Journey into a New Year

“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man [well, person 🙂 ].” Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790), one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, author, printer, political theorist, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat
Another new year is about to start. Most of us are probably contemplating making a few New Year’s resolutions that we hope will make it past January. Some of us might even decide to skip making any for this year. Wikipedia gives us some insight as to how this tradition got it’s start in the first place:

A New Year’s resolution is a tradition, most common in the Western Hemisphere but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere, in which a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behavior, to accomplish a personal goal or otherwise improve their life.

Religious Origins

Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts.

The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named.

In the Medieval era, the knights took thepeacock vowat the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.

At watchnight services, many Christians prepare for the year ahead by praying and making these resolutions [see opening paragraph].

This tradition has many other religious parallels. During Judaism’s New Year, Rosh Hashanah, through the High Holidays and culminating in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), one is to reflect upon one’s wrongdoings over the year and both seek and offer forgiveness. People can act similarly during the Christian liturgical season of Lent, although the motive behind this holiday is more of sacrifice than of responsibility. In fact, the Methodist practice of New Year’s resolutions came, in part, from the Lenten sacrifices. The concept, regardless of creed, is to reflect upon self-improvement annually.

Participation

At the end of the Great Depression, about a quarter of American adults formed New Year’s resolutions. At the start of the 21st century, about 40% did. In fact, according to the American Medical Association, approximately 40% to 50% of Americans participated in the New Year’s resolution tradition from the 1995 Epcot and 1985 Gallop Polls. A study found 46% of participants who made common New Year’s resolutions (e.g. weight loss, exercise programs, quitting smoking) were likely to succeed, over ten times as among those deciding to make life changes at other times of the year.

Popular goals

Some examples include resolutions to donate to the poor more often, to become more assertive, or to become more environmentally responsible.

Popular goals include resolutions to:

  • Improve physical well-being: eat healthy food, lose weight, exercise more, eat better, drink less alcohol, quit smoking, stop biting nails, get rid of old bad habits
  • Improve mental well-being: think positive, laugh more often, enjoy life
  • Improve finances: get out of debt, save money, make small investments
  • Improve career: perform better at current job, get a better job, establish own business
  • Improve education: improve grades, get a better education, learn something new (such as a foreign language or music), study often, read more books, improve talents
  • Improve self: become more organized, reduce stress, be less grumpy, manage time, be more independent, perhaps watch less television, play fewer sitting-down video games
  • Take a trip
  • Volunteer to help others, practice life skills, use civic virtue, give to charity, volunteer to work part-time in a charity organization
  • Get along better with people, improve social skills, enhance social intelligence
  • Make new friends
  • Spend quality time with family members
  • Settle down, get engaged/get married, have kids
  • Pray more, be more spiritual
  • Be more involved in sports or different activities
  • Spend less time on social media (such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr etc.)

Success rate

The most common reason for participants failing their New Year’s resolutions was setting themselves unrealistic goals (35%), while 33% didn’t keep track of their progress and a further 23% forgot about it. About one in 10 respondents claimed they made too many resolutions.

A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning. Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, (a system where small measurable goals are being set; such as, a pound a week, instead of saying “lose weight”). (Quote source here.)

Also in that 2007 study by Richard Wiseman, he gives some hints for achieving our New Year’s resolutions:

Make Only One Resolution – Many often people make the mistake of trying to achieve too much. The chances of success are greater when people channel their energy into changing just one aspect of their behavior.

Plan ahead – Don’t wait until New Year’s Eve to think about your resolution. Last minute decisions tend to be based on what is on your mind at that time. Instead, take some time out a few days before and reflect upon what you really want to achieve. 

Avoid previous resolutions – Deciding to re-visit a past resolution sets you up for frustration and disappointment. Choose something new, or approach an old problem in a new way. For example, instead of trying to lose 2 stone in weight, try exercising more.

Be specific – Think through exactly what you are going to do, where you are going to do it, and at what time. Vague plans fail. For example, instead of saying that you will go running two days of the week, tell yourself that you will run on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m.

Make it personal – Don’t run with the crowd and go with the usual resolutions. Instead think about what you really want out of life, so think about finishing that novel, or learning to play an instrument, rather than just losing weight and getting to the gym. (Quote source and more suggestions here.)

Early 20th Century New Year’s resolution postcards

And, here are a few more suggestions from an article titled, Making Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick,” by the American Psychological Association to get us on the right track for achieving our New Year’s resolutions:

Lose weight? Check. Start exercising? Check. Stop smoking? Check.

