Category Archives: Failure Happens: What If?

Your “Raison d’Être” = Purpose

Woman and Lion

    Recently, a friend and I were “venting” over how bored we were. Granted, we’re both working from home but something was still missing, something we want back in the midst of this whole societal freeze. And it’s not just the finances or the isolation—although those are two huge factors—but there’s something else and we just couldn’t put our collective fingers on it. Moreover, we’re not the only ones wondering. The longer this pandemic lockdown lasts, the more many people are feeling irritable, angry, listless and especially depressed. So what’s the missing piece? Later it hit me:

   Many people are literally being deprived of pursuing their purpose in life.

   Without purpose, we wither—emotionally, creatively, and spiritually. Not having a purpose in life—or being prohibited from fulfilling it—literally sucks the wind from our sails.

What Is “Purpose”?

   The French have a phrase for purpose: raison d’être—“reason to be”. That pretty much sums it up. Our purpose in life is the reason we exist; it’s the reason we get up in the morning, the reason we go to work day in and day out for a lifetime, and the reason we don’t quit when it gets hard. Our life’s purpose is the reason we choose to become educated in a particular field, the reason we select a particular job or profession, or the reason we go into ministry. It’s the reason we start a business or write a book or pursue a passion, the reason we volunteer to advance a particular cause, and certainly the reason we get married and have children. 

Our purpose in life encapsulates all we hold dear: our hopes, dreams and destiny.

   Without that purpose in life, we often lift our eyes to the heavens and ask “Why am I here?” And when we have no answer to that question, we wander aimlessly through life and—that’s all we do.

   These days, that’s what many people are doing. The “pause” button that we hear so much about is not only pausing our society, it’s putting our hearts, minds and souls on pause as well. Even if we’re still working, if that work is limited to this isolated space or that inadequate method, then we’re still feeling the lack of freedom to fulfill that thing that gives life to our lives.

“Souls” At Risk

    We often think of the word “soul” in reference to the eternal spirit of a person. But actually, the term more accurately describes the core of our minds, wills and emotions. We have a mind to reason, a will to make decisions, and emotions to experience and express our feelings. So when our minds can’t make sense of circumstances and when our wills have no say and no control over those circumstances, those two factors influence our emotions. That’s when we feel angry, hopeless, and/or depressed. The pursuit of our purpose has been denied us and we have little or no power to get back to it.

   Even in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were assigned a job to do—their hearts, minds and souls needed a purpose to pursue. God knew that they needed to find work that mattered in order to feel fulfilled so he gave them the animals to care for. In nurturing their pets—from the lion to the lamb—they had a reason to exist. Moreover, they felt needed. The animals needed their care and so they knew their work mattered.

We were never created to be idle. In work, in creativity, we find our purpose and we thrive. Denied that reason to be, our hearts wilt.

So What Do We Do?

   That’s the question now, isn’t it? What can we do to inspire hope again and to feel the joy of knowing that somewhere, somehow, our efforts matter? The answer is that we do what we can in the midst of this unprecedented “pause” when the whole world is chomping at the bit to get back to what feels normal and familiar. Essentially, we have to find another purpose. And many people have. We’ve all heard stories of people stepping up to help essential workers by making masks or sending meals to their places of work. Others are helping to secure food, pack it in boxes, and distribute it to those who need it. Others are opening their businesses to meet needs other than what they were intended for. Others are visiting friends, neighbors and community members—as it’s safe to do so—to do their grocery shopping or simply to check in, visit by phone, or give an “air hug”. I know a man who leads worship and has taken his passion to his front porch to inspire those in his neighborhood who are missing it from their own churches. And his neighbors love it!

   There is much we can do during this time for the good of others—and for the good of our own souls. Let your creativity guide you. Plant some flowers for a neighbor as you’re doing your own. Send a pizza to over-worked first responders or to a family who, right now, cannot afford such a treat. And pray for one another and for our nation—which is the most essential and effective thing any of us can do right now.

   Though it sounds simple, let’s put this “pause” to work for us—and maybe, just maybe, we’ll discover a purpose for our lives that before, we never knew existed.

 

 

Broken Hearts, Broken Toys

Old Broken Toy Doll Sitting on a Beach in Italy

   Ever felt like a broken toy? Parts missing? Batteries dead? Scratches or dents or bruises? Ever felt like you’d be better off just retreating to some distant corner and staying there—like a worn out doll relegated to a dusty shelf?

