Our own ability to understand something doesn’t affect its value, veracity, or function in the world. Often times, our limited vision and perspective shaped by our particular experiences emboldens us to render strong opinions on things in which we truly have no knowledge or awareness! We often get into unnecessary conflicts with others as a result of our own lack of awareness or misinformation, living in our own tunnel of experience.
As a child, my dad would quiz us kids on math from the time we were quite young because he had a wonderful ability to process numbers quickly in his mind, with what seemed a “calculator” inherently gifted within. He was sharing one of his gifts with us through those pop quizzes. When I was really little, the nightly spot exam (esp. with calculus problems) made little to no sense to me as the youngest, causing me some frustration. But I didn’t give up because of that, I learned to be humble in those moments of frustration. As time passed and my learning curve expanded, I grew to truly appreciate much more of what he was trying to teach us through his pop quizzes. We all went on to take four years of math in HS when only one was required!
Often, it’s our own inability or arrogant refusal during moments of frustration to push through it all, stretching our minds to consider what might actually be possible or really be true. And that leads to further frustration as we judge things we see or experience by only what we know at the time! We rail on people about things which are simply above our understanding, vilifying them for actually be more educated or experienced on certain topics or on particular life subjects. When you are conflicted like that by the actions, words, or beliefs of others, first look within. Live with the humility to learn, to grow, to expand and change your mind, to see life outside your own tunnel of experience.
Going back to school is really just waking up every day to face life! We never stop learning! All of our lives we must face the fact that we’re always students. We might wish we had moved past that when we left our late teens or early twenties, but in truth, we’re always students having to learn something, taking tests, studying, and moving on. It never ends, this relationship of ours as students in life! It is ongoing, through all facets, stages, and conditions in which we exist. We never stop learning, even when we are adamantly opposed to the notion, or reject the idea outright! If only we could learn to embrace the role, perhaps the role itself would help bring direction to our lives and some peace to our minds.
During our childhood, we endured years of mandatory schooling, whereby we had to meet certain standards necessary for us to move forward into new pursuits and educational challenges. There wasn’t a way to evade that part of our journey, especially during my generation. Public schools were the norm, and standards were created nationally as well as by each state to keep all students aligned with the pursuit of obtaining certain educational goals. There were standards required in every subject, for every grade level, and for every type of school. The only way we could get to higher grades and levels of achievement in those grades was by accomplishing each grade’s standards before moving on to the next. In my generation, the late baby boomers, there weren’t many opportunities to bypass public school, unless our parents could afford to send us to private schools. There weren’t many home-schooled children that I knew of, and there were no online schools or diploma alternative tests. We were either students, at least from kindergarten through the end of high school, or we were drop-outs.
Having no real choice in the matter, as education seemed essential and mandatory, I then went into each new grade with a sense that it was necessary for my future and inevitable for my progress! Being a student was the role I was in from the age of five through seventeen. I went from grade school to middle school and then high school. The first period of choice I had after those twelve years of not dropping out was going to college when I was seventeen. I chose to go. It wasn’t until sometime in my mid-twenties that I realized the whole student/learning process I had celebrated when it had finally concluded in my early twenties actually hadn’t ended at all! It was still ongoing and never ends until the day we die!
Every day we are learning, going through some lesson, facing some test(s), and determining through such profound moments whether or not we progress onward in our lives! Our role as students in life never ceases, as we are always moving into new circumstances, developing other skills, becoming more adept, learning something new, changing our minds, and growing in wisdom. Each new day we should wake up preparing for that day’s classroom called life! Every day we are really still just students going back to school, but in a classroom without walls, our teachers coming and going with their unique lessons, and our homework found in attitudinal shifts, mental challenges, and quizzical mysteries. We are in one long grade from the time we leave our formal educational confines, the role of actual student, and officially graduate into life. It’s called the process of maturing, and it takes all of our lives to do well! It also takes accepting that we’re never done being a student of something, today, tomorrow, and the next. Each day we must face our lessons, tests, and hope for promotion onward to the next day’s subjects, lessons, tests, and so on.
Tomorrow when you awaken, the bell will be ringing…school has begun!
