Why Should we Live a Good Life?

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Everyone wants to live a good life.  The problem is no one appreciates why living life well matters.  Most writers on this subject begin by telling you what a good life is (i.e. living a healthy life, having money, developing a spiritual life, etc.), but I think we need to ask ourselves a more basic question.  That basic question is why should we live life well, particularly if it means not satisfying our need for pleasure?  Instead of defining what living life well is, we’re going to start our discussion by thinking about why living life well matters at all.  Let’s remember, there really is no mandate stating you have to live life well.  In fact, if you follow your heart, living life well might even keep you from living a pleasure filled life.  If living life well means living in a way that promotes physical health, you may not be happy with that plate of vegetables and prefer to just have ice cream for dinner.  Sure, eating those vegetables is living life well, but it certainly isn’t living life happily, at least not in the immediate sense (Unless you prefer vegetables over ice cream, and in that case, we need to have a serious conversation about savoring life’s treats).  So why should we live life well?

First, it provides us with a sense of meaning and purpose and allows us to function as we were intended.  Human beings are meant to live life well because living in a way that’s more than just surviving is what humans do.  We’re living creatures and therefore living creatures should live well.  We’re not merely like the other creatures in the world, we’re human creatures.  A human life is one lived in such a way that it has meaning and purpose and transcends the mere natural laws and instincts of our bodies.  My first suggestion is you spend time thinking about the meaning and purpose of your life.  Too often we just float through existence without ever paying attention to the fact we indeed have a life mission.  For me, its teaching and sharing psychological and spiritual wisdom to help people live balanced, resiliant, and passionate lives.  That’s my life mission and it drives everything I do.  Spend some time reflecting on what yours is.  You have talents, the question is what is your personal vision statement that focuses those talents to make the world a better place?

Secondly, we live life well so we can be resilient people.  We know living in this world is going to bring trouble, sorrow, setbacks, and disappointments.  Just look over the span of human history, there’s never a period in time that human beings don’t suffer.  We’re vulnerable creatures and natural disasters, human ignorance, hateful people, and a myriad of other causes of suffering find their way into our lives.  Yet, amidst this suffering we have two choices.  First, we can just take it and allow life to beat us down to be victims of our circumstances.  By surrendering we have in a sense elected to die and sometimes that death is nothing more than a slow soul killing experience in which the body continues but the rest of who we are has been buried in a deep cold grave.  Our second option is to meet our challenges head on and find creative ways to shift our perspective from being a victim to being a survivor.  Resilience allows us to adapt to the situation, be creative, muster our courage, and do something other than just allow life’s difficulties to destroy us.  Living life well helps us be resilient people.

The third and final reason why living life well is important is it creates balance and harmony in our life.  We are holistic creatures consisting of a body, mind, emotions, relationships, and spirits.  Each aspect of our life impacts the other.  If we don’t care for our bodies we can’t think well with our minds.  Poor physical health can limit the amount of blood flowing to parts of our brain thus impacting our ability to create and recall memories, process information, and perform a number of cognitive functions.  Also, our emotional life can impact our physical well being.  If we’re highly anxious we create a cortisol excess in our blood stream negatively impacting our bodies and leading us to suffer from disorders like PTSD.  Living life well provides us with a balanced approach to cultivating health in all five of the previous mentioned dimensions of being human.

A life is lived well so we can live with meaning and purpose, balance, and resilience as holistic creatures.  Creatures provided with a body, mind, emotions, relationships, and a soul.  The greatest lie most people believe is that human life is only different in degree from other forms of life.  Don’t buy into that argument.  We’re capable of so much more than the rest of the natural world because we’re different than any other living creature on the planet.  Some might call this a type of arrogance, but perhaps it’s a type of healthy arrogance that’s good for us in the end (if there can be such a thing)?  If we see the value and uniqueness of human life, and I mean “ALL” human life, perhaps we’ll be less inclined to view other people as objects and be more willing to treat them with respect and dignity.  If having some level of arrogance about who we are facilitates the humility required to love other people, maybe, just maybe we can say that’s okay.  Slavery might be less attractive if we view people as something different than domestic animals, prostitution might not be as attractive because other people are seen as something more than an object to be used.  

