I used to dream of the ability to shower people with gifts that I thought would thank them properly and adequately.
The original, first and only draft of the lyrics to ‘Your Song,’ the crown jewel of the Elton John and Bernie Taupin songbook.
I used to pine tirelessly to imagine a way of thanking my bride for all she did to lift me up with “a big house” to quote Elton’s poet, Taupin: “where we both could live.”
There was a time when I wanted to thank my teachers and early adulthood leaders for inspiring me by obtaining occupational status.
I use to think my kids would love me to thank them by buying them a really cool set of toys, The kind I never had at Christmas time.
I used to relish taking my grandfather out for a meal to repay all the meals he provided for me.
I used to think that God was looking for a thank you by reading His book or sitting in a row with other people.
Then I learned thankful is not what I think it is.
You see I did all of those things and I learned something critical along the way.
Thankful ain’t what I think it is, nor what YOUthink it is.
Thankful is what we all Get To Be because of the love and sacrifice that God and others have made for us.
That is why we don’t get to define what thankful is or what it means to God or others.
I learned that is why I have to stop thinking for myself what God and others might see as an act of appreciation and start listening for what
thanks means to THEM.
To my wife it was never the house, it was my time.
To my kids, it was never the presents it was my presence.
To my grandfather it was never the meal it was the conversation.
To my teachers and leaders, it was never the work it was the (as Godin calls it the) “art” and bringing my whole self to each job or endeavor.
To God it was never about just reading the book, never about checking the box and taking up a seat in a hallowed hall, it was eternally about the circles, perpetually about doing for one another, it was about coming to the end of myself so He could transform me into what I was always supposed to be when I was too busy being in my own way, it was about agape and ekklesia and an ever-present vs. in the moment gratitude.
So what are you thankful for this season?
How are you planning to show thanks?
Is it about what YOU think thankful looks like? or is it really about what they and He think thankful looks like?
I have seen the documents typed on an old-school typewriter by some nameless clerk, doubtless doing their duty for our country, the paper was worn, brittle, once durable, once able to withstand being struck so hard by each off-kilter element of typeface, each record is an aging survivor of the decades stuffed in a drawer or filing cabinet God knows where:
Army of the United States: Honorable Discharge 552nd Bomb Squadron
Battles and Campaigns: Air Offensive Europe, Central Europe, Normandy Northern France Rhineland
Decorations and Citations: European African Middle Eastern Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal
I recall looking at the bottom of the discharge papers and seeing the mark of this man I had seen on hundreds of other documents from checks to rental agreements, Dominick Demonaco, a signature etched by a much younger man who must have felt a huge relief that he would get to go home. He must have been grateful as he signed that none of the bombs he attached went off when he was handling them, that none of the missiles intended for him and his buddies hit and that none of the planes that came in full of holes and live explosives, that forgot to drop when they were supposed to, put an end to both his military career and young life before victory was achieved and his good conduct medal was issued.
To add to our family’s honors, I also had an uncle, Rocco Margagliotti, that received both the purple heart and the bronze star for saving his captain at The Battle of the Bulge. He and my grandfather were best friends but they served in different parts of the war. They grew apart later in life due to family squabbles and drama and that is a shame as my uncle Rocky left us many decades ago. I take solace in the fact that one day soon, Dom and Rocco will share a Miller High Life in Heaven together, and there shaking her head at them will be Rocky’s sister, my grandmother, Josephine or Jay Margagliotti Demonaco.
Thankfully, unlike the family of my Uncle Rocky, that day is not today and I still get to celebrate my full of CHIT Pepop on Veteran’s Day weekend and not Memorial Day. I get to think back on his service to our country with pride and thank him for it.
I sure hope I don’t offend anyone, but that service is not the service I am MOST thankful for.
The service I am most thankful to Pepop for is the service to his family. The way he got up every morning, put shoes that were often too tight and too worn on his broken and aching feet and went to work every day to help support his impoverished family. I was lucky enough to live with this man, both when I was very little, as a teenager and again as a young adult. I watched him hobble on those feet and go to physical jobs. His work was so unlike mine, it involved driving, moving, hauling, standing for hours on end. Every time he got up from his chair or bed, I heard him suck in a breath and utter a slight curse as his feet sought to betray him. I also watched him as he walked to work later in life after his eyes gave out and he could no longer drive a beer truck or a garbage truck. It was then that he embraced his true love (after my grandmother) to make a living, cooking.
Yet even that was a sacrifice, beyond the walking to work, when he arrived he worked for people who did not give him a raise in the decades he slaved in their kitchen. He was made to pay for the pizza he brought home to us- the mere cost of ingredients to the owners – even on holidays. Sometimes his employers would give him a free bottle of wine at Christmas as a bonus, but the rest of the time, it was pay as you go. I saw him sacrifice another way too. He had to save his creativity for home. He can make a gravy or as you non-New York-Italians call it – spaghetti sauce- that was second to none, yet he had to make the sauce their way. He had to make the sausage and peppers their way, and then hobble home and cook for us.
Years prior to his Italian restaurant job, his dreams for doing it “his way” were dashed when a failed attempt to relocate and reconcile with Rocky and start his own restaurant ended in further family separation, Soprano’s level Italian family infighting and the collapse of the former buddies’ business shortly after it started. I think he tried to make a go of it alone and we basically ate all the profits even as he tried to serve New York Heros to Titusville, Florida’s former “what’s a hero?” sub with extra mayo eating public.
The amazing thing about my grandfather is that he took all this in stride. In times of distress, my grandfather is famous for his colorful phrases belted out in a half chuckle like :
ya’ sista’s a$$ !
ain’t dat som’ $hit? or
you gotta’ be kiddin’ me!?
Yes, that’s my Pepop, utter a curse and move on. Thank God for what you DO have and move on. Dom is a study in both CHIT and grit. He even takes the same attitude when he talks about his time in the war. No somber serious recollection of planes flying in with a live bomb hanging off a tattered wing, no urge to come in closer and listen to what he did to save the day. Not my Pepop. When asked what he did in those situations he said, “we shit in our pants and prayed to God the damn thing wouldn’t blow us all to hell!” and he laughs as he says it.
Pepop got one of the first injuries to his feet as a teenager driving a milk truck in New York City. When he was a teenager, they used giant blocks of ice to keep the milk cool and he dropped one of those mothers on his young foot! That is probably where all the cursing started and it never stopped! LOL! (oh…did I mention that he still lives on the second floor of his apartment building and walks to the store sometimes?) Dom went from delivering milk to delivering beer, attached and detached bombs somewhere in there, came back delivered more beer, drove a garbage truck as a teamster on Long Island.
He built a house on Long Island and moved his family out there when it was still considered “the country.” I have pictures of he and the family picnicking. My mom and triplet sisters and I moved into that house with my grandfather, my aunts and my uncle when I was a toddler and we lived there, with houses popping up all around us, but still adjacent to some woods, until I was nine and we attempted the failed reconciliation I mentioned above.
On the Space Coast of Florida, years before the first space shuttle launched, the reconciliation failed and the restaurant sank in the swamp but our lives as Floridians began. Pepop left the Teamsters and never drove again. Never went to test for his Florida license. At that point, when he was close to my age as I write this, he said: “I’ve been driving all my life, I’m done.” From that moment forward he cooked and he walked. I’m 50 now. He worked well into 70s, well after he should have. He worked at several restaurants and he was beloved by his coworkers and known as a hard and dependable worker who made people laugh at each and every eatery, including the one that couldn’t spare the free pizza. They love him too and he loves them, he celebrates occasions there sometimes to this day! Dom bears no grudge, he only holds only the memories of laughter and crazy times with them, that is who he is.
No matter his age, he never stopped taking care of those around him. What is his is yours. Whether that is a roof over your head, food, money, time- he gives it. He is still doing it today, still helping the family when they need it in some of those same, often non-monetary ways. For a while it has been my turn to pay him back monetarily a little, I have sent him a small supplemental allowance twice a month, for many years now. When I get a raise he gets a raise. Every time I talk to him, we have the same ending to our short and sweet conversation- He says: “John thanks for all your doin’ I really appreciate it man” and I say “Peep-it is just my turn I could never do for you what you did for us.” I say “I Love You Peep” and he says “Take Care Kid” (which roughly translated means “I love you kid” in Brooklyn Teamsterize).
