I was talking to our former associate pastor about a year ago and he said something that changed my entire perspective on life. I was telling him how I got overwhelmed with all my responsibilities sometimes, and how it seemed like there were too many things in my life for me to keep up with. Maybe, I was musing, I need to do some pruning to thin things out so I can focus more attention on what I like best.
"Maybe so," he said, "but remember that relationships are the most important thing in life. When you look back on your life it's not the work you did or the accomplishments that will be the best memories. It will be the time you spent with people that you love and care about."
That shocked me into a realization. Although my relationships are the most important thing to me, it seemed I was spending a lot more time "doing stuff" and not enough time with other people. My actions and my heart weren't in alignment.
Since then, I've made an effort to get things right. I've had to drop some activities, and it looks like increases in my work responsibilities will require me to scale back on my voluneteer activities. I'm not happy about this, but I know from experience that life can change (and change quickly), and I have no fear that the season of my life will change and make it possible for me to resume these things in the future. I've also put limits on how much time I spend on my writing. I figured that when I'm working on a project, I can devote about 2 hours a day without too much disruption to my home life, work life, or other things I want/need to do. This has actually worked out to be more productive for me, because before I was on the computer every night, trying to write and chase down promotional opportunities. Limiting myself to 2 hours a few nights a week forced me to focus my efforts, and I've actually been much more productive. And yes, I do even have "no laptop" nights, when I put it away after work, or don't take it out at all and spend time on other things.
Looking back over my life so far, I realize already that he was right. I know I have a purpose to fulfill, and I still love my writing, hobbies and church work. But the times that stand out in my head aren't work - they're experiences I've had with others. Time spent with Rick and the birds, with family and friends, at church and through social interactions with my colleagues. The best things are more about the "who" and less about the "do."
I have to admit that it was some of the best advice I've ever had. I'm not so stressed out anymore because I'm not literally working away every minute of every day. Because even if you love the work, there's no joy in constant labor. The joy is in balancing things out, and unless you nurture your relationships then there's no way anything else is going to work out well.
That's all today. Busy week with business travel, so it will probably be next week before I can update again. Take care and have a good week.
5 times. That's how many times people have almost hit me in traffic over the past 2 days. Traffic wasn't bad. They had no passengers. They weren't on cell phones or texting. They just weren't paying attention.
You want to know the worst part? I only work 10 minutes from home, and I ran 2 errands in that time. And I almost had 5 people ram into me. One lady came barreling into my lane this afternoon. She looked sheepish when she discovered we aren't in jolly old England.
On second thought, that's not the worst part. The worst part is that this happens this time every year. People get stressed, people get in a hurry, and people aren't paying attention. And that's dangerous when operating a motor vehicle. It can lead to problems and consequences that can stain your holiday and cause problems (and a rising insurance premium) long after the most wonderful time of the year is over.
Ladies and gentlemen, I completely understand having too much to do with too little time and a HUGE date in red approaching - but please, take a deep breath, calm down, and take Yoda's advice: Pay attention to where you are and what you're doing NOW. Not on what all needs to be done, or your frustration, or the ticking clock that runs too fast, or the endless to do list, or traffic, or parties, or the fight you had with the drama queens in your life that always crawl out of the woodwork this time of year (OUCH! How rude and awkward of me to bring up that inconvenient truth in a public forum!).
I know it sounds terribly adolecent, but the advice we give teens learning to drive applies to each and every one of us with a license: Driving is a huge responsibility that is not to be taken lightly, and you must be 100% attentive to it. I don't care how long you've been driving - distractions lead to errors in perception and judgement no matter how experienced you are. So please, if you don't want to become the grinch that ruins Christmas for yourself and some innocent person, put your entire attention and focus on driving when behind the wheel of a car. Turn off the radio, if you must. Plan your route and use a GPS system, if you're traveling. Partition your brain so you can put driving mode in a seperate area from chaos mode. Do whatever you must to pay attention to operating a motor vehicle while you are operating a motor vehicle.
And please, feel free to stress, fret, and have all the panic you want once you're parked.
No actually, we can't. But that's a common sentiment this time of year, so now is the perfect time for a lesson in reality. There are three reasons why we can't "just get along," at the holidays or any time.
Reason #1 is personality conflicts. Each and every one of us is a unique creation with a personality that's a complex mix of genetics, environmental influences, and collective experience. Modern science still doesn't have a clue as to how these factors mix to make us who we are, and it doesn't look like they will any time soon. What we do know, though, is that certain personality types just don't play well together, and there's not much you can do about it. We naturally clash with our polar opposites, and there's no way to you can see eye to eye with somebody who thinks and sees the world from a viewpoint that's so drastically different from our own that we can't fathom it. So if your spouse is the emotional polar opposite of one of your parents or siblings, expect frayed nerves. People can't see eye to eye on what they don't understand, and the best you can hope for is an agreement to disagree. Demanding harmony is like lighting a stick of dynamite and being surprised when it blows up.
Reason #2 is unrealistic expectations. Sometimes we expect people to do things they simply can't do - we want them to rise to levels they can't reach yet. Feelers won't become thinkers, fighters won't become diplomats, sci-fi fans won't turn to romantic comedies, and some people won't clean their house no matter what day it is. Can people change? Absolutely. Will they change? That's a personal choice. Should they change? That's an issue best left between them and the Lord, and it's wise to stay out of that territory.We could do ourselves a great favor to accept people for what they are right now - not what we want them to be, or hope they'll become "someday."
Reason #3 is that relationships aee copmlicated and sometimes things happen that create conflict that simply can't be repaired by the magic of the holiday season, It takes a long time to rebuild breeched trust, and that process isn't going to speed up because there's a date in red on the calendar this month. You must accept that we're all human beings and, by nature, are flawed. It's literally impossible for everybody to get along. Sometimes you have to decide which relationships matter the most and focus your attention on nurturing them, even if you must neglect others you'd like to make happy and even if you aren't asked to make the choice. It's not taking sides - it's good, old fashioned, common sense. Everybody in the world isn't going to love you. In fact, I can guarantee that at least 50% of the world will have a problem with you - more, if you insist on trying to make everybody happy. But at least if you're honest people will know exactly where they stand with you, and 100% of people appreciate honesty like that, even if they don't like you.
I know this is tough because we all want our holiday to look like a Norman Rockwell painging, but it would behoove us to remember that our expectation for a perfect holiday is art, and we live in reality. That doesn't change, no matter what time of year it is. You can accept people as they are and be happy with their best, or you can cling to unrealistic expectations and deal with inevitable frustration. Because when you fight reality, you never win. This world has been here far longer than any of us have, and trying to bend it to your will is an exercise in futility. You fare better if you accept reality and do your best with it.
The choice is yours.