Lessons I’m Learning About Contentment

I’m not going to lie. Being content is still a struggle for me, but I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I am more content now than I was even five years ago. Over the past couple years or so, I have learned many things about how to be content and why for many people, contentment with life seems to elude them. 

In this New Year, contentment can be a reality for you. It can be an even greater reality for me. In general, from what I have read, heard, and learned, these are some of the major factors in cultivating contentment in one’s life:

  1. Live with purpose.—I had always had this lingering question in my mind about work: Why do most people hate or dislike their jobs and have no passion in what they do for a living? When I observed people and the general trends from the world around me, I found the answer.  Basically, for a lot of people, their attitude towards work and much of their other parts of their lives, too, is “I’ll do what I can to survive another day.”  While that can motivate some to not give up, I believe we need to live with greater purpose than just survival if we are to be truly content. I recommend that to find your life purpose (if you haven’t already), you think about what your passions are in life, and what God-given abilities you have, and see how they can fit together. For instance, one of my passions in my life is to see people know and experience the joy and love of Christ in their lives.  God has given me the ability to articulate myself well through writing (though I am much less gifted in speaking!). Therefore, I have chosen to write a blog about lessons I’m learning about God’s love and joy in my life, and how others can cultivate the same. Though my day job does not involve writing at all, I can still be content in my job, because my passion to see people experience the love and joy of Christ is still being realized through the opportunities I get to interact with people on a daily basis.
  2. Live in forgiveness.—I used to hold grudges against certain people for years, and then wonder why I wasn’t content with my life. It was like there was something always holding me back from experiencing true joy.  Once, I held anger and resentment against someone that was so bad that I started experiencing PTSD-like symptoms and a real dread of ever seeing them again.  However, when I finally forgave them and let my anger go, I felt an enormous weight lifted off me. I was finally able to live in love and freedom from the bitterness that held me captive for so long! Some people think if they forgive someone, they are letting them off the hook, so to speak, or excusing the offender’s behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth! The very fact of having to forgive someone necessitates that they did something wrong or sinful to hurt you.  Also, like so many others who have struggled to forgive someone, I used to think that the longer I held a grudge, the longer I would make the offender “suffer” for what they did to me and feel the isolation and pain of my hurt. Then, I realized that the offender often either does not know what they did to hurt you or to what degree, or if they do, they don’t care at all.  I realized that holding a grudge only makes you and the people around you that have nothing to do with what the offender did suffer. Let. It. go.  By holding a grudge, you are continuing to let the offender hurt you. Get out of your offender’s prison! Forgive them—for your sake, not theirs!
  3. Live with gratitude.—I believe that one of the biggest barriers to contentment is a complaining spirit.  Often the people who complain the most are also the most depressed. This has little to do with the person’s circumstances, and more to do with the person’s attitude towards them.  For instance, I know several people from my church who have had to struggle through cancer. Even though a lot of them had some trying times just battling the disease and having to go through strenuous treatments to combat it, they remained in good spirits because they focused on God and the good that was still in their lives. When I looked back on the good in my life and the blessings that God has given me, I find that I am much more satisfied with my life than when I focus on the negatives.  One thing that I find helpful is to start a list of some of the blessings in your life.  I keep mine in a notebook that I update occasionally throughout the year.  I started it about 10 years ago, and it has over 100 ways that God has blessed me throughout that time!

These are the three main lessons that I am learning about contentment. Though practicing these things is not always easily, and we may fail to live these at times, never give up.  The more purpose, forgiveness, and gratitude are implemented in our lives, the more content we will be with our lives. Try living these, and you won’t be disappointed with the results.

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R. Christian Bohlen’s Conversion Story–Guest Post

Along my blogging journey, I have met some amazing people that have encouraged and inspired my own as well. One of these people is R. Christian Bohlen, who has quite an extraordinary testimony of how he came to know God, through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Author/Blogger Bio:

R. Christian Bohlen has been involved in ministry and church leadership for over thirty years, including oversight of a prison ministry program in central PA. He holds an M.S. degree in communications and has received multiple personal and team awards as a human performance improvement consultant, instructional designer, and program manager to Fortune 500 companies throughout the United States and Canada.

His prior work with juvenile offenders and his own family’s trauma due to mental health issues instilled a commitment to somehow help those who need it most to find comfort in Christ. For over twenty years, he has labored to simplify and clarify the beauties of the life of Jesus Christ for everyone, regardless of background or knowledge of the scriptures. In 2018, he launched Christ on the Inside prison and addiction recovery ministry with the goal of making easy-to-read books about the life of Jesus available at no cost (and no profit to anyone).

