Appreciation for Suffering

Brown and White Bear Plush ToyLately I have been studying the topic of “suffering”. It sure has become more clear to me that we as Americans spend quite a bit of time and effort trying to shield ourselves from difficulty. We go to great lengths sometimes to keep ourselves and our loved ones from hardship.

Unfortunately there are so many people suffering in the world. Some suffer for reasons brought on by their own decisions, some by evil and others simply because we are born into imperfect parishable flesh or at the hands of evil. This makes it challenging to see any redeeming value in our suffering, especially unnecessary suffering. This article is not meant to make light of those people out there going through truly difficult trials. I suspect many of those would appreciate this message.

But what about necessary suffering? Is there such a thing?

I believe that through our lifetime there are different stages of development that suffering is not only beneficial, but necessary for growth that gets you to the next stage.  Anyone bent on avoiding suffering will undoubtedly avoid growth and will cease to move through the stages of development.  The two go together and are unseparable.

A few benefits to suffering.

  • Suffering makes us tougher. Professional athletes didn’t get tough from childhood pillow fights. They beat their bodys and make them stronger and more resiliant. They make suffering part of their daily regimin.
  • Suffering helps us appreciate those who suffered before us.  It is easy to take for granted that which has been handed to us by previous generations.  We owe it to the next generation to leave this place as well as we received it.
  • Suffering points out that something is not right and needs to change. When we feel physical pain, anxiety or guilt we experience a certain level of suffering. If we didn’t have this we would continue pushing on toward the source of whatever is causing the problem.
  • Suffering produces perserverance and developes a sense of commitment and a vision for victory. When we fail to fully commit to something we will always fall short. If we give ourselves a way out to avoid difficulty we end up paying the full price with a penalty.
  • Suffering makes us smarter and wiser. The most successful leaders in history learned from their painful experiences. They got back up, tweeked a couple things and tried again. Each time they learn something not to do.
  • Suffering purges the lazy out of you. Sometimes we need a jumpstart to realize how our avoidance of suffering keeps us from getting things done. I don’t like to shovel snow, but when I get out there and start working, it feels pretty good, then I am inspired to something else constructive.
  • Suffering is necessary to overcome sin. At least the sin associated with a particular growth stage. Sin often comes from avoiding personal suffering, sometimes at the expense of others. We are more okay with others suffering.
  • Suffering helps us relate to the suffering that Christ experienced. We can relate to our savior and know Him in his suffering. We take for granted the price that was paid on our behalf. When we suffer we gain understanding of how necessary it is for a price to be paid in full.

Everything that makes us stronger, smarter, wiser, more powerful and more commited will never happen without a measure of suffering. Suffering needs to be something to seek daily and not to avoid.

A little bit of suffering now prevents a whole lotta suffering later!

Any thoughts?

…Then Ask Someone Who Knows

In May I posted a blog titled …Then Don’t Do That – A Glance at the Art of Sowing and Reaping. It explores why we do things we know we ought not do, even when we understand the consequences. We talked about how knowing the right thing, or best thing to do isn’t always enough. We need to strip ourselves of all the obstacles that cause us to make excuses and wrong decisions and get to a place of self-transparency (oh, I like that term, I should have used that in the other blog).

But what about those times when the best option isn’t clear? Maybe it’s not enough to know that you need to lose a few lbs, or confront someone about something, or get to some things you’ve been putting off. Maybe you have some understanding of the situation, but you have come to the end of your expertise and just don’t know what the next steps should look like. What do you do? Do you do nothing, or run away? Do you guess and hope? Do you fake it so no one else can see you are clueless?

If you are stuck in a complicated situation and don’t know what to do or how to proceed …Then Ask Someone Who Knows. There is a good chance that someone in your life or even someone not yet in your life has experienced something similar to what you going through and could shed some light on the situation for you.

“If you are stuck in a complicated situation and don’t know what to do or how to proceed …Then Ask Someone Who Knows”

So why, when we find ourselves in difficult situation, do we try to solve many of our own problems ourselves? Why are we so hesitant to seek out advice? These are the questions we will try to tackle in this blog.

Other peoples Blind-spots

Ever notice how clearly we can see other people problems? We spend some time with friends or relatives and after we think “They should really hire a financial adviser” or “see someone” about this or that. You listen to people give you reasons and excuses for doing the things they do and in your head you can’t understand how they could be so dense or what they could possibly be thinking. To you and many others around them the solution is so clear. You wonder why they can’t see what everyone else can see. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many people tell them something, they just can’t see it because it is a blind-spot, like the back of your head or the place you can’t see from the drivers seat because the mirror is limited and the windows are not 360 degrees.

