Thursday, February 25, 2010

life lessons from the olympics

With the Olympics happening probably as close to my hometown as they will ever get, I've been thinking about them a lot lately. They're just a four (or so) hour drive away, and a number of people I know have gone to something that was part of the Olympics. I have to say, I've gotten caught up in the excitement over things too. It's kind of exciting to have them ahppening so close and to be able to watch the live coverage of events.

All of the excitement has also made me wonder about things.

What is it about the Olympics that brings a nation together? We go from competing against other towns, cities, provinces, regions to one team and one nation that collectively soars with good performance and deflates when things go wrong for our athletes. For just over two weeks we are unified. And for Canadians, we become unusually patriotic - wearing red and white and maple leafs, screaming "GO Canada GO!" at our TV or computer screens or from the stands, singing our national anthemn when we often just listen to it at other times it is played. Why this change?

But, the big question I've been wondering about is why this change just seems to be so temporary. Come the end of the Olympics we all go back to our normal way of life. It seems like the days of Olympics bring about only a temporary change in how we live. None of the change seems to be important enough to be long lasting.

The more I thought about this, the more I thought about how it applied to our lives as followers of Christ as well. How often do we go to retreats or conferences or rallies and get all excited and passionate, only to come home a few days or hours later and go back to normal life as if nothing changed? For those hours or days we were on fire and we were sold out, much like people are right now in cheering for their country at the Olympics. But, once the retreat or conference or rally is over we leave and walk back into "normal" life as if nothing has changed - much the same as many of us will do once the Olympics are over.

Why do we do this? Why does the excitement and passion not carry over into our everyday lives? I realize that often those big events are mountain top experiences and we cannot live the Christian life on the mountain top, but shouldn't those mountain top experiences still have an impact on our day-to-day lives as we go forward? If there truly was change that comes from the retreats, conferences, or rallies we attend shouldn't it impact everything about us and how we live our lives?

Why does there seem to be this disconnect?

Is there something we can do so that this disconnect doesn't continue to happen?

Life in the day-to-day can be hard - it can be boring - it can be filled with things we would rather not do - but I wonder what would happen if even just a small amount of the excitement from our mountain top experiences carried over into that part of lives with us. Scripture records that Moses had to cover his face with a veil when he came down the mountain after meeting with God because his face glowed and the Israelites were afraid. Do we come down from our mountain top times with God with that kind of a visual change in us? Should we?

I know it's easy to say and do things when you're in the midst of a crowd that is excited about Jesus and serving Him with their lives, and it can be much more difficult to practically do it when you aren't surrounded by other believers in your day-to-day life. But, I also believe that if the change that comes at these retreats, conferences, and rallies is authentic then there is no way that it cannot translate back into our day-to-day lives. I would even say, that if it doesn't in some way, maybe the change wasn't authentic.

Every day life is the true testing ground of our faith and our decision to follow God - it is the place where we live out what God teaches us on the mountain top. And it wasn't meant to be lived alone. I wonder if one of the reasons we struggle to translate things back to every day life is that we are trying to do it in isolation. We spend a few hours or days with other followers of Christ where we're encouraged and built up and then we go back to life where we try to do it all on our own. But, what we really need is to keep that community with other followers of Christ in the everyday-ness of life. We were not made to live it alone.

I wonder also if that is the reason for the change that comes after the Olympics. When everyone around us is excited about and cheering for our country, it's easy to get caught up inthe excitement and the patriotism. But, as soon as the reason for it all is gone, we go back to living life and no longer being surrounded by it, and so we go back to our somewhat apathetic self and just go through life without much thought.

God created us to live thei life in community with others. We were not made to live alone.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

ponderings on Valentine's day

Valentine's Day . . . love by some . . . hated by others. I have found very few people who are indifferent about this day. It is not as cut and dry as single people hate it and married people love it either. There are married and single people in both camps. I suppose a lot of it has to do with you past experiences with this day. Having been without a date for all but one of the Valentine's days in my life, it is not my favourite day. I do not really need to be reminded that I am single.

This year, I started thinking back to the excitement of Valentine's Day when I was a kid. I would look forward to the day and to the candy and cards at school. It was always exciting at the end of the day when you got your envelope or bag full of Valentine's cards. It made you feel special . . . important. Never mind the school rule that you either brought a Valentine's card for every kid in the class or for no one in the class. Getting all those cards meant something then.