(courtesy of R. Christian Bohlen)

My Conversion Story

I’ve devoted over 20 years to writing a book about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, mostly because of the remarkable and unforgettable way Christ kept pursuing me and not giving up on me.

In my 20’s, the confusion of trying to find my way to God was torturous—in spite of my sincerest efforts.

Finally “finding Christ” brought the peace and clarity I was looking for, but it certainly wasn’t like walking into a door labeled Nirvana and then thinking, “Ahh! It’s all good now.”

There was a process that gradually filled me with light—triggered by one key insight and the most difficult decision of my entire life.

Growing Up in Light and Truth

I was raised by faith-filled parents in a gospel-centered home. It was an idyllic setting. A family with father, mother, three children and a large community with kids everywhere, bordered by the dense forests of northwest Pennsylvania where we played and fantasized.

Attending church every Sunday was a given. Family prayer was routine and sincere and our home had a spirit of meekness, love, and obedience to God.

As a child and teenager, the other members of our small church family were important influences on me. The older members of our congregation had the Spirit of God with them when they spoke. Their kind and patient ways were noticeably different than the world around me, showing a “peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2).

I was taught many stories from the scriptures. These often touched me and, looking back, I sensed that they were true. I felt good when I read the scriptures myself, although I typically had better things to do and simply didn’t bother.

I didn’t pray on my own. I didn’t disbelieve that there was a God but I didn’t really believe it. And I certainly didn’t feel his love, nor did I ever feel what I would call love for God either. Sayings like “God loves you” just bounced off. “Everybody knows that,” I would think to myself.

But I didn’t know it.

A Gift to the Undeserving

(courtesy of pexels.com)

Maybe you can relate to what I’m about to share. Maybe in some way, God touched you whether you deserved it or whether you were seeking him or not. Maybe, at the time, you didn’t recognize it as such.

God reached down to me powerfully twice when I was a teenager.

One day in church, after watching an inspiring video about some story in the scriptures, I recall walking into the hallway feeling touched and uplifted. I paused in front of a bulletin board and looked at a picture of Christ surrounded by people in old-fashioned clothes like the ancients might wear.

A pure spiritual light of understanding entered my whole being as I stared at Christ in the center of this picture. I wasn’t consciously trying to think of anything. It just hit me.

I comprehended that Christ was God, the unchangeable God of the universe. I mean, I knew it and I understood it. I comprehended that the trends and fashions and ideas of men will come and go, but the wisdom and supremacy of God are unchanging. It was obvious why some people were bent down in an attitude of worship. This insight was a gift of spiritual light that filled me mercifully, with no effort of my own.

This gift entered my soul at a time that I was behaviorally in rebellion against God and was giving him no thought whatsoever. It was pure grace.

The next day I was supposed to meet someone new—a large scale drug dealer—to buy a sheet of acid (meaning, a large volume of LSD doses intended for distribution and sale). This was only one of several drugs I was involved with. Getting caught selling hard drugs would have changed the course of my life with a minimum of many months in a juvenile jail and all that comes with entering the “system,” the stigma, and dashing my parents’ hearts.

I stood there nearly in shock. “What am I doing to my life? How can I do this tomorrow?” But I had been panged by remorse before and it had only lasted a day or two and I went right back into my double life.

Nevertheless, I never met with that person. I don’t recall why. And I never pursued it again.

An Unforgettable Witness of Christ

A few months after that incident, I was getting ready to head out for college. I had been taught many times that there are a few important crossroads in life that we’d better pay attention to and make the right move: going to college, getting married, those kinds of things.

I recognized this as a chance to reprioritize my life. So, I sought out one of our pastors for counsel and began making small steps to get ready for a big change. Like the Parable of the Lost Son, I was trying to leave the “wild living” behind and trying to head back to the house of my Father (Luke 15:11-32, NIV).

This pastor asked my friend and me to sing a duet during our last Sunday in church before leaving for college. “Sure, no problem,” I answered. I didn’t think much about it.

The song was, “Abide with Me.”

There we stood in front of the small congregation that we knew so well. My friend and I had decent voices and had practiced a time or two and I wasn’t too worried about it.

But the strangest thing happened. The sounds of the hymn became hauntingly beautiful, moving me to a different place. I was filled with the sound of the notes as the words became crystal clear on the page and full of significance:

“When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.”

Suddenly, I couldn’t see well. The words blurred as water filled my eyes. To my teenage horror, I was crying, on stage in front of everyone.

But I couldn’t stop. Just like before, the light that filled me was sweet and clear and so satisfying. It was worth more than anything. I just kept reading and listening to the surreal sounds.

At that moment, I understood the character of Jesus: the help of the helpless. The compassionate one who cares when nobody else does.