Growing up is what our bodies do, maturing is what our souls do. When life comes at us rapidly and we don’t know how to handle what we are experiencing, it’s just life’s way of letting us know we aren’t as mature as we could be or need to be! We need to do more to prepare ourselves to deal and cope with the future challenges ahead.
Don’t cheat yourself out of the necessary experiences which propel you to maturity by evading them or escaping from your share of responsibility for them! All of that in life which you might experience which is really difficult, painful, or frightening, cannot destroy you unless you let it. In the face of everything which feels uncomfortable and at times disturbing, you must hunker down, find your strength, persevere through, and eventually overcome!
That is our challenge throughout life, to resolve our own dilemmas, to face our fears, to cope with our emotions, and to learn through experience the wisdom necessary to move onward even through the most difficult, life-altering, or perplexing matters. At the end of our road, with such purposeful focus, we’re sure to be as noticeably mature within as we are visibly grown on the outside!
Sometimes we sugar coat things, thinking we’re sparing others upsets or upheavals. But, if we choose to deny anyone the truth by withholding from them the reality of a situation, we don’t really do them any service at all! Speak the truth, give the facts as you see them, relay honest appraisals whenever possible. Trust and deliver the difficult truths with kindness, compassion, and an earnest heart determined to help others.
Our challenge shouldn’t be how we can hide facts and the truth, for now, to protect someone we love from possibly being hurt, but rather our consideration should be how we can best deliver or present to others what they may need to know to make the most optimal choices for them, to face their dilemmas head-on as they are presented in life, while standing up to what they must! Some of the purposeful omitting or concealing we do may seem to soften a blow to others, but truthfully, it might also be that we don’t want to be responsible for having to give bad news or to burden another when they’re under significant duress! It might also be that in white-lying, omitting, or actually distorting reality, we are making assumptions about others which suggest that we believe them weak or incapable of facing reality. And that projection upon them might be a serious disservice to them!
The truth is truly what each of us deserves to know, process, and ruminate, even when that truth seems like a bitter pill to swallow or a hard left to our already-battered head! Some of the storms we face in this life actually provide great lessons and the impetus for significant and positive change, but if we’re always hiding in a shelter of our own making or in one provided too readily by others, we run the risk of missing those important life lessons! Not all storms can and should be evaded. They serve as necessary opportunities for individual growth and personal development! We have to give that chance to ourselves by facing each obstacle and trial in life head-on, but also others deserve that same opportunity! Honesty, reality, and truth are the power of knowing what to do, where to go, and how to proceed. The light of truth reflected in life is always preferable to the darkness of uncertainty and ill-preparedness.
So many people these days are insecure, riddled with self-doubt, and unable to positively identify themselves by decisive means. They are lost, meandering through their lives looking for validation and for acceptance! It’s really sad to watch seemingly successful, established, attractive people flailing about looking for the approval or esteem from outside that should be naturally flourishing from within!
You probably have seen these people around you every day. They may have jobs, careers, families, friends, and present themselves as well-adjusted and successful at reaching their goals in life. But, in fact, they are struggling with insecurity. This insecurity stifles their creativity, befuddles their pursuit of goals, and hinders the real progress they could make in relationships as well as personal development.
Insecurity is visible! It shows up as narcissism, jealousy, anger, envy, intolerance, excessive criticism, and in those who are always easily offended by others. Insecurity is when we don’t quite believe we’re worthy, or that we’re attractive, talented, capable, our opinions or beliefs are valid, or that we’re loveable. It is any sense of our lacking when we’re estimating the value of others in comparison! Are we as popular, pretty, slender, wealthy, successful, talented, smart, (or whatever measurement we’re using to compare and contrast our life with the lives of those around us)?!
We’re meant to get our value and worth from the knowledge and assurance that we’re beloved children of God! He’s our Creator, so He made us as we are with inherent human value and worth to achieve the purposes He has designed just for us! But many of us don’t believe in God’s dominion over our lives, and so we don’t know that our value is derived from knowing who we are through Him! We instead get our value from other places then, from other people, from the things we’ve collected and boasted of routinely, from the position we hold, from the level of our personal or professional achievements, from how attractive others think we are, from our ability to do certain things, or to hold particular positions. Without having that relationship with God, as Father, we are always going to live our life comparing and contrasting, competing and defeating, dwelling and then repelling all the subjectivity of flawed and irrational human thinking, our own and that of others! We spend a lot of energy and time dealing with insecurity as a result, which takes us from our life pursuits, the purposes God has in mind for us. And when we’re insecure, we spend a lot of time finding fault with others in an effort to raise our own self-perception!
