Lent’s Compass. Day 20: You’re Not Necessarily Who You Think You Are.

I am a particular incarnationalist. I believe that we can understand cosmic questions only through particulars. I can understand God only through one specific particular, the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth. This is the ultimate particular, which gives me my understanding of the Creator and of the beauty of life. I believe that God loved us so much that he came to us as a human being, as one of us, to show us his love. ~ Madeleine L’Engle from an interview in Christianity Today, 1979.

A number of years ago several friends sat around and imagined things Jesus would never say. The list they came up with included such gems as:

– “Gimme that!”
– “OK, so you come out first and introduce me, then …”
– “Do I look fat in this?”
– “Comme ci, Comme ca” (with hand gesture)
– “If you really loved me you’d try harder.”
– “I’m disappointed with you.”

The list works because the statements are contrary to the person we read about in the Christian Bible. They don’t align with what he said, or how he lived. How many of us can say that? That our thoughts and words about how we should live or who we are are as people are in alignment with our actions? That they’re in alignment with the way we actually do live, every day?

One of the things I like about the Franklin Covey approach to managing time, is that you’re asked to spend time thinking about what your values are and to spell out what each value means to you. After that, you look at the relationship between what you value and the way you spend your time. You’re not asked to consider it once, but every time you plan. Once isn’t enough. To maintain alignment, you have to take stock again and again. That discipline is good practice.

You have to pay attention because it’s easy to lose track. It’s easy to think that the person we think we are and say we are and who our actions say we are, are the same. They’re not. We lie. We lie to others and to ourselves. A friend of mine said to me, “Do you know what I don’t like about Facebook? The way everyone seems to be living an extraordinary life, except me.” It’s not true of course. We’re all leading ordinary lives. What she’d noticed is the gloss that exists in Facebook posts.

The presence of some of the gloss is sometimes intentional. One Facebook friend loves to provoke arguments. To him, if it doesn’t spark controversy a post is boring. Some of the gloss is unintentional. Last year I went to my high school reunion. Several high school Facebook friends told me they look forward to seeing my cooking updates. Two more wondered when I joined the priesthood. I like sharing the meals I’m preparing. I’m deeply interested in the way people think what they’re supposed to do in this life. About vocation and also about the zen of being human. I didn’t think anyone would define me by those posts. Yet they did. It is also something I’ve done too. A friend mostly posts photos she takes. For a long time I thought she’d become a professional photographer.

It’s a short walk from believing the gloss we see on Facebook posts to missing the irony that happens when our actions move out of alignment with our thoughts or words. Before I started working as a coach and trainer, I ran coffee shops for Starbucks. I remember hearing a free-spirited member of my staff having a conversation with a customer about the evils of corporate coffee. She explained how she preferred getting her coffee from independent shops. She did that while working a shift for Starbucks. She was one of my top performers. This same woman enjoyed her job enough to spend chunks of her free time at Starbucks. She never let on that she was aware that who she thought she was, who she said she was and who her actions said she was, were different things.

When our thoughts and words and actions are out of alignment, our being changes.

Pay attention. Take stock. Are you the person you think you are?

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