   Life Truth #23: It’s very difficult to get anything done with a broken heart.

   More destinies have been turned to ashes by broken hearts than perhaps even fears of failure. Why? Because brokenness affects our ability to function—and function we must in the dream-chasing biz. But how do we know if we’re broken-hearted? It might not be as easy to recognize as we think because a broken heart doesn’t always look the way we’ve been taught that a broken heart should look.

Diagnosing A Broken Heart   

   First of all, we tend to think of damaged hearts as resulting primarily from the loss of a relationship—a bad breakup, a divorce, or a death. And then we suppose that the main symptoms of a broken heart are grief and depression, characterized mainly by sadness and tears. Lots of tears. And while those causes and effects can often be telltale signs of a broken heart, the sad fact is that shattered hearts many times command a much wider realm of ruined sentiment.

   As with any other broken object, a heart, when damaged, doesn’t work properly—or even at all. And because the heart is recognized to be the seat of all emotion, that means that all feelings originating in the heart are crushed as well. Love turns to malice, trust to fear, hope to despair, and gladness to sorrow. But that’s not all of it. What about those emotions that we don’t associate with broken hearts—like cynicism? “Like that’ll ever happen!”

   Bitterness? “She gets all the breaks! And me? I got nothing!”

   Apathy? “Who cares, anyway? It’s not like it matters.”

   Procrastination? “Maybe tomorrow. Maybe…”

   Panic? “But what if…??” (Fill in the blank.)

   Inferiority? “I’m not good enough, and I’ll never be.”

   Anger? All of the above, only louder, with lots of slammed doors and shattered glass.

   If our emotions are crushed, then our heart is broken.

Acknowledging the Painful Truth   

   A long time ago, the Bee Gees had a song called “How Do You Mend A Broken Heart?”  And that’s not the only song by far—it’s a hot topic. So what do we do with a broken heart? Will time mend it, as the old wives tell it? Do we go all stoic and harden our hearts, filling our days and minds with endless busyness so we don’t have time to feel the pain? Or do we simply readjust our expectations to reflect “reality”? After all, only fools dare to dream. We could. But I guarantee that if we do, the heart shrivels, the vision fades, and the destiny dies.

   So then—what?

   First, we need to recognize the scope of our heartbreak and that the non-traditional or uncharacteristic emotions we feel could be evidence that we were hurt far more than we may understand or acknowledge. We need to grasp that every one of the emotions listed above can be a symptom of grief; we don’t all have the same personalities and how one person grieves can be very different from how someone—or anyone—else expresses grief. Maybe you cry and maybe you don’t. Maybe you swear and punch walls. Maybe you sit and stare at the TV. Maybe you drink. Maybe you yell at the kids. Maybe you don’t do anything—and you used to.

   Moreover, all kinds of experiences can cause heartbreak, not just relationship issues. Perhaps a job loss has tanked, not just our bank account, but also our self-esteem. Maybe it’s unfair and we’re angry. Or maybe repeated rejections from coaches or agents or publishers or prospective employers or producers or even colleges has broken us down until we’ve lost all self-confidence or ability to try ever again. Maybe it’s inevitable that those ballerina slippers or that pen or that business proposal or that football simply end up where they’ve always belonged—in the trashcan.

The slow bleed of slashed expectations has slain more than one heart.

The Fix

   Here’s what you need to know: You are not incompetent if you failed. You are not stupid if you missed the mark. And you are not an idiot if you slip on those dancing shoes again or pick up that pen or revise that proposal or re-inflate that football—or even say “yes” to that unexpected invitation to a cup of coffee.

   You are not a fool if you dare to dream again.

   Maybe you need to revise your dream or even to find a new dream. That’s okay. More than one of us has chased the wrong dream sometime or another. (And some of us perhaps more than once…) The main thing is to get a vision to do something that makes life sweet again. A dream is a guaranteed cure for a broken heart. So get one—and then as the song says, “Tell your heart to beat again.”

   You are not a broken toy.