The revelation continued, flowing pure and sweet into my mind and heart. Again, I understood that God was the supreme, unchangeable being—more important than any earthly thing. I tried to sing but could only read the words and listen as my friend sung his part. He kept looking at me like, “Whoa, what is goin’ on here?”

“Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”

It all made perfect sense. I was comprehending the character of Christ, “who changest not,” and for some reason he chose to “abide with me,” on that stage, in front of the entire congregation.

Fast Forward to Near Madness

Within one week of this precious gift I was back to “wild living.”

I didn’t realize it but I was an addict.

I’m not going to recount my entire life story here, but suffice it to say that my life went back and forth between long periods of no drug abuse with sincere strivings to live a godly life and occasional relapses.

My feelings regarding the goodness of the gospel were real but I lacked the faith and understanding to truly live the gospel of Jesus Christ. I had no real foundation.

At one point in 1983, I reached a crisis of sorts. My efforts to live the gospel and keep the commandments of God were not working. I was intensely miserable and confused. I decided the only way to get past it was to start over again: forget everything I knew about God, religion, and just follow my heart, make the best decisions I could, and see where that would lead me. I didn’t know what else to do!

I stopped going to church and stopped “keeping the commandments of God,” as such, although that doesn’t mean my life turned into a hedonist free-for-all either. I treated people decently, didn’t party, and did a lot of thinking.

“How could this happen?” I often thought. “I had really tried to change my life. I tried to follow God and ‘follow the rules.'”

After a year or so of this, I suddenly became despondent. I was scared, in fact, at how gloomy and hopeless I felt. I feared that I was losing my sanity and thought about taking my life to escape.

An Inspired Friend

(downloaded from pexels.com)

I can still remember where I was sitting and staring at the floor in this unstable, panicked state with no idea of what to do.

A thought came to me: “Go see Bob Johnson.”

Bob was a good friend, a former spiritual advisor, and a man that I simply trusted. I felt a tiny bit of hope and decided to do it.

Our conversation was intense and his love for me was palpable and comforting. He said I was “hanging by a thread,” which I felt was a truthful statement and didn’t take it as an insult at all.

“You are in Satan’s power,” he said, “and you need to cast him out.”

Hmm… Okay, so this was kind of dramatic and not what I expected. A little crazy, to be honest. “Me? I’m a pretty nice guy,” I thought. “I’m not like a Satanic dude or anything.” I started to pull back from Bob.

“I want you to tell Satan to leave you,” Bob said.

“Huh? How?” I asked.

“Say, ‘Satan. In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to leave me,'” Bob instructed.

I probably just sat and looked at him. I don’t remember. But I do remember being frightened and feeling very unstable. Not evil, but very confused and unhappy.

“Oh, great,” I thought. “Me. Possessed.”

Could it be true? As crazy as it sounded, I opened my mind that it might be true. I had a tiny, new hope.

As we parted that day, he hugged me and just wept and wept and wept. I sensed that it was the love of God reaching through him in hope and celebration for my willingness to try.

The Reality of Satan

Writing this now, in 2018, I’m sure that most people have not and will not ever experience what I’m about to describe. But it was a reality for me and what I felt and experienced was undeniably real.

I learned what constitutes light as I truly witnessed darkness.

I went home and awkwardly explained to my mother what was happening to me and what Bob counseled me to do. I have no idea how I broached the topic with her but somehow my mother and I sat side by side on a couch and I decided to do what Bob advised.

I opened my mouth and verbally commanded Satan to leave me in the name of Jesus Christ using the words above.

Within seconds, I felt a terrifying, dark force pull away from me. The best I can explain it is that I knew it had been enmeshed with me and now it was just a “few inches” outside of me. It was menacing and extremely angry at what was happening and by no means intending to stay outside of me. It was waiting for me to lose focus and come back.

But now I knew there was “me” and there was “it” and I could distinguish the two.

I commanded Satan again. And again. Always in the name of Jesus Christ. Over time, the line between us because firmer and the distance greater. My peace and sense of self were forming again.

Truthfully, I had forgotten some of these details until just a year ago when my mother said, “I sure know that Satan is real, like when you cast him out as we were sitting together. What a horrible feeling that was.”

From her vantage point, she had experienced it as vividly as I had: an awful, frightening, threatening presence in that room. I did not know (or recall) that she felt it that way until she shared her memory of it with me last year.

Good Overcomes Evil

In the weeks and months that followed, I continued to tell Satan to leave me in the name of Christ, as necessary.

Two things were certain and beyond dispute:

  • The evil force I felt was real. Satan was an actual entity and not just a concept.
  • The name of Jesus Christ has real power. Satan was enmeshed with me but he could not disobey the command to leave, in Christ’s name. I had been given a tool that worked 100% of the time and that was enormously reassuring.

