The season of Lent has finally arrived, which means spring can’t be far behind. Though the past week’s weather has been a mix of winter’s finest elements, hints of spring in the warmer air and brighter days are emerging. Sunrise has inched to 7:15 AM and sunset is at 5:56 PM. The past two day’s high temperatures were above 40°F, allowing snow and ice to melt and form little ponds of water in lower lying areas.
This past week has been the first week in some time that I have had enough daylight and cooperating temperatures to complete my normal routine of runs and bike rides. Talk about a shot of adrenaline after weeks of having to stop short due to conditions! There is nothing like returning to “normal” after a bit of chaos in one’s life.
However, sometimes we need to make changes or adjustments in order to maintain our sense of normal. One of the reasons I have always liked the Lenten season is its ability to make oneself consider priorities, expectations, goals, achievements, and direction in life. While asking these questions can be difficult, and trying to answer them can be more than a challenge, the experience of the journey can be quite moving and invigorating.
Like many parishes in my community, the church I attend has a number of Lenten activities and opportunities to volunteer during the season. This year, things are a little uncertain because our priest fell and is recovering from injuries, which means we have had some visiting priests to help with masses and volunteers to help with normal church operations.
This past Sunday, the visiting priest had a different approach to mass and offered a funny and insightful homily on the readings. His message was that we are all children of God. As such, we are blessed, favored, and have nothing to fear. He reminded the congregation that Lent is a season to focus on being children of God. I had never heard this aspect of Lent before, so I was quite intrigued with the priest’s comments and insights.
At one point, he asked us to remember these words: “Blessed am I. Favored am I. I have nothing to fear.” He even started to sing it like a song and dance around, which made the congregation erupt in laughter. Clearly, he wanted to offer the congregation insight into the season and the readings, as well as life.
Driving home that day, I thought about how we have so many opportunities to learn and grow in life. Whether it is during Lent or some other season, many organizations offer conferences and presentations to give us help with everything from health to finances, faith to home improvement, and hobbies to employment.
We also have books and other forms of literature, television, the Internet, and people in our community as resources. Above all, we have nature, the ever-present teacher with boundless lessons to share and great patience with our learning ability.
Patience and Perseverance
One of the keys to both teaching and learning is patience. Patience with ourselves and others as we journey together through the lessons of life. Recently, I read a book called Make Your Bed by retired U.S. Navy Admiral William H. McRaven. The book is an extension of a commencement speech McRaven offered at the University of Texas in 2014. In it, he shares life lessons learned in his training and career as a Navy SEAL.
While McRaven acknowledges that both his patience and that of his commanding officers was tested upon the journey and some of the techniques used were less than compassionate, the end goal was to make a difference. This difference was not only in the SEALS in training, but also in the world. McRaven emphasizes the little things we can do that over time and with patience, make a difference, both in us and in our surroundings.
The first little bit of knowledge McRaven shares is to make your bed. Doing so allows you to accomplish the first task of the day, which provides a psychological boost. He explains one task accomplished leads to another like a domino effect. By the end of the day, you have accomplished much. He stresses that if you do the little things in life correctly, you will also do the larger things in life correctly.
His second piece of wisdom is to find someone to help you. Teamwork is essential to surviving life’s difficulties and reaching our destiny. As we go through the process of finding others to help, we must remember to measure people by the size of their hearts and not their outward appearance. McRaven uses his personal experience to explain how the smallest in stature, frailest in appearance, and least likely candidates to assist ended up being his greatest helpers and sources of inspiration upon his journey.
Cookies and Circuses of Life
In our experiences of helping others and finding helpers, we will come across unfair circumstances. McRaven uses the SEALs ritual of being a “sugar cookie” to illustrate this point. If at any point during training, it was deemed you had created an “infraction” you had to run into the surf, making your entire body wet, then go roll in the sand on the beach. You spent the rest of the day wet and covered in sand, which was most uncomfortable, and sometimes you did not even know what “infraction” you had committed to deserve these circumstances. McRaven suggests we “get over being a sugar cookie and move forward” during life’s unfair times.
The fifth piece of advice the Admiral shares is failure can make you stronger. In SEAL training, it is required to swim certain distances in a given time with your swim buddy. If the time was deemed unacceptable, you and your swim buddy were put on a list called The Circus. The Circus was two additional hours of calisthenics at the end of the day when you were already tired from normal training. Typically, once you got on The Circus list, it took some time to get off it because each day was another swim, another evaluation, and another extra two hours of exercises, leading to fatigue. However, over time, the exercises in The Circus strengthened you and your swim buddy’s bodies, allowing you to improve as a team.
Going through The Circus also allows you to become mentally stronger, which allows you to learn to take risks, or as the Admiral explains, “dare greatly” in order to achieve success. While there is a time and a place for caution, we also must recognize when we need to stand up to the bullies in life. Doing so takes courage, which, if we dig deep, we can find within ourselves.
Digging Deep and Singing Along
Along with digging deep, we need to learn how to be at our best during life’s darkest moments. This is not a quickly learned lesson, but rather takes time to develop. We all have different ways and perspectives to help us “rise to the occasion” as McRaven explains it. During these darkest moments, we need to both find and offer hope. McRaven suggests to “start singing when you are up to your neck in mud” and what better way to find hope than with a song that moves the soul?
Sometimes, we will have to sing more than a few songs, dig deep more times than we think is possible, go through The Circus days on end, be sugar cookies despite our greatest efforts, and look really hard to find measureable hearts to help us. However, we must never quit, or as the Admiral puts it, “never, ever ring the bell” signaling your submission.
Perseverance and Perspective
I must admit reading McRaven’s book gave me a mental boost in my preparing for Lent and for a few upcoming difficult life circumstances. Like the priest’s message I spoke of earlier, McRaven reminded me of little things I can do that ultimately make a big difference. It boils down to perseverance and perspective. Keep moving, keep trying, keep adjusting, and in time, we will find the right path. But—and this is a big but– we have to make the decision to try. No one else can make it for us.
Life is full of opportunities to try, both on our own and with groups of others. Nature offers us additional insight, if only we take the time to observe and reflect. In combining known and unknown, we learn to extend ourselves and give others hope. The mental and physical exercises we go through in life build upon this hope, allowing us to keep moving forward.
May the journey we take in life allow us to do the little things well and ultimately lead to bigger successes. May our offerings of assistance to others be reciprocated or returned when we find ourselves in need, and may our perseverance lead us to life lessons that sustain our minds, bodies, and souls.
Intimate moments when
Far and near
Emerge as clear,
Leading us on
Embraced in God’s arms,
Sheltered and protected,
Saved despite our imperfections,
Our souls united as one
Neath the rising and setting sun
So that we can see our destiny.
In the skies of heaven,
Forest floors and trees,
Earth’s shores and seas,
Lying wide open
Enveloped by time’s extents
Showing and teaching the heart and soul
Slowly growing with meaning to extend its hold
Over and under and beyond
Nature’s rain and thunder, moon, and stars
Spread through our days by God’s grace.
-Lisa A. Wisniewski
A Note of Thanks
Thanks to our readers for encouraging us to continue creating insightful posts with relevant messages. We sincerely appreciate you taking time to read about our adventures through The Circus of life.
-Lisa, Sadie, and Leo
Resources and Related Links
Make Your Bed book – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/make-your-bed-william-mcraven/1124481737#/