Know when to rest

Highly resilient people are not necessarily hard charging, extroverted type A kind of people.  In fact, the capacity to rest, process distressing situations and learn from mistakes (if any) means that resilient people know when to take a break.  And they do so.

Another healthy habit is developing the skill set of being present in the moment with one eye on the future.  After one takes stock of the past, makes notes and plans and develops practices that take into account past failures and upsets, resilient folks learn how to let go, get back to living life on life’s terms, stop ruminating and obsession and reject bitterness or despair as appropriate responses.

So breathe.  But don’t vegetate.

How are you doing with these skills?

Loving as yourself

I began this series of devotionals with these questions:  If we have an ounce of love for “other” in us, or if one single human being on this planet loves us - this is the million dollar question.  What do the people we love NEED? What do we NEED? How can we help? Who can help us?



EVENTUALLY I got around to whipping out this series of verses:  

34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. 35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him. 36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38  This is the first and greatest commandment. 39  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”  
~ Matthew 22:34-40 CEB

Today, let’s break it down.  When it comes to being a person whose presence matters AND a person who lives life with the quiet joy of satisfaction because life has meaning and purpose, there is no greater (albeit commonly repeated) passage of scripture than the one above.  Along the way, like Pete, we will have ups and downs and trials and tribulations, even some victories along the way as we both give and receive love.

Previous devotionals made a case for presence, specifically compassionate presence, as a key ingredient to this way of living.  But don’t we have PLENTY of examples of big fails in this area? I do!

So what gives?  What needs to change?  Haven’t we all attempted to improve our capacity to love and be loved?  I bet so. Tomorrow we pray for our collective loving selves, next week, we get into the nitty gritty details of loving well.

For today, think about the reality that we love in three arenas here on planet earth:  1. The way we love ourselves (if that freaks you out, substitute the word “respect”), 2. The way we love those closest to us (our most intimate connections) and 3. The way we love our communities (work/faith group/family/friends/common interest groups/neighbors).  

Obviously, the Matthew passage tells us that it all starts with loving God.  It even tells us how: we are to love God wholeheartedly - i.e., with our entire being.  Wholehearted loving makes it possible, even likely, that we will notice opportunities to love that will be overlooked by the casual lover.  Like the two friends who knew to contact Pete with condolences after UVA’s first round loss in the NCAA’s. This is our love source.

This is the source for the help we need to figure out how to love.  More on that in two days...tomorrow, as promised we pray for one another!


Compassionate Presence

My husband Pete and I attended the University of Virginia back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.  We have followed their sports teams with great patience and allegiance for decades. Virginia’s first round loss in the 2018 NCAA Tournament was, without question, the most heartbreaking defeat for us as fans in our UVA sports loving lives.



The sports commentators were brutal; some of our friends who cheer for OTHER teams were quick to poke fun and rub the defeat into the gaping wound.  I am sure no harm was intended; I am positive no one intended for us to take it personally.


However, the experience paired with my current passion project as a pastor (What does it mean to be transformed?) really was a punch in the gut.  Certainly the wins and losses of a sports team are not necessarily the expected venue for sacred space. Sports have their place in the world and to give them too much importance is just silly.  


But I am struggling with a larger point that goes something like this…  In both small and large ways we continue to show people who we are - for better and for worse. In the smallest of moments, our compassionate presence might make a big difference.  I might feel bad about this tendency to see everything through the lens of spiritual transformation, except Jesus had a bad habit of doing the exact same thing!


In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus said this:  

34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. 35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him. 36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38  This is the first and greatest commandment. 39  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”  

~ Matthew 22:34-40 CEB

Heard it a million times, right?  Age old wisdom, right? My question is this:  if we know these verses so well, why do we continue to be so absolutely lousy at living them?  Or is it just me?


By mid-morning of the UVA debacle, Pete had received one phone call and one email from two people who, shall we say, do not usually pull for UVA.  Both expressed their sympathy for the loss of the team. Their tone seemed genuine. I would suggest to you that this was a sacred act of compassionate presence.   How did these two friends know to do this lovely thing? I think they are living a Matthew 22 kind of life. What makes their acts of kindness - which I suspect both think was no big deal - so amazing?  Because so few of us have what it takes to show up with compassionate presence. I’d further suggest that it is not rocket science, this act of showing up, so I wonder, why is it so difficult?


More on loving well and our struggles to do so tomorrow.


Going Rogue

The first relationship story in the scriptures involves the nasty fruit tasting incident on the part of Eve and her accomplice Adam.  They break the one “rule” God gave them, “Do not eat from this tree.” God, who has been enjoying evening strolls with them in the Garden of Eden; he expresses his feelings about this incident and relocates them outside the Garden.