How Christ Found Me and Cared for Me

I’ve listed just a few episodes in my life where Christ reached out to me to teach me, inspire me, help me understand the truth, and save me—even when I was doing little or nothing to seek him out.

I can’t say that I found Christ. I prefer to say he has been watching over me all my life and finding and touching me, according to his own wisdom and ways.

  • He gave me sweet and loving parents who shared their testimonies of truth lived godly lives to the best of their understanding.
  • He gave me the examples of other church members whose sincerity and willingness to love God first was real to me, even as a boy.
  • He gave me light and understanding as I read scriptures, participated in church activities, and that one eventful day in front of the bulletin board.
  • He gave me the freedom to make decisions and figure things out on my own but he was always watching for my return. At the first sign of turning, he ran to me like the father of the lost (prodigal) son and whispered the idea to call Bob Johnson to help me.
  • He kicked Satan out of my life like the mighty God of the universe that he is. All I had to do was invoke his name, which always has power.

How Christ Finds and Cares for You

I know that our Christ reaches out to every living soul on this earth in ways that are suitable to that person.

Take just a moment to reflect back on your life. Who were the people that were good examples in your life? It might not have been your family. What were the experiences where heavenly light and understanding called you to something higher and helped you understand the things of God? Maybe you appreciated it. Maybe you didn’t.

All of us have been touched and called to something higher. Through somebody. Through a life experience. Through the Spirit of God directly to our souls. But every living soul feels the fingers of God reaching down. But will we take that hand?

When did you hear something or read something that touched you? Maybe you felt an impression like, “I can do more with my life; I can turn away from these destructive things in my life,” or “God really is there and he wants me to listen and trust him.”

Those inspired impressions are from God. When we say, “I want to please God and keep feeling those good things more than my destructive, sinful past,” we are moving toward Christ.

How I Came to Christ: Believe in the Name of Jesus

My troubles weren’t over yet, however. Confusion returned frequently because other than knowing how to get Satan’s power to release me, I didn’t really understand what to do next.

I recall telling people, “I feel like I have no foundation. I’m walking in quicksand. I don’t know where to start.”

For someone who had attended church for most of his life and had read the scriptures many times over this seems ludicrous, looking back, but so it was. I found that there’s a difference between knowing from the head and internalizing from the heart. But I did find my way to Christ.

I recall a certain day when I was staring at green, patterned carpet in a different bedroom, trying to figure out what to do next.

Because I knew the Bible well (meaning, I had made some good decisions in the past to invest effort and try to learn the ways of God), a key phrase popped into my head:

“This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1 John 3:23, NIV)

“Just believe in the name of Jesus Christ,” I repeated to myself. I didn’t know Jesus as a man. I had never seen him. But I could just believe in his name. I mean really put my whole heart into it. I could decide to trust this Jesus Christ.

“Just do it,” I recall thinking.

But oh, it was hard to do.

I had many atheist friends who poo-pooed the idea of believing the unseen. Their faces and voices in my mind made this a spiritually terrifying decision.

But one thing I knew for sure. I had factual, first-hand, experiential knowledge of this: the name of Jesus Christ has power. “So why not believe in that name,” I reasoned. “Perhaps more good will follow?”

I then received another merciful, beautiful insight: Into my mind’s eye came the John the Apostle and John the Baptist. I pictured Peter and Paul. I felt them saying, “We gave our everything to give you this knowledge. Believe it. We love you. Believe in the name of Jesus. Do it.

I felt in my heart that these dear scriptural friends were just and holy men. Real people. Worthy of my trust.

The Pivotal Decision: Jumping in with Both Feet

Sometime in 1983, I made that great decision. I opened the faucet of belief in Jesus Christ and the water of life began to trickle into my life. I could feel the difference. What the scriptures call “salvation” was happening for the first time in my life. (See Acts 16:30-33

I often said in my mind—and still do to this day—”I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe He was sent from the Father. I believe He is the Messiah. I believe Jesus Christ is the very Son of God.” These thoughts and intentions fill my heart with light and happiness and power.

There is power in believing. We should never underestimate the power of believing on the Light of the World.

Today, I am grateful and thrilled to tell you that—praise and thanks be to God—I am truly happy. Genuinely, deeply happy and at peace. 

Learn More

After reading this experience, I hope it’s clearer why I have invested so many years writing a book, preparing a website and launching a prison ministry to support others in coming to know Christ and discover how to believe in him.

See reviews of the new release, 5-star book, Jesus Christ, His Life and Mine on Amazon. including these:

“. . . a breath of fresh air. . . very modern and easy to understand for my generation. (Ethan – Facebook review)

“If there were six stars, I would give this book a six” (vtreviewer – Amazon review)

“. . . transformative, faith-promoting, and educational. . . [The author] succeeds masterfully on all fronts. (Joshua – Amazon review).

