Success and isolation

From yesterday:  What we "want" is not the only factor in formulating a vision for success and meaning in life- we need to find a way to take into account our friends, families, and communities, their needs, and their desires, in order for the pursuit of success to add meaning to our lives.  Click here to get caught up.


The workplace is merely one aspect of life.  It can never offer complete meaning because no single thing can.  If our view of success is limited to the workplace then we will live isolated lives.  I do not mean isolation strictly in terms of people or community (as we discussed yesterday)- but the general experience of disconnectedness that results from such a  singularly focused pursuit.  The primary disconnect is internal- it is the realization that our lives are somehow less than they otherwise might be.  The consequence is that we will live as disconnected people, disconnected from our family, friends, and communities.  We will not be whole.  As a result we will struggle to find lasting hope, joy, and meaning. 


I'm of the opinion (as always, I could be wrong) that becoming a successful person is the result of living as a unified, whole person.  Take, for instance, the opposite:  Steve Jobs.  Jobs relentlessly pursued one thing with his life and, in a traditional sense, was highly successful.  He had wealth and prestige by the truckload.  And, yet, by all accounts, he was a miserable sod who burned every relational bridge in his life. 


I'm not here to judge Steve Jobs, but he serves as a perfect object lesson for my point:  if we're too narrowly focused on one thing in life we will not live up to our calling to become as human as we possibly can.  And so, we must continue to reframe success. 

Wholehearted Living (again)

Yesterday we talked about taking responsibility for  the work of soul care. We called it self-care but it really involves creating a body that can hold the soul with ease. I do not want create confusion in this area.  Self-care is not getting your nails done or indulging in our favorite gelato every night of the week instead of eating a nutritious dinner. Self-care is not indulgence.  Self-care is figuring out how to take care of ourselves in a way that allows us to live wholeheartedly - IN ALL THREE LOVE VENUES ON PLANET EARTH (self/close relationships/community).



Wholehearted people are able to operate in all three arenas of life with reasonable competency.  They dedicate the time they need to self-care so that they can look at their reflection in the mirror without shame.  Springing from a reasonable level of self-awareness they can show up for their intimate relationships in a way that allows for the flourishing of the relationships.  Finally, they contribute to their community - whichever community they inhabit. If they attend a faith community, they participate in it. They give of their time, their talents, their finances - they share.  They do not simply take, they reciprocate. This principle holds true at work, in the neighborhood, even in the city in which they reside. Wholehearted people show up with their entire heart and are capable of both giving and receiving - as the situation dictates.


This is different than learning how to behave well.  For a number of years, I did not understand this truth.  As a young adult, I read the bible as if it were an instruction book for living.  Certainly you can find guidance in the holy scriptures. But it is also an epic love story.  It is the story of God and the story of us, his people. It presents a sweeping narrative of who God is and how he operates.  Much is also revealed about humanity. Our work is to take this saga and see how it applies to our current culture.


Wholehearted people have the capacity to look at situation, consider their principles and apply a right-sized principle to a particular circumstance.  This is far better than memorizing a set of rules and trying to not break them. Wholehearted living requires us to think, to feel, and to respond. It gives us the capacity to apply the appropriate set of core values (we have many) within the current arena (me, me with my besties, me and my community), all based on this grand epic adventure that God has given us as a gift - we have the privilege of loving him, ourselves and others reasonably well.  This is our grand epic adventure.


How is yours going?  Tomorrow, we will talk about ways this can all go terribly wrong.  


It begins with a mess

A couple days ago I mentioned a friend who had trouble staying faithful to her husband; she just COULDN’T stop the cheating, in spite of a variety of factors that should have at a minimum scared her straight.  On a more profound level, it seemed to both of us that this high-risk behavior wasn’t “her”.  I’m not sure who the “her” is that serial infidelity would be a fit for, but this seemed like a strange secret compulsion for a woman committed to faithful living.  It didn’t fit her own professed core values and that made the situation a puzzler.  To no one’s surprise but her own, she eventually got caught and as her life collapsed around her she began to have a different perspective on her relationship with God.  Without a place to run or hide, exposed with her life laid bare for all to see, she was trying to make sense of the situation.  However, her instincts about how to go about repairing the damage of her life were not great.  This is true for many of us.  Here is one (limited) way to think about spiritual work:


1.      The walk begins.  The first step is to give attention and energy to figuring out what it means to be faithful.  It’s in this stage where we might explore the concept of sin.  For example, my friend having grown up in the 70’s where sexual promiscuity was not only a thing but a cool lifestyle choice, exploring how her sexuality might be informed by her faith would make a lot of sense.  Just as true, we might explore how our faith informs our driving habits as well – just to be clear – it’s a whole life re-evaluation.  We are looking for where our behavior is “off” and out-of-sync. (What steps correlate to this if you are a 12-stepper?)