People will have a unique dignity that animals don’t because people are unique.  In the end people don’t want to simply live life well, they want to live a “Human” life well; a life transcending  natural drives and laws; lives filled with virtue, truth, goodness, and beauty.  This is what the great thinkers of the ancient world believed and I think one we need to recapture.  Ask yourself this, are you comfortable believing your life is nothing more than one reflective of an advanced animal ?  If so, why do you live your life so differently than other animals and why do you want other people to treat you as if you have some higher dignity?  Live a human life of virtue because in the end it creates a better world for you, others, and yes, even the rest of the planet.  Let me close this reflection with the words of one of litterature’s greatest poets, John Milton who wrote the following about human beings in “Paradise Lost”

“A creature whom not prone and brute as other creatures, but enbued with sanctity of reason might erect his stature and upright with front serene govern the rest, self-knowing and from thence magnanimous to correspond with heaven.”

Are you merely an evolved ape grasping at fruit in a tree or are you “magnanimous to correspond with heaven?”  I believe we need to live life well because we were created for so much more than we think ourselves capable.

 

Get Over Yourself – You’re not Important

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I was visiting a mentor and friend in my hometown this past week.  He’s a good man, a humble man, and someone I describe as both wise and kind.  He served as a leader in his church denomination and it’s from him I learned many things; spiritual things, practical things, and those things that make the mystery of life a pleasure.  My friend has been retired from ministry for some time and his health isn’t very good.  It’s tough to see him in such a feeble state, yet even in his weakened condition, he maintains a certain dignity which I’ve always admired.

In our conversation together my friend made a comment in jest that struck me.  We were discussing that fact because he’s retired he’s not in charge of anything anymore.  No one seeks his advice or asks him to serve in any official capacity.  Because of his current situation he said, “I’m not important anymore” and chuckled to himself.  I know he certainly wasn’t lamenting a lost state of importance he believed he deserved, he has always been a service minded humble individual.  Yet, after he said those words I was compelled to reminded him being important is an illusion of the young and arrogant. I reminded him he had something greater than importance; he had love.  This man was truly loved by the many people he served throughout his life.  He was there for people when their children were born, ministered to families with prayer and counsel during difficult times, and celebrated the joyful times of new marriages and family growth.  He was invested in the lives of numerous people and selflessly gave of himself to others, even those who didn’t often treat him kindly.  In the end, for many, he was there to bury a parent, a partner of many years, or in the hardest of situations, the premature death of a child.  My friend knew what it meant to invest in the lives of other people.  He loved with a heart of charity in times and for people where charity was often the last response they expected to receive.

When I left my friend that day I made myself a promise.  I promised myself to never be drawn into the illusion of importance.  While I’m not one to advocate for extreme self-deprecation, I do think sometimes we make more of ourselves and our role in life than we should.  I think like many arrogant and foolish people, we frequently think what we do and our place in this world is much more significant than it is.  The one remedy for getting over ourselves is to give ourselves away in sacrificial love.  C. S. Lewis wrote in his popular book Mere Christianity, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”  We can defeat the illusion of importance by finding ways to invest ourselves in others, thinking less of ourselves, and loving people who often never experience true acts of charity.  Being loved and loving others is a cure for so many things.  In the end, when we lay our heads on that pillow for the last time, we won’t be adding up the level of importance we’ve achieved as if we’re earning tokens in a videogame, we’ll ask ourselves two simple questions.  The first is, “Was I loved?”, and the second will be, “Did I love others enough?”  Avoid the illusion of importance and embrace the reality of love.  It’s in love our lives matter more than anything else.  It’s in love importance is consumed by a burning flame and turned into the ashes it really is.  Love is eternal and you live eternally when people are impacted by the love you’ve given them.

The Christian Vocation of Forgiveness Living a Life of Peace and Grace BY Dominick D. Hankle

9781532605680“Every soul carries within itself pain caused by the hurtful words and acts of another human being. How can you find peace and heal from these wounds? How can you live a Christian life reflective of Christ’s command to be a forgiving, loving person? By integrating the work of psychologists and the deep theological truths of the Christian faith, Dr. Hankle answers these questions and more so you can live a healthy, flourishing, resilient life. He provides you with practical steps to incorporate in your daily spiritual practices so you may love and be loved as God intended.”