Having Christmas In Your Heart

This past week had been very stressful for me—and for many people around me.  Two or three departments at my job were without management, including mine, leaving me to do even more work than usual. Managers, associates, and customers were seemingly extra busy and pressured this past week—especially some of the higher levels of management at my workplace. At church, we just voted in a new pastor, who will officially start a few months from now. Finally, in the midst of all this, my family and I are making our own preparations for Christmas.

You may be also experiencing similar stressors—but, maybe, hopefully not.  Regardless, I was encouraged by God to develop more peace in my life and to incorporate more of the character of what Christmas truly should be about, in my life. As I read in my church bulletin today, Roy L. Smith, had said, “He who has not Christmas in his heart, will never find it under a tree.” So, if we can’t find Christmas under a tree, how can we find the true character of Christmas?  Here is what I learned about finding the true character of Christmas in my heart:

  1. One of the things that I learned about having Christmas in my heart is that I needed to have more peace in my life. – In Matthew 11:28-30, it says that when we rest in Jesus, He gives us peace for our souls (translated in the KJV as “rest,” which is essentially the same thing). Unfortunately during this week, I found myself being anxious about bad things that either never happened at all, or wasn’t as bad as I once thought.  For instance, I was very upset at myself because I accidentally spilled my entire lunch. Not only did it  needed to be cleaned up, but I would have to now waste time and money buying myself a new one so I would be able to sustain myself energy wise to continue to be able to work afterwards.  I was also stressed out as I thought about all that I already spent on presents for various people in my life, and now I had to spend this additional money and have less time to eat my lunch!  However, all my anxiety turned out to be for naught, because although I did have to spend more time and money, I also got to eat some things that I have never really tried before—and turned out to be pretty good.  Additionally, one of my kind and generous friends, Allison*, graciously gave me almost her whole bag of her favorite onion ring chips. What I have learned about not being anxious is to look for the good in my uncomfortable, bad, or anxiety-producing situations. If I can’t think of any, I should try to ask myself what good can come out of the situation at hand. For instance, if I don’t have time to complete my work, I should try to focus on doing a good job on the work that I CAN complete, instead of rushing to try to complete everything and doing a half-hearted job. I also am still learning and have learned that when I let God be in control, my anxiety goes away.  When you become anxious, reminding yourself that God’s got this, or that things often don’t turn out as badly as we fear they might, really can help the anxiety go away, or, at least, lessen in severity.
  2. Another thing that I learned about having Christmas in my heart is to cultivate joy. — Sometimes, in the midst of stress and busyness, we forget to enjoy life.  I know that is often the case with me. One of my online friends even had suggested to me in the midst of me writing about my stress that week to take time and enjoy myself.  Yes, we should love and serve others, but we should also not forget to have joy in doing so.  Also, we need to take time to rest and recharge occasionally so we can minister more effectively to others and not get burnt out.  One of the things that I like to do for relaxation and recharging is to read about various topics such as various recipes, different places around the world (travel),  exercise, inspirational topics, and much more.  I used to be part of an online blogging group that encouraged me to read other people’s blogs, which were on a wide range of topics.  Because of this, I was able to broaden my interests. One thing I would recommend to anyone struggling to find something that they enjoy doing or having more hobbies is to force yourself to read books in a library or articles online on a variety of topics that seem interesting to you.  Then, as you learn about more things, often your interest in that said topic broadens as well.  Also, when we serve others, we should have joy in getting to know those who we are serving and focusing on their contentment, rather than on the stress of having one more thing added to our “list” of things to do. Also, when we focus this Christmas on having the joy in having Jesus come to earth as a human baby to eventually grow up and become the ultimate sacrifice for us, instead of the busyness and commercialism that this society often puts in Christmas, we will be happier to serve others.
  3. The most important thing I learned about having Christmas in my heart is to cultivate love.– Since it says in the Bible, in various places, that Jesus is the embodiment of love,  and since love is what makes Christmas more meaningful, I learned that instead of acting like the Grinch, I should strive to love others more.  Christmas is not only the time to give presents to family and friends, but also to be willing to sacrifice for them and others.  For instance, if Christmas is difficult for someone, sacrificing your time to be there for them to encourage them through it and helping them cope with this time of year, can make their Christmas a little bit brighter than usual.  Giving others hope when they are in a hopeless or a desperate situation can help them to see God’s love and to know that they are not alone.  Another way to love others is to thank the people in your life that have made the most positive difference in your life. For instance, if a teacher or manager at work has really encouraged you in your abilities in some ways, now is the time to thank them and to let them know that they are not taken for granted. If your parents and/or significant other have served you faithfully for a long time, now is the time to let them know that you notice their sacrifice and their service on your behalf.