 

 

 

 

Life’s Little “Pop Quizzes”

Epic Fail

POP QUIZ

   Last week I had “a day”. And we all know what that means: a day full of annoyances, conflict, disappointment, headaches and things breaking down—and mental breakdowns are not unheard of. It’s a day where all kinds of fun things happen. For example, you’re running late—and the snail-on-wheels in front of you doesn’t quite seem to grasp that. And of course something has to break—and it has to be the coffeemaker. Or (my personal favorite) your kids decide your life isn’t exciting enough and needs a little drama—and they’re happy to fix that for you. They’re so helpful that way. Or you forget your lunch so you roll through the drive-through only to discover you don’t have your wallet. But no worries—you know where it is. It’s sitting on the kitchen counter—right next to your lunch and the broken coffee maker. And to top it all off, you get to work (late) and pull up the document you’d worked on for a week and saved—or thought you saved…

   All you can do at that point is to look up at the sky and inquire, “Is there a point here??”

Those Little Tests…

   Well, yes, actually there is. It’s one of life’s little “pop quizzes”, the let’s-see-how-much-you’ve-learned-character test that God loves to spring on us from time to time. And while I’d much prefer the paper and pencil version of that particular test (it’s easier), God seems to prefer the more “show, don’t tell” type of test. That’s the test that seems to go something like this:

   Did you flash a friendly smile at the guy in the snail-mobile or flash him something else?

   Did you sit your kid down and patiently explain why it’s rude to use “that” language—or did you ground them until they’re 45? Not that there’s anything wrong with a good, long grounding—as long as you smile sweetly and keep the decree under ten decibels.

   Did you thank the nice lady at the drive through and politely explain that the wallet is on the counter next to the lunch and the broken coffee maker? Or did you yell at the nice lady that they took too long with your order so you don’t want it now and then roar off, squealing your tires?

It Gets Personal

   For me, as a teacher, my tests often involve high school students who never got the memo that there are just certain things guaranteed to spoil your classroom experience. Like pitching a full-fledged fit when the teacher has the gall to tell you that naptime is over and to get your head up off the desk or to turn around and stop talking to your neighbor or to stop throwing pencils or to stop texting in class—and forget telling me it’s your mother. True story. Last week. All in one 42-minute period. Did I pass the test? Probably not. Which is why later I was near tears when, out of the blue, my sister called.

   “What’s wrong??”

   “Nothing.”

   “You’re lying.”

   “Okay.”

   “What happened?”

   So I told her what happened. What happened was I failed the test. I sort of let the little cherubs know I was not happy. Loudly. And I knew that it didn’t matter what they had done; I’d failed. Know what my sister said?

   “‘To whom much is given, much is required.’”

   Great. I would’ve preferred, “This too shall pass.”

   The thing about these little pop quizzes is that God tailor-makes them all. For some it’s the patience test; for some it’s the “love the least of these” test; for some it’s the giving-money test; for some it’s the scrub-the-toilet-servant test; for some it’s the gossip test—et cetera. And guess what else? God doesn’t do social promotions. It doesn’t matter to God how long it takes us to pass our ICE’s (Individualized Character Tests) —God has all eternity.

Rule #1

   So—first thing: if you fail the test, admit it. We all have to do that. Or we get to take the truthfulness test again. And once we pass that test and admit what we’ve done, then we get to start all over with the original character test that we wouldn’t admit we’d failed. Ever hear of “life-long learning”? Well, now you have.

   Point?

Don’t get discouraged when you get a failing grade on your pop character quiz. It means God’s working.

   Honestly? That was the one thing that made me feel better—the idea that the difficult circumstances were for a purpose. I know I learned something—for me it wasn’t about what I said because it wasn’t unreasonable. The point is how I said it. I learned that there’s a wrong way to say the right thing.  

   Will I have to take this little quiz again? I hope not—but, yes. Then I can move onto the next grade. More lessons, more quizzes. Do I like that? Not really. But then I consider the alternative: no more lessons—and no more transformation. And never again being entrusted with more. Of course, God is a gentleman; He won’t teach us anything without our permission. So what’s our answer?

   If we want to be entrusted with the bigger things that lead to fulfilling our destinies, then there can only be one answer.

   What was your pop quiz?

 

 

Disappointment: The Silent Killer of Dreams

Bride in Ruins

   Growing up, there were two kinds of kids: those who experienced disappointment from life’s little setbacks and those who were protected from feeling any of those same disappointments. Fast forward a few decades and now there are two kinds of adults. There are those who face disappointments head-on and bounce back, knowing that life doesn’t always check with us to see how we’d like it to turn out, and there are those who’ve had no practice dealing with disappointment and melt down every time life throws them a curve ball.

   Let’s face it—it hurts to be disappointed. However, “disappoint,” per se, is not an emotion; it’s come to mean that we feel “let down,” so to speak, but that’s not the original definition; the original is much stronger. The word itself means “to be unappointed” or, in a more general sense, to be demoted, removed, rejected—in essence, to lose.

