The Few, the Proud, the Humble

Humility is the virtue that enables all the others.  It is easier to be Charitable, Kind, Patient, Chaste, Temperate and Diligent if we are first Humble.  Humility starts with gratitude.  To be grateful for the past that has made us who we are today, and for the opportunity ahead to be all that we can be.

What can stop us?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  Only ourselves and our foolish pride.  Pride is the deadliest of the deadly sins.  It leads to all the other vices.  To Greed, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony and Sloth.  Humility is our secret weapon to defeat them all.  Consistently practicing this one virtue will drastically improve our odds of becoming the playground saints we are all meant to be.

“God opposes the proud but bestows favor on the humble.”  (1 Peter 5:5)

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Matthew 23:12)

Humility is a modest opinion of one’s own importance.  Modest, humble, servile, respectful, deferential.

Pride is an excessively high opinion of oneself.  Narcissism, vanity, vainglory, arrogance, conceit, bigheadedness, smugness, self-importance, egotism, superiority, immodesty.

C.S. Lewis gave three reasons for labeling pride as the deadliest sin; (1) the devil became the devil through pride, (2) pride is the cause of every other vice, and (3) pride is a completely anti-God and anti-others state of mind.

Pride directly violates the Greatest Commandments, loving God and neighbors (i.e. everyone), by putting ourselves first.  Lewis summarizes his thoughts on pride by saying:

“There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty of themselves.”

“There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves.  And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.”

Pride is an overwhelming faith, belief, and trust in self.  A lust for power over everyone else.  To be in control.  To force others to think, say, and do things your way.  No compromise, no debate.  You know it all and have no interest in the opinions of others.  You are always right and can do no wrong.  Pride says, “My will be done.”

Humility says, “Thy will be done.”  We exist to serve God, and He wants us to serve others.  We do that by striving to become our best self.  By developing and utilizing our talents to help others.  And behaving in a selfless and truly virtuous manner.  This is the only way to achieve lasting peace and happiness.

“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”  (Mark 9:35)

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

God’s point of view regarding pride is quite clear.  But it has opposing meanings in our society.  In fact, the first two dictionary definitions I found were positive: (1) a sense of one’s own proper dignity or value; self-respect, and (2) pleasure or satisfaction taken in an achievement, possession, or association.  Quite the opposite of the “excessively high opinion of oneself” definition.

We are told to take pride in ourselves.  To rely upon ourselves.  To display confidence.  To take credit for our achievements.  To be self-promoters.  That is how we are advised to get ahead in this life.

Alternatively, humility is often viewed as weakness.  Being passive, submissive, or insecure.  Nice guys finish last.  You will certainly be swimming upstream in our culture by valuing humility over pride.

“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”   G.K. Chesterton

Truly humble people are actually quite the opposite of what we may have been led to believe.  Humility is thinking less about yourself, not less of yourself.  It is a quiet confidence evidenced by:

  • Striving for excellence in all that you do;
  • Selflessly serving others;
  • Seeing the value in all people;
  • Seeking, speaking, and living the truth;
  • Boldly standing up for what is right and just;
  • Working collaboratively with others to make the world a better place;
  • Giving credit and taking blame;
  • Walking your talk;
  • Making your actions speak louder than your words;
  • Humbly turning yourself over to God for guidance and strength, and;
  • Doing it His way rather than yours … Thy will be done.

Interestingly, we all start out humble.  We are dependent on our parents for survival.  Is having our diaper changed our first lesson in humility?  Then we start to learn.  The more we learn, the more pride we build.  It doesn’t take long.  By the time we are teenagers we think we know it all.  Thankfully we still have parents around to tell us differently, and deep down we know they are right.

As we continue to learn we continue to grow our confidence, not a bad thing.  Until the day we become convinced that we have learned all we need in order to live out our life in comfort.  That is the day our pride kicks into high gear, that fateful day when we choose to stop learning.  When we think we know it all.  When we believe we are no longer dependent upon anyone else.  The day we declare our personal independence.  The day we exalt ourselves.  The day God cries for us.

“Pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  (Proverbs 16:18)

“When pride comes, disgrace comes; but with the humble is wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)

This is a dangerous place to live.  Trouble is, it can also be a place where you can thrive in this world.  Until eventually you are humbled in some way.  It will happen.  And when it does, guess what?  You will naturally do the things a humble person does.  You will depend on others to pull you through the hardship.  Maybe even to change your diaper.  And you will come back to God.  He doesn’t want it to have to be this way, but He will happily welcome you back.

Of course a better way is to never reach that prideful state in the first place.  Place God first in your life now.  Be dependent upon Him.  Let him have your back.  Let go and let God.  Maintain an attitude of gratitude.  Keep on learning.  Serve others.  Be humble.

“Stay gold Ponyboy,” from the classic book The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, seems like an appropriate quote to recall here.  To “stay gold” means to be true to yourself, innocent, uncorrupted, and the like; basically to be virtuous.  You will likely often feel like an outsider in that pursuit, especially in your quest to defeat pride with humility.

Here is a humility challenge for us all.  Apologize to someone for something you have said or done that you know hurt them in some way.  Admit you were wrong.  Tell them they were right.  Describe in detail why you are sorry and ask for their forgiveness.  And tell them how grateful you are to have them in your life.  Swallow your foolish pride.  We all have something to apologize for, right?

For extra credit during these divisive and polarizing times, debate a friend on the opposing side about some issue.  Agree to hear each other out and be able to state each other’s position, conclusions, and reasoning.

Then challenge and debate one another for as long as you are willing.  Hopefully you will come to some areas of agreement, and you can understand more clearly why you continue to have areas of disagreement.  You will no doubt both learn something useful along the way.

Here are questions that may help to guide your discussion:

  • What exactly is the issue/problem we are trying to solve?
  • How big a problem is it really, and how do we know?
  • What is the end result we seek?
  • What are the potential solutions?
  • Which solution will work best and why?

I have no doubt we can solve all of our self-created world problems if enough of us have these honest and humble conversations with each other on a regular basis.  I pray we will.

Humbly Yours, Scott

 

Leave Me Alone … I’m Trying to Be a Better Person!

We just realized it has been one full year since Melanie officially retired from her 37-year nursing career.  She still maintains her Registered Nursing license to be ready in case the spirit guides her back once again.  She has taken several small breaks along the way, but caring for others is her purpose and has been her life mission.

I asked her what the best thing about retirement is for her.  She said, “well, I don’t know … all of it.  I get to set my own priorities and agenda.  I love the quiet time, it’s so nice to be able to read, think, reflect, and pray in peace.  And I don’t have to hurry anymore!”  I was kind of hoping she might say, “spending time with you, sweetheart.”  Oh well…

We have settled into a nice retirement routine.  She does her thing and I do mine.  I read, research, write, exercise, and keep our finances in order.  She does basically the same with a spiritual emphasis, plus she keeps the rest of our house in order, and me and the dog fed, watered, and walked.

It all works out so nicely … except when I annoyingly interrupt her.  I know better, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.  Like the other day we were in our separate office spaces and I kept asking her questions.  She wasn’t responding, so I said something like, “Hey, are you over there?”  That got a quick and loud response in the form of, “Leave me alone, I’m trying to be a better person!”

That got me out of my chair quickly.  I was trying not to laugh out loud and get myself in even more trouble.  I saw that she was praying the rosary.  I stood there and stared at her with a smile.  She eventually looked up and we both cracked up laughing.  I told her she was already the best person I know.