So, as this post is as much to myself, as to you, the reader, I hope we will cultivate the character of Christmas in our hearts and lives, so that we can impact the world for the better.  When we don’t have Christmas in our hearts, the joy, peace, and love that flows out of the Christmas spirit, will never be found even under a tree. Let’s pray that this will not be true of us this Christmas season, but instead we will embody the joy, love, and peace that this time of year is supposed to bring, not only to ourselves, but more importantly, to God and others.

An Open Letter to My Facebook Friends

Dear Friends,

I have been saddened by the general climate of the world around me. So many people are hurting, and some people seem to have the need to be nasty to others.  Despite it being the holiday/Christmas season, it seems that a lot of people are more stressed than ever.  I think Roy L. Smith was right when he said, “If one does not have Christmas in his heart, he will never find it under a tree.”

So, how do we have Christmas in our hearts, or how can we have joy and peace this holiday season?  The answer is simple, yet difficult to do: We need to love each other like we never have before.  I don’t mean the mushy, romantic type love. I don’t even mean just friendship love. I mean the all-out, sacrificial, agape love!

Many around you carry deep pain and hurt inside.  Some may have lost a loved one around the holidays. You may even be one of these people, and to you, I say this: There is hope when you can be vulnerable and tell a trusted friend or loved one how you have been feeling, so that you can begin to heal.  Someone out there cares for you. Don’t give up.

If you are not, or if you are already in the process of healing, I say this: Do not let the stresses and pressures of life allow you to overlook these people. Do not let your heart become calloused and apathetic to the hurting people around you. Always strive to be compassionate and caring to others.  It could make a world of difference in their lives, and could even save a life! Don’t just ask someone how they are doing and walk away. Listen to and try to be genuinely interested in what they have to say in response.

Always try to uplift people and encourage them. If you see a peer or co-worker doing a good job, thank them for their efforts.  If someone is down on themselves, encourage them by pointing out the good you see in them.  If someone thinks no one cares about them, tell them that you do and then demonstrate that love and care by doing a tangible act of kindness for them.  Maybe it can be as simple as a kind, encouraging word. Or maybe it can be watching their kids, if they have children.

This can take us out of our comfort zone, especially if we don’t like some of the people we are dealing with, but it is well worth it.

Friends, let us bring joy and love to the hurting people around us today and help them experience the best Christmas or holiday ever!

Patricia

On Gratitude and Entitlement

There is a mentality in most Western societies that we are entitled certain rights, such as freedom, respect, and the pursuit of happiness.  A few people have even taken this to such an extreme that they see most people as peasants serving them (the god or goddess) of the universe—a narcissistic mentality!  However, what if we lived lives that were opposite this mentality?  What if we realized that no one really owes us anything on this green planet, and that everything good we get is really a gift? There have been countless studies done that have shown that gratitude helps not only boost our mood levels, it can help alleviate many physical ailments as well.

One way we can show gratitude is in how we treat others.  I think one aspect of showing gratitude for the people that are in our lives is by treasuring them.  Never treat anyone as if they were dispensable or take someone for granted. Unfortunately, most people, including me, have taken someone for granted at one point or another in our lives. We assumed that they would always be there for us to serve our needs and make us happy. However, if we realized just how much of an impact they have made in our lives, and how limited a time we may have with these people, we might treat them more as royalty, rather than as slaves or servants.

Another way we can show gratitude to other people is by giving grace to them. My definition of showing grace to people is to loving them, flaws and all, being willing to learn from them, and by forgiving them. We love others by not giving up on them even after they have made a mistake or hurt you.  Yes, there may be situations in which we cannot be with someone after they hurt us because they pose a physical or emotional threat to our safety and that of other loved ones. However, that does not mean we should harbor hatred or bitterness towards them, as it will only hurt us in the end, not the offender.  I know several people who have hurt me emotionally, and who I initially had bitterness and anger towards them, but then when I forgave them, the relationship was able to be restored.  We should also be constantly striving to learn from the people around us, both for our and their benefit. We learn so that we can understand the people around us better and form stronger connections with others. We also learn from others so that we can better care for those around us. Finally, we learn from others in our appreciation for their uniqueness and what they contribute to this world—including ourselves.

However, when we harbor an entitlement attitude, this erodes our ability to be grateful for those in our lives. First of all, an entitlement mentality brings about complaining and judgments against others, especially when they don’t meet what we perceive to be our needs. For instance, the gunman in the recent Mercy Hospital shooting had wanted the engagement ring from his ex-fiancee back so badly that he felt like he had to kill to get it.(1) In other words, the gunman felt that she owed him the ring that he gave her back because they broke up, and he judged her to be a wicked person because she probably did not want to give it back to him.