Available at Wipf & Stock the Publisher at:

http://wipfandstock.com/the-christian-vocation-of-forgiveness.html

Endorsements & Reviews

“Dominick Hankle has given us a moving narrative of what it means to be a forgiving Christian. Dr. Hankle’s empathy and concern for others from his years of psychological counseling and Christian ministry is compelling. His deep theological perspective throughout the text from his training as a theologian orients our actions. And his clear and accessible presentation of every aspect of forgiveness keeps us reading and moves us to a life of forgiveness. The Christian Vocation of Forgiveness is as practical as it is insightful.”
C. Eric Jones, Associate Professor of Psychology, Regent University

“In his comprehensive new book, the Rev. Dr. Hankle thoughtfully addresses the subject of forgiveness, providing relevant biblical, historical, and theological perspective throughout on this vital topic. Most importantly, Hankle offers practical insights as to how his readers can apply the principles presented in the book to their everyday lives. I can say without reservation that through this very readable and engaging book, I’ve grown significantly in the virtue of forgiveness. I highly commend this work to laity and clergy alike!”

Doug Gray, Episcopal priest and chaplain in Virginia Beach, VA

Spirituality in the Profane – True Christian Spirituality

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The most troubling aspect of people’s spiritual lives is how disconnected they make it from everyday living.  Spiritual practices, disciplines, and all things Godly are made to feel important because they seem to belong somewhere other than in our present worldly condition.  We pray for a world “out there” to come to a world “right here” or we seek a lifestyle next to impossible to live given our present circumstances.  Spirituality becomes something foreign to our current condition and only developed by men and women dedicating their lives to non-worldly lifestyles.

The separation of what’s spiritual from what’s “profane” (i.e. lived everyday) is a late development in the history of Christian spirituality.  Because Christianity is an “incarnational” faith; one that uses bread, wine, oil, people, touch, etc. to convey spiritual things, the profane and natural have always been inseparably connected to the holy and supernatural.  Benedict of Nursia always made this connection clear to his monks and that type of spirituality is deeply ingrained in his his rule of monastic living.  For example, his directives regarding the cellarer in chapter 31 states the following:

As cellarer of the monastery, there should be chosen from the community someone who is wise, mature in conduct, temperate, not an excessive eater, not proud, excitable, offensive, dilatory or wasteful, but God-fearing, and like a father to the whole community. He will take care of everything, but will do nothing without an order from the abbot. Let him keep to his orders. He should not annoy the brothers. If any brother happens to make an unreasonable demand of him, he should not reject him with disdain and cause him distress, but reasonably and humbly deny the improper request. Let him keep watch over his own soul, ever mindful of that saying of the Apostle: He who serves well secures a good standing for himself (1 Tim 3:13). He must show every care and concern for the sick, children, guests and the poor, knowing for certain that he will be held accountable for all of them on the day of judgment. He will regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar, aware that nothing is to be neglected. He should not be prone to greed, nor be wasteful and extravagant with the goods of the monastery, but should do everything with moderation and according to the abbot’s orders.”

In the words above we find a very down to earth description of a very practical job in a monastery, but this very everydayness is infused with a spiritual significance.  In particular, this chapter of the rule states the cellarer must “regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar”!  This sacredness found in the everydayness of life is an essential aspect of Christian spirituality.  It keeps Christianity from becoming a faith that disdains the ordinary and natural, in particular the corporeal, and reminds us Christ lived and breathed in a human body making all that is created a means of experiencing a supernatural grace.

It’s my hope those of us seeking to live Christian lives will do so as people embodied and living in the world.  We need not fear that by engaging in everyday activities such as cooking, playing games, laughing with one another, falling in love, and caring for the lawn that somehow we’re kept from our spiritual lives and caught up in the secular. We shouldn’t worry that by making love, cleaning the bathroom, or completing the most everyday jobs we’re somehow “unholy” and in need of purification.  We can do all things with heavenly intentions.  All of creation is ours to use in a redeemed manner and in a grace filled way.  When the Christian engages in the everydayness of life, the everydayness becomes part of the eternal and what is good, holy, and true becomes part of our immediate experience, not something we wait for to drop from heaven.