Do you ever feel that way?  Like if it wasn’t for all the other people around bugging you, you could be a really good person.  It does seem like it might be easier, but it’s certainly not practical.  We depend on each other to survive and to thrive.  We were put here to serve each other through our unique missions, built around our individual talents.  We are interconnected.  We are interdependent.  We need to get along.  We want to get along.  Sometimes it’s just a real challenge.

Since writing the sAint Me?! book I’ve had some really interesting discussions and debates with people from many diverse backgrounds and beliefs.  The two things we always agree upon is that:

  1. We could all be better people, and
  2. The world would be a much better place if we were.

Duh!  Pretty obvious I know.  But it’s been obvious for thousands of years and we still have a lot of problems.  Nearly all of them are caused by our collective bad behavior.  And we have the ability to solve them all by actively and consistently striving to be the best possible people we can be.  But we don’t.  Why?!

I’m not saying we are all bad people.  In fact I know very few who are.  And who am I to judge.  I don’t think any of us strive to be bad people.  I could be wrong.  Maybe the few ruin it for the many?  I don’t know.  But I do know that I can be better.  I assume that is true for most of us.  We are all human and it is difficult to consistently think, say and do what is right and good.  Especially in a world where the opposite is so often rewarded.  Nice guys finish last.  The squeaky wheel gets the grease.  Just two examples of traditional wisdom that seem backwards to me.

Oh I just remembered, there is a third area of common agreement.  In the creation of a better world though being better people, we should each start by improving ourselves.  To look in the mirror before pointing fingers at others.  To be the person you want to interact with out in the world.

So where do we start?  I always go back to basics, actively striving behave virtuously.  One of the few things we have total control of in life is how we choose to behave.  Maybe that’s an illusion, but I choose to believe it’s true.  I alone control my personal behavior.  Others have an influence on it, but the decisions I make, as well as their consequences  are mine alone.

I attempt to pursue virtue.  To do what is right and avoid what is wrong in what I choose to think, say, and do.  To sin less.  I use the seven deadly sins (vices) and their opposing virtues as a guide.  Here’s the list in virtue/vice order, I call them collectively the “V’s“:

  1. Humility vs. Pride
  2. Charity vs. Greed
  3. Kindness vs. Envy
  4. Patience vs. Wrath
  5. Chastity vs. Lust
  6. Temperance vs. Gluttony
  7. Diligence vs. Sloth

I wrote about these in my books, but not in much depth.  At the time I didn’t have enough knowledge.  But I’ve done my research now and am ready to share it with you over the next 7 weeks.  I’ll write about one paring of V’s each week to help in understanding what they are, how to identify them in your daily activities, and what specifically you can do to win on a daily basis.  What is winning you ask?

I have been tracking my daily behavior for over a year.  You can too with this Flying V Tracker.   The worksheet contains brief definitions of each V.  You score one point each time you think, say, or do something that was caused by one of the V’s.  Each time you notice yourself doing something good or bad (a judgement call by you and your conscience), think about which V caused it.  This can be a little tricky.  Like a lie might be caused by any of the vices.  Pick the one that fits the circumstance.  Just keep asking, “Why did I think, say, or do that?”  Eventually you will arrive at a V.

When I first started tracking, my goal was simply to avoid the vices.  A defensive strategy.  While I had some victories, it became obvious that only through actively utilizing the virtues would I ever consistently win.  That is, score more virtue than vice points.  So I went on the offensive.  It works.  Proactively focusing on virtue gives vice little time to rear its ugly head.

Try using the tracker every day, or at least one day this week.  Review the brief definitions of the virtues first thing in the morning and resolve to practice them throughout the day.  You can review the vice definitions as well to know what you should avoid.

Take a few minutes to score yourself at noon, the end of your work day, and just before bed time.  Then take a moment to review your sheet in the morning, feel good about your successes, identify opportunities for improvement, and make your plan to do even better going forward.  You will be amazed how fast this simple awareness activity will improve your behavior…of course, assuming you need any improving in the first place:-)

Beginning next Monday I’ll go into more detail about each V.  One set per week.  I’ll give you strategies for dealing with each and them, and specific recommendations that you can implement immediately.   Together we can promote the virtues and defeat the vices.  And win for the benefit of all!

Until then I’ll “leave you alone so you can be a better person.”

Be Saintspirational!  Scott

Dazed and Confused

I’m dazed and confused about what is happening in the world.  I’m going to ramble on about that in this week’s edition of Playground Heaven Living 2020.

My intent every week is to provide thoughts and recommendations about how we can all strive to be our best and happiest selves.  It started with a focus on happiness which I equate with the playground, and has morphed to include the concept of saints, which is being our very best.  Taken together I think of us as Playground Saints.

Unfortunately the world has been turned inside out and upside down by something commonly referred to as a pandemic.  A pandemic is an epidemic that’s spread over multiple countries or continents.  An epidemic is a disease that affects a large number of people within a community, population, or region.

Yes, we have a new disease.  Yes, it has spread across the world.  But has it really affected a large number of people?  That depends upon your definition of affect.  It doesn’t meet mine.  It turns out that most people are actually largely unaffected even if they have contracted the virus.

But then again, maybe the pandemic is not the virus itself, but our reaction to it.  We definitely have an epidemic of the disease of fear and panic.  Maybe that was justified in the beginning when it appeared everyone was at risk of grave illness.  The projected number of deaths was 30 times more than a normal flu season…scary.

Now we know so much more.  There is no need for panic any longer based on the facts and data now readily available.  But it continues.  Why?  Because the fear was fed to us daily for months on end.  Because we were locked down and quarantined.  Because we continue to keep our distance from each other and wear masks.  Because everywhere you go you are reminded about it by someone or something.  Because no one is telling us not to.

Here’s what we now know. People with serious health conditions are at risk.  No one else really is.  Yes, you may get the virus, but no, you are not likely to get seriously ill, and you have virtually no chance of dying from it.

As a result, we really only need 3 simple rules going forward:

  1. If you have a serious health condition or don’t feel well, stay home.
  2. Everyone else go back to business as usual.
  3. Help those at risk and in need, and use caution to protect them.

Of course that is not what is happening, and it won’t happen any time soon.  Why not?  Let’s see, because:

  • We have been frightened by the constant barrage of negative news to the point where we are now scared no matter what the facts tell us.
  • No one wants to admit their beliefs and actions were wrong.
  • Businesses fear the risk of lawsuits and bad publicity for not appearing to care.
  • It makes us feel good about ourselves to demonstrate our virtue by continuing to physical distance and wear masks.
  • Politicians will never let a good crisis go to waste.
  • It’s easier to go along to get along.

Instead we choose to live by rules that are so varied, confusing, and nonsensical that no one really knows what to do.  So we do whatever feels the safest.  Or we go completely mad and start riots and looting across the nation.

Please help me understand why people are burning, breaking, and stealing things from businesses that have nothing to do with a man dying in police custody.  Rather than condemn these actions, one state governor was actually reminding these lawbreakers to remember to social distance and wear masks.  Seriously?  Has the world gone completely insane?!

How are we to be happy in the midst of all this?  It’s not going to end anytime soon.  The division between people continues to widen and intensify.  I wonder if that is by some sort of intentional design?  I won’t even get into all the conspiracy theories floating around.  There are many seemingly random dots that can be easily and logically connected if you really feel like driving yourself crazy.