This sounds like being cast out; maybe even harsh.  But if we keep reading we realize that God goes with them.  He neither leaves them nor forsakes them AND he also takes seriously their transgression.  


Presence matters; God models it.


Relationships are certainly complicated.  Radical love is not intended to be misinterpreted as relational free-for-alls. When there are no consequences, and “It’s all good…” is the chant of the tribe, something is amiss.  


But because we are not very good at the messy middle of relational snafus, we often take an extreme position:  either ignore the problem or jettison the relationship.


I do not believe we will ever experience life satisfaction apart from relational capacity.  We are created for tribe. For example, I do not believe that rising to the top of our respective professions (insert any life goal that you think you MUST achieve to have a life of meaning) will provide true fulfillment UNLESS we do so within the context of meaningful relationships.


Pete can wonder about his life’s purpose and Kim Scott can ask what her job description entails - but both are probably struggling with what it means to be fully present and engaged with life.  The details almost do not matter.


For today, ask yourself:  what side of the pendulum do you swing on?  Do you tolerate too much nonsense? Or do you leave relationships too quickly?  Why do you think this is your style of relating?

Spiritual Presence

I am not a big fan of deciding how to live my life unless and until I can find parallels in the scriptures to support my assumptions.  I personally like to think of pairing my experiences within the framework of a biblical context. When I ponder presence, I immediately think of a few examples in scripture that help me draw some boundaries around my principles.  



Here’s another way of saying what I mean:  I think for people who ascribe to the Christian faith it is always a good idea to challenge my lived experience with a consistent study of God’s word.  It will not always be helpful. If I look in the scriptures to understand how best to feed my grandchildren, I find no answers. But if I consider what it means to be a decent grandparent in general and sometimes even specifically, I find breadcrumbs that help me evaluate my daily life choices as a MeMe.


Tomorrow we will consider one biblical example of presence in the face of bad behavior.  Prepare for future days of conversation by asking yourself the tough questions: what “presence” failures have you experienced?  What did you learn? What patterns do you notice that continue to trip you up in terms of practicing presence? Are there any examples of times when you felt you failed only to later learn that others disagree?


Doing my part

Kim Smith wrote a book called “Radical Candor: Be A Kick-Ass Boss without Losing your Humanity.  Who could NOT read a books with such a great title? I was intrigued. I started reading it. In the first chapter, Kim tells a story that is familiar to anyone who works.  She had a big problem that needed her full attention with a brilliant answer in record time. Her plan was to hide in her office and think her way into a solution. Along the way toward her identified goal she encountered several employees who needed her attention - attention she wanted to provide but ended up exhausting her, leaving little energy for her own work.  



Feeling like she was a big failure (“I have wasted my life” territory), she called her CEO coach Leslie Koch.  In her frustration she asked, “Is my job to build a good company….or am I really just some sort of emotional babysitter?”


Koch’s response was as follows:  “This is not babysitting...It’s called management, and it is your job!” (Chapter one paraphrased for brevity, Radical Candor)  Koch is suggesting that Kim thought her job was to succeed (and of course there is some truth to it). But Koch may be saying that in order to “succeed” - we may have to redefine what that means, and we definitely have to take a hard look at what that requires.  Kim thought that doing an important task was crucial (and it was important) but she was learning that it was not the ONLY crucial factor in her company’s success.


Koch and Smith are speaking in terms of business relationships but I think we can draw from their conversation when we widen the lens of context.  Widen the lens with me a bit to include all our relationships and ponder this: our imagination for what “doing our part” in life looks life is often wildly different and far more discouraging than reality. (For example, Pete fears wasting his life all the while the people who love him are daily grateful for his presence and steady hand. The man is a living, breathing example of living his core values.)


Whether we are talking family, friends or work relationships - our part can be a beautiful thing.  But it probably will never make the cover of Time magazine. (People magazine maybe - if we do it exceedingly poorly!)  So what is our part? As usual - there are no simple answers. But I think today we can find one principle to consider: presence matters.  Your presence matters. The people in your life who are willing to be present with and for you matters. What you do may or may not matter. But presence, that matters.  Pete, when disheartened, needs my presence more than he needs my troubleshooting skills. But presence often FEELS like doing nothing to help; we must fight against this false belief so as to learn how to get and stay present for those we love.


How are you staying present for others?  Yourself? Who’s present for you (I am not asking who you WISH could be present for you - who actually is present?)