When we know that we matter, we’re loved, we’re loveable, and that we were created as we were meant to be by the Lord, we don’t need to feel insecure about our appearance, our thoughts, our beliefs, our talents, our bodies, or our level of achievement in any area of living! We can go into anything certain that He goes with us, He has prepared us or will for whatever we face, and that we needn’t doubt our ability or any other facet of our being. He leads us, He goes with us, He is our strength, and He is our guide. Now, it’s true that those who don’t believe won’t grasp this difference! That is obvious. But they also don’t see the nature of issues with insecurity rising in this nation as we push God further from our personal lives! Such rampant insecurity is a clear indication of lives lived without the sense of God’s value known for certainty within them! Even believers struggle at times with thoughts that can erode our confidence and our assurances! When you know you matter as you are though, then someone else’s wealth, acclaim, position, race, sexual identity, possessions, and beliefs won’t seem threatening at all! And our own struggles to achieve the success we think we should attain won’t become such an overwhelming weight upon our souls! Knowing God is our designer sets us free from the embattled sense of entitlement, jealousy, envy, narcissism, greed, self-doubt, self-obsession, constant self-promotion, and any other eroding measure! Struggling is part of life, but to wrangle with insecurity, lacking confidence in ourselves as God’s invaluable creation, is to struggle needlessly even more so!
Have you ever told yourself that what you were considering was impossible before you even began? I’ve done it more in recent years than ever before because I’ve grown accustomed to thinking that with middle age, I am naturally more limited! But that, I would suggest, is a lie. And with aging, there aren’t any rules! I am no less able now than I was twenty or thirty years ago. The actual difference in my fitness or abilities is only evident in that I may have a few more aches or pains when I do something, I may have to warm up a few minutes longer, and I may have to go a bit easier at first when attempting things, but the only real limits to training and physical fitness is in my imagination!
When I was younger, I had amazing endurance. It always took me a long time to get winded when working out, or when doing something physical. As an avid hiker, I was often chided by my friends as being part mountain goat, because the uphill effort wasn’t as taxing for me given my endurance. I’m not a fast runner or a speed demon in any pursuit, but I have that endurance consistently. Well, even with age, that hasn’t changed much. I’m still able to “go the distance” when it comes to physical activities and sporting endeavors. I can still hike and do hike, I can move up a flight of stairs without getting winded, and I can train for a considerable time before I start to get winded or fatigued. But the minute I try to sprint, run, or race through any sport, I can’t maintain the effort for very long. So really, not much has changed for me at this stage of life! With stretching, I’m just as flexible, with effort, I’m just as conditioned. The only thing I’ve really noticed with aging is a need to build and keep more muscle, as that seems to be less easy to do and more a challenge of our body’s aging process.
So the lesson I’ve learned the last few years is to not limit myself by what I might perceive as the natural result of aging! Why start to tell myself that aging will impact me this way or that if in fact, it’s not true! Why limit myself and possibly become more sedentary? Why would I keep putting limitations upon my abilities, my possibilities, my efforts, and my goals just because a calendar flips another page? I shouldn’t! I’m realizing that all the changes I perceived about aging are more about giving into self-limitations and false expectations associated with certain periods of life. And that notion of the possible limitations of aging leads a lot of people into prematurely sedentary lives, actually accelerating the aging process, mentally and physically! Loads of people tell themselves that they can’t, so they never make it to can! I don’t want to be one of those people, as life ceases being as meaningful when we give it less space for growth and when we give ourselves less capacity for fullness and fulfillment! I enjoy being active and challenging myself.