In the meantime, real people have real problems and they are suffering.  They need their jobs back.  We went from the lowest employment rate ever, to one of the highest.  The virus didn’t do that, we did. I’m talking the collective “we.”  Because we are either  making the decisions or we are going along with them.  Maybe those decisions were justified when we knew little about the virus, but they sure aren’t now.  We need to undo the damage we have caused.

My hope is that we have learned lessons that will ensure this never happens again.  I also hope there were some important life lessons learned along the way.  Like the importance of families spending time together.  Understanding what is important in life, and what isn’t.  Realizing that life is precious and not to be wasted.

But enough with the lessons.  It’s time for a little common sense and common decency to prevail.  Do I sound upset?  Yes I am!  Nothing good is coming from the prolonged and needless reopening rules we are being subjected to.

As long as I’m ranting, what is going on with churches?  Doesn’t Christianity preach faith in God, have no fear, and do unto others?  Why are church leaders so easily rolling over to the fear of our secular leaders?  Why are they not demanding to open with no restrictions?

If we all practiced our faith wouldn’t we be ready and willing to go back to the way it was.  We care about each other.  Therefore no one who is at risk would attend.  They wouldn’t want to restrict the freedom of others to attend due to their presence. Anyone who wasn’t feeling well would stay home as well.  And all the rest who do attend will reach out to those who can’t in order to make sure their needs are being met.  Simple.

But no!  The rules we have in our church are more restrictive than going to the grocery store. I understand that churches are business and have liability issues to consider, but aren’t they leaders of the faith first and foremost?

I think history will show that this approach was a huge mistake.  There has been a steady decline in church attendance going on for a long time.  I am very concerned that we will now see a significant one-time drop that may never be recovered.  Interestingly, one of those conspiracy theories has this as a goal.  I pray for the opposite.

Our churches are a place we can leave the troubles of the world behind.  Where we can see the world as it could and should be.  It appears to me that church may no longer be that respite.  Have they really adopted the ways of the world?  Where is the confidence and belief in our Lord and savior?  It makes me sad.  Actually, it makes me mad.  Does that make me a bad Christian?

Enough rambling and ranting.  I’m not sure where to go from here.  I so want this world to live up to the standards of what I think God expects of us.  I’ll bet He’s really embarrassed right now.  Maybe always.  But hey, He gave us free will.  But He also gave us the ability to use reason to solve problems.  Seems we are much better at creating them nowadays.

I constantly go back to the only solution I can come up with to the state we are in.  For each of us to strive individually to become the saints we are meant to be.  To be the best and happiest people we can be, and to help others, especially our appointed leaders, to do the same.

Challenge for the week?  Go on a news fast, don’t watch, listen, or read any of it.  Especially social media.  Stay out of the fight.  Pray instead.  Pray for understanding and wisdom for our leaders, that they may make decisions based on faith, hope, and love for the people.

Thanks for reading.  I’m always interested in your thoughts as well.  I read and respond to them all.

I promise to make next week’s message more positive and hopeful.  No more virus or riot talk.  It’s time to get back to the happy theme:-)

Thank you for your continued efforts to make this world a better place for us all.

Peace, Scott

Fight the Good Fight

Remember the good old days when Memorial Day was celebrated with big parades and lots of free candy?  Flags were flying, bands were marching, and those motorcycle guys were doing their fancy riding patterns.

Memorial Day was my favorite holiday as a kid, especially in the early days when it was always celebrated on my birthday, May 30.  As an added bonus, it was also the traditional opening day for all the swimming pools.  But in 1971 they moved the official holiday to the last Monday in May.  Now I only get the occasional birthday parade.  Oh well…

Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died while serving our country in the military.  They made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the rights and freedoms we all enjoy in these United States of America. It is a day for us to remember, appreciate, and honor that sacrifice.  Did you know that we are to hold a national moment of remembrance at 3pm?  Interesting, that is the same time Jesus died to save us from our sins.  Coincidence?  I think not.

The thing I like best about this day is seeing flags displayed proudly all across the land.  I find it a great reminder that we are “…one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The stars and stripes also remind me of other phrases in our national songs and documents, such as:

  • Sweet Land of Liberty
  • Land of the Free
  • Home of the Brave
  • All Men are Created Equal
  • Endowed by their Creator with certain Unalienable Rights
  • Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

I find myself reflecting on three words every year on this holiday: freedom, courage, and sacrifice.  Our predecessors fought for freedom from a tyrannical ruling class.  That took tremendous courage and sacrifice.

I find it interesting that God granted us freedom from the beginning.  He gave us a few rules and the free will to do as we please.  Yet we are constantly fighting to maintain that freedom from people who want to take it away. Thankfully there have been many brave souls throughout the ages who have fought the good fight for freedom, too many paying the ultimate price with their lives.

I ask myself two questions at this time every year; (1) What am I willing to fight for, and (2) What would I die for?  God? Country? Family? Friends? Values? Principles? Beliefs?  Tough questions, especially if you are attempting to be completely honest with yourself.  I think it is difficult to know for sure unless and until you are faced with a life or death situation.

Here’s what I do know, it takes courage to stand up for your beliefs.  Our soldiers take that stand every day.  Saints do the same in promoting and defending their belief in God.  Just as many military men and women have died protecting our country, so too have many Saints in protecting their faith in God.  In fact we have a name for them, martyrs.

A while back I wrote an article about the first Christian martyr for a friend.  It is a story of great faith and courage.  I thought it appropriate to share on this Memorial Day.

The Stone-Cold Truth

Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God? I do. Oh, by the way, you will be stoned to death if we don’t like what you say. Wait … what?!

Welcome to the world of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Little is known of Stephen other than the account in The Act of the Apostles, chapters 6 and 7. He lived from around 5 to 34 AD and was among the first seven deacons appointed by the twelve apostles. They described him as “a man filled with faith and the holy spirit.” Soon he was “filled with grace and power, and was working great wonders and signs among the people.” That could only mean one thing back in those early days of Christianity; Big Trouble is on the way!

The authorities didn’t like what he was saying or the growing number of followers he was attracting. This story sure sounds familiar. He was brought in for questioning for the crime of blasphemy. All of those gathered saw that “his face was like the face of an angel.” He proceeded to offer a divinely inspired history of God and His chosen people. Basically, the message was that God is good and His people had not been, especially their earthly leaders. Stephen made it painfully clear that they were repeating that history and referred to them as stiff-necked, persecutors, betrayers, and murderers. Ouch!

Just in case he hadn’t angered them enough he added, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” That was all the proof they needed to convict him of blasphemy. He was dragged out of the city and stoned to death. His last words were, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Yes, I have definitely seen this movie before. Do nothing wrong, tell the truth, and be viciously killed. At least the last edition of this story ended in resurrection and eternal salvation for us all. What is next in this sad tale?

Well, there was a young man named Saul of Tarsus present at the stoning. He was one of the chief persecutors of the early Christians. The faith, courage, and sacrifice of Saint Stephen puzzled and later inspired Saul. Soon thereafter he was struck down on the road to Damascus and converted to Christianity. This improbable and sudden conversion became the spark needed to ignite the rapid spread of the faith. Saul became Saint Paul the Apostle, one of the most influential saints of all time.

We have a painting of Saint Stephen in our home. I just stared at it and asked, “What is your advice for us.” The thought that immediately came to mind was, “Have the courage to seek, find, and live the truth.”