So forgive me if I am selfish and his being a veteran in service to this great country of ours is not what I am most thankful for this weekend nor any other weekend. I prefer to forgo celebrating only the good conduct medal and rather like to think of Peep also getting the Golden Spatula for Meritorious Service to his Family.
How often do you stop, cup your hands to your mouth and cry: Hello in There?
We all yearn to be known. We have this inborn appetite to be seen. We are also prompted to connect with others. The opposite, isolation, is both physically and mentally debilitating.
In the recent episode of Invisibilia embedded below, a young person, Abby Wendle, simultaneously navigates her long distance relationship with her boyfriend and the loneliness that accompanies this condition which leads to the tension between protecting herself and letting people in. She discovers something else along the way, a connection with an unlikely friend who shares her love of John Prine’s music.
John Prine appears in the podcast as well and he talks about the origin of his song, Hello in There, how it relates to reaching out to older people who just want to be known and his inspiration for the song, calling into the echoing hollowed out trunks of his childhood forest- hello in there!
It so happens that this podcast entered my feed on the heels of a few stark reminders of exactly where I would be if I had not made a few key connections over the past few years. Recently, there were a few unlikely friends I let in, that have added tremendous value, richness, depth, and love to my life that I never would have known had I remained in isolation from strangers as my deeply introverted, insecure personality had sequestered me to in the past.
Bonus Episode of Invisibilia : Who Do you Let In?
If you are a reader of this blog, you know that the last couple of weeks have been very hard, as I lost one such friend, Tim Sader. author of Tuesday’s Torch. If you click back to the last couple of my posts, you can read all about Tim, his mom and his wife, all of who I am blessed to be friends with. I attended church with these folks for a long time before I was brave enough (and it turns out lucky enough) to spend time and go deeper in my friendship with.
When I heard Abby’s story and listened to the John Prine song, Hello in There, it evoked a flood of memories and present-day emotions that surrounded the relationships I built when I used to go out there with the truck on Saturday afternoons. One of these relationships persists today and more recently had me praying for my unlikely friend, Mother “B,” after some medical issues. Nowadays, Mother and I have a “text out of the blue” friendship. Several times a week, we reach out to each other with bits of encouragement or prayer.
If you watch the video below, it will show off Mother’s sparkling personality and zest for life (as well as her Boy Scout-like level of preparedness for summer critters and other unexpected circumstances.) What is probably less obvious from the pictures and the video are all the laughs we had and the friendships we formed. One of the other ladies from the neighborhood, Ms. “H,” did not have all of Mother’s vitality. She is pictured above, with a smile, but that is not how I first encountered her. When we first started going out there, Ms. H was a little ‘standoffish.” Over time, and with enough of us asking, “Hello in there?” Ms. H began to let us in. She still had many grumpy moments, but many times, toward the end of my time visiting the apartment complex, Ms. H would demand endless hugs before I could go home. I’ll never forget the first time she said, “I love you.” It was a pretty amazing moment.
The interesting thing is I can recall as I drove home that night, how odd it seemed to me that I begrudgingly went to serve on Expanding the Table the first time. In many ways, I was like an older version of our friend Abby above, scared of expanding my circle. Scared of looking into the hollowed out log and asking if anyone was at home inside.
I recalled preparing my introverted brain to go out to the food truck the first time, I told myself how it was going to be tough, but I was doing what I was supposed to do- serve. The idea I had was that I would go out to serve some food, and I may have to meet some folks who reminded me of the way I grew up. Boy! was I full of sanctimonious crap?!
What I learned from all of the friendships that have pushed me out of my comfort zone to date is that I was under the impression I was the one serving. I was the one who mistakenly thought he was peering into the hollow log of someone’s life and asking Hello in there? and each time, I learned they were not only asking me the same question right back, but they were also unlocking and revealing things inside me I did not know were there. I also learned that the folks who connect, reveal and know us don’t always have to be sage women of deep faith, sometimes, as with The Sader’s they are younger than us. Sometimes there are things that simply defy explanation found in making a connection with another person.
I was seeing them and they were seeing me. They became known to me and I became known to them. When that happens, we discover our, what I believe is, our God-given imprint to be connected to one another. We unlock what it means to be better together.
One last thing. I was late getting my blog written today because I attended a men’s breakfast. The speaker had a strong message-it was about connecting to other men. It was about inviting people into our world to connect. It was a reminder that young or old, man or woman, we all just want someone to shout into the log, looking for us.
Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”
So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello”
On October 21, 2018, I was one of four people asked to share some of my thoughts with some of the gathered family and friends of Tim Sader at only the first of two services. The following is the first draft of what I shared. As usual, on the day this was shared the words of those other speakers inspired me to interject some additional items that made this, hopefully, better as they each did an incredible job of capturing who he was.
According to his parents May 19, 2011, was a Tuesday, it was the day they lost their first son and it was a day that his brother had the hardest time writing his blog, Tuesday’s Torch, but he wrote it anyway. He wrote it dutifully, beautifully and eloquently for 9 years. He wrote it to spread light and salt across the earth and he accomplished those feats that so many who are called to minister and/or write seek-he touched people-he loved people with his words-he met them where they were and lifted them up.
Today, I am resonating with my friend’s difficulty on that day in 2011 as I try to find the letters on my keyboard through my tears. Yesterday, I said goodbye to him along with his parents and his wife. The day before I stood between his parents and across the bed from his wife and prayed one more of 1000s of prayers lifted in the last few days by the 1000s of people who love Tim. Yesterday, it was a different prayer with a roomful of broken-hearted loved ones as we all asked God to welcome his mighty warrior and faithful servant to dance with Him in Heaven.
It was just this past Sunday that our pastor, Jenn Williams, talked to us about legacy. She joked that her sermon was not “the old people’s sermon” and her message was around living and loving people as if you were leaving a legacy all the days of your life, not just as you get old and gray and supposedly wise. Tim is the epitome of this. I didn’t need to be in a room full of greaving people last night to know that my friend, who never got to be old and gray, but was most certainly wise, was living and loving his legacy every day. Let me tell you a bit more about the man I knew.
Tim was all the “regular” sorts of things: son, brother, husband, friend and follower of Jesus, but there was nothing “regular” about Tim. Tim’s heart and soul outshined his body. Tim and his brother battled muscular dystrophy. When I say battled, from my limited view, that is what it appeared to be, a body degrading and betraying its owner until you can’t move, then you can’t eat and then, well you get it… If you met Tim, and I’m sorry if you never got the chance here on earth, you would have met a man who did not surrender easily or willingly to his enemy.
In fact, Tim gave no purchase to any enemies whether that be the very corporeal, tangible, in your face disease he wrestled with or the spiritual forces that told him to give up, give in, be less than who he was created to be. No sir, not my brother, that is why I asked yesterday for God to welcome a mighty warrior into his arms. Tim may have been bound to a wheelchair, but he found a way to leap into people’s lives. He may have had to take gulps of air from a straw between sentences, but he fought to get God’s message out to the world, he may have had to roll down the aisle to marry his bride, but he loved her more abundantly and passionately than any muscle rippled star of stage or screen, I witnessed Tim’s incredible friendship first hand and second hand. I saw him lift and inspire people to be more and to do more. I saw him help people back from the depths of despair and the brink of throwing it all away. I saw him love people in his family and in his church and among his friends that were hard to love, returning again and again with his peaceful, patient heart and gentle prodding wisdom to welcome them back like prodigal sons and daughters.
No, Tim was no regular guy, he was extraordinary and maybe his soul was just too big and bright for any fragile body to handle? We don’t know, we don’t have any of these answers. All we know is what Tim reminded us of. Those lucky enough to be in his orbit just peripherally like me and those lucky and smart enough to be even closer to him, that got to live with his legacy every day, know that this man was a gift to us. Because he intentionally built a legacy while he was here with us, part of that gift is still here in his blog. Tim wanted people to read his blog and learn the lessons he learned, both from his battles with his disease and his incredible love story with his beautiful wife Sammy. So please read it, not as a favor to me or to him, but as a favor to yourself. Get to know this man that I was lucky enough to get to know just a little over a few short years. You won’t be sorry.
My blog has a similar theme as does the legacy that I am trying to live and love out loud. I call it the 4 Ls to Live By and Soar By Light, Love, Leadership, and Laughter. Tim gave me all of these things every timewe met, messaged, emailed, lead, played or prayed together. Sammy paid me the honor of saying that I was Tim’s “bromance” of late. I happen to know I am not alone in that and Tim just made everyone feel like they were special. Tim had a “bromance” with humanity. That is his legacy. That is the torch he wants us all to not only see but pick up and light the way for others just as his Lord and Saviour did for him, just as He does for us. Tim was a good and faithful servant indeed and we love him so very much.
Tim, to paraphrase one of my very favorite “(deceptively not the) end of the bromance” lines: I have been, and forever shall be your friend, may your torch burn long and prosper.
When I was a kid I would get very excited when I would hear the words: Once Upon a Time, there Were Three Little Girls… that went to the Police Academy. It took me a few years to understand exactly all the reasons why I was so excited, but at first, it was simply because there was a really cool TV show coming on that was action packed and like nothing, I had ever seen before. Of course, only a few of you reading this will remember the next line was… “and they were each assigned very hazardous duty. ” The disembodied voice character (who we never see throughout the life of the series) that talks in that opening’s name was Charlie and he was describing, rather sarcastically, how these three lovely and more-than-capable young ladies were “playing at,” mostly low-level, police and detective work far below their true capabilities and talents, before he “took them away from all that.”
The rich, supposedly handsome, international man of mystery plucked them away from directing traffic and “meter maiding” to a life of international, intrigue and top-tier detective work. While it is true that the show exploited the sex appeal of these three incredible women, like just about every TV show then or now, (and as I hinted at earlier, I am only human and that was not lost on my younger or older self) ironically, it persists precisely because of that, the point is often lost that Charlie saw infinite potential in them and wanted to see them soar.
I was no Charlie as a kid and I am certainly no Charlie as an adult. I’ve always been much more of a Bosley really… and whether you are old enough to think of this photo when you think of Charlie Angels…
or this one…
…you have a pretty firm grasp on the topic of who “your angels” are. Like I said, I am more of a Bosely and I am also confused because I resonate with the top picture but the “home version” of my angels used to look like this…
and now they look a bit more like this…
Even as I write this blog it is their birthday. Yes, all of their birthdays, they are triplets and they still look like angels to me. We didn’t have all the fancy toys and distractions when we were growing up that many kids, even some of the least financially sound ones do nowadays. I remember going from playing with the rabbit ears on the TV to try to get Charlies Angels to come in clearly one minute, to playing Charlie’s Angels with my sisters the next. We had an old manual typewriter and we would put that on the desk in my room and that would immediately become the Angels’ office and I would transform into Bosley.
I can’t recall all the fights over who got to be which angel, but I know they happened. I can’t remember the plot lines of any of our scenarios, but I will always remember being Bosley to these angels. I will always remember pretending to talk on walkie-talkies and taking down bad guys, but what I remember most of all is that we were a team and that they, like those angels, had something in them that looked a lot like strength and sharp wits even when they were very young.
If you had a time machine, and I am so glad you don’t, you would see that my Bosley of old, when he wasn’t playing nicely, could be mean to these sisters. I guess all of us siblings can be mean to each other? I would say hurtful things and we would fight like cats and dogs. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t done so much of that, and I wish I would have built them up more when we were younger. I wish I would have said more encouraging things and helped them know, what they know now, that they can be strong and independent and survive impossible to survive things.
