Thursday, April 30, 2015

When Life Happens without Our Permission

Sometimes we call events and situations we would rather not experience “life.” Life happens, we say. And what unwanted realities happen with our permission? Very few.

Take aging. Sure, everyone should be prepared for it, but who asked us if the effects of aging would be acceptable? In fact, when they pop up, denial can take a firm hold.
  • You think maybe you can pluck the gray eyebrow hairs without looking moth-eaten. (You can’t.)
  • You fail to realize people have stopped saying you don’t look your age. (You do.)
  • You chant the “age is just a number” mantra in your head even as some kind of dermatological Morse code of dots and dashes forms right on top of your wrinkles. (You are not getting the message.)
At some point you face reality and try to age gracefully. But still, if only you had been asked, maybe you could have made a few alternative suggestions.

A long time ago, someone included me in a promise to bake for an event. At the time I either worked full-time or already had two small children. I can’t remember which, but I know I didn’t have much “me time.” Second, I didn’t bake then just like I don’t bake now. I'd love to tell you I baked anyway. But what did I do? I bristled. I even declined. I had to bite my tongue to avoid saying, "You couldn't have asked me first?" (My reaction was embarrassingly self-centered and shameful. Why couldn't I have just gone with the flow?)

All kinds of life events are disruptive at best and devastating at worst. And no one asked us for permission to, well, intrude on our lives with any of them, especially not God. But we think we are mature enough to accept them and move on. We don't even ask God why.

Or do we?

Maybe when life happens without our permission we bristle a bit, albeit as respectfully as we can manage (like biting our tongues), letting God know He might have given what He allowed some more thought. 

"God, the warranty on this car just expired and now it breaks down? Maybe this problem could have happened a month ago?" 

“God, our friend has late-stage cancer, with no warning. We're not asking why You allowed this. We're just wondering why You didn't let her know earlier?"

“God, didn’t you think about how the world might not be able to handle another devastating earthquake? This is too much for us to manage right now, don't You think?”

“God, You didn’t ask people in communities experiencing escalating hurt and disruption if they were going to be able to deal with it. Maybe You didn't realize . . . well, we guess You know what You're doing.”

This might sound ridiculous for people of faith, but thoughts like these, just another form of asking why, might be lurking inside us more than we care to admit, along with a dose of, "Really, if You had asked us, we could have told You we are not up for this!" Especially when cars don't just break down but the whole world seems to be falling apart and crushed under the weight of tragedy and hate.

Here's something to think about when life happens without our permission.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV)

Theology is not for me to spout. And I am not suggesting wickedness causes cancer, earthquakes, or even riots. I am not suggesting that a broken-down car and natural disasters and hurt in our communities are equally devastating. And I’m not saying c’est la vie, that’s life, and there isn’t anything much we can do. We need to support medical research, provide relief to those devastated by natural disasters, and do whatever each of us can to understand the causes of community tensions and what we can personally do to address them.
I am saying, though God does not ask our permission to allow hardships in our lives, nor does He need to, maybe what the world and each of us most needs to remember is the permission He gives us: To humble ourselves and seek His face. To seek His forgiveness when we are wrong. To seek His healing grace. 


Thursday, April 23, 2015

On the Edge: Changing Direction to Land Where You Want to Be—Part 2

Last week in Part 1, I wrote about standing on the edge, high above a rocky landing below, thinking about swan diving to a place of giving up on something important. On the edge with overload. On the edge with burnout. On the edge with overload- and burnout-induced apathy. Staring at a landing where we do not want to be, realizing it is time to back up and take a look at how we got there. 

I cited my recent difficulty writing for this blog twice a week, as I had not only determined I would but had, so far, done a pretty good job doing. My personal writing discipline of choice, it was and is important to me. Then I realized (even after wrestling with some procrastination caused by perfectionism) that I was on the edge, staring at all the ailments above, threatening to push me over the edge with my writing, affecting my ability and even wish to write.

Are you there in some area of your life? Here are my conclusions for what to do about it.

Overload: Identify what is unworthy. Well, duh. Advice abounds about avoiding over-commitment (people pleasing; Type-A personalities) and time wasters (TV and the Internet are at the top of most lists). For me, though, standing at the edge of overload meant some over-commitment in my work, yes (and I am dealing with that), but also the necessity of reevaluating my commitment to write for this blog twice a week. It takes more hours to write a single blog post than some might imagine, and I had to balance those hours against the benefit. My conclusion? I will now be posting only on Thursdays, with the occasional bonus post. I may be in some ways a Type A- personality, and I am not saying I don’t indulge in time wasters, but for now, even that second weekly post was starting to be, on balance, an unworthy overload. It had to go. What is your unworthy overload? 

