Another Forty Days, Day 27–Who Can You Trust?

Relationships can incredibly delicate things. One minute things appears to be going along swimmingly, and the next you find yourself separated from the person you’d once felt quite connected to. Of course it doesn’t work quite that simply, and doesn’t work itself out in neat and tidy ways, with nice, clean margins. It can be messy and disorderly and confusingly chaotic. If you have not yet had your heart broken, felt betrayed,  or even simply been disappointed by a person or persons, you are fortunate. Many, if not most of us have experienced some form or other of disappointment, heartbreak, or grief. What is the alternative, to not be in relationship with others? It hardly seems likely or reasonable, and so we muddle through and do the best we can, trying to learn and grow with and from the people around us.

The truth is that sometimes people baffle me. I expect them to be honest and transparent and straightforward, caring and compassionate, concerned about the people around them, but I end up being surprised and disappointed when people are indifferent at best, inconsiderate, rude, hurtful, dishonest, devious, and so many other things. Jesus encountered all kinds of people as he walked the earth, some of whom were downright evil. At the end of the day, he learned that even those who had been closest to him during his ministry let him down, abandoned him, and at the end one of them sold him out to the authorities. How could a person do such a thing as betray someone you claimed to have loved and send them to their death?

And yet, what do we really know about what motivates people to  do what they do? By some accounts the person who supposedly betrayed Jesus to the authorities was actually fulfilling an important purpose in doing so. There’s often a story behind the story that no one knows about and yet the truth of it changes everything. Whether this is true of the people around Jesus, I don’t know, but it has been true in my life as I experience the various connections I’ve had with people over the years.

I once had a work colleague who had become a “frolleague” (a friend/colleague.) We went to lunch together weekly, worked closely on all kinds of projects, connected outside of work from time to time. When she’d had a serious issue and needed to go to the hospital on an urgent, private matter, she came to my office asking me to drive her. I took her, no questions asked, and days later she confided to me what had happened. I had been glad to be there with her. But then, suddenly the tables turned, and I experienced serious ill-treatment on the part of or employer. She helped me deal with the matter at hand, but when the immediate crisis was over, she essentially stopped speaking to me. Bewildered by her behavior, I reached out from time to time, but received no welcome, no opening. She had cut me off completely, leaving me sad and confused over what I could have possibly done or not done to elicit such a response. In my time of need, she had disappeared.

Given all the things that can go wrong, it’s amazing that we trust anyone ever. I spent many years wrapping my heart in protective shielding to minimize the hope and disappointment I might experience interacting with other people. I would be cautious about who I counted as friends, and I was really hard-pressed to trust myself or others with my heart having lived through two break ups with partners, who left me–one for another person. Somehow in the midst of all of this, I have found pathways to healing that have allowed me to continue to open my heart to people around me. At the end of the day, this is a very good thing.

Over the course of these 40 days I find myself thinking about my various relationships, past and present. I have learned a great deal from the way they began, progressed, and ended, learning how my heart responds to such things. And while I don’t have it all worked out by any stretch of the imagination, I do know a few things now that I didn’t know back then. Those lessons learned are what will sustain me as I move forward into new relationships at home and at work. That too, is a very good thing.

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Another Forty Days, Day 26 Recalling Grief

Tonight I decided that rather than skip another night entirely, I would repost a piece from my Forty Days blog. So I asked Siri to pick a number between one and 40. He picked four. This turned out to be a good choice, as the focus of the post was on grief, a subject about which I’ve written a fair amount.

This evening I was watching a favorite television program in which a main character lost her mother to cancer. I lost my mother to cancer almost 22 years ago. I thought I might feel more as I watched the program; there was a time when I was quite tender and watching shows like that would have me sobbing. Now, either because of the passage of time, or the the layers of protective insulation I’ve woven around my heart, I can make it through such things with little more than tears welling in my eyes. I don’t know whether I believe this to be a good thing or not, but either way it’s where I am at the moment. Grief is funny like that. One minute you feel okay, the next it’s boom, you’re down for the count.