What is the truth you ask? Well, first of all, there is truth. In a world where truth has somehow become relative, it seems difficult to find objective, universal, and absolute truth. But it does still exist. There is not your truth and my truth. There is only the truth. God is truth. His word is the truth. He only asks that we love Him and our neighbors (i.e. everyone else). Everything in our lives and in the world is better when we do.

We show our love by striving to be what we were born to become, saints. To live in this world as best we can in order to make it to the next. To develop and use our God given talents to serve others. To seek and find God’s plan for our lives. To say yes to that plan and carry it out by behaving virtuously.  To allow the holy spirit to guide our thoughts, words, and actions. To be courageous and stand up for what is right and true, no matter what the consequences may be.

You will survive and thrive with the truth on your side. Like Saint Stephen, you might even inspire someone to do incredible things to make the world a better place for us all. It might even be you.

Become the saint you are meant to be. Seek, find, and live the truth with courage.

Your challenge for the week is to give serious consideration to the questions, (1) What do you fight for, and (2) What are you willing to die for?  Then take at least one moment of silence to thank those who have fought and died for you.

I find that my list basically boils down to our pledge of allegiance.  Say it with me now:

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”

Have Courage my Saintly Friends, Scott

Great Saints Alive!

In my youth I recall hearing adults occasionally exclaim, “Great Saints Alive!” It was used when something amazingly good had happened.  I took it to mean that there are saints among us performing miraculous acts to make this world a better place.

To all you great living saints I say: Come out, come out, wherever you are.  We are in desperate need of your services.  Who am I talking about?  All of you!  We are all capable of being those great saints alive!

Recently I’ve had a few of you ask me to list the key attributes of a striving saint.  My initial reaction was to refer you back to the sAint Me?! book.  Surely I listed saint traits in there somewhere.  But no!

I defined a saint as someone who was striving to become their best, and to give their best for the benefit of others.  I included a saint striving formula, RT x RW x G = S.  That is, do the right things in the right way and by the grace of God you may become a saint.

The book walks you through what I believe those right things and right ways are.  But to my great surprise there is no full description of what I believe the attributes and traits of a saint to be.  Oops!

Looking back, I must have assumed that saint traits are self-evident.  They really don’t need to be described.  They go without saying.  We know them when we see them.  We know them when we be them.  I thought I knew better than to assume … apparently not.

So I set off to define those traits.  Now after a week of research and contemplation, I’ve identified seven key attributes of living saints for your consideration.  They will help us to be both our happiest (Playground) and best (Saints) selves. Playground Saints are people who are:

  • Focused
  • Courageous
  • Thoughtful
  • Virtuous
  • Disciplined
  • Collaborative
  • Persistent

What do you think?  I would guess that every single one of you have other traits that you would add.  Me too.  In fact I started with a list of over 50.  Then I went through all sorts of gyrations to group like concepts, finally arriving at seven that I found to be unique and which encompass all the others.

I will share the full list with you over the next however many weeks it takes, describe each in detail, and talk about how you can build them into your very being and demonstrate them consistently.

But there is one problem to solve first.  Maybe it’s not a problem for you, but it is for me.  The list is difficult to remember.  The best way for me to recall a list is to turn it into an acronym. So I set out to find one.  Trouble is, there is not one single vowel available, so no word to be spelled.

New strategy, let’s start with a relevant word and adjust the list accordingly.  How about “playground?”  Nope too many letters.  “Saint?” Too few, we need seven.  “Saintly?”  Yep, that works. Now we just need to change the words to fit.

Here’s the new “saintly” list:

  • Stouthearted (Courageous)
  • Asceticism (Disciplined)
  • Incorruptible (Virtuous)
  • Never-ending (Persistent)
  • Teamwork (Collaborative)
  • Laser Focused (Focused)
  • Y – Wise, hey it sounds like a “Y” word (Thoughtful)

In going through the work to get to these words I found an interesting tool called the graphic thesaurus at the website freethesaurus.com.  You type a word in the search field to find alternatives.  Once you hit enter it brings up a spider web looking graphic which provides two layers of similar words.

For example, for the word “saint” it provides 5 first level words, and another 25 at the second level.  To go deeper you can click on any of the suggested words to find even more.  As an example, one leg of the web took me from “saint” to “model of excellence” to “paragon” to “exemplar.”  Cool words!

I spent a couple of hours messing around with this.  Try it out for yourself by clicking here.  But be forewarned, you may be going down a rabbit hole for longer than you might expect.  I’ve bookmarked the site for my future use.

Since I probably just lost most of you, let’s end it here for now.  For your challenge, come up with your own list of Playground Saint attributes.  In fact, send them my way and I’ll make sure they are considered.  Keep your list handy and cross off the ones we touch on in the coming weeks.  If at the end you have any left over, let me know and we’ll address those too.

Be Saintly my Friends!  Scott

Who Was That Masked Man?

Hi-Ho Silver!  Away!  Or was it Hi-Yo?  I just learned there is disagreement about which it was.  Regardless, cue the William Tell Overture theme song.  The Lone Ranger chased bad guys and always won.  He wore a mask to conceal his identity and worked together with his trusty companion Tonto to fight for justice.  He used silver bullets to remind himself of how precious life is and to only use them as a last resort.  He didn’t smoke, drink, or curse.

After he saved the day and rode away, someone would ask, “Who was that masked man?”  I’ve been asking a similar question about the increasing number of people I am seeing wearing masks to combat the virus.  Some make sense, like older people, or those with obvious health conditions.  Others I find curious, like people who are outside, all by themselves, far away from others while walking, running, biking, or driving around in their cars.  I don’t get it, why the mask?

I was curious and decided to do some in-depth research to determine what the proper course of action regarding mask usage should be.  I didn’t realize I was walking into a firestorm.  A quick review of Facebook comments nearly scared me away.  Apparently you are labeled a “covidiot” whether you choose to wear a mask or not.  The sides have been drawn and the insults are flying.

I initially thought this was going to be a fairly simple task.  I’ll just use my dig-deep research method which has served me well for decades in order to get to the definitive truth.  There has to be truth out there somewhere, right?  Wrong!  After reading everything I could find, from every possible angle I could imagine for an entire day, I found no clear and compelling answer.

I did find strong opinions stated as the definitive truths.  They all relied on cherry-picked facts and contained statements like, the fact of the matter is, there can be no disputing the fact, the truth is, or my new favorite, the science says, followed by a half truth, or worse, and outright lie.  I’m sorry, but you can’t say, the science says, and then provide a conclusion that is easily disproven by … science.

Unfortunately all the opinions sound very convincing, especially if they align with your preconceived notions of what the truth is.  And who has the time and energy to dig into the details, look at all the angles, and come up with their own opinion?  It’s so much easier to trust the “experts.”

After getting deep into this topic I wished I hadn’t.  It became clear that this is yet another topic with strong ideological divisions.  In general, liberals like masks and conservatives don’t.  Whichever side you are on there are plenty of facts to back you up.  In fact, give me your conclusion and I can get you there with all the relevant statistics … we’ll call it science.

But since I did wade into the deep waters of this controversy I might as well come to my own opinion and share it for your consideration.  Below is my attempt to be completely unbiased.  It shouldn’t be too hard because I actually have not yet formed a solid stance.

Here is the main question I am trying to answer; What would a striving saint do?  In other words, what is the best approach to take regarding masks for a person who is striving to be their best and to share their best for the benefit of others.

