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Tag Archives: faith

Stories

So I was having dinner at a Thai restaurant with my tennis mom and her family, and one of them asked me if I believe that everything happens for a reason. Which I do. Now. But that wasn’t always the case. Before I struggled with how to make sense of accidents and cancer and infant deaths. And to be honest, I still do. So now I try to stay focused on making sense of my own path, which is hard enough.

Then the conversation turned into a very pointed inquisition about what I believe to be true about God and the nature of the universe. Which I thought was weird, because what the heck do I know? Clearly these people have not been reading my blog.

Afterwards we came home and watched The Lego Movie, which was awesome! Just like the theme song says. That may seem completely unrelated, but I think it happened for a reason. Because the basic line of questioning was, how do you know that what you believe to be true isn’t just some made up story?

Emmet is an ordinary construction worker who is so average that no one can say anything that stands out about him. But then he finds The Piece of Resistance, which is the sign that he is “the special”–the one who the prophesy foretold is destined to save the world. It turns out that the wise old man Vitruvius made the prophesy up, yet it was still true that Emmet was chosen as the hero by some higher power.

The Lego Movie is also a made up story. So is Avatar, The Matrix, and Kung Fu Panda–my 3 favorite movies. They’ve all made tons of money, and I think this is because they all have a message about how understanding our destiny and the nature of the universe requires a leap of faith in ourselves.

I’m no theologian, but I believe that God is ok with whatever story makes sense to us, as long as it brings us closer to him.

I think this doodle looks like legos.

Stop Doing Bad Things

At the risk of sounding completely inconsolable, I have to admit, I don’t find most of the self-help articles on social media helpful.

Take, for example, the article 30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself. I have no problem with the suggestions themselves, but I don’t like advice that begins with the word stop. In therapy, if after the first session I were to say “You’re problem is that you look exclusively to others for happiness. Stop doing that,” I’m not sure the person would come back.

Research supports the idea that stop statements are not helpful, because when you say something like “stop being idle,” you put the idea of being idle in the person’s head. If you’ve taken psychology classes, you’ve probably heard the example “don’t think about a pink elephant.” You probably weren’t thinking about one before, but you are now.

A lot of people do find advice like this helpful, and that’s great. Personally, it makes me feel more judged than inspired. I respond better to strategies that emphasize empathy and compassion, self-acceptance, and forgiveness. And I prefer suggestions that encourage me to be the best version of myself to admonitions for doing things wrong.

If I were to come up with a list like this, here’s how I would paraphrase their recommendations:

1., 13., 19., & 20. Spend time with people who bring out the best in you.

2. & 23. Have faith in yourself; it’s the best investment you’ll ever make.

3., 25., & 26. Commit to being honest with yourself and to others.

4., 21., & 27. Put your needs first. Period.

6. & 8. Practice forgiveness of yourself and others.

7., 23., & 29. Take risks, even if it means that you will fail.

9., 10., & 28. Happiness cannot be found out there in the future; it comes from within, in this moment.

11. & 12. You can move forward, even when you don’t feel ready.

14. Let people get to know you, even if it scares you.

5., 15., & 16. Make your standard of comparison the best version of yourself rather than someone else or some perfect ideal.

17. & 18. Negative experiences teach us lessons that we wouldn’t have chosen to learn on our own.

22. Think of mindfulness as exercise for your brain.

27. Practice gratitude regularly,  and thank the people who you are grateful for every chance you get.

It takes a lifetime to put these values into practice, so be patient, have faith, and be kind to yourself in the process.

I’m adding designer marbles to my doodle collection.

 

A Just World

I am having deja vous.  Before last term, we had not had a student death related to a car accident in over 10 years. Yet once again, another student died in a car accident earlier this week. Like the student last term, this student was very involved and visible in the community, was known for helping others, and was on the verge of graduating with a bright future ahead of her.

We tell students that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. But some coping mechanisms are more hurtful than others. She was probably driving too fast. People shouldn’t drink and drive.  Stupid people die. 

When I was a graduate student, one of my favorite theories was the Just World Hypothesis. Because we want to believe in a just world, when something bad happens we assume that the person must have done something to deserve it.

I often hear just world explanations after a sexual assault. She was making out with him on the dance floor. She went back to his room. She didn’t fight it so she must have wanted it.  

The Just World Hypothesis is closely related to the problems with free will and blame. In order to preserve the belief that we control our destiny, we are willing to take responsibility for things that we don’t actually have control over.  

I can understand the need to believe that if you make the right choices you will be safe from harm. I want to believe this, too. Usually my attempts at control manifest themselves in perfectionism and excessive guilt.

I don’t know how much blame a person should be held responsible for. I don’t know how to make sense of all of the suffering in the world. But I know that the more I blame someone, the less compassion I have for them.

So I try to approach suffering in the same way I try to accept my feelings: it doesn’t have to make sense. I don’t have to know the reason why for suffering to exist. And I try to have faith that when something bad happens, I will be strong enough to handle it.

Loyalty

When it comes to sports, I am loyal to a fault.

In a previous post, I talked about the delusional level of optimism that my brothers and I must channel at times to continue to cheer for UVA football. My brother emailed me recently to ask if I wanted to renew our season tickets–which I did. Even though we only won 2 whole games last season.

I captain several tennis leagues every year. And every year, I invite all of the players from the previous season back to the team unless they’ve done something I consider egregious–like not show up for a match. Or not respond to my emails. Or cause drama on or off the court. I can tolerate a player with a losing record, but I won’t tolerate a person who disrespects me or other people.

There are many captains who have the opposite recruiting strategy: they will tolerate a strong but less likeable player but get rid of a nice person who is a weak player.  Because the point of forming a team is to win, after all. I get that. And I’ve had winning teams. But I’ll admit, I sometimes choose loyalty over winning.

I’ve had friends leave my team and play for other captains because of this. I can’t really fault them for wanting to be on a winning team. But I am grateful for the friends who continue to play for me, because it makes our team feel more like a family. In fact, the tennis family that I featured in a previous post are all long-standing members of my mixed doubles team.

This team happens to be my winnningest team, too.  So loyalty does pay off sometimes.

This year, for the first time in 38 years, UVA won the ACC tournament in basketball. And for the first time ever, we were both the regular season and tournament champions. And we did it without any superstar athletes.  Without anyone noticing, really. Because when you win with defense, it’s not flashy.  So we didn’t get as much press as some of the high profile teams in our conference.

I was there when they won the tournament, and what impressed me the most about them–other than how awesome they are–is how humble they are. No one sticking their faces in the camera talking smack about how they proved their haters wrong. Not even any “we’re number one” stuff. No ego at all. Just a joyful celebration of their accomplishment as a team. As a basketball family.

It takes faith at every level to be loyal to a losing team. In the post-game interview, Tony Bennett thanked God for getting his team through the low times. Bennett had faith that a team without a single McDonald’s All-American player could accomplish great things. The players had faith that defense and unselfish play could win championships. And UVA fans had faith that someday, our basketball team could return to the glory days of the Ralph Sampson era.

So this post is dedicated to the 2014 ACC regular season and tournament champs. See you in Texas at the Final Four!