Time For A “Face” Lift

shutterstock_351834119Our society places a lot of value on beauty and outward appearance.  We think nothing of having work done (or of others having work done) to try and circumvent the effects of aging, and yet we are paying less and less attention to how we look on the inside.   We are losing our ability to be civil and courteous, and nowhere is this truth more apparent than on Facebook and other social media sites.  Over the past 6 months or so, I have been spending less time on Facebook and much of the time I’ve spent was, or is, hiding posts from people on ALL sides of varying issues (political or other).  My tolerance for the intolerance shown by so many people on so many subjects has really worn thin.  Before I go any further, let me just say that if you think I’m one of those people who just wants to stick their heads in the sand and not care, or are not willing to be engaged in thoughtful or even passionate discussion, I can assure you nothing is further from the truth.  I choose to be very engaged, just not online.

These days, there is turmoil all around us.  For one thing, the recent election cycle in our country has really taken a toll on most people and some people are very concerned – some for the same reasons and some for very different ones.  Then we look around us at other divides caused by different belief systems (whether religious or not), and it seems we are in a constant state of disruption and disagreement.  I have news for you: It has always been this way!   We think our debates are deeper or more enlightened.  We think the consequences are greater.  Guess what?  Every generation from the beginning of time has thought the same things.  And yes, people have always fought (and disagreed) passionately over what they believed.  From the beginning of time, there have always been people who were nasty and mean when trying to prove a point or argue a position, but it was different.  They didn’t have access to instant communication with the entire world!  We are bombarded with opinions and even mean-spirited lies about different positions or events.  We have instant information when something happens, and sometimes that information is not always accurate.  shutterstock_516722350That’s part of what is wrong with instant news.  Stories used to have time to develop before everyone heard something and reacted.  We’ve seen many stories that turned out not to be as they were originally portrayed, but it was too late to stop the reactions or public opinion – even when the facts finally come out.  On top of that, there is so much “fake” news that now exists for the sole purpose of stirring people up, or even worse, slandering or attacking them.

We live in a world where we can fire off our opinions immediately online, almost with impunity.  We no longer have to resort to picking up the phone and calling someone to discuss something.  We don’t have to wait until we are “around the water cooler” or face to face with someone before we throw out what we think.  There is something very valuable about waiting before we speak or give an opinion.  It gives us time to rethink HOW we want to give that opinion or state that comment.  We have lost our civility, and it has only escalated the meanness and fueled the fires of anger and hate.  Then we start choosing sides and refuse to listen to anyone who disagrees.  It’s true in our government as well as our own lives.  It needs to stop, but there are days when I fear we are too far gone.

Online we lose so much of what makes us human.  We lose tone, facial expression and body language. We lose accountability, and most of all we lose the trait of being courteous.  It’s easy to be rude when you don’t have to look people in the eye.  It’s easy to tear people down (including those we claim to love and care about) from behind a computer or phone screen.  There are no bounds to what people say or how far they will go to destroy someone who thinks, believes or lives differently.  As I mentioned earlier, even if we do not actively engage in the arguing, it is affecting us.  Even though we think we are ignoring it, we still feel its effects.  Think of it this way:  If you were in a room of people where the noise level and arguing (or fighting) was that loud, you would most likely leave even if you had an opinion that you wouldn’t mind discussing civilly.  Most of us would condemn the behavior we were witnessing and refuse to be part of it, but social media is different.  We’ve turned differing opinions into blood-sport.  We don’t care if a news story is real or fake; we use it as a weapon to go after people who disagree with us.  We’ve become more rude and intolerant as we hide behind our devices.  And that goes for ALL people of ALL beliefs and opinions.  shutterstock_74446510We don’t walk away from people who are rude or aggressive anymore, instead we devolve into them ourselves.  We forget that we are talking to human beings, and instead treat each other like animals.  We are bullies.  We are arrogant and insensitive asses.  We devolve into everything we say we aren’t or that we preach against.  We watch our friends tear each other down and just sit there.  We think, because we don’t read or react to the garbage that rolls through our feeds, that it isn’t affecting us.  But it is.  It wears on us until we finally crack.  I’ve fallen victim to it on several occasions myself.  “It” being that almost uncontrollable urge to fight back or snipe back at someone who is being unreasonable or, God forbid, wrong!  I’ve given into it on occasion, but it has almost always come with regret at some point.

