Hyped Up

We have been chuckling at the news lately.  We oftentimes enjoy sitting down to catch up on world events.  It is good to be informed.  We want to know what is happening with ISIS, the blizzard on the East Coast, and relevant economic or health news.  However, we are discovering that the news is becoming increasingly hyped up.  The words they choose are intended to create an emotional response, e.g. “worst storm ever” or “town in absolute fear.”  Immediately, you hear these words and your anxiety goes up.  At times, we have joked about the actual commentary.  Fact:  there is a storm that is heading towards Chicago.  Hyped up:  get in your car NOW, drive to the store, and buy food for a month because the worst storm of 2015 is going to hit.  Honestly, it is a bit ridiculous.

The natural response is to grow anxious.  We start to worry about the world.  We get nervous about the state of affairs in our country.  If we watch enough news, it can lead to depression and possibly a jaded perspective towards life.  On many occasions I have talked to people who relay something they have read or heard on the news with the same tone of urgency or despair, “Did you hear how the healthcare laws are going to destroy our country?”  Destroy.  Really.  Or, in some cases, the news is merely opinion.  Someone mentioned to me that we live in an information-based society.  We have access to so much information.  We can Google a word and discover encyclopedias on it.  While this is true, I don’t think we live in an information-based society.  I think we live an opinion-based society (yes, I am aware of the irony of sharing an opinion that our society is focused on opinion).  But it is true.  We love to hear opinions whether on sports talk, in chat rooms, or even the news.  In many cases, the news is presented as op-ed rather than factual accounts.  Yes, there is truth in the midst of story; however, it is manipulated in such a way to make us feel or think in a certain way.  The end result is a change in actions.  I make decisions that are cautionary based on the news.  I become overly protective of my kids.  I frantically check the weather.  Now, I, myself, might be exaggerating a bit.  However, the reality is that we oftentimes allow our minds, hearts, or actions to be directed by things outside of our control (in this case the news) that is not even accurate to reality.

Some words of Jesus come to mind.

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

“Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  (Romans 12:2)

Both of these passages encourage me to find my center in Christ.  My emotions don’t have to be swayed in every direction they are first grounded in Christ.  I can watch the news with objectivity even if it hyped up as long as my heart is resting in Christ.  I can then filter it through His vantage point.  Or, I can hear the biased-laden viewpoint and discern whether or not something is true.  Biblical truth, the Holy Spirit, and common sense will inform me.  I can relax, watch the news, and make sensible conclusions.  I don’t have to be hyped up.  I can approach life with informed, steady awareness.  Oh, this is much better than a life or frenzy or paranoia.

The Important Moments

Our family always tries to eat dinner together.  Yes, there are occasions where this does not happen.  One of the kids will be at some school function or at someone’s house.  I might be away at a meeting or my wife will be at a training seminar.  However, in most cases, we will have a meal together.   It has been the practice since the kids were young.  While it is not a set rule, the TV is not on nor phones allowed at the table so that we can interact and talk about our day.  As my kids grow older, this daily time has become so rich to me.  It is the one time during the day where I get to engage in some debate with our daughter about an ethical issue in the world, or some struggle she is facing at school.  We have rich conversations about a pastoral situation – what to do, how to approach it, what is right, what is wrong.  My son will then pipe in with some thought or comment.  Oftentimes, he provides some side entertainment – dancing, joking, or laughing.  This is usually the reason we finish our meal long before he does.  He has to perform before he eats.  On many occasions, my wife and I will have deeper conversations that will extend long past dinner.  We will sit and chat about some struggle, joy, or decision we need to make.  It is truly one of the most beautiful times of my day.  How can it not be?  I am surrounded by the ones I love sharing life together.

These conversations are not planned or forced.  They just happen.  As I reflect on my children’s development, I thank God for how these dinner conversations have been instrumental in their emotional and spiritual health.  While we have standards we uphold as a family, this time is fairly open where we can share our thoughts without a sense of feeling right or wrong.  We can debate, sometimes intensely over a social issue or movie (our children have become quite good at holding their own on topics).  Yet, we also have moments where we share about frustrations or concerns in life and ministry.  We allow our kids to share their advice and give encouragement.  These moments are life-giving.  Sometimes, we just laugh as we share about some stupid video we saw so we all gather around the computer and watch a YouTube clip.  Granted, life is not always Norman Rockwell-like.  Some evenings we just talk about what happened during the day with little significance.  Other times there are hurried moments where we have to get out the door.  Finish your dinner.  Let’s go.  Move it!  Or, there is some frustration going on so dinner is a little quieter.  Yet, this is life.