This same entitlement attitude also impedes forgiveness and reconciliation because of the element of pride in entitlement.  Proud people are not inclined to forgive others because they think they are always right and that the other party “deserves”their anger and bitterness.  Forgiveness requires some measure of humility because part of forgiveness is the willingness to share in some of the consequences of someone else’s sin.  For instance, if you forgive a family member for their alcoholism and the effects of it, you may still have to deal with their recovery process or deal with a couple of relapses. However, if you are not willing to forgive and feel that they owe you something back, then reconciliation and freedom from the effects of the offense will not really be possible. 

Another way we can show gratitude is by being thankful for the material possessions given to us. One way to be grateful for our material possessions is by enjoying them.  Enjoying them does not mean being wasteful or taking what we have for granted.  Enjoying our material possessions means to be joyful in interacting with our gifts. It also means being grateful to those who gave them to us.  Another way we can be grateful for the material possessions we have is to see them as gifts, not as wages owed us. When we see possessions as gifts, we are often more appreciative of them, especially when we know that someone sacrificed financially to give them to us.

However, an entitlement attitude completely destroys our joy and gratitude in the things we are given. This is because it completely devalues the gift and giver, since instead of something to be treasured and enjoyed, we have it because we “deserve” it,or it is “owed” to us.  We may not enjoy the gift or gifts as much, because of the fear of it being destroyed or devalued.  Also, an entitlement attitude toward the material possessions we have encourages greed and selfishness, because it breeds the further mentality of being “owed” more than we have now. It also breeds selfishness because, with an entitlement attitude, we are often less willing to share our material goods to those in need. We think we “earned” these gifts,and that no one should take them away from us.

What a difference we could make if we strove to be more grateful for each person and each gift we were given! However, when we have an entitlement attitude and are ungrateful for the grace that is given to us each day, we lose our joy and love in life and for others.  Since it is a time to give thanks, who in your life, can you thank today?  Maybe write them a note of gratitude, or tell them in person how much they mean to you. As for the many material gifts we are blessed with, enjoy them, but also be willing to share with those in need so that they can have joy too.

Sources:

  1. Gorner, Jeremy, Annie Sweeney and Elyssa Cherney. (2018, November 20).Gunman in Mercy Hospital attack had threatened to shoot up Chicago Fire Academy, officials say. Chicago Tribune.  p. 1, Retrieved from : https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-chicago-mercy-hospital-shooting-juan-lopez-20181120-story.html

How to Be Civil To Someone With Whom You Disagree

There has been so much dissension in my country (U.S.A) lately, especially when people talk about politics or something they are passionate about.  I’m sure the same is true in other countries as well.  This can be seen most evidently on social media platforms, where people feel that they can say whatever they want, with no filters whatsoever.  The negative political advertisements do us no favors either as far as the dissension problem is concerned.

This past Sunday at church, we were a having question and answer discussion to find out about the pastoral candidate (My current pastor is leaving. He has been at the church for over 40 years!), and the candidate made this wise statement that we all should learn to heed (paraphrased-emphasis mine): Even if I don’t agree with you on everything, I agree to disagree. 

I understand that it can be difficult to be civil to someone who vehemently disagrees with something you are passionate about.  I know, because when I was younger, I used to be combative against people who mocked or disagreed with that which I was passionate about. However, I have learned these following things about how we all can be civil to those whom we disagree:

  1. Remember the inherent value of the person whom you disagree with is not dependent on what they believe.—Society has perpetuated the lie that your worth is dependent on what you do or what you believe.  This has resulted in attacks and dissensions over the most trivial things!  However, if we remembered that the person who disagrees with us is still someone with a family and with a life, we would probably be more respectful and compassionate in relating with them.  Yes, beliefs and ideas DO have consequences, especially when they translate into actions, but attacking a person’s character based on what they believe will not get them to change their opinions or their convictions. In fact, it will often make the person hold on to their beliefs even tighter and your contrasting beliefs something to be mocked by them simply because they now equate what you believe with how you acted towards them!
  2. Find common ground—Yes, the person whom you disagree with may have a different way of thinking than you, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find similarities in your beliefs or goals with them. For instance, both Republicans and Democrats want to better their society in which they live in, but they may go about it in different ways.  Also, regardless of religious belief or philosophy of life, the common ground one can find with one who disagrees with them is that they both want to better their lives, and, most likely, those of others.  Finding common ground will not only deescalate any potential arguments you may have with the person who disagrees with you, but may also serve to unite you with them in some way.
  3. Never attack the other person’s character, but focus on much as possible on why you disagree.—When you attack the person whom you disagree with, instead on focusing instead on the issue or issues which you differ, you have already lost their respect and listening ears.  Yes, I understand that debates and disagreements can get heated, but when we attack someone’s character or who they are inherently, we not only lose our own sense of integrity and respect, but we devalue their inherent worth as human being as well.
  4. Find out why they believe as they do.—Instead of coming across as combative and argumentative, ask questions. Find out why they believe as they do. For instance, a person may have certain views because of what they have experienced in life, both good and bad. For instance, if you find out a person doesn’t drink because he or she has seen the negative effects of alcohol in their family, you can better understand where they are coming from when they want the legal age to buy alcohol to be raised even higher. Sometimes people believe the way they do because of what others have told them, or misconceptions they had picked out along the way. If you find out they believe  a misconception of your view, you can respectfully and lovingly clear that up with the truth.