Let’s start with understanding the odds of getting the virus.  Sadly there is no good data on this, we’ll have to make do with what we have.  The math on the current numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that there is a 0.4 percent chance you will get the virus, and a 6 percent chance you will die if you do get it.  But not to worry, overall there is only a .02 percent chance you will die from this virus, and much lower than that if you are young and healthy.

Here are some other interesting notes from the CDC.  They state that “a significant portion of those with coronavirus are asymptomatic” (i.e. experience no symptoms).  Further, for those who do have symptoms, “most people have mild illness and are able to recover at home.”   And those we really need to worry about are “older adults and people with severe underlying health conditions.”

How about an example to quantify the risks? Let’s inflate the chance of getting the virus from 0.4 percent way up to … well how about 100 percent, everyone gets it.  To make it personal, think of 100 people you know.  They all now have the virus.  But a significant portion, say 70 percent, will experience no symptoms.  Of the 30 left, most will have mild symptoms, let’s say that leaves 10 to worry about.  What will happen to them?

One consistent statement in everything I have read about those who are dying is that they are “nearly all” older adults and those who had serious underlying health conditions. If you have some of those friends, sadly you may lose a few, but statistically less than 1 of the 10.

From this I am drawing one conclusion so far.  I will wear a mask when around older adults and people with serious underlying medical conditions.  The good news is that should rarely be necessary since those folks shouldn’t be out and about anyway.  They should remain in self-isolation and get the help they need from their younger and healthier family, friends, and neighbors.  We are happy to help.

I see the CDC’s latest guidance on masks is to wear one “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”

Okay, got it, but I’m still wondering why.  If those with issues are staying home, how big is the risk we will be spreading the disease?  Yes I realize there is some chance we may have it without knowing it, but even if we spread it to other non-high risk individuals there is very little risk of that leading to serious illness or death.

And what about this herd immunity thing?  Building resistance to the virus through exposure.  There is concern that there will be a second wave of illness once we break isolation from a lack of this exposure and resistance building.  Maybe we should start that sooner rather than later?

At this point the only reason I would wear a mask in public is to avoid the nasty looks and comments I will no doubt get from some. I’m concerned we are about to get into a Dr. Seuss Sneetches scenario where the masked and unmasked are arguing about who are the best Sneetches on the beaches.  If you don’t recall that story, do yourself a favor and go read it for a mental health break.  Let me know who you think Sylvester McMonkey McBean is in this scenario.

Speaking of mental health, what is the impact of wearing masks in that regard?  I’m sure there are some positives but I see only fear. We don’t need more fear, we need hope.  The proliferation of the use of masks is not hope inspiring.  They are instead a constant reminder of fear.

The thing about fear is that it produces anxiety, which causes stress, which leads to panic, irrational decision making, and interestingly, a weakened immune system.  Why do we want to spread more fear?  I think the spread of fear is actually worse than the spread to the virus itself.  It is paralyzing.  It must stop!  The numbers certainly don’t justify it.

Now many argue that wearing a mask is a minor inconvenience, that there is no harm in wearing one, so why wouldn’t you?  You care about other people, right?  Right, that’s why I will not be wearing one.  I’ve come to the conclusion that they actually do more psychological harm than physical good.

So based on the numbers and trusting that people are doing what is in their best interests based on their risk factors, here is what I will do.

  1. Wear a mask when around those with high risk factors;
  2. Not wear a mask in public.
  3. Not do business with those who require a mask.
  4. Actively support businesses that do not require masks.
  5. Respect the choices of others and hope they will do the same.

Obviously what you do is your choice, and I respect whatever that is.  You must be comfortable with your decisions and able to defend them to others when challenged.  I hope the above has helped you in some way.

Anyway, this is what I think a striving saint should do.  I believe that saints take calculated risks in the overall best interests of all people.  They are courageous and fearless in their attempts show their love for God and neighbors.  That is not always simple and the choices are not always easy, but they do the best they can given the facts and circumstances.

If you are with me, get out there and show the world your smiling face and your joy for the opportunity of a new beginning.  Share your faith, hope, and love for your fellow citizens.  Display your courage and confidence that better days are close at hand.  And leave them wondering, “Who was that unmasked man?”

Finally, for our health care worker friends, Thank You for fighting the good fight.  We hear you are getting bruised faces from the constant pressure of wearing your masks.  We are so sorry to hear that on top of the constant stress of doing your job.  You are all saints!

Keep the Faith my Saint Striving Friends, Scott

 

 

Is It Safe?

Ever since I first watched the 1976 movie, Marathon Man, the question, “Is it safe?” has evoked a sense of fear and pain.  In short, the plot is that a man named Babe Levy (Dustin Hoffman) unwittingly becomes embroiled in a scheme by a Nazi war criminal Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier) to retrieve stolen diamonds from a safety deposit box.

The movie is most remembered for the scene in which Szell, who is also a dentist, poses the question, “Is it safe?” to Babe.  No matter what response is given, he asks the same question again.  Eventually he proceeds to torture Babe with dental tools, again, no matter what answer he gives.  You can nearly feel the pain while watching, brutal…

While obviously not as physically painful, we are all probably suffering in some way from the lack of a good answer to the same question as it relates to the virus.  If you say to yourself, “yes, it’s safe” and venture out into the world, you see nervous people in masks avoiding any interaction with each other like we all have the plague. If you answer “no,” you continue your lonely self-isolation.  Either way there is some emotional pain involved.

Of course the true answer to the general question, “Is it safe?” is painfully obvious and always the same.  No, it’s not safe.  Life is never perfectly safe.  It never has been, it never will be.  We are all at risk of sickness, injury, and death every single day of our lives.  I guess we could always play it safe and rarely venture out, but safe for what purpose?  That’s not living.  Don’t take unnecessary risks, but no risk means no reward.  Strike a healthy balance.

Obviously the difference in this present situation is that there was an immediate threat and seemingly imminent danger to the health of us all, worldwide.  Therefore drastic measures were taken.  Maybe that was the right thing to do based on what we knew at the time.  Maybe not.  We will never know for sure.

The initial projection of U.S. deaths was 2.2 million.  Scary.  The current count is around 65 thousand, slightly more than an average flu season, still growing but at a significantly reduced pace.  Would it have been considerably more without intervention?  Probably.  In hindsight, were the measures taken the right ones.  Probably not.  Did they do more harm than good?  Time will tell, but I’m fairly certain the answer is yes.

Allow me to elaborate.  We now know that 80 percent of those who have died from the virus are over the age of 65.  And nearly all of those under that age who have died had underlying health issues.  It appears we could have limited ourselves to isolating and caring for those folks, and had roughly the same outcome.

Unfortunately I’m afraid the steps taken to avoid a health crisis will in fact create a much bigger one.  They have created record unemployment of those who can least afford it. Combined with record debt and low savings, defaults will escalate.  Even those who have been able to keep working have seen their retirement accounts lose significant value.  People are anxious and depressed which can lead to all sorts of unhealthy behaviors.  Overeating, lack of exercise, abuse of alcohol, drugs, and each other.

Annual deaths caused by suicide, drug overdoses, and alcohol abuse are now in excess of 200,000 annually.  I wonder what it will be this year?  Depressing.  The point is, the negative consequences of the lockdown reach far beyond those contracting and sadly dying from the virus.  The precautionary “cure” has arguably been worse than the disease itself.

So what are we to do?  Well, the main premise of the sAint Me?! book was that if we are all striving to be the saints we are meant to be, we can work together to solve all the world’s problems.  I believe this to be true as it relates to this virus.

