Two Teetering Steps toward Balance

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Time for another connect-the-dots post. Hang with me. If you like mysteries, perhaps read this as a book in your genre. “Where the heck is this going? Whodunit?”

My body works lately. My back has recovered. I’ve been at full speed playing goaltimate for coming on a month. Honestly, I’m a little afraid to mention it for fear I might jinx it–except, oh yeah, I’m not superstitious. (“I am a little stitious.”–Michael Scott) Having suffered miserable back pain from July through September, and finally having returned to running by late fall, I’m beyond grateful that I can dash around like a madman to chase a disc and run after guys in their twenties–not to mention my fourteen-year-old, who’s getting faster every week. Love that kid!

I’m not as fast as I was in my twenties, but I’ll tell you for sure I’m more grateful that I can run than I was then.* Losing something is the quickest and most powerful way to remember how much you appreciate it. We’re like that. We take things for granted. We lose them and remember how much we love them.

I love Kim, my wife. I suspect you know that if you’ve been reading my blog for…three minutes. Or looked at pictures. But I’ll mention it again. I talk about this less than I might because I’m acutely aware that I’m blessed in a way many are not–I have someone whom I love who loves me back, not merely tolerates me. Unlike other things in my life, I literally never take this for granted. I am an acquired taste, to put it mildly. She’s also crazy in her own ways (if you doubt this, ask her about Mumford, her dog. Or ask him.) and marriage is always work, but to quote Gershwin, “Nice work if you can get it.”

I just spent an extended weekend with some dear, close friends, my Guys from high school. I laugh more with them than with perhaps anyone else on the planet, measured in laughs/minute, when we’re together. Sometimes I want to throttle a couple of them, too. But I’d wager they’ve had similar urges in my direction. Fair is fair.

I think our world is going insane–okay, insaner more insane than it already was,** and some moments (or so) I feel guilty that my life is good when so many have it so much worse. Mind you, I also spend significant time and energy suriviving being me, so make sure not to envy me without seeing the whole picture. I often wish Corin could experience a week of my childhood, for perspective, though definitely not the whole thing (great as it was to be a Child of the 80’s).

Awareness of our world forces a response. “If you aren’t outraged, then you just aren’t paying attention” is as true a saying as I know. However, living in a perpetual state of outrage wreaks havoc on the body, the emotions, and the psyche. Oh, and the spiritual life. It’s utterly unsustainable. Having experimented with this for about half of the last decade, I can, with confidence, not recommend it.

Denial is also an option. Burying one’s head in the sand is a long and time-honored tradition. I mean, not really a long-term option for a decent human being, nor for a Jesus follower (we love it when those two overlap), but a temptation for most of us nonetheless.

As a special bonus, we can also feel bad for feeling good when there’s so much evil in the world and swirling around us. Raise your hand if you’ve struggled with this dog-chasing-tail guilt? No, I can’t see your hand, but I’ll feel better imagining our solidarity .

Today, I’m pondering this elusive balance in which we try to appreciate and enjoy the good, beautiful, often undeserved things in our lives–the “good and perfect gifts” of James 1:17, if you will–while at the same time trying to keep from losing our minds or exploding the blood vessels in our brains over the bad stuff.

I don’t know if I have good counsel on this one. But I wrestle with it all the time and here are my thoughts.

Almost none of us appreciate what we have as much as we might. Let me say, categorically, you and I are not over-appreciating what’s going well in our lives. There’s a roughly 97.5% chance you’re taking some major privileges and blessings for granted.***

In my experience, being scolded for not appreciating something is an ineffective way to become more grateful. “Eat your food! Don’t you know that kids you don’t know are starving in a place you’ve never been or seen?” Strange that this doesn’t work, since being scolded helps us in so many other areas. </sarcasm>

Thus, I’m not scolding me. Or you. I’m not making “first-world problem” jokes. I find those troubling on many levels.

Instead, I’m remembering how to be mindful. I’m remembering that feeling of lying flat on the floor, trying to find a less-excruciating position while Corin and Kelsey Bonilla left for ultimate with sad murmurs of “wish you could play.”