So when did things change? When did Valentine's Day become something to dread? When did it become a day that is just filled with reminders that I am single? When did we name it "Single's Awareness Day"? More importantly, why did it change? And should it have changed?

I do not think there is anything wrong with a day to celebrate love. Nor do I see anything wrong with people taking time to show their love to their significant other. It is good. I dare say, necessary. But that does not mean that it is always easy for those without a significant other to watch it. And I am not sure all the commercialization of the day makes it really authentic for many people. How may people do something on the day because they feel like they are supposed to? Really, this should not be something you do only one day of the year, but something you do more often and more regularly.

In the last few years, some of my other single girlfriends and I have started doing something I really appreciate on or around February 14. We have started taking Valentine's Day and using it as a day to celebrate the friendships we have with one another. Rather than sitting at home feeling sorry for ourselves because we do not have a date, we get together at someone's house and enjoy spending time together. We eat food . . . lots of chocolate . . . play games, watch a movie, or whatever else we may feel like doing. We focus on letting each other know they are loved and appreciated by and important to their friends. In doing this, Valentine's Day has become something I enjoy again . . . something I look forward to like I did when I was a kid.

And, maybe, that is the most important thing about Valentine's Day . . .letting those in your life who are important to you know that they are important to you and letting them know they are love.If you have a significant other, finding a special way to tell them that on this day. If you do not have a significant other, then letting your friends and family know they are important to you and that you love them.

{Note to single people specifically, since I am one}

Maybe there is nothing really wrong, either, with the longing that single people have for a significant other. God did create men and women to be together in marriage. And we should not feel like like we have to deny those desires and feelings. What matters is how we deal with them.

Do we allow them to get us down and depressed? And possibly angry at God because we are still single?

Or do we turn them into prayers to God? For the work He is doing in us now to prepare us for the possibility of marriage in the future. For the person we will marry and the work God is doing in them to prepare them.

One of my mentors challenged me with the idea of turning these desires and longings into prayers to God about it. It has not always made it easier to be single when I thought I would be married by now, but it has made a difference in how I deal with those desires and longings. Maybe it is something that can help another person.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

truly listening

I have been thinking a lot lately about these conversations you have with people that are important, but where you leave them more frustrated than you were before the conversation began. Why does this happen? What is going on in these conversations?

The more I have thought about this, the more I have realized that it is because we do not know how to really listen to one another. We go into conversations having already decided that we are right and all we have to do is convince the other person that we are right and all will be good, and we do this all without actually listening to and seeking to understand what the other person is trying to say. We do not listen to them.

The truth is, we may actually be right and the other person may actually be wrong, but we go about conversations the wrong way when we just try to make the other person see things our way. Even if they are wrong about something, people will take that information a lot better if we actually take the time to listen to what they think, why they think it and try to understand it from their perspective - if we validate that they have a different opinion than we do on the topic at hand.

Validating their opinion does not mean we have to agree that they are right. It means that take the time to really listen to what they are saying and understand what they are saying. A book I am currently reading puts it this way: "Remember this rule: You have not understood someone when you understand them. You have understood them only when they understand that you understand." (The Secret Things of God by Dr. Henry Cloud). In the chapter of the book this is from he also emphasizes that doing this does not mean you are saying that the other person is right, just that you are valuing them as a person by understanding where they are coming from.

When I realized that many of these frustrating conversations come from failing to really listen to each other, I started to wonder about why we do not listen. I think we do not really listen because we do not want to take the time really listening takes. To stop and seek to understand what another person is saying requires us to take time out of our schedule to stop and sit and look someone in the eye and let them talk without planning our next words as they talk. This goes against how our world says we should live life. And so, we do not really listen to one another, because we do not want to take the time to do so.

But, I wonder what would happen if we did stop and take the time to really listen to one another? Would the conversations that we leave now more frustrated than when we began them cease to exist, or at least happen less often? I think so, because we would feel that the other person valued us enough to listen, even if they disagreed with what we had to say.

This has presented a challenge for me, and I wonder if it is a challenge anyone else wants to take up. For the next week, I want to be intentional about listening to what another person has to say in a conversation and try to understand their point of view before I express mine. Even if I disagree with the person, I want to take the time to listen and understand them. And, I want to see if this really does make a difference in my conversations with people, and how we both feel at the end of them. Anybody else want to join me in this?