You Are Not a Victim, Overcome Your Situation – Spiritual Transcendence

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There was an interesting study done by a psychologist named Martin Seligman that explored the impact feeling helpless has on one’s sense of well-being.  Seligman took three groups of dogs and ran them through a set of experiments.  The first group was harnessed for a period of time and then released with nothing else done to them.  A second group was harnessed like the first group, however this group received an electric shock at random times which they could only stop by pressing a lever.  A third group was intentionally yoked to the second group so the shocks felt by the dogs in group two were also experienced by the dogs in group three.  The one difference between the two groups was the dogs in group three didn’t have access to a lever to stop the shocks from coming.  For all intensive purposes the dogs in group three had no control over their situation.

The second part of the experiment is probably the more interesting.  Seligman changed the situation to give all the dogs a chance to avoid being shocked.  He placed the dogs from group one, two, and three into a cage where one side was wired for shocks and the other was considered “safe”; a place where shocks could be avoided.  The dogs simply had to jump over the partition to the safe side to avoid being shocked.  The dogs from group one that were merely harnessed in the previous experiment immediately jumped over the partition to avoid being shocked.  The dogs from group two who in the previous experiment were able to escape from being shocked through the use of a lever did the same as group one in this experiment.  They had little trouble recognizing they had a way to avoid being shocked by simply jumping over the partition in their cage to the safe area.  What about the dogs who were yoked to the second group in the first experiment having no control over whether or not the shocking stopped?  Well, they did nothing.  They simply laid there taking shock after shock, abuse after abuse, demonstrating they felt no sense of empowerment to overcome their situation.

The experiment above and others like it demonstrate something interesting not just about dogs, but about us as well.  When we’re placed in a disempowering situation for a prolonged period of time we feel stuck.  We feel like we can’t do anything about our situation so we just lay there and take whatever is thrown at us.  This learned helplessness is something I frequently address with clients in therapy and in spiritual direction.  We easily buy into the lie we’re victims of our situation and can do nothing about it.  We’re like the dogs in Seligman’s third group who’ve simply found other people control whether or not we get shocked so we may as well just give up.  That’s a powerful lie that some people perpetuate just to keep us from being empowered.  Evil at its heart is a voice in our head constantly  saying, “Just lay down and take it, you can’t change your situation anyway.”
We can always change our situation.  We’re always in control of at least some factor in our environment, we just need to be creative enough to find it and use it for change.  God created us to transcend our situation in ways no other creature can!  To do so requires we ignore the evil lie keeping us from exercising that transcendent power.  If there’s any spiritual strength you need to be convinced of it’s that you are by the grace of God a person who doesn’t need to remain stuck in your current situation and can choose to do something to move forward and become the person you were intended to be.  You deserve to know love and to have the opportunity to share love with others.  If you’ve been in an environment too long telling you otherwise, change the environment.  I’ve often wondered what it’s like to see ourselves as God does instead of the way sin shapes our self-perception.  No matter how good we have it now we were created to be so much more.  Unfortunately many of us buy  into the spiritual lie that we have to be content with where we are, take abuse from others, and remain stuck in our current situation.  Grace is God’s answer to this skewed picture of life.  Grace says no matter how stuck you feel there’s a way out.  Grace says no matter how unloved you’ve been made to feel, there’s an ocean of love to receive.  Grace says no matter how marred and ugly you feel, there’s another who sees you for the beautiful person you are.  Don’t allow the sin in the world to leave you laying in that cage taking the shocks of evil over and over again.  Know that there is Grace in this life to encourage you to leap over that barrier and find the peace each of us deserves.  Love is powerful, just believe you’re worth it and allow that power to help you transcend whatever situation you find yourself in.

Are You Running Away From Intimacy?

January 25, 2007. Madrid, Spain. The writer Jose Saramago during the presentation of his new book in spanish 'Las pequenas memorias' In the image, the wife and translator of Saramago, Pilar del Rio, holds the hand of the writer.