It would be nice if we could be grateful for things without first having to lose them. I don’t mean merely acknowledge, “Yeah, that’s a good thing in my life.” I mean live gratefully.

Someday I won’t be able to sprint anymore. A likely sooner someday, Corin won’t be living with us and won’t be playing every ultimate game with me. I’m not going to freak out about that. Life is a cycle. But I am going to breathe these moments. I’m going to remember to live with my eyes open. I’m going to take mental snapshots and pray that my memory files remain uncorrupted for a long time, ideally until my last breath.

Someone (and I know exactly whom) will demand, “So what if you get to play disc if our democracy is crumbling?”

I look at it the other way around. If things really are going to hell, it’s that much more important to savor what we have while we have it. We know that, right? That’s why the conversation changes when we find out how much time a person has left to live.

One aspect of living mindfully is realizing, without panic or regret, that everything we do is finite. This is why raising children is such a bizarre experience for many of us. It’s hard and exhausting. Some days it’s too much for us. Time stops. Kim once told me, cheerfully and in those wee, squinty hours, when I was changing about my twelfth diaper, “Only 10,000 to go!” I laughed and ran to deal with that diaper so I could return and tickle her. Don’t blame me; she had it coming. “The days crawl but the years fly” is another statement of profound truth. I changed diapers for four kids and easily surpassed 10,000, but those days that I could not imagine ending are now far in the rearview mirror. Even when it feels like we’ll get to–or have to–do something forever, we reach the end.

I’m not suggesting nor pretending that grasping this balance is easy, but I consider it the crucial element of living gratefully. We take for granted what we “always” have. Don’t believe me? When did you last feel gratitude for the clean water you drink? Some of you live in Nicaragua, so it wasn’t that long ago. The rest of you, I’m guessing it’s been a while. We’re not talking only about drinking water, of course. Let your mind hover over what you have in your life that others live without, possibly causing them great difficulty. Heat. Food. Functioning car. Real friends.

Again, if you can, hear this as reminder, not scolding. We’re seeking perspective. I think the scold has made us knee-jerk at any reminders of our good lives; that is monumentally unhelpful.

Now, concerning the problems around us: We can do what we can do. I don’t know what that is in your case. Every day, I talk with Jesus about whether there is more I should be doing. I pray, and keep my eyes open, and then I keep doing the things I know to do. Sometimes I move to Nicaragua. Other times, I make Kim’s coffee.

If we are suffering a crisis in our country, that makes me more responsible to do my part. But panicking or fixating on the trouble signs won’t increase my contribution. Quite the opposite, it can disable me, especially as I am a touch high maintenance, easily entangled and tripped up. Likewise, dropping or ignoring the good things in my life to “focus on the problem” makes me less joyful, more angry, less gracious, more resentful, less generous and more selfish. In short, I start to resemble the monster I oppose.

Jesus tells us when things get bad, that’s when we…love. Show kindness. Be grace.

For me, living mindfully means remembering always to be grateful, not as a cursory nod but as a conscious focus of my life. Accepting my limitations, and refusing to feel guilty either for those limitations or for my blessings, is a growing discipline in my life, one I suspect has contributed to my feeling less depressed. That acceptance must go hand-in-hand with doing what I can, when I can. I’m the first to tell you I struggle with this balance. But I’m convinced I’m struggling in the right direction.

How about you?

One final thought: If you say, “Oh, yeah, I’ve tried being grateful and it didn’t change anything,” I’m going to say, gently, you didn’t do what I’m describing.

*Save for that stretch when I rehabbed and made a comeback after knee surgery.

**The GOP just described the events of January 6, 2021, as “legitimate political discourse.” No, seriously. Sorry if I just punctured your denial. Capitol police were attacked and killed. Four have committed suicide. You can easily find video of the violent attack. It was political. There was nothing “legitimate” nor resembling “discourse” in that insurrection. I’m merely using that as an example, not delving into the horrors of January 6 or the committed “reframing” we’ve seen since.

***Yes, I did a study.

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