the importance of language part 2

The other aspect of our language that I wanted to discuss occurs in the language we don’t often put a voice to…and that’s the language of our thoughts.  More specifically, our thoughts directed at or to ourselves.

I am one of the guilty ones here (as are many others) when it comes to being a harsh critic of myself.  At times this has helped me to improve in areas I’ve needed the criticism (and can’t get it from anyone but me), but most of the time it’s not necessary and brings me down further.

How much better would our lives be if we offered ourselves the same forgiveness we’re willing to offer to others?  If a friend or loved one makes a mistake, we will forgive them and move on without holding on to that “infraction”.  If we make a mistake or hurt a friend, they’ll do the same for us…but do we do that for ourselves?  Holding on to this guilt is a heavy burden that we don’t need once we’ve moved past that issue with those we’ve hurt.  We need to forgive ourselves, as well as truly accept forgiveness from others, and then move on!

the importance of language

I am a firm believer that the language we use (verbally or in our thoughts) greatly affects our beliefs, attitude and our character.  This certainly shows up in using profanity.  Growing up, as many teens and young adults do, I used quite a bit more profanity than I do now.  I can attest that when using that language (again, verbally or in thoughts) affected me internally and I’m sure it affected others around me as well.

Outside of profanity, though, I think the way we phrase our thoughts can affect our view of others quite significantly.  We all know that we are called to not judge others.  When we’re cut off while driving, however, and we say to ourselves “what a jerk!”, isn’t that placing a judgement on that person?  The problem with this is that we’re defining that person as a jerk.  They’re a person just like we are, but saying that “jerk” defines their being takes away their ability to be anything but that (to us).  This is all in our heads, but it affects how we view that person and probably affects the amount of forgiveness we’re willing to offer.

In that same instance, if we say to ourselves “that was rude”, we’ve judged the action and not the person.  That specific action can be judged and we’ve never been told that we can’t judge the actions of others.  In using this change in phrasing, we’ve spared this person from being judged a specific way and have left the door open for them to redeem themselves.

Jesus did not just say things to his disciples and followers without a very specific purpose that we need to pay close attention to.  In this case, by focusing on not judging that person, we can love them much more easily.  We have all heard the phrase, “Hate the sin, not the sinner”.  This is putting that into practice.

Think how much more important that language is when we’re talking directly to that person.  They’ll probably be a lot more defensive if you say that they ARE rude rather than saying an action of theirs was rude.  Put yourself in their shoes and you’ll easily see the difference.  If it’s directed at you, you’ll probably want their forgiveness for your action rather than being equally upset at them for having misjudged you, right?  We should offer the same consideration to everyone else by speaking more carefully.

We all (at least most of the time) say things without having fully thought them through beforehand.  Sure, some comments get more reflection before being blurted out than others, but most of the time we just go ahead and speak.  This is where awareness of ourselves comes into play.  We need to be aware of what we say (or are about to say) so that we can speak properly and phrase our statements in the most loving manner.  At first it will be a matter of looking back at our failings and working to get better, but before long we’ll be thinking these things through on the fly…and hurting far fewer feelings in the process!

not for pity

There was an interesting exchange between two characters on a recent episode of Flash Forward that highlights an important lesson for all of us.  Here’s a brief synopsis:  A man named Bryce has cancer, but hasn’t told his family or any of his friends because he doesn’t “want their pity” and because they’ve already been through too much.  A woman he’s telling this to (a psychiatrist) responds, “Telling them is not for their pity, but for their support.  At this time in your battle, you need all the support you can get.” (paraphrased).

How often do we hide our struggles and difficulties from others because of our pride?  Having someone’s pity is a very humbling place to be, so instead of taking that on, we hide our problems beneath the surface and act much stronger than we feel.  This seems so ridiculous when brought out into the open, yet we all do it (I am guilty of this quite often).

Another excuse we oftentimes make when not opening up to others about our problems is that we don’t think they can provide a solution…that it would just be  a waste of time.  The comments of that psychiatrist, however, prove this to be irrelevant.  Regardless of someone’s ability to tangibly help us through a problem, they can always support us.  That could be through encouragement, showing that they’ve got our backs, or through prayer.

Most of the time, we do this without even realizing it.  Our hesitance to share our problems with a loved one comes automatically.  That’s where our awareness of ourselves and our actions is especially important.  We probably won’t be able to correct this the first, second or even tenth time, but enough observation of what we do and when we do it could allow us to grow out of it down the road.

Reflecting at the end of the day is also very helpful as it allows us to detach from the emotions involved and think clearly about something that happened earlier in the day.  Doing that and being constantly aware of ourselves is the only way for us to grow out of this.  At a time when our world is making life difficult (either morally or financially), we could all use this type of growth.

focus on the plank

Another of my favorite passages of Jesus’ goes as follows:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

This ties in with my comments on loving others.  If we take our focus off the faults that we see in others, it makes it much easier to love them.  As Jesus also points out, our vision/perception of those faults are greatly altered and distorted by our own faults and prejudices (the plank in our eye).