Anyway, please enjoy this post from February of 2015.

Forty Days, Day Four–Good Grief

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3, 1-4

Even after I posted yesterday’s piece on grief, I still felt it resonating with me this morning as I wrote in my journal. Most of my writing occurs sitting on my bed with either my lap desk and journal on my lap in the mornings or with my laptop on my lap in the evenings. My bookend writing practices often occur in the lowest energy parts of my day, and yet they provide for me an important space to process and express what’s going on in my head, heart, and spirit at the beginning and close of each day.

Another important ambient feature in my room is that I sit directly across from shelves containing photographs of my parents, my children, and an old photo of my parents, siblings and some of their spouses, and my grandfather. At any given moment I can look up and see them. The most prominent among these is a picture of my father, in his old age, looking into the camera and saluting. It is a powerful image that at any given time, it has been particularly poignant when my grief consciousness is heightened as it has been lately.

On the shelf below that is a photo of my parents smiling into the camera. That photo had been in a box stored away for years until my older sister unpacked it and set it out on my shelf two years ago. It was joined by other pictures of my mother that had not seen the light of day since she’d died, which at that time it was 17 years earlier. For years after her passing in 1995 I could not look at a photograph of my mother without feeling such a keen sense of loss that I could scarcely bear it. So when my sister pulled it out and set it on the shelf, I felt the briefest twinge before realizing that the acuteness of that pain had passed and I could once again look upon my mother’s countenance without turning away.

So now I look at my parents’ faces each day, and while I am feeling their loss a bit more keenly at the moment, it is not in deep distress, but a gentler kind of ache. I wonder if this is the “sweet sorrow” that is sometimes spoken of. There is indeed a sweetness to this sadness, one of those smiling through tears kinds of feeling. Perhaps this is “good grief.”

I was still thinking about grief this morning as I was writing in my journal, and wondering about where the expression “good grief” came from. I believe grief is good; it is a healthy, natural emotion arising from a significant loss. It should not be diminished, denied, downplayed or stifled in any way. It sometimes feels as though the “stiff upper lip” bear-it-up mentality that perhaps passed to the U.S. from our British roots results in quiet, restrained grieving that disdains overly “dramatic” expressions and demonstrations at funerals. In some cultures, mourners wail and howl at funerals, tearing their clothes or throwing themselves at or across the coffins. After my mother died, I think I wanted to wail and throw myself down and pound on the ground in my grief and anger. Of course I didn’t do any of that lest it seem a bit over the top and unseemly.

We humans express our grief in many ways. We weep, we mourn, we comfort one another. We laugh, we tell funny stories and reminisce, we share meals with family and friends. We hold space for one another, bear witness, offer support. If we are fortunate we have all these things: support of other humans to uphold us when we can’t bear up and a safe place to express the hollow pain left by the departure of someone important to us. And somewhere in the midst of it all, over the course of days, weeks, months we figure out a way to move forward without them.

The pressure to get over it and move on is great. Maybe your boss gives you a few days off for bereavement, but after that you’re supposed to return to work, to school, to duty and move on. And the powers that be determine that you get a week for the death of a spouse or parent, but fewer to no days for an aunt or uncle or cousin. And I suppose the death of a non-relative, perhaps an old friend from high school or best friend from college doesn’t merit a single day. And yet my best friend is like a sister to me and her loss would be as painful as if we were bound together by blood. Who decides this stuff? A recent piece in the New York Times spoke very poignantly about grief: “The truth is that grief is as unique as a fingerprint, conforms to no timetable or societal expectation,” writes the author, Patrick O’Malley. Simply put, how you “do grief” is unique to you and there’s no right way to go through it and no statute of limitations to suggest when it should be over. It simply is gonna be what it’s gonna be.

