Can You Hold Your Greatness?

Did you know the word ‘humility’ has its roots in the word humus, which means ‘earth?’ (As in ‘down to earth’). This curiously, is also one of the root origins for the word ‘human.’ (Pointed out by Madeleine L’Engle, in Walking on Water).

One could argue that best versions of ourselves are seen when we acknowledge that we came from the elements of the earth and will, at some point, return to the soil. Perhaps internalizing this could keep ourselves properly grounded (pun intended)? The tree revels in its height and beauty, the slug enjoys its slippery-ness; all of creation is comfortable in its skin – except us (with the exception of the ‘blessed few’).

Why can’t we be accepting of who we are?

I believe it primarily comes down to our view of ourselves and then how that plays out in our actions. It seems there are two popular extremes – either a poverty or over-valuation of our sense of selves.

On the one end of the spectrum people are focused on their short-comings, refusing to see themselves as having any merit or anything of value. This insecurity is usually manifests in reactivity, posturing, and generally being an energy drain to those around them.

Haven’t you seen the man who acts tough and blustery, macho and testosterone-overloaded? There are the husbands and dads who rule with anger and intimidation. As long as they have control then they don’t have to feel their own inadequacies. The extreme opposite: the man with the limp handshake, the one who won’t make eye contact, who won’t try for fear of failure.

What about the woman who has to control every detail of her husband’s and children’s lives? She too, is afraid – fearful that she is nothing without the clean house and the perfect family, that she is somehow ‘less-than.’

Religious people compare how much service they are doing (or how little sin they are participating in). Non-religious folks look at their philanthropy. In the university setting, you see professors brag about their numbers of publications and their CVs (feeling inadequate to those who have more). Businesses posturing about how much money is made or who they are connected to. Those in lesser jobs use their possessions and vacations as the litmus test for their worth. Comparison is death to healthy acceptance.

The extreme other side of this self-loathing is the Narcissist, who is arrogant and full-of-himself – he really does believe that he is better than all of the rest of you. He is not posing, but is convinced that he is God’s-gift-to-humanity / women. This is a dangerous person, because he does not have the ability to actually see you, your needs or desires. He is only concerned with his agenda.

It’s not just the men who display this loathsome behavior – there are women as well. Snooty, self-absorbed princesses, willing to make the world bow to their whims. It is a sickness.

There is a whole up-and-coming generation of entitled young people who have experienced the world revolving around them. They will “mature” (and I use this word with sarcasm) into people who think it should continue this way. Over-valuation of yourself makes it difficult for others to accept you. It separates you from humanity in a way that is isolating and ultimately, unhealthy.

Few of us demonstrate the extremes of either of these positions, but we all err on one side or the other, failing to find the sweet spot of self-acceptance.

Have you ever asked yourself what it would look like to be truly humble? By this I mean able to hold your giftings, your beauty, your strength – able to live them WELL. Not to get wrapped up in how great you are, but to honestly embody your strengths?

Are you able to grasp that you were created in love, for love, by LOVE, for a purpose, and when you do this, you live like a Masterpiece?

Furthermore, who gets the accolades?

When you think of the Sistine Chapel, yes, you see its greatness, but to whom does the spectacular mural point to?

Michaelangelo, of course.

I’ve never heard anyone speak of how talented the Mona Lisa is – the credit goes to her creator, Leonardo Da Vinci.

Likewise, can you deliberately, volitionally hold your greatness, but live close to the earth, remembering that the credit is not yours? Can I? And in doing so, become more Human?

Here is a place I will ask you to risk and leave a comment – it will feel hard, for sure. Can you share your glory? Where is your Mona Lisa beauty, your Sistine Chapel greatness? The glory does not go to you – it goes to the One who made you. But please, let us enjoy who you are, in all humility.

The Holy Grail

There is a small painting that I did last year; it hangs on a prominent wall, where I see it every day, to remind me – I am enough.

Someone else saw it once and said, “I don’t like that.” I think they thought that I was saying this about myself. That it was some humanistic, self-esteem, pump-me-up. But that was incorrect.

It was about God.

I am enough.

Every year, in January, I spend some time asking God, “What is this year to be about?” I try to get really still inside, so that I can hear the answer. Sometimes, I have to wait a long time, sometimes, the words come quickly. Often, I second-guess – did I really hear that? Is that really You? But last year, it was unmistakably clear:

I am enough.

Today, I am struggling to make sense of my existence. I am frustrated with all the people in my life who are not making it happen – who are not doing or saying the things I wish they would. I’m sumo-wrestling with situations where I feel I have to “figure it out” – and life just isn’t like that. You can’t muscle your way into answers. I am feeling stuck, lost, sad and alone.