Every single person sees the world (and therefore sees others) through their own “lenses” that they’ve built up over their lives.  These lenses are based on our prejudices, opinions, judgments, preconceptions, etc.   For example, if every policeman someone has met has been the one to pull them over and give them a ticket for speeding, their view of another policeman (call him Fred) would be negative.  Alternatively, a good driver who’s never been pulled over but has been helped by the police to find their lost purse would view Fred in a very positive light.  The same policeman (Fred) was viewed by both people, but their prejudices of policemen in general affect how he’s seen quite significantly.

This is what I think Jesus was referring to when he spoke of us removing the “plank” from our eye before helping our brother with his own faults.  If our view of the world is distorted, we’re in no shape to correct someone else’s view of the world.

So instead of focusing on fixing the faults or failings of others, we should focus on our own faults and failings.  If we do that, our lives will be an example to our brother who could then remove his “speck” on his own and without having that confrontation.

It’s like St. Francis of Assisi says, “preach the gospel and, when necessary, use words.”  So much more power is in leading by example and improving our own lives than in directing and correcting others.  There are some extreme examples where we’re supposed to speak out, of course, but most of the times this isn’t the case.

For your own reflection, think about one prejudice or tainted view you might have that affects how you see certain people.  Reflect on that and expose it (in your mind) and, after some time, it will probably drop away.  Also, be constantly aware of the inclination to correct someone else.  If it’s not important enough, keep it to yourself and remind yourself of that “plank” you’re working on.  It doesn’t hurt to offer a prayer for that person, of course!

a tree and it’s fruit

In Matthew 7, Jesus spoke about knowing a tree by its’ fruit.  To paraphrase, you can recognize whether a tree is good or bad by whether its’ fruit is (or brings about) good or bad.  This is an interesting test to put against many things in life.

Take what we eat, for example.  If we’re looking at our diet, we should be able to determine whether that diet is good or bad simply by observing the results.  If we’re feeling healthy and have a steady stream of energy, clearly it was a good diet.  Getting more specific, we can use that to temper habits of ours that could go either way.  Drinking caffeine or alcohol in moderation could be recognized as “good fruit”, however doing so in excess could clearly be seen as “bad fruit” based on all the negative consequences we would see (or premeditate).  The reflection on our choices is very important for us to remain “in tune”.

This test can be applied to many other things.  I’m fond of the Medjugorje story and all that’s been happening there, so let’s look at that.  If you are to focus on the fruits of what’s been happening there, clearly these events represent a “good tree”.  Countless conversions, vocations and miraculous healings have come about over the duration of these inexplicable events, all of which are clearly “good fruit”.  Whatever is behind these events, this is a “good tree”.

Anytime we’re faced with some difficult choices, project your thoughts towards the potential outcomes of each course of action.  Do you see more good fruit coming from one side than the other (or bad fruit)?  If so, you know your path.  Looking backwards, this can help us reflect on past decisions and decide whether we did the right thing or could have acted differently.  This is an important part of our self-observation as it will allow us to constantly improve in all areas of our lives.

While this may seem like simply placing a new label on a simple concept, I think this act of meditating on the fruits of a decision/action (whether it’s in the past or upcoming) is one that will allow each of us to be better versions of ourselves.  As with everything else I’ve discussed, it comes down to awareness, observation and the desire to improve.

feedback email

As you’re probably aware, this being a blog allows you to leave a comment.  I wanted to open things up a bit further than that and created an email account for feedback.  Here is that email:

lifeawakeblog@gmail.com

If you want to just comment on a specific post, you can do so by clicking “Leave a Comment” and all the world will see.  If you want to just comment to me, you can email me at that address.

I would also love to see questions come through or ideas/subjects that you’d like my own view on.  Not only does it give me more material to write about, but it allows me to connect with you on topics that are on your mind as well.

happiness

I saw a great Thomas Merton quote in the most unlikely of places yesterday (a credit union teller line):

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”

I’m curious as to what others think of the “intensity” portion and what Merton meant by that, but this relates closely with my thoughts on happiness and why we don’t “have it”.  We’ve been brainwashed by our culture and media to think that happiness comes from someplace, something or someone.  What we fail to realize is that happiness is already there, inside us.  Happiness doesn’t need to be attained (nor can it be).  Instead, we need to get rid of all the junk in our lives that prevent us from experiencing that happiness.

Think of it this way, when your life is more balanced and everything is in harmony, you’re happy right?  That is another way of saying, nothing is in the way of you being happy.  You don’t buy that balance or harmony, it’s a way of life.  Happiness is a result of dropping things (like stress, worry, fear, etc.) rather than getting things (like a new car, hairstyle or money).