It can be daunting when your list of New Year’s Resolutions is as long as your holiday shopping list. In addition to the post-holiday slump, not being able to keep your resolutions by February, March or even late January may increase your anxiety. When your holiday decorations are packed up and stored away, the frustration of an unused gym membership or other reminders of failed resolutions can make the later winter months feel hopeless.

However, it is important to remember that the New Year isn’t meant to serve as a catalyst for sweeping character changes. It is a time for people to reflect on their past year’s behavior and promise to make positive lifestyle changes. “Setting small, attainable goals throughout the year, instead of a singular, overwhelming goal on January 1 can help you reach whatever it is you strive for,” says psychologist Lynn Bufka, PhD. “Remember, it is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time.”

By making your resolutions realistic, there is a greater chance that you will keep them throughout the year, incorporating healthy behavior into your everyday life. APA offers these tips when thinking about a News Year’s resolution:

Start small

Make resolutions that you think you can keep. If, for example, your aim is to exercise more frequently, schedule three or four days a week at the gym instead of seven. If you would like to eat healthier, try replacing dessert with something else you enjoy, like fruit or yogurt, instead of seeing your diet as a form of punishment.

Change one behavior at a time 

Unhealthy behaviors develop over the course of time. Thus, replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones requires time. Don’t get overwhelmed and think that you have to reassess everything in your life. Instead, work toward changing one thing at a time.

Talk about it 

Share your experiences with family and friends. Consider joining a support group to reach your goals, such as a workout class at your gym or a group of coworkers quitting smoking. Having someone to share your struggles and successes with makes your journey to a healthier lifestyle that much easier and less intimidating.

Don’t beat yourself up

Perfection is unattainable. Remember that minor missteps when reaching your goals are completely normal and OK. Don’t give up completely because you ate a brownie and broke your diet, or skipped the gym for a week because you were busy. Everyone has ups and downs; resolve to recover from your mistakes and get back on track.

Ask for support

Accepting help from those who care about you and will listen strengthens your resilience and ability to manage stress caused by your resolution. If you feel overwhelmed or unable to meet your goals on your own, consider seeking professional help. Psychologists are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body. They can offer strategies as to how to adjust your goals so that they are attainable, as well as help you change unhealthy behaviors and address emotional issues. (Quote source here.)

So, with that in mind, we still have a couple of days to think about what we really want to strive for at the beginning of 2019. I’ll end this post with a quote by Michael Josephson, speaker and lecturer, former law professor and attorney, founder and president of the Joseph & Edna Josephson Institute of Ethics and of CHARACTER COUNTS!, and author of The Power of Character”Approach the New Year with resolve to find…

The opportunities . . .

Hidden in . . .

Each new day . . . .

YouTube Video: “New Year’s Day” by Carole King:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit
here
Photo #3 credit here

Serendipity Road Take Two

“Sometimes life drops blessings in your lap without lifting a finger. Serendipity, they call it,”Charlton Heston (1923-2008), American actor and political activist
A week ago I published a blog post titled, The Road to Serendipity,” on this blog. I’d like to continue with that subject one more time.

How do we cultivate the art of finding what we’re not seeking? “Say what?” you ask. That question is posed in a 2016 opinion piece published in The New York Times titled, How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity, by Pagan Kennedy, columnist, pioneer of the 1990s zine movement, and author of eleven books including “Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change The World.”

Plenty of us seem to be in a constant rush to get what we want or what we think we want from life (just look at the millions of people who regularly play the lottery hoping to be the next big winner), but what about finding what we aren’t seeking? Pagan Kennedy notes the following in her opinion piece mentioned above:

A surprising number of the conveniences of modern life were invented when someone stumbled upon a discovery or capitalized on an accident: the microwave oven, safety glass, smoke detectors, artificial sweeteners, X-ray imaging. Many blockbuster drugs of the 20th century emerged because a lab worker picked up on the “wrong” information.

While researching breakthroughs like these, I began to wonder whether we can train ourselves to become more serendipitous. How do we cultivate the art of finding what we’re not seeking? (Quote source here.)

Serendipity is defined as “an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident; good fortune; luck” (quote source here); and “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way” (quote source here.) In fact, it finds us in all kinds of surprising ways.