The truth is, Facebook has become Face-less book.  We see photos but not each other.  We’ve become social voyeurs.  Voyeurs see others as objects and have no problem victimizing them as a result.  We, ourselves, have become less human and yet feel more entitled at the same time.  Everyone screams about intolerance, yet everyone IS intolerant.  Why?  Because it’s easy. Because even though we might love the people in our feeds, we feel faceless to them too.  The old saying that “character is what you do when no one is looking” is very true.  People sometimes ask, “What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t get caught?”  The answers are always interesting, but we are actually living in an age where we have created places where we think we can act like Neanderthals because we can’t be touched.  And then we wonder why our relationships (personally or professionally) are suffering.  We are so used to letting words fly out of our mouths without thought for others that we’ve started doing it in our real lives.  It was bound to happen, and yet we never saw it coming.  I see people who should be leaders acting like children, or even worse, teenagers whose only concern is being part of in the “in” club.  I see people snickering in corners about fellow workers, family members, church members or friends because their minds are being trained to think it’s normal to behave that way.  Just like we do on social media, we are watching it even if we aren’t actively participating.   And just like on Facebook, it is affecting us whether we want to admit it or not.

shutterstock_57395806So why does it matter? It matters because we are conditioning ourselves in ways that are harming us as individuals and as a society.  Our “real” lives are in turmoil.  We hear of tragedies almost daily where someone has attacked or even killed others.  We hear of relationships of all kinds falling apart and everyone is more concerned with blaming each other and making sure they are the one who  comes out “looking good.”  We watch kids bully and be mean to each other but then whine and cry when someone does the same to them.    We wring our hands and wonder why this selfish behavior has become so common, but we refuse to look in the mirror and admit we are part of the problem.  Whether we are actually fighting or being a voyeur, we are part of the problem.  We are more and more desensitized which makes us less and less self-aware.  In our “real” lives, we are becoming quicker to point out others who are being rude, offensive or a host of other negative traits while not seeing our own.

I said earlier there are days I fear we are too far gone, but there IS hope!  We actually can change, but we first have to want to change.   There is a passage of scripture (James chapter 4) that affected me very deeply the first time I read it when I was a teenager.  The entire chapter is great admonition as to how we should live, but it ends with this verse: “Therefore, to the one that knows to do good and doesn’t do it, to him it is sin.”  We forget that not doing the things that are right and good are just as sinful in God’s eyes as doing all the wrong things.  It’s time for us to stand up for what is good instead of defending our positions.  It’s time for us to “think on these things” that are “true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report.” (Phil 4:8) We must remember that our hearts and the hearts of others are not protected behind a wall of perceived immunity.   shutterstock_290171423We are ALL humans.  We are all imperfect and we all are tempted to get caught up in the drama with which we are constantly bombarded.  Instead, let us hold each other close in heart.  Let us truly love each other instead of tearing each other down.  Let’s purge our social media feeds AND our lives of the things that continually remind us of how we are different we are and start looking at how we are all the same.  Yes, it’s time for a “face”lift of a different kind, so I will leave you with this:  “Therefore, we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Blessings!

Are You Graduating or Are You Commencing?

shutterstock_125333273Today marks the beginning of June and a time when many schools will be holding their annual graduation/commencement ceremonies.  People get together to celebrate the accomplishments of their loved ones and bestow their well-wishes for the future.  We take time to reflect on the journey to this point and even if it was long and filled with set-backs, everything seems to fall away in the light of achievement.  Pictures flood social media sites because we want to share these times with our friends and family whether they are our personal events or those of the significant other people in our lives.

So what does it mean to graduate?  The word graduate is defined as “to divide into marked intervals, especially in use for measurement.”  Think about that for a moment.  Graduating is about recognizing and marking a specific period of time in our lives.  It could be applied to not only academics but jobs, relationships, recoveries, rehabilitations or any other aspect of life.  It is a time when we look back at where we have been and what we have come through, whether good or bad.  It is a time to recognize and celebrate our accomplishments.  It is a time we can feel proud of what we have done and no one thinks poorly of us for doing so.  It is about finishing a period of time on our journey no matter if that period has been something positive (like academics) or seemingly negative (like dealing with loss or recovery).  It is still a beautiful moment in our lives.  Regardless of where we have been, graduation allows us to “mark” our life’s timeline at the point something has ended. 

shutterstock_128054627Most people talk about times of graduation from school but have you ever looked at an actual printed graduation announcement?  Most of them still announce the event as a “commencement” ceremony.  Don’t miss the significance of this word or why it is used!  The word commence is defined as “to enter upon or have a beginning or start.”  Commencing is much different than graduating.  Graduating is about marking the end of a time period in our lives but commencing is about BEGINNING a new one.    Commencement is about recognizing the significance of the start of a new phase in life.  It signifies the beginning of our extended education or our professional path.  It represents the beginning of our commitment to our recovery.  It marks the start of our marriages or the arrival of our children. Commencing fills our lives with newness and freshness..  It is a re-birth of our path as well as our focus!  As we look forward and celebrate the opportunities ahead, it is a renewal of our hope for a better tomorrow and a gratitude for today.

shutterstock_134516501Here’s the beauty of both graduating and commencing:  both perspectives are beautiful and appropriate!  Life can sometimes become so difficult when we are in the midst of challenging circumstances.  We get worn out.  We fall down and feel like never getting back up.  Our energy and strength drains from us and it seems as though we will never get through our struggles but eventually we make reach the other side.  One of my favorite phrases used over and over in the bible is, “It came to pass.”  No matter the situation in which you find yourself, it will come to pass.  It is also important to recognize that sometimes we find ourselves in wonderful places from which we do not want to graduate or commence.  Sometimes life is rolling along smoothly and we have great joy and peace.  Naturally we do not want these periods of time to end.  We don’t want to mark the end of something that makes us feel good or brings us joy.  We don’t want to lose a loved one or have our own health fail.  We don’t want to lose a job we enjoy or have to move from a place we love.  We don’t want to think about “graduating” from something positive to something more difficult or painful.  We don’t want to consider “commencing” something new that might be more challenging for us. 

