Sunday, 9 September 2012

Wanting what you have...

I have recently re-discovered a distant love, sherbet lemons. I remember as a child my grandma had a jar of them in her kitchen cupboard. I would often sneak a few, in-between meals, and enjoy their sweet and tangy taste as I sucked and chomped on them. I believe that we can learn so much from these simple sweets...Why? You may well ask well because rather like the sherbet lemon, life can be so bitter sweet...

I recently came across the following story in Bill Darlison’s wonderful book “The Shortest Distance: 101 Stories from the World’s Spiritual Traditions”

It is simply called “Dandelions”...

A certain man took great pride in his new lawn. He mowed it regularly, watered it daily, and sprayed it with all kinds of substances to make it grow thicker and look greener. One day he woke up to find his precious lawn covered in dandelions! What could he do? He dashed into the shed, took out his lawnmower, and gave the grass a thorough mowing, cutting off the heads of all the dandelions in the process. “That should do it,” he thought, feeling very pleased with himself.

Gazing out of his window the next morning he discovered that the dandelions were back! Down he went to his garden, but this time, instead of mowing the lawn, he pulled out each dandelion by the roots. Surely that would be the end of it.

But he was wrong. In a few days, dandelions were there once again; their little golden heads were completely ruining his beautiful green lawn. He hurried off to the local garden centre and told one of the assistants about his problem. “What you need is some weed killer,” said the young man. “Take this”, he said, handing him a bottle.” It is the most powerful weed killer we have. Mix it with water, spray it on your lawn, and tomorrow all your dandelions will be gone.”

The man did as instructed and sure enough, the next day there were no dandelions in his lawn. Success!

But his joy was short lived. Within a week the dandelions were back. He returned to the garden centre. “What can I do about those wretched dandelions now? he asked the assistant. “I’ve tried mowing them, pulling them up by the roots, destroying them with weed killer, but they still keep coming back. Do you have any suggestions?”

“Yes,” replied the assistant. “I suggest you learn to love them!”

...I recently had the privilege of spending a week in Bill’s company...I learnt so much and enjoyed some great laughs the way I am not comparing him to a dandelion...

The “Dandelion’s” story brought these word’s by Forrest Church to my mind. It is an extract from “Lifelines: Holding on and Letting Go”...

  “Meaning doesn’t emerge from longing for what we lack, things we have lost or will likely never find. The past is over. Pine over it and what we are pining for is probably very different in selective memory than it was in reality. And longing for something in the future may distract us from our enjoyment of the present. Wishful thinking tends to be both sloppy and sentimental. We should wish to think instead for things closer at hand.

          The courage to bear up under pain;
          the grace to take our successes lightly;
          the energy to address tasks that await our doing;
          the meaning to be found in giving of ourselves to others;
          the liberation that follows when we forgive another;
          the comfort to be taken in opening our hearts to another;
          the joy to be gained even in the most common endeavour;
the pleasure of one another’s company;
the wonder that wells within the simple fact
 of our shared being.

I call this “thoughtful wishing”: wishing for what can be ours, what we can do, who we can be. Unlike wishful thoughts, thoughtful wishes tend to come true.” me really I sucked and then chomped on another sherbet lemon...

...I have noticed (on facebook) this week countless pictures and read numerous updates of friend’s children returning to or starting school, in their brand new uniforms. Seeing this has brought a broad smile to my face. I’ve also seen other friends who are starting out on new projects or re-entering education. Good news! Exciting news!

That said I have also seen other friends suffering and struggling with a variety of life’s troubles too. I myself have lost several friends this year and have witnessed numerous others as well as family members going through the mill. Life, a bit like the sherbet lemons I so love, can be so bitter sweet at times; life is so full of every kind of joy, but also full of every kind of sadness too.

When the hard times hit us it is so very human to wish them away. To ask why is this happening to me? To wish that things could be different. I like everyone try to escape the pain from time to time, to change what so often cannot be changed. But eventually I quit fighting and learn to accept what is happening. As a result I do indeed find the serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed.

The dandelion story depicts this nearly perfectly. Like all the great tales it is simple and yet so rich in meaning. The man takes great pride in his garden, it means everything to him. He invests so much love and energy into it. Then one morning he wakes up to find dandelions everywhere. Dandelions to this man mean ruin. He sees them as an eyesore something that must be cut out and got rid of. Over the next few weeks he does everything that he can to get rid of them. He seeks out expert advice and tries numerous methods. Some of them work, for a short time at least, but the dandelions keep coming back. Try as he might, he cannot be rid of them. Finally he goes back to the expert (the garden centre assistant) in despair and asks if he has any more suggestions. To which he replies “I suggest that you learn to love them.”

