I live in a part of the country where we have woods, four seasons, and not surprisingly, deer. Like all of God’s creatures, deer are a mixed bag. They are beautiful, elegant creatures. But they are also herbivores. So, you have to be careful what you plant in your yard. Otherwise, your flower garden becomes the deer’s version of a large salad.
This weekend, in an effort to keep the deer off his property, my neighbor erected a long, unsightly mesh fence in-between our yards. He is at war with the deer who are nibbling on some of his trees and bushes. The fence is ugly, and I am going to have to look at it all summer.
The problem is that when you live in the woods, trying to keep the deer out of your yard is like trying to stop the sun from rising in the morning and setting in the evening. It is futile. All you can do is to enjoy their beauty and plant things that they don’t like to eat.
All of us operate like my neighbor in certain areas of our lives. We fight against reality, when it is futile. We do that in our relationships. For example, you may know someone who is selfish. Some people are simply selfish by nature. If you have to deal with a selfish person, you can choose to appreciate that person’s other qualities and ignore their selfishness. Or you can choose to stop dealing with that person altogether. But fighting against that person’s selfish nature is a waste of time. You can’t fix other people.
We sometimes fight against reality with our employment. I once worked for a non-profit which was a textbook case of how not to manage an organization. The CEO would fall apart at the smallest problem and start swearing at the staff. The male CFO periodically would stop by my office and hold my hands. He claimed that he needed to check whether my hands were cold to see if the thermostat needed adjusting. And my boss continually came up with pointless, “big ideas” for others to implement. It was a disaster.
The whole time I worked for this non-profit, I would go home and complain that it was a mess. Some days, I was beyond aggravated. However, my attitude was silly. I should have accepted the fact that the place was run by goofballs. Then I would have been left with two choices: Accept the bad management and enjoy the job for its good parts (my staff and the opportunity to serve the poor). Or find another job. Instead I chose to fight reality.
As parents, we may fight against reality with regard to our children. Our kids are who they are. You may have been an academic rock star, but nevertheless, you can wind up with kids who struggle with school. Making your children feel badly about that is pointless. Worse yet, it diminishes their self-esteem.
As a parent, your job isn’t to rail against who your children are. It is to unearth their natural gifts and give them ways to develop their talents. Trying to turn your kids into what they are not is a waste of time.
The times that I have been most unhappy in life have been when I’ve fought against reality. Accepting people for who they are and situations for what they are is the first step in dealing with them effectively. Acceptance truly is the first step to getting on the path to enjoying your life.
This week, consider the situations in your life that you find to be overwhelming or unresolvable. Have you accepted the situation for what it is? If you accept it, that frees you to make real decisions about your life. Take that first step. Stop fighting life. And then start enjoying it.
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There is an old saying that goes, “Quitters never win, and winners never quit.” What rubbish. Now, of course, if you have goals or dreams that you wish to accomplish, you shouldn’t stop pursuing them just because you hit bumps in the road. Obstacles are a natural part of the journey when trying to do something great.
But we do need to quit some things. In fact, my biggest regrets in life are having not quit certain things sooner. For instance, my first marriage lasted for 12 years, when it should have been over in half that amount of time. By the end, my husband and I couldn’t even stand to be in the same room together. Unfortunately, we both had been trained to believe that “quit” is a four-letter word (obviously, it is literally, just not figuratively).
Our society has a neurotic attachment to the notion of “sticking with it.” For instance, people like to refer to Bill Gates as a “college dropout.” It is a ridiculous way to look at his academic career. The more accurate way to look at it is that Bill Gates went to Harvard for two years, after which he and his friend came up with a great idea for a company (Microsoft). So, he decided to stop wasting his money on tuition because he’d figured out his career (which is the entire reason one goes to college). Bill Gates didn’t “dropout.” He stopped giving Harvard money (tuition) since he didn’t need Harvard anymore.
Quitting is only bad when it hurts you. But very often, it helps you. My biggest professional regrets are having stayed with certain jobs longer than I should have. I always have been very loyal to my employers. However, in in this day and age, employers are not loyal to their employees. Employee loyalty typically is not reciprocated.
The stumbling block for many of us is our egos. For example, no one likes to admit that they have made a mistake in picking their spouse, their career or a place to live. But remember that none of us is perfect. There is no shame in making mistakes. However, we don’t want to compound those mistakes by continuing them indefinitely.
It is important to bear in mind that life is short. We do not know how many days we will have on this earth. All we know is that the number of those days is finite. And the days that have been given to us are blessings from God. We, therefore, have an obligation to spend those precious days wisely. Languishing in a bad marriage or a dead-end job is not a good use of the time that God has given you.
It takes courage to quit in a society which worships the qualities of loyalty and sticktoitiveness. I believe in those qualities too – within reason. So, if you are going to quit, you are going to have to be prepared to endure the judgement of others.
The concept of quitting reminds me of the Gospel of John 15: 1-2:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”
In the same way, we too have to trim the branches of our own lives that bear no fruit.
