|Image by Kishore Nagarigari|
[Today's reading is longer than usual. I wrote it as a short chapter of a new book by Joan Herrmann titled Live A Good Life. When the book is published, I'll let you know how you can get a copy. I hope you can take a few extra minutes to enjoy today's message.]
Maybe you’ve had this experience. I recall one afternoon when I attended a parent-teacher conference for my second-grade son. We sat in the children’s chairs. The seat was about a foot off the ground and certainly not made for adults. Those chairs were designed for little people. And as I sat uncomfortably waiting for the conference to begin, I had time to think about how much bigger I’ve gotten over the years. I clearly don’t fit into the small furniture anymore.
We all grow. And, whether we are aware of it or not, we all change. We not only grow physically, we change in other ways. For instance, we grow in our roles. I occasionally asked my adolescent kids, “How do you think you’re doing raising your parents?” I understood that I had to continually change my methods of parenting if I were to relate well to my children as they matured.
One mother told of how she changed as a parent. She mentioned that when her first baby coughed or sneezed, they’d practically rush her to the hospital. But Mom mellowed over the years. One day her youngest swallowed a dime. No hospital visits. No histrionics. She just said, “You know, don’t you, that the dime will come out of your allowance?”
We grow in our roles. And we grow in other ways also. We grow mentally. I hope you are wiser and more knowledgeable today than you were in the past.
And we grow emotionally. Are you better at handling adversity today? Are you a kinder, more generous person? Do you find it easier to love and forgive? Dr. Karl Menninger said this about love and growth: “We do not fall in love, we grow in love and love grows in us.” Is love growing in you?
We also have the chance to grow in another important way -- spiritually. I hope your spirituality is not the same as it was when you were a child. You probably discovered that the spirituality that worked so well for you back then no longer satisfies.
Many children were taught to pray something like this: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray thee Lord my soul to take.” (Actually, that prayer is a little brutal when you think about it and I’m told that it originated from a time when plagues swept Europe and children feared that they indeed may not awaken from sleep.) But, if you’re like most people, your spirituality matured as you grew up. A child may pray, “Give me…” or “Help me...” When she becomes an adult, she may find herself more often praying, “Use me….” or simply “Thank you.”
We never stop growing and changing. We grow firmer or more flexible in our attitudes. We develop new skills and abilities. We grow in vision and we grow in confidence. We may also change in negative ways if we’re not careful. We may grow more fearful, more cynical or insensitive to others. We may even find ourselves becoming people we don’t like very much. Life is all about growing and changing.
There are few exceptions to this rule. In fact, the only folks I know that never change reside in communities we call cemeteries.
One woman was shopping for Thanksgiving supper. None of the turkeys she found were large enough to feed her family. “Do these turkeys get any bigger?” she asked the young man stocking the shelves. “No, ma’am,” he said. “They’re all dead.”
If we’re dead, we won’t grow. But if we’re alive, we will. The only question is, will you decide HOW you want to grow? Will you decide to take responsibility for shaping your life? Because, if you don’t make a decision about how you’re going to grow, life will make it for you. If you’re not in the process of becoming the person you want to be, you are in the process of becoming someone you had no intention of being.
I find one question that, if asked repeatedly, has an amazing power to put intentional growth on the fast track. This one question, more than anything else, can help you take control of how you will grow and change. The question is, “What would the person I want to become do in this situation?” That question alone will help you make different decisions, change the way you act and even change the way you think. That one question, asked regularly, may be the single most important way to take control of how you will grow in body, mind, emotions and spirit. Let me show you how it works.
What if you lost your job or suffered a serious financial setback? You might want to just give up. Instead, ask the question, “What would the person I want to become do in this situation?” Then decide to do it. You may not feel at all hopeful. You may even be afraid. But if the person you want to become is an optimistic and courageous person, you might decide not to react in fear. Instead, you might act as if you had no fear of failure and courageously put yourself out there for new employment opportunities. Or you may look at your job loss as an chance to go back to school instead of wasting time on regrets, depression or fearful inaction.
Or how about this? Let’s say you were betrayed or somehow deeply hurt by a trusted friend or relative. You may want to strike back in an equally hurtful way, or simply have nothing to do with her anymore. Instead, ask the question, “What would the person I want to become do in this situation?” Then act on that answer. You probably feel anger and more pain than you care to admit, but but if the person you want to become is an emotionally strong individual, you might decide to act with strength, rather than licking your wounds. You might choose an appropriate way to confront that friend and tell her how you feel, talk the problem through and even be ready to forgive if a valued relationship can be restored.
Asking yourself this question regularly and then acting on your answer will shape you bit by bit into a person you admire and respect. No situation is too big or too small. It works equally well with daily irritants and life’s bigger challenges.
Take road rage. It is irritating to be honked at or cut off in traffic by an angry driver. You may find yourself reacting in a flash of temper. Next time that occurs, ask the question, “What would the person I want to become do in this situation?” Then choose, in that moment, a different way to respond. If the future you, the person you want to become, were abundantly patient and understanding, you might decide to laugh it off and use the opportunity to work on your sense of humor or to spend the next 15 minutes practicing peace of mind.
Or perhaps you are concerned about some of life’s weightier problems, such as the plight of the poor. But the problems seem overwhelming you feel stymied. As a result, you do little to help. Instead, ask the question, “What would the person I want to become do in this situation?” Then actually do it. If you imagine that the person you want to become is generous and engaged in social problems, you might find a local project and volunteer time and, if possible, money. You would figure out how to make volunteer service and generosity, or even advocacy for the poor, part of your increasingly engaged lifestyle.
I think George Bernard Shaw was right when he said, “Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” Creating yourself may be the most vital and important job you do. It is the task of every day. And it is also an important gift you give yourself -- the gift of creating the person you want to be.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that you’re not wonderful now. You might be just the person you need to be in this moment. Enjoy yourself. Even celebrate yourself. After all, it took a lifetime to get where you are today! But remember...someone else is waiting ahead -- a different version of you. And you have the opportunity to create that person, little by little, every day.
-- Steve Goodier
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