Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Familiar Friend Returns ... a little bit

There is a lot to be said for the familiar--an old, broken in pair of shoes or an often-read copy of A Tale of Two Cities. New friends are interesting, but old friends with whom I have a lot of history feel secure and comfortable. There is much less of wondering "What are they thinking about me?" because if they didn't like me for who I am, then we wouldn't still be friends. Sometimes I tend to take familiar things, places, and people for granted. (And that is something that I do not like about me.) I want to be a person who appreciates the familiar as much, or more than, the new and novel.

For me, it takes being away from the familiar to remind me of its value. My travel schedule for the past couple of months, plus some other commitments we had made caused me to miss small group for a couple of weeks (and church for a couple more). Even though nothing had really changed when I reconnected, it felt particularly good to be back. These two environments are places where I do not need to impress anyone or be unduly concerned about how I am being perceived. They are familiar and comfortable places and people--in the best way.

Last week in Chicago I got to revisit another old friend whom I have really been missing--running. It has not been the schedule or travel that has kept me away, but instead it has been nagging injuries. Despite the small voices asking "Are you sure you should be doing this?", I turned in a couple of miles along the lakefront. Yes, there was some paying for it later, but it was worthwhile to revisit an old friend and to remember that, as soon as I can get past these momentary light afflictions, there is a promised return to a wonderful friendship.

After some time apart it seems easier to keep drifting. Getting reconnected takes a bit more work. Whether that is small group, or church, or running. But the work of reconnecting is well worth it for the benefits of being back together. The problem with reconnecting with "familiars" is that it is also easy to put it off. To say, I'll get to it next week (which too easily becomes next month, next year, or next decade). And the longer it goes, the more work there is to reconnect.

Sometimes I think that God is the same way. Because He is patiently available, I sometimes don't feel the urgency of keeping that relationship as close and vibrant as possible. And the longer we go without talking, the easier it is to go another day, or week, or ...

Who or what can you reconnect with today? What friendship, family relationship, or place do you need to revisit? Tomorrow at lunch I am meeting an old friend to reconnect and catch up on what has been going on in his life. You?

Pressing on!

Monday, October 11, 2010

How Much is Enough?

A frequent training question--especially for runners newer to a particular distance. Throughout his marathon training, my friend Jeff was wondering if he was training enough--long enough, fast enough, often enough. He was able to find some resources from others who had run many marathons who could assure him that his training was adequate. Then came the run and he found out, in his own experience, that his training had been enough. As I found this time around, there can be a fine line between enough and too much. More is not necessarily better.

The greatest small group in the world (GSGW) has been in a study of the church's response to poverty. I assume that the families in the GSGW are probably involved in significant ways in giving time and money to alleviate poverty by supporting different organizations such as Children's HopeChest, Compassion, World Vision, and World Relief. But one of our questions is "How much is enough?" Could we give more? Could we do more? Absolutely! But should we? That is a question that the GSGW is wrestling with.

We realize that if we use time, energy, and money in one place, then we cannot use the time, energy, and money for other things. Granted, some things are not worthy of our time, energy, and money, but there are many good, just, and noble causes. How do we choose where to invest ourselves?

For some reason I feel a certain urgency to get this right. Maybe it is looking at the reality that I am probably on the verge of moving into the last third of my life. I am reasonably content with the first two-thirds, but it is really important to me to get the last third right. (Sometimes I feel that if I can just not make the same mistakes any more--find some new ones--then I will be OK.) My biggest question right now is "In light of eternity, what is the best investment of my time, energy, and money?

A week or so ago a friend mentioned that he is needing to consider carefully what races he will run. He feels like he only has a few races left, then he will need to stop. I feel that way a bit myself right now. (Might be true and might just be time still recovering from injury.) Assuming that I have finite running resources, where do I want to invest those miles? Should I do something new? Or run some familiar races one more time that I like? Are there particular people I want to run with one more time?

Finite resources and almost infinite opportunities to use/invest those resources. How to use them best, that is the question.

Pressing On!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Better Perspective

You may be familiar with the Serenity Prayer. It is a fairly common refuge of hope in the midst of difficult circumstances. But most people are not aware of the entire prayer--only the first few lines. The entire prayer, developed by Reinhold Niebuhr is below:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is; not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.

Food for thought,

Outside Looking In

Last Sunday I watched my first race. Really, it was the first time that I have been at a road race as a spectator. Having been at dozens of races as a participant, this felt strange.

But first, props to friends and all who ran--Jeff (no tortoise there), Michael, Paul, brave Hannah, Annie--you guys rock!

But the watching part felt weird. Part of me thought that I should be out there instead of on the side of the street. Part of me really wanted to be, yet the realist part of me knew that if I had been out there, I probably would not have finished and would have sidelined myself for months trying to recover from ignored injuries. The watching feelings were not necessarily bad, just very different.

Looking around at the other spectators I almost wished I could have seen thought bubbles to see how they read -- "Wish I was out there" or "Glad I am not out there" or "These people are nuts". People were watching (as opposed to running) for a variety of reasons. Everything from disinterest to inability of various forms. Yet we were all there cheering on people who have put in countless hours of training and energy over the past several months--as well as total strangers. Cheering for friends and family makes good sense. We know them. We love them. We have some idea of how important this is to them. But why cheer for total strangers?

I think that we could see the effort and we could applaud the effort involved, even though we may never see these people again. And I think that it makes a difference. Every now and then when someone knew they were being cheered for, you could see the glimmer of a smile or a nod of appreciation. It was a little boost for the next few steps. And perhaps it made a difference.

I wonder how many people could use that extra little boost for their faith journey. Maybe it isn't going along as they thought it would. It is taking more time or more effort than someone led them to believe--or than they expected themselves. Sometimes I think that it would be nice to see the thought bubbles. "I am doing fine, it just doesn't look like it right now" or "I think I want to quit" or "I don't want to give up, but i just need some help". Then we would know what to do. I believe that one big reason that we don't try to encourage or help people in their faith journey is that we don't know what they are thinking or where they are on the journey.

At the marathon it was easy. All of the spectators knew that the runners were trying to get to the finish line in St. Paul. We knew (or at least believed) that our encouragement would be beneficial. Yet we all knew that none of the runners was going to come over to the side of the road and ask us to carry them to St. Paul or to take their race number and finish the race for them. With faith journeys it seems a bit more daunting. We don't want to offend someone or feel uncomfortable ourselves.

Branded into my memory is a particular Sunday morning at our church when I was a kid in Indianapolis. I may have been in junior high or high school and I decided that I should make an effort to reach out to new people to try to make them feel more welcome. So I saw an older gentleman one Sunday in the commons area and thought, here goes. I said "Good morning. I haven't seen you here before, is this your first Sunday?" To which he replied, "No, I've been here every week for the past seven years." I cannot recall what came next, but it must have been something like, "Well, I'm glad to meet you", followed by a hasty exit. Was that man offended that a junior high kid hadn't known him? I doubt it. Was he encouraged that someone was trying to make the church a more welcoming place? I have no idea--I didn't stick around long enough to find out. From my current perspective as an "older" gentleman, I would guess that he was both amused and appreciative. If that happened to me next Sunday, I would be--mostly amused.

Point being, there is really no greater risk in cheering for strangers at the Twin Cities Marathon than there is in encouraging strangers (much less people we know) in their faith journey--other than in our own minds. Who knows, but it might give them the boost they need to take one more step on the journey.

As the Bible says, "Spur one another on to love and good deeds."

Consider yourself spurred.

Pressing On!