And on the sixth day, God created … Lust?

“God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply” (Genesis 1:27-28).

In creating us men and women He also gave us sexuality as a means to continue our existence.  And to make sure we did, He made it very good.  Combine our strong sex drive with the gift of freewill and our imperfect nature, and boom…Lust came into existence.

We have successfully multiplied to a worldwide population of 7.8 billion.  Unfortunately we have also created and multiplied other less than fruitful results from our sexual activities.  Sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, pornography, adultery, divorce, single mothers, absent fathers, prostitution, human trafficking.  All problems that just keep getting worse.  You would think the devil had invented our sexual desire.  He has certainly taken advantage of it.

It’s lust versus chastity week in our ongoing series on overcoming the seven deadly sins (vices) with their contrary virtues.  Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.  Intense desire, passion, yearning, longing, lasciviousness.

Chastity on the other hand is the state or quality of being chaste; moral purity.  Celibacy, purity, innocence, abstinence, virtue in both thoughts and actions.

This is a tough one.  As C.S. Lewis pointed out long ago, “Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is no getting away from it; the old Christian rule is, either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.”

Adhering to this view would certainly cure all the problems listed above.  But it is not a popular stance or the prevailing “wisdom” in our current culture.  In fact, I fear chastity is considered a joke to most.  It is ridiculed while lust seems to be celebrated.

In all the other “V” pairings we have explored, there is a fighting chance of living the virtues by utilizing our own ability to control ourselves against the vices.  We can be diligent, temperate, charitable, patient and kind.  I wonder, do we really stand a chance of being chaste in our current culture left to our own devices?

Sex is all around us.  Sex sells.  What would advertisers do without it?  They count on our lustful desires.  And they feed them constantly with words and images.  Movies, television, music, magazines, the internet; It’s all full of lust inducing content.  This constant barrage of visuals has successfully desensitized us to the negative consequences of our lustful behavior.

The prevailing attitude of popular culture tells us that if it feels good, do it.  Why wait?  It’s just sex.  It’s not hurting anyone. Everybody’s doing it.  You only live once.  Bad things won’t happen.  There’s a pill to make sure, and another one just in case.  What’s the big deal?

Lust and sex can ruin lives quickly!  That’s the big deal.  A very short period of pleasure followed by a lifetime of regret and hardship.  Or maybe you get lucky this time.  But luck runs out eventually.  Why do we take the chance?  We want to belong.  We want to be loved.  And we want pleasure now.

So how can we possibly overcome the luster of lust with the unpopularity of chastity?  Unlike the other vices where a little self-control can go a long way toward improving our virtue, we need significant help from above on this one.  Lust is too strong an emotion, and too willingly accepted and promoted by society.  Plus there is the chemical reaction within us that can quickly become a runaway train.  We have little control of the brakes.  We will crash.

Let’s make our first line of defense asking for God’s help.  Ask it often.  Whenever the initial lustful thought begins in our mind, stop and say; “Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil!”  Admit our weakness and ask for strength.

Next, take a stand. Chastity is the courageous choice.  It takes confidence that you are doing the right thing, and determination to not let others persuade you otherwise.   No premarital sex.  No extramarital sex.  A loving faithful relationship with your partner for life.  And welcome children.  Is that all so bad or so difficult?  Or is it too good to be true?  No drama.  No surprises.  I like it!

Avoidance is a good defense as well.  Avoid visual stimuli and situations that can lead to lustful thoughts, words and actions. Don’t feed the beast.  Stop, drop, and roll was my next thought.  You know, the advice we are given if we are on fire.  Best to forget the drop and roll in the case of lust.  Just stop!  Once a lustful thought begins, stop thinking … look away, walk away.

Remember, a person’s body is the body of a person.  Don’t objectify and dwell upon it.  Acknowledge the beauty created by God and move on.  Honor and respect the person.

We all want to be respected and loved.  We all are … by God.  We really don’t need any more than that.  But we want it.  So look for it in all the right places.  Our families.  Find that one person you are meant to spend your life with.  Be patient.  That person will come along.  You will know when they do.  Not because of lust, but because of love. Choose love over lust.  Know the difference.

Lust takes away from another.  You want something from them.  It’s all about you.  Love gives to another.  You want the best for that person.  They are more important to you than you are to yourself.  Amazing!

Here’s your challenge for the week.  Recognize all the lustful words and images that you are subjected to in one day.   Start a count in your head as you begin your day.  You will be amazed at how many there are.  You will likely lose track by noon.  That’s fine.  The purpose of the exercise is simple awareness.  Then think of one way you can reduce that daily count for yourself.  Start doing whatever that is immediately.

Godspeed, Scott

I Want an Oompa Loompa Now!

This week’s installment of how to use the 7 heavenly virtues to defeat the 7 deadly sins:  Charity versus Greed.  I woke up this morning thinking about the movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  This was my favorite movie as a kid and remains so to this day.  I’m going to assume you have seen it.  If not, stop reading and go watch the original version from 1971.  It is one of the best feel good movies ever produced.

Spoiler alert – Charlie ends up winning the factory by demonstrating his strong moral character.  All the other kids involved lose due to their over-indulgence in some particular vice; mainly gluttony, greed and pride.  My favorite was “I want it now!” girl who demanded her father buy her an Oompa Loompa and a Golden Goose.  Now that’s greedy!  She ends up being declared a bad egg and falling down a garbage chute to the furnace.    Mr. Wonka states that the furnace is only lit every other day, so she has a sporting chance of survival.  If you have 3 minutes to spare, you can check out that scene here.