Your Blind-spot

Well, that person with the big blind-spot is you! It’s also me, and everyone else. We all take our turn being that person, some of us more than others. You see we are all born with a huge blind-spot. Our eyes were created pointing away from us and not toward us. We need something outside of ourselves like a mirror to see what we cannot naturally see in ourselves. We can never completely get rid of our blind-spot, but over time, through many failures and accomplishments and careful instruction we can gain a much clearer perspective on just how much we need other peoples input in our lives.

It is true that generally other people can see your situation from clearer more objective position when provided the facts. Their eyes are pointed toward you. Unlike you they are more able to take personal feelings, prejudices, historical bias’s out of your equation, just because they are not you.

We need others input but we do need to be careful to who we trust with advice. Some people seek out advice, but the problem is that they may be asking the wrong person. When you hang out with fools, the advice you get is going to be foolish.

The Fool

A fool is a person who makes decisions without thinking through the consequences. They typically live their life from one moment to another gratifying their desires with instant solutions doing whatever feels natural to them in the moment. They usually have a wake of broken relationships and lost opportunities following them that they have failed to learn from. It’s one thing to have a history of failed experiences and relational strife, but to continue the same foolish patterns over and over is indeed what defines us as a fool.

“When you hang out with fools the advice you get is going to be foolish.”

When you put a bunch of foolish people in the same environment or community, like crabs in a bucket they pull each other down and keep each other from succeeding feeding the foolish behavior. Most of us grew up with fools all around us. We bought into so many of these foolish ideas without even knowing. Until something from outside comes in to shed some light we will continue to move through life at the bottom of the bucket being held down by people just like us. It doesn’t have to be that way.

The Wise

To be wise means to give careful thought to your ways, to base your thought on knowledge and good judgement. Wisdom doesn’t come by simply thinking right. It comes from experience. There has never been a wise person who did not fail many times over. Wisdom comes from understanding adversity and adversity can only be understood from experiencing failure and learning from it rather than repeating it.
Wisdom is all around us if we just look. Sometimes we get so caught up in dwelling on the problems in life we fail to see the answers staring right at us.

“The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Building Blocks

For every skyscraper or bridge, how many had to fall down before they got it right? The complexity of a modern airplane or automobile is incredible. The engineers didn’t start from scratch, they stood on the shoulders of the great engineers that came before them. They learned what they knew, then took it one step farther. Modern medicine is learning more and more every day about how the body works. They do it by sharing information in Medical Journals and shared research. They learn from the ones that came before them.

I think sometimes we try to reinvent the wheel in our own lives. We get into difficult situations and don’t know what to do so like a pioneer we start trying to figure it out on our own. Sometimes when we can’t figure it out we lose motivation, quit and nothing gets any better. We move forward clinging to a fixed mindset that keeps us in the bottom of the barrel. We need to tap into other resources to maximize our success.

Stuck in your own head

I remember particularly when I was young when I was faced with a stressful situation or a dilemma I didn’t know how to handle I would begin to internalize the problem. I would be at school or work and a stressful problem would monopolize my thoughts and I would find myself zoning out when I was suppose to be focusing. I would sometimes be oblivious to what was going on outside of my head and be fixed on the problem. If someone had offended me my mind began racing trying to put it all together in my brain in such a way that I somehow would escape blame or responsibility. I would have entire conversations in my head about how I was getting the short end of the stick or what I was going to say to my offender or accuser. Sometimes I would just think about how bad the situation is or imaging how bad it will get and how helpless I felt. I think I would get a little obsessed with the moment and allow it to consume me. I was stuck in my own head.

Escape your head!

Here is what I realized about those times. My thoughts were all focused on the problem and not the solution. They were limited to the worries and negative thoughts inside my skull and failed to address the solution which was outside my skull. Over time I learned that in order to be solution minded I needed to get out of my head and into other peoples head. By other peoples head I mean find out what they know, what they have experienced and how they overcame obstacles.  Sometimes just getting a fresh perspective was energizing and helpful.