The reality is that time will continue to move on at a steady pace no matter how we may try to speed it up or slow it down.  Sometimes we soar through life and other times it drags us along behind it!  Time does not stop for us but thankfully we have markers to note significant points along our way.  We graduate.  We commence.  We pause to notice and commemorate chapters of our life.  It is a natural part of our journey to recognize our endings and beginnings and when we take time to reflect on where we have traveled over the many years, the markers of our lives bring color to the tapestry of our existence.

shutterstock_126623258So for all the academic graduates and “commencers” out there, I applaud your efforts in completing your degree!”  For the rest of you, always remember this:  Every day is a graduation and every moment is a commencement.  Each breath you take is a reminder of how different your life can be so take a deep breath.  Exhale the past and inhale the future.  There is always a reason to celebrate!

Blessings!

Why Wait For The New Year?

Passing of Time

I would bet it is safe to say that in the past year we have all seen our fair share of tragedies, natural disasters, senseless acts of violence, political madness or our own personal struggles. As a result, most of us are ready to leave this year behind and move forward into something better. But what makes January 1st so special? Why do we engage in all kinds of activities and celebrations to ring in the new year? What makes us believe things will actually be different?

Hope.

It is the spark of hope that burns somewhere inside us, refusing to completely give up on the promise of tomorrow. No matter how difficult the past year has been, we all know tomorrow could bring something entirely new, something entirely different. We believe our lives could take a turn for the better in the coming year. We “hope” for certain things to change in our lives and often we make commitments to ourselves to help bring those changes about.

At the end of each year, most of us take time to pause and remember the struggles we’ve endured and the great blessings we have been given. Sometimes we breathe a sigh of relief that this terrible year is finally passing away. Sometimes we take a deep breath filled with gratitude for the blessings we’ve received or for having been brought through circumstances that seemed insurmountable. It is this type of reflection that brings clarity to our lives. When we view things in retrospect, we are able to see them more objectively. We are able to see where we have not lived up to our potential or have had our priorities out of line with what we say we believe about God, life or ourselves. If we engage in this type of honest reflection, it reminds us of what is important. It clarifies our passions, desires and dreams. We remember who we are and what we have truly been called to do or be. So we resolve. We resolve to be better people. We resolve to spend more time with our families and friends. We resolve to get healthy and fit. We resolve to ask for help or to be more helpful to others. As Christians, we resolve to return to our first love. We promise ourselves that THIS is the year we will focus on truly making God our King and follow wherever He leads. We tell ourselves we are going to learn more of His word and then live it in our daily lives. We find ourselves inspired and filled with purpose so we leap into the New Year with great hope and passion! We are on fire!

Then life happens.

We get back into the grind of our jobs or home responsibilities. We get caught up in paying the bills or the stress that comes with not being able to pay them. We get sick. We lose someone or something we love. We find ourselves completely exhausted in every way – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Life happens and suddenly the spark within us begins to fade. The passion we had is replaced with the oppression of our circumstances. Suddenly we find ourselves in a year that is just the same as every year before it and our attention turns from celebrating the hope of great things to simply surviving until the next “new year.”

DecisionsI have great news for you! THERE IS NOTHING SPECIAL ABOUT JANUARY 1ST! It is just another day. It may be the beginning of a new year on the calendar but life is not measured in years, or even months for that matter. Life is measured in days, in moments and in breaths. Is “New Year’s Day” a good time to start making changes in your life? Absolutely! But so is every other day. (And for the record, unless you were actually born on January 1st, it isn’t your “new year” anyway. Your new year begins on your birthday!) The reality is that every day of your life is really “New Year’s Day.” If I don’t live up to the resolutions I make, it doesn’t mean I am confined to living a dull, meaningless and stressful life until the next year. It means I made some poor decisions today! It doesn’t mean I have to continue to make those same poor decisions tomorrow.

My point is this: every breath you take in this life is the beginning of a new year. Every moment you are alive, you can reflect and remember where you’ve been, who you are, and who you want to be. In every moment you can make the decision to live your passions and your dreams. You can decide, for right now, to follow where God is leading you. You can make a commitment that you will pursue what you are called to do whether it is big or small. And tomorrow, should you find yourself overwhelmed with the struggles of day to day life or the weight of your failures, don’t dismay. Don’t beat yourself up; there are enough people around you who will be glad to do that for you. Instead, bow your head, pray or meditate, and then let go of whatever happened last year. Remember, “last year” ends right now. It ends today, no matter what the date on the calendar may say.

So no matter when you are reading this, “Happy New Year!” May your new year be filled with peace and contentment, passion and joy. Most of all, may it be filled with love.

Blessings!