This is Making Me Stronger

IMG_4426.JPGI enjoy a good massage. Not the light, fairy-fingers muscle teasers, but the heavy-handed, elbow-in-the-small-of-your-back Chinese massage. The harder the better. And chuck in some of that back-scorching mentholated oil for good measure.

When I first started going to visit a Chinese massage therapist, I felt nothing but pain. He said the pain would go away the more my muscles because accustomed to being manipulated.

And so, from then on, every time I would lie down on he massage table, I would remind myself: ‘This is making me stronger.’

He was right. It wasn’t that I developed a superpower that didn’t feel pain, but a strong sense grew in me—an awareness, if you will—that this was good for me, that this was building strength, resilience, courage.

I think of this as I sit at my desk, drowning in reports, deadlines, and everyday issues of a job dominated by IT and all the troubles dealing with It and people-who-use-IT-but-can’t all day. My neck muscles tense as I stare for hours at the screen. Back muscles burn from repeated turns to one side of my desk to retrieve the next job sheet, invoice, or roster.
‘This is making me stronger.’

A few years ago I would never have believed you if you told me I would be doing what I do today, ever day. The sheer volume of work and the details involved would have blown my mind. I would have foreseen my imminent committal to a mental institution, or at the least some sort of prescription drug dependency.

But, like a good massage therapist, those muscles I needed to do my work became stronger with us. My neurons started firing in different ways that led my brain to adjust to the growing pressure and multiplicity of tasks.

Life has a way of throwing difficulties our way constantly. As an older—and wiser—man once god me, ‘It doesn’t get any easier.’ (That same wise man told me that the sausage on pizza was cat intestines. It goes to show how wise someone may be one day and totally incredulous the next.)

In spite of this, I believe we get better at handling the stuff life throws at us. Problems that are solved, troubles that are navigated, adrenaline-inducing risks that are embraced all build into us some sort of immunity that makes the next obstacle seem a little less daunting and the next mountain a little smaller than we once would have imagined.

‘This is making me stronger.’

Bring it on!

Work

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground.” (Genesis 3:19)

I was walking my dog around the local pond recently when I saw a father with his two small daughters riding along the bike path toward me. The Dad was steering his bike one-handed while talking on his cell phone, using the tone of voice I think of as “business-pompous.”  The two girls pedaled behind him silently.

Just after they passed me, I spotted a mother duck and baby ducks swimming around in circles and squawking at the water’s edge. Exactly the kind of thing you take young children to a pond to see.  What other spontaneous, kid-appropriate, free-of-charge Nature sights would they miss before they went home?  The big ugly carp circling under the footbridge?  The flock of geese coming in for a water landing?

Maybe that father regularly takes his children on hikes and bike rides and walks, pointing things out to them, or just talking, and that day on the cell phone was not how it usually was. When my kids were young, I was certainly too distracted much of the time to notice plenty of great sights I could have pointed out to them. Everyone survived.

And I know every profession has its version of business-pompous that people are required to speak if they want to get ahead.  There’s nothing wrong with working hard and doing what it takes to support yourself and your family.

But the Sunday bike-riding Dad on the cell phone reminded me of a term coined by Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor.  “Sunday neurosis,” he said, is “that kind of depression which afflicts people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest.”

Frankl wrote in the 1940’s; today, technology means we need never be freed from the work week. People complain about this, often with an undercurrent of self-congratulation: see how important I am? But sometimes there’s a less obvious undercurrent—one of relief.  How much of our checking our various devices for the latest from work is really necessary, and how much is instead a rush to fill some emptiness?

Distract us from work, help us change the subject, show us that we are more than our jobs.  Show us some ducks by the edge of a pond.  Amen.

Reflection by Christina Villa, from StillSpeaking

Meanderings . . .

While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it’s a lousy  one for personal fulfillment. Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get  you through the day, but only the latter will get you through the night. – Daniel H. Pink, quoted by MINEmergent

God is not going to help you cut your grass. He’s going to help you cut His grass. He’ll give you the lawnmower and the fertilizer and teach you to take care of His grass, not yours. – John Schneider

Most people, particularly young people, have no knowledge that the purpose of their life is union with Divine Reality. They have been told that the purpose of life is to get a degree and make money and have kids and die. That’s the narrowed-down secular understanding of reality, which is de facto followed by many Christians. Most are no longer connected to the perennial philosophy, and just waste time fighting their own religion. This is not wisdom at all—it is low-level survival. We’re now living in a largely survival mode in our culture. No wonder so many of our kids turn to drugs, drink, and promiscuous sex, because there’s nothing else that’s very exciting or very true. – Richard Rohr, adapted from a non-published talk at a conference in Assisi, Italy, May 2012

I guess I tend to associate the gospel with humanity relative to how people are acting more like “kingdom people,” regardless of their religious affiliation or non-affiliation. It seems to me that Christ wasn’t so fixated on whether other people loved him or not (though this was certainly mentioned, but not so much as a prerequisite of acceptance into what he was about). I think Jesus identified with those who were simply what he was about himself (making his god’s world a better place), not so much, if at  all, dependent upon whether someone loved and devoted themselves to him. – Chris Hill

No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means. – George Bernard Shaw

Why do we train ministers for 7 years, lay preachers for 2 years, but worship leaders…? Not at all (except, perhaps, as musicians). . . . Facilitating worship is not a musical job. It’s a theological job. . . . John van de Laar (from Twitter @Sacredise, www.sacredise.com)

Consumer society, by constantly making us aware of what we don’t have, instead of making us thankful for what we do have, has turned out to be the most efficient system yet devised for the manufacturing and distribution of unhappiness. –  Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

I come from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family. My father was a professor. My mother was an administrator. And so we had, as was the norm, live-in domestic help, who would often come from nearby rural villages. So the year I turned eight we got a new house boy. His name was Fide. The only thing my mother told us about him was that his family was very poor. My mother sent yams and rice, and our old clothes, to his family. And when I didn’t finish my dinner my mother would say, “Finish your food! Don’t you know? People like Fide’s family have nothing.” So I felt enormous pity for Fide’s family.

Then one Saturday we went to his village to visit, and his mother showed us a beautifully patterned basket made of dyed raffia that his brother had made. I was startled. It had not occurred to me that anybody in his family could actually make something. All I had heard about them was how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them.

Years later, I thought about this when I left Nigeria to go to university in the United States. I was 19. My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language. She asked if she could listen to what she called my “tribal music,” and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey. (Laughter) She assumed that I did not know how to use a stove.

What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals. – from Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story (TED Talk)

This world is enchanted
Lean closer to see it
This world is enchanted
Dare to breathe it in

O God. . .

Give us new eyes to see
Give us new skin to feel
Give us new lungs to breathe
The wonder underneath

Faith like a mustard seed
Holy naiveté
To swim in Your mystery
We need to be free
Free to breathe it in
Free to breathe it in
Born and born again

This world is transcendent
Lean closer to see it
This world is resplendent
Dare to breathe it in

–  Enchanted, by Aaron Niequist