Training ourselves to become more serendipitous, as Kennedy suggests, is to open ourselves up to new ways of seeing the world in which we live. For example, a chemist named Roy Plunkett experienced immense frustration while inadvertently inventing Teflon in 1938 when he was hoping to create something totally different; and Percy Spencer, an engineer and electronics genius, was fiddling with a microwave-emitting magnetron in 1945 when he felt a strange sensation in his pants. Spencer paused and found that a chocolate bar in his pocket had started to melt, and it lead to the invention of the microwave oven (source of both stories here).

While most of us will never invent–or invent by accident–anything like Teflon or the microwave oven, we can train ourselves to see the serendipitous in our everyday lives. For example, in my experience of writing blog posts for over eight years now, I can honestly say that from the beginning I’ve never been sure what I was going to write about until I sat down at my laptop, opened up a new blank blog post page, and starting searching the internet for interesting topics and articles. And I can’t begin to tell you all that I’ve learned in my eight years of doing that (and, I now have almost 600 blogs posts on my regular blog, Sara’s Musings, that I started in 2010, and over 30 posts so far on this blog that I started a few months ago in April 2018).

Serendipity is everywhere when we train ourselves to see it, or rather when we make room for it in our lives. It is acquiring a “sense of wonder” again that most of us had as children, but outgrew as adults. It’s a “stop and smell the roses” type of moment that gives color and surprise to our everyday and sometimes humdrum lives. It’s the spark that keeps us growing even into old age.

Close to a couple of decades ago I came across a book titled, I Asked for Wonder: A Spiritual Anthology,” by Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972), a Polish-born American Rabbi “considered by many to be one of the most significant Jewish theologians of the 20th century, who finds just the right words to startle the mind and delight the heart” (quote source here.) One of his more famous quotes is this quote:

“Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.” (Quote source here.)

I loved that book, and I lost it several years ago when I lost over a thousand other books when I had to move back to another state after losing a job I had just been hired for seven months previously, and I couldn’t afford to move all of those books as well as most of my other possessions back to the state I where I had previously lived. But since that time and the decade that has followed, my own sense of wonder has grown exponentially, and it has widened the world in which I live in ways I could have never imagined, but it came through the door of adversity when I lost my job almost a decade ago and I never found another job.

Serendipity . . . .

Abraham Joshua Heschel was known as a “Prophet’s prophet, who aimed through his writing and teaching to shock modern people out of complacency and into a spiritual dimension” (quote source here). Here is a little background information on him:

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) was a philosopher and civil rights activist best known for his writings on ethics and mysticism. Born into a family of Hasidic rabbis in Warsaw, Poland, he was called to the spiritual life at a young age. In 1939, weeks before the Nazi invasion, Herschel fled to London and then New York City. His mother and sisters died in the Holocaust, a tragedy that greatly shaped Heschel’s theology; most significantly his conviction that people can choose to live in a state of constant awe and gratitude, and act alongside God to create a better world. [It was] a belief that led Heschel to march alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Selma, of which he famously said, “I felt my legs were praying.” Heschel’s words continue to spur new generations to live in radical amazement. (Quote source here.)

It was through the door of his own adversity that shaped Heschel’s theology and view of the world. Here is another quote by him:

“I would say about individuals, an individual dies when he ceases to be surprised. I am surprised every morning that I see the sunshine again. When I see an act of evil, I’m not accommodated. I don’t accommodate myself to the violence that goes on everywhere; I’m still surprised. That’s why I’m against it, why I can hope against it. We must learn how to be surprised. Not to adjust ourselves. I am the most maladjusted person in society.” (Quote source here.)

Rabbi Heschel intentionally saw the serendipitous in life. It is that sense of wonder, that sense of surprise, that keeps us motivated towards the good and not the evil that surrounds us in this world (as mentioned above in Heschel’s quote).

In an article titled, Nuts and Bolts: Causing Serendipity,” by Jane Bozarth, author and Director of Research, The eLearning Guild, she states:

Think about a time a casual remark or random encounter set you thinking in a new direction. Or a web search for “personal learning network” led you to an hour spent learning about community management. Or remember the time a happenstance event set you on a new career path or a college major change….

Sometimes life thrusts it upon us… I learned about web design in a grad course suddenly staffed with a geeky pinch-hitter instructor who took the “technology in training” topic off in an unexpected direction. So far that course has led me to the publication of six books—and my current job.

Often serendipitous learning happens via “spinoff learning”—we’re learning one thing and happen to learn something else along the way… I have found that years of tweeting has made the writing in my eLearning designs much tighter and more concise. My friend Marlo learned about making cookies, which led to her opening her own company, which led her to learning about web design. Broader? An improvisation coach says improv taught her empathy…. 