Our childhood wasn’t all Charlie’s Angels and Bosley to be sure! We rallied around each other when times were tough. I call them my war buddies because we’ve seen and been through some scary stuff together. One day, I will write more about all the ways my sisters have triumphed over adversity, but that story is waiting for another time and perhaps a series of stories, when I can share a great deal more about each of them. Individually, they have in turn, and more than once, overcome so much and I am beyond proud of who they are and how they show up in the world today.
Although I am not a Charlie and only a Bosley, I can see when someone has the potential to grow from obscurity to the heights of whatever they apply themselves too. (maybe Bosley was the one who went out and recruited the Angels anyway?) My sisters are such people. I guess I have always known that but I had a terrible way of showing it until we all grew up. They are all moms now. One’s a grandma! One does not need a time machine to see all they have accomplished and all that they are. Anyone can take a look at the lives they have created, the beautiful and talented children and grandchildren they have raised, and the brother they have loved and supported and know.
Some months back I wrote a blog post called We Get To. I was inspired by a couple of women leaders in my life, one in my work life and one in my church life that drove home the point (that not incidentally my wife has been trying to drive home in my home life for almost 25 years) that we “Get To” be who we are created to be. We don’t have to, we GET TO.
Today, I feel compelled to write about what we DON’T GET TO do. We don’t get to be morethan we were created to be. This is self-evident whether you are the most faithful doctrinaire Christian or the most dedicated, ardently objective, naturalist in the world. or someone like me who falls somewhere in the messy middle We are built, whether by a designer or not, to be limited to exactly what we are created to be. The cool thing is, if we realize our potential, we GET TO be ALL of THAT. Many times, maybe most of the time, we are not fully realizing all that we get to be because we get in our own way, but we only get to be what we are, not something else.
For instance, we don’t get to be bigger than what we are. We don’t get to be God. We don’t get to be the universe. We don’t get to be the conscience of every person in the world, dictating right from wrong. We don’t get to single-handedly save the world or even all of our friends. We don’t get to rescue a business, or a project or a town, or a country or a church by ourselves. As much as we would like to- we don’t get to.
We forget that we don’t get to do that sometimes. Sometimes we feel like the very weight of the world is on our shoulders, but we don’t get to have the weight of the world on our shoulders. We are not built for that in any way shape or form. We are not built for that in any faith tradition nor are we built from that from a strictly secular sense.
The hard truth is, we don’t get to be alone in the world. There will always be other people until there are no longer people. We don’t get all the power the world has to give, because it can’t possibly be held by one person. We don’t get to have all the money in the world, nor all the love, nor all the fame. We simply don’t get to have it all. We simply don’t get to be all things to all people.
You may not agree with me, but I made a leap of faith that says that there is a God that does Get To. He is the ultimate Get To. Whether you agree with me or not, you can’t argue that anyone else Gets To be more than we are as humans. We get to be salt and light, but we don’t get to be The Light of the World-there is only one of those.
Which leads me to the beauty in the fact that we don’t get to. The beauty of that is that we all need each other. In fact, the world needs us to need each other precisely because none of us gets to have all the answers. So even when it seems like there are people or countries or players that Get To have it all, just remember that they don’t get to be anything more than what they were created to be just like you and I don’t get to.
Remember that the power is not in one human or a small group of humans getting it all their way, the power is when we all come together and when we all recognize our proper place in a posture of curiosity, humility, intentionality, and teachability. We all get to thrive when we do that and assume that posture together. All the other ways of being in the world are deceptions and lies and people fooling themselves into believing they get to do things they were never created to do.
We get to be who we are created to be, nothing more, nothing less. That is a beautiful thing. Thank You, God for that.
a piece of TRANSPARENT material (such as glass) that has TWO OPPOSITE regular surfaces either both curved or one curved and the other plane and that is used either singly or combined in an optical instrument for forming an image by focusing rays of light…
…a COMBINATION OF TWO OR MORE simple lenses…
…a piece of glass or plastic used (as in safety goggles or sunglasses) TO PROTECT the eye
…a device for DIRECTING OR FOCUSING radiation other than light (such as sound waves, radio microwaves, or electrons)…
Lenses. They dictate how we see and experience the world. Whether the lens we are talking about is the biological lens of the eye, the physical lens of a camera or the euphemistic lens of our point of view.
