Pentecost 116

Pentecost 116
My Psalm 116


In a busy metropolitan area, most commuters boarded their train into the city with reading material in one hand and insulated drink bottle in the other. They would find a seat or comfortable place to stand and withdraw into their own little world for the commute. This day, though, someone bumped into another person who bumped into the person standing next to them and so on until one bumper suddenly recognized her bumpee.

The two former college friends exclaimed at the surprising meeting and quickly found a place to sit so they could catch up with each other. The bumper started. “So I’m working in mid-management at ABC firm. I have a husband but so far, our only kids are four-footed. My folks retired to that summer cottage on the lake we used to visit. Let me tell you, their retirement situation made me rethink my own 401K! So, what are you doing?”

The bumpee smiled, readjusted her large carry-all bag and began: “I’m in recovery for…” Her former friend grasped one hand and patted it comfortingly. “Oh,” she began, “I never would have imagined you going down that road! My goodness! Here’s my stop. Hopefully we’ll run into each other again.” With that she hurried to the exit and left the train.

An elderly man sitting on another seat chuckled and leaned toward the remaining woman. “I guess she’s not a big reader, huh?” he asked. The woman looked up startled. The man stuck out his hand to shake the woman’s. “I recognized you from the book jacket of your latest best seller. You just got off a grueling book tour, didn’t you? I got a signed copy while visiting my daughter and her family on the other coast two weeks ago. Both the wife and I really enjoyed the book, by the way.” The woman shook his hand and the two sat back. As they reached their stop, the man asked: “Wonder how long your friend had to wait for another train to get her the ten miles to her real stop?” They departed grinning.

“Being in recovery” has become a buzz word for most in the public eye. It is even trendy, one might say. One could lament over that fact or one could be happy people are seeking help. Of course, there are those simply looking for an excuse to avoid the media and still others not really interested in correcting a problem, just going through the motions to ease any punitive or legal issues they are facing.

Still, we are all in a recovery of some sort. For most of us, it is a simple recovery from yesterday. For some, it is a more intense recovery of the yesterdays of our past. Our self-esteem is not, no matter how we might think it is, dependent on that looking glass in a store’s dressing room. Nor should it be on our own bathroom mirror or in the expressions of the person standing next to us.

Midway of the twentieth century Norman Vincent Peale wrote what has become the Bible on self-esteem, “The Power of Positive Thinking”. Some thirty-plus years later, Al Franken, a comedian who is now a US Congressman wrote a response to Peale’s book: “I’m Good Enough, I’m smart enough, and Doggone it, People Like Me!”

Recently positive self-affirmation has undergone some scientific testing and researchers have discovered it has mixed results. People who already liked themselves recorded slightly elevated feelings of positive self-worth while people with low self-esteem reported even greater stress when asked to believe in themselves.

Chinese philosopher Sun Ra advised man not to lose one’s self. He felt that was a direct path to complacency, stasis, and stagnation. Sun Ra advised that if we hated ourselves, we would push ourselves to become better. Salvation, believed Sun Ra, was in what he termed “the Unknown Beyond”. He justified his belief because he pointed out that what was known had yet to save the world. Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie once stated: “We must become what we have never been.”

Most of us have grown up hearing the nineteenth century adage: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.” Is that really how we should live? A “Newsweek” magazine article almost a decade ago discussed the pros and cons of those who never gave up and those who were prone to giving up. The article delved into the link between the tenacity of those who tried and good health, both mental and physical. After all, most of us believe that persistence would be the healthier choice. Personal success is considered an important element of well-being and, if persistent, doesn’t one eventually succeed? Psychologists not attempted to discover the answer to that question but also considered situations in which success was not possible, in spite of constant and consistent efforts. They wondered “When does an admirable trait like perseverance start to look more like beating your hear against the wall?”

In an effort to answer whether or not there was a point at which diminishing returns of failure would start to take a toll on a person’s health, they discovered that “quitters” were healthier than their persistent and tenacious counterparts. The “bulldog” attitude of those who never stopped trying reported higher incidents of indigestion, diarrhea, skin maladies, poor sleep, headaches…the list went on and on. Their stress hormones were out of balance which indicated they lived in a state of chronic stress. The quitters had much lower levels of the protein CRP which is an indicator of bodily inflammation which has been linked such conditions as diabetes and heart disease.

The research also studied those who were willing to reengage and set new goals after giving up on something previously deemed important. They found that people who were willing to reengage projected a greater sense of purpose and ability and spent less time bemoaning the past. The ability to set new goals was the key to handling the consequences of perceived failure, especially for the tenacious, who often had a difficult time acknowledging defeat.

Goals are important and having realistic goals is key to developing an identity which is essential for good health – mental and physical. However, life requires trade-offs. No one lives a perfect life in a perfect world with perfect people walking perfectly beside them. What we need to do to have a successful recovery from the imperfectness of our being and the beings of others is to make necessary adjustments with grace and forethought.

We live life best when we take it one day at a day. We need to forgive ourselves, forgive others. Living in the past if fine….for a masquerade ball. However, as the sun rises in the morning, so must we – rise and move forward, making our failures into lessons and moving on. W. C. Fields said it best: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a fool about it!”

My Psalm 116

Lord, it hurt so bad.
The pain within could not be seen
But I felt it deeply.
My tears fell unseen.
You were there, though.
You gave me comfort and solace.
You held me up when I fell.
Let me walk for you, God.
Let me sing your praises forever to all who listen.
Afflictions are not signs of your displeasure
They are our battle wounds for having tried.
I give to you my eternal thanks for my life.

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