Many people describe their moments of accidental, serendipitous learning as “stumbling” over an answer or idea. So let’s give them things to stumble over. Encourage exploration beyond the traditional constraints of a course or other learning intervention…. (Quote source here.)

In the opening to an article titled, Serendipity?” by Bill Pomerhn, pastor at Crossroads Christian Church, he states:

The English language has many interesting words including “serendipity”. A perfect use of serendipity is to describe a situation where a person is pursuing something and stumbles upon an even greater find or fortune–one that was completely different from their original pursuit. Its actual meaning is “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought after and by accident.” The origin is from a novel written by Horace Walpole (1717-1797) where the Three Princes of Serendip possessed this faculty. The world would prefer to call it “chance, good fortune or luck”. As Christians, we know it as God’s will or His plan. (Quote source here.)

I’m not sure that I had an “original pursuit” in mind when I first embarked on my 20-year career in higher education when I was completing my master’s degree years ago, but that was the direction my career took right up until I lost that job I referred to above almost a decade ago that brought my career to an abrupt end (although I didn’t know it at the time), and that has lead me in a completely different direction then I ever could have possibly foreseen. That new direction has included the world of long term unemployment with it’s various financial and housing challenges that continue to this day.

However, as pressing as the effects that losing my last job has had on my circumstances over the past decade, it has opened up a new world that I was unaware of, and it was also only a little over a year after I lost my last job that I started my first blog as a way to fill some of my time and journal my experiences with long-term unemployment. Had it not been for my circumstances (e.g., long term unemployment), that blog never would have seen the light of day.

One of my life long dreams has been to be a published writer. The closest I ever came to it before I started my blog back in 2010 was a few “letters to the editor” that were published in local newspapers on various topics; a few newsletters I put together at places where I was employed over the years, and a published article on the subject of adult illiteracy in a professional journal when I was in my doctoral fellowship (in adult education) which was co-authored with two others, along with various research papers I wrote in college and grad school. I also did a lot of “business” type writing in my work, but I never did anything creative with it.

However, at one point I wanted to be a writer so bad that when I first applied to work on a master’s degree to the state university where I had received my bachelor’s degree in art and design a few years earlier, I applied to work on a master’s degree in journalism, hoping it might open up a door in the publishing business. However, due to the fact that my bachelor’s degree was not in journalism, the only avenue for me to complete a master’s degree in journalism was in the area of research, and I could not picture myself counting commas and semicolons for the next twenty years. So at the end of my first semester in journalism, I ended up switching to the master’s degree program in higher education/student personnel services, and I spent the next two decades working in student services at various colleges and universities.

My first blog has given me the opportunity to realize a dream that had been dormant for years–which is to write, publish, and be creative; and what I have learned since starting that blog and from the writings of other authors over the years of publishing blog posts has been amazing–simply amazing. I am truly in my “element” when I am writing on my two blogs, even though I don’t make a dime in income from either of them.

For Christians, serendipity is much more than “chance” happenings. Is it, as Bill Pomerhn stated above, God’s will or plan for our lives, even if it seems like accidental circumstances to others (or even to us at times). Would I have chosen another way (other than long term unemployment) for my dream to finally be realized? Absolutely (and with a paycheck involved, too). But I didn’t get a vote in how it unfolded; I just had to go along for the ride to see where it lead me. And this is where it has lead me so far.

That’s just one example of serendipity in my own life, but those types of experiences can and do happen on a daily basis if we pay attention to them. And they can take our lives in a totally new direction.

I’ll end this post with one of my “life” verses found in Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding . . .

In all your ways . . .

Acknowledge Him . . .

And He shall direct your paths . . . .

YouTube Video: “Over the Rainbow/Simple Gifts” by The Piano Guys:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

The Road to Serenity

“Human beings… you gotta give ‘em a break. We’re all mixed bags.”Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”)

Serenity is defined as “the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled” (quote source here), and it is often very hard to find in the fast-paced world in which we live in today. Most likely, it has always been hard to find.

Six days ago I published two blog posts on the subject of forgiveness. The first post is titled, “The Season for Second Chances,” published on my regular  blog, “Sara’s Musings,” and the second post titled, A Journey to Forgiveness,” is published on this blog. I happen to believe that the two–forgiveness and serenity–are very much intertwined.