I definitely don’t have all the answers on this whole grief phenomenon; I can only speak from my own experiences. I have grieved many losses–the deaths of beloved family members and friends, the ending of significant relationships in my life, the loss of a job and income to support myself and family. Through these losses I have staggered and stumbled, fallen on my face or to my knees, wept until I was hoarse and exhausted, sat in stunned disbelief, plunged into bouts of despair and loneliness. And yet through it all and by truly amazing grace I have been able to release, forgive, heal, recover, keep living. From good grief, I have grown in patience, compassion, and love. And for that I am deeply, deeply grateful.

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Another Forty Days, Day 25–Sound the Retreat

I bet if I did a word cloud for each of the previous 25 posts in this series, the words “exhaustion” and “tired” would probably show up a lot.  While I find that a little disappointing, I suppose it speaks to where I find myself at the moment. The other day at work I was essentially triple booked: I was in a meeting that was supposed to go from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., but had to leave at 12:00 for another meeting that was scheduled to go from 12:10-12:30, at which time I had to dash to a third meeting that was scheduled from 12:30 to 1:00 p.m. At one point, as I was dashing to one of the meetings, I ran across a colleague who asked me how I was doing. “I’m trying to stop being where I was and not think about where I’m supposed to be, so I can be where I am. Right here, right now.” Sadly, she understood what I was saying.

Many years ago there was a commercial for Dunkin Donuts, where a man would leave his house early in the morning, declaring, “Time to make the donuts!” He would return, presumably at the end of the day, noticeably tired and declare, “I made the donuts.” This scene repeated itself several times, as the baker made the donuts in sunshine, rain, and snow. And finally, after several times back and forth, the exhausted baker prepares to head out, “Time to make the donuts…” he says tiredly. When he opens the door, he meets himself there and answers himself, “I made the donuts.” There have been a number of occasions when I ran from place to place, bouncing from meeting to meeting, task to task that I wouldn’t have been surprised to meet myself at the door. I used to call them my “going to make the donuts” moments because I very nearly met myself coming and going.

Many of us encounter periods in our lives when things are moving almost faster than we can keep up with them. I appear to be in one of those periods, and so are a number of people around me. I wonder if there’s an epidemic of busyness and overwhelm. How any of us are trying to do too much, too fast, responding to too many demands from too many people to the point where we simply blow a circuit. I see it happening to some people around me, and I realize how simple it is to fall into that. I have found myself consciously declaring that I refuse to get sucked up in their vortices of frenzied busyness to find myself in the same situation. I am more than capable of producing my own overwhelming circumstances, I don’t additionally need to get pulled into those of others.

This reminds me of the story in which Jesus is in a boat with his disciples. The first part of the story is that Jesus was surrounded by a crush of people, like usual. He gets into the boat with his peeps and teaches from the edge of the lake. I think he needed to create distance between himself and the throngs of people following him around. After a while, he suggests to his disciples that they cross to the other side. So while the disciples are powering the boat to the other side, Jesus decides to take a nap, and while he’s sleeping a huge storm blows up and begins swamping the boat with water. The disciples panic while Jesus blithely slumbers as the storm rages.

Finally, they wake him up asking him, “How can you lie there sleeping when we’re all going to die out here?” Jesus, who was exhausted from preaching and healing all day was simply trying to catch a snooze before diving back into the madness, and here the madness followed him out onto the boat in the middle of the lake. He stands up, waves his hand, the storm calms down, and he probably goes back to sleep. Now the disciples are freaked out because Jesus calmed the storm.

Once again I find myself wanting to follow Jesus’ example; not in calming the storm (although that would be very cool), but in taking intentional actions to care for himself. When the crowd got to be a little too close and a little too close, he pulled away from the shore. He kept teaching for a while longer, but now had a little space to catch a breath. When he finished teaching, he withdrew even further, heading to the other side of the lake. What I’m starting to see from the people around me is that they’re crashing ahead, hell-bent-for-leather, working themselves and the people around them into a frenzy. In the process, details are missed, problems are overlooked, and people are excluded. The result is at times a lot of backtracking, coming back to fix things that would have been caught had  they simply taken a little longer to figure out what they were doing before they launched everything.