Striving saints work to be their best and to share their best with others.  We therefore work to keep ourselves and others healthy.  We also seek to find and live truth.  The truth as I understand it is that unless you have underlying health problems and/or are over age 65, even if you do contract the virus, your symptoms will likely be mild.

If you aren’t feeling well, stay at home until you’re better.  That’s just common sense, common courtesy, and showing respect for your neighbor.  Continue to take the normal precautions of hand washing, cleaning commonly used areas and equipment, and keeping your distance from those who do have high risk factors in order to protect them.

Hopefully with what we know now, more rational and compassionate approaches to containing the virus and limiting its toll will be implemented soon.  Better data usually means better decisions.  Let’s hope that is true and that the politics of an election year don’t interfere with doing what is right for all the people of this great country.

Regardless, there are things we striving saints can do immediately to help:

  • Keep hope alive.  Comfort those in need.  Reach out.  With the technology we all have at our finger tips there is no excuse for not staying in touch with those who need us.
  • Keep your mind and body active.  Learn new things.  Exercise.  Take nature walks or rides.  Be outside.  Eat healthy.
  • Enjoy the calm before the next storm.  Prepare yourself to shape and adapt to a new normal.  Do what you can to influence a better way going forward. Be relentlessly positive and share your joy for the prospects of a quick recovery and a brighter future.
  • Question everything in the comfort of your own mind. You will likely be tempted to accept whatever changes are thrown at you as having been well thought out and necessary.  Unfortunately many will be driven by fear and the desire to limit risk exposure.  Don’t go along to get along when things don’t make sense.  Think things through in a rational and calm manner.  Respectfully express your thoughts and propose alternative solutions when needed.
  • Lastly, or it should be firstly, be grateful for what you have, and generous in helping those in need.  Use the money you have saved on gas, eating out, gym memberships, and your unneeded stimulus windfall to help out local food banks, shelters, and others you know have a need.  And show your support for local businesses to help bring them back to life quickly.

Politicians have a saying, “Don’t let a crisis go to waste.”  Meaning, there are things they can get done in crisis that would not be possible during ordinary times.  I’m not sure that is a good thing as it relates to governance.  Look at how easily we let them take away our freedoms without question.

I prefer the Gandhi approach – “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  The world needs more of you.  More striving saints.  Maybe this crisis has helped you realize that you have so much more to give, and relatively little time to make it happen.  Don’t let your many talents go to waste.  Be the saint you are meant to become.

Be Saintspirational!  Scott

 

Opening Day

We burst through the paper ring, emblazoned in our school colors with a menacing image of our mascot, onto the basketball court for the season opener.  The pep band is playing our fight song, the cheerleaders are revving up the crowd, and our family and friends are cheering us on. It’s game time!

I can still feel the excitement, four decades later.  After months of practice, isolated in the gym for hours on end, we were finally getting the opportunity to show our stuff.  To prove to ourselves and our fans that the grueling workouts, endless line drills, repetitive skills training, monotonous running of plays, and scrimmages have paid off.  Let’s go!

But first, the pep talk.  The locker room was buzzing with nervous energy.  Some at sitting in quiet contemplation, while others slap lockers and each other.  One was pacing like a lion in a case, we stayed away from him.  Another was puking, we stayed far away from him.  Come on coach, we’re ready!  Is it time yet?  Let us out of here!

Coach reminded us of the shared vision and goals we had created as a team for this new season.  About all the hard work we had put in.  Of all the progress we had made; the daily lessons learned and improvement shown.  How each of us had grown and were important to the success of the team.

Then he went through our game plan.  The overall strategy and specific tactics we would employ to give us the best chance of victory.  Sometimes we’d emphasize offense, pushing the tempo.  Others times defense, controlling the pace of the game.  Once the strategy was to stall the entire game, only taking shots that couldn’t be missed, then playing keep away until the clock ran out.  It worked.  We won.  Boring, but effective, thus the invention of the shot clock.

Finally he’d remind us of our individual roles, such as; Froyen, get all over them on defense, get me some steals and rebounds, pass to the guys who can actually score, and don’t shoot unless you have a lay-up.  Got it Coach!  We’d conclude by reciting The Lord’s Prayer for a little help from above, and a single shouted word together, “Team!”

What’s this got to do with anything?  Well, I’m feeling the same anticipation for the opening of our world from our virus lockdown as I did in the locker room so many years ago.  Set me free!  I want to get back into the game of life on the outside world court.

This has got me thinking about what my game plan should be going forward.  What is my strategy?  Will I emphasize offense, defense, or stall?  How about the tactics, what specifically will I do?

It has been a tough “off-season” these last couple months.  So much has changed.  We want things to go back to normal, but what will normal be?  The only thing we can know for sure is that it won’t be what it used to be.  How will it be different?  I don’t know.  I do know that our collective behavior will determine what the new normal is.  And I have my personal hopes and dreams for what it will be.

My hope is that we have all learned what is truly important in our lives, and what is not.  That we will use this knowledge to lead more intentional and impactful lives going forward.  My dream is that we have a renewed sense of purpose that manifests itself in what we choose to do to provide value to each other in our quest to make the world a better and happier place.

A game plan is designed to give you the best chance of winning.  What is winning?   To me it is demonstrating improvement.  Improvement towards what?  Toward realizing my hopes and dreams.  To striving to become the best I can be and to provide value to others in their quest to become the best they can be.  And round and round it goes…

I decided a couple of years ago while writing the sAint Me?! book that my life strategy is to emphasize offense.  I encourage you to do the same.  Too many of us are playing defense or stalling.  We go into a prevent defense trying to protect the lead we believe we have attained in life, or we hold the ball hoping to run out the clock.  Unfortunately a prevent defense only prevents you from winning, and stalling is a boring waste of your time and talents.

My game plan therefore is to play offense through proactively striving to employ the following strategy and tactics.  I call the strategy, playground rules.  The tactics are daily reminders of what to do to live out the strategy and strive to win – continually improve towards achieving my hopes and dreams. Here they are for your consideration:

Strategy – Playground Rules

  • Be virtuous, be good.
  • Be selfish in development and expression of your true self.
  • Be selfless, help others by being you and doing good.
  • Don’t let anyone or anything bully you into being somebody else.
  • Get better every day.

Tactics – Daily Reminders

  1. Play your game. Be your true you. Do the things that make use of your talents and interests, and that provide value to others.
  2. Be good and play nice. Live the heavenly virtues: humility, charity, kindness, patience, chastity, temperance, and diligence.  Be courageous and fearless.
  3. DIG DEEP. Search, find, and live the truth.
  4. Child size your life. Know your needs from your wants. Keep it simple.
  5. Make everything a game. Practice, compete, enjoy.  Winning is improving – strive to get better every day.
  6. Manage your bullies. Don’t let anyone or anything get you down.
  7. Demonstrate selfish-less-ness. Be selfish in development of yourself in order to selflessly provide value to others.
  8. PLAY every day. Ponder, Learn, Act, and Youthify.
  9. Fill your TIP JAR. Work hard to make the world a better place for all.
  10. Help someone every day.

I offer the above as an example of a game plan.  They are obviously summary points, and I hope mostly self-explanatory.  Oh, Dig Deep and Tip Jar are acronyms.  You can refer to the Playground Heaven book to learn more.

So that’s my plan, what is yours?