Most of us are familiar with the Serenity Prayer.” It is the common name for a prayer written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) (source here). The best known form of it is the first part of the prayer (available at this link):

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

The complete, unabridged, original version of this prayer is as follows (available at this link):

God, give us grace to accept with serenity 
the things that cannot be changed, 
Courage to change the things 
which should be changed, 
and the Wisdom to distinguish 
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time, 
Enjoying one moment at a time, 
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, 
Taking, as Jesus did, 
This sinful world as it is, 
Not as I would have it, 
Trusting that You will make all things right, 
If I surrender to Your will, 
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, 
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

One of our main shortcomings that disrupt serenity in our lives comes from our relationships with other people, situations, and circumstances that we encounter in life that we have little or no power to control or change. It’s not that we don’t try to change them (like quitting a job we can’t stand or filing for divorce or having an affair or “fill in the blank”), but all too often we try to manipulate and coerce our way (either overtly or covertly) to get what we want. However, this life it is not just about us and what we want (contrary to the message often given to us by our surrounding culture).

In the short term we might and often do find some success at our manipulation of circumstances or people, but at what ultimate cost? Nobody knows the future, and all we really have is today. However, there is always a bigger picture going own beyond our own set of circumstances, and that picture is clearly stated in Ephesians 6:10-18. The J.B. Phillips New Testament modern English translation states those verses as follows:

In conclusion be strong—not in yourselves but in the Lord, in the power of his boundless resource. Put on God’s complete armor so that you can successfully resist all the devil’s methods of attack. For our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organizations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil. Therefore you must wear the whole armor of God that you may be able to resist evil in its day of power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground. Take your stand then with truth as your belt, righteousness your breastplate, the Gospel of peace firmly on your feet, salvation as your helmet and in your hand the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Above all be sure you take faith as your shield, for it can quench every burning missile the enemy hurls at you. Pray at all times with every kind of spiritual prayer, keeping alert and persistent as you pray for all Christ’s men and women.

It’s hard not to focus on a particular person or persons we think might be the cause of our problem or circumstances, whether at work with coworkers, or in our families or among our friends, and even from complete strangers. Because we live in a physical world we often react accordingly, but the reality is that there is a spiritual world going on behind the scenes all around us, influencing both them and us.

In an article titled, When Life Is Hard: 9 Reminders that God Fights for Us,” by Debbie McDaniel, writer, pastor’s wife, dramatist, and blogger, she states:

Whether we recognize it or not, this truth daily confronts us, we face an enemy here in this life. It’s more than what we can see before us. It’s more than another person who we think has wronged us. It’s more than our own struggles and weaknesses we deal with, or the negative self-talk we sometimes battle….

Remember, your battle today may be more about what is unseen than what you see before you. (Quote source and complete article here).

This brings me back to the subject of forgiveness and, ultimately, serenity. In an article titled, What did Jesus teach about forgiveness,” by Fr. Michael Van Sloun, pastor of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, and a former school principal, high school instructor and athletic coach, he states:

Jesus often spoke about forgiveness, forgave those who sinned against others, forgave those who sinned against him, and asked the Church to continue his healing ministry. Jesus taught, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you” (Matt. 6:14). Peter asked Jesus how often it is necessary to forgive, and Jesus replied, “Seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:22), a number to be taken symbolically, not literally, for the never-ending way that we ought to forgive.

Jesus liked to use parables to illustrate various aspects of forgiveness. During his conversation with Peter, Jesus told the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:23-35). Luke’s gospel has a series of five forgiveness parables: the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9); the bent over woman (Luke 13:10-13); the lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7); the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10); and the greatest forgiveness parable of all, the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).

Jesus was extremely kind and merciful in the way that he forgave those who sinned against others. Jesus told the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5); when a sinful woman bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48); when a woman caught in adultery was brought before him, he said, “I do not condemn you” (John 8:11); and as Jesus hung on the cross he told the repentant criminal, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Even more compelling is the way that Jesus forgave those who sinned against him directly. For Jesus, forgiveness was not automatic; it was intentional, a conscious choice. After the Roman soldiers had scourged and nailed him, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). After the resurrection Jesus had every right to be furious. Peter had denied him. The others had deserted him. When he entered the Upper Room, they deserved a severe reprimand, but instead, with divine compassion Jesus said not once but three times, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19, 21, 26).

Jesus asked his disciples to continue his forgiveness ministry. Jesus told Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19); and after the resurrection Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (John 20:22, 23). (Quote source here.)