People run from intimacy.  Most of us don’t realize we’re doing it, but in a very unconscious way we all run from it.  Intimacy is scary because it requires us to love other people unconditionally and in a way requiring us to disclose the very person we are without any masks or fronts.  Love means being vulnerable and sharing some of the most personal and “naked” elements of our being with another person.  Too often we associate intimacy with sexual behavior.  While sexual behaviors are most powerful when we share an intimate relationship with the person we make love to, intimacy does not require sexual relationships.  In fact, sex can be one of the many ways we avoid intimacy.

We learn to run away from intimacy over a lifetime of hurt.  From the moment we’re born we’re reaching out to other people and sometimes they reject us and hurt us.  Most of the time they do it without intending to but sometimes, because people are people, they do it intentionally.  When we’re old enough to seek deeper relationships, we draw on our past experiences and therefore we hesitate to become intimate with others because of this pattern of rejection and indifference that’s ingrained in our subconscious mind.  In short, we develop mechanisms to keep us from being intimate with others in order to protect ourselves from the pain that comes with rejection.

There are a multitude or ways people avoid intimacy.  Some choose pornography or emotionless sex.  Some choose to drink themselves to the point of numbness, never completely drunk or stoned, but just numb enough to avoid connecting with other people on a deeper level.  Some people will talk a great deal without intention or purpose avoiding deeper matters making their conversation hover at a very shallow level.  As a therapist, I spend a great deal of time helping people recognize much of what they do is merely a coping mechanism which allows them to avoid intimacy.  They need to be aware of this emotional escapism because the truth is we were created to be intimate with each other and when we don’t do that we suffer and struggle to flourish.  We thrive on deep intimate friendships and without them, we cannot function well.

An interesting facet of intimacy avoidance is frequently found in spiritual and religious people.  People will claim a type of spirituality that draws them into themselves and proclaim it as a sort of “gift” in which they come to know the divine in a more profound way.  They avoid people and intimate relationships so they can spend time dwelling in the presence of God.  These hyper spiritual people have forgotten that the greatest way to know and love God is in service to other people; by fostering intimate relationships with other people.  Even more disturbing are those religious people who use moral laws and codes to avoid spending time with people who had or are considering an abortion, dealing with same sex attraction, or going through a divorce.  Instead of being intimately involved with these people they stand at arm’s length from them and dictate laws and moral precepts.  This speaks more about our fear of intimacy with other people than our moral righteousness.

Intimacy continues to be something we avoid.  Through smartphones, Facebook, religion, spirituality, and the myriad of human vices available to us we find ways to run away from intimacy.  However, the most fulfilling experience you can have is to intimately connect with God through other people.  I am convinced you can tell how deeply spiritual a person is based on how they treat other people.  If you can’t make yourself vulnerable to the love of other people you’ll never know the love God desires to share with you.  Don’t run from intimacy through the many human vices available, just find a way to love someone unconditionally.  You may find God more profoundly in that experience than from sitting in a great ancient cathedral separated from other worshipers by the empty distance buffering you from them.

Suffering and Being Present – How to Help Others Overcome Pain

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Struggles are tough.  Sometimes someone we love get sick or dies.  We might lose a job or experience a number of life’s disappointments.  We can be certain that pain, suffering, disappointment, divorce, accidents, and health issues will touch us at some point in this life.  In a sense, to live is to suffer, perhaps not always, but often suffering finds its way into our lives.

Different religions do different things with suffering.  Buddhism professes that suffering isn’t real.  They teach suffering is an illusion we experience because of an inordinate attachment to our self.  Through meditation and contemplation one can escape from the trap of suffering and transcend the cares of this life.  While I know Buddhism is a compassionate religion I often wonder what love looks like if one has no “self” to give to the “other” in the transcendent act of selflessness love requires.  There must be more to suffering than simply writing it off as an illusion.  In fact, for those who suffer (and we all will at some time) it’s a very real experience.  Our emotions have a real impact on our bodies.  We experience emotional suffering physically because our being is holistic; one consisting of body, mind, emotion, relationships, and spirit.  An experience in one part of our being impacts all the others.  This observation brings me to the main point of this short post.  How can we help someone we know who is suffering?  Over many years as a therapist and working in pastoral ministry I’ve found the answer tends to be the most difficult yet simplest thing we can do.