“Over time I learned that in order to be solution minded I needed to get out of my head and into other peoples head”

When I was the center of my own world I could not escape this self-serving perspective that was going on inside my head. It was all I knew or could know. When I was removed from the center my universe and was rightly replaced by God as the center of my universe a whole new world of knowledge and perspective opened up to me.  I found truth was outside of my own head and much bigger than I ever imagined. I no longer had to figure out or decide or determine how the world worked on my own. My skull no longer provided the boundaries to my problem solving arena.  An age of discovery opened up to me.

The beginning of wisdom is realizing what you do not know. It is coming to the end of your own head and learning how to see the world through the eyes of others and God. Wisdom grows when you see the world and your life through the lenses of scripture and other people and how they see you. When this happens, your knowledge base and experiences to draw from are greatly multiplied and begin to build on each other on a much greater level than the old self-reliant model of thinking.

Be a receiver

If you want to expand your capacity for knowledge and wisdom, tap into other peoples brains and gather from their experiences. Ask someone who knows. Get connected to wise people. This, I believe is the secret to personal growth.

“For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”   1 Cor 4:7 NIV



Talent is Overrated

It’s amazing how many excuses we tell ourselves that keep us from reaching what we desire to achieve. There seems to be an unending string of rationalizations we create in our mind that explain away our shortcomings. We aren’t quite living up to what we could be if we just had a few things go our way.

No matter where you are in life there seems to be something illusive, just over the next hill that you aren’t sure you can reach. You think maybe you can, but you aren’t sure if you have the talent or skills required to get there. You see others that are further down the road and they seem to have a few more tools in their tool belt than you. They seem to understand their niche and have well-honed habits in place that help them operate at a higher level. It’s hard to compete with that.

I struggled with this type of thinking for a good chunk of my life. When I was younger I didn’t’ think I had what the other kids around me had. There seemed to be something missing. In the classroom I was average, but my friends seemed to be above average. In sports, I was too small and too slow to keep up, so my friends passed me in sports during high school. I found it frustrating that things seemed to come easier to some of my friends than they did for me. In other ways I found comfort in it because I knew there wasn’t much expected of me. The problem is that I didn’t expect much of me either. You may have known people like me.

Life really isn’t fair. It’s strange how some people can ace their classes without studying much at all (I hated those people). Despite my average talent, I was very competitive in sports. My best friend seemed to be one step ahead of me in every sport we played. (As long as it didn’t involve water. He sank when wet, and I found a sick comfort in that) Many of my other friends seemed to have some kind of talent they were developing and working on to help define them in their careers. After high school I really struggled to find myself. I was lost for a few years trying to find some skill I could use to make a living. I didn’t seem to be good at anything that really mattered. I later found out that was not true. I was just so busy comparing myself to others that I wasn’t applying myself toward personal growth.

I have noticed that sometimes even the most talented people really never make it to the big stage of success or at least don’t stay there. High school, college and professional athletes with mega talent fail under the big lights. They seem to have the talent to succeed but are missing the confidence, or maturity to live out the script others have written for them. Some don’t have the work ethic or discipline, some don’t have that competitive edge, and others simply do foolish things to disqualify themselves from the game. Think of all the political scandals that have taken people down and ended careers of very talented people before their time. It seems like success is more than talent.

Success is a tricky word. I don’t have the same thoughts on this word as I used to. When I was younger I used to equate success with either money, power or fame or some combination of the three. There were those talented people that had achieved a level of popularity, income or power that separated themselves from the rest of the ordinary folks. They were the ones that were fortunate enough to have received an extra portion of talent so they were entitled to a little more than the rest of us. They used their talents and were rewarded for it.

I see things a bit differently now. When I look at the most successful people that I know, they seem to shine for other reasons. Most of them are definitely talented in their own ways but it is not the talent that stands out as the reason for their success. They seem to have something that not even most super talented people have. I discovered that you really don’t need to have much natural talent at all to be successful, but you do need a few other foundational qualities to support the talent you do have.

Work Ethic
You don’t have to have talent to have great work ethic. You can be very untalented and your work ethic will make you stand out from most of your peers. People who have a great work ethic sometimes catch up and pass those with more natural talent (tortoise and the hair). The nice thing about work ethic is that you can apply that quality and it becomes a super tool that helps every part of life.

Our personal life and our work life both come with problems. Life is hard, and sometimes it sucks! People let us down, we make mistakes. Sometimes things we work hard to build get destroyed and we have to start all over again. A person with a strong work ethic will bounce back much faster than a more talented person with less work ethic.

People with a strong work ethic are always working toward something. They are always looking forward to what they need to achieve, not looking backwards at what they already have achieved. People who look backward at their accomplishments and pat themselves on the back tend to quit and coast and develop a sense of entitlement.