The important of extending forgiveness to others (as in all others) cannot be underestimated. In fact, it is crucial, and without it, nothing else matters. In an article titled, Apologies, Forgiveness, and Serenity, a Day of Atonement,” by Samantha Smithstein, Psy.D., a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist, she states:

When friends, family, and community members take the time to reflect upon how they might have hurt each other, sincerely ask for forgiveness, and find it in their hearts to forgive themselves and others, they find themselves experiencing a deep and real serenity. (Quote source here.)

It is in extending forgiveness that leads to “a deep and real serenity.” And since Christmas is right around the corner, this is a gift that is truly priceless, and it has the ability to change everyone and everything it touches.

I’ll end this post with the words from Colossians 3:12-14 from The Message BibleSo, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on . . . .

Wear love . . .

It’s your basic, all-purpose garment . . .

Never be without it . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by TobyMac [ft. Lacrae]:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Journey of Forgiveness

“When you forgive, you in no way change the past, but you sure do change the future.”Bernard C. Meltzer (1916-1998), radio personality. (Quote source here.)
I just published a blog post titled, The Season for Second Chances,” on Sara’s Musings, and it includes four excerpts from articles on the topic of forgiveness.  I ran across a fifth article on forgiveness that I thought would be good to post on this blog due to the fact that forgiveness is often a journey that can take a very long time, and a journey that often needs to be revisited over and over again.

The article is titled, Forgiveness: A journey filled with choices, by  Emily Snell, a freelance writer in Nashville, TN, and published in the March-April 2015 edition of Interpreter Magazine, a publication of The United Methodist Church. She writes:

All that’s needed for forgiveness to take place, sometimes, is for the victim or survivor to have permission not to forgive.

The Rev. Anne Robertson discovered this to be true early in her ministry when a young woman came to her office, saying she couldn’t be a Christian any more because she couldn’t find it in her heart to forgive her abusive father.

“‘I can’t forgive him, and the Bible says I have to. I can’t, so I can’t be a Christian any more,'” Robertson said the woman told her.

But forgiveness is not something that can be forced, Robertson told the woman.

“She had a choice. He was not entitled to her forgiveness,” said Robertson, a United Methodist clergywoman who is director of the Massachusetts Bible Society. “She left my office forgiving him and sort of floating on a cloud. All she needed to forgive him was the permission not to. She was physically different when she left that office. It wasn’t anything I did. It was just letting her know that forgiveness is a gift.”

Forgiveness will look different depending on the specific details of each person’s circumstances and relationships, says the Rev. Marjorie Thompson, but there are common aspects in every situation. Thompson is the author of two books on forgiveness.

“I think the outcome of forgiveness is a sense of peace, a sense of empathy and compassion for the other person, and a sense of inward freedom from carrying around the burden of feeling wounded or resentful,” Thompson said.

A way of life

Sometimes forgiveness is viewed in its simplest form as accepting an apology, but the Rev. L. Gregory Jones of Duke Divinity School says there is much more involved.

Forgiveness “is a way of life that involves words, feelings and gestures,” he says. “We often think that forgiveness is largely about saying something, and we don’t pay enough attention to both the emotions that are involved and the actions or gestures that need to be offered.”

Everett Worthington Jr., a clinical psychologist and professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said he thinks forgiveness, unlike reconciliation, “happens inside people’s skins, not in relationships.”

Worthington offers two categories of forgiveness. Decisional forgiveness, he explains, occurs when one person makes “a decision to not seek vengeance and to treat the person as a valuable and valued person, regardless of what the person has done.” Emotional forgiveness, he continues, is “a gradual erosion of negative unforgiving emotions – resentment, bitterness, hostility, hatred, anxiety and anger – and their replacement by positive emotions like empathy, sympathy, compassion or love.”

Forgiveness is a choice

Some Christians sometimes perceive that Scripture teaches forgiveness is required, but these experts say it is not something that can be extended out of obligation.

“God makes us free to forgive or not forgive,” Thompson said. “There is nothing automatic about forgiveness. It is either from the heart or it is not real. Forgiveness costs us something, as it cost Jesus. Most forgiveness involves a journey of some kind. I don’t think we should expect ourselves to instantaneously forgive someone when we are wounded.”

While the journey toward forgiveness should not be rushed, there is plenty of evidence to prove forgiveness is a good thing for which to strive.

“We forgive because we will never really find freedom or peace of heart without it,” Thompson said. “Holding onto bitterness is corrosive to our own soul.”