I am enough.

What was that? Lord, I don’t even know how to live that out. I believe that all of life is a series of interactions and choices, some of which feel pretty weighty.

I remember the line from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indiana goes into the cave (overcoming many harrowing obstacles) to grab the chalice of Christ – however, he finds there are dozens of them in every material and shape. The bad guy rushes in past Indiana to get to the artifact first. Bad guy grabs one and to everyone’s horror a la special-effects-of-that-movie-era, the antagonist ages into powder in a matter of seconds. The Knight who has guarded the grail for 700 years simply says: “He chose poorly.”

I am afraid this will be me.

I will make an unwise choice of great consequence and my face will melt off and my world will disintegrate.

The challenge we all face is how to live well.

We struggle, because we are dust, which, for a brief moment in history, is activated by the breath of God – to accomplish great things. The problem is, we don’t know how to do these significant endeavors.

How do I live in such a way that is passionate and focused, but not at the expense of the people I care for? How do I love those individuals well, without placing expectations on them that they can’t possibly meet? How do I challenge them to rise to the greatness that is within them, without causing them to resent me?

And then there are the less esoteric questions: How do I make myself go to the dentist, when I desperately don’t want to? Or, get rid of my wood paneling in my living room (or learn to like it)? How do I change my dismal exercise habits? Or make my grocery money stretch to the end of the month?

If only my little dusty brain knew more.

But I have these words – ones that stood in good stead all last year and now they’re going to have to serve today:

I am enough.

He has to be, because I most certainly am not.

And my guess is, you are not either.

Thoughts? I’d love to hear your comments.

How to be Unhappy

What do you want? I mean really want?

My guess being miserable is not the answer to that question!

Years ago, I was talking with a friend and the conversation got somewhat heated as I exploded with: “I just want to be happy!” I remember at the time, feeling this was somehow unique. Other people had lofty goals and mine was humble and meager – All I want is to be happy. It’s such a small thing. Surely the universe can grant this one tiny wish …

Now, two decades later, I blush somewhat at my naiveté because the ‘one small little wish’ is all ANYONE and EVERYONE wants! If I could package this, I would be a gazillionaire.

We are all pursuing happiness in some form, at least until we become wise enough to know that what we seek is rather elusive and difficult, perhaps even impossible to capture and hold.

However, recently I ran across someone who reminded me of the relationship between gratitude and happiness. David Steindl-Rast, in his TED talk speaks of the gentle power of gratefulness.

He advocates that each moment has a potential in it. And those who can see the possibility and act on it become thankful, which then, over time, brings happiness. Not every moment can engender appreciation. Violence, war, slavery, inequality, disease – these do not and should not be forced bedfellows with gratitude. But within those very negative things, there still are opportunities. And therein lies the capacity for thankfulness.

Steindl-Rast has a remarkably simple formula – Stop. Look. Go.

Find a way to hesitate long enough to actually see. Then do something about it.

While waiting at a stop light, look at the cars around you. How many have a single person in them? In many countries – most people ride public transportation, all jammed in together, none on their own time table, each having to hear the other’s conversations and smell the body odor of the other. In poorer countries, people walk everywhere. We can be upset that we are stuck at a long light or in traffic, or we can be grateful for the privilege of driving our own car. You can have the same internal conversation regarding car repairs. Or any other minor issue.

How about when you have a terrible cold and are inconvenienced (and are now going to become behind in everything). You can fret about it and gripe, or you can look at how this gives you an opportunity to rest and to clear your mind. You live in a country that has excellent medical care. You have good food to nourish you. Think about people in prisoner-of-war camps who have to keep working even when they are deathly ill or those who will lose their jobs if they don’t come in. Look at what your situation actually is. And then act on your reality. Since you are able to rest, do it, with grace.

Notice that you have clean running water and indoor plumbing that works. Not everyone does, you know.

Be aware that your dog doesn’t carry diseases and parasites and can share in your home with you. This is certainly not the case in every country.

Have you considered the miracle of electricity? That your water is warm when you take a shower? Or your lights allow you to continue your activity well after dark? Again, not all of the world shares in this luxury.

Some of you are bristling, because this sounds excessively positive, like a Pollyanna attitude. But I have to argue back – being grateful is a CHOICE. You choose to see and then choose to act based on what you become aware of.

