Last weekend I had a really bad weekend. Actually I had a great weekend that ended badly.
It all came apart at 5:30 on Sunday. When my local pharmacy was closed. When my diabetic specialist’s after-hours system wasn’t working (unbeknownst to me or them). When I was tired from a long weekend. When the customer service center I needed to call was open but couldn’t provide the solution I needed because it was a weekend.
What happened? My insulin pump failed. For those of you who don’t know this wonder-working device, it is a device the size of a cell-phone that mimics as much as anything can your pancreas’ automatic delivery of insulin. For diabetics it is a marvelous advancement in quality of life. But when it stops working… it is disastrous. Very quickly a person can go from “doing well” to “crisis.” And Sunday night felt that way to me.
This unexpected detour on my recent road toward better health reminded me that we are fragile creatures. All of us. In the blink of an eye, the device that was serving me well failed completely and without warning. In a moment, the entire course of our lives can change. A tragic accident. A careless word. A random event. A broken promise. As I noted several weeks ago about organizations we lead or love, we are also fragile things.In the words of one of my favorite recording artists, “We are not as strong as we think are.” (Rich Mullins) Some of us began the season of Lent a few weeks ago with Ash Wednesday, which traditionally includes the words “Remember that you are dust.”
We are dust. But we are also wonderful creatures, dust into which the Lord of the Universe has breathed life and spirit. Dust that achieves wonderous things. Dust that also bears the image of its Creator.
When you are face your own fragility in body or spirit or both may you also remember to praise God and say with David “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14 NIV)
I am in the second week of my Lenten sacrifice of complaining. I would like to say I haven’t complained but that would be untrue. Maybe not as much? But I have noticed a few things…
(1) I complain way more than I thought I did! Because I am conscious of it in a way I wasn’t before, I catch myself before I do it (sometimes). And when I do complain I realize I am doing it. This self-awareness is the best thing in the first week of the journey without complaining. I notice what I say and, more importantly, my habits in how I respond to a whole range of things and people.
(2) The power of habit. (1) leads to this observation – I am a creature of habit. I know that. We all are. But some of my habits are destructive of my personal relationships, interfere with my work, and short-circuit my faith life. Changing habits is hard but I am learning that recognizing and dealing with our current habits must be part of the change.
(3) Objectifying people. One of the worst things we do as human beings is objectifying others – individuals, groups of people, etc. I am learning that when I complain I objectify people. They stop being people when they become objects of my complaints. People become things just like the mess one of my children left in the kitchen, the pothole that still hasn’t been fixed on my street, the weather, etc. My complaints about individuals and whole classes of people ( women, church members, other drivers, people in line with me at the grocery store, whatever group has irked me at the moment) turns them into objects who lose their dignity and value as God’s creatures. I had no idea but I think that I am on to something here.
I have much to learn I am sure – mostly about myself. This is hard work because it isn’t just about stopping something I do without thought. I am digging up things in my soul that I don’t like and patterns of thought I find unpleasant at best.
I also have a ton of work to do on just stopping complaining. Instead of sacrificing complaining during Lent I am really journeying toward giving it up, I hope, by the time Lent is over.
As Lent begins today, I think about the things I have sacrificed during previous Lenten seasons. The two things I have most often surrendered have been Diet Coke and coffee. Not exactly huge sacrifices but they are enough a part of my life that their absence has been noticed (by me any way).
This year I am giving up something different – complaining. My friend and colleague Kimberly Pope-Seiberling wrote a great piece on the power of giving up complaining in a church (you can read it here. You can also learn about the complaint-free world concept at this website. By the way I did order the bracelets but they haven’t yet arrived.)
Complaining is not like chocolate or coffee or Diet Coke. Or is it? I am making the commitment because I realize that I am a complainer who is surrounded by and feeds other complainers. It is a pandemic in the circles in which I move. And like coffee and Diet Coke and many other things I do take pleasure, comfort, even joy (but perversely so) in it. It soothes my soul. It calms my mind. It keeps me from reflecting on uncomfortable truths.
I’ve realized that when I complain, I avoid dealing with me – my soul, my heart, my mind, my emotions, my responsibilities, my sin. It is someone else’s fault, failure, irresponsibility, incompetence, etc. It is not me. The more I complain, the more I avoid dealing with me.
So this Lent I am going to try to deal with me, at least a bit. In Lent I remember Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the cross. It was difficult, painful, and ended in his death. But it did not end there. On the other side was life. I know and trust all of these things are true of my journey toward a complaint-free life. I doubt this will be easy. Or failure-free. But worth taking.
This week I was reminded how fragile things are. I attended a meeting of a group to which I belong (not a church gathering by the way). The meeting began positively and with a great spirit. In the midst of the gathering our secretary read a letter to the group that changed that spirit in an instance. More than that, the letter undid years of painstaking work to heal and rebuild the relationship between the group and its parent organization.
I tell this story because this change of spirit, this shift in course happened because someone who is a leader wrote a misguided paragraph that I am certain he believed was appropriate. Maybe he believed that he was being faithful to his duty or even helpful to us in this local group. Yet he wasn’t and the waves from this moment will continue to affect this group for a long time.
We who are leaders have an incredible privilege – whether we lead in the church, a club, a league, a society. We are given the opportunity to guide the future of an organization that we love. We have a moment to impact a group of people, large or small, for good. But these organizations are not mechanical systems like engines but living organisms composed of complex people.
I am pondering still this moment and what it means for this group I love. It makes me cautious. It makes me reflective. What I do and say as a leader – in the church, in my lodge, in my family for that matter – touches other people and affects them in ways I may not understand or even know.