According to research, Worthington said, forgiveness contributes to better physical health – such as better immune function and less risk of heart problems; better mental health due to “less rumination, and thus less depression, anxiety and anger;” and better spiritual connection.

There are biblical reasons to forgive.

“We forgive because that has been modeled for us,” Thompson said. “God’s design ultimately is for reconciliation and harmony within and among the human family. Forgiveness isn’t just about amending the past; it’s about building a road into the future. I think the design of God is reconciliation, and God is urging us toward that greater harmony and empowering us to engage with each other for that purpose.”

Unconditional forgiveness?

Jones, author of “Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis,” agreed, saying forgiveness is “the only way in which we can show what it means to be forgiven and to be people capable of love. We need to be committed to developing the habits and practices of forgiveness as a way of life.”

Knowing the specifics of those practices is, he said, “a matter of wisdom and discernment in any situation.”

And there are certainly times when forgiveness should not be given unconditionally.

“There are lots of contexts in which I would say we need to practice loving enemies,” Jones said, explaining that unconditional forgiveness of those who intend to do harm only perpetuates a dangerous cycle.

In instances of abuse, for example, he said, “the fullness of reconciliation can’t be experienced because the other person is not repentant.”

Worthington agreed.

“For Christians, we can and should forgive everything, as a decision,” he said. “But, we might not reconcile with many people. If it is dangerous, risky, unwise, reconciliation is not called for.”

Forgiven again – and again

Ultimate forgiveness and reconciliation are found in Christ. Though we have already received his forgiveness, we come to him again and again, acknowledging our failings and our need for grace.

Confession helps us grow, Robertson said, as we examine our imperfections and strive to be more like Christ.

“What God is looking for is honest repentance, that we honestly want to change,” she said. “The only way we become better is if we are conscious of the things we’ve done wrong. When we hear ourselves repenting of the same thing night after night, week after week, that can begin to speak to us in a way that it doesn’t if we push it aside. While it may not make a difference in the forgiveness we get ultimately from the hand of God, it does make a difference in our becoming more Christ-like in our daily lives.”

Worthington, who is a fellow in the Religion and Spirituality division of the American Psychological Association, shared similar thoughts.

“While Christ’s death for us, and Resurrection, are free gifts, we receive the gift by acknowledging our neediness of forgiveness, by asking,” he said.

“It’s not a question of whether God is willing to forgive us; it’s a question of how we need to be reshaped in our lives,” Jones said. “It’s not that we are changing God or that somehow God is maybe not going to forgive us. Our own change of life is part of what it means to receive forgiveness, and that is learned by us naming it in relationship to God in prayer and to people.”

There are two reasons to ask God for forgiveness, Thompson said.

“One is to recognize and acknowledge our failing and our need for the forgiveness that is already given in Christ,” she said. “There is the necessity to recognize those moments when we need it and to seek it, understanding that the gift is already given. The second is to appropriate it–to take into our minds and hearts again that gift, to really allow it to give us courage and to heal us and restore us so that we can learn and grow from our mistakes.” (Quote source here.)

As I ended my blog post on forgiveness titled,The Season of Second Chances,” on my other blog, it’s a good reminder in which to end with on this post. The words actually come from Ephesians 4:32 which states: Be kind to each other, tenderhearted . . .

Forgiving one another . . .

Just as God through Christ . . .

Has forgiven you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by Matthew West:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Journey of Hope at Christmas

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” –the Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 9:6
Yesterday I published a blog post on my blog, Sara’s Musings,” on Advent–which started this week and ends on Christmas Day–titled, The Best News Ever.”  And, “the best news ever” is found in a succinctly written six-word sentence in the second article in that blog post that states, “Jesus in on a rescue mission.” And indeed, He is.

This morning I ran across a sermon that was published back in 1993 in an article titled, Meanings of Christmas: A Journey of the Heart to Hope, by Dr. John Habgood, a retired British Anglican bishop and academic who was Bishop of Durham from 1973 to 1983, and Archbishop of York from November 1983 to 1995. Here is the text from that sermon:

Have you noticed how the Christmas stories are centered on four journeys? There is the journey to Bethlehem, back to the place of family origins, back to Royal David’s City, the place of promise, back to the past. One might almost say, back to basics.

Then there is the journey of the shepherds to see this great thing which had came to pass, a journey made in hope and surprise and wonderment.