On the other hand, Charlie resists the greedy urge to sell his Everlasting Gobstopper to Slugworth.  And that selfless act won him the factory.  The movie ends with Mr. Wonka reminding Charlie not to forget about the man who suddenly received everything he ever wanted. Charlie asks, “What happened?” to which Wonka replies, “He lived happily ever after.”  I don’t think that is necessarily true in this life.  But living a life of virtue may get you to the next, eternal life in heaven … which must have a chocolate factory, right?!

Greed is an extreme desire for wealth or material gain. Covetousness, materialism.  Also known as avarice; an insatiable desire for riches; the inordinate miserly desire to gain and hoard wealth.  Acquisitiveness, cupidity, selfishness, miserliness, stinginess.

We all know the bible verse (1 Timothy 6:10) that states that, “For the love of money is the root of all evils.”  We all need some amount of money to meet our basic needs and to enable us to achieve our mission in life.  As we discussed regarding temperance earlier, the big question is, what do we truly need?  Tough question.  Or maybe the answer is just not what we want to hear.

As Jesus chose his disciples he told them to leave everything they owned and follow Him.  I’ve always assumed they didn’t have much back then.  Still it must have been a tough decision.  Like it was for the rich man who asked Jesus what he had to do to get to heaven.  He was told to sell everything he had and give to the poor.  The man sadly walked away from that challenge.  Is that what we are asked to do too?  I don’t know.  I think we all need to let our conscience, or maybe the Holy Spirit, be our guide.  Have you every seriously contemplated the question: “How much money and stuff do I really need?”

As with gluttony, the line between needs and wants is blurry in our instant gratification culture.  Advertisers are brilliant in their portrayal of wants as needs.  Plus we can have what we want now and pay later.  Why wait?  What’s the problem?  I recently read that credit card and student loan debt are at the highest levels ever recorded.  By contrast, the savings rate is at its lowest level.  That’s a problem.  Another impending crisis.  Oh, and the national debt is a record $26.5 trillion, about $80,000 for every citizen … Wow!

Greed seems to be winning.  At the same time, I don’t think any of us would call ourselves greedy.  I don’t know anyone I would call greedy.  No miserly Scrooge types.  I know a lot of people with a lot of stuff, including me.  They are all also very generous, donating their time and money to good causes.  Is that greedy?  Maybe.  Mostly I think it’s pride.  Keeping up with the Joneses.

I’ve bought a lot of stuff.  Looking back and asking why, I don’t think greed or pride was the reason.  Rather it was a search for happiness.  Maybe that is pride.  Or maybe spending was an unconscious strategy to keep me going to work.  I really don’t know.  But I do know the stuff only made me happy temporarily.  Like a kid at Christmas.  Get a bunch of toys, play with them for a while, and then move on to wanting something else.

I’m going to conclude that most of our accumulation of stuff is the result of attempting to buy happiness.  It doesn’t work.  It’s a vicious cycle.  We buy stuff because we’re unhappy, and we’re unhappy because we buy stuff.  It’s time to stop the madness.  To start a new cycle, one of saving and giving.

Charity is the voluntary giving of help to those in need.  Kindness and tolerance in judging others.  Aid, relief, alms, philanthropy, benevolence, goodwill, compassion, consideration, concern, kindness, sympathy, indulgence, tolerance, leniency.

Charity is giving of your time, talent, and treasure with no expectation of receiving anything in return.  It’s giving with an attitude of gratitude.  The strange thing is, the more you give the more you seem to get.  Apparently it’s a law of nature.  And it makes you happy too.  Way happier than owning stuff.  Think about it, don’t you enjoy giving gifts more than receiving them?

I have this crazy dream of developing a tiny house community of striving saints.  Not like a cult or commune or closed society.  Just a place for like-minded people to live a life of simplicity and service.  Residents would be normal members of society with regular jobs and lives.  I’m not sure how the raising children thing would work.  Maybe they get their own even tinier place, or a tree house?  It’s just a nice place to live and learn from each other.  To inspire each other to live virtuously and with a sense of purpose.  To serve others and become our best selves.

Why tiny houses?  Because it would require us to give most of our stuff away.  To only keep the things we really need.  Like only the stuff that would fit in a 400-square foot area.  For us that would mean getting rid of about 85 percent of our belongings.  Could you do it?  If you’ve never seen a tiny house, check out these models.

Another advantage of living with less is that you have less to do.  It frees up your time.  No yard work, little cleaning, and more desire to get out of that tiny space and do something useful in the world.  To be charitable.

Here’s your challenge for the week.  First, actually count your blessings.  Write them down, everything you are grateful for.  Next, think about what you would do if you were actually moving to a tiny home.  What would you keep?  What would you do with the rest?  Start doing that now in some small way.  Give away one thing to charity this week.  And let me know if you want to invest in the tiny house community.  I’m joking, well kind of…

Yours in Gracious Giving, Scott



Lions and Sloths and Bears, Oh My!

Did you practice your temperance last week?  Melanie went to the grocery store without me, under protest.  She came back with a receipt that represented 75 percent need and only 25 percent want.  And she saved $25 off our normal weekly bill which will allow the food bank to provide 100 meals to families in need.  On the downside, she informed me I will be going to the store with her in the future for my own good, whatever that means.

Moving on to the fifth in our series of the 7 heavenly virtues and their opposing 7 deadly sins; Diligence and Sloth.

First a few definitions to justify the title and enhance your trivia knowledge.