I urge you to take some time to think about all you have experienced and learned over these past months.  Who do you want to be going forward as a result?  Have you discovered what it truly important to you?  What are your hopes and dreams now?  How will you achieve them?  Do you need to do anything differently as a result?  How will you ensure you don’t go back to business as usual?

So many questions.  Now is the perfect time to consider them before “opening day.”  Give yourself the gift of taking the time to ask and answer them.  Make your own game plan.  Start with your hopes and dreams.  Envision your ideal future.  Then go on offense by developing a winning strategy and specific tactics designed to ensure your ongoing success.

Finally, here is your pre-game pep talk. There is no sugar coating this.  It has been a rough time in history.  You have endured many hardships, a roller-coaster of emotions, and physical isolation over these past several months.  But you have survived.  Yet another life challenge overcome.  Not without a struggle, but you did it.  And you are no doubt stronger as a result.

Now it’s time for a new beginning. It’s time to get back out onto the field of life and do what you were born to do.  To be yourself, your best and happiest self.  To develop and use your talents to provide value to others.  To enrich their lives through living yours to the best of your ability.

You have been preparing your entire lifetime for this moment.  Now is your time to shine.  You know what to do and how to do it.  No one can stop you but you.  Get out of your way and make it happen.  Run out there and show yourself and the world what you can do.  Be your best and give your best.  Make the world a better and happier place. That is winning. We can make it happen.  We can do it together.  Team!

I look forward to seeing you out in the real world very soon:-) Scott

Are We Nearing the End?

One of our striving saints and playground heaven friends sent me an article he had written a while back.  I’ve been looking for the right moment to share it with all of you.  Now seems like that time given that we are hopefully nearing the end of our quarantine journey.

Steve Dickinson is an engineer by training who, following a successful corporate career, ran his own consulting business for 24 years prior to his retirement in 2014.  He is a recognized expert in organizational strategy, planning, and execution with an emphasis in customer focused process improvement.

His business objectives were to; (1) help people, (2) have fun, and (3) make enough money to continue doing 1&2.  He continues to focus on the first two in retirement, and his energy and enthusiasm for doing so are unmatched in my experience.

IMG_0146[1]He and his spouse Helen have traveled most of the country in their RV in addition to visiting many countries around the world.  They volunteer with their church, tend to a sizable garden, and enjoy outdoor activities including kayaking, biking, and fishing when they are at their home in Florida.

I could go on about his many accomplishments, talents, and interests, but without further ado, take it away Steve…

It’s the Journey.  Authored by Steve Dickinson

Have you ever known something but not know it?  Like deep down you knew, but you weren’t aware of it?  As I read Scott Froyen’s book Playground Heaven, I had a sudden realization.  I wrote about it to capture my thoughts and to share it with you.  Here goes….

All throughout our lives we are faced with what I will call “Ends.”  By Ends, I mean that almost all of our activities have some sort of an End, often with an objective attached. Some objectives are serious, like deadlines for projects at work.  Others are assumed, like getting to our destination when we travel.

Recently my wife Helen and I took a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina to see “The Real Christmas Story” at one of our favorite theaters, Narroway Productions. It’s about an 8-hour drive from our home.  Normally we would load up our luggage and take off early in the morning to be sure we got there in time, to reach our End in one long day. With the End mindset, the key to planning is to focus on the destination.

While this has made sense to me for 30 years or so, I think there is something missing. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to know what the End will be when doing something important, such as an important project, or traveling to a specific city for a specific reason.

So, what is missing?  The Journey, how we get to the End. At times, the Journey can be much more important to achieving the Halo High, as described by Scott in his book, than the End itself.  Let me first define the term Journey.

The Journey is all the activities that take place between the start of an event and the End. This includes choosing the event, the planning, the travel itself, the activities, places, and any other things that take place between the start and the End. If it happened after the start and before the End, it happened during the Journey.

Allow me to give you a few real-life examples.

Take our trip to Charlotte.  In the past we had made it a one-day trip.  This time we decided to take an extra day and spend a night in Savannah, Georgia on the way. We have been to Savannah several times, but each of those times it was an End. This time it was part of the Journey.

On departure day, instead of having to get up early and rush out the door for an 8-hour drive, we slept in, leisurely packed and headed out for our brief 4-hour road trip. We got into Savannah in the early afternoon, well rested and ready to enjoy the city.

We stayed downtown on the waterfront where we could walk to wherever we wanted to go.  We did a little shopping, walked to dinner, sat on a bench by the river, watched the freighters go by, and simply enjoyed the evening. In the morning we had a nice breakfast at a French Café, leisurely packed up, and drove the remaining 4 hours to Charlotte.

My intent here is not to fully describe the trip to Savannah, but instead to make the point that hit me like a ton of bricks while reading Scott’s book.  In this case the Journey ended up being just as fun, or maybe even more fun, than the End we had planned. As we think back on the trip, what we talk about most is the stop on the Journey, not the End.

Another example.  During my consulting years a typical week was getting on a plane Sunday afternoon, working long weekdays, flying back home on Friday, and spending Saturday planning for the next trip.  Then back to the airport again … a seemingly endless journey that lasted decades.  Then about 13 years ago we bought a camper, an RV. We began using the RV as a home when I had jobs that would keep me in one place for a while.

In one memorable RV business trip we drove from Florida to Phoenix, Arizona, almost exactly 2000 miles away. I worked for two weeks, coming “home” every night to Helen, and her fabulous home cooked meals! Then we took two weeks off to tour southern Arizona, visiting a few state parks and spending almost a week in Tucson. And then back to Phoenix for two more consulting weeks prior to heading home.  It was a great Journey. I don’t remember much about the work, but we sure remember the Journey.

Ever since I began planning our summer RV trips for the Journey instead of the End, they have been much more relaxing, enjoyable, and memorable.  We take time to explore the local towns and sights, and by doing so we have discovered things we did not know existed, such as South Dakota’s Corn Palace.  We found it by accident, by exploring on our Journey to our End destination.  It’s worth a look on the net, and a visit if you can.

You may be saying, “But I don’t travel like that, how does this apply to me?”  I remember that as a child, mowing the yard was an End I was tasked with accomplishing.  I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time, but to make the Journey fun I made a game out of it, mowing little squares, comparing how long it took for each, and assessing the degree of difficulty each required.

How about walking to school?  Yes we walked to school, no not uphill both ways, but we made all kinds of games up to pass the time, to enjoy the Journey. We’d take different routes, throw buckeyes (I’m from Ohio) at each other, and race to see who could get to a spot first.  We even stopped one day and damned up the local creek, got home in solid mud, and thus our name was mud!   But it was fun, we were on a Halo High. I remember these Journeys vividly to this day, some 60 years later.

Last and most important story.  Three days ago my father passed away.  It fell upon me to help my sister reconcile his estate.  Not an easy task. In this grieving process, it finally dawned on me that his life was over.  The “End” had come for him. There will be no more activities for him to participate in, at least not on this earth. That got me thinking.

Now at the “End” and looking back, what really matters, what is it that the family sits and talks about?  What was it that we talked with him about as he awaited the eventual “End”? Did we talk about goals? Did we talk about milestones?  Did we talk about wealth? No, we talked about the Journey. The Journey we had lived together as a family. We talked about the good times, the things he had taught us, the things we used to do that we would miss dearly.