I am so very appreciative for my computer and the internet. Some of you remember the days before e-mail and personal computers … I had to type college papers on a word processor. I used white-out to fix mistakes. No spell check – I looked up words in the dictionary (and I misspelled lots of them that I didn’t look up). I love that my little lap top can hold my writing tools, my banking information, my communications with hundreds of people, a doorway to the world via Twitter and Facebook, a movie theater and encyclopedia and more. It is the minimalist’s dream – all those things in one thing. : )

When I focus on the things I am thankful for my whole attitude changes: vacuums that do a good job getting up the voluminous dog hair that escapes from my beautiful German shepherd, daffodils that are just starting to bloom two months early because of an extremely warm February, a gas fireplace that lights instantly and does not create ash for me to cart out to the trash can – oh my, the trash guys. Can you imagine if we didn’t have trash pick-up? Ugh! It would be horrible. The stench alone makes me cringe. How about Amazon? I can find ANYTHING there and have it delivered to my door in less than a week. That is the coolest.

Our lives are good. I’m feeling happier already.

What are you grateful for? Throw out some topics in the comments. We will all join with you and say, “Oh yea! Me too!” (And btw, still working on getting the comments interactive … sigh).

Are You Deliberate In Your Daily Interactions?

Recently, I flew to another city. Right before I landed, I looked out the window and was spell-bound by the thousand-foot vantage of the neighborhoods below. This is something I do on every flight – but this time, I had a different experience.

Usually, when I see all the houses and cars and streets, I become overwhelmed with the population. I think, “Every car down there has someone in it and they each have a story.” Each house has a family, complete with their own drama. I am up here enclosed in this flying tube of metal and they are down there, laughing, fighting, living, dying. Then my brain explodes as I extrapolate this to city after city across the country, the continent and then the world. I think, “How can this possibly work? How do all of us continue to exist? What kind of infrastructure does this require?” About this time I shut down emotionally (which is ok, because by then we have landed and my inner rhetoric is usurped by deplaning).

This time, however, my brain had a new thought:

If I could get a message to each and every person down there, what would that message be? What would I want each of them to know?

(Now each of us has a spiritual background, even if that background is to believe nothing – complete with its own set of messages. But this is not actually what this post is about. What I am really talking about is what is YOUR message, in addition to the ideological one?)

I have been pondering this for quite some time – a couple of years, actually – and the last 8 weeks intensely.

Ever trying to narrow my focus and hear my Voice, I believe my message (at least at this writing) is this: You have a choice. You can engage relationally in ways that matter – or not.

With each encounter, you can choose to treat people like objects or like a means to an end (think: check-out person at the grocery store) or like a goal-blocking hindrance (sometimes bosses, children, aging parents) or a paycheck (any client, patient, customer), OR you can see them as HUMAN BEINGS – with feelings, needs, issues, talents, etc.

We each get to choose, multiple times a day how we will interact with this God-breathed creature in front of us.

I regularly fail and succeed at this throughout the day. When I am self-absorbed, stressed, trying to keep my ducks in a row, I treat those around me with less Grace than I wish. I am basically a nice person, so I’m rarely overtly rude, but on those days when I am into my own agenda, I am not always warm. In those moments, I don’t extend a molecule of energy beyond me that I don’t have to. This is part of the introvert curse. But really, the issue is that I don’t SEE the other person – not really. I only see their shell – what they present to me in their particular role.

On the other hand, if I access the part of me that wants to value people, a different ‘me’ shows up. I smile more. I actually make small talk with the person cutting my hair or the teller at the bank. If I acknowledge that every interaction is a chance to bring something to the other person – even if that is summed up by actually looking in their eyes and valuing them for those few seconds, then I have somehow become more human myself.

On my first flight, I did something I’ve never done before – I gave up the coveted isle seat and moved to the dreaded middle one on the other side of the plane, offering my place to a mom who was separated from her 5-year-old son. She assured me that he would be good on the flight, assuming that I didn’t want to sit by the boy; but that isn’t why I offered to switch.

I remember my own little people. They would have been so uncomfortable and sad to be separated from me – even if they could see me across the row. They would have wanted to be with me.

The mother grudgingly accepted my offer, feeling bad for putting me out. But really, it was fine. As the plane was landing, the boy had issues with the change in air pressure and I saw him snuggled up against his mommy, his head in her lap, and she was stroking his hair and telling him to yawn and chew his gum. I was SO glad I had switched; not for me – for them. In that moment of offering my seat, I feel I had an interaction that mattered. (Which felt great.)

We get these opportunities to value those around us dozens of times each day, sadly, missing most of them. Unfortunately, it is so easy to not see people at all. Unless you get deliberate about it. One choice, one engagement at a time.

