Pastor Roger looks ahead to the new year with something different than New Year’s resolutions, but with a way to reorient how we live more fully in whatever precious, sacred, no “do over” days we have.
It’s Not All About You
January 6, 2019
Here we are: the beginning of a new year, which always gets me thinking about where my life’s going and what would I like to do differently this year.
Mary Oliver’s question reminds me of how fleeting life is, and how each day is sacred, precious … and how easily squandered: “Tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Like most people, I often start the new year with a couple of resolutions and like most people, I make some progress but largely forget my resolutions within a few weeks.
But this year I’m thinking less about reducing calories or adding hours to a treadmill and instead about reorienting my way of being.
I want to live more aware, more engaged, and more appreciative of each moment.
What got me thinking about this, was hearing author Brendon Buchard speak about three questions people often raise as they approach their end of life: “Did I live?” “Did I love?” “Did I matter?”
Those questions invite me to look at how I live rather than just what I do.
I want to waste less time with thoughts, attitudes, and activities that dull me or distract me from living fully, and that means more than just adding another “should do” to my list.
That first question – “Did I live?” – piqued my interest because it challenges me to face how I’ve spent so much time distracted and sidetracked by busyness, over-analyzing, and critical attitudes.
I want to be more fully alive in whatever precious, no “do-over” days I have left rather than disengaged by old resentments, guilt, and worry.
Over my lifetime, minute by minute has added up to years when I’ve not really been present for my own life.
Ironically, to answer “yes” to any of those questions – did I live, love or matter – starts by taking ourselves less seriously.
To live more fully this year doesn’t necessarily mean doing something more, but taking ourselves more lightly.
More than once I’ve counseled a couple where the woman was telling her side of some blow-up while the man was fidgeting so he could jump in to contradict her with his side, and both planted little barbs and jabs into their comments.
As long as each side was committed to their own drama, all hope for rekindling trust and affection remained very distant.
Each person endlessly recited to themselves how they had been hurt, misunderstood or victimized.
Their stories consumed their lives.
Besides leaving no room for understanding, no room for healing, no room for love, they left no room for enjoying other parts of their lives.
Some years ago we did a book study of a book by Gary Thomas (Sacred Marriage, What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?) which is one of the most important books a couple could ever read.
In it, he shares about a marriage retreat he led where a woman spoke very openly about her struggle with eating disorders and confessed to her inability to forgive her husband for his past use of pornography.
Her husband had been gracious, forgiving and gentle as she gained over a hundred pounds, but she had little empathy for any man who used photographs of naked women in the way she used food.
Her understandable hurt but unfortunate bitterness kept her from seeing the similarities between their two struggles.
She was so full of her own anger, so preoccupied with proving herself right, that she was unable to take herself off center stage to find empathy for someone facing a similar conflict.
Thomas counseled her that – without denying her pain – she also had to step off center stage in order to let others in.
Until she did so, she had no chance of healing herself or her marriage, and she had no chance for experiencing much of anything in her world except her own drama
It’s not all about you.
I also remember business meetings back in my corporate days where we could count on a particular man to always fiercely argue his position, condescendingly repeating it as if we had only understood what he was saying we would surely agree.
All the while people’s stomachs would tighten, and everyone became preoccupied with preparing their own counterpoint.
While everyone was totally wrapped up in their frustration, no creative thoughts were put forth.
But more importantly, while we all became immersed in pettiness and anger, none of us appreciated that we were sitting around a table laden with fresh fruit and fresh baked Danish, in a beautiful temperature-controlled office building surrounded by meticulously maintained gardens, and all earning salaries that billions of people could not even comprehend.
I had to chair some of those meetings and I wanted to scream to that man, “It’s not all about you.”
But in retrospect, it wasn’t all about me, either.
If you look back at 2018 and hear a discordant note sounding throughout your relationships, or your workplace or in your own head – your self-talk – then maybe you’re living as if the world is all about your story … but it’s not.
This is the thing that I believe we can work on changing in the New Year that will have a profound effect on our quality of life.
Life is not all about me and not all about you – sometimes we just take ourselves too seriously and that robs us of living fully.
I’m not saying that you should let people ride roughshod over you.
God created you, God loves you, Jesus died for you.
You count, you have valuable ideas – but the kind of humility Jesus speaks of comes from realizing that you’re not the main player in life … even in your own life story.
If you went through confirmation, you may remember the Westminster Catechism teaches that “A person’s chief end” is to what?
