Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, January 25, 2019

Voting for the "Me" I Want to Become

In a recent post, I quoted from a book by James Clear. Since then, I bought the book and finished it in a week, adding numerous fluorescent green highlights throughout. The title, Atomic Habits, refers to the remarkable results that occur from tiny changes, not unlike the splitting of an atom.

Face it, the quality of our lives depends largely on our habits. But with better habits, anything is possible. We recognize this every January, and we try to make changes. But too often we see little result and by the end of the month we’ve given up. This author offers a framework for getting 1% better every day by making these tiny changes and sticking to them over a long period of time. If you think in financial terms, habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.

“Willpower,” he says, “is not the best way to approach habits.” That’s good news, because few of us possess any. What I love about this book is not that it teaches us a bunch of stuff we don’t already know, but that it helps us understand WHY those things are true. It explains how our brains work, how channels of habit are created, and how they can be redirected. It focuses on your system, not your goal.

We tend to focus on our end goal and use that as a motivator. But think about it. Goals are not what differentiate winners from losers. Both may have the same goal. It’s their process, their system of continuous small improvements, that achieves a different outcome. But the outcome itself should not be our focus.

Outcome-based habits tend to be our default. For example, we set a goal to lose forty pounds or to earn so much money, then figure out a plan to reach it and think, “then I’ll be the person I want to be.”

Instead, Clear suggests we flip the script by using Identity-based habits. Start identifying as the person you want to be. For example, “I am the kind of person who is fit and healthy. Fit and healthy people take the stairs. They choose salad over fries, and water over cola. Since I am the type of person who is fit and healthy, I will make these choices.”

Or, “I am the type of person who walks with God. People who walk with God read a portion of the Bible every day.”

Or, “I am the type of person who cares for the environment. People who care for the environment take the time to recycle.”

You begin to realize every action you take is a vote for the type of person you want to be.

This is different than “fake it ‘til you make it,” because when you practice these small habits, you’re providing evidence to reinforce a different identity. No single instance will change anything, but doing small things gives you a glimpse and you begin to see yourself in a new light. That’s why saying things like “I have a sweet tooth” or “I’m lousy at math” or “I am a smoker” is self-sabotage. What you declare, you will act on to build your case.

Although this is not a faith-based book, much of Clear’s advice was suggested in various ways long ago by writers of the scriptures. This month I’ve been going through the Psalms and discovering how often the words “I will…” appear. More than a hundred! David and the other psalmists seemed to inherently understand the significance of making these declarations and the power of repetition.

What kind of person do you want to be? What one little habit does that kind of person practice every day?

More hints on this next week.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Racist in Us All

Martin Luther King Jr. would be ninety years old this month, which means he was only thirty-nine when he was assassinated in 1963. That’s not a lot of time to accomplish all he did, not only for African-Americans, but for Native Americans as well.

The United States will commemorate Martin Luther King Day on January 21.

I had never read the full text of King’s famous speech, made just before the civil rights march he led on Washington in 1963. I decided to look it up and do more than merely skim it. I expected to find most moving the lines we’ve all heard, the oft-repeated ones like “I have a dream” or “let freedom ring.” Instead, what struck me most was this bit from somewhere near the middle of the speech:

“…many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”

Nearly sixty years have passed since King delivered those powerful words. But, while many things have improved, racism still runs rampant—on our streets and in our hearts. It’s easy for us here in Portage la Prairie to shake our heads at our neighbors to the south and wonder how they could be so blind. So misguided. So ignorant. Meanwhile, Indigenous Canadians continue to experience prejudice every day in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. New Canadians understand what it’s like to be viewed as less-than. To take jobs for which they are overqualified because it’s all they can get.

Racism hurts a country. It maims a town. It destroys communities. And it resides in every one of our hearts on some level, if we’re honest. Whatever color your skin.

Our community, I’m told, is approximately one-third First Nations people. So wouldn’t it seem logical that when I attend a fundraiser, when I observe a Council meeting, when I go to church, when I hear a youth choir, when I show up at my community theater group’s regular meetings, when I watch a sporting event—wouldn’t it seem logical that one third of the people participating in that community event would be First Nations?

