Friday, August 31, 2012

We Love our Options - Discipleship 186

If there is one universal value that all of humankind seems to uphold (at least the segment that resides in North America) it would be options.

Let me explain what I mean. Agreed, there can be other factors at play in the evolution of life in general, but one of the primary motivations behind what we do and what we pursue in our culture seems to point to the desire of greater options. Think about this for a moment. Parents work hard to provide their children with experiences they never had (options). Immigrants embrace the reality of life in a new country hoping their children will have a better opportunity to succeed in life (options). Youth and young adults choose their scholastic environment based on what courses and extra curricular activities are offered (options). Building a new home or choosing a new community to live in is often influenced by what sort of amenities are associated with the community or the new home building project (options). Church goers shop around until they find a faith community that fulfills their desire to "be fed" (options)...maybe this one hits a little too close to home? How many side dish options does a person really need at a restaurant (options)?? Sports teams have even developed basic plays that contain options for the players to implement during the course of a game!

The evidence of these systemic behaviours points to a malformation of identity in all of humankind. We believe a lie that tells us life is about opportunities and options instead of values. And so we begin to value options ahead of the things that truly feed the soul.

We might wonder why marriages are failing at an exponentially increasing rate, youth and young adults seem reluctant to embrace responsibility as emerging adults, and the attitude of entitlement seems to have replaced the value of a great work ethic. The truth is that each of these three examples are the end-product results of an overarching value that screams to us that our options are more important than anything else on the planet. We are driven to pursue our options, and the wake of our pursuit has created some devastating consequences that just so happen to be continuously feeding into the malformation of human identity.

The challenge I find myself facing is how to move against the cultural forces that are demanding my attention, my submission and my obedience. While I do possess the desire to be noticed and connected to the rest of humankind, I feel a greater sense of responsibility and invitation into a different way of living life outside of the human initiated rhythm that seems more exhausting than life giving. Some people have chosen to pursue life "off of the grid" or in a more sheltered environment as a result of these emerging trends in our culture...but this is a choice I simply will not make. Living so close to the mountains has provided me with the opportunity to marvel as the resilience of nature. I've seen trees growing out of the sides of mountains. They are rooted in rocks and are thriving in this unconventional environment. I see things like this and cannot help but wonder if this isn't an invitation to thrive in the midst of chaos?

Sure our world might just be spinning out of control, but does that mean I have to spin with it? I'm learning how to embrace a different rhythm and pace in my own life by pursuing three things:

1. Balance - I must choose to intentionally limit my options. There are a million good things going on in the world, but I don't want to do good things...I want to be a part of something great. I'm not about to pursue greatness if I'm too busy doing good. Therefore, I must intentionally choose to limit the amount of good opportunities that I embrace so that I have the ability to recognize and commitment to pursuing the great things that come my way.

2. Generosity - You want to be radical? Start living generously. Choose to put the development of others ahead of yourself. You will find something interesting takes will actually learn, grow and develop at a more expedited pace than if you were focused solely on your own personal well-being. You'll also create more joy through serving others than serving yourself.

3. Authenticity - Surround yourself with real people who will not only challenge you, but will also encourage you to be who you were designed to be. Our time on this planet is finite. Why waste it chasing after so-called friends who only view you as a commodity or a means to a desired end?

We might love our options, but no one ever said we had to. Instead of valuing and consuming more, maybe we might actually find a little peace through embracing a different paradigm for our lives?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Just like a child - Discipleship 185

My daughter started school last week. I've been filled with mixed emotions ever since then. Part of me couldn't believe I was old enough to have a child in school, while another part of me was excited to see how her character will continue to develop and grow due to the new school experience.

Perhaps the most profound lesson I've learned from this initial school exposure is how similar I am to my own kids. In learning to identify more with what they are experiencing, I am beginning to understand what it is critical for me to be aware of how others are processing this "human experience" so that I can help inspire, encourage, motivate, challenge and lead them. Here are three must knows for every parent and leader.

1. They are thinking the same thing. After my daughter's first day of school, I learned that I ask the same questions that she does. Questions like "who am I going to sit with," "I wonder if that person will remember my name," and "when is snack time?" I'm fascinated by watching and observing cultural patterns, behaviours and trends (maybe I should have become a sociologist?? - yeah...not likely!). The questions of who we are going to meet or interact with are common questions that each of us ask. As a leader and a parent, I think my role is more about helping my kids (and myself) understand that they can be the answer to someone's question (or prayer) by recognizing that these "connection" or "interaction" questions are common to us all. It's been fun coaching my daughter to initialize the connection instead of waiting for it to happen or to occur. Sometimes awkwardness is the result, but I have yet to hear about someone who lost their life due to some social awkwardness. Take a chance, be a friend and get involved in the lives of people.