The best thing we can do for one another when suffering is send the clear message, “You’re not alone.”  Those words resonate with the human heart and speak volumes in those situations where nothing else is appropriate.  We believe we need to address the head of our suffering friends by helping them make meaning out of their suffering but the truth is, when we’re suffering it’s usually the heart that needs comforting first not the mind.  The difficulty with comforting the heart is the heart doesn’t speak the language of reason, it only understands the non-verbal experience of “presence.”

I have had the honor of sitting with men and women on their death bed, in their hospital rooms, or in a church pew who are experiencing a great deal of suffering.  While with them I didn’t reason through their painful situation trying to provide deep theological and psychological reasons for their pain.  I merely sat with them, cried with them, listen to them tell their story and let them know, “I hear you, your experience matters to me, and you are not alone.”

Never fall into the trap of believing you can give someone meaning in regards to their suffering.  They need to come to that place on their own.  Suffering is not an illusion, rather it’s a moment of redemption in which the human person comes to terms with the fallen and broken world in which we live recognizing “Things are not as they were meant to be.”  Be present with others and allow for that relationship to be a healing moment in which God makes himself know where “Two or three are gathered.”  The transcendent nature of relationships is a healing bond all on its own.  Be present to one another’s suffering and allow the Holy Spirit to do the healing.

Two Key Psychological Characteristics to Succeed in Anything

successYou hear a great deal in psychology about the ability to be resilient and its impact on living a healthy flourishing life.  Resilience is indeed a powerful asset, particularly when you combine it with a growth mindset.  If you want to be a successful person you need two important psychological characteristics.  First, you need to be growth minded and secondly, you need to be resilient.  If you’re a growth minded resilient person you can do most anything.  Let me enlighten you to why this is the case.

Having a growth mindset is important because it shapes your understanding of failure.  Carol Dweck, a prominent social psychologist at Stanford University has done a great deal of research on what makes some people more successful than others.  There’s a great ted talk she did on the power of believing you can watch here if you like.  The basic idea of her theory is there are two ways we process failure.  The first way of processing failure is referred to as having a fixed mindset.  Someone with a fixed mindset tends to see failure as a judgement about who they are.  If they fail a test that failure isn’t just a judgement about how well they learned the material, it’s a judgement about who they are.  People become fixed mindset oriented because over the course of their life they’ve been told “you’re really smart”, or “You’re a great musician” which psychologically links one’s self-identification with achievement.  Who they are is affirmed by what they do.  If they fail at anything that failure is experienced as a loss of part of themselves, not just an assessment of their ability.

People with a growth mindset view failure in a completely different way.  When they fail they want to know how to do things differently the next time they try to accomplish their goals.  For them failure is one step in learning to do something better.  It’s only one point of data in a lifetime of becoming accomplished at some task.  Sure, they don’t like failing, but they don’t experience failure as a statement about who they are.  Failure is only an assessment of how well they performed something and a potential key to performing it better.  People with a growth mindset have generally been complimented on their work effort.  They’ve been told the work and effort they put into things makes a difference in their performance.  It’s not that these people work harder than those with a fixed mindset, rather they’ve been assured the reason they’re successful isn’t because of who they are but rather how hard they work.  For them, failure isn’t a judgement about who they are but rather the work they’ve done.  Growth mindset people understand failure simply means they need to adjust how and what they do, not become something other than who they are!  If you want to be successful become someone with a growth mindset who recognizes failure is nothing more than a hint on how to do things better the next time.  If you see failure as a step towards success you’re less likely to give up.  Thomas Edison said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” Fixed mindset people are afraid to try “one more time” because that might be one more time they hear how they’re a failure.  Growth mindset people try “one more time” because it helps them adjust their strategy and get one step closer to succeeding!