  • A group of lions is called a pride. Pride is the deadliest of the sins as we covered previously.
  • A sloth is a cute little slow-moving mammal.
  • A group of bears is called a sloth. Less deadly than a pride, but still scary.

I like to think of the vice of sloth as a cross between the cute little mammal and the scary bears.  It’s both alluring and frightening.

Sloth is a reluctance to work or make an effort.  Laziness, idleness, inactivity, inertia, sluggishness, shiftlessness, apathy, listlessness, lethargy, complacency, indifference.  Ugh, I need a nap.  Sloth is not doing what you know you should do. Doing the bare minimum needed to get by.  Wasting your valuable time and energy.

While rest is necessary to rejuvenate ourselves occasionally, too much will lead to unhappiness and even depression.  Have you ever slept too long and felt groggy all day?  It’s that feeling.  Sloth zaps your energy.  Being lazy tends to make you even lazier, it’s a vicious cycle.  So why would we ever be slothful?

Because doing nothing is always easier than doing something.  Or, since we are always actually doing something, it is more accurate to say that doing something easy is easier than doing something hard.  We want to do easy things, we avoid doing the hard stuff.  Unless we have a strong motivation, like we need money to survive so we do the hard things necessary to earn it.

You are obviously a diligent person or you wouldn’t be reading this.  I’ll bet you are really busy too.  I wonder, can we be busy and slothful at the same time?  I think the answer is yes.  Busy doesn’t always mean productive.  It’s easy to get busy doing the wrong things.  Like doing all your easy tasks instead of the more difficult that you know you should be doing.  I’m sure we all do at times. Avoidance and procrastination are sure signs of sloth for me.

This is getting a little depressing, time to turn it around.  I saw a funny sign once.  It said, “Dear Optimist and Pessimist, while you were arguing about whether the glass was half full or half empty, I drank it.  Signed the Opportunist.”  Let’s seize the opportunity to overcome sloth with diligence.

Diligence is careful and persistent work or effort.  Conscientiousness, dedication, commitment, tenacity, perseverance.  Doing what you were meant to do with passion.  Making a positive difference for the benefit of others.  Taking action.  Being proactive.  Focusing your efforts on important work.  Avoiding distractions.  Determination and persistence in the pursuit of worthwhile goals.  Now that’s exciting and energizing!

You immediately know when you cross paths with someone who is living a life of diligence. They are enthusiastic, passionate, energetic, positive, happy, determined and in constant pursuit of excellence in all that they do.  They are inspiring and motivating.  They know their purpose and mission in life.  You want to be around them and to be like them.

God has given each of us a number of gifts.  Chief among them Life, Talents, Free Will, Time, and His Grace along the way.  I believe He also gave us all a personal mission, but that is a huge topic for another time.  And I believe He gave us all a common purpose; to come back to Him.

Think about it.  God gave us all these great gifts.  What does He expect in return?  No one really knows.  Maybe nothing.  He did give us a few commandments.  Love Him and neighbors (everyone else).  Maybe that’s it.  But how do we show our love?

Personally I feel a responsibility to use my great gifts to become the best me I can be.  To serve others using the time and talents I’ve been blessed with.  And to behave morally, to pursue virtue.  That’s my purpose.  I actually think we all share that purpose.  To do the best we can and eventually make it back to God.  To be saints.

I attempt to do this through using a simple three-step daily process I call TAP, as in tap my potential.  It stands for Think, Act and Pray.  Check it out and give it a try.

Think – Be aware of the choices you make.  Interesting, as I just typed “be aware,” I left out the space.  Spellcheck changed it to “beware.”  Sometimes I think my mistyping is not accidental.  Like in this case, beware is a good warning.  As in, if you are not in a continuous state of awareness about the choices you are making, beware of the consequences.

Being aware is the #1 thing we can do immediately to avoid sloth and practice diligence.  To make conscious choices in line with our purpose.  To be the best we can be for the benefit of others.  My friend Jim is so clear about this purpose; “To make it to Heaven and bring as many others with me as I can.”  He has a clear focus that guides his daily activities.  There is no time for sloth in his life!

How do we do that?  By doing what matters most and avoiding what matters least.  By focusing our time and attention on the important things in life.  Our health, our relationships with God and others, continually learning, and actively developing our talents and using them to serve others.

Here’s the thinking question I ask myself many times in a day.  What’s Important Now (WIN)?  This is a question Lou Holtz asked his players to think about each time they had a choice to make about how to spend their time.  Actually this is both a what and why question.  What should I do and why should I do it?  The why answer should be that it helps us fulfill our purpose.

As I have become more spiritual, and in the spirit of striving to become a saint, I now ask God this question often, “What should I do next to bring JOY to the world.”  By joy I mean something that is showing love for Jesus and Others, and helping You to become your best self.  Are three acronyms in one article too much?  Moving on with TAP…

Act – Take action.  Once you have thought through your options to WIN and bring JOY, make your choice.  Then make it happen.  Have no fear.  No avoidance or procrastination allowed.

Pray – Think and pray are overlapping for me.  I think that is a good thing. Thinking on our own without help from above can be dangerous.  So in addition to the WIN and JOY questions throughout the day which asked in prayer and followed up by thought, I make sure to start and end each day with prayer.

To start the day: “Thank you for the opportunity of a new day, please guide my activities, and give me strength to carry on.”  To end: “Thank you for the help in the things I did well. I’m sorry for my failings.  I resolve to do better tomorrow.  And thank you for the great gifts You have blessed me with, and for the opportunity to use them to benefit others and to make the world a better place.”