Can you share an exchange that made you feel more human? Please do! We all benefit from each others’ stories.

Three Thoughts Toward Transparency

We would like to believe the best of ourselves; that we are straightforward and 100% honest. Yet, the reality is we have variations of opacity. Parts of us we hold back or magnify; perhaps we fear that the what-you-see-is-what-you-get version will somehow be found wanting.

If you have ever worked with a drawing program, one of the choices you get to make is the the level of transparency for the item being worked with. How solid? How much do I want to let show through? And of which layers? It is an apt metaphor for people.

In my counseling practice (and in my friends), I see people err on either side of this question. There are individuals who spill 100% of their information, regardless of the other individual’s trustworthiness. As a result, these poor souls often become bruised. They feel betrayed by their friends, family members, co-workers and even bosses. This is especially seen with people they are dating.

The other side of the spectrum are those who reveal little, holding their cards tightly. When you have relationship with someone like this, you can know them for years, sometimes decades and not actually know anything about them. When these people die, their co-workers struggle to say anything personal about them – ‘“They were always on time.” “They worked hard.” Neighbors say things like, “Their yard was always well kept.”

Each of us leans one direction or the other – I, myself, am a tight-card-holder; but sometimes I wish I didn’t hold them quite so closely to the vest. I believe, as humans, we all desire to be known. Sometimes that yearning is cloaked by shame, afraid to be seen, for fear that others won’t like or accept what they see. Yet if you dig below the fear, there still is the deep inner pull to be seen and valued. It is a reaction to this desire that creates the extremes of what is shared or not revealed.

When I am contemplating how much of myself to give to others and with whom, I utilize a couple of questions to help me determine my transparency:

How emotionally safe is this person? We all know people who take what you tell them and use it against you later in a fight or in a business situation. Generally, if an astute person is burned once, they don’t continue to share themselves with untrustworthy people. However, I am repeatedly surprised at how often people continue to share with unsafe people even after they have realized that it usually doesn’t turn out well for them. My guideline: if I don’t know how safe someone is, I choose to see how they do with a little bit of information before I give them more. I let them earn the right to hear my story, rather than assume that they will treat it with the respect that it deserves.

I recommend people experiment with this and actually practice giving someone 15% of their information for a while. For some, it is a struggle to stop once they have started giving of themselves. For others, it is difficult to actually start the sharing. Give people something that is unique to you, but not a problem if the other person mishandles it. That top 15% of me is like the information I wouldn’t mind sharing on Facebook. Before I give someone my deep heart, I’m going to see how they do with some general things.

How close do I want the relationship with this person and myself? Information connects you. If you tell a date your whole life story during the first outing together (assuming that they are wanting to hear the saga) this can be quite bonding. I see this with young people all the time – the first time they go out, they stay up until 4 in the morning sharing back and forth – the problem with this is that you now feel very integrated with the other individual, though in reality, you’ve known them less that 24 hours. It is the emotional equivalent of having sex on your first date. The converse of this is true as well – if you share nothing of any depth, you have no connection and they have no real reason to come back to you. I often ask myself, “How attached to I want to become to this person?” And this helps me decide how much of myself I give at any given time.

What is appropriate for the context of the relationship? There are many situations where equal disclosure is unwarranted and obvious – the doctor / patient relationships, the therapist / client relationship – really, most professional relationships are generally unequal in terms of the transparency. I see these boundaries struggle in places where it is not clearly defined how we are to engage, such as work relationships and sometimes in faith-based situations, like church or small groups or book clubs. In these contexts, people push toward disclosure of 5% or 95% when what is healthier a 30-50% sharing, until you know how trustworthy and genuine the other party is. Often men struggle with this. They tend toward the 5% too much of the time. Generally, we want to be known at work and in our extracurricular groups. But if you aren’t intentional about how you go about this, you will err either too much or too little.

In an age where people are so worried about the use of their personal information (account numbers, social security numbers, etc.), it is intriguing to me how sloppy they are with their true heart information. Under- and over-sharing leaves you feeling either too known and therefore vulnerable, or completely unknown – consequently isolated and lonely. Neither leaves you feeling satisfied and happy. And really, who doesn’t want to be happy?

Do you have a story of where you either over- or under- shared? What was your indicator that it was the wrong amount? How did this impact your current level of sharing? (and, btw, I am working on my comments feature so that I can respond back and you also don’t have to be annonymous if you don’t want to be. I very much appreciate the feedback. It is encouraging!)