Along with a growth mindset, resilience is a key characteristic of successful people.  If you want to be able to get past the adversity of failure you need to be resilient.  Resilience is the process one uses to adapt to and overcome adversity, trauma, tragedy, and any other stressful life event.  Failure is stressful even for growth mindset people.  Resilience isn’t something you’re born with it’s something you develop.  You develop resilience through strong relationships that provide you with a solid emotional support base.  You need to avoid seeing failure as catastrophic, accept that change is a part of life that should be embraced, as well as view life as an opportunity for self-discovery and growth.  Resilient people keep things in perspective, maintain a hopeful outlook on life, and take decisive action.  In short, resilient people are solution focused people not problem focused people.  While life involves pain and suffering, pain and suffering are opportunities to learn, grow, and develop into better people.

So, do you want to be successful in whatever you do?  First, become growth mindset oriented and see every failure as merely an assessment on what you did as well as an opportunity to do something differently.  Secondly, become resilient.  Don’t give up; go after your goal again drawing on the people who make up your support system for help.  Take what you learned about yourself when you failed and apply that knowledge to succeed the next time.  Don’t turn your failure into some big scary monster, look at it realistically and with a solution focused orientation.  Resilience keeps you rebounding and a growth mindset keeps you in the race.  If you can develop these two psychological characteristics you’re on your way to being a successful, flourishing human being.  Try it today.  Set your goal and go after it with passion, resilience, and a growth mindset and see what you can accomplish!

Being Loved Until Your Eyes Pop Out – Being Real According to the Velveteen Rabbit

rabbit 2I have never read the book The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams the whole way through.  Yet, occasionally, someone will post a quote from this children’s book that strikes me as so profound I tell myself I have to read it.  The other day I came across one of these quotes and wanted to reflect on it with my readers because of its simple yet profound wisdom.  The story is about a velveteen toy rabbit that wants to be “real.”  The rabbit was a gift to a little boy who at first didn’t pay it any mind, but later latched on to it and took it everywhere he went.  The rabbit loved being with the little boy and enjoyed being played with.  There was another older toy known as “The Skin Horse” who gave the rabbit sage advice at times in the story to help him understand what it means to be “Real.”  Here is the quote that resonated deep within me that I just have to share:

“He said, “You became.  It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.  Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

That’s some powerful advice that applies to people as much as it does toys.  Let me explain.  The toys that are most real, that is the toys that have entered into a relationship with the children, are the ones who get dirty, beat up, are rugged looking, and simply worn out.  Yet these are truly “real” toys because they’ve entered into a relationship with a child and allowed themselves to be vulnerable and open to the adventures and surprises that living requires.  The quote also reminds us the toys most easily entering these life affirming relationships are those that don’t break easily, need careful storage and care, or have sharp edges keeping children at bay.  The toys that become “real” are the toys that are inviting, soft, squeezable, friendly, and hearty.  Why do I think this description of a toy is applicable to living life well?  Because we need to be like these inviting, relationship building toys.

I hope I’m a velveteen rabbit.  I hope I invite people into relationship with me.  I want to be inviting, not too sharp keeping people away.  I want to be the kind of person people are comfortable embracing, not the kind of person easily broken or requiring a great deal of work to love.  Most of all I want to be the kind of person comfortable making myself vulnerable so I can experience love.  Yes, that means my hair may be “loved off” and my eyes may “drop out” but oh what a beautiful life it will be.  The fact I may walk away from life with a number of bumps, bruises, and scars only says I am “Real” and I have lived with passion and commitment to what’s most important.  I never want to be the kind of toy that gets placed on a shelf so collectors can gaze at me in a showcase.  I want to be touched, engaged, and loved which means I have to realize I’ll look very shabby and worn by the time I come to my life’s end.  But I will have lived and as the Skin Horse in the story says, “But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”  Living life well means getting down and dirty with other people and being willing to meet them in the mess of life.  When you do that, you get dirty yourself.  However, the joy and love emerging from these relationships is powerful and worth every popped stich you experience.

We can learn a great deal from the velveteen rabbit.  I hope in some way I’ve inspired you not to worry so much about how shabby you look or being afraid of getting broken in some way.   Rather I hope I’ve inspired you to desire getting in the mix of life so you can love, laugh, cry, and weep with the people you meet.  Otherwise your life is nothing more than a safe shadow box in which you hide from the very thing you were created to be, an icon of love in a world full of hate.  A creature of loving relationships in a world of isolation.