That’s it, three simple daily steps to being diligent.  Personally I think diligence is the key to overcoming all the vices.  The ability to control our behavior begins and ends with diligence.  We must be determined, persistent, and consistent in exercising self-discipline to do what we know we should do, and to avoid all else.

Need some practice?  Pick one thing you will do this week to be more diligent and less slothful.  Something simple.  Make it fairly easy.  Like replacing a half hour of television or phone time every day with prayer or reading the bible.  Or wake up a half hour earlier and go for a walk.  Think and Act and Pray on one thing.  You can do it!

Have Joyful Week!


The Fast Path to Temperance

Next up in our review of the 7 heavenly virtues and their opposing deadly sins; overcoming the vice of gluttony with the virtue of temperance.

Gluttony is a deadly sin … literally.  The number one killer in our society is heart disease, mainly caused by obesity, which is primarily the result of eating too much (gluttony) and moving too little (sloth).  We’ll tackle sloth next week, I don’t have the energy for it today … ha.

Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than what one requires.  Overeating, insatiability, piggishness, voraciousness. Drinking to excess.

The latest statistics show that over 70 percent of adults and 35 percent of children in America are overweight or obese.  Those numbers have each risen 5 percentage points in the last two years … ugh!  The statistics related to alcoholism and drug addiction continue to deteriorate rapidly as well.

I could go on about all the problems we have related to gluttony, but I likely wouldn’t be telling you anything you don’t already know.  Let’s focus on the solution instead … Temperance.

Temperance is moderation or self-restraint, especially in eating and drinking.  Self-control, self-discipline, self-denial, abstinence, restraint, moderation.

The virtue of temperance is focused on meeting our needs.  In contrast, the vice of gluttony is consumed with fulfilling our wants.  Meeting our basic need for food and drink is temperance.  Anything beyond our basic need is want, and can therefore be considered gluttony.

Have you ever heard the saying, “You sure are a glutton for punishment?”  Gluttony does indeed carries its own punishment. We cause our own health problems by our gluttonous behavior.  Then why do we do it?  Because temperance is hard.  But why?  Because we have to control our appetites.  Wait, that shouldn’t be hard.  We should be in total control of ourselves, right?  Our own behavior is the only thing we really have control over.  Or do we?  Apparently not!

Why is it so difficult to control our cravings?  I think part of it has to do with our definition of needs and wants.  There seems to be confusion about the distinction between the two.  The line between them has been blurred by our expectations.  When we finally get something we want, it somehow magically transforms itself into a need from that point forward, resulting in a never ending “needs” escalation.

For instance, I’m fascinated by the way people describe their needs on those home buying shows on HGTV.  All we really need in a home is the structure; a solid foundation, walls, and a roof over our head.  Well, electricity and plumbing are nice too.  The rest is all want.  But the prospective home buyers always use the word “need” instead of want in describing all that they are looking for in a home.  Do we really need a modern open concept home with an infinity pool and an ocean view?

For purposes of this discussion I propose the following as our working definitions of need and want:

Need – That which is required, necessary, essential … Temperance.

Want – Everything else.  Desires, cravings, excess … Gluttony.

When I catch myself saying that I need something that I actually just want, I remind myself of the movie “The Jerk.”  Specifically the scene where Navin Johnson (played by Steve Martin) is shuffling out of his mansion picking up ridiculous things he says he needs.  If you need or want a 3-minute laugh, check out this scene …

So what do we truly need to eat and drink?  The simple answer is, enough to survive.  I could go into daily calorie and water needs, or bore you with a discussion of vitamins and minerals.  But since our goal is to inspire and motivate ourselves to become more temperate, let’s try something different.  I find that making myself feel guilty about something is a good way to change my behavior.  So lets try this…

I reviewed our last grocery store receipt and labeled each item as either a need or a want.  The result was roughly 30 percent need and 70 percent want.  I noticed that the needs corresponded with the things Melanie picked out, and the wants were primarily mine.  Oops!

We shop weekly and the amount is usually about the same, $100.  I wondered how much we spend on wants in a year, so I multiplied $100 x 52 weeks x 70%.  The result, $3,640.  Wow, that’s a lot of want, or let’s just call it waste to add to the shame.

Then I wondered how many meals could have been provided to the hungry with our annual wasted dollars?  The Food Bank of Iowa states that they can provide 4 meals for every dollar contributed to them.   4 x $3,640 = 14,560 meals.  Okay now I feel really guilty.  I’m a horrible person!  Makes ya think, doesn’t it?!

Here is what I am going to do to become more temperate.  I’m going to Fast.  The fast way to becoming more temperate is to Fast.  A fast is to abstain entirely from or limit food.  I’m going to attempt to limit my food and drink intake to my needs, not my wants.

There are many ways to fast.  I’m no expert.  I think of it as denying myself in some way.  In this case, from food I want but don’t really need.  I thought about starting small, with one food type and then adding others over time.  But I know that won’t work for me.  I’ve tried it before.  I end up substituting one bad food for another and defeat the purpose.  The cold turkey approach works much better for me.  You are probably more disciplined.

Know thyself and choose your own approach.  Fast from one thing for a day, week, year, forever.  Fast between meals.  Fast from a meal each day for a week.  Fast entirely for a day.  Or try intermittent fasting, like not eating for 16 consecutive hours each day.  Do whatever works to help you become more temperate.

