Tag Archives: Proverbs 14

Moving Upstream

The simple believe anything,
    but the prudent give thought to their steps.
Proverbs 14:15 (NIV)

My friend, Matthew, likes to say that “everyone is having a conversation with life.” He describes it as an “inner conversation with your center as external circumstances beg for a response.”

Along my journey, I’ve come to believe that the quality and depth of that inner conversation is critical to my progress in Life, health, growth, and relationships. I’ve also observed along the way those who appear to choose not to engage in that conversation. Maybe they don’t know how to have that conversation. Maybe they really don’t want to have that conversation. The result, from my perspective, are lives that seem to run on uninterrupted cycles of appetite, impulse, reaction, and habit. Tragedy and/or life becoming unmanageable become the only way a conversation with Life might possibly get jump-started.

This morning I find my heart and mind still mulling over yesterday’s post and thoughts of introspection. I’ve always been a bit introspective, but I know many who aren’t and who don’t even know where to begin. Many years ago, when I worked with young people, I always tried to teach them both to be introspective and how to have conversations about those inner conversations. The lessons I learned I now apply in my relationships with clients, team members, friends, neighbors, and even strangers.

Typically, I would start with a simple ice-breaker type of question:

  • Good/Bad: Name one good thing and one bad thing from your week?
  • Where have you been? Where are you now? Where are you going?
  • What’s your biggest pet peeve?
  • If you had five other lives to live, what would you do/be?

Then, I would listen to the young person’s answer and begin what I call “moving upstream.” Moving upstream is really the process of introspection, but I find that one typically learns how to do it first by being led by a parent, friend, counselor, teacher, therapist, pastor, or mentor.

You know how the mouth of a river pouring into the ocean is usually really wide (and usually not very picturesque)? That is what a general answer to a general question is. That’s where introspection begins. Conversations with Life, for those who’ve never really had one, begin with a simple ice-breaker with yourself. But the really good stuff, the scenic views, the waterfalls, the natural springs, the crystal-clear mountain stream can only be reached by paddling upriver, then up a tributary, through a few locks and dams, then up another tributary, and another, and another. There will be a portage around a rapid or three, maybe some smaller dams, and then up yet another small stream. You keep moving upstream towards the Source.

Here’s how it sounded with one of the kids in my youth group as I tried to guide them upstream:

Me: “Name one bad thing from your week.”

Them: “Um, (young people always begin with “Um”) My bad thing this week was getting grounded by my parents.

Grounded? Okay, there’s a story there. Let’s move a little further upstream and find out what it is.

Me: “Ouch! How long are you grounded?”

Them: “Two weeks.”

I keep paddling. With each answer, I move a little farther upstream by taking what’s given to me and exploring further.

Me: “Two weeks!? That sucks! What on earth earned you two weeks?”

Them: (Head is down. Eyes stare at the floor. Shoulders shrug.)

We’ve reached our first dam. Sometimes the lock to a conversational dam is humor.

Me: “What did you do? MURDER SOMEBODY?

Them: (laughs) “No.”

Me: “ROB A BANK?!

Them: “No.”

Me: “Well, being late for curfew isn’t a two week offense. So it’s got to be somewhere between getting in late and murder.”

Silence. Silence is okay, even when it’s painful. Silence is a necessary part of introspection. As my friend Matthew says, “Let silence to the heavy lifting.”

More silence. Finally…

Them: (Mumbling after a sigh) “I got caught smoking weed.”

Hey! There’s a new tributary! Let’s move up that stream and see where it leads.

Hopefully, you get where I’m going. Keep asking questions. Look at the answer to those questions and let them lead you to the next question. The strings of questions and answers are the conversation with Life. The better I’ve become at having those inner conversations about my external circumstances, the further I get towards the Source and the more rewarding the journey has become.

In the quiet this morning, I’m whispering a prayer of thanks for the many friends, family members, teachers, professors, mentors, pastors, and therapists who helped guide me upstream at different stages of my journey. They taught me how to be introspective. Over the course of 50 plus years, my conversations with them taught me how to have a conversation with myself, with Life. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

Hope your own conversations with Life are leading you to good places, even when the portages, paddling, and dams are a pain.

Have a great day, my friend. Thank you for reading along with me on this journey.

Keeping Tragedy in Perspective

From musaeum via Flickr. A wall containing the names of 5000 children who died in collapsed schoolhouses.
From musaeum via Flickr. A wall containing the names of over 5000 children who died in collapsed schoolhouses, the victims of an earthquake.

Laughter can conceal a heavy heart,
    but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.
Proverbs 14:13 (NLT)

We witnessed a lot of tragedy in the past week. In the U.S., we were bombarded with non-stop coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three and injured over a hundred victims. I found it interesting (and sad) that a factory explosion in West Texas received far less news coverage given that it killed and injured more people (many of them valiant first responders), and displaced many people out of their homes. I wonder if it won’t have far more devastating effect on the a small town than what will ultimately be experienced by the city of Boston. Of course, these two events hit close to home which is why they were on our televisions non-stop, but I couldn’t help putting these two events into perspective with a whole series of bombings that killed and injured far more people in Iraq last week. There was also an earthquake in China that killed two hundred and left 11,000 people without homes.

Isn’t it interesting what media chooses to report, what we choose to watch and feel, and what we choose to ignore. I’m not making judgements. I’m just pondering the facts and trying to figure out what they mean for me.

I have come to realize, and over the past few years I’ve come to appreciate, that most people’s smiling faces conceal heavy hearts. The heaviness could be the result of lost loved ones, broken relationships, miscarriages, the invisible scars of various kinds of abuse, personal tragedies, and grave injustices. In each case, a person will get on with life, or at least make an attempt of doing so. We eventually get back to the daily grind. We will go out on the weekend, have a good time, and laugh with our friends. Still, the grief does not disappear.

God’s message reminds us again and again that life will be full of tragedy. We shouldn’t be surprised by this, nor should we expect anything different. We live in a fallen world and it is ludicrous to expect that we will escape without experiencing trials and tragedies of many kinds. The question is not “if” we will experience grief, but when we will experience it and how we will respond. When we respond well, the process of working through the pain and grief generally results in depths of character, wisdom and perspective we would not otherwise achieve. God even tells us that He will use these tragic experiences to mature us and complete us. If we don’t respond well, it may bring our journey to a virtual stand still and throw us into a perpetual loop in which we are constantly moving but never advancing.

I do not want to make light of the tragedies we’ve witnessed in the past week, but I also don’t feel it important for me to go overboard in my reaction and response. I’m simply trying to keep things in perspective as I cover my own heavy heart with a joyful face and advance into another day, and another work week of the journey.

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 14

Image by Pernell via Flickr

Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest.
Proverbs 14:4 (NLT)

For the record, I like a clean and well organized environment. Whether it’s at home or at work, I find it more peaceful and efficint when things around me are not cluttered and chaotic. I do not, however, feel the need to live in a museum. I never want my home to be a place in which I or any of my guests are afraid to touch, walk, soil, stain, spill, or generally mess up the feng shui.

The Vander Well home is intended to be a place of life. Our house is meant to be fully “lived” in. In my experience, if you are living life, then things are going to get crazy, chaotic, and occasionally messy.  I love a clean and organized environment, but I find that an abundance of life usually makes it hard to keep things that way at all time.

So, when you come in the door of our home you may kick off the shoes if by doing so you are making yourself feel more at home. But don’t do so out of fear of breaking the museum rules.