I can be as impatient as the next person; and some of the things I’ve been working on for my job have evolved painfully slow. But the slowness has allowed everyone to weigh in and examine things from a variety of angles and come at it from a very thoughtful approach. The end product will be that much better because we didn’t rush it. While I think some of this I have learned over the course of many decades, I also believe that even when I was younger, I was willing to allow things to evolve and emerge rather than rushing them. And that, as Robert Frost said, “has made all the difference.”

The time of reflection invited by these 40 days provides space for us to evolve and emerge more slowly, to become who we’re meant to become to come forth, like Lazarus from the tomb.  While frenzy and overwhelm might be a by product of the demands that work and life make of us, it does not have to be. One key lies in rowing away from the shore, creating space between you and the “crowd,” finishing the project from a reasonable distance away, and remaining calm in the face of a storm. The end result of that kind of self care is not only a better program, widget, creation, etc., but also a calmer mind, a quieter spirit, and a joyful heart. How cool is that?

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Another Forty Days, Day 24–How We Change the World

I just got off the phone with a colleague, who called with an “semi-urgent” matter. A student group representing one side of a particularly contentious rivalry was having an event that would undoubtedly be upsetting to a group of students representing another side. He was asking for advice as to how best to handle the situation. As a public entity, the institution by its nature permits the free expression of ideas, with the exception of those that directly incite hatred or violence. Educational institutions in particular are expected to provide spaces where opposing ideologies can be expressed, potentially disputed, but hopefully mediated, explored.

We talked for a while exploring various ideas as to how to approach the situation to keep it from escalating into protests and counter protests, with battling bullhorns, and chaotic conflict. I found myself sighing. I am a would-be peacemaker, a conciliator who tries to move toward resolution rather than engagement. I have been about deescalation and reconciliation. I should also add that I am a dreamer.

As I listened to him, I kept bringing us back to the idea of creating a space for dialogue between the opposing groups, of developing a system or structure that would allow the individuals to listen and learn from one another rather than shout each other down. With all the life and death struggles and conflicts all around us and across the globe, what would it be like if we could sit down and talk about them. Did I mention I am a dreamer?

The work that I do in the world and have done in some form for the last 30-plus years is rooted in the idea that we must be open to listening to others and seeking to understand the points of view and life experiences of the people around us. We have to also understand the systems and structures that have been put into place that have historically advantaged some groups and disadvantaged others. We need to know that in order to improve the quality of life of people everywhere, we have to understand how so many systems and structures are in place to keep things exactly the way they are, creating a nation, a world of haves and have nots. It is exhausting work, largely because there are a whole lot of people who are deeply invested in keeping things the way they are.

So I come in with my dreamer self thinking and talking with others about creating spaces for dialogues that invite people in to deeply listen and learn from one another, not with the intention of changing one’s mind, but perhaps touching one’s heart, of quickening their spirits. It really is true that at the deepest parts of each of us, we really do have more in common, are more alike, than we are different. That some of our most basic human needs and desires are, in fact, very similar.

Throughout much of my career, I have changed some minds and some hearts. Or perhaps I should say that I helped to open them, and the individuals themselves went on to change their attitudes and behaviors. But it is long, slow, arduous work, and I sometimes bear the bruises from banging my head against the brick wall of their intractability and refusal to “give in” and let go of their firmly held (and often misguided) beliefs. When I look around at the state of relationships between different peoples in this country and around the world, I am sometimes overwhelmed with the enormity of the challenges we face in bridging the gulfs between us. How can we hope to make a change, given all the strife around us?

