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Jan's Life Lessons

Stuff I've Learned

Remember that book where the fellow says that all he ever really needed to know he learned in kindergarten? Share, take turns, wash your hands after using the bathroom, flush, take a nap after lunch, color inside the lines, make friends. So much truth in that!

Well, I must be slow. I've learned a lot of stuff as an adult. So, for what it's worth, here are some things I have learned, mostly the hard way.

The more you know, the more you don't know

When I was younger, lots younger, I expected that if I learned a whole lot about something, anything, that I would have fewer questions about that subject than the poor souls who didn't know as much as I did. "The Expert knows it all." Boy, is that wrong! It's the reverse. The more I learn about something, the more questions I have.

When you think about it carefully, it does make sense. If you are profoundly ignorant about a subject, you won't have many questions. You don't know enough to ask one! Where we've gone wrong is in assuming that things change when we get greater knowledge.

My college math professor, C. Earl Dennis (wonder if he'll ever see his name here??), gave us an illustration in class on the chalkboard of this phenomenon.

Blackboard with nested circles and fuzzy area outside largest circle

The chalkboard represents all the knowledge that there is, so it runs way off the wall both in length and height. Each circle represents what you know at different ages in your life. As you get older the circles get larger since you know more. The black part outside the circles represents the stuff you don't even suspect. OK so far?

The yellow fuzzy areas outside the largest circle represent the things that are just outside your knowledge. These are the things that you know that you don't know! Notice that as your circle of knowledge gets bigger, this fuzzy area gets bigger even faster! This is the stuff of which questions are made! The more you know, the more you know you don't know!!

At first I found this quite disconcerting and even a little depressing. But actually it is wonderful! There is never an end to knowledge and discovery. What freedom and excitement!

Now you may think that there is a limit to the size of the chalkboard. Judging from history and personal experience, when you think you've got it all figured out is when you're about to have your world turned upside down and discover how little you really know.

What I find most disconcerting about this phenomenon is that it applies in the spiritual realm also! The more you study and learn about God and how His world works and how He deals with people and their sins... the more questions you have!

This is quite contrary to what most of us expect, isn't it? We keep thinking that the older, wiser people who have known God longer and studied harder will know the answers and will not have as many questions as we do. Nope!

What keeps this from being totally out of control is that as you learn more about God, you learn to trust Him for the answers, even when you don't understand.

Do you remember when you were 4 or 5 years old and had question after question? Why is the sky blue, Daddy? Why did that man kick my dog? Why don't we have a big new car like Johnny's? Where did Grandma go when she died and when will she be back? Why are there bees that bite?

Parents have a hard time explaining some things to a child, don't they? But a child trusts the parents anyway. So, too, we can trust God for the answers that we don't have or don't understand yet. Just don't expect to run out of questions!

You didn't really think it would all go right, did you?

True story - I was managing a Junior Girl Scout Lock-In for about 60 girls, ages 9, 10, and 11. This was an overnight event with lots of different activities and a tight time schedule. As we approached the time for the aerobics instructor to lead all the girls in an exercise routine, I started getting really anxious about whether or not she would show up. This was an activity for which I had no backup plan. No one else there could teach the girls what to do and they would fail to complete the badge that night if they didn't get this part done.

I must have shown how keyed up I was getting. One of the other leaders looked over at me and asked, with a lot of concern in her voice, "What's wrong?" I told her I was anxious that the instructor wasn't here (she wasn't even late yet!). This lady just looked at me with surprise and amusement and said "You didn't really think that everything would go right, did you?" I said "No", but on reflection I had to admit that deep down I really had thought that if I did everything right, then it would all go right. That meant that if anything went wrong it must be my fault. Thus my anxiety. Whoops!

No matter how well you've planned and how well prepared you are, something can still go wrong! It might be the power going out in the middle of your slide show, a strike by the shipping company keeps your supplies from arriving, you dropped the cake on the way in the door. The trick is to have a backup plan for what you really need to happen, to pray that the glitches will be little ones, and then to let it go, if need be. Will the world really end if your plan fails? Unless it will, get a grip and go on!

Who's the BEST?

