“One of the hardest things to do in life is to look at one’s self and recognize our own failures, short-comings and poor decisions we have made, but repeating them will prove to be the more difficult lesson.” – Henry G. Nutt, III
So I am forty-eight years old, a father of four children with two being a legal adults now, and I am married for the third time to a wonderful woman. I do not consider myself a spokesperson for the black male specie, divorced fathers or any group of the like, but what I do have is a life richly filled life with experiences and lessons that I hold dear to my heart. I came from the school of hard knocks when it comes to love and learning and what the hell it really means, at least from my point of view. Like many, I have been shaped and biased by my own personal experiences along the way, but I have equally put a lot of time into personal growth. Sometimes that has come in form of professional counseling, talking to friends and family, many hours of prayer and a devotion to personal reflection. During this phase of transformation, I committed myself to a life-long journey of learning by embracing the art of being still, intently listening to my inner voice and recognizing that nothing happens without a reason.
Prior to coming to this understanding, my mind was often plagued with excuses and reasons why I was unable to achieve a certain thing, maintain a specific relationship or fall short of a desired goal. To put it mildly, I was a mess, sorrowfully immature with a short-sided view of the big picture. The fact that I can even say this publicly is evident that I have come a long way to myself, because let me tell it a several years back, I had it all together and everyone else needed work. Now mind you, I still have a long way to go, and the journey has been nothing short of hard work and lots emotional pain, but I am here to tell the story (as my wife says) and I am grateful to be able to do so.
It is not everyday that we have the opportunity to tell our story before it is too late. I mean late like in being deceased, still ignorant to the real truth (by choice or not), or being too hard-headed to know any better. Either one presents its own set of mini tragedies for self or others tied to our drama. So as I list the three most significant lessons that I have learned to date, perhaps you can add one to the list from your own personal journey, or better yet, share your own list.
1. Embracing the art of being still – Psalms 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” When the creator of the universe advises us to pause every once in a while, we should learn to do so. However if it were that easy, He probably would not have had to make it so prolific by recording it in the Bible. Just think about an infant or little kid. The last thing they have or think about is being still or patient. They want what they want now, like right now! And when we choose to not accommodate them in real-time, they scream, throw stuff and have selfish tantrums. This is what they do and although it is not acceptable social behavior, for a young child we give them a pass, after all it is a part of growing up.
We have all been there, but what happens when that same child is now older and acts in the same manner? Uh, they get kicked to the curb, scolded and dismissed with a quickness and/or simply ignored until they go away. (And that is being nice for some families) So how in the heck do we expect to receive a pass as an adult when we cannot exhort patience, self constraint or learn to be still when it could matter the most? It almost seems simple, but unfortunately it is not.
Like the child, we want what we want now, and waiting is not an option. We will literally and figuratively kick and scream until we get it with no shame or remorse. How tragic yet equally true, and just like the inappropriate kid, no one really wants to be around you. You are annoying, selfish and mostly insensitive to everyone but yourself. I know because I was that guy in some ways.
So being still can look like many things. For me it means being slow to speak when things get crazy, choosing to sleep on things before I respond, pray and wait for an answer (the key is waiting for the answer part, not just praying), taking many deep breaths prior to engaging difficulty while at the same time considering the risks and the source I am engaging with, never responding while I am angry, because I always regret the outcome and finally recognizing that reacting versus responding are two very different actions.
Essentially the ultimate purpose of being still is to hear and listen to your inner voice, recognize what is being said and determine if what you are hearing is the right move. If we never give ourselves a chance to take it all in, we quickly lose sight or really never gain any sight at all, and we can become victims to our impulses. We say and do mean things that feel good in the moment, but often serve no helpful purpose. This is usually how regrets occur, so as much as it may feel good in the moment to retaliate, react quickly or react in anger, in the famous words of Dr. Phil, “How is that working for you?” Mostly likely it is not working at all and has created more drama than what you first began with.
Although waiting may test every ounce of patience we have, when effectively exercised it will prove to be our best option.
2. Listening to your inner voice – So after we make the decision to be still, we afford ourselves the opportunity to hear if we now choose to listen. Sometimes my inner voice is simply common sense that is usually not so common, God attempting to speak to me or words of wisdom passed through trying to break through my hardened heart.
Choosing to listen to our inner voice is analogous to stopping on the side of the freeway and revisiting our map because we finally acknowledge that we may be lost. Now everyone is passing us and we feel as if we loss ground or lost the race.
I can attest to losing ground and getting seemingly behind when choosing to pause, but as time moved on it was usually the best decision I made. After several failed relationships, going into another one fast, was the last thing I needed to do. So I finally decided to pause and take the time to understand what was really going on with me. Could it be I just did not like being alone? I learned that is called being human and okay, but just filling that void the way I had was not okay for me, an especially the one I was involved with. It was always a decision full of regrets, until I learned to be still and listen.
It took many falls and much brokenness to arrive at this place. While on that journey of disparity it was easy to see the pitfalls coming into fruition now that I look back. My future was easy to predict. It was the same old same old,…different day. No rocket scientist was required to determine the state of my life back then. The reasons were obvious and evident. There was nothing deep or profound about it, for I had created all the reasons for my then current issues and circumstances.
3. Recognize that nothing happens without a reason – There will be times in life when we truly do not understand why certain things happen or work out the way that they do, and then there will be times when once we become still and listen to our inner voice, that we will be able to put the missing pieces together. We can come to a place of understanding where we learn about our own motivations, the good and the not so good ones.
Many times we are in search of answers about “the whys” in our lives and many times the answers are right in front of us. We simply chose to ignore the obvious. This is also a form if denial, but until we have matured, we will continue to chalk it up as senseless or meaningless rhetoric.
We ask ourselves, “Why is life so hard for me? Why do I keep finding myself is broken relationships? Why am I always is debt or living from paycheck to paycheck? Why do I give up so easily? The questions can be endless, but the answers may right there hidden under a few layers of self discovery. Perhaps the answers will come from the Holy Spirit speaking to you in ways that only you can understand, or words that laid dormant in your spirit for decades, spoken from a late relative, pastor or counselor. The key is that you get still enough to recognize your own history and hear your heart is so desperately trying to say, at least the parts that you can understand during that time. Then what lies ahead can be worked out with some support, therapy or perhaps you will discover the “whys” for yourself.
So as I mentioned, it may seem as if you are on the side of the road remapping your journey, but at least once you begin driving again you will know where you are heading. And even if you need help with the directions, at least the journey that you now embark on will resonate with who you are and where you ultimately want to be.
Life lessons, reflecting and taking the time to assess our lives is an essential part of life. When we fail to learn from a painful or unfulfilled past we will inevitably relive those moments over and over again. Part of the beauty of life is getting out and smelling the roses. So as you are on your journey of life, stop that figurative car and refocus your plan. Is this where you should be going? Have things changed? Is this still the best thing for you? If the answer is yes, than great. While your out, enjoy the scenery (smell a rose two) and get back on the road. If not, remember the beauty of my life lessons and apply them were applicable, and do not forget to add a few of your own and share them with someone else.