And then a light goes on and I remind myself that it starts and ends with me, doing what I do where I do it. If I focused on all that needs to happen in the world, my heart would go out of me at the near impossibility of the task. I have to remember that it is not my job to change the whole world, I need to work in my own back yard. Jesus preached to the masses, healed the sick, raised the dead, walked on water. I can’t do any of that, but I can preach (talk) with whomever is around me, touch the lives of the people I interact with, reach out with as much kindness and compassion as I possess. That is the way to change the world: by changing my world.

Some people are destined to change hearts and minds of the masses–they are the rare miracle workers, sages, yogis, lamas, and others whose reach extends around the world. But most of us are mean to have a more local and intimate impact right where we are. Over these 40 days and beyond, I continue to ponder the impact I can have where I am. What would Jesus do? How did he do what he did, and how can I do what I do? These are questions worth pondering.

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Another Forty Days, Day 23–How Did He Do That?

No, I’m not talking about David Blaine or other magicians who do “incredible” feats of magic. I mean how did Jesus do it? How did he trek on foot around the countryside preaching, teaching, healing, giving, giving, giving, day after day, week after week, month after month…well, you get it. I mean, how did he do it? Give, give, give, then eat, rest, go up to the mountains to hang out with dead prophets, come back down, heal more people, raise people from the dead, etc.

Like many adults, I go to work every day. The work that I do is not physically demanding, but I am constantly amazed at the extent to which seven, eight, nine hours of mentally focused work, interacting with lots of people (not as many as Jesus did, but we introverts have limits), sitting in hours of meetings, is utterly exhausting. Tack on the 30-minute commute (much better than the 90 minutes I used to drive), and by the time I get home I am almost too tired to walk and feed the dog, fix myself some dinner, eat, and clean up the kitchen. After doing all that I walk into my home office (I stopped writing this blog in my bedroom), sit down in front of the keyboard and face the blinking cursor of death, winking idly at me as I rummage through my thoughts for a coherent theme I can coalesce around.

And another thing: how did Jesus tolerate the hundreds of people he interacted with in a given week. Some of them had to be annoying, demanding, groupies, sycophants, and hanger-on-ers, who followed him from place to place to see what they could get from him. I’ve seen folks speculate that Jesus was an introvert, and maybe he was, after all he did withdraw to pray when the large crowds wore him out. But he was kind and welcoming and inviting to all manner of people, especially those whom others looked down upon or outright rejected. When his disciples would occasionally strong arm people to keep them away from him–children and other irritants–Jesus would fuss at them (his disciples) and invite the castoffs, particularly the children, to come up and connect with him.

How did he do that? As an introvert, I have learned to engage with people in as gregarious and outgoing and welcoming a manner as possible. Though at times I really would prefer to hang out with cattle (they are so much less complicated), I have learned to be more outgoing with a variety of people. This is good, because my line of work is people. Still, I could not imagine being thronged by them everywhere I went. He must have wanted to help everyone that came across his path, and yet there had to be times when he had to close the doors and make everyone go home for the evening. I have seen this type of compassion up close and personal.

My father was a physician in our home town. He practiced medicine there for over 50 years. But he hit a point in his career where he wanted to do something more meaningful. So he packed up my mother, my younger sister, and I and off we trekked to Uganda, East Africa, where he became to lone doctor for a 110-bed hospital as well as a smaller “bush” hospital out in–well–the bush, the more rural area of the district. He saw patients from morning until evening, coming home for dinner and sometimes going back. People came from miles around–the vast majority of them on foot–to see this doctor who took the time to really listen to them, to examine and actually touch them, and do whatever he could to ease their discomfort, heal their ailments, and give them personal attention that many had not seen from any other doctor before. Often he had to turn people away and close the hospital for the night. They would find places to bed down and come back the next morning.

How much like Jesus my father was, at least in this regard. He really did see the humanity in the people he served, especially those in Uganda while we were there. My father was not a perfect man; unlike Jesus, I know he got visibly annoyed at people from time to time. But he really did reach out to, connect with, and touch people from all walks of life who came to him for healing, comfort, and support. He was an example to me of service and giving that Jesus and many other human beings have modeled for me and the people around me who interacted with him.

