Thoughts on Helping 6 – The Need for Love (Antique Wisdom)

As we know, it can be exceedingly hard to help people, especially those with emotional and spiritual problems who seemingly obviously could use it. I think these ideas of “Antique Wisdom” from Henry Kingman stand the test of time.

It is only as life goes on and our experience of men widens, that we come to understand how difficult a thing it is, and how costly of effort and sacrifice, to recover a soul that has gone wrong. Multitudes of people never do discover how difficult a thing it is, for the simple reason that they have never tried. They satisfy themselves with all sorts of theories as to how base elements in human nature may be transformed into noble ones, without cost to any one of personal love or painful sacrifice. It is to be done my medical or surgical treatment, or by better education, or shorter work hours, or improved tenements, or suppression of the saloon, or a new economic system, or by one or another of multifarious humanitarian readjustments, which are to accomplish easily and naturally and on a wide scale the moral uplift of the people.

If we have ever seriously tried to reach even a single life, weakened in will and poisoned in spirit by vicious indulgence, embittered and defiant towards all that stands for law and moral restraint, we have had some insight into the almost insurmountable difficulty of brining spiritual renewal to one who refuses it, or recreating the heart of one whose pleasures are rooted in evil affection. Men are always rediscovering the fact…that nothing but love can do this work, and, even then, only at its own personal cost and sacrifice. Money cannot purchase it. Neither the most perfect organization not the most highly paid officials can be depended on to secure it. It goes without saying that there are many forms of social amelioration that are efficient aids, and that we are bound for every reason to support them to the best of our capacity. But in the last analysis the deep needs of the individual soul, the needs which blind and bewilder and ultimately destroy, are only to be relieved by love. And however we may carp at individualism, the last stage of social progress, like its first, will still be dealing with the problem of individual need and individual redemption.

Perhaps most men who have reached middle age have tried their hand once or twice at “reclaiming” some one who only half desired to be reclaimed. We were willing to give a certain amount of time and money and patience in the effort, so long as it did not interfere with our business or the orderly routine of life. But the chances are that we did not succeed, because our patience did not hold out. Possibly we felt that we were being deceived or that the man was not rightly keeping his promises, or that his will was too weak; but in any case our compassion was not strong enough to stand the strain, and we gave up the attempt as unfortunately hopeless. We had no much love to go upon, and we were pathetically unable to pay the price demanded, of an unbounded sympathy and forgiving patience.

– Henry Kingman, The Faith of a Middle-Aged Man

Trying to help someone else? Prepare by increasing your reserves of sympathy, compassion, patience and love. Easy to say, hard to do. But with God all things are possible.

Pete

Holiday Stress – Do You Have a Program?

The holidays are here! Consequently, many of us are spending more time among our extended family, which is often a mixed blessing. It’s always nice to see the relations but, depending on how well everyone gets along, any prolonged visit can be quite stressful. Add to that the general holiday stress many experience, the feeling like we should be a family that all get along, and of course the era of Trump, and it’s a recipe for nerves to fray. None of us are immune to that.

A friend of mine (who is in recovery from addiction) was talking with me about her recent holiday family experiences, including some trying times. When I asked her how she kept her composure she replied, “I try to remember that they don’t have a program” and “I keep focused on working mine.” Hmm… Good answer!

Her comments got me thinking about the importance of having a program (or method) for becoming emotionally well. One doesn’t usually become healthy and well by random or disconnected actions, even potentially beneficial ones. On the other hand, a well-designed system of action almost always works if one sticks with it. “It works if you work it” is a true an often-heard recovery program slogan.

My program is that of Christian discipleship or “following Jesus,” which is so much more than just going to church. It’s a program for living all of life, designed and led by God in his three persons, and it too “works if you work it.” If you follow Jesus, he will make you well.

Take care,

Pete

I Did It ! (but I shoulda done it a while ago)

I finally did it! Last month I joined Planet Fitness and have begun to use an elliptical machine. Today I completed my ninth workout and I’m really enjoying it. Why didn’t I do this a year ago? Or even two years ago?

As you long-time readers know, a couple of years ago I suffered a medical meniscus tear in my right knee. I was fortunate in that it got considerably better rather quickly. Now I’m minimally symptomatic at rest and with walking, but every time I’ve tried to run, it lets me know that my running days are over.

Unfortunately, running was my main aerobic workout. Since walking wasn’t a problem, Sharon and I started walking together, and we’ve been going 3 miles twice a week. We enjoy the exercise and the time to talk but I’ve been missing the intensity of running. Healthwise, my weight is stable but my cardiorespiratory fitness must be way down as it hasn’t been seriously challenged in almost three years.

So, for at least two years now, I’ve been thinking, I should join a gym. I should work out on an elliptical machine. Or maybe hit the rowing hard again. Or try a NordicTrack. I should do something aerobic! But I didn’t. Until now. And now, I’m thinking, I should have done this before now. Long before. Why didn’t I do this last year? Why did I procrastinate? I’m a lazy person.

Oh well. Whatever. I’m not sure why it took me so long. As the saying goes, “it takes what it takes” and beating myself up about it isn’t necessary or helpful. I’m deciding to just be happy I’ve started. And of course I’m going to keep at it.

How about you? What are you putting off? Or what are you “woulda, coulda, shouda – ing yourself over? The past is past. Let the critical self-talk go and just do the right thing now. Then keep at it.

Good luck,

Pete

Cultures to Avoid – Jealousy and Selfish Ambition

I wasn’t planning a series on the world’s fallenness, but of course it’s still on my mind. How could it not be? New revelations of sexual sin (including assault, harassment, adultery), abuse of power, and deceit in high places continue almost daily. And we’re seeing that it’s not just one “bad apple,” but rather a culture of abuse and dishonesty in many organizations or even industries. It leaves one thinking, is everyone everywhere where a sociopath? Can anyone be trusted? How do we protect ourselves? What should we watch out for?

James, the brother of Jesus, has some good advice in this regard:

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.  But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying.  For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.  For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
James 3:13-16 NLT [emphasis mine]

That sure resonates with me. Aren’t the entertainment industry and D.C. Beltway politics filled with jealousy and selfish ambition? It’d be hard for any objective observer to suggest otherwise. Not to say that every actor is a prima donna or every politician is on the take, but these industries (and politics is an industry) do have that kind of “it’s-all-about-me” culture. The National Football League also comes to mind, but reasonable people could argue about that.

At an individual business level, culture varies across companies, departments, and even work units. Some are emotionally healthy, others less so. Even voluntary associations – clubs, churches, and other groups – may experience harmful or toxic cultures. No organization is too small to be affected by sin. Perhaps you have seen jealousy and selfish ambition in action at your homeowners association for example.

Honestly, we’re all subject to jealousy and selfish ambition; this isn’t about pointing the finger at someone else. But as we work to let go of our own jealousy and selfish ambition, let’s be mindful of James’ warning. There are some industries, organizations and places that we should avoid for our own protection, and he gives us one way of spotting them.

Be safe,

Pete

Autobiographies of Ordinary People

I’m still thinking about “being GREAT” and the intense focus on the “great” men and women of history or of today. Like me, you may read their biographies and autobiographies looking for insight – What can I learn from his life? How did they get to be great? What are their habits? How can I be like them? That’s okay I guess, but it’s not that simple. Great people seem to develop from some combination of circumstances, character and abilities that doesn’t seem easily replicable by most of us.

I’ve figured out that I’m not going to be great by society’s measures. And it’s also the case that many great men have terrible flaws – obsessiveness, arrogance, cruelty, greed, and the like – which may even have helped propel them to fame and fortune. I don’t want to be like that. Greatness at any price is not worth the cost. No, my challenge is to be great at living an ordinary life. How can I be a great husband and dad, a great employee, a great friend? Whose biographies do I read? Whose lives do I study?

Even reading the Bible, I’m tempted to identify myself with Paul, Peter, David, Joseph or some other prominent person. But these guys are amazingly great men of God. All of us simply can’t be like them. Perhaps it would be more realistic for me to identify with someone in the “multitude,” or “crowd,” or among “…the three thousand that were added…” Unfortunately it seems that most anyone in the Bible that gets much ink isn’t very ordinary.

It got me thinking that maybe I should start reading biographies of ordinary people with extraordinary character. Do they exist? I don’t know, but I do know that I’m learning a lot about life from trusted friends. We meet weekly to encourage and guide each other through life’s up and downs as we follow Jesus. We share our stories along with our hopes, dreams and fears. Last week it struck me that I’m hearing their autobiographies – as told by the authors – and they’re hearing mine. And we’re helping one another plan the next installment. Sort of an “autobiography writer’s group” as it were. Cool!

Autobiographies of ordinary people – they do exist. And they’re powerful. Hear a few from people you trust and find some friends to help you write yours. You’ll be glad you did.

Pete

 

Escaping the Pressure Cooker

Generations ago, and in some places still, people’s main source of pressure was survival. Find food. Secure shelter. Avoid predators. Make it to tomorrow. Not so much of that in America today. But even here, modern life has its pressures. Pressure to be “successful,” to be liked, admired, to be beautiful, to fit in, to be accepted, to live a lifestyle. Life is full of such pressure. For many people, perhaps even most, life can be a virtual pressure cooker.

The media, and especially social media, are part of the problem. For professional reasons, I’ve been on LinkedIn more than usual lately and it’s bringing me down. Half the posts in my feed promise to reveal the secrets to being a “GREAT™ _________” (leader, CEO, operator, etc.) and the other half seem to be people revealing to everyone else just how GREAT of a ________ they are. Apparently they’re not too many ordinary people allowed out there anymore. We’ve all got to be Richard Branson or some other version of “GREAT!”

Of course not everyone can be great in the eyes of the world. Very few of us really. I don’t know about you, but I’ve figured out that I’m not going to be one of them. I’m not going to be awarded the Nobel Prize or the Congressional Medal of Freedom. Not going to be on “the 50 most influential people of ______” list. My books are not going to be bestsellers. No one will ever write my biography. Heck, I’ll probably never even have a Wikipedia entry (an essential step on the way to GREAT).

Fortunately the pressure is off. Not because I’ve given up the pursuit of excellence, I’m all for excellence. Life is serious. Results do matter.

The good news is that God does not call me to be GREAT but rather to be faithful. Having been fully accepted by God through faith and by the work of Jesus, I am relieved of the world’s performance pressures, while at the same time God’s Holy Spirit works through me to achieve his results. And he is not about mediocrity. All I’ve got to do is cooperate! (Yes, cooperating with God has to be worked at too but it’s way more pleasant than trying to be GREAT.)

I think that’s a very short version of the gospel of God, which is God’s good news to all of humanity. If you’re feeling the pressure, there is a way out. Jesus is the way. I can’t say why but he chose me; maybe he will choose you too. I hope he does!

Blessings,

Pete

Appreciate the Work… and the Person!

“Thanks for _______. I appreciate it!” We’ve all heard it. We’ve all said it. Perhaps we even say it a lot; after all, it’s good to let people know that their work matters. But it’s easy to forget that behind the work is a person. And people matter.

Our American culture is one of competition and achievement. Winners are celebrated and results are prized. In business, the public company focus on quarterly results drives a “what have you done for me lately” attitude towards employees from the CEO on down. In the “market” people become just the means to an end, and if the end isn’t perfect, look out. This is the market-driven culture in which we all work (to a greater or lesser extent depending on our individual situations). Do you feel continuous pressure to produce, and to keep producing? I’d be surprised if you don’t.

Well, we’d better get used to it. The culture’s not going anywhere, and results will continue to matter. So sure, appreciate the work.  But let’s also recognize the individuals behind the effort. Let’s be sensitive to their thoughts and feelings. Let’s understand that they have complex and problematic lives just as we do. It’s not easy being a person. Let’s appreciate them.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate you!

Sincerely,

Pete

PS – Two shout outs: one to executive coach Linda Cobb who helped me to learn to think like this earlier in my career; and another to Pat Morley of Man in the Mirror ministry whom I am appreciating, thereby being inspired to write this post.

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