Friday, October 31, 2014

The Rat Race 2: The Courage of My Convictions

"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." Ralph Waldo Emerson
Change demands courage. As I’ve been inwardly rebelling against the evils of the rat race (read some of my thoughts here and here), I’ve begun to realize that outwardly I haven’t done much about it. (That being said, this week I did give more time to people, and felt so much better for it. Yay!)

Actions speak louder than words.

I say that God is the most important thing in my life, but I don’t act like I believe “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt 6:33)

I say that other people are more important than myself, but so much of my daily life is wrapped up in what I need to do, what I want to do with my limited free time, and how I need to act to promote my future success.

It’s not that completing tasks is wrong. It’s not that wanting excellent grades is foolish. It's not that seeking success is worthless. However, I need to analyze my heart as I pursue tasks and grades and “success.” What values are driving me?

Are selfishness and pride a bigger part of my motivation than I’d wish to admit?

(Talking of grades—I kid you not, I had a nightmare this week about a teacher giving me a C on a paper. In the dream, I argued and argued with her but she wouldn’t change the grade, so I got really mad. I woke up annoyed. Interpret that as you will!)

Perhaps it’s easy to give in to the rat race without analyzing the values that drive it—and us—because it’s an accepted, expected part of our culture. That’s just how you live life.

It doesn’t have to be that way, but it will take courage to change.

What values do you want to embrace? What values does God want you to embrace? Don’t let society force you to blindly accept all its values, whether those values are embodied in the rat race or in something else. Don’t let society squeeze you into a mold that doesn’t fit.

I’m challenging myself to look deep into my Bible and my heart and change my attitude and my lifestyle accordingly. I’m challenging you to do the same.

A busy lifestyle isn’t necessarily wrong. A 9-5 is not necessarily meaningless. But what are your heart values in pursuing the life that you have and embracing the standards of success that you hold?

How will you stand up against the rat race? What do you need the courage to change?

Maybe you need to spend more time with family and friends. Maybe you need to experience a period of missionary or volunteer service. Maybe you need to seek first the kingdom of God. Maybe all you need to change is your attitude toward your current situation.

I know I need to do at least three things on that list!

I don’t want to let society force me into a rat race for a “success” that I don’t really believe in. I want to have the courage of my convictions. I want to live out my true values.  
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” Thoreau
“So how do you judge what a man is worth through what he builds or buys? You can never see with your eyes on earth. Look through heaven’s eyes. Look at your life through heaven’s eyes.” From the Prince of Egypt

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Rat Race 1: Relationships

Burying my head in my arms to muffle the sound of my crying, I crumpled into a pathetic ball on the bathroom floor. Meltdown. I don't have many of those, but this past week was sufficient to induce one. I had been sick all week, and increasingly stressed and frustrated with each passing day. (I'll spare you the tedious details of my workload this semester, but suffice it to say it feels like I didn't know what "busy" meant until this year.)

"I can't do it!" I sobbed. "I can't do everything that's demanded of me to the standard that they expect, the standard that I want. It's impossible. I'm exhausted. I'm sick. There's not enough time. I hate this."

My life is an endless cycle of do, do, do. Do now, do more, do better. No time. No time for deep devotions, because I am too tired and distracted. No time for meaningful social interaction, because I am too busy getting my assignments done. No time to explore. No time to just be. I have to accomplish important stuff.

I am part of one rat race, being trained to enter another. There is no finish line. And somehow, especially after weeks like this, I am overwhelmed with the feeling that my life is not all that it could be -- perhaps not all that it should be.

I can't help looking back to my pivotal experience in Laos. Life there was far from perfect, yet there were many things I learned to value. Sometimes I wonder whether part of the reason God sent me there was so that I could grasp priceless lessons I couldn't have learned by staying in the West.

I need to apply those lessons back here, to recreate those things I miss, but it's hard.

I am naturally a task-oriented, driven perfectionist. That's not altogether bad. However, and it feels so horrible to admit this, I tend to put tasks above people. Sometimes people turn into tasks. My stuff has to get done.

Laos showed me that relationships are more important than tasks. People always had time to talk to you (which sometimes frustrated me because I was trying to stick to my business, surprise surprise). People would always invite you to spend time with them, to eat with them.

People would shut down their businesses for days because of a family funeral; instead of working they would spend time with their guests, neighbors, and family. Living in this environment, I slowly began to mellow, to get used to the idea that building good relationships really was more important than checking off everything on my to-do list.

I was satisfied by deepening friendships and meaningful, honest conversation.  Relationships -- building them, sustaining them, fixing them -- began to take a higher priority. I felt supported, I felt loved, I felt challenged.

Now I have reverted to checking off my to-do list. Back here, I don't know how to live like other people are more important than my tasks. I hate that, and I want to fight it, but this rat race seems so perfectly designed to focus my attention on myself and what needs to get done because my grades and my future and my reputation is riding on all.that.stuff.

So too often I sacrifice the chance to grow meaningful relationships on the altar of my daily planner to the great, insatiable god Time.

That's not the way life should be.

Plot Twist!

I needed a change. After seven years of teaching, on and off, I wasn't sure that I wanted to continue. Perhaps it was a temporary di...