A couple years ago on my birthday I decided to share the things I felt I had learned that year. Now it’s becoming a bit of a tradition to have a post sitting in my Drafts folder all year where I can jot down things I’m learning, and on my birthday share it with all of you. You can find last year’s post here if you’d like to check it out. Here is this year’s post!
Often those who throw punches are coming from a place of ignorance, fear, and shame. I think understanding this is what lies at the heart of loving our enemies. When we stop seeing them as enemies and begin seeing them as sisters, brothers, parents, and friends who have been misguided or wounded, then we can begin loving them in an effort to shed light on darkness.
Do hard things you’re not certain you’re capable of doing. In 2015, running a half-marathon and moving to Korea were two things I was very uncertain I could do, but I accomplished both. I’m not a competitive person with others, but I’m ferociously competitive with myself, so perhaps pushing the envelope comes more naturally for me than it might for others. All I can say is pushing beyond my perceived limits (with all the caveats of health and safety) is one of the best ways for me to grow.
Take pictures. Life moves super fast and taking pictures is a way to grasp onto moments as they fly by at the speed of light. I use to refrain from taking pictures because I didn’t want to be like those folks who post a picture of every significant moment on social media. But I’ve come to realize that I can take pictures simply for my own reflection and enjoyment without needing to share them with the internet. Pictures are a way to help us remember our own story.
Enjoy and invest in friendships. As a task/achievement oriented person I can sometimes focus more on crossing things off my to-do list than investing in relationships. Through this past year I’ve learned that (while productivity is good) healthy, diverse, and meaningful relationships are of indispensable value for my life.
Learn to be silent. While there is power in words there are times when silence is more powerful. Silence gives us time to listen to what God is saying, for anger to subside, or for others to speak first. One of my favorite quotes from Mohandas Gandhi is:
Experience has taught me that silence is part of the spiritual discipline of a votary of truth. Proneness to exaggerate, to suppress or modify the truth, wittingly or unwittingly, is a natural weakness of humans, and silence is necessary in order to surmount it. A person of few words will rarely be thoughtless in their speech; they will measure every word. We find so many people impatient to talk[…]All this talking can hardly be said to be of any benefit to the world. It is so much waste of time. My shyness has been in reality my shield and buckler. It has allowed me to grow. It has helped me in my discernment of truth.”
Strive to be critical without being cynical and compassionate without being naive. This is really hard for me. I often feel like I fall one way or the other. But, I do believe there is a middle that is both perceptive and joyful. I’m certain we’re capable of seeing truly and laughing sincerely as human beings.
Mentor someone different than yourself. “It’s about opening doors for people who couldn’t even get to the damn hallway.” –Yassmin Abdel-Magied
Understand that our breath is not our own. I use to feel discouraged when my zeal would fail and I’d run out of breath, but I’m learning that my strength is not my own. My strength comes from Lord. It’s by the spirit of this God that my heart is replenished. Just because I am empty does not mean that my world has run dry. I simply need to remember where to find water.
Learn to have a compassionate interpretation of others. As an introspectively reserved introvert I sometime have the urge to avoid all social interactions because they’re complex and messy. Interacting with others can be difficult because we cannot always see the differing perspective and nuanced thinking of another person. You can see this play out on a large scale in any one of the number of global conflicts. Understanding others is hard, but starting from a place of grace and humility will do a lot to improve communication.
Learn to laugh at yourself. This is a skill I’m still developing. My tendency is to take myself far too seriously. I think being able to laugh at ourselves helps us to stay light hearted, be humble, and disrupt the misconception that we’re somehow in control of our lives. Besides, if you don’t laugh at yourself someone else most certainly will :)
This last point isn’t actually something I’ve learned, so to speak. It’s actually an invitation. But I’d like to believe this invitation stems from a very important lesson I am still learning, namely, to love my neighbor as myself. I’d like to invite you to partner with me in a birthday campaign to raise money for refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq. My hope is simply to contribute to an organization I trust as they try to provide aid and relief for these refugee families. It’s a very small contribution to a very big problem, but loving our neighbors has to start somewhere. So why not here? Go to my Birthday For a Cause page to read more and donate.
As I stated last year and will continue to state every year: by no means have I mastered any of these things in 22 years, but I have learned that they are essential to life.