2. Development is a process, not a reaction. My daughter is only 4 days into the whole Kindergarden scene. Day 3 was a little tough for her. She told us she had a tough day because her indoor shoes were too difficult to get on and by the time she got her shoes on everyone else already had their play buddies for the day. As she told me her story I found myself asking the internal question of "should I talk to her teacher about this?"I never thought I would be one of those parents...thankfully sanity returned to my inner dialogue and I resisted the temptation to go speak with her teacher this time around. But I do think this thought pattern is indicative of how we as humans process life. Instead of understanding the overall development of the trajectory of life, we sometimes commit to knee-jerk type reactions that end up damaging our development more than we recognize. Don't believe me? Consider this: A friend or loved one sends you an ambiguous text that requires some level of clarity. A person could simply look for an opportunity to pursue clarity in communication, or they could decide that this individual should be cut off from relational interaction completely. This might seem like a ridiculous or harsh example, but I think it illustrates my point. Development occurs over time. Sometimes our initial reactions aren't the best options or ideas. Instead, as parents & leaders, we should be proactive in our approach to life...anticipating potential roadblocks to the development of those whom we love and working to circumvent the roadblocks or even move through them. What this requires is having an idea of what values and/or habits we desire to impart to those we care about instead of reacting erroneously to different situations as they occur.

3. Celebrate the successes, learn from the mis-steps. We don't take enough time to celebrate the successes. Day 3 was a rough day of school for our daughter, but day 4 was amazing...and it started with her being one of the first ones to get her shoes on (meaning she was no longer left behind as the other kids headed into the classroom to play, she instead was leading the way!). So, we celebrated the "shoe" success as a family. Let me ask you this...when was the last time you stopped to celebrate something? If we understand that development is a process, that means it's going to take different amounts of time for different people to grow in their development. It also means that we must be creative in how and in what we celebrate in the lives of others. Maybe it's grad, maybe it's social interaction, or maybe it's something else. What I'm suggesting is that if we do not have a culture of celebration, we may just lose our ability to inspire others.

Additionally, we need to learn from the mis-steps. My youngest son is just learning how to walk. There have been several falls already due to a mis-step. There are many things my son is learning from these mis-steps. They include (but are not limited to) - the importance of balance, knowing how to get back up from a fall, falls hurt and there will always be another challenge. As parents and leaders we need to model what it means to learn from our mis-steps while demonstrating to those under our influence that these mis-steps, while painful, should not have longer term debilitating effects to one's development. While the mis-step is painful in it's season, it can be and must be overcome in order for development to continue to occur.

Monday, August 13, 2012

What are you owning? - Discipleship 184

I can remember the very first time I purchased something with my own money. I had been saving up my Christmas and birthday money in order to buy a brand new video game for my Super Nintendo! My dad and I headed into the city to the local Zellers which had the best selection of games for purchase. I remember being filled with such great anticipation and excitement knowing that this was something I had worked for and planned to purchase. I was a proud owner!!

As a parent and a pastor I've often asked myself the question of what I am owning? The families under my pastoral care and even my own children don't necessarily belong to me in that I own them, but they are gifts that I've been allowed to help shape, model and develop. Knowing this, here are three things I'm learning what I should be owning as both a parent and a pastor:

1. Values, not programs. Programs are wonderful. They allow us to experience a variety of things, and sometimes even help to teach us something (ie, swimming lessons). matter how flashy or fancy the program is, the program itself DOES NOT develop people. Instead of owning a program, I need to own the value that initiates the program. For example, if my hope is that those under my influence as a leader or a parent would learn how to live generously, I should be more concerned about cultivating the value of generosity rather than the programs or initiatives that allow me to be generous. Programs do not have the long-term sustainability that values do. If I value generosity, I will continue to learn how to live generously long after the program that encouraged my initial generosity is gone. Programs do have value, but they should never be valued greater than the values they are designed to develop are.

2. Relationships, not statistics. This seems like a no brainer. The quality of my relationships isn't directly correlated to how many things I've experienced in each relationship. What I mean is that I can't add up the number of dates I've had with my wife and evaluate the depth of our connection based solely on this numerical data. Instead, I need to long for other identifiers for relational growth. These are somewhat more difficult to observe and measure. They include (but are not limited to): trust, communication, risk, authenticity and support. It's impossible to measure the level of trust in a relationship based on a numerical scale. The quality of the relational connections I possess is not directly correlated to statistical data alone. I must have other external measuring devices that help me to describe my definition of success.

3. Character qualities, not to-do lists. Developing people extends beyond behavioural modification. If our goal is simply to have people "do things right," we are unintentionally creating shallow human beings. The question of "why" should be of utmost prominence in all that we communicate instead of "how", "what" or "when." It's not enough for a child to refrain from lying. If the child doesn't understand why telling the truth is important and how lies affect others that long lasting character development will not stick. 

What do you think?