Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Right Kind of Busy

Ask anyone nowadays how things are going, and more often than not you'll get an answer the boils down to one word: busy.

Our society today moves at a faster pace than ever before, and we feel it. We talk about it, commiserate about it, and justify our missteps with it. What bothers me, though, is that we play victim to it. Inherent in that common answer is the understanding that this world moves too fast and we're just trying to hold on.

But it's not.

We decide to be busy.

Yes, there are some instances where making ends meet means taking on more work than we feel we can handle. For most of us though, we choose to fill our days to the brim. We crave busyness as a sign of social status or maybe to distract us from confronting a hardship in life.

When others ask me how things are going, I try to respond with something other than "busy". This Lent, I've found that I'm reverting back to this bad habit as I have more scheduled events to keep track of. I cling to my calendar as if it's my lifeline. When friends asks me about myself, my mind is so wrapped up in what's coming next that I don't slow down to be present with them and give them a more thoughtful answer than "busy".

I'm working on it.

What I've come to find, though, is that I feel the overwhelmed kind of busy when what I'm doing doesn't line up with my priorities. And this is where the "right kind" of busy comes in - the intentional kind of busy.

As an example - when I stay up late to comfort a friend who needs a shoulder to cry on, I may be really tired the next day, but I don't complain about it. Instead, I have a spring in my step, knowing my presence made a difference to that friend, even if it meant sacrificing sleep. For me, the value in comforting a friend far surpasses the value in being well-rested.

If we think about our time the same way, we won't feel victimized by busyness. We won't complain that the world has a hold of us, because we're directing our time towards the things that matter. There's something peaceful about collapsing in bed at the end of the day, knowing we worked our hardest to further something we are passionate about, whether it be our own physical health, the education of the next generation, enriching the lives of the elderly or disabled, or providing for our families.

We should live our lives intentionally.

First we need to take the time to define our priorities and understand our purpose. Then, we can live our lives in a way true to that purpose. We'll be choosing to walk a path rather than allowing our lives to be swept away in the world's stream of busyness.

I challenge you: remove the word "busy" from your vocabulary and focus on directing your time towards what's important. I'll do the same.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Discipline and Basketball

I've watched my share of Duke basketball over the years, and as we enter March Madness, I've been comparing faith and basketball. There are many similarities swirling in my head; the one I'd like to focus on today is discipline.

I have so much respect for Coach Krzyzewksi (Coach K). He has some amazing accomplishments in the college and international basketball worlds, but he's also the type of man you'd want to follow. He is fair and grounded. He is a man of principles and teaches his players to work as a team, win or lose.

He is also Catholic. And not passively Catholics - he attends mass every Sunday, and part of his pre-game routine is to say a rosary. Sometimes you can see him on TV crossing himself right before a game starts. (And, by the way...Coach Cutcliffe, the head football coach who is turning Duke football around is also Catholic. So is Duke's athletic director, Kevin White. Duke may not be perfect, but there are many things that keep me excited to call myself a Dukie.)
Greg Paulus (also Catholic) warming up, way before a game

What has allowed Coach K to be as successful as he is with the Duke basketball program is his discipline. He expects a lot from himself and his team. His expectations aren't unrealistic. He knows the strengths and weaknesses of each player, and he talks openly to them about it. He talks openly with the students, too, which is how I've interacted with him. He admits to us when a player is having a rough day and lets us know what we can do to encourage the players during a game. He also chastises us when our jeering of the opposing team becomes spiteful and expects us to keep our chants witty and classy.

And his discipline carries over to those around him. The players know those expectations and respect him enough to strive for them without taking shortcuts. Consequently, the team flourishes. They don't win every time, but they end the season with a good record, having put their best into each game.

This is exactly the discipline we need to follow Christ. There are high expectations. There are many days we don't live up to the ideals of our "coach". Jesus is honest with us, if only we listen to his chastisement and encouragement. Striving each day to follow Him, we'll grow stronger and live our lives better. We won't become perfect, but our track record will improve as we align our expectations and desires to His.

Discipline is hard. You know the saying, "No pain, no gain." In order to see the results, we have to put in the effort. Following Christ is no different. He says
Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)
That takes work and dedication!

To become a great basketball player, you have to follow the regimen and work hard in practices. You have to strengthen your body and your mind as well as work with your team so you play as one when a game gets tough.

The same goes for becoming a saint. You have to commit to the practices that bring you closer to God as well as pour out your love on those around you to build a community that strives to work together as one.

Our discipline is constantly put to the test, especially during this season of Lent, as we make new commitments that draw us deeper into God's embrace. Yes, it's hard work. We know who we're following, though...and He's a pretty amazing guy! He gave His life for us. Can't we show our gratitude in the way we live our lives?

How can you further welcome this discipline into your life?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"Empty Me"

As we begin the beautiful season of Lent, I found a song that encapsulates the sentiment of the next 40 days. It gets back to the heart of why we give up things, reach out to others, break our habits, and push ourselves to live more simply and with more focus on Christ.

This song keeps running through my head and reminding me of the need to be purified, constantly repurposing my life back to God's will.

I hope you find the song as moving as I do!

Holy Fire burn away
My desire for anything
That is not of You
And is of me
I want more of You
And less of me

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Dreaming vs. Living

imagination can be good or bad

My imagination gets me in trouble.

Don't get me wrong - imagination can be a really great thing. It's good for visualizing scenarios and preparing for presentations, difficult conversations, and dance performances. I also love envisioning stories from Jesus' life in the style of Ignatian contemplation - it really brings to life the people present at the events.

I took a pretty extensive aptitude test in high school. Overall, it served to confirm a lot of things I already suspected about myself - like the fact that I have poor fine-motor control but good spatial skills (great for engineering!). The one thing that surprised me was my high score in idea flow. This test measures how quickly you come up with ideas. Scoring high is good for jobs like sales, journalism, and teaching - things that require you to be quick to adapt and find new ways to approach situations. I didn't realize it then, but I do this naturally - not necessarily for practical purposes, but my mind is always active and travels from one idea to the next, seeing a situation in a new light or creating a made-up scenario to work my way through.

But there are downsides to having an active imagination.

For one, concentration can be difficult. With wheels constantly in motion, it's hard to stop and deeply consider one idea since the next idea is already tumbling along. I find myself daydreaming or coming up with lots of new projects to do (and forgetting half of them).

The biggest problem I run into is using my imagination (consciously or not) to alter reality.

Have you ever had a dream that was so realistic you can't figure out if it was real or not? And then your perception of a real-life person changes because of what they did your dream? This is the unconscious imagination I'm talking about.

In addition, I start daydreaming and create conversations in my head where my friends say exactly what I want to hear. They do things that make me happy or make me feel special. Usually, it's directed towards my own gratification. In a sense, I'm creating my own reality and changing my friends' personalities to suit me.

And that's not good. It sets unrealistic expectations for my real-life friends and disappoints me when they don't live up to my altered view of them. But it's not their problem - it's mine. I'm the one who isn't fully embracing the unique people I encounter for who they are. I'm the one who is expecting something but not telling them what my expectation is, setting myself up for disappointment. I'm the one trying to change them.

So for Lent, I think I'll give up daydreaming. I'm still fleshing out the idea, but this seems like a long-time habit of mine that isn't doing me good. With God's help, I hope to emerge from Lent able to more fully embrace those around me - not because of what they can do for me or what I can imagine them doing, but because each one is unique and unrepeatable (to use JPII's words). It'll be a hard journey but one that will lead to a deeper appreciation for and connection to the people God has created.