   Disappointments come in all shapes and sizes. We face minor disappointments when we lose a sports game or the car we wanted or a good grade on a test. More serious disappointments—losses—include lost jobs or promotions; lost opportunities for, say, scholarships or business funding; and lost life experiences such as the ability to live where we’d like, to pursue a talent or passion, or to retire sooner rather than later. And then there are the life-altering, even tragic disappointments in life. These include (but are not limited to) lost relationships or broken marriages; business failures, financial hardships and/or the irrevocable loss of a dream; and the ultimate disappointments—a failed medical treatment, a life-limiting disability, or even a death.

   We tend to think of “disappointments” as relatively trivial things, but they’re often not minor losses at all. Moreover, the effects they can have on our emotions, perspectives, and expectations can, the end, be quite devastating and destructive.

   The sad truth is that we can’t escape loss and disappointment; it is, unfortunately, part of the human experience. But what happens when we can’t seem to cope with disappointment in any form? For example, what happens when we get the trophy in Little League just for participating—no actual winning required—and then we don’t get the promotion just for showing up for work? What happens when we get to retake the test over and over in high school but in college we get a big, fat, non-negotiable F ? What happens when, as kids, mom and dad never tell us “no” when we want something and then the boss tells us “no” or the police tell us “no” or the person of our dreams tells us “no”? Does that mean “maybe” or “keep asking”? Or is it time for a meltdown because we didn’t get our way?

   What if we just can’t deal?  

   What often happens is that “dealing” with a disappointment means that it’s someone else’s fault. For example, what happens when we lose a position because we didn’t do the job? Is it the boss’s fault, a co-worker’s fault or our mommy’s fault? Do we get angry and demand a “safe space” or do we put on our big-boy pants, hit the asphalt and find another job? But what if the disappointment is someone else’s fault? Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t—I wouldn’t know—but I can say with some certainty that burning buildings or bridges won’t make the situation any better.

   Here’s a thought: If we can’t handle the relatively minor disappointments of life, how will we ever be equipped to handle the big disappointments—especially the ones over which we have no control? The economy tanks and so the business fails or the layoffs begin—what then? Will a meltdown get us another job? (Insert Jeopardy theme here.)

   What if we experience repeated disappointments? That does happen—a difficult subject in school with multiple failures or a difficult boss at work who evaluates everyone poorly? Do we pitch a fit and blame the teacher or boss? (Well, maybe—for about five minutes.) But do we quit?

   Repeated disappointments and failures are the worst, the most debilitating. Sometimes, in the face of failed dreams, broken relationships or multiple rejections, it’s difficult not to take those losses and failures personally. Sometimes people quit, stamping themselves “NOT GOOD ENOUGH!” Sometimes people get angry and rage at themselves, at others—even at God. And sometimes people simply lose hope—any expectation at all that they might succeed or that things will ever get better. Sometimes repeated disappointments can even lead to despair.

   Or not.

   If we learn to manage our disappointment over small things, then we’ll be better equipped to handle the larger disappointments life likes to sling.

   Furthermore, the ability to deal is not a talent, it’s a skill. The ability to cope without a meltdown can be developed—and it needs to be.

Hopefully, we begin to learn this while we’re younger rather than older. It’s wonderful to protect our children but there’s a rather big difference between protecting them from actual danger and protecting them from hearing that they lost a ballgame.

   The bottom line is that we’re not doing ourselves or anyone else any favors when we don’t deal well with disappointments. Here’s life truth #36: The inability to handle loss and disappointment only breeds more loss and disappointment.

   Disappointments and losses will come—Jesus even said so.

   Don’t let them destroy you.

  

  

Hurricane Hope: More Powerful than Irma or Harvey

Hurricane Satellite Pic Edited

   Hurricane Harvey:  FEMA reports that during Harvey’s five-day insurgency upon Texas (August 24th-29th), more than 53,600 residents from over 18,700 households were forced to evacuate their homes; over a half million families (560,000) —including those who chose not to evacuate—have had their homes damaged or destroyed; and over a million cars have been lost. Sixty-eight people have died.

   Hurricane Irma: As of this writing, Irma is a huge, Category 5 storm with winds clocking in at 175 mph. This dangerous storm is being billed as the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in both the Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean. Irma has decimated the Caribbean island of Barbuda where 90% of structures were destroyed by the storm, prompting Prime Minister Gaston Browne to call the island “uninhabitable”.  At least ten people have died. 