I look back at my father’s life, and the lives of other men and women I’ve been privileged to interact with, watch, and learn from, and I sometimes shake my head and say, “How did they do that?” As I continue these reflections over the days between now and resurrection Sunday, I am grateful to have human examples of people around me in the here and now that I can admire and emulate. Maybe one day someone will wonder how I did what I did. I’m not so sure about that, but I hope to live a life of service that at least provides a level of inspiration to some of the people I meet along the way.

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Another Forty Days, Day 22–The Blessings of Work Friends

Today I spent a few hours with a dear friend and former work colleague who was visiting from out of town. I realized as I sat there talking with her what a blessing it is to have work colleagues who become friends. I’ve begun referring to them as “frolleagues,” those people with whom you work whom you genuinely come to appreciate as friends.  I have been blessed in my 30-plus year career to have developed enduring friendships with a number of coworkers, even long after I’ve moved on.

I think sometimes we do not know the impact we have on other people, especially those with whom we work. On one level, we can often tell when we “connect” with another person. Something clicks, conversations about work deepen into discussions about personal philosophies and beliefs, and we learn from one another. Colleagues become frolleagues, who sometimes become friends. Our lives inside and outside of work improve from the interactions we have with one another.

We spend at least as much time with our coworkers as we do with our family members, so our relationships with them often directly affect the quality of our lives. Having worked in at least two exceedingly toxic environments, it was sometimes my frolleagues who made my work life tolerable until such time as I could move on. I feel for people who have no such outlets in their workplaces, being surrounded by people who lack basic attributes such as care and compassion for others, and lack integrity, openness, and honesty.

My friend today was highly complimentary of the positive impact I had on her during our time working together. Even though I squirmed with embarrassment as she extolled my virtues to one of my current work colleagues, I realized two things: first, that treating people with “basic” care and compassion might be a no-brainer to me and I try to do my best in my interactions with people to demonstrate that. However, everyone doesn’t engage their coworkers in that way. People often respond well to being treated with love and compassion, and a side effect of this is that the quality of their work increases. And the second is that when you are blessed to work with good people, it makes it easy for you to seem wonderful–they are simply reflecting back onto me what I experience from them. There’s a kind of mutuality in operation in those circumstances that allows collaboration, cooperation, creativity, and positivity to flourish.

During these 40 days, I think a lot about Jesus. He was constantly surrounded by people. Some were there to get from him what he could do for them, some were moved and inspired by his words and could listen to him all day, still others were glad simply to be able to follow and serve him wherever he went. I wonder, though, how many true friends he had. Who did he talk to about what was worrying him? Who did he strategize or consult with about what he was thinking about doing or where he was going next? I have to believe he didn’t always simply check in with his heavenly father about everything. Do you suppose he said to his disciples, “So Peter, John, Mary, what do you all think?” Given some of the accounts in the gospels, I could imagine Peter saying, “whatever you think, Lord…” which certainly would not have been helpful.

Who did he turn to when he was troubled? Right near the end, not many of his peeps showed up for him. As he struggled with his own reluctance to go through what he knew he must, only one or two people remained with him to the end. I’ve had one or two rare occasions in my working life where people who I had befriended silently disappeared when I was struggling. I have also had those one or two who stood with me through the struggles and saw me to the other side and beyond. While the loss of the former was disappointing, the steadfastness of the latter more than made up for it.

These 40 days provide the opportunity not only to think about and relate to some of the sacrifice, suffering and loss Jesus experienced, but also the qualities of the relationships in your life and the connections you have with the people around you. They can be a great source of strength, joy, and love. And so it goes.