The solution is to accept things as they are. Well actually it’s more than that the solution is to learn to love what is there, even if you don’t like it.

So often in life we try to change our circumstances in our pursuit of what we believe will make us happy. We attempt to perfect our outer or even inner world thinking that this will rid us of the potential troubles that accompany life. We attempt to wish our troubles away, when maybe what we ought to be doing is learning to love what is there in its wholeness. Maybe we all spend too much time weeding the garden and not enough time learning to love what is already there.

After many years of personal struggle Forrest Church discovered, but only during the last ten years of his life, what he believed was the secret to happiness and fulfilment. He learnt three simple things: “Want what you have; do what you can; be who you are.”

Now no doubt you are asking yourself what on earth he meant by this? I will briefly attempt to explain...

There is a wonderful ancient Jewish story about Rabbi Gamaliel. He was asked by one of his students if he thought he had done enough with his life. He pondered the question for a moment before answering...

“When I die, God will not ask me, ‘Gamaliel, why were you not an Abraham or a Moses? God will ask me, ‘Were you Gamaliel?’”

To be who we are means that we must embrace our God-given natures and talents; it means that we accept who we are and make the most of it; it means that we do not try to be something or someone we are not.

By being who we are makes us better able to do what we can. Some people tell us that we can do whatever we want if we only desire it enough. I have never believed this. There are many things that I have wanted and desired in my life, but they will not be mine. There are many things that I am not great at too and no matter how hard I try I will never be the greatest at these things, or even above average, or even average actually. That said I have learnt that by embracing who I am at every level and developing the gifts I have been freely given I can become at peace with who I am and therefore do what I can.

Our job is to nurture and develop these gifts not merely for ourselves, but for the good of all. I have discovered in recent times a gift for writing and I am hoping to develop this over the coming months and years. During the week I recently spent at Summer School I was told several times “You must write, you must keep on writing”.

It’s the same with ministry. I never dreamed of becoming a minister, but circumstances and deeply painful ones at that, called me to the role. Did I want those circumstances, no of course I did not, but I have learnt to accept those things that I cannot change. Would I change them if I could, I would do absolutely anything to do that, but I cannot. That's just wishful thinking and it leads nowhere. So therefore I practise thoughtful wishing. I do want this life that I have been given. I want what I have “warts and all and beauty spots too.”

It brings to my mind these words from the book of Ecclesiastes 5 vv 17-18 “The right happiness of mortals is to eat drink and be content with all the work they have to do under the sun, during the few days God has given them to live, since this is the lot assigned to them”

These words are finally beginning to make sense to me, just as Forrest’s mantra is too. Each day I attempt to practise “wanting what I have; doing what I can; being who I am.” I do not pretend that this is easy, but I do it all the same.

It is not easy accepting and learning to love who we are, but I believe that it is one of the keys to a happy and successful life. It is the essence of the Golden Rule of Compassion, central to all the great faith traditions. In Matthew (22: 37-40) Jesus said “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” To love life in its entirety is to love God; to love ourselves is to accept who we are and to reject the fool’s gold of self delusion, which I believe is the key to learning to love our neighbours exactly as they are too. Of course if we cannot love ourselves as we are, we will never love our neighbours and we will never be able to accept them as they are. And who are our neighbours, you may well ask? Well our neighbours are everybody and everything, even the dandelions of our lives.

No one really wants what they see as the dandelions of life, but we must learn to not only accept them, but love them too. By the way if we do so we will then be able to tend to and nurture the abundant beauty we are surrounded by. As Forrest himself says “ obsess on the bad things that befall us squeezes out a just appreciation for the good. The time we waste on wishful thinking or regret detracts from the time we might devote to being grateful for all that is ours, here and now, to savour and embrace.”

He says what we really need to do is develop “thoughtful wishing”. We need to learn to wish for what can be ours, what we can do, who we can be and that “...unlike wishful thoughts, thoughtful wishes tend to come true.”

As for me well I'm just going to keep on sucking and chomping on those sherbet lemons, so bitter sweet...I do love them...

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