Make the Choice
“The Dare: To reach life’s end having lived not only the length of it, but also its depth, width and height.”
Dare to be happy? Aurora, the campaign rhetoric, the ludicrous decisions coming from our nation’s capital – all seem to have collided to make people (understandably) unhappy this week. I’ve noticed it everywhere. Felt it myself. Here’s hoping the tips offered below will merit its length.
She and her family—Dutch Christians who hid and aided Jews from the Nazi Holocaust during WWII—were arrested, separated, and wrenched from their home in the middle of a cold February night. Her father died in prison.
Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie were sent to a concentration camp, where Betsie died. Corrie remained there for ten months, death and filth and fear her only constants.
Due to a clerical mistake, she was released.
During this experience, she had faith, but no idea what her fate would be.
After this experience, she lived to age 91, wrote a stellar book, lectured, shared.
Despite this experience she remained hopeful, even happy.
“Happiness,” she wrote, “isn’t something that depends on our surroundings. It’s something we make inside ourselves.”
Imagine living through that—starvation, disease, brutality, endless unknowing—and still feeling a core level of happiness.
Corrie ten Boom lived her own version of “The Dare,” a little less consciously, but a lot more profoundly and impressively than what I do.
She made the happiness inside herself.
“Happiness is a decision, not a situation.”
Hmm…I’ve made the decision to be happy about 6,489,362 times.
So why doesn’t it stick?
I’ve made other decisions that have stuck: Career. Check. Colleges. Check and check. My car. Check. My house. Check.
I decide. I do. I move on.
But, the cycle of my happiness decision looks like this: Decision made. Happy. Something happens. Unhappy. Decision made (again). Happy. Something happens. Unhappy…etc.
Anybody else tired of that waffling cycle?
Social science research says that about 40% of our level of subjective happiness is determined by intentional activities.
This suggests that one’s deliberate actions can drastically improve overall happiness, mirroring ten Boom’s belief.
So, if happiness depends in large part on our outlook, let’s be deliberate when happiness seems distant:
Depth: Look inward. The research says to:
- Consciously choose happiness.
- Have something to look forward to. Always. (This is my favorite tip.)
- Trust your gut instincts. You know the source and wisdom of that voice.
- Make enough money to cover your basic needs.
- Smile. Science says it will elevate your mood even if you are not happy.
Width: Look around. Get involved.
- Work. Paid or volunteer. Make a contribution.
- Have deep meaningful conversations. Surface-level talks don’t produce the same results.
- Marry the right person.
- Help others.
- Forgive others.
Find the good and the hopeful, in even the most horrific events, where possible.
The Aurora massacre was horrendous, to be sure. Leading up to that, I’d been reading incredible tales of missionaries and regular folks who had journeyed to the far reaches of the earth and risked their lives to help others.
Their stories had left me feeling insignificant. Ineffective. I felt no such calling. Then the massacre occurred, and I realized there is much work to be done right here. On our own soil. In our backyards. And I felt a peace—although some would call it an ill-timed peace—understanding that I could contribute from wherever I am—writing, talking, sharing, teaching, being.
Height. Look up. Pray. A lot. Make prayer your steering wheel, not a spare tire, as ten Boom would say.
Go to church. A 2010 study, by Harvard researchers published in the American Sociological Review, says that people who went to church regularly reported greater life satisfaction than those who didn’t.
A key factor was the quality of friendships made in church. Supposedly, people who went to church but didn’t have any close friends there were no happier than people who never went to church.
Solomon, arguably one of the world’s wisest men, revealed in Ecclesiastes that neither his accomplishments nor his wisdom could make him truly happy. True happiness comes from pleasing God, he said.
Phew. Seems like a lot of steps to be happy. But, if each effort evens out the happy-unhappy-happy-unhappy cycle, then the effort will have been worth it.
Will you join me?
P.S.: My generation grew up learning about Corrie ten Boom and her experiences. But it occurred to me that our children may not know her amazing story. If that is true of your children, encourage them to read The Hiding Place.
P.P.S: One (and my favorite) of the incredible stories I was reading of a missionary family’s journey is entitled Call of a Coward, by Marcia Moston. You’ll laugh, cry, smile, cheer—and mostly just enjoy the reading ride. Find it at Amazon: http://amzn.to/STs7we
The Dare: To reach life’s end having lived not only its length, but also its depth, width and height.