2.     The journey continues.  This is when we continue to deepen our knowledge and love of God as we understand him.  At this stage our belief has moved us beyond the tutorial into the wide open spaciousness of curiosity and open-heartedness with regular check-ups regarding our behavior – just to make sure we aren’t kidding ourselves. (Steps call this____?)

3.     The journey bears fruit.  Finally, as we do the appropriate actions associated with the first two stages of faithful exploration, it becomes a by-product of the work that we are spiritually awakened and we desire to love and serve others.  In theory.  (This step is:      )


As often happens, my friend saw little need for reviewing the first two steps and wanted to jump on the bandwagon of stage three.  She was eager to use her experience to help others who were also struggling with the compulsions she herself was oh so familiar with.  The problem, at least as I saw it, was that she was putting the cart before the horse.  At this point, all she had to share was her “story” with a little s.  Now that the cat was out of the bag, she spent her days endlessly repeating the sordid details of her affairs.  This wasn’t carrying the message of hope so much as it was endlessly taking people around to the back of her metaphorical home and showing them the dirty laundry she hung up on the line without bothering to wash the clothes first.  Making a mess is so very normal, we all do it in various ways, but if we want to change we have to be willing to not move too quickly away from the stench.  We have work to do before things start smelling sweeter.



In Brown’s introduction to her book Rising Strong she says, “I define wholehearted living as engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.  It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.  It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging.”  (p.xix)


My friend with the serial adultery issue was the first to acknowledge that her adultery didn’t fit with her core values.  She is a pastor in a large church.  She teaches a course on ethics at the local community college.  She would be mortified if her daughter found out her dirty little secret. In spite of all that acknowledgement, she seemed very reluctant to actually DO anything different.  What was she missing?  Here are some things we can shoot for that might help us walk a path of personal growth, and we can perhaps use them to guide our own insights about what is “missing” in our search for transformation:






Change is more likely to happen when we utilize courage, compassion and connection to do our work.  Sadly, I often hear parents lament over their children’s problems.  Having three of my own I have done my fair share of lamenting too.  But I’ve never seen it hurt a situation for those of us who love a struggling person – whether child, spouse, parent or third cousin twice removed – to do our own work of recovery.


I hope you have some dreams about what a wholehearted life would look like for you personally.  What foundational actions might you need to take to get the ball rolling in the right direction?  What small first right steps need to be in place so that you can move toward your wholehearted, whole hog life?  Can you find courage, compassion and connection in your own life?  What might have to change in order to access these 3 c’s?


People Change

I have a friend who could not stop cheating on her husband.  She often asked me how God could do this to her.  I’ve stopped trying to respond to the question having come to understand that it is both rhetorical and a way to sidestep her own personal responsibility in the mess that is her life.  One day we went to lunch and over dessert she suggested that people don’t change.  I was forced to make a reply.  I couldn’t just let that one stand.


One benefit of being part of a community is the stories I hear.  For years and years, meeting most every single week usually multiple times with said community in various forms gives all of us a fairly honest perspective on our daily lives.  These stories are rich and nuanced and lived out often over decades, not days.  When someone speaks of a changed life it is hard to be a BS’er because if that person is part of our tribe, we see their life unfold in our midst.  Everyone knows I don’t have it all together and I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who are honest enough to admit the same of themselves. But that is not equivalent to saying people don’t change.  People do change.  Sometimes in huge ways, other times in small, uneven next right steps.  There are people who were lost and gone astray from their own core values and who found their way back to themselves and a purposeful, meaningful life.  I felt I needed to share that information with my friend or else I might be complicit in leaving her feeling that she had to accept a duplicitous and self-shaming lifestyle.  I shared a couple of examples from the lives of people in our community that indicated that change is possible; she ate her dessert, sighed and indicated to me that I just didn’t understand.  And she’s right.  I don’t know why or how or who might experience freedom from their compulsions and confusing choices that lead to heartache.  But my confusion doesn’t keep it from happening.


Quoting Sister Monahan again, she says  “…sober AA members who have been able to stop drinking and to ‘stay stopped,’ as we say, often speak of themselves as ‘chosen,’ of having received sobriety as a gift.  I believe that I have indeed received a gift, but my conviction that God loves everyone and desires good for everyone keeps me from thinking of myself as chosen.  I simply do not know why I am among those who are fortunate enough to be in recovery.”  According to Brene Brown, there are actually skill sets that can help us grow, change, even transform.  She likes to call it wholehearted living.  



Tomorrow, I’ll unpack her concept, but for today I invite you to consider this:  do you think you are living wholeheartedly or are you just dialing it in?  Are you stuck in a giant “sigh” of defeat?  Change requires that we start by acknowledging the truth about ourselves.  Today, consider if you are satisfied with your life. Why?  Why not?   What’s unmanageable? What would change if you realized that things could get better?