   Irma is a Cat 5 storm and since winds from a Category 5 start at 150 mph, some are suggesting that the National Hurricane Center should designate a Category 6 just to measure the strength of Irma.

   Note that a Category 5 hurricane is not simply five times stronger than a Category 1—it’s 500 times more powerful than a Category 1 storm (The Weather Channel).

   Hurricane Jose: A powerful Category 3 storm close on the heels of Irma….

   So why is all of this mayhem happening? In a quest to make sense of the senseless, one professor tweeted that Hurricane Harvey is God’s judgment upon conservatives in Texas for supporting Donald Trump. (He’s since been fired.) Others in the opposite camp insist that God is judging those who don’t support President Trump. God, on the other hand, is withholding comment.

   Maybe.

   It’s been said that there can’t be a resurrection without a death. And while death, which we primarily think of as pertaining to a physical body, comes in many other disguises, its primary characteristic is destruction in one form or another. Deadly hurricane destruction bombards communities, cities, and entire regions with chaos and fear; it shipwrecks lifestyles due to financial losses; it decimates dreams and visions that people have worked their whole lives to achieve—homes, businesses, and careers; and it breaks the hearts and spirits of those affected by so much damage and loss.

   But what if there was a reason for Harvey and Irma and for all of their tragic aftermath? What if there’s a reason for the trillions of dollars of destruction? And what if there really are reasons for all kinds of tragedies?

   What if…?

   When I was praying for Texas after the hurricane, the words “resurrection,” “restoration” and “revival” popped into my head and it occurred to me that, in God’s methodology, those words are a progression of events. In other words, after a death, God can bring resurrection—and that thing we thought long dead is suddenly given new life. However, a resurrection and a restoration are two different things. After Lazarus was raised from the dead, Jesus instructed those witnessing his resurrection to remove the cloths that bound him. In other words, that rescue from bondage, that restoration to normalcy was a separate action from the resurrection itself. The same is true today: Resurrection is and must be followed by restoration.

   Nevertheless, the question remains: Even if we experience resurrection and restoration, what’s the point of having had to endure a tragedy that leads to the need for either of those? Either one is certainly a good thing—an excellent thing, but in the eternal picture, there’s even a greater purpose to tragedy than merely a return to what once was. The truth that is there’s a vast difference between a simple return of what was lost and a multiplication of what was lost. For example, say a business fails and dies and in the process, a million dollars is lost. Resurrection brings the business back and restoration returns the million dollars. But after that? What would be the point of going through all of that if all you get back is what you had to begin with? Isn’t there a greater purpose? Yes, there is.

   Revival.

   Revival is that which takes us beyond a resurrection and a restoration—sweet as those things are—to a place of multiplication, to a creation of that which did not exist before the resurrection.

    It’s what happens when we come back from a devastating tragedy—say a person has a life-sucking addiction. When he’s snatched from the jaws of death, he’s resurrected. And when he’s returned to his prior clean physical, mental and emotional state, he’s restored. But then when he’s able to go out and minister to others from his experience, when he’s able to be the catalyst for the resurrection and restoration of others, when he multiplies his new life—that’s real revival.

   Revival is often equated with resurrection but it’s so much more; both bring new life but revival brings it on a bigger scale, often to whole regions or populations—many of which may have never experienced life to begin with. Revival brings multiplication of that life, whether it be physical, spiritual, financial or otherwise.

   The point? While many in the southern states are experiencing the tragedy of destruction and loss from Harvey and Irma, there will be a resurrection of that which has been destroyed, a restoration of that which has been damaged, and a revival which will bring a multiplication to that which existed before. New structures will be built, new relationships forged, and new spiritual life birthed in people who might never have given thought to such things otherwise. You may remember that revival broke out after the 9-11 terrorist attacks; churches were filled with people who had never graced their doors before. Souls were saved, and people were snatched from the jaws of eternal death.

   Does knowing this make it easier when you’ve lost everything? Perhaps not, not in the moment or even in the weeks and months to come. But hopefully it will bring some comfort to know that despite the excruciating pain of loss, despite the grief, despite the seeming senselessness of it all, God is still in charge and He has a plan. And it’s just when it seems darkest that He implements that plan. After Jesus was dead and His disciples filled with despair and hopelessness, then God’s plan exploded into the world: resurrection, restoration, and revival.

