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On Saturday morning I woke up just after seven. I took a cup of coffee into my study and read while the cats climbed around on my desk and inspected everything they thought interesting. By nine I was restless and I drove to Isle of Palms—top down on a brilliant morning. A quick stop for another coffee and then I strolled along the water’s edge. The ocean was in a morning calm and the people scattered along the beach, also walking, seemed calm too.
A particular problem rolled around in my mind. What to do? I strolled and mulled—if I do this, then that might happen, etc. My eyes took in the sand just in front of me: bird tracks, broken shells, lines made by waves come and gone. A seagull caught my attention. He stood still and faced the ocean. I looked around and saw more, dozens more, and more still. There were perhaps one hundred gulls. They stood on stick legs facing the water toward the northeast. They seemed to gaze at the morning sun, the sun at an angle in the perfect sky. All of them, along the beach, gazed with heads raised. The attitude of their pear-shaped bodies synchronized.
I stopped and stood with the gulls. For several minutes I stood as still as they did and faced the morning sun. The warmth ran over me. Light particles played on the water in a broad way from the shore to the horizon. The gulls and I stood and gazed.
Two children bolted into view from the left. Their intent was to make the gulls fly, to drive them away. The children, a boy and a girl, laughed and jumped and yelled and the gulls around me shot up and away. Is it possible to feel offended for another? I felt offended for the gulls; then for myself.
We do what these children did sometimes, don’t we? We pound through a peaceful setting where all is at rest simply for our own amusement. We disrupt things for entertainment. Don’t we?
The children moved on and I stayed in place. Then the gulls returned. A few at time, they came back. They hovered and landed on their spindly legs and positioned themselves to face the Northeast. We all settled down and gazed again into the light.
The gulls were not angry toward the children. They did not file a complaint or stand around and cry over the unjust disruption. Their day was not ruined.
When the disruption came, they rose up and waited and then landed again, and stood facing the light of the sun on a brilliant morning. They simply returned to gaze at the light.
I like that. I may try that myself.
We pause for a brief moment of shameless self-promotion. Wayne has started a newsletter on how to handle anxiety.
If you’re interested, you can sign up at http://www.anxietyhelp-newsletter.com/free/.
It’s free! You’ll even get a bonus guide.
We now return to our program in progress.
How do we know what good character is and what it is not?
I read a fascinating blog post this morning. The author spoke about compassion, love, kindness, and other life-giving things. I agreed with him. But I wondered: where do they come from? How do we get them?
Some say that such attributes are built-in to the human spirit. They come with the base, out-of-the factory model. I agree with that, somewhat (the “somewhat” is for another post). So OK, we come with these things. But where did we come from? And how did these attributes get put into us?
Because I’m believe in God; and, more specifically, in the God who came into the world in Jesus the Christ, I believe that God is the ground of all character.
All of the character attributes we value–love, gratitude, kindness, compassion, etc.–are available because they are part of the person of God. Without a source or ground for our character or morality or way of life that’s outside of ourselves, then it could well be something we’ve made up. And who says what I make up is better than what you make up?
Otherwise, we’re Just Making it Up
Your idea of character may contain the feature of being honest. Someone else may laugh at that and say it’s better to do what you have to to get what you want, even if that means lying when it’s convenient. (The truth is not always convenient.) Who’s to say who’s on track and who’s off track unless the entire concept of character and how to live it out comes from outside of ourselves–a great source that gives us guidance and knowledge and the strength t0 embody it?
Our great source and strength is God, the one who made us and who put into us–into the base factory model of humans–God’s own image (with attributes like recognizing that love, compassion, kindness, etc., are good).
Otherwise, how will we know what character is and what the best way of life for us could be?
If we say it’s strictly up to us to decide, then we are on shaky ground. I have no way of demonstrating that my way is most helpful. Neither do you.
Ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner is hoping that someone will do something really bad–newsworthy bad, so that the scandal-loving press will leave him alone and let him attempt to rebuild his life. That’s my guess, anyway. No, we’re not going to bash Mr. Weiner. First, we’re not inclined to do that. Second, it’s been done ad nauseum.
Public and Private
But Mr. Weiner’s “situation” brings to mind a key element of character: Integrity.
He was one person in public and quite another in private. He espoused one set of values and principles when the cameras were rolling, but seemed to leave many of those values and principles at the office. I wonder how often I do that? How often do you do that?
A Different Person with Different People
How often do I portray one set of values publicly, but then leave them in the car before I go inside my home?
Do you do that? I know I have.
It’s natural to have some differences when in private. We’re more relaxed, more at home. We’re not “on.” We lounge in our grungy shorts and favorite T-shirt with the sleeves torn out at the elbows that your wife would love to get rid of but you’ve made it clear that she’s never to touch that beloved garment (sorry, a little stream of consciousness leak).
But we’re not talking about that kind of difference. We’re talking about differences in what we claim in public and who we are when nobody’s looking. Do we live out in private what we profess in public? Are we kind to our co-workers but dismissive and rude to our families? You get the idea.
Integrity isn’t about being perfect in some rules-based, moralistic sense. Attempting to achieve that will make us crazy, and will makes us really awful people to be around.
Integrity is about wholeness, about the elements of our lives fitting together with a sense of continuity. It’s about being the same essential person in public and in private.
This is what I want: wholeness, not perfection–consistency throughout. The temptation to be “on” when in public, to put on an image for the crowds is tremendous for many of us.
What I Need
I’m not strong enough to get this wholeness on my own. I need to be close to a power greater than my own to make it happen. I need grace, the grace of God. And, I need good friends–people who’ll love me and even, at times, put up with me.
What do you need to have wholeness, to have integrity?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this.
Thanks for reading,
How Perceived Obligations Get in the Way
We tend to get fussy when we think that someone owes us something and then doesn’t come through. We feel cheated, hardly-done-by, perhaps even hurt. Often, though, these kinds of “obligations” are internal; that is, they weren’t agreed to or even discussed with the other person. We just, well, created them ourselves.
A husband expects his wife to take on certain responsibilities. But she doesn’t. He becomes upset when the “thing,” whatever it is, isn’t done. The problem is, he hasn’t discussed it with her, hasn’t asked her what she thinks. Maybe the “thing” he expects isn’t something she wants to do, or maybe she simply doesn’t see it as something that must be done. Either way, he’s upset, annoyed. Tension builds between them.
What’s the source of his irritation? An internal deal or contract he created, all by himself. How often do we imagine that someone owes us something only to be upset or stressed out when they don’t come through?
The Source of a Lot of Trouble
The truth is, people usually don’t owe us anything (unless you have a contract that all parties involved understand and agree to). Parents don’t owe their children Disney World or a car (new or used) or a particular vacation or set of clothes . . . the list goes on. Parents can give their children those extras, but out of love and grace, not obligation.
The person at the grocery store doesn’t owe us a “cut-in” because we have 2 items and they have 20. They can let us jump ahead out of kindness, but they’re not obliged to do it. Adult children don’t owe their parents a phone call each week, but if the kids choose to call, it’s out of grace (who wants someone to talk to them strictly out of guilt or obligation, anyway).
A Caring and Free Life
We’re not talking about neglecting to love others or living a selfish life. But we are saying that one of the most difficult lessons in character formation is to realize that no one owes us anything.
When we get this, we increase our peace. We don’t get fussy with people or live with inner stress because someone “should have” done this or that for us. Instead, when the kids call or when someone does something nice for us, we realize that they didn’t have to do it–and we’re grateful. If they don’t do it, that’s OK too. They didn’t owes us to begin with.
A grateful heart is a heart at peace with God, itself, and others.
Can you think of a time when you became angry or upset because someone didn’t come through? Were they really obligated to do what you wanted, or was it something you created in your own mind?
What are your thoughts on obligations?
Thanks for reading.