My Ulysses contract

I’ve recently read The Brain: The Story of You by David Eagleman. I had asked my husband for a psychology type book for my birthday that wasn’t too academic but explored some interesting facts about the way we think. This book was just the ticket and one concept (of many!) that stood out to me was of the Ulysses contract. The author explains it briefly here:

 

There a few things I thought I could use such a contract with my future self:

  1. CBT – anxious thoughts
  2. Healthy eating
  3. Social media scrolling

Firstly, anxious thoughts. I’m a worrier. I went to an excellent seminar this year about mindfulness and resilience (the talk can be purchased here). One of the ideas that the speaker, Shaun Lambert, used, was of a train. We can choose to be the train and say to ourselves ‘I am an anxious person’ or we can choose to get off the train, stand on the platform and say ‘I have some anxious thoughts.’ As we watch the train go past, we can decide which carriages or thoughts to get on but we can equally choose not to get on at all.

The only Ulysses type contract I could come up with for this is to plan tasks and activities that bring me fulfilment and have to be done on a certain day – essentially not giving myself the time to get on the train. This contract needs work as it’s certainly not iron clad.

Secondly, healthy eating. There are two things I plan to do here. One is not to buy unhealthy treats and the other is to buy healthy treats. I’m a grazer. Snacks help me to concentrate, keep my energy up and also bring me joy. It’s not the sugar, it’s having something little to look forward to.

Finally, social media scrolling. It’s one of my worst habits. I’ve written before about how soul destroying I find this 21st century activity. Yet it doesn’t stop me from doing it. Humans can be so fickle. Ironically, the contract I’m considering here involves an app. Specifically, one that tracks the amount of time I spend on social media and potentially alerts someone if I exceed a pre-determined time. Essentially, pride becomes my contract.

I’m not sure the above are quite bullet-proof just yet, but it’s a start, right?

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Stream of consciousness

On children:

  • There were things I loved about being a child in a family of just four. I loved our holidays as a tight little unit going off on adventures together. I loved how close we were (all of these things still apply but for now, I want to remember what it was like to be a child in a family of four). I loved our identity as a four. I loved the opportunities we had. I loved the quiet. I loved the strength and confidence we found in each other.
  • When I see a family of four, it reminds me of my childhood; a joyful, rich, blessed, loving upbringing that made me everything I am today and brought me this life I love. Our resources weren’t stretched and being a small family opened worlds of opportunity to us that may not otherwise have been there. It gave us the flexible lifestyle we all wanted and which, especially at the time, was against the norm and made my life as unique as it is.
  • I’m not sure why then, despite all that, I’ve always loved the idea of having three children. I love the possibility of big, joyful Christmases. I love the fantasy of ‘soccer mom’ living a full, productive life, looking after a home and clan of kids. I love the dream of hearing lots of children laugh and play in the garden. I’m realising that none of these things would cease to apply if we just have two children and I think God is changing my heart so that if that is how we end up, I’m OK with that.

On who I want to be:

  • Joyful – even when I’m tired, or sad, or worried, or frustrated
  • Thankful – remembering that the things that wear me down and annoy me can also be the source of my joy
  • Aware of the corporate impact of my sin – particularly my selfishness
  • Hungry for Scripture – knowing that the Word of God can teach, encourage, correct and guide me to be all that I can be, not just for myself but for my family and all those around me

On sleep:

  • Sleep can be subjective. Even if it has been broken, I may well still have got all I need. Even if last night was hard, it doesn’t mean that tonight will be. Even if I’ve had multiple bad nights, it doesn’t mean that all joy has been whisked away. There are always people to help, for which I’m truly thankful and, when really needed, those people help me get the sleep I need to rest my body and mind and come back to life in full strength.
  • I need to remember to pull back the curtains, truly see the new day, take a deep breath, enjoy the early morning air and start my day with hope.

On social media and using time wisely:

  • Scrolling can be soul destroying. It sucks away life, eats away time and encourages many of the thoughts and attitudes that seek to bring my heart down. In itself it’s not bad. I love sharing photos, keeping in touch with friends and finding creative inspiration and encouragement. Rather it is my use of it that forms an unhealthy habit.
  • Instead, I could read, or write, or study the Bible, or any of the other things that bring my soul to life. These things also model positive habits to my son, who is increasingly making me conscious of what I don’t want to encourage in him – unconsciously (he’s only 5 months old) ‘shaming’ me if you will, into a life that is fuller, brighter and wiser than my human weakness tempts me to live.
  • A little self-discipline is going to be required to find my balance again…

One Day

One Day I’d like to live in a house with a garden. I’d like it to have space for a library so that my husband can immerse himself in books and those he has penned can have their own pride of place. I’d like a kitchen with space to create delicious dinners and bake fun treats. I’d like a play room for the children and enough rooms so that each child (hopefully 2 or 3) has their own nest and we still have a spare for guests.