   That’s always been His plan—and it will never change.

  

 

 

 

 

 

Step Back.

Burnt Turkey

   The fried turkey is burning. But – so what? No one’s going to starve. To my knowledge, a bologna sandwich never killed anyone. And so what if the dishes sit in the sink till the sun rises? (Or sets?) Unless you’re expecting a Department of Health inspector to stop by and report to your mother-in-law, what difference does it make?  So what if the lawn doesn’t get mowed every Saturday at noon? The Neighborhood Association can’t evict you for at least a week.

   Step back. Breathe.

   Sometimes we just have to take a break and get a grasp on the big pic before we get so caught up in the silly annoyances of life that we forget what really matters and what doesn’t.

   Kids have clothes on. Matters. The clothes are designer brand. Doesn’t matter.

   You make scrambled eggs for dinner. Doesn’t matter. You let the kids cook.  Kinda doesn’t matter. You never cook. Matters.

   You’re running behind and late to work. Doesn’t really matter. Late three times this week. Really does matter.

   Computer’s down. Doesn’t matter. You have to hand-write a business plan. Now it matters.

   Stuffy nose. Doesn’t matter. Headache. Probably doesn’t matter. Lyme disease. Matters.

   Bad hair day. Would matter if anyone cared. Dog pooped on the carpet. Doesn’t matter: “Dog 4 sale. Carpet 4 sale.”

   Stupid things – all. Even the things that we think “matter” are often just blips on the radar; here and gone. When we’re faced with a flat tire, a snarky boss, or even a moment (or two) of “intense fellowship” with our spouse or child or parent, we need to step back and reflect on a couple of things:

  1. We even have a tire – and it probably comes attached to three other tires and a car.
  2. We have a boss (even if she is the reincarnation of Cinderella’s step-mom) and a boss usually means a job.
  3. We have a spouse or a child or a parent to argue with occasionally.

What’s life without a little hot sauce?

   Step back.

   So what if we miss the party? No one’s going to die. As I’ve been known to remind myself in the occasional crisis, no one’s going to go hungry or end up sleeping on a park bench, either. Really.

   Certainly there are serious circumstances in life sometimes, and they do require serious attention. They matter.

   But let’s save our panic attacks for those – not the small fender dent or the lack of pizza funds or even the not-nice comment from the Mean Girls or the water-cooler crowd.  Let’s step back and take a look at the big screen: We’re not living in some poor, third-world country where we have to walk three miles a day in mirage-degree heat just to get one bucket of dirty water to drink, wash in, and water plants with. That’s if we have plants.

   We’re not living in a country where children die from strep throat or mosquito bites or a flu bug because meds don’t exist.

   We’re not living in a country where education is a myth or where, at best, it has to be bought and paid for.

   We’re not living in a war-shredded country where explosions and blood and death are as common there as video games are here, where children are dying from real bullets, not shooting imaginary ones on a flat-screen.

   We’re not living in a dictatorial country where “vote” is an evil word and where a brutal regime can reign for decades. If we end up with a bad president, we’ll get a new one. In Cuba they won’t.

   Let’s step back.

   So the washer died and we have to go to the mat to get clean clothes. At least we have clothes. And they’re clean.

   So we broke a toe or a window or a fingernail. They can all be fixed.

   So half the news is fake. We can turn it off.

   Let’s step back and look at the big picture: What will any of it matter in a day? a week? a year?

   In the end?

  

 

Life’s Little “Pop Quizzes”

epic-fail

Yesterday I had “a day”. And we all know what that means: a day full of annoyances, conflict, disappointment, headaches and things breaking down – and mental breakdowns are not unheard of. It’s a day where all kinds of fun things happen. For example, you’re running late – and the snail-on-wheels in front of you doesn’t quite seem to grasp that. And of course something has to break – and it has to be the coffeemaker. Or (my personal favorite) your kids decide your life isn’t exciting enough and needs a little drama – and they’re happy to fix that for you. They’re so helpful that way. Or you forget your lunch so you roll through the drive-through only to discover you don’t have your wallet. But no worries – you know where it is. It’s sitting on the kitchen counter – right next to your lunch and the broken coffee maker. And to top it all off, you get to work (late) and pull up the document you’d worked on for a week and saved – or thought you saved …

All you can do at that point is to look up at the sky and inquire, “Is there a point here??”

