Efficient or Lazy?

The difference between efficient and lazy is not always clear.

Do we order groceries online because it saves time or because we don’t feel like going to the store?

Do I research faster methods of doing things so I can do even more things, or is it because I don’t feel like working?

It’s more efficient to move boxes between the U-Haul truck and your house with a dolly, but it’s also easier. There’s nothing wrong with wanting easier. There is something wrong with the feeling that work is a bad thing.

I hide my laziness behind efficiency all the time. I’ll spend 120 seconds strategizing how to save one 60-second trip to the car.

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

When I’m tempted to complain about the lines at the store and the effort required to plan a holiday meal, I wonder what those who have nothing would think.

When I’m tempted to feel down about not seeing family at the holidays, I wonder what mothers of prisoners would think.

When family drama weighs on my mind and I’m tempted to be angry, I wonder what orphans, both young and old, would think.

When the future feels uncertain and I’m tempted to fret, I wonder what those who were recently diagnosed with a terminal illness would think.

When I’m discouraged that Thanksgiving means being stuck in the same house we’ve been in since March, I wonder what those who make their beds under bridges would think.

When I’m upset that traditions won’t be kept the same way and that things won’t feel like they always have, I wonder what refugees who’ve been away from home for years would think. 

When I take the food for granted and rush through the meal like it’s a job, barely tasting it as I eat past the point of satisfaction, I wonder what those with no food on their table would think. My wife’s great-great-grandmother lived through the Great Depression and was thrilled to receive an orange for Christmas one year. She marveled that her parents could do it. She ate one slice per day and wrapped the rest in a handkerchief until it was gone.

When I feel stretched by the demands of parenting and impatiently demand personal space, I wonder what parents who have lost children would think.

Giving thanks lifts me out of myself and provides a much needed distance from my wants, my needs, my disappointments and sufferings. To give thanks I have to forget myself for a minute and look around me, not just at the pains and trials of others, but at the good things life has afforded me.

I’ll never forget the morning after the saddest day of my life. The first thing I saw was the head of my 16-month-old boy looking up over the pillows in the hotel room to see if we were sleeping across the room. Would you believe that under grief so heavy I could hardly breathe I started off the day with a laugh? In one of the worst moments of my life, goodness found a way in.

I don’t know why 2020 has been so tumultuous and dark. I don’t know when COVID will be a page in the history books instead of the daily headline. I don’t know how to cope with the weight of this world completely. 

But I do know that to be here—just to have life and be able to think and breathe and eat and speak and give and receive love—is more than I might have, and for that, I am grateful.

*

Lastly, there’s a prayer in the back of a prayer book that is relevant today. 

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us.

We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

A General Thanksgiving, The Anglican Book of Common Prayer

Huckleberry Finn and Peter Pan

This weekend I read the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for the first time. I also happened to watch the classic Peter Pan movie from Disney for the first time. Both of these works are considered classics in a way, and both brought this same realization to my mind: we must judge works according to the time in which they were created, not according to our own. This takes maturity and discipline.

Here’s what I mean. 

Huckleberry Finn has long been a controversial book for many reasons. In the early criticisms, people thought Twain’s language was vulgar and his humor crude and had little to say about racism and his usage of the n-word. What’s interesting is that I didn’t notice whatever crude language there was (vulgarity has evolved significantly in the past century in America) but I did notice keenly the usage of the n-word and overall racist presumptions of the characters.

When it comes to Peter Pan, the work is surely less controversial, but even so, several things stuck out to me as I watched. 

For one thing, movies and TV shows made for children have changed dramatically over time so that even the most entertainment-forward shows now usually contain some educational elements. The older content didn’t prioritize this as much and tended to be humorous even if rudely. It takes only a few seconds of seeing old cartoons—from Mickey Mouse to Bugs Bunny—to see the overall difference in the nature of the humor. Not only is the older stuff heavily slapstick, it’s usually more verbally harsh and physically violent. No big deal, but I noticed it.

I also noticed how clearly defined the characteristics of the women were. The mother wore a dress and was done up with perfect hair and tweezed eyebrows and had a fair complexion and dainty voice, and the daughter followed the same pattern. This is all fine, though it does create a stereotypical image. What stuck out to me more was that Tinkerbell, who already has a figure that is unrealistic for most women, lands on a mirror in her revealing outfit and looks down to see the reflection of her hips. Her face drops and she places her hands on her hips in disapproval. A short time later, the width of her hips prevents her from escaping through a keyhole.

I’m not criticising either of these works. I’m pointing out that certain elements stuck out to me because my moral sensibilities have been shaped in part by the zeitgeist of our time.

When I read Huckleberry Finn, the temptation is to be sidetracked by the racist language and assumptions and miss the fact that the book is actually deeply anti-racist. When I watch Peter Pan the temptation for me is to be bothered by a whiney and dramatic father figure who gets his way and the razor-sharp definition of womanhood depicted in all the females (including the topless mermaids—yes, that is in Peter Pan). What I might miss is that the dad is supposed to be outrageous to us and that one of the main characters is a girl who is unafraid to pave her own way and set the example for bravery in adventure. 

These things stick out to us because we aren’t from those times. We see them inherently differently, and we have to remember that before we judge them too harshly. 

An Important Discipline for Success

The other day I scheduled a shoot, but I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t know the exact plan. I couldn’t see the vision. But I picked up the phone and set the date.

It occurred to me how important it is to act before we’re ready. If we wait for the feeling to come we’ve often missed our chance.

A point comes when we’re ready but we lie to ourselves about it because we’re really scared. I don’t think this ever goes away on the things that matter most. If you can develop the discipline to take the step despite the fear—to act before you’re ready—you’ll be more successful.

A Theory for Making “Big” Life Decisions

I have been asked over coffee more than once, “How do you know what you should do next in life?”

We all come to these decision points, and they can be some of the most perplexing and anxious moments in life. Should I get another job in the same field? Should I move to a new city? Which job offer should I accept? Is now the time to get married, to buy the house, to have a child?

Who can possibly answer these questions? Anytime I’ve been asked this I sit there blinking for a few seconds feeling totally inadequate to answer.

But the longer I live (and I’m still a baby), the more a theory is starting to develop in my mind. 

My theory about making “big” life decisions: it doesn’t really matter.

It doesn’t really matter where you live or which job you accept or when you have the child or get married. For every side of the decision your mind will create a list of reasons why one might be better than the other, and you can fret and sweat over this list for a month and be no closer to a choice.

But the biggest reason I think it doesn’t matter is that you don’t know. You can get the job of your dreams at a great organization and detest it from your very soul once you start working there.

The future isn’t real. Once it gets here, it will be the present—the real thing—and then you’ll be worried about the next step all over again. 

In those times when you don’t know which path to choose, pick one, own it, and refuse to let yourself play the what-if game. If the future isn’t real, alternative versions of the present are even less real. 

Many life situations can be undone if they really need to be. You can always move home. You can always close the business. But even when they can’t be undone, you have to remember that nothing stays the same. Eventually, it will change all over again. 

I don’t think we’re meant to exist primarily in the whirlwind of anxiety about our next life step. Few decisions are really make or break.

If your life is a book, you have no idea how the story will end up—no idea which parts are really important—until the end. Don’t spend all your time flipping through pages you’ve already read. Don’t fret about the next chapter so much that you fail to read the current one. 

One page at a time.