Gradually, Then Suddenly

 
Gradually, Then Suddenly
 

Gradually, Then Suddenly

  It's been a long and brutal winter here in Wisconsin, and so the coming of spring is more welcome than usual! The temperatures have been warming gradually for a few weeks and then suddenly, just a few days ago, it became clear that winter had lost its grip, and spring was finally on its way. 

   Our Living Compass Wellness Initiative is hosting an online Facebook discussion group right now on Forgiveness (see the section below this column if you are interested in joining us) and this week I shared the image of winter gradually, then suddenly, losing its grip on those of us in the Midwest. I shared it as a metaphor for how the process of forgiveness often works. The process of forgiving, whether of our ourselves or others is similar in that at first it happens oh so gradually, even imperceptibly, that we don't even notice our change of heart. Then, just when it seems like there is not much progress being made, suddenly our inability to forgive loses its grip, and we find that we are suddenly feeling more loving toward ourselves or others.  

   All of this reminds me of a line from an Ernest Hemingway novel, one that also serves as the basis for a core principle found in the book, Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. In Hemingway's, The Sun Also Rises, a character is asked how he happened to go bankrupt. He answers simply, "Gradually, and then suddenly." Susan Scott takes Hemingway's idea and expands it to matters other than one's financial stability, stating, "Our work, our relationships, and, in fact, our very lives succeed or fail, gradually then suddenly, one conversation at a time." 

   In our Facebook discussion group, I asked if people could think of other metaphors, in addition to the coming of spring, that capture this idea that change and growth happen gradually, then suddenly. The group shared several that warrant repeating: learning to play a musical instrument, learning to hold a yoga pose, learning to speak a new language, losing weight, a person recovering from grief, and a child first learning to walk. All of these are changes that often surprise us as they seem to have just crept up on us when in reality they have been building for some time.

   These metaphors contain wisdom that I, for one, need to remember because I often want or expect change to happen quickly. I doubt I'm alone in the fact that when I am working on a making a change, I don't start out thinking, "I'm looking for a slow, gradual, almost imperceptible change here," and yet that is precisely how the change process works. Watching the snow slowly melt and the world gradually changing from white and grey to a fantastic variety of colors is a beautiful reminder of that.

   Is there a change you are working on in your life? Is it perhaps related to forgiveness? Or some other focus of growth or letting go--be it spiritual, vocational, physical, relational, or emotional? As the season slowly, gradually changes around us, may we remember the wisdom that change always takes longer than we want or expect, and that change always happens gradually, long before it happens suddenly.


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Be A Blessing

 
Be A Blessing
 

Be A Blessing

 Do you have a favorite Irish blessing, one that perhaps comes to mind as St. Patrick's Day approaches?

If so, I would love to hear from you. You can respond to this email, or you can respond on our Living Compass Facebook page where this column also appears each week.  Click here for our Facebook page.

Here are several of my favorite Irish blessings:

  • "May the hinges of our friendship never grow rusty."

  • "May you live as long as you want, and may you never want as long as you live."

  • "May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may you be held in the palm of God's hand."

  • "May good luck be with you wherever you go, and your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow."

  • "May your days be many, and your troubles be few, may all God's blessings descend upon you, may peace be within you. May your heart be strong, and may you find what you're seeking wherever you roam."

  • "May you have the hindsight to know where you've been, the foresight to know where you're going, and the insight to know when you're going too far."

  • "May you have enough happiness to keep you sweet, enough trials to keep you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human, enough hope to keep you happy, enough failure to keep you humble, enough success to keep you eager, enough friends to give you comfort, enough faith and courage in yourself to banish sadness, enough wealth to meet your needs and one thing more; enough determination to make each day a more wonderful day than the one before."

  • "With God's sunlight shining on you, May your heart glow with warmth, like a turf fire that welcomes friends and strangers alike. May the light of God shine from your eyes, like a candle in the window, welcoming the weary traveler."

I am delighted to share these blessings with you, and perhaps you will share some of these, or some of your own, with others this week. The last one reminds me that there is something, though, that is even more meaningful than sharing a blessing with others, and that is being a blessing to others. I was reminded of that a few weeks ago when a friend did me a huge favor that was a tremendous help to me. In response to his support, I said to my friend, "You are such a blessing in my life!" My friend responded, "That is the nicest thing someone could say to me!"  

We all know a weary traveler or two right now in our lives that could use a blessing. How might you either share a blessing with them, or better yet, how might you be a blessing to them, and like the Irish saying, "Be like a candle in the window, welcoming the weary traveler."


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Living An Examined Life

 
Living An Examined Life
 

 Living An Examined Life

 During my freshman year of college, I took an introductory class in philosophy as an elective and was so inspired by what I learned that I ended up making philosophy my undergraduate major. To this day, I remember the exact words my professor said that caught my attention and that still speak to me now. They were the well-known words of Socrates, "The unexamined life is not worth living."  

    To positively restate the ancient Greek philosopher's words, taking the time to examine our lives is what makes our lives fulfilling and worth living. I whole-heartedly agree with this sentiment and believe this wisdom applies not only to individuals, but to couples, families, and organizations as well. A commitment to regular self-examination is a cornerstone of health and wellness in all aspects of life. 

   The benefit of taking time for self-examination is acknowledged by all of the world religions as well. Every faith tradition has days and seasons that invite followers to focus on self-examination and committing to living a renewed life. The season of Lent, which for Christians started this week, is just such a season of self-examination and renewal. Just as an annual check-up with the doctor is good for one's physical health, Lent provides an annual check-up for one's emotional and spiritual well-being.