Do you have situations in your life that you need to quit? Ask God to give you the courage to do so. You don’t do yourself (or anyone else) any favors by staying in situations that aren’t working. Be courageous and do what is necessary to live your best life possible.
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“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Galatians 3:26-27
Do other people know that you are a Christian? How do they know? If someone didn’t know that you go to church or read the Bible, how would that person know that you are a Christian? As the Apostle Paul says, have you “clothed” yourself with Christ?
As Christians, we should work to be clothed in Christ. If our faith has transformed us spiritually, then how we operate in life should be transformed, as well.
For instance, if you believe that your body is a gift from God, then you should wear clothing that reflects that belief. For women, our clothing should be flattering. It should show that we value our bodies. As a result, we shouldn’t wear clothing that implies that our bodies are there to be used or abused. The same holds true for men. Men should dress in a manner that is neat and careful. They should wear clothing that shows that they respect themselves.
Likewise, we should reflect our faith by how we treat our bodies. Overeating, abusing alcohol and using drugs are abuses of the body that God gave us. By exercising and eating healthy foods, we show that we know that our bodies are there for one purpose – to serve God.
How we act is the most important way in which we reflect our Christian faith. If you are impatient and rude, no one is going to think that you are a Christian. The same holds true if you are judgmental and arrogant.
Now why does it matter if we are clothed in Christ? After all, God loves us unconditionally. He loves us no matter how we look, what we do or how many mistakes we make. So why do we have to act differently as Christians?
We need to act differently because we have a message to deliver. We live in a hurting world. There are so many people who are struggling. They are depressed. They are lonely. They are without hope for the future. We cannot effectively convey the message of God’s unconditional love if that message hasn’t visibly transformed us.
Your job as a Christian is to be an ambassador of God’s love. You are here to share the good news that God loves every person, and that he has a special purpose for each person’s life. To be blunt, no one is going to believe your good news if you look like a mess and act like a jerk.
Their response to you will be, “Well, the message of Christianity can’t possibly be true because Bob says he is a Christian, but he is sloppy and he cheats on his wife.” Or they may say, “Christianity is a pointless religion because Sue goes to church every Sunday, but she is mean-spirited and a gossip.”
If you know the power of God’s love, if it has changed your life for the better, then be an ambassador of that love. Look like a Christian in your appearance and in your actions. Your life should illustrate that a life lived in service to God is the best life possible.
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“One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan.” Luke 17:15-16
The story of Jesus and the Ten Lepers brilliantly shows the importance of saying “thank you,” – and how foolish we look when we fail to do so. In the story, ten lepers beg Jesus to have pity on them and cure them. While the text calls the men “lepers,” we don’t know precisely what disease these men had. All we know is that they had a skin disease that rendered them unfit to be part of the community.
Now if you had a disease that was visible and unsightly, and if that disease prevented you from being with your family and friends, and then a stranger came along and cured you, wouldn’t you say “thank you”? Of course, you would. It would be utterly stupid not to say “thank you” under those circumstances. Yet most of us fail to say “thank you” in equally stupid ways all the time.
For instance, I never said “thank you” to my parents for paying for my living expenses while I was in college. My tuition was nominal, so that was covered. However, my living expenses were not. Now, my parents could have said to me, “You are 18. You are legally an adult, so figure it out.” But they didn’t. And like the nine lepers, I never said “thank you.”
As children, we feel entitled to all kinds of things, when in reality, we are owed food, clothing and shelter until we are 18. After that, anything that we receive is a gift that deserves appreciation. Truth be told, we aren’t owed anything in life. Every last thing we have, including the ability to breathe, is a gift from God. That is why expressions of gratitude are so important.
As a result, over the years, I’ve tried to train myself to be quick to say “thank you.” Now there are lots of ways that we can express gratitude. Certainly, telling someone directly is effective. But how often do you get a Thank You card these days? In this age of email and text, probably not that often. Yet it is nice to receive a tangible note to keep and enjoy.
It is interesting that with all the loftier theological issues addressed in the gospels, an entire story is devoted to the importance of giving thanks. There is a reason why the Bible is the best “self-help” book ever written. It gives simple advice for the successful life. And reminding us of the importance of saying “thank you” is one of the best pieces of advice that we can get.
Not only it is nice to hear words of gratitude, but it is good for us to say them. When we express gratitude, it makes our relationships go more smoothly. Quite honestly, people feel taken advantage of if you don’t say thank you when they do things for you. Gratitude is the oil that allows the gears of our relationships to move smoothly.
Moreover, when we say “thank you,” we remind ourselves that when others do things for us, it is a gift. We lose the arrogance of believing that we are “owed.”
Consider this week whether you are saying “thank you” to those who deserve your gratitude. Or are you like the nine lepers who receive a divine gift and simply walk away? Remember that saying “thank you” is not only good for the person hearing it, but it is also good for the person saying it.
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