It happened again.
I came across one of those you-must-do-this-before-you-die! articles.
This one, a list: “The World’s Most Picturesque Villages.”
It pulled me in—a bee to nectar.
Sixteen “quaint” villages that I must experience, it says.
I love quaint! It implies homey, welcoming—culinary surprises, visual delights, people that you can run up to and hug, adopt for life.
A quick assessment: I’ve only seen five of the sixteen villages.
Thirty-one pitiful percent.
And, given my place in life, the demands of work, more-pressing priorities, and—in many cases—the risks involved in visiting certain countries, it’s safe to say I’ll probably never even achieve fifty percent of the list.
That feeling of “coming up short” set in again—the resume with gaps in experience, the table service for seven.
Visiting these locales, I guess, is more within the possibilities of people with great wealth and leisure time, as depicted on the TV show, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Money is no object.
Those people own it all, do it all, see it all.
I’m not one of them.
So, I did what I do so well…I cranked the rationalization switches to full-blast:
- The locales are so distant. The list was created by the American news media, which means that their list inherently would be devoid of anything great about America, particularly quaint villages.
- I have different priorities for my money and time—trips to be with Just My Joe, tuition payments for the Prince, a soon-to-be-published novel that demands my attention.
- Flying is such a chore these days. ‘Nuff said on that one
Why do I feel the need to rationalize my way out of envy?
The Bible teaches us that the way we change envy is by changing our perspective, by living a life of purpose.
Galatians 6:4 tells us: “Let everyone be sure to do his very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work done well and won’t need to compare himself with someone else.”
Strive to be Rich in Purpose
When we strive NOT to keep up with the neighbors, but rather to be the people we are meant to be, won’t we then find ourselves rich in purpose?
I’m convinced that a life rich in purpose includes The Dare:
- Depth. Look inward. How well did you live? Quaint is a matter of the heart and of a perspective that comes from within. Note to self: Focus on becoming a person of contentment.
- Width. Look around. How well did you love? Can’t I offer “quaint” to others? I can cook a feast for friends, welcome them into my home, make them feel special. How quaint. How wise. Note to self: Focus on becoming a person of wisdom.
- Height. Look up How well did you learn to let go and trust? I’m rather sure that the word “quaint” does not appear in the Bible (please let me know if I’m wrong), yet the secular world sure likes to assign the word to descriptions of the Bible’s wisdom (“quaint fables,” “quaint teachings”) thus implying something homespun, unsophisticated, NOT to be taken seriously. How silly the world can be! Note to self: Focus on becoming a person of godliness.
Rinse and Repeat
Once again, my focus:
Become a person of contentment.
Become a person of wisdom.
Become a person of godliness.
I think if I can do this, I’ll be the Bill Gates of a life rich in purpose.
To learn more about The Dare, follow this link where all entries are listed in reverse chronological order: http://dlkoontz.com/category/the-dare/
Posted by dlkoontz on Jun 27, 2012 in Blog, The Dare | 12 comments
“The Dare: To reach life’s end having lived not only the length of it, but also its depth, width and height.”
He stood there.
More accurately, he stood out.
He was braced, feet distanced soldier-style, body erect, on a grassy island about 2′ x 2′ in size between the traffic and median divider, trying to practice perseverance, restore pride.
His clothes were tattered, dirty. His scruffy beard spoke of hard times, little access lately to the joys of grooming. His reddened, raw skin revealed it’d been a long day in the sun.
He mustered all his courage to look passersby in the eye, while they, in turn, glued their gaze to the traffic light, avoiding eye contact.
His cardboard sign, which looked like it was penned by a child, announced, “Will Work for Food.”
He’d lost his job, his wife, his kids, his home, his car, his wallet, his hope, his rabbit’s foot.
Okay, I don’t really know that. My editor would scold me for changing ‘point of view’ as there is no way I could know he was practicing perseverance, mustering courage and had lost everything.
But then, that’s the dilemma of encountering such folks, isn’t it?
We try to tweak our point of view to make it more palatable. We remove the unknowns by assigning knowns or probables to them.
We evaluate before we act.
They’re drug addicts.