To deny myself my wants, I simply won’t buy them.  If I don’t have the wants in the house I can’t eat them.  Brilliant!  Maybe we can reduce our grocery bill in half.  We’ll donate it to a food bank resulting in providing over 10,000 meals annually to the hungry in Iowa.  Interesting, by becoming more temperate we are also becoming more charitable.  Growing virtue in one area tends to grow it in others as well…Nice!

I just realized that the best way for me to succeed in my temperance quest is to not go to the grocery store at all.  Melanie can do all the shopping since she only buys our needs anyway.  Another brilliant strategy.  Think she’ll buy it?  No way!

Here’s the challenge for the week; Fast from one of your food wants.  Pick just one.  One you know you shouldn’t eat anyway.  You can do it!

To Your Health, Scott


Winner Stays

I wrote the following chapter of the Playground Heaven book for my Dad.  Today is his birthday, so I’m sharing it with you all as a tribute to him.  Please join me in wishing him a happy birthday on his facebook page here.

“I’ll bet you twenty dollars to your one dollar that I can beat you in a mile.” My Dad was forty-years-old, and I was fifteen at the time he issued this challenge. He ran almost every day and was an outstanding athlete in his day. I had just completed my freshman year of high school, where I was a member of the basketball and tennis teams. I was young and confident that there was no way this old man could beat me. He goaded me into accepting the bet by contending that I was in no shape to beat him. Oh, it’s definitely on, old man. The ensuing race shaped the views I have had on the importance of winning and the value of competition ever since.

We set a date that was a couple of weeks away. I knew my dad could run a mile in about six minutes, so I thought I better do a timed practice run to make sure I had a chance. I decided to run four times around the track, one mile in total, in under a minute and a half for each lap, thinking it would be no problem. At the end of the first lap, I was gasping for air and barely made it under the desired time. There was no way I could keep that up. I slowed down to catch my breath and completed the mile in just over seven minutes. This was going to be trouble. I would never hear the end of it if I lost. It was time to practice. I went to the track every day intending to beat my time from the day before. I had two weeks to get it under six minutes.

Race day arrived, and I was feeling good. I knew it was going to be close, but I had given myself a fighting chance with all the hard work. If I could stay close to him throughout the race, maybe I could sprint past him at the end. I thought having the younger legs near the finish would be my only chance. As we began, just as I suspected, he set the pace. It seemed too fast right from the start. I struggled to keep up but knew I should be able to unless he had gotten faster. I really don’t remember much after that until we came around the last bend. I had fallen a few yards behind and decided it was time to go all out. To my surprise, my legs felt fresh, my breathing was relaxed, and I got a sudden burst of energy. I took off as fast as I could go, passed him coming out of the turn, and amazingly, I beat him to the line.

I didn’t expect what happened next. There was no thrill of victory, only relief that there was no agony of defeat. I was glad to have won, yet sad my dad didn’t. I felt satisfaction for having overcome his challenge but realized I had a lot of work in front of me to reach his level of fitness. I was gasping for air while he was breathing normally nearly immediately. He offered congratulations and seemed happy that I had won. It made me wonder if he had let me win. He assured me he hadn’t. I think he was happy to have proved his point and that I had finally beat him at something. As we walked home from the track, I felt strangely melancholy about the whole experience. I should have been on top of the world. I beat my dad. What was wrong with me?

The rest of the day, I couldn’t shake the feeling. I kept telling myself to snap out of it. I went for a run in an attempt to sort out my thoughts. Why was I sad and not glad? Was it because I beat my dad who I respected so much? Was it the realization that he was right about my fitness level? Why was the race so anti-climactic? I had been looking forward to the competition ever since I had realized I had a chance to win. The training had given me confidence. My strategy of staying with him and then out-sprinting him to the line actually worked. I had seen it happen in my mind’s eye and experienced the thrill of victory. Then it hit me. I had visualized it so realistically in my head that it was like it had already happened. I had won the race before it even started. The actual race was nothing more than a replay of the virtual experience. That must have been the reason for my lack of excitement in the moment.

That explanation seemed reasonable, but I knew there was more to it. I went for a run every day that summer, and my thoughts always wandered back to race day. I had to figure out what continued to trouble me about it. I thought a lot about the importance of winning. By now, you know I like those motivational locker room signs. They say, “Play to Win,” and “Winning is Everything,” and “Winning is the Only Thing.” I assumed that since winning was everything, it would result in happiness. I won, so I should be happy, right? I sure was when I was a little kid. Something was wrong.

On the playground, the rule was, “Win to stay in,” or “Winner stays” for short. As long as you kept winning, you got to keep playing. My motivation to win was sky-high because I always wanted to be playing. I hated losing on the playground, but I was happy as long as I was playing. Although I lost nearly every game on the baseball diamond during that same time, I didn’t mind that. I wasn’t happy about it, but it didn’t make me sad. Why not? Maybe since the game ended whether we won or lost? There was no winner stays incentive.

The main thing I realize when I look back is that, as the years went by, my desire to win was never as important as my desire to improve. Winning was nice, but improvement was my goal. I also noticed that by focusing my attention on improving rather than winning, I ended up winning more often. I was happy when I was developing my skills and happiest when that improvement showed itself in competition. As long as I saw improvement, I was okay with losing. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t hate it. It motivated me to continue the quest for improvement. If I competed well, that was a win for me, regardless of the actual outcome. I realized that if I changed my definition of winning to demonstrating improvement, then yes, winning is everything.