Well, yes, actually there is. It’s one of life’s little “pop quizzes”, the let’s-see-how-much-you’ve-learned-character test that God loves to spring on us from time to time. And while I’d much prefer the paper and pencil version of that particular test (because I know all the right answers to that test), God seems to prefer the more “show, don’t tell” type of test. That’s the test that seems to go something like this:

Did you flash a friendly smile at the guy in the snail-mobile or – uhm, not?

Did you sit your kid down and patiently explain why it’s rude to use “that” language – or did you ground them until they’re 45? Not that there’s anything wrong with a good, long grounding – as long as you smile sweetly and the neighbors down the street don’t hear you do it.

Did you thank the nice lady at the drive through and politely explain that the wallet is on the counter next to the lunch and the broken coffee maker? And did you flash a friendly peace sign at the guy behind you in line who’s honking his horn like a maniac on steroids? Or did you yell at the nice lady that they took too long with your order so you don’t want it now and then roar off, squealing your tires?

For me, as a teacher, my tests often involve high school students who never got the memo that there are just certain things guaranteed to spoil your classroom experience. Like pitching a full-fledged fit when the teacher has the gall to tell you that naptime is over and to get your head up off the desk or to turn around and stop talking to your neighbor or to stop throwing pencils or to stop texting in class – and forget telling me it’s your mother. True story. Yesterday. All in one 45-minute period. Did I pass the test? Probably not. Which is why later I was near tears when, out of the blue, my sister called.

“What’s wrong??”

“Nothing.”

“You’re lying.”

“Okay.”

“What happened?”

So I told her what happened. What happened was I failed the test. I sort of let the little cherubs know I was not happy. Loudly. And I knew that it didn’t matter what they had done; I’d failed. Know what my sister said?

“‘To whom much is given, much is required.’”

Great. I would’ve preferred, “This too shall pass.”

The thing about these little pop quizzes is that God tailor-makes them all. For some it’s the patience test;  for some it’s the “love the least of these” test; for some it’s the giving-money test; for some it’s the scrub-the-toilet-servant test; for some it’s the gossip test – et cetera. And guess what else? God doesn’t do social promotions. It doesn’t matter to God how long it takes us to pass our ICE’s (Individualized Character Tests) – God has all eternity.

So – Rule #1 if you fail the test: admit it. We all have to do that. Or we get to take the truthfulness test again. And once we pass that test and admit what we’ve done, then we get to start all over with the original character test that we wouldn’t admit we’d failed. Ever hear of “life-long learning”? Well, now you have.

Point?

Don’t get discouraged when you get a failing grade on your pop character quiz. It means God’s working.

Honestly? Yesterday, that was the one thing that made me feel better – the idea that the difficult circumstances were for a purpose. I know I learned something – for me it wasn’t about what I said because it wasn’t unreasonable. The point is how I said it. I learned that there’s a wrong way to say the right thing.  

Will I have to take this little quiz again? I hope not – but, yes. Then I can move onto the next grade. More lessons, more quizzes. Do I like that? Not really. But then I consider the alternative: no more lessons – and no more transformation. And never again being entrusted with more. Of course, God is a gentleman; He won’t teach us anything without our permission. So what’s our answer?

If we want to be entrusted with the bigger things that lead to fulfilling our destinies, then there can only be one answer.

 

 

Myth #33: “Fear of Success”

No Fear 2Have you ever heard someone say that they just can’t do “it” (whatever “it” is) because they’re being held back by “fear of success”?

Let’s face it – fear of failure is a thing; fear of proving you can’t do something is a thing; even fear of becoming successful and then losing it is a thing. But “fear of success”? Can I just be perfectly blunt about that?  There ain’t no such puppy.

Who’s afraid of success, really? Think about it. If you’re truly afraid of succeeding, then what’s the point of even trying? You might succeed. And that would scare you.

No, the fact is that people might be afraid of a couple of things connected with success – but not success itself.

Thing #1: Some people are afraid to try that thing they’d really love to try because – what if they can’t? That would be the end of the fantasy that “I could if I really wanted to – I just don’t want to. But I could . . .” We’ve all had those fantasies. And so we don’t try that thing because we don’t want to prove to ourselves (and everybody else) that we really are not capable of doing it.  Entering that contest, starting that diet, trying out for that team . .

Actually, I see this type of thing with students all the time. “I can’t write,” “I can’t do math,” and – everybody’s favorite – “I can’t give that speech!” (meaning “if you make me, I won’t just fail, I’ll die”).  So because they believe they can’t, they simply won’t – and they’ll fight you not to have to try.