They’re God-fearing, hard-working, tax-paying, family-loving solid citizens who’ve succumbed to the hard times of this recession. Heck, wife Madge and the kids are waiting over in the nearby woods and none of them have eaten for three days.
That’s the point, isn’t it? That we never know. And still, we must make snap decisions.
I’ve worked in—and just outside of—four large cities in my life (Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland) so I’ve seen all sorts of scenarios once street people (vagrants? bums? angels in disguise?) pocketed a little money. So, you never know.
But, does it matter?
I did what I usually do when I encounter such folks. I reached into my purse for the McDonald’s coupons.
Yep, I long ago learned to be ready. I didn’t want to subsidize an addiction—booze, drugs, worse. So, I kept McDonald’s coupons in my purse. The recipient’s only choice would be to trade the coupon for food. As you know, there are McDonald’s around every corner.
But this time, I came up empty.
I’d forgotten to stock up.
And in my wallet? One twenty-dollar bill.
I’d have to give him cash. Cash that I needed a little more than a few weeks ago before I’d lost one of my clients. Cash that I intended for cat food, milk, printer paper, all of which was on my shopping list.
Then my stomach growled and I felt his hunger. Funny how that happens.
Yes, I’d have to give him cash.
But what if I was unknowingly helping an addiction?
The Dare: Depth. Width. Height.
Depth: Look inward. If I were he, I’d be scared to death. Imagine living like this day by day. And what about his inward? The man may be hurting deep down in his soul. His turnaround may hinge on someone, just one person, extending kindness.
Width: Look around. This stranger resided outside of the circle of my everyday. Outside my comfort zone. Should I, the introvert, let him into my circle? Surely the money I could give him, when combined with the rest he collected, might help him get out of this situation.
Height: Look up. WWJD?
Okay, that one clinched it, made me chuckle. Jesus would tell him to climb in the car, take him out to dinner, give him a bed for the night, and toss in a parable and a pair of sandals, no charge.
“Truly I say, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brethren, you did for me.”
Was I serious about “The Dare”..?
“Give and ye shall receive.”
But isn’t that a selfish reason for giving?
You never know what it will cost to give.
But, what will be the cost of not giving?
I gave him the twenty.
And told him thanks (for helping me see more clearly).
I think I felt us both expand in depth, width and height.
Posted by dlkoontz on Jun 20, 2012 in Blog, The Dare | 10 comments
“Dare: To reach life’s end having lived not only the length of it, but also its depth, width and height.”
During a recent meeting to refinance my mortgage, the loan officer asked about my current income.
I looked at the coffee mug I was suddenly squeezing.
I had come to hate this question. It seemed so intrusive, so evaluative – a mother-in-law questioning your childrearing skills, a dentist inquiring about your flossing routine.
I knew he wasn’t judging me. He had arranged several mortgages for me in the past, and as per our routine, we chattered with the comfort and candidness of old friends rather than as loan officer and customer – he even told me about his wife’s illness, her fears, her struggles.
But still I hesitated. The truth was discomforting: that I’d lost one of my clients, becoming a poster child for the recession.
My income had dropped.
And, I had no other immediate prospects, save a few temporary writing/editing gigs.
I had seen other people flinch at this information. They’d study me with that quiet, assessing look, the one we all give the house that’s been on the market too many months or the student who has been in college too many years. The conclusion: There must be something wrong.
But nothing was wrong.
In fact, something was right.
Something right that meshed with The Dare.
Depth: Look inward. I wanted two situations in my life now more than I wanted the impressive income: (1) to spend more time with Just My Joe (significant other), and with the Prince (son Matt) while he is home from college for the summer, and (2) to spend more time writing.
Width: Look around. I still had one client that I’d worked for, for almost ten years. So, I was still producing, still making an income, still using my education. As long as I was blessed to be able to work for this client, I would. And, I would work hard for them. Sure, the living is tighter. But when is enough $$ ever enough?
I’d spent 25 years of my life thinking, “Just a little bit more, just a little bit more.” And each time, the little bit more just set me up with a richer lifestyle, with more things that failed to satisfy, and true to form, I’d begun the “just-a-little-bit-more” chant all over again. An addict never satisfied.
Height: Look up. I had to have faith in myself, in God, in Just My Joe, that this would work. When you feel called, nudged, needled to make a change, to step into the unknown, shouldn’t you have faith that it will work? When one door closes another door opens.