This new definition changed everything for me because winning was now always within my control. Some may call my version of winning a moral victory; finding some good in the competition even when officially losing. I see it as a mortal victory. We are all human, mere mortals, and we are going to lose games often in our lifetimes. The best in the world lose occasionally. Even though they have become the best, they still work hard every day to improve. That’s how they became champions, and that’s how they will stay champions. The same holds true for us.

As I began to win more, I started to feel bad for my losing opponents. In fact, if I knew I was going to win easily, I would keep the score close so that my challenger would feel like they had a chance and would keep playing hard. Winning or losing in a blowout is never fun. A game is more fun when the competition is close. I loved the competition and the challenge of winning a close battle, but I was emotionally conflicted whenever I won a tight match. I was thrilled for myself but empathetic toward my opponent, just like I felt in defeating my Dad. I wanted to win, but I didn’t want him to lose.

Next, I thought about how I felt in defeat. If the score was close, and I had given my best effort, I felt fine. I was happy for my opponent and determined to win the next time. Interesting. I’ve been thinking all along in a win-lose mentality; if I win, you lose. But that isn’t necessarily true with my newfound definition of winning. I can lose and still feel like a winner if I demonstrated improvement and gave my best effort. And if that is true for me, it’s true for others. So I don’t need to feel bad for them. Both sides can win.

Let’s see, what does any good parent want for their children? A good parent wants their child to be successful and happy. My dad got both that day. Let’s look at what he got out of the race. By challenging me to a race, he got a kid who realized he was out of shape and did something about it. In fact, I’ve been fit and healthy nearly all of my life because of that one challenge. I ended up with a new definition of winning that has helped me succeed in almost everything I have done ever since. Focusing your efforts on continuously improving yourself is a winning formula for life. Thanks, Dad.

Armed with a new definition of winning, my thoughts turned to the value of competition. I had just seen my mile time improve by a full minute in two weeks. Had I not been issued a competitive challenge, that would have never happened. Maybe I would have never become a lifelong fitness enthusiast. That one competition was life-altering for me. Recalling it solidified my view that competition is a key ingredient to living the Playground Heaven life and achieving the Halo High often. Competition motivates us to improve and improving is winning. Competition creates winners.

From that point forward, in addition to making everything a game, I made everything a competition. Competition makes games more fun. The closer the competition, the more fun the game because competition inspires you to reach higher than you would otherwise. Through competition, we are pushed, and we motivate others to ever-higher levels of performance. Everybody wins in a hard-fought competition.

I do realize there are those who see competition as something to be avoided nowadays. They don’t like that some will have their feelings hurt when they fail to win. They see competition as a win-lose proposition and tie it to self-esteem. They fear losing and thereby avoid competition altogether. Or they give everyone a participation trophy. It seems they think that competitive people are horrible, terrible, no good, very bad people who will lie, cheat, and even steal from their mothers to win. They think they will do anything to win and that they don’t care who they hurt along the way. I suppose those people do exist, but they certainly aren’t the norm.

I believe this anti-competitive mindset only sets us up for failure. We will never become all we were born to be by avoiding competition. Whether we like it or not, we are all in this competition called life. We can play to win by striving to improve, or we can settle for good enough. But you weren’t meant to be mediocre, and you will always know you could have been more. It is impossible to shake that unfulfilled feeling of knowing you should do more and be more. If you think you are avoiding potential disappointment by avoiding competition, please think again.

See it for what it truly is, an opportunity to push yourself to become your best, and to help others do the same. I see the real competition as between the person I am, and the person I am capable of becoming. When we all compete to win, we all win by continually improving. We win by working together to push each other to higher levels of performance than we could achieve on our own. There is no thrill greater than working hard to achieve something difficult and succeeding. It is the ultimate Halo High.

Here’s another definition of winning for your consideration: striving to be your best and give your best for the benefit of others. The object of the game of life is to develop our talents, serve others, and behave virtuously. How are you doing? Are you winning? We are all running this race called life as members of the same team, the human race team. Winning is making the world a better and happier place. If we all do our part, we can make that happen. Keep playing and striving to improve. Win every day; do something to get better than you were yesterday. Challenge others to do the same. Improving is winning, and winning is fun.

Now for the rest of the dad race story. Ten years later, when I was twenty-five years old and he was fifty, we ran a 20 kilometer (12.4 mile) race together. We finished with an identical time of one hour and thirty-seven minutes. I know beyond a reasonable doubt that he could have easily won that day, but he chose to run for a tie. I consider it a win for him, tying us one-one in our head-to-head lifetime running match-up. It was the last official race we ran. But, and I hate to admit this, I ran the same 20 kilometer race when I was fifty years old. My time was two hours and three minutes, a full twenty-six minutes behind the time my dad ran at the same age. I concede. Dad, you win two-one. Wait, you’re eighty-six now, and I’m only sixty-one. Want a chance to get your twenty dollars back?

Happy Birthday, Dad!  Love, Scott

Look Out, Here Comes the Green-Eyed Monster!

Guess who coined the term, “the green-eyed monster,” and in what book it was first used?  Might as well just give you the answer and save you a 15 second search; William Shakespeare, Othello.  I’m “green with envy” at how quickly the kids of today can get an answer to any simple question.  Remember going to the library and using something called a card catalog?  Is that even a thing anymore?

Envy is a feeling of discontent or resentment aroused by a desire for someone else’s possessions, abilities, status, or situationJealousy, covetousness, resentment, bitterness, discontent.