These are some of the things that I have learned to do in being civil with another person whom I disagree. So, when you voice your opinions and come across someone that doesn’t think as you do, whether it be on social media or in person, remember the value of the person is not based on what they believe; find common ground; never attack the person’s character, and find out why they believe as they do.  Finally, if all else fails, you should strive to just agree to disagree. However, if we more consistently applied these principles, this world would be a much more peaceful and unifying place.

Why Not to Take People For Granted

I recently watched a video about a husband who wanted a divorce from his wife, but she had a request before he could go through with the decision—He had to carry her to the front door of their home each day for a month.  He did so, and as the days went by, she grew increasingly thinner. Something  also happened inside him, and he began to feel renewed love for his wife, even telling his lover whom he had an affair with that he no longer wanted to divorce his wife.  However, by that time, it was too late. His wife had died on his way back home to her.  She wanted her husband’s love so badly that she made him carry her just as he did when he first married her. The thing is that her husband did love her in the end, but it was too late for her to know that. You can see this video at: https://www.facebook.com/powerofpositivity/videos/1015526229483237/

I am not married, but this video can apply to all of us, married or not.  After I watched this video, I almost cried because I thought about all the people that were hurting in my midst, that I didn’t know about, some of whom I had taken for granted. 

I’m speaking to myself, as much as I am to you, the reader, but I beg you—Do not be that husband in that video who almost divorced his wife and was too late in appreciating all the things she did for him.  Do not be the parent, child, friend, employee, teacher, student, or boss that realized too late what your loved ones and those who cared about you have done for you.  Do not be so busy with life, or your own self-serving desires that you emotionally and psychologically kill the souls of those who you love the most.  Do not be so self-absorbed in your own little world that you forget the needs and the struggles of those around you. 

If we don’t appreciate all that has been given to us—the things that we failed to appreciate will be taken away from us.

For our family–Do you have a wife, husband, father, mother, or child that serves selflessly for the entire family without expecting anything in return? Has a family member or members sacrificed everything for your happiness and joy? Do not think that they will always be able or willing to do that for you. Do not take them for granted. Sincerely say to them, “Thank you and I love you. I appreciate all you have done for me.”  Treasure them as greater than anything that this world has to offer.  Be willing to serve them with no expectation of return. Be willing to sacrifice your life for them.

For our friends—Do you have a true, blue friend who doesn’t leave you when you face troubles or trials in life, always encourages you to be your best, and who loves you as you are?  Do not take advantage of them for your own selfish desires—lest you lose someone great and wonderful!  Thank them, and be willing to return the favor should such an opportunity arise for you.  Treasure them as more valuable than gold or silver. Be a friend to them.

For our co-workers—Do you know a fellow co-worker who has always helped you out when you were in a snag? Do you know an employee who consistently goes above and beyond, not only for their own benefit, but for the good of the whole company?  Thank them.  Bosses, you don’t have to give them extra perks, or treat them better than others.  Bosses and employees—take the time to appreciate those who make your work life something that you can enjoy or, at least, make more bearable.  Do not wait until the employee quits, gets transferred, or somehow leaves the company to let them know how much you appreciated them or to realize how much they contributed to your life.  Notice these people now, before it is too late for you—and for the company you work for.

For our teachers —Is there a special teacher or teachers that have positively impacted your life? Do not wait until it is too late to thank them for the impact they made in your life. Let them know they are appreciated and that you are learning valuable life lessons from them.  Often, teachers get the brunt of the blame and criticism when things go wrong, but when they do something good, it is either brushed aside, or it is barely noticed.  Thanking them and doing what you can to show you care for them will keep these teachers motivated to keep doing the good they have done.

Who in your life have you taken for granted? Who in your life do you need to thank? Take time to thank them today. If we take time to appreciate each of the people in our lives that has positively impacted us, not only will the other person feel loved and valued, but you will also have the joy  and peace in knowing that you said everything that you needed to say—before it was too late.