Last year, I set a goal during the Summer of swimming two miles without stopping. I have a pool in the backyard, so it was easy to imagine that such a goal would be possible in our long Summer swimming season here in the hot desert Southwest. I worked hard, built up my time each swim, and then swam with the purposeful fine-tuning of my stroke by paying attention to instructions I had once received in swim lessons. I bought equipment which made the effort easier, such as goggles, a cap, and a one-piece swimming suit. I swam several times a week, achieving my goal of two miles non-stop by early July of last year. Even though I had to quit swimming too early to have shoulder surgery (unrelated to my swimming), I felt great for pushing ahead with such a strong goal! This year in mid-May, I started on a new goal, swimming three miles non-stop! It’s a lot of laps in an in-ground residential pool, easily a couple hours of commitment per swim. But, I achieved that goal this year by early July and enjoyed a very productive and rewarding swimming season again! I’m not sure I will increase that goal for next Summer, as it requires a lot of time to swim even three miles at a time. I will keep that as a goal though, even though I’ll be another year older by then!
Since it finally got too cold in the pool for me to swim, now that it is Autumn, I have taken my physical pursuits and can-do attitude in fitness and put them into a new effort – running! I do struggle more with it as a goal, as it takes a lot more physical control and conditioning for me, with such an impactful exercise routine. The benefit of swimming is the low impact the water provides my body. But I’m determined to not let myself be limited by my own mind’s perception of my possible limitations! My body is amazing in that it accepts my efforts by acclimating to my conditioning efforts, so I am left to ponder what more I might accomplish?! Why would I say “never” until I at least try?! And my efforts, though slow and steady so far, have proven that I am already able to do more than if I had just told myself that I was incapable from the onset! My challenge is to build up to some major achievement with this, just as I did with swimming! Remember, with aging, there aren’t any rules.
I miss the way things were earlier in my lifetime when I was younger and life seemed simpler. I suppose it’s a common phenomenon of growing older that change can leave a lot of our lives unrecognizable or just a wee bit uncomfortable. It’s inevitable, there are cycles in life, natural lifespans, and popularity, which impacts what we’re surrounded by each day we live. Everything and everybody which once surrounds us will ultimately fall victim to time’s passing, especially upon hitting mid-life. And the hardest part of growing old is watching all that is familiar give way to something new, different, or otherwise unfamiliar to us. Change is surely inevitable, but not always preferential! And accepting change is the most challenging but essential aspect of aging! Especially at a time like this when everything seems to change so much more rapidly than in years and generations prior. Perhaps we live in the time of the most significant change societies have ever had to absorb since the beginning of human existence in the world. I cannot say for sure, as I only live in this time.
Surely the earliest of human beings had to deal with a lot of perceptible development, just by becoming adults. There were significant and momentous developments visible through the ages, much like those evident during the industrial revolution or with the development of language in each culture over time. But these days, keeping up with things is literally imperative to know the ever-changing colloquial language, as well as all that which influences daily life. Imagine what would become of someone unfamiliar with even the most simple of technological developments these days? If someone didn’t know how to use a portable, instantaneous form of communicating such as a cell phone, they would probably feel very ignorant in this contemporary world! We’re able to instantly communicate, nearly everywhere in the world. We can speak, write, and even render our thoughts across the globe in seconds! Without an awareness of the internet, cell phones, computers, or other forms of technology, people would be clueless about much of the world’s modern functionality!
And in that reflection, there are people in the world alive today who had the earliest form of telephone service available. They first had landlines which required operators to connect a call or which had multiple party connections, which meant negotiating for phone usage, and took considerable time for connecting from one place only miles away to others. A phone call was a great luxury when the telephone first became a household staple and even having a phone was not guaranteed in every household as a cell phone is expected to be these days. Having a telephone was a privilege one had to be able to afford to actually have. It was not that long ago that many of us living today had hard-wired phones, hanging on our walls or sitting on our tables. We had to manually dial all the numbers on a large rotary dial and we couldn’t move beyond the distance the length of the curled connecting cord between the base and the handset allowed. We didn’t always get through instantaneously because it took more time to actually dial, especially long distance, and there were often either interruptions or perhaps the line would be busy already. I’m surely not an expert on the history of such technology, but I lived through several technological changes over my lifetime which developed into the instantaneous, wireless, global service we have today! If Maxwell Smart were alive and spying today, would he even bother with a shoe phone?