Most of the deadly sins are tempting because of the temporary pleasure they appear to provide.  Sloth is relaxing.  Gluttony brings us tasty treats.  Greed buys us something fun.  And with wrath we get to let off some steam.  Envy on the other hand does nothing but make us unhappy.  There is no upside to it … so stop it!

Envy causes us to think the worst of and for others.  This is obviously not a “Love your Neighbor” outlook.  Unchecked envy sets off a vicious cycle of resentment, anger, hatred and wrath.  It leads to the sins of gossip and lies, and maybe even violence.  For what?  Do we really think tearing down others will build us up?  In fact, it does quite the opposite.

Seriously, what is there to envy in another that you don’t already have?  Stuff, material possessions?  Do they really matter?  Once we have met our basic needs, the rest is all want.  Maybe even greed.  Should we envy greed?

What about the attributes and accomplishments of another?  Should we envy those?  Why not admire them and use them as inspiration and motivation to do the same?  To use our talents and abilities to achieve great things in this world.  We should be grateful for all that we already have, and for all that we are. Let’s build on that.

Yet we continue to envy.  Why?  Is it our competitive nature?  Our need for recognition?  The desire to prove our self-worth to ourselves and others?  All of the above and more?  Sometimes I think envy is just an excuse for our own lack of becoming the person we know we can and should be.

My personal opinion is that we are envious because we tend to get our sense of self-worth by comparing ourselves to others.  Here’s the problem.  There will always be someone else who has more possessions, abilities, and status than you.  We set ourselves up for constant disappointment with this outlook.  So stop the comparisons!

Do you think God compares us to each other?  Or does He instead compare us to the ideal He has in mind for us?  How about we do the same?  How about you compare your present self to the best possible self that you can imagine becoming?  Then set out to be that person.  Become the saint you are meant to be!

That is what true champions do.  By champion I mean someone who has become the best in their field of endeavor.  Champions don’t worry about beating someone else to become the best.  They continually strive to become the best they can possibly be.  Their outlook and attitude is what gets them to the top and keeps them there.  They have an ideal state for themselves in mind that they aspire to achieve.  Being better than others is merely a result of their efforts, not their aim.

I find it interesting that all great champions have a rival.  I’m thinking about sports in particular here, but I’ll bet this has general applicability.  They have someone to compete with who serves to make them better.  They push to make each other better.  And in doing so they both achieve a higher level of performance than they would have on their own.

These rivalries are often portrayed as bitter at the time they are happening.  Yet as time passes, the rivals nearly always become friends.  They have a deep respect for each other and an appreciation for what they got from the other to help them achieve excellence.  That’s the other side of envy; brotherly love.  Let’s call it the virtue of kindness.

Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.  Caring, helpful, thoughtful, unselfish, selfless, altruistic, compassionate, sympathetic, understanding, big-hearted, benevolent, friendly, hospitable, neighborly.

Kindness wants the best for others.  We are truly happy for their success.  We are inspired and motivated by who they are and what they are achieving.  We want to help them and learn from them.  We know that by working together we can all achieve more.

Life is not a zero-sum envy game.  Your win is not my loss.  We can all win.  We can push each other to achieve more than we could on our own.  We can be friendly rivals, encouraging each other to pursue excellence.  To becoming the saints we are all meant to be.

Two familiar sayings just popped into my wandering mind.  A rising tide lifts all boats, and loose lips sinks ships.  I think these mean that kindness to each other keeps all of our boats afloat, but take care to navigate around the rocks of envy that are always lurking in our path.

Like charity, kindness extended with no expectation of a return always comes back to you in some positive way.  So help others become their best selves.  Believe and know that somehow that will help you in your efforts to become your best.

As with the other virtues, kindness begins with an attitude of gratitude.  If you are truly grateful for who you are and what you have, there is no need or room for envy.  And be grateful for the good fortune of others as well.  Let those around you know how much you respect and admire them.  Especially those whom you might have envied in the past.

Here’s your challenge to help you get over envy, and to enhance your kindness;  Pray for those you envy.  Pray that they continue to be blessed with all the good things in this life, and that they remain in God’s good graces.  I find it impossible to pray for someone with envy in my heart.  Try it for yourself.

I feel much better now.  That sick green feeling is gone.  Ending envy might just be the quickest path to lasting happiness.

To Your Ongoing Happiness, Scott

Yeah, Yeah, Patience – How Long is That Gonna Take?!

Did you successfully complete your humility challenge last week?  Did you apologize to someone?  Did you have a friendly debate?  If so, I’ll bet it tested your patience.  It sure did mine.

Therefore this week’s “V” topic is how to use the virtue of patience to overcome the vice of wrath.  Developing the “patience of a saint” to avoid the “wrath of God.”

Wrath is angry, violent, or stern indignation.  Anger, rage, fury, outrage, displeasure, annoyance, irritation, ire, madness.  Until thinking about this vice in more depth I equated anger with wrath.  In fact, I usually used the word anger instead of wrath in my talks since it is the more relatable term.  Upon further review though, I see a very important difference.

In my daily bible reading I came across a verse that had never stuck out to me before.  It states, “Be angry but do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).  Apparently anger alone is not a sin.  Makes sense now that I think about it.  Jesus was sinless yet he got angry a few times as I recall.  Like overturning the money changer’s tables in the temple.  Or calling the religious leaders of the time hypocrites quite often.

Jesus’ anger was righteous indignation at sin that was being committed.  Of course he was angry at the sin, not the sinner.  He obviously showed great love for the sinner.  We are called to do the same, to be angry at the sin we see in the world.  That anger is designed to spur us to action to avoid sin ourselves, and to not put up with it in others as well.