To prove this further, think of a person that, when you’re with them, you feel happy with.  When you’re hanging out with this person, you’re typically happy.  You’re not happy because the person is with you, you’re happy because their presence has motivated you to either drop those worries that prevent you from being happy.  They didn’t make you happy, you did!  Happiness is a choice (most of the time made subconsciously), so choose to drop those worries, fears and stress and enjoy the harmony and balance that remain with you.

life as a child

It’s very easy to get caught up trying to figure out life or figure out why certain things happen and other things don’t.  All of us have our own agendas, wishes and desires and we all hope and pray that God’s will for us includes all of those.  When that doesn’t happen, we usually get frustrated and oftentimes ask “Why?!?”.

What we fail to recognize is, can God truly answer that question for us?  We would need to tap into his all-knowing and all-seeing presence to see how that disappointing event for us affects others (or affects us positively down the road).  Sure, we want to know a simple answer as to why we were “let down” but the answer would way over our heads.

In one of the Gospels, Jesus teaches his disciples to be like Children.  This has many different applications, but there’s one in particular I want to focus on.  As a parent of a toddler, I’ve had the opportunity to see my daughters’ life from a parent’s perspective.  As a child, she is completely innocent and thinks/acts in simple (childish) terms.  She is totally trusting of her Mom and Dad, but she also has her own agenda (starting to sound familiar).  There have been many occasions where what we, as parents, wanted for her was far better for her than what she may have wanted at that same time.  As her parents, we know so much more about what’s important and we can see and understand things that she cannot.

Our situation with God is identical to this, albeit frustrating.  God, as the parent, sees everything and provides for us what we need and when we need it…in His own way.  As our Father, His choices for us will always be wiser and better for the overall health of our souls than what we may decide that is.  Since, in this case, we are the children, we need to work on recognizing that we don’t know everything (like children sometimes believe they do) and that we should trust in our Father who knows what’s truly best for us.

apparitions & faith

As a Catholic, I’m very familiar with the stories and history of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary.  Many would argue that these are hoaxes put on to fool the masses, but I don’t believe that to be true.  I also don’t think it really matters whether they’re real or not…here’s why.

Regardless of their validity, the purpose of these apparitions is not to prove that our faith is true.  We, as Catholics, shouldn’t point to these apparitions and say, “See?  I told you what I believe is the absolute truth!”.  Our faith can’t be proven true, that’s why it’s called “faith”.  Those events are given to us to help point us in the right direction and keep us all on the right path.

Looking at each of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary, the message(s) that comes from them always revolves around Jesus and turning back to him.  Mary comes to remind us to strengthen our faith.  Whether you believe these actually occur as we’re told they do or not, it really doesn’t matter.  If your faith is strong and you’re reminded to continue to work on it, that’s the end result Heaven is looking for.

I had the privilege to go to Medjugorje a few years ago and witnessed an incredible peace and an amazing display of faith by those that live there and by the many pilgrims from all over the world.  I did find it interesting, however, how many people were looking for miracles and I wondered why.  In many cases, the miracle desired revolved around healing of a loved one, which is perfectly understandable. Perhaps, though, these miracles were needed for confirmation (or proof) of that persons’ faith.  It’s always good to get that, as we all question our faith sometimes, but we need to remember not to dwell on that confirmation if we receive it.

We need to avoid getting caught up in the signs given to us and focus instead on what those signs are pointing to.  Think of it like this, you’re driving with a friend to Phoenix.  On your way you see a road sign that says “Phoenix – 150 Miles”.  Would you really stop the car at the sign and point out to your friend how amazed you are that this sign exists and is proof that Phoenix exists?  The sign is only there to point you to your destination, nothing more.  We should still be grateful for the sign as it keeps us on the right path (in this analogy, it confirms you’re still going to Phoenix), but your focus should remain on your destination.

Pulling this back to our faith, our life’s destination is union with Christ in Heaven.  These apparitions are signs that point towards Him and we should learn from them and follow any guidance they provide, but our gaze must remain on Him.

wisdom listens

I saw a quote recently that resonates very strongly with me.  It was, “Knowledge Speaks, Wisdom Listens.”  I’m not sure if this is a well-known proverb, is from scripture or a quote of anyone in particular but it stands on its’ own just fine.

Looking at the first part, “Knowledge Speaks”, I don’t think it’s necessarily a slam towards those that speak out.  I do think, however, that when we do speak, we should do so from knowledge.  This rules out all unnecessary speech like gossiping and hearsay.

The second part of that quote is what truly resonates with me.  I firmly agree that wisdom comes from listening and observing.  The simple act of doing so puts us in a place where we receive information (with as few prejudices of our own attached to them as possible) and can let it roll around in our minds while we think it over.  If we’re not listening, we’re closed to that information that may help us understand our current beliefs better or that may challenge misconceptions we have.

The “listening” I speak of doesn’t apply only to words spoken to us.  God speaks to us in a number of ways, many of them non-verbal (ie: through events, signs, books, random thoughts, etc.).  If we’re not aware (awake) or paying attention (listening), we are missing our opportunity to gain in wisdom.  Tuning out distractions (like when driving) that may handicap our awareness can go a long way towards our spiritual growth.

This takes us right back to “living awake”, doesn’t it?