Pencil Practice — September 19, 2011

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I love Mondays.

It is my day to pack up my belongings, get in my car and roll on down the road to the next community, where I will be headquartering for a week to share my thoughts, dreams and little dab of talent.

I also use Monday for another purpose. Monday reminds me of when I was a kid and knew I had an important paper that had to be turned in for school, and the teacher wanted that assignment to be written in pen–my best cursive writing.  Terrified that I was going to have to start over and over again to avoid mistakes, I chose to practice writing the assigned paper in pencil first.

Pencil is wonderful. It glides nicely–and also erases when you screw up. But I do believe that as people we need “pencil practices” in preparing for our dealings with one another.  Otherwise, when it comes time to “pen” ourselves down, we will not be ready and will have a bunch of scratch-offs.

So I use Monday for that purpose. Having the success of a good week, meeting good folks and sharing good things, I allow myself a few moments to think about how I can do it better. It’s a good day to practice being a real human being instead of a jerk going through the motions. Here are three things I do:

1. Come up with a greeting. Do you realize that if you stop saying “hello,” “good morning” or “howdy,” you will eventually stifle that reflex to be friendly, and pass by that fellow-man or woman without comment.  And how is that supposed to be interpreted by them? Believe me, there are enough crazy people in the world that if you decide to snub the wrong one, you might regret your choice. I think greeting one another in a civil way is a talent that if you stop using, just may depart, leaving you sullen and without remark.

So I have fun trying out different ways of saluting my fellow-travelers. One of my favorites is, “Hi, y’all.” Southern accents can be quite endearing. Greet one another–we do need a starting place, you know.

Much to the chagrin of one of my brothers, I call everyone “my friend.” It aggravates him. He thinks it’s pretentious. If by pretentious, he means that I do it on purpose, then he’s right. If by pretentious, he assumes I’m insincere, he’s wrong. I call people “my friend” because it’s the way to tell them that I believe we still have a chance to do some really great things.

2. Go for the second question. Our conversations with people are very short, usually revolving around the weather or some ill-defined answer to “how are you?” Just a few minutes ago, I said to this dude, “Good morning.” He said, “Good morning to you.” I responded, “Do you have a good day planned?” It kind of shocked him. It was fun. He paused and responded, “I sure hope so!” As I was walking away, he called out, “How about you?” I replied, “Much better now that I met you!”

I know some of you may think it’s corny.  Good. If the worst thing ever said about me is that I’m corny, I will not only survive it, but I will be able to produce a very stable crop of ideas.

3. Once every hour, look in the mirror. Sometimes we forget how we look. Sometimes I forget that I’m getting older, because my mind is still popping at about a 22-year-old level. Look in the mirror. Do you see a grimace? A growl? Or some glee? That’s what folks are looking at, you know. When we forget what we look like and what countenance has etched its way across our face, we do a disservice to ourselves and everyone else. Work on your facial expression. It won’t kill you, although contrary to popular opinion–our looks CAN kill.

That’s about it. It’s not difficult; it won’t change the world. But I’m really not out to change the world. I just want to make sure that when I greet my Maker, I’m ready with a second question and I pretty well know what I look like.

And since who I am is going to be written in down permanent ink in the Book of Life–if you don’t mind, I think I’ll just use my Mondays to “pencil practice”–right here and now.

The Lessen Lesson — September 18th, 2011

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You know the joke–a man walks into the doctor’s office, moving his arm up and down.  He says, “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.”  The doctor replies, “Well, stop doing that.”

Exactly.

I am not quite sure at what age we begin to equate maturity with the accumulation of stress and pain as a symbol of our growth and adulthood, but whenever it happens, we seem to puncture a hole in our spirits–where all the joy drains out. If the human countenance is any sign of what’s going on inside the human heart, then the folks in the United States of America appears to be continually constipated.

We should have learned through the falsehood of the statement “No pain, no gain” that life is not meant to produce discomfort in order to generate progress.  Because as you well know, if you are in the midst of exercising, and pain is the result, you are no longer producing benefit, but instead, just fostering aggravation to your physical being. Muscles can stretch–that’s good.  Sweat on the brow never hurt anyone.  Heart rate raised? Excellent for the cardiovascular system. But pain is not a good sign.

And that goes across the board.  We think we should have an “all nighter” to prepare for the test instead of taking notes all along and learning as we go. Emotionally, we feel the need to worry over “what might be” instead of taking on the problems one at a time and absorbing them into our being, using the wisdom we have and applying the principles we know to be true. Spiritually, we are preoccupied with pleasing a God who at times we insist is already pleased with us so that we can be found pleasing by occasionally being displeased with the actions of others.

It’s a mess. And if you think you have the backing of Jesus and Christian theology in this pathetic process, you are sadly wrong. Because when the Pharisees were trying to corner Jesus, they asked him why his disciples didn’t fast.  In other words, “Why aren’t your followers as miserable as us?”

Jesus’ response, paraphrased, was, “I’m here, things are going great, we’re having fun–there’s no need to fast.”

He constantly told us not to worry or take thought about things that were not happening now–that tomorrow would take care of itself. And he told the multitudes to come to him with all their weariness and burdens–and he would give them rest.

Here are two questions you must ask yourself:  Is life about doing a project or achieving a goal at all costs, or is life about considering the cost and finding a better way to achieve your goal?

Your answer to those two questions will determine your sense of well-being and happiness.

Yes, it is important, if you’re going to be a successful human being, to put in practice “The Lessen Lesson.”  Lessen your fear, lessen your struggle, lessen your apprehension, lessen your worry, lessen your responsibility whenever possible and most important–lessen your expectation. How can we begin?

1. Stop the pain. When you feel pain, just take even five minutes–and stop. Whether it’s emotional pain, mental “insane” or physical strain–just refrain. Because remember, Jesus told us to “take up our cross and follow him.”  He never suggested we climb up on it and get nailed down. He merely wants us to learn how to handle responsibility, shifting the weight onto our shoulders in the correct proportion.

2. Confront the weariness. Weariness happens when we begin to believe that the work is more important than the product. So even though we’ve lost our enthusiasm, passion and even are beginning to sacrifice our skill and intelligence, we continue to trudge on–putting brick and mortar together, often constructing a crooked wall. It’s why the American worker has lost an edge in the world–weariness is no motivator for excellence. How do I know I’m weary? When my sense of dread about what I have to do is not given a chance to be relieved by a better idea.

3. And finally, lift the burden. Many years ago for a brief season, I taught at a small Bible college in Louisiana. The dean of the college was an austere fellow who believed in hard work and hard knocks. He had two young men on his staff who were janitors and he always found the most difficult way for them to perform a task. One day he asked them to move sheets of plywood about 150 yards, from one building to another. They were supposed to carry it by hand. It was arduous–and ridiculous. I backed up my old station wagon and we put all the plywood on top of my luggage rack and hauled it over in one load. We laughed, joked and sang all during the procedure. The dean came out, infuriated because I had suggested a simpler way to achieve the goal. I was perplexed. The work was done, it was done well, and he had two employees who still had energy for the rest of the day. He was angry because it was not painful. So I will tell you, the main thing to remember is to stay away from people who think life is hard and want to make sure that they provide your portion. Find a way to lift the burden from yourself and others, and thus prove the heart of Christ.

So–The Lessen Lesson is to stop the pain, confront the weariness and lift the burden.

Because when life is through, people will not remember what you did as much as how you did it.

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