This evening I stumbled upon an old Word document I wrote back in June 2009 – a couple of years before this blog was birthed. In it was a short list of eight things I’d learned so far that year.
It’s interesting thinking about the circumstances that led me to these conclusions. Naturally this got me pondering whether I have learned these lessons – or whether I even still think they’re wise.
I had 5 lessons under the metalesson of JUST DO IT.
1. Just ask
This learning came out of my experiences of fundraising for The Oaktree Foundation that year. I found it painfully awkward to ask people to donate. It was just … yuck.
But I did it. And I kept doing it, eventually funding three years of my life abroad in South America.
Now I’ve been working for a charity for the last six years and while I don’t do many direct “asks”, fundraising is a large part of what we do as an organisation (incidentally, all donations to our Christmas appeal are currently being matched so it’s a good time to give!).
It’s true: ask and you will receive – but you have to ask. People can be generous, especially if they believe in you or in the cause. And we shouldn’t limit what we ask for. I’ve been surprised time and time again by God’s provision. If anything, ask for the sun and get the moon, as a few of my colleagues might say.
2. Just write
I have heeded this instruction to a degree, setting up this blog, for example. I do need to keep reminding myself, though. Often I’ll find myself planning to write rather than actually writing, with a swarm of ideas buzzing around in my head and alas, I know I am procrastinating from actually doing the writing.
Tonight is me taking this piece of advice seriously. Sometimes it works to let ideas ferment and age; other times, it’s best to get it out fresh into the world.
3. Just suck it up and make the call
If you’re an Enneagram Type 9, you’ll understand. If you’re not, read this blog post. Sometimes I think I’m conquering my indecision; other times (like picking sticky date pudding and wondering about crepes at the restaurant last night), I’m back to my old ways.
4. Just dance
There’s nothing like a Spanish discoteca to shake the self-consciousness out of you. At least that’s how I learned not to care about how lame my dance floor moves are. Free cuba libres (with lime, no ice!) help – not that I’m recommending this …
5. Don’t think, just do!
I suppose this is a generalisation of the above. And yet, in generalising it, I find I agree with it less. I’m not impulsive and don’t want to be. BUT, I suspect that what I was beginning to discover is that getting in touch with my intuition was the best way out of analysis paralysis.
Then, three insights:
6. Overthinking and overrationalising leads you further away from the truth
This morning, I was on the train listening to Wil Anderson’s interview with Paul Dempsey from Something for Kate. It turns out both of them had a strong Catholic upbringing and, as seems to happen to many people raised in church, abandoned faith altogether after reading lots about the universe.
I understand why seminary causes many Christians to leave the faith because a semester full of philosophy and religion courses put my feet on what could have been the same path. I had my biggest wrestle with faith to date, about 11 months prior to making this list of learnings.
In simple terms, I believe faith and reason to be complementary ways of knowing, but you can as soon use reason to prove faith as you can use faith to prove reason – the hypothesis doesn’t even compute. (A lot can be said about this, but I won’t go there now).
7. It’s really hard to be present with God
When I was younger, I would often fall asleep while praying silently by myself at night. I’m really focused and undistractable when it comes to most tasks, whether it’s right now in front of a computer or yesterday on the sand playing beach volleyball.
Yet when I sit down to the task of being present with God, my thoughts spill everywhere, though perhaps not quite as fractally as philosophy’s back alleys. It still happens, like during my quiet time today, trying to listen to a devotional but catching myself wandering and having to rewind the audio because I completely missed the reflection.
In recent years, I have found that breath prayer, enjoying silence and being gracious with myself when I “drift” has helped. Also, when I sit by the ocean and just listen to the waves, I can be present with God without necessary thinking intensely about him.
8. You miss people more when you’re not the one doing the leaving
My first solo trip was a semester-long university exchange in Madrid, Spain. I was asked a lot about whether I missed my family and I did a little, I guess, but not as much as I or others expected. But when my sister went on her exchanges, the house sure felt colder and emptier without her.
I still largely agree with this.
So on the whole, I guess these learnings are as relevant to me today as they were in 2009. I stand by them, with caveats or at least nuance. I’ve grown in areas, continued to learn, but a few of these things are lessons I need to keep at.