But we must take care to hate the sin, but love the sinner.  To judge not, lest we be judged.  Remember, He will forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

So what exactly is the deadly sin of wrath then?  Anger directed at a person is wrath.  And anger that is generated by something other than a sin is wrath.  Well technically maybe it’s not wrath unless you act out in some way.  But even just feeling angry is detrimental to your spiritual, mental, and physical health.

Here is my personal wrath test.  When I am feeling annoyed, disturbed, upset, disappointed, or angry about something I ask myself:

Is this feeling the result of a sin that has been committed by myself or someone else?

  • If no, get over it immediately and move on with your life.
  • If yes, do something about it immediately to improve the situation.

If you allow yourself to get angry about situations that should just be forgotten, you risk being upset and unhappy most of your life.  Why would we do that to ourselves?  But many of us do.

Similarly, even when there is a good reason to be upset, if you don’t take some action to alleviate the pain, you are at high risk of letting your anger fester and grow into wrath, hate, and rage.

Usually it is so very easy to get over our anger.  It involves two simple steps; forgiveness and gratitude.  Forgive yourself or the offending party.  Remember what really matters and be thankful for all the good in your life.

Here are a few hypothetical situations to illustrate the wrath test:

Situation 1 – Your spouse has the television remote control.  You are enjoying watching a recorded show together.  She, oops, I mean they keep forgetting to fast forward through the commercials.  You politely remind her, ah, them several times but it keeps happening.

Test – Are you annoyed?  Yep.  Angry? Getting there with each commercial break.  Is it a sin not to fast forward?  I guess not … okay, definitely not.  Did you manage to keep your mouth shut and just go with the flow?  Amazingly yes.  Nice work, no wrath…this time.  Keep up the great work, that takes true patience.  Maybe the patience of a Saint?  Not really…but it’s a start.

Situation 2 – You are driving and approaching an intersection as the light turns green.  As you are about to pass through you notice that a cross-traffic driver is speeding through their formerly yellow, now very red light.  You slam on the brakes to avoid a collision.  The driver of the other car honks and makes an obscene gesture at you.  Seriously?!

Test – Are you angry?  YES!  Was a sin committed?  Yes, wrath was directed at you.  So you can be rightfully angry at the sin, but what are you going to do about it?  Don’t react with your own wrath.  Instead, say a quick prayer for the other driver to get over their wrath and to arrive safely at their destination.  Forgive them.  And also be thankful that there was no accident.  That you are both okay and you don’t have to go through the hassle an accident brings with it.  Nice job, you avoided turning your anger into wrath and showed love for your neighbor.

I could go on with examples for days.  In fact, a friend and I often joke about starting a daily podcast where we talk about things that annoy us.  We invite the audience to call in to do the same.  We allow them to vent about their situation and provide some useful advice.  But mainly we respond by telling them how trivial their problem is and by giving them a much bigger one to think about.  Kind of a feel good by knowing how much worse it could be type of show.  We’re still working on the title.  Got any suggestions?

Here’s a recent relevant example.  Protests and riots.  Protests are ideally a response to the sins of others.  According to the test, if the sins are real, the anger and protests are justified.  But if they become riots where property is destroyed and people are hurt, the actions have crossed over to the deadly sin of wrath.  Peaceful protests demonstrate the virtue of patience.

Patience is the capacity to endure pain, difficulty, provocation, or annoyance with calm.  Tolerance, restraint, composure, indulgence, resoluteness, fortitude, serenity, stamina.  Think before you act or react.  Serenity now.

I thought about becoming a doctor but I have no patience…or is that patients.  Sorry, bad old joke.  But truly, I struggle with consistently demonstrating patience.  And I know exactly why.  Expectations.  How I set them in my head occasionally sets me up for impatience.  Here’s an example.

Do you like to fish?  I can’t stand it.  I have no patience for it.  Why?  My expectation is to catch fish, and many of them quickly.  I want the result, not the experience.  My results orientation and unrealistic fishing expectations creates my impatience.  So I choose not to participate in order to not annoy myself and others.

By contrast, those who truly enjoy fishing love the whole experience, not just the catching part.  Their expectation is to relax in nature and maybe catch a few fish.  The only thing that could make them impatient is fishing with someone like me.

Managing your expectations will help you to become significantly more patient.  Here’s how it works.  Whenever you set out to do something, imagine the best possible outcome.  Then develop a plan to achieve that outcome.  But also think briefly about all the things that could go wrong along the way.  Now go forward with your plan expecting the best, yet being aware of and mentally prepared for the worst.  Prepare for the worst, but expect the best.

For example, every time I drive I expect people to obey the laws and to be courteous.  But I drive defensively knowing that will not always be the case.  When something goes wrong I am then mentally prepared, and therefore more apt to be patient.

You can use this patience strategy on anything that could potentially annoy you.  That’s your challenge for the week.  List all of those things.  Then pick one to work at.  Personally, I’m going to give Melanie full control of the television remote for a week.  I declare this “Patience of a Saint” week.  Take care to not let your anger become wrath.  Remember, patience is a virtue.

One last note.  Do not use the managing expectations strategy to reduce your anger about sinful acts.  Instead, channel that justifiable anger into redoubling your efforts in striving to become the saint you are meant to be.  And to show others the way.

And one last time, always remember to hate the sin, but love the sinner, including yourself, as God does for us.

Godspeed (which is an expression of good wishes to a person starting a journey, a patience journey in this case), Scott

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