Category Archives: indecision

Thorny nests, Dips, and Cul-de-Sacs

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thorny nests

photo by Mr. T in DC

I once read that birds actually build thorns deep into their nests. Apparently, it’s a parenting issue. When Mama bird finds herself with a too-comfortable fledgling, reluctant to spread wings and fly, she says, “I’ll fix this” and begins removing downy layers, one by one, to expose those thorns. Baby bird says, “Hey–ow! That hurts! Ma! What’re you doing?!”

Suddenly, the nest is not so cozy. The idea of leaving seems more inviting.

Is it possible that God himself builds thorns into our nest?  When we find ourselves in thorny circumstances, are we being prodded to leave because the nest has become too comfortable or, at least, too familiar? We refuse to budge, so God lovingly removes the cushioning, making it harder and harder to stay.

Maybe God just wants us to fly. Without exposure to those prickly barbs, though, we might never know the joy.

Over the years, when I’ve found myself in difficult situations, I’ve wondered, “Are these thorns? Is it time to go? Or do I still have things to learn here?”  Very often, I knew the answer deep down. Admitting it…well, that often takes time…and more thorns.

In his excellent little book The Dip, Seth Godin reasons that times of conflict represent either a dip or a cul-de-sac.  Every job, relationship, and circumstance has ups and downs. Sometimes, we’re just in a dip, and the right thing to do is to push through and grow from the adversity. But sometimes we’re in a cul-de-sac, doomed to endless driving in circles…unless we leave.

Dips. Thorns. Cul de Sacs. It takes time and a little cold, hard honesty for me to know when my struggle is a simple dip or a nasty thorn–poking me in such confounded ways that the idea of leaping off the edge sounds infinitely better than staying put. Seen in this light, I can let go of the struggle and come to a place of grace. No need to find someone to blame (though I admit I try).  Truth is, the thorns were probably always there. They were just covered by God’s protective grace for a time. But he sometimes he removes that protection so that I will have no choice but to brave right up to the edge and take a flying leap.

And I suspect that looking back is not a good idea when in flight.

A Time to Walk Away

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cast away

Photo by Beni Ishaque Luthor

Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” isn’t exactly a pensive song. At first glance, it seems like nothing more than a celebration of a perpetual drunk fest on some Mexican beach. But tucked in the lyrics is a slow, somewhat poignant, realization: As he considers his Margaritavile demise, the singer first claims it was “nobody’s fault,” then “…it could be my fault.” And finally, the epiphany, “It’s my own damn fault.”

Oi vay. I can relate this slow grind to humility, especially when it comes to knowing when to walk away. When I was a young teacher, I was surprised to so readily see among my colleagues the ones who had stayed too long. I remember telling Barry, “Please remind me to quit when I don’t like the kids anymore!”

But sometimes we are the last to see when it’s time to go, aren’t we? Ecclesiastes says, “There’s a time to keep and a time to cast away.”

Wisdom is about knowing when.

When is it right to let go of whatever we are holding onto? A job? A person? A dream? A grudge? A personal war?  I don’t always know, do you?

I do know this: Hang on too long, and the misery that ensues is often my own fault because I’m only hanging on out of fear, comfort…even laziness. I may even have legitimate grievances to pin my frustrations to, but the truth is that I have outstayed the grace I was given to deal with them. Without that grace, the weeds in any human interaction eventually wind round our necks and choke the living daylights out of us.

Knowing the “when” is hard, though.  I’m often too close, too tangled in the weeds to see. I do know this much. It’s time to walk away if–

1) My only reason for remaining involves fear, laziness, or the desire to be comfortable

2) My “round” self just no longer fits the ever-tightening square hole of my circumstances

3) I’ve made a god of the thing or person I’m clinging to–and I’m trying to squeeze life, or affirmation, or provision from it, when I should be trusting God for those things instead.  Ugh.

I’d love to know how others deal with this question, though. As you think about letting go, what determines your “when”?

The top 5 regrets people make on their deathbeds

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My sister-in-law, Lisa, shared a link on Facebook to an article with the above title. The list was compiled by a woman named Bonnie Ware who worked for many years with the dying.  The #1 deathbed regret?

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Ms. Ware writes, “Most  people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”  Ms. Ware encourages us to honour our dreams before a lack of health limits or eliminates our choices.

I question my sanity regularly, especially since I began working for myself just as the recession was beginning to bloom.  What kind of crazy person does that?  But my gut keeps telling me the same thing: Keep moving forward. I am learning that when you go after your passion, there really is no roadmap. Even with a business plan in hand, you have test your assumptions and make adjustments on a daily basis.

You also have to become very comfortable with uncertainty.  If you can trust God, this isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s a good place to be. I often find myself having conversations with God that go something like this: “Ok, God, I’m moving forward with this idea.  Are you watching?  Ok…here I go.  Stop me if this is wrong!” And then I trust that God will do just that.

testing the waters

photo by Brian Uhreen

I’m not sitting around waiting for daily epiphanies before I move. I’m just sticking my toes in the water and watching to see if they part.  If they do, guess what?  I’m moving. You’ll soon find me making my way across the riverbed. If the waters don’t move, it’s time for a route correction. And if I’m listening, I can hear those heavenly GPS directions and adjust to them while I’m in motion. It is much, much harder if I’m stuck in neutral. My friend Sonya said her father used to remind her,  “It’s very difficult to turn the wheels of parked car.”

Don’t sit around wondering if you can pursue your passion. Just go after it, but keep an eye and ear peeled to heaven for those route corrections. You can trust.

(You can read the full article about deathbed regrets at http://thenextweb.com/lifehacks/2011/05/31/the-top-5-regrets-people-make-on-their-deathbeds/)

Missed Moments

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Okay, I’m not a movie reviewer, but it just so happens that this post, like the last one, is inspired by a movie. I went to see Valkyrie recently. Whatever you think of the film itself is not the topic of this post. The story is incredibly compelling. It centers on what was probably the most famous failed attempt on Hitler’s life by some of his own top military leaders and advisers. It makes for fascinating drama to watch these people who were desperate to wrest their country from Hitler’s insanity and certain destruction, to salvage whatever they could for Germany. The movie does a good job of portraying the agonizing question that such a dilemma would pose for anyone: At what point is such rebellion and treason an act of honor?

However, the thing that struck me most was the thunderous impact of silence and inaction. There were several moments in this story where history would have changed significantly had a small handful of people or, at times, even just one person acted. Hundreds of thousands of lives might have been saved. It is a staggering indictment of fear and profound illustration of the destruction our sins of omission can cause. The Book of Common Prayer general confession reads, “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.” This film is a perfect picture of what it looks like when we leave undone those things that require courageous action.

In one scene, for example, a commander of a communications post has a choice, by continuing to send messages, to aid those attempting to overthrow Hitler–or he can send through the counter commands coming from Hitler’s command post. At that moment, the power lies with him as to which communiques will be considered legitimate. He hesitates and then chooses the “safe route,” siding with Hitler. Had he chosen otherwise, it is quite likely the coup would have succeeded. I’m not sure of the historical accuracy of this particular scene, but the scene was a great illustration of the difference–for good or evil–that one soul makes. I recommend the film if for no other reason than to see this point depicted in such frightening terms.

By the way, the official site for the film provides some good visual time-lines and background on all of the players in the conspiracy against Hitler. For teachers, it could be a compelling starting point to explore the topic further or to introduce primary research.

 

© 2009 L. Kay Johnson, L is for LaNita. All rights reserved.