   Lent is often thought of as a time to give something up, a practice which is derived from a long-standing tradition of fasting during Lent.  When a person takes on the practice of fasting or giving something up, it is not done in order to experience pain or deprivation, but rather to practice the discipline of delaying gratification, which is an essential factor in all dimensions of wellness.  Fasting helps to heighten the awareness of the nature of one's real hunger, helping to clarify one's need or hunger for spiritual, emotional, and relational wellness. 

  An approach to fasting that many people are now adopting, as they expand the idea of fasting to include more than avoiding certain kinds of food or drink, can be seen in this list of possible things from which one can fast. 

Fast from hurting words, and say kind words.

Fast from sadness, and be filled with gratitude.

Fast from anger, and be filled with patience.

Fast from pessimism, and be filled with hope.

Fast from complaints, and contemplate simplicity.

Fast from pressures, and be prayerful.

Fast from bitterness, and fill your hearts with joy.

Fast from selfishness, and be compassionate to others.

Fast from grudges, and be reconciled.

Fast from words, and be silent so you can listen.

   Here is a simple exercise any of us can do to put into practice Socrate's wisdom of the importance of self-examination. Reread the list above slowly and take a moment to examine how you are doing with each of the recommendations. Is there one "fast" that speaks to you, one that "has your name on it" as something that needs your attention right now? 

   The observance of Lent, along with many other forms of regular self-reflection, are reminders that the examined life is well worth living. 


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Practice Makes...

 
Practice Makes...
 

Practice Makes...

 I was raised with the well-intended advice that, "Practice makes perfect." The good part of that was that I developed some pretty good practice habits around the things I wanted to do well-such as throwing a baseball, playing the piano, and shooting a basketball. The part of the advice that turned out not be accurate though is that even with all that practicing I have never actually perfected anything, either as a child or as an adult.  

   I can't remember how many years ago I first heard a different version of  the advice related to practicing that I received growing up. What I can clearly remember is how right it felt when I heard someone say,  "Practice makes progress." Now that made sense and it completely aligned with my own experience. Whenever I have committed to practicing something regularly I have always made at least some degree of progress. 

   Starting March 6th, more than a billion Christians around the world will begin a seven-week focus, in observation  of the season of Lent, on some form of spiritual practice. The focus of my spiritual practice this Lent will be forgiveness. It is not a coincidence that my focus on forgiveness is also the focus of our 2019 Living Compass Lenten Daily Devotional. The theme for this year's daily readings is, "Practicing Forgiveness with All Your Heart, Soul, Strength, and Mind," and is available for all who are interested in this important topic.

   As preparation for my upcoming focus on forgiveness, I just finished reading, "Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope" by Dr. Robert Enright. I found the publisher's description of the book to be accurate: "By demonstrating how forgiveness, approached in the correct manner, benefits the forgiver far more than the forgiven, this self-help book benefits people who have been deeply hurt by another and caught in a vortex of anger, depression, and resentment." Enright is a psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and is widely regarded as one of the world's thought leaders on forgiveness. Understanding the process he lays out for forgiveness is relatively easy; applying the process is another matter altogether. Hence the need I feel about spending more time focusing on forgiveness.

  If you would like to join us on this journey of self-reflection, you can subscribe to our daily emails and/or join our Facebook discussion group which  by signing up HERE. If you prefer, you can download all the readings as a PDF document HERE. We are almost sold out of our English printed booklets, but you can check HERE. to see if we have any left to order.  We are sold out of our Spanish printed booklets, but you can download a PDF of the Spanish booklet HERE.

   Forgiveness of both ourselves and others can be challenging work, but it is work well worth doing. My goal for focusing on forgiveness for the next seven weeks is not about perfection, but about making small steps of progress in this essential life-long practice. I hope you will join us.


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Just One More Story, Please

 
Just One More Story, Please
 

Just One More Story, Please 

 Our grandchildren are enchanted by stories, something that is hardly surprising given their parents' love for books.  At five and two years old it seems as though they are up for reading and listening to a story almost any time of day or night. There is only one challenge in reading stories with them, and that is finding a way to end the story time as the two cutest children in the universe (I know I might be a bit biased) plead "Read it again," and "I want to hear just one more story, plea............se........"

   No matter our age, we are story loving people. Our identity is formed and shared in and through stories. I have met with friends that I had not seen for quite a while several times in the last few weeks.  How did we choose to reconnect?  We reconnected by sharing coffee and stories.  We shared stories about what we've been up to since we talked last.  We shared stories about what the people we love have been up to as well.  "Tell me one more story" is not just the request of a child who doesn't want to go to sleep, it is also the request we all make of one another when we truly want to connect.

   Holocaust survivor, author, and human rights activist Elie Wiesel wrote about the power of stories in a preface to his novel, The Gates of the Forest.

   "When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished, and the misfortune averted. Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magid of Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say, "Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer," and again the miracle would be accomplished.

   Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: "I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place, and this must be sufficient." It was sufficient, and the miracle was accomplished.

   Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: "I am unable to light the fire, and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient." And it was sufficient.

 

 God made human beings because God loves stories."

   If you need more evidence of the power of stories, be sure to watch the Academy Awards this Sunday night.  Movies, which are merely stories brought to life on the big screen, undoubtedly play an influential role in our culture.  They inspire us and get us talking with one another.  They entertain us and distract us from the stresses of everyday life.  They bring couples, families, and friends together to create a shared experience, not just in viewing the movie together, but in discussing and replaying the experience for hours and days afterward.

   What are the favorite stories of your life? What are your favorite books, plays, and movies? What do your favorites say about you and about what is most important to you? What do they say about your core values and beliefs? The next time you are with a friend, discuss your answers together, and you will most likely learn something new about each other.  

   But be warned, once you get started sharing some of your favorite stories, it might just be hard to stop when one of you pleads, "I want to hear just onemore story plea......se......"


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