Burnout: Feed what will keep the flame. I’ll just confess it clearly: I thought I would be okay without a spring break, at least a week without working. But working almost non-stop since our vacation in October has not been a good idea. I was wrong. My current work commitments—even with some deliberate pruning—do not make it possible to carve out a whole week until our planned vacation in June, but I am actively looking for some breaks that will alleviate the burnout I feel coming on instead of pushing full-steam ahead. What is pushing you toward burnout? 

Apathy: Fight by doing what you love . . . anyway. I used to enjoy some things that have all but disappeared from my life. Often I just have not felt like going to the effort (or maybe allocating the funds), and eventually those activities were not even much on my radar. Depression? No. Aging? Nah. The truth is, I let life changes (mostly good) allow both some laziness and apathy to take a stronghold in many areas of my life, and then when the above overload and burnout began their push in my writing life, apathy raised its hand and said, “Ooh, ooh! Me too! More of me!” All together, approaching overload, burnout, and increased apathy make the proverbial vicious cycle. So while I have to avoid making promises I might not be able to keep, I will say I am actively looking to reinstate some things I used to love back into my life . . . anyway. After all, I need something to write about! What apathy in your life do you need to combat? 

Standing on the edge is different for everyone—its causes, its preventions, the severity of its potential landing places, its solutions. Sometimes there is nothing we can do to avoid being there, because life happens. Yet none of us wants to land where we do not want to be, or, may I say, where God does not want us to be, if we can help it. Yes, if you go over the edge, He can restore you, no matter how many pieces you or a dream have shattered into if you hit that rocky bottom. But I leave you with this, the ultimate, foundational solution for anyone standing on the edge to change direction and move toward where they really need to be. And isn't that what we all should want?

In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:6 NIV)


Thursday, April 16, 2015

On the Edge: Changing Direction to Land Where You Want to Be—Part 1

I may not be a fan of Lao Tzu's religion, but I am a fan of this quote attributed to him. Have you ever been on the edge of a precipice, about to take a swan dive, about to end up in a place you do not want to be if you don't step back and change direction? In other words, about to give up on something important to you?

It will not be a surprise to learn one thing important to me is writing. My commitment to this blog, for instance, was to write so I would have a post every Monday and Thursday. After all, as a full-time freelance editor and writer, this is my chosen, main outlet for personal writing. (My “Plan to Write Fiction” is another story, which I might have mentioned a few dozen times before without ever saying what the plan is. But I digress.) 

And writing, like all endeavors, takes discipline. And writing means, well, writing, not just talking about writing (unless you, um, do both). 

So, except for when I recycled two or three posts and had a couple of vacation stretches when I chose not to write, I have been able to make the time to meet that twice-each-week goal. That is, until the last couple of weeks when making time to write somehow turned into a chore and not a love. You see, though writing or any other work you love is still work, it is, in my opinion, not a chore when you love it.

No, this was different. Not writer’s block, which some believe to be a myth anyway, but a barrier to writing that was—or seemed—new.

I just could not seem to do it.

One reason, I realized, was some procrastination—putting off writing about some hard things. So I confessed that here. But there have been some other reasons for this visit to the edge too, circumstances or conditions that, before I knew it, put me there, staring down at a rocky-bottom canyon that looked a lot like “Yes, well, I don’t write anymore. I tried, I put up a brave face about it, but in the end I gave it up, took a swan dive, and landed down here, my hopes crushed beyond all recognition.” 

Yes, this is a bit dramatic. But the analogy works for me because I cannot tell you how afraid I am of heights and falling from them. Well, I could, but not right now.

I've written about how I would not give up writing on this blog, but still, I was getting closer and closer to being on the edge of exactly that, not backing up enough to get a good look at how I got there. And I think the path I discovered is not so uncommon for many of us, regardless of what matters to us so much that standing at the precipice—of, dare I say, failure?—does not at least give us pause.   

Anyone else experience these on-the-edge realities?

·         On the edge with overload. Overload can come from all kinds of places, with over-the-top busyness ruling the day for everyone from entrepreneurs to stay-at-home moms. My story is that to make up for losing some business when a couple of clients cut back on using freelancers, I took on several new clients, which resulted (with my full permission, of course), in a close to too much work in a given time period for my own good.  Read: all of March and most of April.
·         On the edge with burnout. Overload is one cause of burnout, but there are others. And once I took a hard look, I recognized how close I was to burnout for a couple of reasons I will go into next time. Burnout is a place I have not only been close to but in a few times. I have been there, done that with pressure to get things done, to perform, to stay ahead of the game—to the point of exhaustion. Read: More than two decades in a fast-paced, corporate world (not that plenty of people didn’t go way faster than I ever did!), to say nothing of the demands of life we all have that, if we let them, can begin to control us instead of us controlling them.
·        On the edge with overload- and burnout-induced apathy. Need I say more? Read: I am tired, so, really, why bother? Maybe later, when I feel more like it. Who will care if I take a break anyway?

So what are we who are on the edge—whatever has pushed us there—to do to step back, turn around, and make a change to land where we want to be? I have some ideas. Stay tuned for Part 2.

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