Are you one of those people who yearns to be THE BEST--at some one thing or even at everything?

Have you ever stopped to figure out what that means exactly? Most of us don't. We go along with an unconscious image of what it means to be THE BEST. Maybe it starts with wanting to get the best grades in class. Or maybe it's winning every race or game. Some where along the line we begin to believe that we can be THE BEST - always, forever. Strange and foolish goal.

Most of the time we don't even define what we mean by BEST. Or figure out who it is that decides! And do we mean BEST right now in this town? Or is it in this state, or in this country, or in the whole world, or in the last 100 years, or forever????

Think about it. Can you be sure that there is/was/will be no one BETTER than you?? Looks impossible to me. No matter how you define THE BEST, there is always someone BETTER somewhere ... at some time ... in some way!!

We need to look at this differently. All you can ask of yourself is to do the best you can right now - in this situation - with these people. If you can say that you have done that, then you really are THE BEST, no matter who won the race!

You can't have it all at the same time!

The Bible, in Ecclesiastes 3, says that there is a time for everything under heaven. But nowhere is there a time to have everything all at once! Contrary to the women's movement in the 60's and 70's, trying to be SuperWoman - a great mom and wife and housekeeper while excelling in the workplace- is more a psychotic dream than a reality. There is only so much time in one life. There is definitely only so much quality time! This truth has struck home to anyone who has tried to bake cookies for that school party you found out about at 8:30 pm while watching your favorite ER episode while answering questions on geography for the folder that's due tomorrow while planning what to say at the training you are giving next week while sorting laundry while...

When I was a girl in the 50's, the moms who worked full-time were sort of looked down on or pitied. By the time I got to college, the moms who were NOT working outside the home were looked down on and even were made to feel that they weren't "doing their part." What a switch! Now more and more women, and men, are realizing the cost of trying to be all things to all people. It is a high one.

We have to get our priorities straight. God didn't put us here on earth to consume the global national product. We are supposed to take care of the earth and each other. That requires a lot of work, but a decent pace and balance. To "save the world" and lose your nearest and dearest is no glory.

Your Virtues ARE Your Faults

Deep analysis shows that we don't have a set of virtues and a set of faults. They are the same. Two sides of the same coin. The difference lies in timing, degree, and harnessing them to a good cause.

What is your chief virtue? Are you unfailingly polite? A hard worker? Creative? Punctual? Honest to a fault? Whoops! We stumbled onto a proverb here! We've known this a long time, but have managed to conceal the deeper meaning.

Let's consider a particular virtue like honesty. What is "honesty" anyway? An honest person can be trusted to take care of the valuables of others. He/she won't steal, damage, or lose them. He/she will tell the truth and will not try to deceive others.

How can that be a fault? By being "honest" unnecessarily, when it serves no purpose but to cause others pain...by becoming obsessed and overly proud of your "honesty"...by judging others who don't measure up to your own view of "honesty"... by becoming rigid and unforgiving ...by applying such strict standards that neither you nor anyone else can abide by them.

How about the virtue of intelligence? Isn't being smart something we all want to be? Ah, but it is a fault if you sneer at those less mentally quick, if you denigrate the work of peoples' hands, if you rely on your own intelligence to the exclusion of God.

Now let's consider a fault like temper. "Temper" is a strong negative emotional reaction involving loss of control of one's actions, especially violent words and behavior. However could "temper" be a virtue?? Well, having a strong temper means you have quick reactions, strong emotions, you care about things, you don't wait around but attack problems right away, and you have lots of energy. This all needs to be harnessed to a task and you've got a powerful leader.

What about laziness? That fault involves not accomplishing your tasks in a timely manner, in letting others do all the work. Often this is actually a matter of who is deciding what has to be done! The "lazy" person uses lots of people skills to get others to handle what he/she is supposed to do, like Mark Twain's story about white-washing a fence. He/she also has a different point of view as to what is important in life. He/she is not likely to be controlled by his/her possessions. Those people skills can be used in positive ways also. Valuing a quiet, relaxed way of life is a virtue.

So when you take inventory of yourself, don't forget to count those virtues and faults on both sides!

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