If you want to be in high demand in the marketplace, be worth more to your employer than what you are being paid. Then as you become more successful and make more money, continue to be worth more than your wage. Any time your wage catches up to your market value, you need to kick it into another gear or you may soon be replaced. There are always cheaper more talented people, but not necessarily people with great work ethics. Pretty simple but some people never get this.

Truth Tellers
A solid skillset does not make a person more trustworthy. Honest words can come out of anyone’s mouth at any talent level. We can decide to wrap ourselves around the pillar of truth, or we can wrap the truth around the pillar of us. It just takes a commitment to discovering, understanding and embracing the truth independent of our opinions. When we do that, our words will reflect reality.

An honest answer is the ultimate compliment to someone. It says, “I respect you enough to tell you what is really going on, and it’s not my place to tell you otherwise” To be trusted is a virtue that is far greater than any talent. It is available and free to embrace by all who choose it.

Truth Finders
Truth is not the same as knowledge. There is a lot of information out there that is not true. Not only is it important that we continue growing and learning more as we go, we also need to be discerning what is true from what is not true. We need to discover what ways work better than other ways. If you are not sure of the best way to do something, keep looking, ask someone who has been there. Truth is to be discovered, not determined. Are you looking for the truth or looking to be right?

Finding truth always begins with you. I have met people who are very honest with others but struggle with telling themselves the truth. Their impact on others is limited because of this. They tend to allow themselves to be deceived by believing what others think of them or comparing themselves to everyone around them. They make excuses and rationalize decisions to justify their actions. Others are very honest with themselves and can more easily come to grips with their own shortcomings. This can come when our pride is stripped and we learn our place among others. The downside is that they tend to expect others to have the same introspective abilities, leading to stepping on peoples toes all in the name of transparency. I have been on both ends of this spectrum. It took me a long time to believe truth even exists, and it took even longer to embrace truth.

Growth Minded
What’s the difference between a 35 year old athlete and a 50 year old leader? One hasn’t hit their peak yet.

People with growth mindsets come in all sizes, shapes, ages and abilities. The one thing that they all have in common is that they push forward every day to increase their knowledge and effectiveness. I believe sometimes people with less talent have an easier time developing strong growth mindsets because they didn’t have all the extra talent to lean on earlier in life.

“We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.”
― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Anyone can be a source of encouragement. A kind work can go a long way and doesn’t require any special abilities to deliver. The impact words can have on an individual that has been longing to hear words of affirmation is unlimited. You don’t have to write for Hallmark to put a smile on someone’s face.

Having an encouraging heart doesn’t come easily or naturally for most people. It takes a change of perspective in our own heart first. It does not require talent whatsoever. It just requires you to look around and appreciate what we have and what we have been given. “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

Being an encourager requires taking our eyes off of yourself and focusing on what others need to hear in order to grow. People need encouragement like a plant needs water or Donald Trump needs attention. If you are a grump, negative complainer with a sense of entitlement and a right to gripe, you will indeed miss out on this opportunity.

A person who taps into the ability to encourage others, thwarts himself into another stratosphere of game changers. This may be the most underused resource in the history of everything and everyone can do it.

Once when I was a kid I told my grandpa I was going to swim across Lake Odessa. He said something that stuck with me. “Make sure you set your sights on the other side of the lake. If you set your sights most of the way, and make it, you will drown.”  Most people know how to quit. We don’t finish most of the things that we start. We don’t finish our marriages. We don’t finish college. The dropout rate for high school is growing every year. We can’t seem to keep our weight under control. And, most of us can’t seem to figure out the one or two most important things to finish each day before the sun goes down.

Boats have anchors to commit them to a specific location. The anchor is heavy enough and deep enough to be stronger than the elements working to move the boat. Without an anchor, even with the best intentions, there is nothing to keep the wind and the waves from blowing you away from where you want to be. When you do drift away from your desired location, you likely won’t even know you have moved. The change is subtle.

Unfortunately many people go through life without any type of anchor. Sometimes they intentionally live without an anchor so they don’t get too tied down or stuck in a place they don’t want to be.  In the process, they end up in other places they never intended to go, with people they didn’t intend to be around, doing things they didn’t intend to do. They become someone they didn’t intend to be wondering how they got there. The key word is intend. No one can ever live a life of intentionality without understanding the value of commitment.

You already have everything you need to impact the world.