In 1993, the year my son was born, I first earned a six-figure income. Nineteen years ago. I can’t even imagine what that would equate to today, when adjusted for inflation. And yet the money was nothing, NOTHING when compared to holding my newborn.
It took me a long time to realize that situations make me happier than things. An organized home. Parents within driving distance. A son who is happy, fulfilled. A man I trust and respect, and who loves me despite my flaws. Time to watch the sunrise from my porch, rich cup of coffee in hand. A view of clumsy cows ambling through a pasture. A ramble on a 4-wheeler through nature so thick that I’m encased in green. Clinking glasses with friends or my surrogate sisters over a lunch of salmon in an upscale restaurant. Pets that soothe me on tough days.
A few years ago, I gave serious effort to creating a Bucket List. It was eye-popping. Under the category “To Own” I’d listed four things. Under “To Do,” I’d logged thirty-six things, and under “To Visit,” a dozen destinations. Doing and going outnumbered owning by about twelve to one.
And so it is that I’m living a little more frugally… but happily.
Back when I worked crazy hours, I was focused on life’s length, thinking that I’ll write “one of these days.” Now I’m basking in the depth, width and height of actually doing it.
It was just a quotation.
There, on the page, amidst a sea of other pithy passages.
One of those finely honed constructs of words that make it into the quotation collections on my shelf. The kind that make you mumble, “That’s clever,” or, because I’m a writer, “What a great thought; wish I’d written it.”
It was a phrase, a rumination, an explicit reference composed of mere words. Yeah, you may as well say mere dynamite, given the power some word combinations possess.
Words can close the deal, soften the heart, start feuds, set us free, make us cry, give us hope, break a marriage, build a nation.
But, those words must be strung together in just the right way. Like the beads on a bracelet. The pattern on an afghan. The ornamentation on a building. The punch of John 3:16.
This quotation, too, was strung together in just the right way.
Right there. On the page.
It had first come to my attention from my new friend, Cecil Stokes, when he posted it on Facebook. I had liked it. Pondered it. Searched for it (in my books…an old-fashioned way to search, for sure.)
And there it was. In black and white.
Present only on the page, but crowding the room with its profundity.
Thirty-two, one-syllable words found in any dictionary; heck, even a children’s dictionary.
Thirty-two, one-syllable words that, individually, each carry its own denotative meaning, but when laced together into this collective missive, packed so much connotative dynamite that I couldn’t escape it.
It took up space in my mind until I finally went in search of it again.
Why couldn’t I let it alone?
Why wouldn’t it let me alone?
Was I supposed to do something with that phrase?
It read: “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.”
It cut through me like a knife.
Was it written for me?
I’m so focused on living into tomorrow, that I miss the nuances of today. The messages of the moment. The possibilities of the present.
The joys of discovery.
I should have written that quote.
And yet I didn’t.
But, I am going to use it as a launchpad to create my own affirmation.
Mine reads: “Dare: To reach life’s end having lived not only its length, but also its depth, width and height.”
Now it’s only eighteen words instead of thirty-two.
Now it’s action-oriented. Provokes accountability. Transforms a wish into a possibility.
Now it’s a dare I want…nay, need…to take on.
But how to put it into action?
When I talk to my client today, will I go beyond the work and ask about her family? Perhaps share a bit about my life, as I so often struggle with in my writing? Depth.
When I stand in line at the DMV, can I muster the courage to turn to the unknown person beside me and pay them a compliment? Perhaps uplift their attitude for the rest of the day? Width.
Can I walk up to a stranger and ask if he knows God? I’m no Beth Moore who always seems to say the right thing at the right time to the right person, but, shouldn’t I try? Height.
Depth – Explore the internal a little more. Polish, revise what is uniquely me. Look inward.
Width – Reach out more. Those to my left and right. Those beyond my door. Those I’ve not yet met. Those with a need. Look around.
Height – Pray and praise more. Trust. Believe. Ask for guidance and then be wise enough to discern the answers. Look up.
Look inward. Look around. Look up. Even as I continue to look into my life’s length, into tomorrow…here, on the Blue Ridge backroads.
If this touches you, tell me how you want to go deeper, wider and higher to explore new possibilities and to take risks. And, please join me, each week, as we explore this affirmation to add depth, width and height to those long lives we plan to live.