Monday, January 7, 2008

Be Stubborn

I'm beginning to value stubbornness. I know we aren't supposed to insist on being right, be impossible to correct, or be unwilling to compromise during arguments. Neither Nick nor I is a stubborn person. We've been thankful for that, because we don't argue often and our arguments are typically quickly resolved. But there is something to be said for tenacity, for being unwilling to let go of what we believe, even in spite of circumstances or opposition. Hang in there with me, let me explain.

I've been reading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I tried to read it in college, back when it was the trendy thing to read, but I couldn't digest it. I wasn't ready for its message. I'm about halfway through, and the one phrase summary of the book so far is: you decide how the world looks to you. Everybody has obstacles. Everybody has things they could point to as the reason they cannot succeed in living the life they want to. But, like the 1st habit teaches, the only freedom that cannot be taken away from us, is the freedom to decide how we respond to stimuli. No matter what happens to us, we can decide our response. This is something God has put into humans that sets us apart from animals. We are not creatures purely of instinct or habit.

My mom faced tons of opposition when I was a kid. She and my dad homeschooled, fed us healthy food, and left the church denomination of our heritage. Many of our relatives and friends did not understand why and were very critical at times. I asked mom once how she did that. "I'm stubborn," was the answer. She was able, partially because of her stubbornness, to cling to what she believed, the way she felt God was leading her, in spite of opposition.

I wrote my friend Kim an email last week, asking how she got through the experiences of her early marriage. As I read her post, telling a part of her story I hadn't heard, I was struck by the joy she had, in spite of her baby being sick. Honestly, it was humbling. It was a needed kick in the pants to my attitude. I want to post her response, because I think she says it well.

No there are no easy answers. I have thought a lot about why we
responded the way we did. Part is just really good fortune. I have always been
doggedly optimistic. Also more than a bit stubborn. All it takes is someone
saying "you can't" to trigger my 'oh yes we can!' response. Part is that joy
is a gift of the spirit and I can't take personal responsibility for that

That said I do think Joy is also something we can cultivate. No matter
how awful things are there are always many more awful things that are
not happening. We have to focus on the rose and not the thorns because in
truth the one is always accompanied by the other.

I am not an old woman but the longer you live the more awful things happen both to you and to those around you. As time goes on I have become acutely aware of what suffering is. Every moment we have been given protection and reprieve is treasured in my heart because gosh life is hard and short. When you face that reality you have to choose whether you will let that overwhelm you or whether you will survive - and thrive. That is where that dogged determination comes in. I am determined to thrive and to make the most of the roses. I can't control the thorns. I CAN maximize the garden and make it as beautiful as possible. It's my little attempt to thwart Satan who would like to see us despair.

Sometimes it takes a very conscious effort to look for things to appreciate - the sun coming through the window, the smell of bread baking, the soapy clean hair on newly bathed babies. Once you make a habit of seeking out those little wonders like that and always always thinking of how much worse you could be it starts to come more naturally. In our family there is never a shortage of opportunity to practice. : / Just this morning our (second) brand new trampoline was victim of a wind storm. $400 GONE. It was hard to swallow. My dh saw
thorns. Lots of them. When the initial shock wore off we stopped and
talked a minute. I said well, for all we know someone may have been going
to have a terrible accident on there today and God swept in and intercepted that

I guess my other thing is that depression runs in my family. I have been blessed to avoid it but it's been ever present in my relatives. They are uniformly negative and it wore on me. I have vowed to try to avoid that rut to the extent that I can. Now that doesn't mean the Pollyanna in me always wins. I cry easily and often. Some horrific things have happened to me. The baby's health wasn't one of them if that gives any indication of how serious I am. But what are you to do? I just won't let it defeat me. Thank you God we aren't on the streets of Iraq or Darfur. We have warm rooms, good food and the opportunity to try harder again every day. We have our knowledge of God. We will never suffer as He did. We are ok. We have to ride the waves with our eyes on the shore ahead.

One thing that has helped me beyond measure has been surrounding myself with uplifting stories. For me that is the story of the saints who to a number have had to overcome horrible suffering. Scripture is full of suffering people who still found joy. It is a mystery in my opinion. That whole concept of 'embracing' the cross has always been a mystery to me. Slowly slowly God is helping me. I have had to ask Him to please help me understand HOW in the world to actually embrace my crosses when my gut level response is to dodge them wherever possible. Maybe someday I will actually 'get' it. I am an admittedly slow student. God has given me lots of chances to learn this lesson though. Bottom line though - I try to remember to just ask Him when I can't find silver lining. What is the good You are bringing from this situation? What am I supposed to learn? Help me to suffer patiently as You did. It works. Sometimes better than others ; )

Again, the themes of stubbornness, deciding your response, looking to God.

I have a stubborn child. She's not as stubborn as some, but more stubborn than others. I have no way of knowing what challenges she will face during her lifetime. It's my job to take her stubbornness and not break it (I wouldn't want to do that - she might need it one day!), but mold it into a positive rather than a negative in her life. This requires that I become far more stubborn than I am naturally, because I have to match her in strength. But as I find that strength (in God, not in myself - for God gives us everything we need to do that job He asks of us 2 Pet 1:3), I'm finding it can also be applied to my everyday life. In the past, I have given up far too easily. In many areas.

Finally, sort of related, this post encouraged me today. If we're going to be stubborn, we need to be stubborn about the right things. Like DAILY time with God to renew our strength.

We decide so many things. We can influence so many things. To spend all our time and energy worrying over the things we can't control is such a waste. This concludes my summary of the kick in the pants I got this weekend.

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