When I think of all the changes which I’ve witnessed and absorbed in my lifetime, I’m often disturbed by the pace of things! It’s not necessarily all that comfortable to grow old with things always changing, as things don’t often change for the better! As we age, change seems to be more prolific and more impactful such as with more of our family and friends passing away. It’s a matter of time’s natural passing and lifespan. We merely have to learn to become more accepting of living without those with whom we were first closely surrounded. And we must learn to let go of a lot of regular aspects of our daily lives. All things and people have a natural lifespan, including the familiar businesses, places, and landmarks of our communities and our hometowns. Everything comes and goes, with some random time pattern, not always of our choosing! It’s just a part of life. We might really enjoy a restaurant, perhaps we’re even regulars there, we become our own version of “Norm!” from Cheers (a sitcom from the 1980’s) to some group we routinely encounter there. But then that place suffers from an economic downturn or the owners choose to retire, or some other random incident causes its closure. That happens repeatedly as we age, especially if we stay in the same place over a long period of time. We take notice of changes, of communities shifting and changing in demographics, in population, in prosperity, and economically. Landscapes with which we have great familiarity seem to morph into something unfamiliar and all-too-new. Change without our developing sense of acceptance is just unsettling.
I often wish I could keep more of the familiar people and places in my life, sans change! It isn’t always comfortable or easy to accept a lot of the change which comes with age and with time’s passing. But acceptance is a strange bedfellow because it enables us to make as much peace as possible with something which inherently at first feels uncomfortable or unpleasant. And getting better at accepting things is making my life easier, even with all the bombardment of change which now seems “normal” at this time period of my life. I can’t go back to a time when life seemed simpler or easier, and I cannot slow life down to make it seem more tolerable. This life is going at a pace which requires my constant endurance and daily acceptance! And I work each new day to keep those muscles flexing for the fevered pace of change we’re experiencing in 2017! Who knows what is coming next in the world, by way of technological developments, or in my own community? It’s all constantly changing and morphing into a new version of today, each new tomorrow!
I told my mom on Mother’s Day that she was truly a gift of unimaginable blessing to me because she had always loved me unconditionally, and for that, I am so very grateful! Even though I had siblings, have made many mistakes while living my life, and have been seemingly unlovable at times during my life, her love has never diminished or faltered. I’ve never sensed her having any preference between my siblings and me, nor have I experienced a prioritization of her love when I’ve accomplished more or less. Her love has been the same at all stages of my life, she has never loved me more or less! And she is not the only one who has loved me like that, I have been blessed by my father’s unconditional love (although he passed away years ago), as well as four grandparents (who’ve also passed on), and two siblings who seemingly love me that way. And more importantly, God loves me unconditionally! So, when other acquaintances, friends and family seem to pick and choose their preferred moments in my life in which to love me, I can rest assured that I am loved as God loves – in spite of my imperfections and beyond my merit!
It’s perhaps rarer in our personal microcosm than we imagine, this ability and impetus to love unconditionally! I’m not sure I’ve always loved family members, friends and strangers in kind. I’ve surely tried, but until we each can realize and accept God’s depth, breadth and scope of love as Creator of all life, we haven’t really got it to give to others. It takes wisdom and spiritual maturity to comprehend the amazing, infinite, and forgiving definition and scope of love to truly be able to receive it within and then to share it with others! Such genuine and unconditional love must flow first from within to then encompass others with whom we interact. Love is the gift of ourselves, which is shared in an endeavor to improve, heighten and joyfully enhance the lives of those with whom we intermingle and enmesh. Love is our acceptance, approval, and awareness of others in spite of their human flaws and behavioral imperfections. And as the Bible instructs us, we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, meaning we are to love all those people around us in kind, without condition! But first, we must receive God’s love within to be able to then share it with the world around us.
Is it always easy or natural to love strangers, or even family and friends unconditionally, at all times? No. Not when we love through our human perspective and with our human limitations. But when we learn to love ourselves and others as God loves us, then it becomes easier and more natural! And that is why spiritually mature people have a more heightened, easier time loving in this way! Judgment, conditions and imperfections matter less, or not at all, to those who’ve realized how great the love that God has for them! And in turn, they are then compelled to follow God’s Word, loving others as God has loved them and as they love themselves! Love is only unconditional at that level – when it is fully accepting, forgiving, and beyond the limited scope of human understanding!