In closing, let me ask you a few Journey enjoyment related questions:

  1. When you drive to work what do you do to make the time more enjoyable? Music, motivational speakers, allowing yourself time to stop for a coffee, getting to work early so you can relax a little before getting started, taking a different route to change up the scenery?
  2. What do you do when you cook or do other work in the kitchen? Watch a little TV, music, maybe a nice beverage, allow yourself plenty of time so you don’t stress? Is the last dish you put into the dishwasher your beverage glass?
  3. Is all your time spent on the computer trying to get to the End of your email and other responsibilities? Do you promise yourself just a little time for pleasure? For example, I commit myself to one game of Free Cell every time I sit down at the computer. Average time to complete one game is about 2 minutes. Not a huge commitment, but a little fun on the Journey. And when I get a game done in under 1 minute I have a brief shot of the Halo High.
  4. How do you plan your weekends? Do you plan only the Ends, or do you also plan some Journey time as well?
  5. When you are traveling, do you leave enough time to tell the spouse and kids that if they see anything interesting that they’d like to stop for, they can just say so, and you’ll stop and check it out? We have found some wonderful things this way.
  6. How do you incorporate those that are important to you in this Journey called life?

There are Endless examples of the need to enjoy the Journey and not just the End. Give Journey thinking a try, you will like it. You just might find your Halo High along the way.

Be Fearless – There’s an App for That

I am writing this on Easter 2020, stuck at home, no church or family gathering.  So strange!  I find myself on an emotional tilt-a-whirl going from the joy of salvation, to worry for all those suffering directly or indirectly from the pandemic, to fear of the unknown, and finally to hope that a bright future is just around the corner.

I view Easter as the beginning of my spiritual new year.  My resolution is always the same – to work to be a better person than I was the year before.  As you know, my calendar year resolution is to be a happier person.  Taken together, 2020 will be my happiest and betterest year.  Sounds nice!

As mentioned last week, I believe people tend to be better when they are happy, and happy when they are better.  And we are all better and happier when we are striving to be and to give our best for the benefit of others.  Or as I think of it, when we are striving to become the saints we are all meant to be.

Saints are fearless.  They do the right thing no matter what.  They are not afraid.  They take the bible message that is said to appear 365 times, once for each day of the year, to heart:  Fear Not.   Maybe since this is a leap year it is okay to be afraid for one day?  No doubt we already have been.

The definition of fearless is lacking fear.  Is that possible?  To have no fear?  I think not.  Fear is a built-in defense mechanism designed to keep us safe.  But we can all certainly fear-less.  That is what saints do.  They are not without fear, they just fear-less than the rest of us.  And they are willing to face and overcome those things they do fear.

I’m no saint but I do have an app to deal with my fears.  No, you can’t download it to your digital device.  App is an acronym for the three steps you can use to become fear-less.

First let’s review the app that seems to be most in use these days: Avoidance, Paralysis, and Panic.  Avoid facing your fears, become paralyzed, unable to act when forced to face a fear, and therefore panic when it rears its ugly head.  Sound familiar?  There will never be a pandemic that affects me.  Oh no … what to do?  Buy toilet paper!

Here’s a better app to help you become fear-less.  Acknowledge, Prepare, and Prevail.  Here’s how it works.

Step 1 – Acknowledge Your Fears

What do you fear?  Make a list. Some of our common fears are death, illness, social phobias like being judged, not being accepted by others, being alone, being in crowds, and speaking in public.  The thought of running out of money is scary.  Many also have a fear of heights, small spaces, flying, darkness and a variety of creepy crawlies … especially in the dark … ugh!

Make your list.  Be honest and comprehensive.

Step 2 – Prepare to Overcome Your Fears

All fears are future focused.  You may not ever have to face any of them.  But just in case you do, you should have a plan to overcome them. As the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail.

For each item on your list, determine two things; (1) what can you do to mitigate the possibility that you will ever have to encounter your fear, and (2) what will you do when you are forced to come face-to-face with your fear.

Let’s use this pandemic as an example.  It has invoked the fears of illness, death, job and financial loss, and prolonged isolation to name a few.  So what could we have done to mitigate the possibility of encountering these fears?  How about:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Move more and eat less.  Being overweight causes a variety of health problems that make us more susceptible to catching colds, the flu, and this virus.
  • Keep yourself and your surroundings clean.
  • Save for a rainy day. Financial experts have long advised that we all accumulate 6-months’ worth of expenses in savings.
  • Maintain an emergency supply of essentials like food, water, and apparently toilet paper at all times.
  • Keep your Will up to date to ensure your wishes are carried out in a worst-case scenario.
  • Maintain a close relationship with God. It is nice to know you don’t have to deal with your fears on your own.  Be not afraid.

If forced to have a close encounter with your fear, do the following:

  • Envision a positive outcome. Visualize success.  See it clearly in your minds-eye.  Your mind doesn’t know the difference between something you vividly imagine and reality.
  • Keep yourself busy.  An idol mind and body is the devil’s workshop of fear.
  • Lean on your relationship with God. He will help you overcome.

Step 3 – Prevail

This step actually takes care of itself once you have identified your fear and developed plans to overcome them.  You simply work the plan in order to prevail.  Take the actions required to achieve the desired outcomes of your plan.  Be disciplined and consistent in carrying out your plans.

The Hidden Advantage of Fear

Now that you have an app to overcome your fears, let’s learn how to use fear to our advantage.

The thing I fear more than this virus is people’s desire to “get back to normal.”  In my opinion, the old normal is not good.  We are too busy doing things that don’t matter at the expense of those things that do.  I believe this time of self-isolation, surrounded by only those closest to us was given to us for a reason.

Now is the time to define our new normal.  A time to contemplate what we should be doing with our lives, how we can be better and happier people, what we can do to help others do the same.

I use fear to help me do that.  Mainly a fear of regret.  I think way into the future, to my 100-year-old self.  I don’t want to look back with regrets.  So I identify potential regrets now in order to take the actions necessary to avoid them from ever becoming reality.

Here is what I fear.  I fear us as a people continuing down a path in these United States of America where:

  • 78 percent of us live paycheck-to-paycheck
  • Debt for homes, cars, student loans, and credit cards are at their highest levels ever.
  • 70 percent of us are overweight and highly susceptible to serious health issues as a result.
  • The number of suicides, drug related deaths, and addictions are at their highest levels.
  • The population is aging and very few have saved enough money for retirement.
  • The national debt continues to rise with no end in sight.

This list goes on and it all just got worse.  This can’t go on.  We are in big trouble.  Who can save us?  Us!  It starts with each of us individually working to become our best.  Then it takes us working together to solve the significant problems we face.

Each of us have tremendous talents.  Our individual talents tend to complement each another.  If we are all striving to be our best and to give our best for the good of others, then by working together I have confidence we can solve all of our problems over time.  Let’s get started!

Here’s my biggest fear, that I don’t do my part.  That I give up.  That I choose to live out my life in my own little comfortable world and not help those in desperate need.

I’m guessing that many of you are like me.  You are doing well and not significantly impacted by current events.  You have taken care of yourself and planned for a bright future.  Nice work and congratulations!  The world needs people like you now more than ever to help others to achieve your same level of comfort.

What can we do?  I’ll say it again, actively strive to become the saints the world is in desperate need of.  Be fear-less.  Get out there and do what you can.  Don’t live with the regret of knowing you could have done more for your fellow man.

Here’s you challenge for the week.  Apply the fear-less app to overcome one of your fears.  And for bonus points, decide who you will be when things get back to “normal.”  I hope you will decide to become a striving saint.  More on that next week.

Be Fear-less My Friends!  Scott