Thursday, November 27, 2014

Greed, the Anti-Thanks

In this season of Thanksgiving, it's important to take stock of all that we have and to give thanks to God. Over the past couple of nights, my wife and I have been more deliberate around encouraging ourselves and our children to share about everyday graces and gifts. As we pray at night, we remind ourselves of the many things that we are thankful for: our family, our health, our home, our food, our friends, my job, our finances, etc.

During dinner a couple of night ago, my wife shared with me an interesting tidbit from a book that she was reading regarding Adam and Eve and how their act of eating forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil was not only an act of cosmic mutiny against God and an act of distrust of God's goodness and character - it was an act of profound ungratefulness. It really was the first act of anti-thanksgiving.

The Garden of Eden was a paradise flush with anything and everything that Adam and Even could have wanted, and instead of gratefulness and joy, their hearts wandered to the one thing that God told them to stay away from. Or put another way, instead of being immensely grateful, they just wanted more.

That's the interesting rub for me. The opposite of thankfulness isn't (just) ungratefulness. The opposite of thankfulness is greed. The heart's condition sways away from thankfulness and contentment when ignores the harvest which is in hand and looks covetously at what's in the distance. My heart is not and cannot be thankful when it obsesses about more job security, more money, bigger houses, newer cars, more friends and greater stature. And the truth is, many of the things we wish for aren't bad, it's just that we've lost the spirit of gracious contentedness. We have lost the ability to say, ""God, as much as I think I'd like more, I will give thanks for what I have and trust You to give me exactly what I need.

So if the goal is to be thankful, a good place to start is to stop obsessing over more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Healthy Jolt of Figurative Near-Death Experiences

I was in the midst of yet another work crisis when I emailed one of my subordinates an urgent request to pull together some information I needed to address a fire drill. As I sent the email from my car during my morning commute (honest, I did so when the car was at a complete stop at a traffic light), I glanced and saw that the email didn't go through.

Message Not Sent. Your message has been rejected by the server.

Irked, I went into my Outbox of my iPhone and re-sent the message. Again I got:

Message Not Sent. Your message has been rejected by the server.

At this point, I started to get a little nervous. Is it possible that my e-mail access had been turned off? Is it possible that I had been... No, they didn't, did they?  Am I going to be greeted by security and human resources when I got to my office? I know that things had been tough at work, but really? The scenarios raced in my mind.

When I got into my office, I tried to log into my computer and ominously, I got this message:

Your account has been locked. Please contact the IT helpdesk for more information.

As I called IT, my brain multi-tasked into numerous different directions. I was thinking of what I was going to tell my wife. I was angered at being dismissed in such a slipshod and unprofessional way. I was thinking of the people in my network who I was going to be able to talk to around next steps. In some ways, I went through an ultra-concentrated version of the 7 Stages of Grief. Since I had already gotten fired, I didn't bother bargaining, but I quickly ran through anger, depression towards acceptance and a "hey, this is for the best and I'm actually a little relieved " form of hope.

Of course, all of that emotional energy was wasted when I called the IT helpdesk and the fellow on the other line matter-of-factly said, "Hmm... I'm not sure what happened here. It's unlocked now, sorry about the inconvenience." And when I had more or less normal conversations later on with my human resources counterpart and my boss, I came to the realization that my morning was much ado about nothing.

But it wasn't a complete waste. To me, it was a healthy jolt which forced me to wrestle with how much of my own identity I placed in my work. It reminded me that any vocation or job is a temporary season without any real security. Rather than trying to grip the hold on the job tighter and scheme to manipulate circumstances and respond out of fear, I resolved to take a step back and remind myself of the basic credo I've always told others: "Do your best and work with integrity and let God take care of the results. Whatever needs to happen God will make happen."

I've read that some people who go through near-death experiences often respond by making the most of their everyday, recognizing that life is fragile and each day is precious. Others respond with a sense of invincibility, reasoning that they're playing with "house money" as they've already cheated death once and any extra day is gravy. While my experience wasn't nearly as traumatic, it's certainly helped me to put work and my attitude towards work in its proper place.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Flawed Parenting and the Kids Who Somehow Survive

Before I had children, I would shake my head upon hearing about kids getting in trouble. "Parents," I'd think to myself. "If the kid had better parents, he wouldn't have been in this situation." After all, if parents would just follow the Brady Bunch model of parenting - comprised of dilemma, discipline plus sage and stern advice from parents and ending with resolution and hugs at the end - society would be a whole lot better for it. It wasn't that complicated, just follow the above formula and you'd get kids that would be happy, healthy and well mannered.

Of course, my illusions around the effectiveness of formulaic parenting ending quickly once I became a parent. I was reminded of this when I read an article mourning the loss of three young men in a tragic car wreck. I appreciated the tone, grace and wisdom of the article, which stated the following: "Any adult who looks at this horror and doesn't say, "There but for the grace of God . . . " is deluded about what tempts their own kids (or kids' friends). Or about what their own youthful years and peers were like."

The teenage mind is a wacky thing, and I know this because I was one, and heck, I was actually a well-behaved one. But like every teenage kid, I did some stupid things out of sense of invincibility and brashness. Much like those teens who lost their lives in the tragic car accident, I liked to drive fast, and there was a day when I was enjoying zipping around a local mountain road in my '82 Honda Accord. Unfortunately for me, I failed to navigate a turn as a short school bus was approaching and ending up fishtailing. But by the grace of God, I didn't fishtail into the bus or fishtail off the side of the mountain. Instead I plowed into the side of the mountain, which caused considerable damage to my vehicle (to the point my rear view mirror broke off and ended up in the rear seats with the force of the collision), but I managed to walk away from the wreck.

Of course, I'm not advocating absentee or irresponsible parenting. Parents should absolutely love, teach, discipline and nurture the hearts, minds and souls of their children. But there simply isn't any black and white correlation with how kids respond. In the most literal sense, the outcomes emerge very much by the grace of God.

I think about this for my own children. My wife and I deeply love our children, but at the end of the day, after much parenting and praying, we release them into the hands of a God who loves them more than we do. And by the grace of God they go.