Parents, like my mom and dad, often have an edge in loving their children in this unconditional way, as they experience the deepest intimacy and acceptance of their yet unknown children as gifts from God while awaiting their birth with loving expectancy! Unimaginable love can develop in the time it takes to see those children conceived, born, growing and developing into future adults. Sadly, it’s not always this way, many people never really perceive and receive the unconditional love which comes first from God, so what they have to give is less than unconditional and based on a human understanding of what love really is! That truth is evident and observable in every relationship and situation in which love is key! To know what love is, one must know from where it comes and from Whom it comes! Love flows first from the source of all love, it must be received and given, shared from one human being, to another to be truly appreciated and evidenced as unconditional.
Patience is the lesson learned through many of life’s complications, trivial and more serious! It’s the realization that you’ll have to tolerate what at the time and at the moment seems intolerable, even if only for a short time! Patience is a fruit of our Spirit, found within us naturally, but surely requiring lessons and purposeful attention to developing! Patience convinces us to remain calm, to stay peaceful within, to consider situations purposefully, and to not react without first thinking things through. Patience accepts flaws and tolerates the imperfections of human nature and life itself!
I try not to measure my patience or lack there of! As soon as I crow about my patience through something, it will invariably bring on a challenge or test which causes me to eat my words! I think God teaches us in the middle of our trials so that we know it’s not of our doing, but His! And if I am ever actually sufficient in patience, I will surely know that it is God’s handiwork in my life. It surely wouldn’t be all my doing! I still struggle, daily!
This past week, while finishing up the pruning and trimming of some trees in my yard, trying to clean up after Winter in preparation for Summer ahead, I was attacked by tiny black ants biting my feet! I was actually doing the last few things on my list early one morning when it occurred. The attack was annoying at the moment, but I brushed the pesky ants off and continued my work until I could get out of their reach. It wasn’t until later on, and especially in days to come, that I paid attention to the effects of their foray with my feet! The bites I received became highly sensitive to itching whenever they were touched or even brushed against. And if I actually forgot about the bites while half-asleep, scratching my feet mindlessly, I set off a terrible itch almost instantly! It was so annoying to suffer the side effect from that one brief moment in the yard for several days afterward. Even anti-itch creams took their sweet time to work on the seven or so inflamed spots on both my feet!
Finally, the itching passed, after a few tedious days. But the whole event felt like the gift that keeps on giving for that time! That is the hard thing about being patient, it requires strength and perseverance over a set of circumstances which usually are not all that pleasant or fun, much less something we’ve chosen! Much like the bites on my feet, the event itself was not much fun, and the continued itch was surely unpleasant! Patience was required if I didn’t want to drive myself insane!
Now, not all tests of our patience are so trivial. Not all tests are so short-term or so inconsequential to our lives overall. We often have to endure lengthy ordeals which eat away at our ability to stay the course! Emotions are usually the reason for waning patience! We just hate to endure what we don’t want to. And any discomfort, any pain, anything through which we process negative emotions, are the attacks we wage on our own fledgling patience muscles! We fight a barrage of emotions and feelings which encourage us to abandon our budding patience in favor of having what we what now, rather than enduring what we find difficult or even impossible! Patience is always a test of our will, our emotions giving way against our determination to persist with maturity against our own emotions! To be able to control one’s own emotions is a sign of maturity, as then one has more dominion over self! The more emotionally immature we are, the more reactionary we tend to be and thus, unable to stand strong against whatever our emotions dictate. Comfort, ease, need, desire, fear, insecurity and many other internal drives play upon our emotions. We hate to be uncomfortable, to feel deprived, to have unmet needs, or to suffer for any length of time! And so, we settle for less, choose an alternative, or give up on what we’re pursuing rather than patiently forge ahead.
Patience it is said is a virtue. It can protect us from emotional contests, willful battles, and serious mistakes which take us off course. Patience leads to more civility amongst people and prospers respect for others. It is only through our patience that we learn to be humble, to tolerate others, and to wait for what is truly meant to be ours. Patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit because it enables us to deal with one another with more loving kindness and better reason, as each of us is unique and independent, it gives us more measured concern. It is required in life to keep us from falling into bad habits, from making hasty erroneous judgments, and from reacting without forethought. And most of all, patience teaches us the art of self-control, self-discipline, and self-acceptance, as our flaws and failings are a natural part of the human experience. And the more patient we are with our own flaws, the more patient we are with those of others!