We all have an assumption that these lenses are transparent to us, maybe because transparency is right in the definition? In our minds and our hearts, we feel we have consciously chosen the lenses we put on the world and the events around us. We marvel at those that look through a seemingly opposite lens than ours, often dismissing them in the same heartbeat. Conversely, we gather around us and often pay much closer attention to, those who share a similar lens to us.
I find it interesting that, in the physical form lenses are not, in themselves, what we intuitively expect. The eye’s lens, for instance, relies on the brain to flip upside down the image that it sees. Most artificial lenses and complex devices that help us see (such as a sophisticated telescope, camera or my trifocals) rely on, not one surface, but multiple surfaces to produce crystal clear images. In all cases, lenses are forced to be more complex to deliver their clarity.
This is so with our non-physical lenses as well. Our viewpoints are not always what they seem or what we intuit. They are subject to powerful forces that shape the way we view the world. Confirmation bias is one such force. Have you ever seen the famous Gorilla experiment? Watch the video in the link, whether you’ve heard of it or not, and you might be surprised by the impact of your own confirmation biases. This often replicated experiment is one source of evidence that our lenses, physical or otherwise are cloudy, they are subject to error. They can cause us to miss things that are right in front of us, visually, orally, behaviorally and spiritually.
However, lenses can also be powerful and wonderful forces for directing and focusing our attention on what’s truly important. They can help us “keep our eye on the prize.” They can help us see another land, another way to show up in the world and even locate the best in others. It works best when we choose to view things differently, but sometimes we need to open our minds and see through the lenses of others first. For instance, my wife’s biased lens toward me led her to see potential in me I refused to acknowledge for a long time. Quite a few folks, I met and that loved me over the years, did the same. Some of those folks encouraged me professionally, some socially, some academically and some spiritually. They all saw me through a lens that said, “John, has so much more to give and so much more to know about how rich and full his life can be if he would simply stop being so stubborn and change his lens already!”
As a young man, I had a strong set of confirmation biases and a lens on the world that led me to believe the world was a harsh place, full of dangerous people and situations. My spyglass was one of cynicism about the actors in the world around me. Internally, I looked at myself in the (funhouse?) mirror’s lens and thought I had very limited worth, few gifts to offer the world and no chance of having the life I have today. Over time, and with the help of God, and those he put around me, I changed the way I look at the world.
Let’s take a break here and get real. I am still quite skeptical and sarcastic. I am not a Pollyanna that never sees or discusses the perceived hidden motives or ill intentions of others. Nor am I some uber confident soul that fully realizes and sees my potential. Quite the contrary, I have to fight those tendencies to self-deprecate and hate on the world every day. That said, the old me, ironically saw that pessimistic outlook as the clearest possible way to view and be in the world. My younger self-refused to believe there was any other lens to be applied. The result was a heck of a lot of perceiving exactly what I expected to see and not recognizing what (and Who) those other people were challenging me to see. I lament the decades of my life when I didn’t realize that my lens was impossibly cloudy, leading me to continuously reconfirm my worst fears and desperately in need of a good spit shine.
So what is the difference now? Perhaps the change I have made is that I am on guard for pulling out the dirty lens I have a tendency to use on myself and the world? Practically speaking, I try to correct myself, at the moment, when I refuse to Believe the Best. I now have a Faith that gives me a lens that prompts me and holds me accountable to strive to see the world and people the way God sees them, with love and a gracious heart. I try to enter new situations, conversations and interactions with this at the front of my mind. Like I said, I mess this up on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis! Nevertheless, my point is, the effort to try on another lens, whether you do that through faith, as I do, or just through shifting your mindset, is well worth the effort.
I challenge you to try it on for size for just two weeks and then report back to me. I have provided a couple of additional resources to get you started below. After two weeks, if you have not seen a difference, I will be shocked, but I will also be glad to chat with you about that. Just comment below. If you experience a positive change, I want to hear about that too! Give it a try. What do you have to lose by trying on a different lens for just two weeks? The promise is, and my hope for you is, that it changes your entire outlook on life and sees you through to a better tomorrow.
