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Archive for January, 2008

The Hidden Life

Perhaps you have heard about that miracle that happened a long time ago — the one of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes? Jesus had been teaching a very large crowd of about 5,000 men, not counting the women and children. Amazingly, no one had thought of bringing any food with them. Maybe they hadn’t been planning to stay long and then just forgot the time. Maybe for some it was a spur of the moment thing. In any case, no one brought any food — except one boy. He had with him 5 loaves of bread and two fish. His mother, I am thinking, must have thought she was packing a good meal for him that morning. She might have also considered that he would want to share his food with a friend or two. Or three. But five thousand?

Of course, if it had been all up to this boy, his food would probably not have even made it past five people, let alone this vast sea of hungry people who couldn’t have foreseen this situation they were in. Thankfully, it wasn’t up to him to come up with food for these people. All he had to do was to give up what he had — all that he had, I suppose, at that time — and God did the rest. (That’s why it’s called a miracle.) Now, we know there were five loaves of bread and two fish, over 5,000 men, women and children, the disciples and Jesus. Here’s an interesting question: what was the boy’s name?

We don’t know who he was, what he looked like or anything else about him, except that he was instrumental in bringing the food that was multiplied for the crowd of people that day. And it is likely, given the number of people that day, that those who partook of this most miraculous meal did not get to know this boy either. They ate and they were filled.  This boy was not, it seems, recognized for his generosity, thoughtfulness and willingness to give up that which he had.  And he didn’t have much, really.   Yet, his actions provided the material for the miracle to take place.  He did as best he could and look at what happened!

When you or I go about our days, doing the ordinary things we always do, we are most likely not always recognized.  You don’t always get the pat on the back for that job well done.  There is not that cheering squad rooting for you as you go through the motions of chores at home, driving through traffic, doing this and that.  There are no spotlights, no applause, congratulatory handshakes, consolation prizes or standing ovations for that which is part of our hidden life.

This hidden life exists in the nooks and crannies that make up our day-to-day actions and relationships.  It is the smile of encouragement and understanding you give to that tired cashier at the supermarket.  It is that dinner you are preparing for the family.  It is the thanks you give your postman as  he delivers your mail.  It is the effort you make to drive defensively.  It is the act of wiping your kid’s nose with the one clean (or not so clean…) tissue paper in your pocket.  Just tonight, my son told me he hand-washed the dinner plates when he could have just loaded it in the dishwasher.  More than anything else, this was precious for me to know and I received this little news as his gift to me and his dad.  It is  these little unrecognized acts and moments that make up the bigger picture of life in such a beautiful way.

Most of us will never taste fame and will only read about the popularity of others.  But we  — each one of us — are all able to do little things that mean a lot to others, even if they do not say so.  Little things done well for others do make a big difference.  Like that little boy who gave up what he had, without holding anything back — a little act of generosity — merited blessings for many others and himself.  In his own way, he was able to serve others as best he could.

So, are you are feeling neglected and unappreciated?  Take heart, my friend.  The little things you do, these little acts of love and service for those around you, make up your hidden life — unnoticed by others, but not by He who matters the most.

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The new year is only five days old, yet the thought of a new year’s resolution might have crossed your mind. The tricky thing about coming up with a resolution is sometimes it can be self-defeating. We aim for such lofty goals that are more overwhelming than inspiring, that it is easier to give up than to persevere. It is a good thing to have a resolution if we get to know ourselves first. For most people, having a goal is motivating, as well as an opportunity to exercise the muscles of fortitude. To keep at something, even when we think we are not making progress, is not the easiest thing. But there is great merit in perseverance, and the rewards may come slowly and quietly, but come they do.

Before you read on, I must stress that this list of ten ordinary things that can make your life better is really simple. It is unsophisticated, nearly (if not in fact) bare-bones basic and down right ordinary. And this is exactly why you should consider it! Too often we overlook that which is right in front of us, just because our eyes are trained on what is farthest from us. A lot of times, it is the simplest things that we need to work on in order to move forward in some bigger endeavour — in order to make our lives better. So, armed with an open mind and common sense, here are the ten things you might want to consider in trying to make your life better:

  1. Sleep earlier. Some people are really good at this — they listen to their body clock and really make the effort to sleep on time. What do you achieve by sleeping earlier or on time? For one thing, you are giving your body the chance to rest and recover from the day’s activities. None of us is immune from tiredness and we all need sleep. The temptation we face at the end of the day is to cram all the things we weren’t able to do earlier. We need to mentally close the door and hang the “Do Not Disturb” sign. Seven and a half to eight hours of sleep is our goal, and we start fresh in the morning!
  2. Have a schedule. If you’re a mother on-the-go, you’re probably thinking, “She’s nuts! How can I have a schedule when I know I can’t follow it anyway?!” Listen, I have a schedule and I can’t always keep to it. But it certainly helps me by giving my day some structure. If I fall behind, then I fall behind. I will not kill myself trying to catch up like crazy. The truth is there are some days when it seems like you are lucky just to be able to wake up and get out of bed. Everything else is helter-skelter. Never mind that. Days like that happen, but having a schedule at least helps to ground your day and puts some order in the things that can be done. If your current schedule doesn’t work for you, then review it and make changes. It is not writ in stone. But have one — it will help.
  3. Eat just right. I am an advocate of eating in moderation. Unless the doctor has advised you to do so, I don’t believe in this latest diet or that latest pill that can make you lost x number of pounds. I eat regular things, so does my family. This part of the world, though, is used to bountiful things — super-sized pop and sandwiches and meals. We have a tendency to over-eat. I’m not suggesting starving yourself either. If we educate ourselves about what is good for our body, chances are we will make the effort to eat healthier foods. If we have a good breakfast, we start off the day right and are not overwhelmingly hungry at an odd time of the day. When we skip meals, we tend to stuff ourselves with whatever is handy. Eating at the right time leads to eating just enough so that we are re-energized — not falling asleep from having eaten too much.
  4. Have home-cooked meals with the family. Whether it is macaroni and cheese, pepperoni pizza or roast chicken — the important thing is have it at home. Either prepare it in your kitchen from scratch, or complete the cooking at home, but do involve your family and your kitchen: the stove or oven or the microwave, the sink, the countertops, your dining table, a kitchen table if you have it, your dishes, your pot or pan. Sound silly? Not if you consider the fact that the whole experience allows you to work alongside your family in something so natural yet comforting. The effort you make is not lost on everyone involved. The time you prepare, cook, eat and clean up is time spent with the most important people in the world to you. Conversations may be short or casual, light or even confidential — but all of this activity usually encourages talking to each other. Always a good thing.
  5. Walk around more. I had to go to the grocery the other day when the van was at the dealer’s shop, so I found myself walking a longer distance than I normally do. I realized many things, the most important one being that I desperately need more exercise. I need to be more fit. I need to walk around more. Many of us are too car-dependent. I know I am. And walking’s a great exercise: simple, inexpensive, all-season, calming (unless you come across an unfriendly dog, I suppose……).
  6. Read a book. After you finish your walk, or at some point in your day, consider spending some time to read a book. I have friends who tell me they have no time to read a book. I suppose that is not a completely impossible thing, but finding about 15 minutes to pick up a book and read is not extraordinarily hard either. Now, I don’t mean some trashy novel or those supermarket tabloid mags that don’t seem to have anything good in them. Choose a classic — a Jane Austen one, perhaps. They are not too heavy and are really very engaging. How about Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books? Yes, it is mostly young people that read them, but so what? If you’ve never read these books, now’s as good a time as any. And if you’ve read them before, then how about re-reading them? Do you remember the pleasure of reading a good book and finding yourself immersed in the story? Reading a book is a good way to relax without simply dozing off.
  7. Put things back where you got them. This is really a big thing in our home. We spend so much time looking all over the place for things that should be in certain places, and they just aren’t. Someone’s gotten them and stashed them away or left them wherever. It’s a little thing that becomes a big deal when you have to waste time looking for something all the time. Having some sense of order in our things helps us with our own mental order. A place for everything, and everything in its place.
  8. Talk less. No, I don’t mean taking a vow of silence. Talking less means, for some people, perhaps not spending half an hour on the phone when 10 minutes will do. For others, it means to listen more. Still, for others it will mean not saying anything if what is wanting to come out of our lips is sarcastic, biting, angry or insulting. What does it mean for you? Think about it carefully and consider how talking less may make a positive difference in your life.
  9. Smile. I don’t mean the fake kind where your eyes still look like they’re shooting daggers. A real smile comes from within. If you’re talking, smile because it comes out in your voice. Really! Smile in the face of traffic, a long line up at the cashier, a long wait at the doctor’s, the lack of seats on the train or bus, the dirty dishes in the sink. Smile, not because you’ve gone off the deep end and are about to be declared insane. Instead of feeling defeated, insulted, victimized, cheated, ignored, humiliated — choose to accept the circumstances you are facing and deal with them calmly. You may not be able to control what happens to you all the time, but you can choose the way you react. So smile!
  10. Find some quiet time for yourself. Consider prayer. For some, it will be early in the morning before anyone else is awake at home. For others it will be during the morning commute to work or school. For stay-at-home mothers, it may be in between chores, or feeding the baby, or picking the kids up from school. For dads, it may be at the end of the day, when the cares of the world have worn their shoulders down a bit and their feet are tired. It may be 10 minutes, or fifteen. It may be half an hour, or two half-hours even. However long and whenever it may be, some quiet time for yourself is important. Human beings are made of body and soul. We take such care of our physical bodies, but sometimes neglect our souls. Consider, as well, that prayer is really just talking with God. Perhaps during your quiet time, you will find yourself in conversation with Him, ever so naturally and always confidentially. You and I need this time to recoup and recover from all these things that stimulate our senses and feelings. Don’t know how to start? Well, once you say to Him, “I really have no clue how to talk to You…..”, you’ve already started and are on your way.

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