My husband I both have a vision of this house. Our images seem to match and we dream of it fairly frequently. But it’s not just the house itself that we want, it’s the lifestyle and choices it represents and that go alongside it hand in hand in our dream.

We’d like the flexibility of work that allows us to raise our children mostly ourselves, encourage them to love learning and give them opportunities to explore. We’d like to welcome people and for them to enjoy being in the moment, to relax, cast off their burdens and feel blessed by our home, our food and our family. We want to practice hospitality, enjoy the seasons in their most basic and beautiful forms and we want to teach our children to do likewise.

I’m often impatient for this house; for this dream. I catch glimpses of it so often but am never able to connect the dots between our lives now and how we get there. But somehow, I trust we will get there, because it’s not just the house, it’s a God-given desire to create a place which others can also call home. A simple and genuine home free of fear and judgement for our children, friends, family and strangers.

So until then, I must simply learn patience and practice hospitality, enjoying the seasons and creating a warm environment in readiness and preparation for One Day.

The curse of comparison

Look at your life for a moment. In isolation from every other person’s life, are you happy with yours? If you didn’t know that a colleague had a bigger house, a friend had more children or an acquaintance had a higher paid job, would you be satisfied with your life?

Comparison is ugly. Not only does it make us compare tiny segments of other people’s lives to the entirety of our own lives, it takes our eyes away from what we do have.

If we were truly to compare our lives to others, then we’d have to take their good with their bad. We can’t be jealous of one element of their lives without taking into account everything else that makes up their daily living. They may have something you want but they inevitably will have other things that you’re thankful you don’t have to deal with.

It’s worth remembering that to someone, your grass is greener than theirs. To others looking in, those Instagram photos, job updates or home improvements are exactly what they are aspiring to in that moment. They won’t see the in between, the struggles, disappointments or failures.

It’s the one time in life when blinkers are acceptable. Usually, a life led wisely demands a broader perspective, to consider the needs and circumstances of others and to see the world beyond our narrow existence. But when it comes to comparison, we are free to put those blinkers on, block out the lives of those around us so that all we see is our own. If there are things we still want to change or we’re unhappy with, we can work at figuring out how to move forward, where possible, but only if those areas and dreams are free from ties to a life lived elsewhere.

Comparison is a curse. Why indulge it when the alternative is thankfulness for the blessings in our lives, which leads to greater contentment and peacefulness? If we weren’t so caught up in contests and races, the answer would be a no brainer.

Note to self – technology

To stay off your phone, use old school solutions:

  • Write hard copy lists (an excuse for cute stationery!)
  • Use a laptop for groceries, blogging, emails (can’t believe a laptop now constitutes ‘old school’)
  • Use a watch to check the time

Use your phone for:

  • Calling and messaging people
  • Thoughts and lists when out and about
  • Apps that help take care of baby (feeding / sleep monitoring)
  • Words with friends (because it’s fun)

Makarios

Our culture has its own quirks, whether we notice them or not – in fact, the ones we are blissfully unaware of are the ones that have the potential to make the most silent impact.

Our language defines us, whether we choose to let it or not. In our first few months of life, billions of synapses form in our brain and the ones we don’t use gradually fade. We have the ability to speak any language when we’re born but by the time we’re a few years old, if we haven’t heard certain sounds or words, they become more difficult to learn later on. This becomes a grounding principle when we realise that our words are our primary means of expression.

It is one of life’s great mysteries: the feelings, emotions and experiences that we don’t have words to describe. It is why music is so formative – it transcends language and can speak and evoke response without the need for words. But words are also telling – if we have many words for something, we value it enough to try to describe it as best we can. For example, we have one word for rice. To us, it’s rice whether it’s in the field, in a bag or on a plate. But in Asia, you have padi, beras and nasi – the distinction between each is important enough to those who speak that language to make sure they are adequately represented.

So why is it that we only have one word for love? And one word for happiness?

“The Greeks had a word for the feeling one has when one is happy: makarios. It is a feeling of contentment, when one knows one’s place in the world and is satisfied with that place. If your life has been fortunate, you should feel makarios.” (Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, p.75)

It is a feeling that is so profound and important that the Greeks gave it its own word.

The authors go on to say: “In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that if you are a peacemaker, then you are makarios. Since English doesn’t have a word for this feeling, translators have struggled to find one. What do you call it when you feel happy, content, balanced, harmonious and fortunate? Well, translators have concluded, you are blessed... Jesus meant, ‘If you are a peacemaker, then you are in your happy place.’ It just doesn’t work well in English. Alas, here is the bigger problem: maybe the reason we North Americans struggle to find makarios in our personal lives is because we don’t have a word in our native language to denote it.”

Our expectation of one word being able to sum up our current emotion and the important things in our life, also influences how we interpret phrases and whole sentences.

“Paul struggles for a Greek word to describe the fruit (singular) of the Spirit. He describes it as a ‘love-joy-peace-patience-kindness-goodness-faithfulness-gentleness-self-control kind of fruit’ (Gal 5:22). Paul is not giving us a list of various fruits, from which we may pick a few. Rather, he gives us a list of words that circle around the one character of Spirit-filled life he is trying to describe.” (Misreading Scripture… p.74)

I will continue to enjoy those moments that words cannot describe and appreciate them for their awe-someness. I will also continue trying my best to use the words at my disposal to articulate thoughts and emotions. All the while, I acknowledge that sometimes, I need to experience and see beyond the words to the indescribable beauty of life and truth in the Bible and all around me every day.

Togetherness on the path to happiness

Society is constantly pursuing happiness and contentment and most of the time coming up short. When these things are our destination, we end up going in completely the wrong direction. Instead, they should be stopping points along the way to something much better.

You’ll have heard it said that happiness is a choice. When you’re really not feeling it, not only does that sound like a lie, it becomes a frustrating mantra from other people whose lives seem to have blessed them immeasurably and so why wouldn’t they be happy. You’ll also have heard it said that the grass is always greener on the other side.

Practicing thankfulness turns our eyes to the green grass under our feet. If nothing else (and there almost always is a lot else we can identify) we have our Creator and we have a purpose for today – to be his Kingdom on earth. That’s it. That’s the purpose.

The ultimate goal is serving others and showing them a glimpse of how generous, loving, creative and selfless our Maker is. In pursuing that, we usually find that contentment and happiness have crept in unnoticed and simply are.

When I was pursuing happiness and failing miserably, I considered myself weak because I needed other people and felt I was a burden to them. Once again my wise husband’s words were balm to my soul: “It’s not weakness it’s togetherness. You have time right now. Rather than dwell on the sad things, enjoy right now.”

So I’m pursuing a life of serving others. Of talking to and listening to God and to dwelling in and appreciating ‘togetherness’.

Thought for the Day: Fellow travellers

There is a wonderful quote by C.S. Lewis that reminds us of the importance of keeping vision, direction and interests in your life.

“The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question “Do you see the same truth?” would be “I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,” no Friendship can arise – though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travellers.”

So, what are you sharing and where are you going today? And who’s travelling alongside you?

Friendship, community and serving

“Friends voluntarily tie their hearts to one another.”

This beautiful quote from Tim Keller’s The Way of Wisdom reminded me just how important it is to invest in the people around me.

One of my goals for this year was to find ways to serve others. That doesn’t mean signing up for a rota or doing a few random good deeds. It means an intentional* shift in the way I think, the way I interact and the way I look around me. It means going out of my way to be there for my friends. It means sacrificing my time if needed so that others come first. It means making it a priority to check in with my friends; to find thoughtful actions or ways to make sure they know they are loved.

And it extends beyond my friends. Serving others is hugely rewarding, even when you don’t know them well. It is a privilege. The number of times in the last few weeks, people have served our new little family and when I’ve tried to express my huge gratitude, they’ve responded: ‘Are you kidding me?! It’s a privilege to be trusted and brought into your family.’

That mindset – that others can get deep and genuine joy from serving others and even consider it an honour, no matter how much of a stranger – still staggers me but I want to cultivate it. By serving others, we are serving the Lord; Jesus said when you serve others, you serve me (Matthew 25:35-40). Serving the Lord is what we were created to do, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it brings us joy!

As a start, I’ll try to check in on my friends more regularly, send more snail mail, try to say ‘yes’ more often and invite people round for a good meal that inspires community. From there, we’ll see how it goes!

Shabbat shalom.

 

*Apologies for the cringe-worthy Christianese but I felt it was appropriate here…

July intentions

I used to be incredibly goal orientated. Truth is, I still am, but with a 2 month old baby, achieving those goals has become increasingly difficult – even the simple ones. I used to get so much done each day, let alone each week or month. I loved the focus and the sense of accomplishment.

Being a Mama has taught me so many new things. Some of those things are:

  • the importance of being in the moment,
  • that small, simple tasks can be a real achievement and
  • that getting everything ticked off a list can’t be the source of my satisfaction.

June is half way through and we’re off on holiday next week so I’m looking ahead to July to some simple things that I’d like to do that are almost entirely centred on wellbeing:

  • Drink 2 litres of water a day (with this bottle which makes drinking water surprisingly enjoyable!)
  • Successfully plan friend’s hen do
  • Do a Quiet Time every day, no matter how short
  • Start a new book
  • Consciously look for ways to serve others
  • Review 6 month New Year goals
  • Start Tae Bo
  • Keep up to speed with CBT course
  • Invite someone round for dinner and plan a really fun meal that gets me back in the kitchen (including aperitif!)

We will see how it goes!