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I am a restless person. You might even call me “Restless by Nature.” That is not quite as cool as “Naughty By Nature” but I am anything but cool. This restlessness is all too big a part of being human. We struggle from the moment we emerge from the womb. If you believe Maslow’s hierarchy (or pyramid) to a be an accurate depiction of that struggle we start by struggling for basic needs. We cry out for air, shelter, food and the security of having our basic physical needs met. Then we yearn to be safe. We want to know we have enough. “Mom are we going to be able to pay the electric bill, or do I need to pawn my Atari?” Right after that, we want our belongingness needs to be met. We want to know we have a friend, we want to feel we are loved and that we belong. When all these needs are met we start to stress and strain for recognition and for our self-esteem to be bolstered. Finally, if we can make it past all of those hurdles and climb the pyramid, we struggle with being all we were created to be. We strive to be our full and complete self.
In a perfect and unbroken world, we climb the pyramid, stumbling along the way and look down from the top and admire the lessons learned along the journey. We don’t live in that world, do we? What happens if we get stuck? A few people probably come within reach of achieving this lofty objective. For most of us, this may look very different. It may be less of a linear climb up the pyramid and more of a slipping and sliding, up and down journey. Many of us bounce through these stages and slip and strive our way through life. The key to this kind of climb is that your eyes stay set on moving up.
What happens when someone is less focused on moving up and out of these levels and more addicted to the back and forth struggle of moving between them?
Do you know someone or are you one of those people who seem overly attached to the strain and pain of falling down and the joy of going back up?
Do you or your friend seem to “self-destruct” every time it feels like your making progress up the pyramid?
I used to really resonate with this. Not only did I know many people who seemed to relish in staying in the struggle, but I was one of them. I would create drama when there was no drama needed. I would manufacture discord out of peace. I was addicted to the pain and the struggle and my story of overcoming the struggle. The truth is, I still slip into this mode occasionally, but overall, I live a much different life now.
The irony of this is that the whole time I was addicted to that pain, I would cast dispersions on those who did not seem to be struggling or who appeared to have peace. These people who I felt were looking down on me from somewhere higher up on the pyramid all had it too easy in my mind. Their lives were not the painful struggle mine was. They did not have to pawn their Atari. They had everything given to them in a soft, cushy life I could never imagine. They did not know my pain. What I later learned was…
I was full of a big ole pyramid size pile of crap!
Everyone struggles. Everyone hurts and everyone looks for these needs to be met. There is not one person who has the market cornered on pain, we just all process it and show it in different ways. Sometimes people don’t even realize how empty their lives are and may appear cocky or appear to have all the material and superficial things you don’t, but they are still hurting and broken on some level. But this post is not about them.
This post is about you and me and the people we know who are addicted to the struggle and in love with our own story of struggle.
I am not convinced that this whole process was discovered first by Maslow. I actually believe Jesus had this figured out way before him. You can agree or disagree, but he seemed to know that people wanted to be fed, loved and achieve a peace beyond their own understanding way before the first psychologist’s couch ever got its cushions. What he taught people, people who knew much greater struggles than we know in our first world, modern lives, was that they needed two things to achieve the top of the pyramid- God and each other. Just two things.
Whether or not you follow Jesus, you may agree that the reason this is so profound is that the reality of our existence is that we are never satisfied and we are never done struggling.
The key is how we orient ourselves during that struggle. If we orient ourselves to serve something greater than ourselves and live for each other, something magical happens to our addiction to struggle. All of a sudden, our story doesn’t take center stage. Our struggle no longer has the spotlight on it. Instead, how we fit into the bigger story and how we can help other people tell their part of the story more successfully, takes center stage.
When we let go of our addiction to struggle and pain and the drama that comes with that, the remarkable thing is we receive a gift. The gift of peace.
We get the gift of freedom from the chains of endless struggle. That is what the top of the pyramid looks like. We can sit there, on top, still broken, a bit tired, but full of love and unchained…at last free of the need to struggle-endlessly.