Sunday, May 19, 2013

Practicing who we want to be

My book club's most recent read was a fantastic, heartbreakingly beautiful post-apocalyptic novel called The Dog Stars by Peter Heller.

One theme that struck me is that we can't know how we will respond in a post-apocalyptic situation--or simply in a pinch. In the book, most of the characters, even those who were nice enough people before the crisis, are driven to survivalist distrust and violence. But there is a group of Mennonites who retain a sense of community and care for each other. I suspect it's because they've been practicing for years the art of community, nonviolence, and compassion.

When push comes to shove and I am challenged, exhausted, removed from my usual routine... Will I kill or be killed? Will I put others before myself? Will I take risks for community or run away from catastrophe like a coward? Will I cut myself off or remain open?

Tough situations draw out in us the actions we've been practicing in the humdrum, daily life. And unless we have been intentional about practicing the actions that go with our self-proclaimed values, we won't necessarily be strong enough to be who we say we are. If I want to be someone who cares for others when the going gets rough, I've got to get out there every day and care for others in small ways. If I want to be someone who keeps an outlook of joy and gratitude even in my wilderness, I've got to practice gratitude every day.

Thinking about life this way is a big challenge. I can't just let each day go by without being intentional. I have to realize that every decision I make--hold on to anger or let go? wake up to water the plants or sleep in and hope for the best? take the time to pray for friends or just say i did? get to know my students or just give them some math worksheets?--every decision has eternal consequences in who I become.

But I also find it comforting. Because it's not about whether I'm naturally a good person.
Doesn't matter whether I'm naturally prone to love or whether it's really hard for me to reach out to people when I'm tired.
Doesn't matter whether peacefulness is second nature to me in my thoughts, conversations, and actions or whether I get really angry anytime I feel a blow to my pride.
Doesn't matter whether I'm actually a good writer or just a pretender :)
All I have to do, taking one moment at a time, is practice.

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