe that’s not true – I do think I remember him being there for my special confirmation, but it’s fuzzy. Maybe he was.) I don’t know why he took me every week. Maybe it looked a certain kind of way and gave an impression he wanted to give, or maybe he just wanted his boy to have the base he didn’t. All I know was that I was paying very close attention.

Do we believe the things we say we do? It takes a focused examination and an honesty that requires a ridiculous amount of courage to find out. And then, once we find out that not every area is in line (because we will), then what do we do with that? Will we continue the heart- (and back-) breaking work and drop the hollow words, or worse, bring our lives into alignment with our values?

It’s hard, of course, it is. But no one ever said it would be easy, just that it would be worth it.