Logical, but far from true.

I’m grateful our City hired an Indigenous Community Coordinator whose role is to help give the First Nations citizens of Portage la Prairie a voice. I’m thankful my country opens its doors to immigrants. I’m pleased our government decided to honor Viola Desmond by making her the first Canadian woman to appear on a bank note…and sad that she’s not around to see it. I’m glad my church made one of its key goals and prayers to become one-third First Nations.

Why has Prairie Alliance Church made this so specific? Because not only do we desire to accurately reflect our larger community, we want to help bring God’s Kingdom to earth, like Jesus taught us to pray. The book of Revelation gives us some pretty colorful images of what God’s Kingdom looks like:

“I looked again. I saw a huge crowd, too huge to count. Everyone was there—all nations and tribes, all races and languages. And they were standing, dressed in white robes and waving palm branches, standing before the Throne and the Lamb and heartily singing: ‘Salvation to our God on his Throne!’”

The bottom line is, I know my heart needs to soften and grow. And that can’t happen when I close myself off from people of different backgrounds. My destiny is tied up with their destiny. My freedom is inextricably bound to their freedom.

And so is yours.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Don't Tell Anyone, But...

Years ago, in the days when voicemail was called an answering machine, I came home one day and listened to a message on ours. I have no memory of what the caller said in their intended message, but I vividly recall what they said after they thought the call was disconnected. This person had called from the home of another person we both knew, and as they continued to discuss me and my family, our machine continued to record the whole thing. I couldn’t believe my ears. I listened to it again to make sure I heard correctly, then deleted it, knowing it would feel especially hurtful to one of my children.

That didn’t stop it from hurting me.

I was angry. The nerve! It’s none of your business! And if it is your business, why don’t you talk about it to me instead of someone else whose business it also isn’t? I stewed about it for far too long, and—obviously—still remember it years later although the hurt and anger are gone.

Has this ever happened to you?

What eventually helped me let it go was to ask myself how often I’ve said things about others that would embarrass me to death if I found out I’d said them into their answering machine. Could I honestly say I was innocent? Can you?

Will Rogers said, “The only time people dislike gossip is when you gossip about them.”

He was right. We do like it. Have you had someone come to you and say, “I’m not one to gossip, but…” or “You didn’t hear this from me, but…”

Suddenly we’re all ears, aren’t we? Why is it so hard to end the conversation right there? We tell ourselves, “If I tell him to keep it to himself, he’ll feel judged by me and I’ll lose a friend.”

You might. Or, he may respect you more—in the long run—and take his stories elsewhere in the future. Better yet, keep them to himself.

What if 2019 were the year we made a habit of ending conversations that aim to tear others down, or are simply none of our business?

Here are a few better responses we could practise, hopefully without wounding the other person.
They ask, “Can you keep a secret?”
You say, “Only if it’s about you.”

They ask, “Did you hear about Jane?”
You say, “No, but if it’s any of my business, I’m sure Jane will tell me when she’s ready.”

They ask, “So, what’s going on with Jane?”
You say, “You’ll need to ask Jane. It’s not my story to tell.”

They say, “You won’t believe what Jane did now.”
You say, “Have you voiced your concern directly to Jane?”

Or, if they start in with no prelude, you can jump in with “I’m sorry to hear that, and I’m uncomfortable discussing it, since Jane isn’t here and it’s really none of my business.”

Or how about this: “You know, I’m really trying to work on not saying negative things about others, and I need all the help I can get. So can you please not share that with me?”

The sad truth is gossiping projects your own insecurities and makes you an unsafe person.
The Bible says a few things about it, too. Proverbs 16:28 “…a gossip separates close friends.” 

Ephesians 4:29-30, “Blessed are those who whisper not secrets about friends, nor murmur rumors about acquaintances, nor shout lies about foes. But they delight in building others up…”

I need your help with this. But please don’t tell anyone.