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Another Forty Days, Day 21–A Thousand Miles (Revisited)

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” so the old saying goes. Back when Lat Tzu said it, and the only means of transportation were on foot or atop some animal, a thousand miles was a significant distance. For some people, it must have seemed an unimaginable distance. Today, not so much. While I suppose it would still be a significant walk (some estimates put it at a month or more of steady travel), it would be a lot easier now than it would have in 550 BCE, what with roads everywhere and GPS to tell you which direction to go. I guess the point is that when one has to undertake something arduous, it always begins with a single step, action, effort.

Tonight as I pondered what I would write about, I concluded that tonight was one in which I would “spin the wheel” of the RNG (random number generator) and pick a number between one and 4o. Whichever number I landed on would be the post to recirculate from my original Lenten blog “Forty Days,” which I wrote in spring of 2015. I love when I “randomly” select a post, only to discover that it echoes the theme I had begun or been thinking about. Tonight’s random post, Day Eight from the “Forty Days” blog happens to conclude with the same quote that I began with this evening. When I ask for a sign that God/the Universe/Spirit is listening to me when I pray, something accidentally pops up.

And so without further ado or interruption,  I offer you tonights resurrected (no pun intended) from February 2015.

Forty Days, Day 8–Small Moves
There are 66 steps from the lobby of my building to the floor my office is on; I know, I climbed them twice yesterday and once today. I almost always take the stairs down, unless I’m walking with someone who uses the elevator, but otherwise I walk down. Down is of course a very different proposition than taking them up. Yesterday I decided in the interest of my physical and spiritual well-being, I was going to start taking the steps up as well as down. Needless to say, I was puffing when I got to the fourth floor. Sixty-six steps–11 then a landing, 11 more and another landing, and so forth. I determined that by the end of these 40 days, my climb will be much less strenuous and while it might not be a breeze, I feel confident that I also won’t be quite as strained as I was yesterday and today.

The decision to take the stairs represented a small shift into doing something different for the sake of my health and well-being. So often people think they have to undertake something major or make some significant change in routine, behavior, approach, when more often than not it is the small moves that often result in the bigger, more sustainable changes.

The sacrifices one makes in commemoration of these 40 days is a little like that. It’s not simply about giving something up during this season, it is much more about the intentionality of the action. Some people feel like they have to take on major sacrifices like significant fasting, abstention from various pleasures (a-hem), and other such grand things. And to be sure, these things, if done with sincerity of intention are very good things to take on. But, as I wrote the other day, fasting can become so routine as to be easy and at that point, is it really a sacrifice anymore? Many of these things are wrapped up in our ego too, “Look at me, I am abstaining from worldly pleasure for these 40 days.” Even when the audience is only ourselves, ego can still be involved in our righteous observance of  Lenten sacrifice.

So what does taking the stairs today have to do with anything? Only this: that when we want to make changes or even make a difference in the world, in our lives or work, in anything, it often begins with an intention to make a shift. I am simply inviting you to make small, realistic shifts.

I’ve been talking with a friend about losing weight. We both need to take off some pounds, they more than I would benefit from reducing the strain on knees and joints as well as heart. I know it’s been discouraging, so we talk about it differently than we once might have. It’s not about going on a diet, restarting the gym membership, or any of those major things right away. It’s more about not eating a second doughnut, parking the car a little farther away and walking a little bit more, and making other small shifts in attitude and action that are going to get things moving. We don’t always have to do grandiose things right off the bat. Sometimes small moves are the best way to start. The wisdom is knowing when one need to do something big and when to take baby steps.

There are things I do now that I never really thought I’d do (like getting up at 5:15 every weekday, writing in a journal every morning and writing a blog post most every night.) None of those are major, earth-shattering things, but they are small things I’ve added to my life over time. And now it’s the 66 stairs to the fourth floor.

As you go through the next weeks–whether it’s 40 days or some other structure–what are some small moves you can make to move toward greater clarity, a deeper sense of well-being and health, a stronger spiritual practice, or whatever endeavor you’re stretching out for? The oft quoted proverb rings true here, “The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.” I’ve chosen to begin the latest leg of my journey with 66 steps. How about you?

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