It is “to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”
Seeing that we are a small player in God’s big story actually is liberating.
We can let go of being preoccupied with our own narrative, and we can become aware in new ways of life around us.
There are powerful moments of transcendence when our egos drop away and we experience unity with all creation.
In moments those moments of transcendence, we experience ourselves as part of something bigger and grander.
We often associate transcendent experiences with prayer or meditation, but the divine can break into our lives in many ways.
There was a study that took a diverse group of 94 university students to a grove of 200-foot-high eucalyptus trees.
Just standing at the foot of these giant trees and looking up to see them tower to the sky inspired a sense of awe.
What is important about the study is that their experience resulted in a significant portion of those students reporting less stress, less interpersonal conflict, and more generosity in the weeks that followed.
Interestingly, taking a similar group to stand at the foot of a similarly tall building had no such effect.
It may seem counterintuitive, but we become more fulfilled, content and more alive when we see life being less about ourselves.
God did not design life to just be about our wants, our complaints, our hard work, our achievements … not even our happiness.
At its core, life is about the longing of God to have fellowship with us . . . and once we get that in the right order everything changes.
Today’s passage from Ephesians lays this out:
Ephesians 1:4-6 Long before God laid down earth’s foundations, God had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made whole and holy by His love.
When I officiate weddings, I often say that the purpose of marriage is not just to make us happy but to make us holy … that is, to use every condition, circumstance, and experience to spiritually grow, which draws us closer to God.
The young couple may not fully get this message, but their parents and grandparents often come to me after the ceremony to say how important that message is.
Understanding marriage as part of our journey of growing as Christians is likewise transforming in all parts of our life.
Rather than making every hurt a story about us, we can ask ourselves what God wants us to make out of this.
If we choose, we learn to love when our partner, friends, or co-workers are difficult.
We learn to forgive when someone has hurt us.
We learn to be generous when we feel limited.
We desire happiness, sure – but lasting happiness is a byproduct of living for God.
Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, [partly, “all about me” attitude] but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.
Craig Barnes develops this idea in his book Sacred Thirst, Meeting God in the Desert of our Longings where he tells about how his life changed the day his father brought home a twelve-year-old boy named Roger.
Roger’s parents had both died of drug overdoses, and as the family’s pastor, Craig’s dad had done everything possible to intervene in their addiction.
When it became clear that no one else cared about this boy, the Barnes decided to raise him as their own.
Growing up in a home of heroin addicts was far different from his new life, and it took some big adjustments for Roger to appreciate his new blessings.
Now the Barnes were constantly saying things like, “No, no, Roger, that’s not how we act here. You don’t have to shout to get what you want.”No, Roger, in this household you don’t have to fight to get your way.”
You see, with his former parents, life was impoverished, chaotic and never felt safe, so Roger had spent his first twelve years consumed by uncertainty and fear, and, quite naturally, completely self-absorbed.
But now, in his new home, he had to learn about sharing things demonstrating good manners and participating in family chores for the good of the whole family.
Over time, Roger worked to learn new attitudes and over time his fears subsided.
Over time, Roger could enjoy the abundance of his adopted family.
Understand that none of Roger’s hard work to change his behavior was necessary in order to be part of the family.
No, by the grace of the Barnes family he had been adopted – it was only because he reoriented his attitudes to receive adopted parents’ love that he was able to make the changes.
The imagery of adoption is powerful because it gives us a framework for seeing ourselves part of God’s larger family.
Ephesians 1:5 Long, long ago God decided to adopt us into His family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) God wanted us to enter into the celebration of His lavish gift-giving by the hand of His beloved Son.
Had Roger persisted in his old ways, then the Barnes’ household would have become a living hell.
Instead, he responded to the overwhelming love shown him by eventually seeing himself as part of something more than himself: a new, healthy family.
Craig Barnes writes about this experience, “While we cannot conform ourselves into being a people who deserve to be at home with the Father, we do find it irresistible to begin to make changes once we discover that, by grace, we have been brought home.”
So, to live more fully in 2019 we don’t have to justify ourselves with overwork, elevate ourselves by putting others down, or even get our way in every argument.
As a matter of fact, obsessing with all that stuff will merely rob us of valuable hours and days and weeks of the life God has given us.
Out of pure love, God has given you whatever days of life you have.
They’re pure gifts, and there are no “do overs”.
God’s hope is that you will step aside so you can enjoy them fully and share the joy of this grace with others.