Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Childlike Trust

I asked my five-year-old nephew, “Who loves you?” He looked at me and confidently said, “You.” His boldness and lack of hesitation made me wonder how our adult lives would be if we had the same certainty. What if we unapologetically believed in love?
Children trust deeply. They are confident that those who love them do so unconditionally. Children don’t believe that love can be threatened by dependency or by asking for help. As we get older, we come to the conclusion that love has conditions and alter our behavior to fit within those confines.
Without question we need to be treated with grace. Unconditional love does not give others a pass to be flippant with our feelings. Yet as we grow older, we teach ourselves that those who love us will only do so if we perform.

Over the years I have had to work on trusting love. I convinced myself that people would love me as long as I had a smile on my face and maintained positivity. I only wanted others to see me at my best. I was afraid to let people experience me when I needed help. By conditioning myself to think that I had to perform—appear to not need anything—I prevented authentic, close relationships. I presented a version of me, but not all of me. My erroneous belief caused me discomfort and gave others the impression that I didn’t trust them enough to be vulnerable. I had to learn that love was not directly proportional to how often I asked for help and that love was not performance-based. I needed to understand that I could not experience authentic love until I was authentic. It wasn’t easy, but I learned to trust in my friends’ love for me.

My nephew has needed me for many things over the years. I’ve carried him. I’ve dressed him. I’ve prepared his food. I’ve given him my undivided attention at times when I’d rather read. Still, he asks me for help because he trusts that I’ll give it, and more importantly, he trusts that my love for him will not change. If only we could all walk in the same level of trust with those who genuinely love us.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Fear of Missing Out

Last week I volunteered at a study abroad fair. I was thrilled as I watched students take initial steps to enhance their collegiate experience with international study. Study abroad changed my life so I was excited about the possibility facing these young coeds. It wasn’t long before I discovered that in addition to excitement there was something else permeating the air—fear. I was surprised by how many students asked some variation of, ”Why should I leave everything I have here?”
Making decisions requires us to weigh options. We have to consider how each option will impact our lives and base our choices on potential impact. The idea of potential impact is often what causes us to stumble. We want to know exactly what will happen before we make choices and that’s not possible. There are no guarantees. Even still, I am amazed at how often people choose good and refuse great. For example, it is good to get a college education. It is great to get a college education and international experience.
Fear often gets a strong vote during decision-making. During the study abroad fair it was apparent that these students—like many others—had an intense fear of missing out. It is so common that it is now referred to as fomo. Yet it isn’t the fear of missing out on greatness that drives decisions. We allow the fear of missing out on regularity and routine to lead us.
In order to live a life of greatness you have to be willing to let go of goodness. The students who asked me why they should leave their current life—their normal, routine college life—for a semester filled with unknown possibilities are afraid that life will pass them by while they are away. What will I miss if all of my friends are here and I’m not? Will my boyfriend/girlfriend wait for me? What if my relationships change? What if my life doesn’t fit anymore?
Maybe you are facing a major decision. Should you apply for a new job? Should you relocate? Should you leave behind life as you know it for a life that is unknown? As you weigh your options, talk things out with friends and family, and make your pros and cons lists consider what is leading you. Making a rational and informed decision is one thing, but when we are ruled by a fear of missing out, even when we choose routine we never fully live. When we fear missing out and make decisions based on that fear we are chasing instead of experiencing life. Don’t let the fear of missing out cause you to miss out.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Those Closest to You

I am baffled by the idea that we treat those closest to us the worst. Why would anyone choose to treat his/her family members and closest friends worse than others? Yet it is our assumption that our family and closest friends will always be around that allows for this irresponsible phenomenon.

We are often on our best behavior when meeting someone new or while at our places of employment and in other social settings. We don’t want outsiders to know how rude we can be, how careless we are with our words, or how much we take those we love for granted. We would be utterly ashamed if our neighbors, coworkers, church members, or our children’s friend’s parents heard how flippant we are with the feelings of those we live for.

My family will not stop being related to me and I am confident that I have lifelong friendships. Even still, I am not given a free pass to treat any of them as if their feelings are trivial. We treat people we’re closest to the worst because we believe in their unconditional love. We trust that they will judge us by the sum total of our actions and not isolated incidents. We hope that love is enough to lift us above our faults and thoughtlessness. We rely on our comprehensive intentions and character to cover our harsh tones and words. Yet how different would our homes and relationships be if we regarded our loved ones with the same level of reverence we reserve for those outside of our inner circle? What if we cared as much about how our parents, siblings, children, and long-established friends feel as we fear being judged by those who evaluate us solely by our actions? What if we treated our loved ones better?

Try being more cognizant of how you speak with and treat those you love. If it’s not fitting for your neighbor, church member, or coworker ask yourself why it’s appropriate for your spouse, sibling, parent, and/or children. It may be extremely difficult, but the testing of your patience will not compare to making your loved ones feel more loved.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Miracle of Mirrors

I often write about friendship because I have such an intense respect for its purpose and its capacity. When we feel inadequate friends reassure us. When we fail to focus friends nudge us in the right direction. When we become overly impressed with ourselves friends usher in balance. Through the eyes of a true friend we can see a complete depiction of ourselves.

Mirrors are a wonderful invention. They allow us to examine ourselves for imperfections. They help us to see what is missing, excessive, and out of place. Our friendships also serve the same function as mirrors. Our collective choice of friends reflect characteristics of ourselves, but individually, our friends reveal what we fail to closely inspect. Friends can point out the parts of our lives that we unconsciously miss or intentionally avoid.

Over the years I became extremely good at dodging difficult questions. I didn’t consider it lying because my answers were truthful. Yet, my truthful answers they left out more than they revealed and most people were satisfied with my elusive replies. A serious issue developed because I started to believe my scripted responses. My belief impacted my behavior. I said certain areas weren’t a problem so I stopped working through them. Progress halted. Only the mirrors in my life have challenged me and pressed for more than what I was willing to openly give. I felt uncomfortable being challenged, but growth develops after evaluation and evaluation requires a close look into the areas of our lives that are hidden, deficient, and faulty.

When your actions and approaches are challenged by those who genuinely see you, consider the intent and potential impact before you emotionally shut down. Assess the motive behind the probe. If it’s coming out of love and in the spirit of authentic concern then try to focus on the message instead of how uncomfortable the message made you feel.

Life’s largest lessons force you to question the mantras you’ve relied on for years. Growth can be painful. Cleansing your soul can be upsetting. We need our friends—our mirrors—not only to get through these difficult periods, but also to even begin the process of self reflection. Mirrors were created to aid with examination and to reflect light. Allow the mirrors in your life to help you examine yourself so that you can fully reflect the light within.