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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Be an Encourager

 
Be an Encourager
 

Be an Encourager

This past weekend I watched the Grammy awards and couldn’t help but notice a pattern. Many of the winners started their acceptance speeches with some version of, “I just want to thank ______ for encouraging me to believe in myself, or take a risk, or be true to myself, to never give up….” The implication is that without the encouragement they are referencing, they might never have been able to accomplish what they did.

Most of us will not ever find ourselves giving an acceptance speech in front of millions of viewers, but most of us have received the gift of someone who has encouraged us. Pause for a moment and bring to mind someone who encouraged you at some point in your life. Do you remember what they said? Perhaps not, but you likely remember the spirit of what they said, and how much it boosted your confidence and self-esteem.

The first three words in the quote in the box above by Dave Willis are so simple that it would be easy to miss their power. Be an encourager. I have already noted the significant impact encouragement has on people in the frequency with which its power is referenced in the award speeches at the Grammys. Offering encouraging words to your child, partner, friend, colleague, family member, or even a stranger, is so simple do to and yet we can often immediately see their positive effect.

In light of the celebration of Valentine’s ay the week, we have all seen countless images of hearts, including some version of the popular graphic that has the word “I” followed by a heart, which is then followed by the word you.

While the obvious meaning of this is “I love you,” it can also be interpreted as a perfect representation of the words, “I encourage you.” This is because the word “courage” derives from the same root as the Latin word for heart, “cor,’ and in Old French, the word “corage.” The prefix “en” means “to cause to be in,” or “to put in” and so together to encourage another person literally means to put heart into that person.

So who do you know that could use a little encouragement right now? What could you say or do that could put some heart into their lives? Your encouragement might not lead to their winning a Grammy someday, but I guarantee it will add some sweet music to their lives in the present moment.


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Change is Inevitable. Growth is Optional.

 
Change is Inevitable. Growth is Optional.
 

Change is Inevitable. Growth is Optional.

The above quote, "Change is inevitable. Growth is optional" from author John Maxwell, is one of my favorites. Maxwell writes leadership books and so it is natural that the wisdom of this quote is often applied to organizations and businesses. In honor of Valentine's Day approaching, though, I would like to reflect on its meaning as it pertains to love and relationships.  

All relationships change, because change is inevitable. This is true of all relationships, whether they be with family, friends, or if they are romantic. While every relationship experiences change over time, not all relationships experience growth. Why? Because, as the Maxwell quote says, growth is optional. Growth only happens when both people in any relationship are committed to the ongoing emotional and spiritual growth that a mature relationship requires.  Growth occurs when both people can see conflict and difficult times simply as occasions and opportunities for growth and for learning new individual and relationship skills.  What does a committed student do when they come up against a problem they don't understand or can't solve? They work harder to figure it out, and in the process, they grow in their skill and knowledge. The same is true when both people in a relationship are willing to treat problems as opportunities to gain new knowledge and skills.  

One of my favorite bits of wisdom to share when counseling young couples is that love is much more than a feeling and that actually, love is primarily a decision.  It is so important to remember this in the midst of the constant images and messages we get through television and movies that focus primarily on love as a feeling. If love is primarily about feelings, then what do we do when the feelings naturally ebb and flow? Understanding that mature love is a decision is what helps us commit to persevering and growing, especially when we are experiencing challenges in our relationships and are not currently experiencing a lot of the feelings of love.   

Imagine a person walking into their local gym and saying to a personal trainer, " I want to get stronger, more flexible, and overall just get in better shape." The trainer would, of course, respond that they could help with that. Now imagine, the person added, "And I would like to receive these results without having to work at it, without feeling any discomfort as part of the process." It is easy to see that this is not going to work. When it comes to relationships, if the two individuals in the relationship want the feelings of love without committing to the decision to do the work, it is bound to fail. All significant relationships require both people committing to working on the relationship, in order for it to grow and mature.  

Change is inevitable. We don't have to make a decision for change to happen. It happens with or without our consent. Growth is what is optional, it only happens with our consent and when we make the decision to grow. 

While this wisdom is true for organizations and businesses, let's remember, in honor of Valentine's Day, that it is also true for all of the significant relationships in our lives. 


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