Keeping God at Arm’s Length – The Mystery of Relationships

god-seems-distant

I teach a class called counseling skills to undergraduate psychology students interested in pursuing a career in the helping professions.  I love to teach the class because the content is about mastering intimate communication, helping people understand themselves differently, and empowering clients to overcome what they perceive to be impossible situations.  In this course students learn how to use language to help someone see their situation differently, use body language to communicate with people, and many different ways to develop intimacy with a client.  Students develop in a multitude of areas and it’s fun to watch them do the difficult work of therapy with one another even if the problems we use in class aren’t as severe as what a professional counselor experiences in an actual counseling session.

In the course, we watch a number of famous therapists execute their style of therapy in different sessions.  It’s fun to watch the student become enamored with their favorite therapist.  Some gravitate to Carl Rogers, others to Fritz Perls, and the list goes on.  When they’re done watching different films of these so called, “Masters” of the trade I ask them what theory of counseling seems to be the best and why that might be the case.  Of course, this usually leads to a good debate and students quickly entrench and defend their favorite approach to helping people.  Then, when the dust settles, I give them the hard facts.  The truth is no theory of counseling has been proven to be significantly better than any other.  What matters most is the relationship that develops between the client and the therapist.  The simple gift of human interaction at an intimate level is the most significant factor regarding whether or not a client will experience any benefit from therapy.  Relationships matter.

This information is an eye opener for counseling skills students, but it also speaks volumes about other human experiences as well.  One of the first significant frustrations these future therapists experience in their practice sessions is sometimes the person playing the role of client doesn’t want to make a deeper connection with them.  They simply want the therapeutic encounter to stop at a particular level of intimacy limiting the person playing the role of therapist from delving any deeper in the conversation.  This intimate road block occurs because of an important universal truth about human relationships.  A relationship will only be as deep as the person who wants it the least.  No matter how much you may want to enter into a deeper relationship with another person, it will only be as deep and intimate as the person who wants it the least dictates.  You cannot force intimacy and that’s why new therapists have to learn the skills that foster a deeper sense of intimacy.

This truth about human relationships is reflected in so many circles of human life.  You cannot cause your marriage to be more loving, it’s only going to be as loving as the person who loves the least within the relationship; you cannot have deep friendships with people who don’t want to have a friendship as deeply as you want; you cannot have a deep relationship with your parent if your parent is incapable of loving you more deeply.  Every human relationship is only as deep as the person who wants it the least.  There is only one relationship a human being will ever enter into that will always be deeper and more loving than they can go and that’s the relationship they have with God.

This week the Christian church begins its annual journey called Lent.  There’s a great deal of hype around Lent regarding what to give up, what spiritual practices it should include, whether or not it is biblical or even Christian to participate in, etc.  If ashes imposed on your forehead, fasting, praying, and almsgiving are keeping you from the true spirit of this holy season, give them up.  More important than any of these things is to use this time to ask yourself this one question.  What keeps me from entering into a deeper relationship with Christ that I’m not acknowledging?  You know a relationship can only be as deep as the person who wants it the least and in the “God-Person” relationship, it isn’t God who keeps it at a surface level, it’s you!  Are you embarrassed of God?  Do you keep him at a distance through the use of Christian words and themes causing you to sound like a recording of Christian clichés instead of a real person struggling with doubt, shame, sin, and pain?  It’s time to be real with God.  It’s time to ask yourself how can I be closer to God?  What must I remove from my life so I can be closer and more in love with God?  How can this Easter be a life changing experience for me so that the resurrection of Christ is more than just a past event and a real imminent profound truth causing me to be different than I was when I entered into this thing called Lent?  Remember, it’s your idol making heart that keeps the relationship with God from going deeper than you can imagine.  What idols have you put in the way of the true God to keep him at arm’s length?  This is the challenge of Lent and I hope all of you spend these forty days exploring your soul so that you may have life abundantly as God promised those who draw close to him.