Is it okay to mention that trying won’t kill you?

Sure, you might be embarrassed – who hasn’t been? But what will kill you in the end is regret – regret that you never did try.

Thing #2: Some people are afraid of achieving success – and then losing it.

“What if I’m successful and then I’m not good enough? Or I can’t maintain it? Or . . .”

You start that business and it’s going well. Success! But then, well, not so well. Or you apply to that college and get accepted. Success! But then you fail some courses, or run out of money, or even flunk out entirely. Or you actually start a relationship with that cute girl or guy. Success! But then it crashes and burns . . .

That’s not fear of success, that’s fear of losing success. But it’s truly true what they say: “You win some and you lose some.” And sometimes you win some and then lose. It happens. Don’t let the fear of it hold you back.

Thing #3: Fear of imperfection. That’s right. What if you can’t do “it” perfectly the first time you try?? OMG!

Seriously, some people get stuck on this. Again – I have students who will try once (if they try at all) and if it doesn’t work perfectly, game over. Period.

I used to have this problem and sometimes still do. But I didn’t realize it for the longest time until I had a student who would pitch a royal fit, swearing and throwing things, if he couldn’t do something flawlessly the very first time he tried it. And in the middle of his rant, he would yell, “I’m so stupid, stupid, stupid!!!” 

That’s the day I realized why I got so upset when I couldn’t do something perfectly the first time: I felt really stupid; I felt as though there was something actually wrong with me.  I personalized my failure instead of simply chalking it up to “just not my thing; I guess I’ll have to work at this one.”

Frequently, I have students who hate to write because they find it hard and so they have this mistaken idea that if they were any good at it, it would be easy. So I get out my notebooks and show them how much writing and re­-writing I have to do before I get a story or an article right. It’s true. Writers write – and re-write. Musicians practice and then practice some more (except for Beethoven – he never practiced). Athletes work up to that 500lb weight or that four-minute mile or that 200th pull-up. No one ever starts out doing “it” perfectly. And that’s okay.

The bottom line is this: before you can achieve your dreams and fulfill your destiny, you have to face your fears. And before you can face those fears, you have to identify what they really are. If nothing else, remember this: your failures are not a reflection of who you are. They’re simply an indication of what you need to work harder at doing. That’s all. And if anyone ever tells you anything different, just tell them they need more work on their social skills.

The only real failure is never trying.

So DONE!

Man in DespairHave you ever been so desperate to hear from God or to have Him move on your behalf that, having tried everything else, you finally just pitch a fit.

Have you ever been angry at God?

Maybe you feel you’ve been tried beyond your limits: a person in your life who – for days, months, years – has tested your patience and love beyond bearing? A job which – while you’re grateful to have one – you dread going to each and every day? Or you need a job, any job? Perhaps you’ve been waiting a long time for the desire of your heart – a husband or wife? A dream you believe you’ve been called to? A child?

Maybe you’ve been praying for the salvation of a loved one for half a lifetime – and they seem to be getting further away from the Lord, not closer. Perhaps you’re desperate to be healed or to see a loved one healed – and pain is all you know in the meantime. Maybe you’re enduring a heartbreaking marriage – and despite all of your pleading and prayers, the dream just isn’t happening.

Maybe you have financial problems: bills you can’t pay or college or retirement you can’t afford? Or just when you begin to get on your feet, something else breaks down, wears out, needs repairs or someone gets sick? What if your heart’s been broken just one too many times and you just can’t bear one more minute of pain?

What then?

What if, in the midst of any or all of those trials, heartaches, persecutions, and crisises, you’ve said every prayer you can think of or you’ve put on the game face and willed yourself to worship one more time or you’ve fasted till you’re skin and bones or you’ve declared every promise in the Bible? What if you’ve tithed every penny you’ve ever earned and forgiven till you’re blue in the face and haven’t missed church in seven years? What if you’ve read the Bible through three times in a year, pray two hours a day (on your knees), and clean toilets every week at church.

What if all of that – and you still just can’t seem to get God’s attention.


     Have you ever been there?  So worn out from waiting, crying, pleading, dealing, declaring, and waiting some more that you finally decide God needs a little drama?


Sometimes, in the midst of desperate circumstances over a long period of time, when everything we know to do has failed to move God’s hand – we take circumstances into our own hands. Continue reading So DONE!