Learning wisdom a day at a time.

Chip and Dan Heath write, “Proverbs are helpful in guiding individual decisions in environments with shared standards. Those shared standards are often ethical or moral norms. Proverbs offer rules of thumb for the behavior of individuals” (Made to Stick, 47-48). Recently, I read this after a conversation with a friend about reading a chapter of the Bible book of

FullSizeRender (11)Recently, I read this after a conversation with a friend about reading a chapter of the Bible book of Proverbs every day. Wisdom, I had told my friend looks like a series of decisions or choices. These choices make sense, reflect good judgment, seem wise. They may run counter to what most people would choose.

One way to cultivate wisdom is to learn how to make good choices, one after another. And a way to learn is to read one chapter of Proverbs a day, and at the end of the month, to start over. Since there are 31 chapters in Proverbs, this works out well.

And you just read them. You don’t study them for story or for theological argument. You don’t dig deeply into each sentence or proverb. You read them as a string of choices.

I did this from October through December 2015. I found a couple things happening.

  1. I spent 10 minutes every morning reading about quick choices toward wisdom that I didn’t spend consuming other forms of media with advertising that called for choices toward self-gratification.
  2. I started to think in a decision-making model that illustrates the possibility that there are wise and foolish choices.

The flow of decisions based on values started to shape my own choices in new ways. I offer this practice as a possible routine for Lent. Which officially started last Wednesday, but which can start any time you choose.

The morning after

(First published May 24, 2011)

You make a new commitment. You watch a friend die. You finally decide. You screw up. You get the award. You finish the book. You make the call. You answer the call. You finish. You start. You can’t figure it out. You didn’t get to sleep. You won. You lost.

Then it’s the next morning.

The success is dulled. The commitment, foggy. The future seems permanently distant, unaffected by whatever you might do today.

If this doesn’t sound familiar,  go refill your coffee and get on to your day. Don’t even waste time here.

If, however, you are reading this and you know exactly what I’m talking about (and you, at least do), do what Jesus did one morning.

The night before had been wonderful, powerful, exciting. People heard that Jesus was staying at Peter’s house. Everyone brought an illness or a demon for Jesus’ autograph. “Heal my mom,” they said. “Keep my brother from being thrown into the fire,” they said.

He did.

In a foreshadowing of the Best Buy parking lot on the Friday after Thanksgiving, people slept in a line outside the door, waiting to get the “Magic Healing Touch, as Seen on TV.”

AwayEarly the next morning Jesus left the house. He found “alone.” He prayed.

The disciples found him. They said he’d made the big time. Word of mouth worked. He said, “We’re going to another village. I gotta tell them the good news. That’s why I’m here.”

What happened out there?

His dad reminded him that his purpose wasn’t making people happy. His success wasn’t measured in crowds. He didn’t have to solve every problem.

He simply had to do what he had come to do.

The line is long outside our doors this morning. We can do what Jesus did. Talk to his dad.

How do I pick something for Lent

Lent starts today.

Some of you are leading groups who will be reading Lent for Non-Lent People. You may have people who ask, “How do I figure out what to give up?” Or you may be wondering yourself.

A couple general ways to think:

  • andrewlaughingSimply ask yourself, “What helpful, beneficial action do I know would help my relationship with God and others, but I just forget to do?” Then do that during Lent.
  • Set aside fifteen minutes. Go to a place where you won’t be interrupted by others. Say out loud, “God, is there something that you’d like me to do or not do for a few weeks that would help me hear you better?” and then just listen to what goes through your heart. (Seriously. I know that your mind will race. You will run through all the things that you hope it isn’t. But if you ask again, you will have a growing awareness of one or two things that are possible. Pick one. Just pick one.)

Or, you can get specific:

Read the questions below. See what kind of argument starts in your thinking. Ask yourself and God whether that argument tells you something about some growing that needs to happen. And then consider making a change, just for the next 7 weeks.

  • How often do you ask others for advice before you ask God for advice? How could you add in the God conversation first?
  • How often do you turn to food when faced with a difficult conversation? How could you turn to God?
  • How often are you getting riled up as you read something in Facebook or Twitter or the newspaper? How could you back away from the turmoil?
  • How often each week are you specifically thanking God for specific things in your life? How could you add in gratitude?
  • How often do you sit in a chair for fifteen minutes and read something from the Bible and say to God, “Is there anything in this that you would like me to follow up with?”
  • How many weeks do you take a day and use it to stop working and simply live with your family and friends?
  • Who are you bitter at? How could you learn to forgive other people as a way of working up to releasing that bitterness?
  • How often are you giving time or money to God?

