‘Engaging in the process of setting a foundation under the lives we’re living is worth attempting. I don’t mean that we should try to do everything all at once; we cannot go from immaturity to maturity in one bound. But we can faithfully say, ‘ Lord, let me practice what I’ve heard in just one area today. Let me begin this obedience. And I will trust You to open the doors to further hearing and obedience to make my life like Christ.’ – Steve Zeisler
This is a great quote from a machine lifegroup leader – the original Mandominal. It fits in well with my understanding of how to tackle this year. Consistency, discipline, delayed gratification…the ingredients for victorious living.
‘What do you do when you are always comparing yourself with other people? What do you do when you always feel that the people you talk to, hear of, or read about are more intelligent, more skillful, more attractive, more gentle, more generous, more practical, or more contemplative than you are? What do you do when you can’t get away from measuring yourself against others, always feeling that they are the real people while you are a nobody or even less than that? It is obvious that these feelings are distorted, out of proportion, the result of projections, and very damaging for a healthy spiritual life, but they are no less real and can creep up on you before you are aware of it. Before you know it you are comparing other people’s age and accomplishments with your own, and before you know it you have entered into a very harmful psychological competition and rivalry.
I talked about this with John Eudes today. He helped me analyze it a little more. We talked about the vicious cycle one enters when one has low self-esteem or self-doubt and then perceives other people in such a way as to strengthen and confirm these feelings. It is the famous self-fulfilling prophecy all over again. I enter into relationships with some apprehension and fear and behave in such a way that whatever the others say or do, I experience them as stronger, better, or more valuable persons, and myself as weaker, worse, and not worth talking to. After a while the relationship becomes intolerable, and I find an excuse to walk away feeling worse than when I started it. My general abstract feeling of worthlessness becomes concrete in a specific encounter, and there my false fears increase rather than decrease. So real peer relationships become difficult, if not impossible, and many of my emotions in relation to others reveal themselves as the passive-dependent sort.
What do you do? Analyze more? It is not hard to see the neurotic dynamism. But it is not easy to break through it to a mature life. There is much to say about this and much has been said by psychologists and psychotherapists. But what to say about it from a spiritual perspective?
John Eudes talked about the moment, that point, that spot that lies before the comparison, before the beginning of the vicious circle of the self-fulfilling prophecy. That is the moment, point or place where meditation can enter in. It is the moment to stop reading, speaking, socializing, and to ‘waste’ your time in meditation. When you find your mind competing again, you might plan an ’empty time’ of meditation, in this way interrupting the vicious circle of your ruminations and entering into the depth of your own soul. There you can be with Him who was before you came, who loved you before you could love, and who has given you your own self before any comparison was possible. In meditation we can come to the affirmation that we are not judged by how we compare with others but by how we fulfill the will of God. This is not as easy as it sounds because it is in meditation itself that we become painfully aware how much we have already been victimized by our own competitive strivings and how much we have already sold our soul to the opinions of others. By not avoiding this realization, however, but by confronting it and by unmasking its illusory quality, we might be able to experience our own basic dependency and so dispel the false dependencies of our daily life.
The more I think about this, the more I realize how central the words of St John are, words so central in St Bernard’s thought: “Let us love God because God has loved us first”
–Henri Nouwen – The Genessee Diary P91
As part of my ongoing effort to reevaluate my life, I am trying to define success and successful living. If you are a Christian, your view of success in this life is very different to someone who does not believe in Jesus. Although, even if you are not a Christian this is true for you – it is a universal truth as far as I’m concerned. Something I’ve realised over the years of contemplating what we, as Christians, should value, is that people are what matter. After a relationship with God, the personal relationships we have with those around us are the number one ‘treasure’ we have on this earth. I rarely live as if I believe this, and yet I know it to be true. I know that success at work, wealth, knowledge, fame, whatever you are looking for, will be empty without people to share it with. And this is only the beginning of wisdom. We shouldn’t seek friends only to have someone with whom we can enjoy our good fortune, rather, we should seek people as an end in and of themselves. We believe that people are made in the image of God. How logical then, that people possess the highest value it is possible to possess.
Prioritize people over possessions.
‘But change must always be balanced with some degree of consistency’ – Ron Burton
The change from one year to another provides the perfect opportunity for us to believe that we can change. While the designation of years is quite arbitrary, it’s ubiquity adds to the illusion that a new year is a new leaf. We think that somehow this year will be different. Well not entirely different – the good things won’t change, but the bad things will slowly evaporate as the clock strikes midnight on the 31st of December. Fortunately this is not the case. Apart from our calendars, the only thing that changes from one year to another is personal resolve. We resolve to exercise more, eat healthier, work harder, think differently, risk more, be more. In essence we want to be better people, so we resolve to change. I really love this about us humans – this inner desire to be more than we currently are. The collective action of individuals desiring to grow culminates in the advance of society. Progress is simply the aggregation of individual advancement. But I am getting off topic here 🙂 Where was I? New Year’s resolutions, yes.
What I’ve realised in the last few weeks is that we lose our reputation with ourselves when we over-promise but under-deliver. When we make personal commitments, we are in effect making a promise to ourselves. The only problem with doing this is that your reputation is now on the line. When you make a promise to a friend – ‘I promise I’ll be there at 9AM, count on it!’ – and you don’t keep it, your friend loses his trust in your word. True, it is unlikely to be the result of only one broken promise, but these things add up in time. If you promise to do things, but regularly don’t follow through, people will soon learn that your promises are not really promises at all. The same is true of our relationship with ourselves. We make resolutions to live differently, to use our time differently, to be different people – but if we consistently fail to deliver on these resolutions or promises to ourselves, we stop believing what we tell ourselves. This is a much more grievous situation than it may sound. When you cannot trust yourself, you will find it very difficult to trust other people, or more importantly, God.
So, if it is so important that we are able to trust ourselves and believe the promises we make to ourselves, what is the solution to this problem? I think the key is to be realistic about the promises we make to ourselves. It’s not a very glamorous answer, but I think it is the right one. Don’t over-promise. There is something to be said for the axiom ‘Under-promise and over-deliver’. When I make a commitment to do something and actually fulfill that commitment, I become more trustworthy in my own eyes. I’m more likely to believe the voice in my head in the future because that voice is trustworthy. So now I don’t make promises to myself that I know will be really difficult to keep. I refuse to commit to exercise for an hour a day, read for another, pray for another, and then to fast every second day…it’s just not going to happen. We should not measure success or progress by what we start, but rather by what we finish. So I will make resolutions about many things, but they will be within my grasp. And then I will do my utmost to be consistent in the outworking of those resolutions. Rome wasn’t built in a day people….
“We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live. And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way of the Lord. You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins. Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace” – Luke 1:74
I’m back from holiday and seeking perspective for the new year. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing people.