The journey of the Magi is a powerful symbol of the world’s search for an answer to its problems. The fact that the tradition alternates between wise men and kings somehow pinpoints the world’s dilemma about whether the answers lie in knowledge or in power. Finally, there is the journey into Egypt, the flight from Herod, but a flight which leaves a terrible trail of slaughtered innocents.

For many people today, I suspect, Christmas has this same character of a journey, a journey of the heart; a quest for some echo from the past, something remembered and partially lost; some hope and wonderment glimpsed, but only partially grasped; a search for meaning, with a star to guide us; or is it a flight from too much reality?

The journey of the heart may take us back to childhood, to Christmases as they used to be with their magic still untarnished. Or the journey of the heart may take us forward, beyond the tragedies and sufferings of today’s world to a scarcely expressible hope; a world in which neighbors no longer bomb and shoot each other; a world in which people no longer starve or die of neglect; a world in which people no longer hate each other.

Both journeys have their attractions at Christmas time. But whether we look backwards or forwards, there are dangers. Cynics might be right to dismiss the backward look as mere nostalgia. They might be equally quick to label the forward look as mere Utopianism. Despite the cynics, though, the search and the hope and the journey are not to be dismissed so easily. They represent a feeling out for something real, however elusive, which must not be abandoned, whatever the sneers, and whatever the disappointments.

I think particularly this Christmas of the search for lost innocence. With our consciousness of a society in deep moral trouble, it is the innocence of Christmas Day which grips the heart; the innocence of Virgin and Child; the innocence of murdered babies, which gives their feast day its name —Holy Innocents. And it is the shining innocence of Christ himself in the Gospel story, which both convicts us and uplifts us.

Yet innocence is not a quality by which today’s world sets much store. It tends to be equated with ignorance and gullibility. The innocent are pitied and ridiculed for not being streetwise, for what are presumed to be their sheltered lives.

Nineteen ninety three has faced us with gnawing doubts about the innocence of children. We are increasingly conscious of how disastrously young minds can be polluted with images of horror, and become well-educated in what the poet Traherne called “the dirty devices of the world.” And even where innocence exists, what can it do in face of the murderous struggles around it? What can the children of Bosnia or countless other troubled areas of the world hope for, except to grow up quickly, or escape?

The search for lost innocence can easily begin to seem like a vain and misguided dream. But if innocence entails the clarity of childlike vision, isn’t this what our world needs? ‘Back to basics’, if it means anything, must surely mean seeing our way through the murk and muddle of today’s confused values to a few simple truths about human life – that we are made for God, and made for goodness.

If innocence is about the purity of heart which sees God in everything, then surely this is the vital counterpoise to a world of self-interested calculation. If it is about seeing the best in people, rather than the worst in them, then surely we need a few innocents among the carping destructiveness of so much of what passes for public life.

Innocence is not about ignorance, though some forms of ignorance may be worth cherishing in a society avid to fill minds with the products of other people’s diseased imaginations. If we have that kind of ignorance, we can count ourselves lucky. But true innocence goes beyond this. It is all there in St Paul’s classic description of the love which thinks no evil; rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears ill things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’.

And today’s message is that such shining innocence is not a delusion. It has been made actual for us in the life of Jesus. And if we set out on a journey of the heart to Bethlehem, whether in wonderment like the shepherds or in puzzlement like the magi, we, too, may find its source. And in worship we shall taste its reality. (Quote source here.)

What Dr. Habgood stated in 1993 is every bit as relevant at the end of 2018 as it was back then. Innocence is about purity of heart, but it is not ignorant of what goes on in the world, though, as he stated, “some forms of ignorance may be worth cherishing in a society avid to fill minds with the products of other people’s diseased imaginations.” And given today’s technological wonders that were not available back in 1993, much of what he refers to as “other people’s diseased imaginations” have come front and center stage with a click on a laptop, smartphone, iPad, Chromebook, and other technology; and it is present in many of today’s movies and, of course, social media in it’s various forms.

However, true innocence, as Dr. Habgood also stated, goes beyond this to the Apostle Paul’s “classic description of the love which thinks no evil; rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears ill things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” as found in I Corinthians 13.

As we make yet another journey to Christmas this year, let us reflect on what Dr. Habgood stated back in 1993: That such shining innocence is not a delusion. It has been made actual for us in the life of Jesus. And if we set out on a journey of the heart to Bethlehem, whether in wonderment like the shepherds or in puzzlement like the magi, we, too, may find its source. . .

And in worship . . .

We shall taste . . .

Its reality . . . .

YouTube Video: “Best News Ever” by MercyMe:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here