Be specific in your next step. For example, “During the next seven weeks, each time I get to Friday evening, I will light a candle and put away my work for 24 hours.”

Let me know if this list helps.

fasting from keeping things available.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I’m thinking about fasting from keeping things available.

I know that sounds odd. Many people would respond, “Oh, you mean that you are going to put things away!” And it would be clear that they are neat people.

But I don’t leave things out. I don’t intentionally try to be messy. I keep things available.

I may need that folder so I’ll put it in a pile. I will go running again tomorrow, so I may as well leave the pile on the floor of my study. And leave the jacket hanging from the doorknob so it can dry. I will use that mug again so I will leave it by the coffeemaker. I will use that screwdriver again, so I will leave it on the workbench. With the hammer and the nails and the pliers and the switchplate I took off.

Of course, it’s possible that I left the switchplate not because I wanted to keep it available but because I didn’t have time to decide where it needed to be saved so I have it for the future. If I ever need a switchplate again.

It’s easy, I suppose, to see why I could be considered messy, as the piles of availability and indecisiveness accumulate.

But there is good reason, in my head.

messWhich is why, for Lent, I’m considering fasting from keeping things available. It means offering to God my habit of inattention, of indecision, of keeping chaos. It means finishing cleaning up before moving to the next thing. It means a deep disruption in how I act.

Which means that I will have a hundred reminders a day to turn to God, to stop rushing, to trust Him for the thing after this.

Giving up a meal a week would be much easier.

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If you haven’t purchased Lent for Non-Lent People,  it’s available in paperback and for Kindle (for just 99 cents). If you order the paper version, you can get the Kindle version through the match program for free.

Expectations and Lent

Some of my friends with spiritual interests anticipate Lent with a sense of gratitude. They are thankful for what they learn about themselves through the disciplines of giving up and of moving toward God. They appreciate the invitation to participate with others known as the Body of Christ.

I have other friends who argue a bit and ask questions about some of the practices or formats. They aren’t sure that leaders who can’t discipline themselves should be calling others to obedience. They question the appearance of legalism in the practices of fasting and solitude, in serving others and denying self.  But they aren’t antagonistic. In fact, because they are committed to growing well themselves, they appreciate the structure.

I have other friends who observe it, but only with community. They need to know others are doing this too, because it gives them a sense of accountability. In fact, some of them love Lent because they can’t quite bring themselves to this kind of discipline on their own. And now that their resolutions have started to fade, they are looking forward to the discipline of Lent being a fresh start.

And truthfully, some of my friends ignore Lent completely because they don’t need anyone telling them how to prepare for Easter. And they kind of laugh at anyone who needs that kind of pressure.

If Gretchen Rubin is right, each person reading those paragraphs nodded at one of those descriptions. And said to a friend, “That sounds exactly like you.”

Rubin wrote Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. She argues that the place to start with considering our habits is with the question “How does a person respond to an expectation.” (16)

I’ve been thinking a lot about habits and about practical steps for spiritual growth. I watch the way one person says, “This is what I do, you need to do this, too.” And the way another person responds with, “That’s crazy. Why do you need that kind of plan. All you need to do is this.” It’s possible that both are wrong. And both are right.

Or better, it’s possible that each has different answers to Rubin’s question about expectations. She says that some people are comfortable meeting internal and external expectations (upholders). A second group question the external expectations, but are committed to meeting their internal expectations (questioners). A third group meet external expectations, but struggle to meet their expectations for themselves (obligers). And some people resist any expectations, internal or external (rebels).

As you consider observing Lent this year, and as you listen to others talk about why they will or won’t, listen for these tendencies. Spend less time being frustrated by how others aren’t the same as you. And spend more time seeing how you might grow by understanding your tendency.

I’m an obliger, by the way. I struggle to meet my own deadlines, pursue projects on my own. However, when I know that I’m modeling something for others, it gives me focus. For example, my running streak (250 days of consecutive running) isn’t because I’m so disciplined. It’s partially because I want to help others see that even undisciplined people can do consistent things. And, by telling you about it, it helps me keep going longer.

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If you want more on Rubin’s idea, take her quiz: survey. Or if you are a questioner or a rebel, just look at a checklist version.

And if you haven’t purchased Lent for Non-Lent people,  it’s available in paperback and for Kindle (for just 99 cents). If you order the paper version, you can get the Kindle version through the match program for free.