Provision #166: Be Gentle

Laser Provision

Healthy self-care means being gentle with yourself and with others. Don’t kick yourself about what could’ve, should’ve, or would’ve been. Instead, look for love in any and every situation. That is, after all, the point.

LifeTrek Provision

Last weekend was a holiday weekend in the United States of America, Independence Day, and so • in the spirit of healthy self-care (the subject of the current series of LifeTrek Provisions) • we took a break from our weekly publication schedule. The weekend was full of family get-togethers and holiday activities, including plenty of swimming, biking, and running as well as the ubiquitous parades, picnics, and fireworks.

Although the holiday was wonderful, there were of course some things that didn’t get done last weekend. Bank reconciliation, mail management, and lawn mowing to name a few. I know there was more. I also know how easy it is to be hard on yourself for the things that you don’t do that you should do as well as the things that you do that you shouldn’t do.

Unfortunately, being hard on yourself is neither a very enjoyable nor a very productive way to live. Some people, in fact, live with so much shame and guilt, so much regret and anger, so much sadness and remorse, that they become overwhelmed and paralyzed. They become unable to take important actions and make big decisions out of fear that they’ll screw something up. They end up being more reactive than proactive, more bitter than blessed.

If that sounds like you, even a little bit like you, then I have an encouraging word for you today: be gentle with yourself and with others. In the end, there’s no way to screw up important actions or big decisions, other than to fail to take them or make them. So learn to accept them for what they are: your opportunity to grow through the never-ending journey of life.

Does it surprise you to learn that there’s no way to screw up important actions or big decisions? If so, then you’ve probably succumbed to the notion that the destination is more important than the journey and that you can, in fact, determine the destination through some combination of hard work, careful planning, and driving ambition. This notion is, in fact, the way of the world. It is the culture in which most of us live and breathe from the cradle to the grave. And yet it is a lie.

The melancholy writer of Ecclesiastes observed, thousands of years ago, that hard work, careful planning, and driving ambition do not guarantee success. “I’ve seen it all,” the Quester observed, “and it’s nothing but smoke • smoke, and spitting into the wind. Life’s a corkscrew that can’t be straightened, a minus that won’t add up.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14f, The Message)

If that’s true, then there’s no reason to be hard on yourself for trying and failing. It works out that way all too often. Try shifting your focus to making the most of the opportunities and interests that come your way, to living each day to the fullest, to enjoying the present moment for what it is: a gift.

Listen again to that same ancient Source of Wisdom. “After looking at the way things are on this earth, here’s what I’ve decided is the best way to live: Take care of yourself, have a good time, and make the most of whatever job you have for as long as God gives you life. That’s about it. That’s the human lot.” (Ecclesiastes 5:18, The Message)

Such wisdom sounds like a prescription for healthy self-care to me. Focus on the journey rather than the destination, the process rather than the product, the contest rather than the score, the means rather than the ends, the present rather than the past or the future.

Here’s a case in point. A few weeks ago I shared with you my partner’s decision to accept a position on the faculty of the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. That’s a big decision. After our son graduates from high school, we’ll sell our house and move there. In the meantime, Megan will commute back and forth as time, opportunity, and money permit. Once we arrive, I’ll reinvent myself all over again.

Is that the right decision? Who knows! Who cares! It’s our decision and we now have the opportunity to experience and explore that decision, in all its fullness. If things don’t work out according to plan, if things end up being more difficult than we think, if life ends up being harder than we’d like, or if the summers end up being hotter than we can bear • that’s OK, because there’s no way to know or to control such things in advance. All we can do is to make the best of what comes our way, for as long as God gives us life.

So be gentle with yourself. Don’t kick yourself about what could’ve, should’ve, or would’ve been. Instead, look for love in any and every situation. It’s there. And finding it is, after all, the point.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC