Option 1: Abigail is living her life. She has her routine: wake up, get ready, work, spend time with her family, read a book, go to bed. She has the occasional events with church and work and community and life. She lives in her own little sphere, and it’s pretty happy there. A bit lonely, but she has her routine that she keeps doing over and over again, so it’s okay. Social media and videos help with the loneliness. And if she gets feeling down, she does something special like taking herself out to dinner and travelling to see something new.
And then one day, Barbara knocks on her door at 7:00 in the morning. She brings Abigail breakfast with orange juice. It’s weird, but Abigail likes orange juice. Abigail isn’t sure what to say. And Barbara isn’t sure what to say either, but they exist there together eating toast, until they both resume their routine and go to work. Abigail is late, but she finds that she is happier than normal.
In the evening, Abigail texts Barbara and tells her thank you and that they should get together sometime. Abigail doesn’t expect a response, but Barbara says, “How about we go to lunch on Saturday?”
And so Abigail ends up having sushi with Barbara, and while she is there, Barbara offers to babysit her kids so that Abigail can have a date night with her husband next Friday night at 6:30.
But Abigail feels confused. She had been living happily in her sphere and no one bothered her, but here is Barbara, inserting herself into Abigail’s life and she feels like she finally has a friend.
Barbara comes and babysits on Friday. And then Abigail decides she is going to text Barbara something a few days later, though this feels a little awkward and weird. “Hey–do you want to go have lunch again tomorrow?” And she nervously clicks send.
“Sure! That’s sounds awesome!”
And so it continues. Abigail finds out that Barbara has lots of other friends, and then Abigail get lots of other friends, and then she don’t exist in her own little sphere at all. She doesn’t feel lonely very much anymore.
Option 2: Barbara thinks it is too awkward to bring someone over breakfast first thing in the morning, and so she stays home and sends the occasional text message but never feels like she has any friends.
Friendship is not about giving people space. It’s not about waiting for convenient times and it does not take place on the internet. Being a friend is when you insert yourself into someone’s life and you both end up happier because of it. It can be awkward. There are missteps and confusion. You do things wrong a lot, but that’s okay. You can’t keep waiting for an invitation. Friendship doesn’t wait for an invitation. Friendship is the invitation, and it comes from you.
I was angry with my husband the other day. I really sort of wanted to be angry at him. It didn’t last long, because as I was talking, I realized I was being a complete hypocrite.
I was doing EXACTLY what I was mad at him for doing. I was holding grudges. I was not forgiving. I was picking fights. I was being distant and distracted. And I wanted to blame it on him, but it was totally and completely my fault.
In fact, when I think about it, I often try to blame my own faults on other people. Like thinking that no one invites me anywhere when I don’t invite anyone either. Or thinking that everyone else is cranky, which is a sure sign that I am the cranky one. Whenever I feel tired, it’s okay if I don’t do as much. But if someone else is tired, I get can sometimes get mad at them for being tired. It’s ridiculous.
But it doesn’t seem ridiculous in the moment. Only when I take a step back do I realize that I am being a hypocrite, and I am putting different expectations on others than I am on myself.
I think I hate the faults of others the most when they reflect my own faults. I don’t want to admit my own weakness and so it’s a lot easier to just push the blame elsewhere. But I do have a lot of faults. I’m selfish and proud and distracted and lazy. I stay inside my comfort zone too often and I expect too much from others.
So I’m going to try to be a little bit more humble and try to keep improving my own self instead of blaming the problems of my life on others. It’s hard. But it’s good too: if things are my fault, that means I can fix them.
Rituals are really helpful in order to express love. We love our children and our spouse and our family, but often we just think expressions of love will happen naturally and spontaneously. They don’t. We have to plan it a bit.
Love means that we always kiss each other good night. Or that we tuck kids into bed and sing them a song. Or we call our moms every Wednesday. Or that we make take time to wrestle every day at 4:00. Or we cuddle every evening. Or we end conversations with, “I love you.”
Everyone wants something dependable and safe, and creating rituals of love can be so helpful in feeling more loved and showing that love more often.
Two days ago, I watched a video on YouTube by Jordan Page about a block schedule productivity system. I’m always looking for better ways to manage my life, and this one wasn’t entirely unique, but yet it was just what I needed at the time.
She basically separates her days into a few large blocks, with a timer on the phone to tell her when it’s the next block. I really liked it because instead of using lots of small blocks of time, it was a few big blocks of time, generally categorized but flexible and not too specific. And it was pretty much what I was already doing, but just a slight improvement on it.
For me, I came up with the following blocks:
Morning (6-9). Wake-up, scriptures, prayers, mental health, exercise, family scripture study, breakfast, showers, kids ready, cleaning, home projects.
Learning (9-12). Homeschool and playing with kids.
Lunch (12-1). Lunch and clean up.
Projects (1-3). The kids watch movies or play. I work on school, blogging, and other projects.
Family/errands (3-5). Time to play outside, go and do things, etc.
Dinner (5-7). Dinner, clean up, and whatever.
Bed time (7-8). Tubs, stories, bed.
Evening (8-10). I catch up on projects and spend time with my husband.
It’s pretty easy. What was super helpful to me was I organizing my to-do list by block. It sort of just made things fall into place more. Instead of thinking what I needed to get done, I was planning on when I was doing it and then not worrying quite as much.
When I started learning more about economics, I ended up adding some economic blogs into my feed reader. One of them was The Enlightened Economics, by Diane Coyle. She mainly does book reviews, and a lot of her posts were very interesting to me. But I am new to the subject, and I wanted recommendations so I could have a starting point of interesting books, particularly related to economics and philosophy. They don’t teach that sort of thing very often in undergraduate classes.
So I wrote an email and I asked.
I could have talked myself out of doing that very easily, because I am a lowly undergraduate and she is a busy professional. Sometimes I get scared to actually write something that I know someone else will read and respond to. But I did it anyway.
She answered. And then there was a Twitter post (I don’t really do Twitter, but there were 58 comments on it, and retweets as well). And a blog post, with comments on the blog post, and a fairly long list of around 50 books at the end of it. I will probably never read all the books on that list, but I will read some (they are on request from my school’s library).
Not only am I grateful for that list, but it is also helpful for other people who are interested in the same thing. They exist. I haven’t met those other people yet, but maybe one day I will.
I am really glad I asked. So many times we talk ourselves out of asking the questions and sticking ourselves out there. Even if people are somewhat famous and successful, they still often will help others, and do it gladly.
It’s good to just apply. Send an email. Call someone. I have had plenty of rejection and some embarrassment, but sometimes it works out really well.
I have never been praised for my singing voice, except for some mild positive comments. I view this as an entirely good thing.
You see, when we get praised for something, particularly when we are young, we may start to build up our self-imagine around that thing. It becomes part of who we are. But the thing is, we may not actually be particularly good at it in another setting. And we usually always have room for improvement.
When we get praised, we often will start to build our ego and self-worth around that thing. This is dangerous, because our self-worth shouldn’t really be based in what we do; it’s just who we are, and it is still there even when we can’t do something anymore, or we can’t do it as well as we thought.
We shouldn’t stop praising people, but we need to be careful with our children and praise in the right way. So that they know they have self-worth even if they realize later on that there are millions of people who are smarter than them, and stronger than them, and better than them at doing certain things.
Instead of saying, “You sing really well,” try, “I love to hear you sing.”
Instead of saying, “You are really smart,” say something like, “I really am proud of how hard you have worked in school.”
Sometimes we do things whether we are good at it or not–we do it because we enjoy it. And that’s much better way to be, doing things independent of whether we are better than someone else, doing something because it feels right, instead of doing something to inflate our ego and make us feel better about ourselves.
And stop praising yourself too–you don’t have to BE a good writer or a good singer or good at anything. You just exist. You DO. And that’s enough.
Every day, week, month, and year, I have constantly made lists of things I wanted to accomplish. But today I wondered if my focus has been in the wrong place.
Today, my kids wanted to get sledding on mostly melted snow. It wasn’t on my to-do list, but it sure was fun. The snow was hard and crispy and the sleds slid over it easily, so we actually went far, sliding over spots of dead grass and old snow without stopping. We didn’t last long before my little daughter got snow on her hand and cried and wanted to come inside. We came in, cuddled on the couch, and she fell asleep.
I didn’t accomplish anything by doing this. I didn’t check anything off my to-do list. But it was a really good experience. It was not only fun, but it was good time spent with my kids.
I want to value experiences more than my accomplishments.
Learning something is more important than getting a degree. Spending time with my children is more important than cleaning up my house. Serving others and developing relationships is much better than making a lot of money or having a good resume. And I can have wonderful adventures without leaving my backyard.
I need to readjust my life a little bit so that I am valuing those things instead of completely focused on being productive or achieving certain goals or having everything in order. Life is messy and fun and meaningful and beautiful–but I don’t notice when I am focused on the pages of a planner or the marks of a to-do list.
From a young age, I have been involved in numerous choirs. I like to sing, but I haven’t had a lot of praise or criticism related to my ability to sing. I’ve some mildly positive comments, but that’s about it.
I am grateful for this. First, I’m not a great singer in the first place. But I’m also not a bad singer. So when I sing, I’m not worried about whether I’m doing it well or not. I’m just singing because I like to.
There are other aspects in my life where I have been much more sensitive to any praise or criticism that has come may way. I built my self-image around being good at academics or writing. The things I received the most praise about became part of who I am. And that wasn’t really a good thing.
Because no matter how good I am, there are always so many people who are better than me. I always have room for improvement. Sometimes, I’m not quite as good as I think I am–I have failed miserably at things that someone once praised me for.
I should never do things just to get praise. Who I am is different from what I do.
If I never received grades throughout school, I would probably be a different person. I would have a different, more resilient view of myself. I might be more willing to ask questions and admit what I don’t know. I would have learned more quickly to seek after learning for the sake of learning, not just to receive top marks.
Praise often does not lead to resiliency. It can lead to increased pressure and an inflated ego. Our self-worth needs to be based on who we are, not just what we can do in comparison to other people.
That doesn’t mean we stop praising people all together. But we need to be careful about the praise we hand out. Instead of saying, “You sing really well,” we can try, “I love to hear you sing.” Instead of saying, “You are really smart,” we might say, “I really am proud of how hard you have worked in school.” I am working on this with my children, but it’s hard, and I often shift back into the easier way of talking about things.
Sometimes we do things whether we are good at it or not–we do it because we enjoy it. In my experience, I find a lot more fulfillment and joy when I do things not because I’m good at them, but because I want to do something for its own sake. I learn to learn. I write to write. I like when I am focused on the work I am doing, instead of focused on myself and my reputation.
I am slowly trying to stop praising myself. I don’t have to be a good writer or a good singer or good at anything. I can just be me, and I can do those things and love them and that’s enough.
I like to think that I am a selfless person who serves others, but the reality is that sometimes I’m as self-obsessed as anyone and my service attempts can be pathetic attempts to make myself feel better instead of actually helping anyone.
Last year, I set a goal to serve someone every day and write it down. I didn’t want to serve just so I could check it off my to-do list; I want to genuinely love and help other people. But I’m not always in the right mindset, so I set the goal as a reminder to think outside myself.
This is some of what I learned:
1. Serve small.
Often we want to make a big difference. We want to change the world. We want to give away a million dollars, start a new organization, and travel to faraway countries. We think that if we serve, we need to do it in really big ways. And then we don’t do anything.
I have been guilty of getting excited over giving away hundred of dollars to some great cause and then refusing to give away a single dollar at a grocery checkout. I want to make a big difference and in the process, I forget to do small, daily things.
Often we want to serve in big ways to make ourselves feel better. I truly believe small things can make a bigger difference than those really big things. Small things can happen consistently in a way that changes ourselves and the people around us.
Once, when my husband was in surgery, my uncle called me. He just called. It was a small thing, but it meant so much to me. It helped me know that I wasn’t alone, and that was what I needed the most.
If we think about true friendship, it exists in small things — a text, a smile, a single conversation, or a small and thoughtful present. Most people around us need support in small ways, and if we are too worried about doing big things to make ourselves feel better, we forget to take the time to say hello, to respond to an email, or to reach out and listen for a few minutes.
People don’t need us to solve their problems and change their whole lives; mostly, they just need a friend who will consistently be there for them.
2. Think about people.
Service isn’t about dollar amounts and hours spent. Service is about people. The people that you know and the people that you come across in your daily life are the people who need you.
We all have our struggles. The rich and famous need help and love sometimes, just like the poor and forgotten. It’s easy to want to help destitute strangers; it’s a lot harder to really get to know someone and support them in a meaningful way.
Often, we serve in ways that make us feel good, but they are not actually helping any specific person. For example, we might feel good about donating specific items — food, stuffed animals, blankets, whatever. We can imagine how those items could help some stranger. But giving stuff and money isn’t as valuable as giving of ourselves.
I try to think of my children, my family, and my neighbors — the people I see every day. They often need help, and I can do the the little that I can.
When I found out my sister was pregnant, I wanted to do something for her, even though I lived hours away. So I ordered her pizza for her family. I would have never thought of it unless I was thinking of her specifically and wanting to help her out.
3. Don’t judge.
It is so easy to judge people who are having a hard time. It’s so easy to say that they aren’t coping very well; they are at fault; their problem would go away if only they could be better.
Often, we refuse to give because we judge.
Stop the judgment and just give anyway.
Your money may not be used in a way that you would agree with. You might be hurt sometimes. You might be rejected. You might find yourself needing to forgive someone.
But forgive. And don’t expect anyone to be perfect. We all make mistakes. We need help because we make mistakes. We need to teach and help each other to become better. We need to have hope that people can genuinely change.
We need love without judgment at certain times in our lives; and we can give that love to others.
Many times when I have struggled with some mental health issues, my mom has taken the time to listen to me, without judgment. It helped me get through that moment and to know that I was still worthwhile.
4. Be present.
Our phones and social media can often take us away from the people we need to serve the very most.
Look up and around you. Notice the people that are there. Take the time to be present with what is actually happening in your life.
Writing texts or commenting on posts or reading the news are not bad things to do — but sometimes we can get so caught up in the scrolling that we never bother to look up and see who is next to us.
We can be kind to the people we encounter at school, work, and wherever else we go. We can be present in our own homes and our own families. And when we are present, we might discover that the people that need our help the most are right there. Just look up.
Often we can intentionally plan for ways to serve others; but sometimes service must be spontaneous, a response to a feeling that we might not fully understand.
I was walking through a store when I saw photo album that reminded me of a family member. I almost walked by it, and then I decided to pick it up and buy it for her.
5. Try, even if you are completely inadequate.
Over the years, I have had friends that have had intense and difficult problems. I have wanted to help them, and I didn’t know how. Nothing I could do would solve their problem in any meaningful way.
Sometimes, I was absent because I felt so inadequate. I was worried about saying the wrong thing, thinking that there was nothing I could do.
Sometimes, I have tried and failed. I have gone to help someone and it didn’t work. I have said the wrong thing. I have had awkward conversations that went nowhere. I have offended.
But I’m going to keep trying. Because my imperfect efforts are better than nothing. Because sometimes those awkward conversations actually do help, even a little bit. Because real friends are present in hard times. Because being inadequate is not a good excuse.
I wanted to give my friend flowers when I found out she was going through some hard times. I lived too far away from the store, but I went out and I got some sticks and some pieces of paper and I made her flowers. I’m not incredibly crafty either, but I tried. I almost didn’t give them to her because I felt they were inadequate. But I brought them over anyway. And months later, they are still on her shelf.
Just try. Try even if you aren’t sure how. Try and you’ll find that you become more adequate and more able to help.
Our lives are not really about ourselves. Our lives can be spent in serving and helping the people around us, even in small ways. As we keep trying to make a difference, we will find a greater degree of happiness and love.