Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Embrace the Challenge

Crossword Puzzles. Jigsaw Puzzles. Tying your shoes for the first time. Sports. TV Game Shows. Running a Marathon. Earning a certification for your vocation or career. Solving Rubik’s Cube.

All of these have something in common. They present challenges. At least they should. That’s the reason we attempt them, right? If no challenge was involved, would we even try? OK, maybe “tying your shoes” can be eliminated here, but if you ever watch a four or five-year old tying their shoes, you can’t help but get tickled by the focus and concentration painted on their little faces.

So, if things like game shows, puzzles, and sports keep us interested and enthusiastic about them because of the competition involved, and inner strength required to reach great heights, why do we not approach life the same way?

Sometimes I get into this mode where I just want things to go smoothly. It’s called “being human.” It basically happens every day. Smooth days are nice. Bumpy – not so much. But, if life is always smooth, and I never encounter adversity in my path, am I truly reaching my God-given potential? If I am not pushed relationally, emotionally, spiritually, or intellectually, I am settling. And, perhaps worse than that, I could be regressing.

Think about the most difficult path you’ve walked in your life. When you look in the rearview mirror of your years on earth, did that event or trial strengthen you, or did it weaken you? I’m not necessarily talking about death of a loved one, or sickness or some other devastating event. I am talking about those times you had to dig deep, work hard, and give it your all. In hindsight, were you glad you gave 100%, or was it a complete waste of time?

Occasionally, it’s nice to receive a hand-out. As a baseball coach, it’s a relief sometimes to not toil over who to pitch in the last inning, or who to put behind the plate when it’s 95 degrees outside. But, the most rewarding “wins” are the ones where everyone is putting it all on the line, and you eek out that one-run victory on a bases-clearing double. Those are the ones you celebrate the most. But it’s not the hit itself that wins the game. It’s the attitude the hitter has in the box.

In his book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, John Ortberg talks quite a bit about those things that hold us back from achieving our best. It’s the “what if” moments that cause discouragement to creep in. Ultimately, it’s a lack of confidence that creates something that destroys the joy in our lives: fear.

So, if fear destroys joy, then (as Ortberg writes) “challenge produces joy.” The payoff for the base hit isn’t just the “W” in the victory column; it’s the joy you get from meeting – and overcoming – the challenge. If our baseball team was undefeated, and had won each game by ten or more runs, we’d be over-confident. We wouldn’t know exactly what our best truly is. We wouldn’t aspire to become better. We’d go through the motions and settle for “good” when “best” is there for the taking.

And so it is with our lives. We trudge through our days, going to work, paying the bills, getting the kids ready, talking about the weather, lamenting about this and that. Generally speaking, we have what we “want” – a nice house, two cars (or more), some gadgets and gizmos, a decent job, and a few friends.

What we fail to realize is that if we will challenge ourselves – really push ourselves – we can reach new heights. We can accomplish great things and influence countless lives. But, all too often we are complacent about “the unknown.” And, if we’re not complacent, we’re just plain scared. But, as I tell my players, “You can’t play scared.”

Ortberg writes that “fear and joy are fundamentally incompatible.” When I wonder “what if” and think about all the worst-case scenarios, I am snuffing out joy.

And, who wants to be a joy-snuffer?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

First Things First

There are two words that have been burned into my brain. It started when I began dating my now-wife Amy. Her dad, David, always used these two words when he would speak to her and her two brothers. Every so often, he would utter this simple phrase that painted a picture of his expectations of his family, and of others in general: “Privileges and Responsibilities.”

I think of this phrase often. In fact, my kids have become familiar with “P & R” as the standard of what is expected of them. They have Grandpa to thank for that.

Here’s how it works: when you show that you are responsible, then you earn privileges. It’s that simple. And, although the word “privileges” comes first when we speak that phrase, demonstrating responsibility must always precede earning privileges. If it doesn’t, bad things happen.

Unfortunately, we now live in a society that rewards bad behavior and irresponsibility. Kids (and adults) get away with murder. Why? Because there are rarely any REAL consequences to negative and harmful behavior. Andy Stanley, Senior Pastor at NorthPoint Community Church, coined perhaps the best phrase to explain this phenomenon: What’s rewarded is repeated.
What Stanley means is this: when someone hurts someone else, or does damage to something, or is just outright mean, but is never disciplined for this behavior, that very behavior continues. NOT punishing the individual is actually rewarding the behavior.

I think about the destructive attitude of self-entitlement that so many people carry with them, and how it reinforces this endless cycle. It’s a “do it first, ask questions later” mentality. There’s no honor in it. The privilege has not been earned, but is taken anyway.
Perhaps someone decides to borrow a tent without asking permission from someone. They take the tent, use it, and return it. But, the tent top wasn’t cleaned. The stakes and tie-downs are misplaced. There’s sand and dirt everywhere inside the bag. All the person thinks is, “I borrowed the tent and returned it. See – no big deal.” But, the next time the owner of the tent gets it out, it’s a mess. And, now he or she has to clean it up.

Maybe you ask to drive your friend’s van or truck because you need to load something, and your Prius won’t cut it. You pick up the load of stuff, then unload and return the vehicle. But, it never occurs to you to check the backseat and cargo areas. There’s soot and debris in the floorboards. And, you neglected to see the candy bar wrapper and empty Styrofoam cup you left in the front. Not to mention the three gallons of gas you used on your trip. Will the owner be as willing to help you in the future?

This all may sound nit-picky, but it’s a big deal. And, it’s cyclical: what goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. The Golden Rule. All those clich├ęs and sayings are so true when it comes to how our actions and behaviors either come back to either haunt us or to repay us later.

And, guess what they all come back to? That’s right – Privileges and Responsibilities. When we can speak to people with honor and respect, can treat others’ possessions as our own, and demonstrate that we are trustworthy, we will earn rewards and privileges as a result.

But, if we fail to show responsibility on the front end, and we try to take privileges before we’ve earned them, we dig ourselves a huge hole. And, that is when the responsibilities really begin to pile up, and there’s a long way to go before trust can be gained.

Just put first things first – responsibility and respect – and see how everything can begin to fall into place, and how eager people will be to find ways to return the favor.