I once heard a speaker talk about the pull for parents to create experience rich memories.   We want them to see exotic places around the country.  We want our kids to go to every sports camp.  Heaven forbid our kids are deprived of some activity.  So, we take them places, buy them things, and enroll them in everything.  More experiences lead to a well-rounded child, right.  The speaker contrasted this approach with one that is relationship-rich.  He challenged us to invest in our children through the ordinary – walks, talks, and simple time with them.  Granted, I am one to desire a lot of experiences for our kids.  However, I suspect if you asked my children about the memories they most love, they would say those where we just spent time together playing games, watching a movie, debating a topic.

Deuteronomy 6:5-9 states, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

This passage sounds like a challenge towards a relationship-rich life.  As I look at the competitive nature of the world, I wonder if we are missing the boat.  It is easy to be concerned about building our child’s portfolio rather than their character.  Suburban life pushes us towards so many activities that we neglect the formative moments such as a quiet evening at home.  We burn our kids out rather than build them up.  As I write this blog, I am reminded afresh of the precious moment I will have in one hour – 30 minutes to be with my family and see where the conversation takes us.  Oh, let me never neglect the important moments.

Taking a Step Back

In the fall my wife began teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) classes four times a week as a part-time faculty member for College of Dupage in West Chicago. She spends roughly three hours a day in the classroom teaching immigrants grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. She loves it! She comes home with some amazing stories of students who finally understood something about the English language as well as some humorous misspeaks. It has added a great deal of spice to our dinner conversations. Involved in the classroom teaching is the significant time spent preparing lessons, making visuals, grading papers, and completing academic forms for the college. As a result, she has numerous folders dedicated to various topics. Over the past couple of months, it became apparent that she needed a desk. We use to have one in the basement. However, it experienced water damage so we got rid of it. We never replaced it because we typically use our dining room table. This is great for temporary tasks such as finances. However, it has become less than ideal for Penny’s work. She needed a workspace.

We looked online for some desks. She wanted something simple and small that would fit into our basement guestroom. However, we wanted it to fit with the existing furniture in that room and not appear clunky as if we are combining an office with a bedroom. As I looked online I saw the perfect desk. It was simple and functional. Yet, the price was very expensive. Now, I am never one to shy away from a project. So, I turned to my wife and said “I think I can build it.” “Are you sure?” “Absolutely. It should be a piece of cake.” We set a couple of evenings aside. We purchased some nice pine wood. Then, I began to work on it. Everything went smoothly. I cut the wood, sanded it, and put the pieces together. The trickiest part was connecting the top section. I used dowel rods so as to not use screws. I was so pleased that everything went smoothly (not typical for many of my projects). Believing it was a seamless project, we began to install it into the wall. You guessed it. I ran into problems. I couldn’t get the bolts to mount to the studs. Then, one of the screws got stripped so I had to remove it. The “fun project” became frustrating. I was concerned I would ruin the desk. I got quiet and irritated. I finally propped up the desk and stepped away, primarily because I had a meeting to go to. On the way to the church I sighed. An hour and half later I arrived home yet now I had a clear head, less frustration, and ready to give it another shot. This time I tried a different approach. Voila. It worked. The desk was mounted in less than 5 minutes. Easy and simple. I wondered how long it would have taken if I would have kept pressing on the task. Or, worse yet, what damage I would have done. I thought to myself, “I should have tried this approach two hours ago.” Then I realized, it required stepping away from it to get a better perspective.

I find this to be a valuable lesson for life. When I get frustrated or angry over something I oftentimes want to keep pressing through it. I try to mentally process it. I think through the various scenarios. I share with my wife the irritation I am having over some problem (sometimes it is good to vent). Other times, I simply grow quiet. In some cases, I get real edgy to the point I carry a chip around with me throughout the day. At times, I tried exercising in the hopes that I could shake it. Almost always these methods don’t work. Yet, when I take time to step away from it, pray about it, and lay the situation before God, it goes away. Amazing. Voila. Stepping away from it worked. Pressing through it did not.

Philippians 4:6-7 states, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Sadly, more often than not, I try to press through the problem. I am not sure if it is my reliance on self or simply letting the emotions get the better of me. In some cases, I probably just want to stay annoyed. Either way plowing through the frustration doesn’t work. Stepping back from it and praying to God does. It gives me a new perspective. It allows God’s grace to absorb my emotions. And, it most certainly gives me joy as I let go of the irritation by resting in God’s peace.

New Beginnings

I have a compulsion to start projects over.  The reason is my deep-seated desire for perfection.  If I start something and don’t get it exactly right I want to scrap the project and begin again.  For example, I was cutting some trim for a window over the weekend.  I measured twice and cut once.  Unfortunately, the cut caused some splintering in the wood.  It was a very small crack.  In fact, the average person would not even have noticed it unless they pulled out a magnifying glass.  No problem, right.  I mean who walks around with a magnifying glass in their pocket.  Most people would probably go ahead and put the trim up.  No one would notice.  Except that I would notice.  So, I pulled out another piece of wood and cut again.  Fortunately, this piece came out perfectly.  It could easily have become an expensive project.

This is a small example.  However, it is honestly part of my makeup.  I strive for perfection in little things.  My sermon should be prepared to perfection.  I desire to go through the day without any hiccups.  Relationships including my own should be peaceful and tidy.  And there have been many a project where I look at the mistakes rather than the completed task.  I have high expectations for myself and quite honestly for others around me.  The problem is that I am not perfect.  In fact, each of the areas is fraught with daily bumps and stumbles.  There is no perfect sermon.  I misstate something or forget a point.  Or, my perfectly planned day becomes filled with interruptions.  It takes longer to do something.  I second-guess counsel given to someone.  And relationships are not always of the tranquil, love-hug, variety.  Disagreements occur.  Emotions are hot.  I became irritated over something that normally would not bother me.  When these days occur, I look forward to going to sleep and waking up refreshed.  Tomorrow I can get it right.  Yet, it doesn’t occur.  And even if I did have a very good day (honestly a perfect day is impossible), the previous days spill over.  There are memories of imperfection.  There is the spillover from a strained relationship.  Guilt emerges over something that happened a week ago.  In this sense, there is no true new beginning as we carry things forward whether good or bad – memories, pain, and guilt.  Yet, we still try to do so.  We say, “Let’s forget 2014 and enjoy a brand new year!”  It is impossible as we are connected to the past as we move into the future.

You might be thinking, “How depressing.”  Now, I don’t want to be a downer.  I am simply trying to be realistic about life and honest about myself.  Yet, as I think about my own inability to truly enjoy a new beginning, I can’t help but give thanks to God.  Unlike us, He is capable of new beginnings especially with us.

Hebrews 8:12 states, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  How is that possible?  I can completely understand the first part of the verse.  People have wronged me.  I can forgive them.  However, the second part is something difficult to relate to.  Even if I forgive, I can’t forget.  It is humanly impossible.  It might fade from our memories but do we truly forget when we have been hurt or harmed.  Yet, God can do so.  He can grant a new beginning towards that failure.  When God forgives He says it is gone from His memory.  With God, we enjoy a brand new start when we confess to Him.  This is absolutely amazing and liberating.  While we cannot truly enjoy a brand new start with life and people around me, we can with God!  When we come to Him, we get a fresh start.  Wow!   As I think about all God’s unique qualities this is one that is very precious.  God uniquely has the ability to forget our stumbles.  Therefore, he holds no bitterness towards our offenses.  He doesn’t look at us distrustfully because we have failed in the past.  God’s grace doesn’t run out because “burned me twice, shame on me.”  He doesn’t set up boundaries with us because of ongoing hurt.  Unlike us, God is not plagued by any of these things because He can forget.  He wipes the slate clean.  He says ‘Yesterday is gone.  Today is a new beginning.’  Oh, we can be so thankful for God’s short memory!  It is overwhelming.  It is freeing.  And it is inviting.  Regardless of how today turned out, tomorrow we can look forward to a new beginning!