Today we have the final part of Erin Brown Conroy‘s popular series back to the blog, about finding purpose in the midst of our mess. It’s been a pleasure hosting Erin, and today’s post is as good as ever. (If you’ve missed any of the series, catch up with part one here & part two here)
So, over to Erin:
The last two posts, we talked about five messes in our lives—and how we can turn those messes into triumphant stories.
Here are the final five messes to avoid…and how to fix them.
MESS #6: Saying “later” to something that needs to be addressed—and never coming back to it.
Too many of us have the ostrich affect, with our heads in the sand (and if ostriches had fingers, the fingers would be stuck in their ears, too, to keep anything “bad” from getting to us).
We get good at ignoring, hoping that problems will fade away.
Ignoring a mess, a problem, or an issue never helps, never solves, and never sets lives right. Never. Remember entropy? If you keep ignoring a problem, it will grow into something ugly. Guaranteed.
The Right Thing: Even if something is tough to address, the sooner you can communicate—before the mess turns ugly—the better. Sure, it could be difficult to talk through. Sure, there may be some misunderstandings. Sure, it will feel uncomfortable. Sure, it may take a couple of times to clear the air and get to a place where you feel better. That’s okay. It’s part of the process.
Difficulty is okay. (No one said it would be easy.) Misunderstandings are normal and, in many ways, expected. (We can’t climb into each other’s heads and completely understand.) Feeling uncomfortable is okay. (Discomfort is simply a flag that says pay attention. Something is important here.) If you (and whomever you have the mess with) keep honest and focused, the issue can be taken out at the root—now. And communication will have an opportunity to grow into healthy interaction.
It’s always easier to deal with a mess sooner than later.
MESS #7: Refusing to take time for ourselves in a healthy way.
Sometimes we give too much. We don’t stop and take care of ourselves. When we don’t take time for ourselves, we might even be trying to assuage some kind of guilt.
We feel guilty about taking time for ourselves because we don’t think we’re worthy of down time. Something in our self-concept is keeping us from enjoying life to the fullest. Sometimes we tell ourselves a life-story that says, you need to keep going. You shouldn’t take a break. You’re not worthy of a break.
The Right Thing: Truth is, we all need to rejuvenate. And there’s nothing wrong with taking healthy time away, especially if it makes us better husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, workers, and friends. Down time is good. Whether it’s being alone on a beach, taking a walk through a park, sitting at a coffee bar, or playing a sport, put healthy down time on the calendar. Participate in whatever feeds the soul.
If taking healthy personal time conjures up feelings of guilt, find out why. What wrong script are you reading in your head that makes you feel that way? What past mistruth is messing with your self worth? Find out. Then put the right beliefs in your head, so that you can live balanced and healthy, feeling good and enjoying the goodness around you.
MESS #8: Using the phrase, “I’m taking time for myself,” as an excuse to be selfish.
“I need a moment alone” is okay if you’re taking that moment to gather yourself and come back for healthy interaction. “I need a break” is fine if you’re taking that break to refresh yourself, and then come back with a health-filled interface. “I need time away” is fine if you’re committed to becoming a better person for others, and time away helps you to return rejuvenated, committed, and filled with inspiration and energy for your significant others.
But if you’re using words as excuses to be selfish—ignoring responsibility—then you’re fooling yourself and hurting others. Pretending that you’re doing the right thing doesn’t make it so.
The Right Thing: Stop deceiving yourself. Deep down, you most likely know when you’re shirking responsibility. The truth is, responsibility is good. Working through something difficult is rewarding. We rob ourselves of something greater, something better on the other side, if we shirk responsibility and act selfishly.
Maturity means digging in, working hard, and then enjoying the fruits of our labor. Adulthood means feeling proud of taking responsibility, fighting through something that’s tough, being involved, and reaping the benefits of that involvement.
Yes, life can be tough. Bad happens. Pain rears and kicks and tries to take us all down. It’s the way that we work through the tough, the bad, and the pain that matters.
Choose to be engaged, powerfully relational, and active—even in the tough parts of engaging in life. Don’t disengage and miss out on the joy of working through the hard stuff.
MESS #9: Shutting out other people, places, or events simply because we don’t want to admit or deal with a hurt.
We all hurt. We all struggle. Some of us deal with hurt by separating ourselves from relationships. We pull back, pull away, and pull out. The proverbial wall rises hard and high around our heart.
As time passes, we become more isolated, more emotionally alone. Without healthy interaction with others, our thinking becomes distorted. We see imagined ghosts instead of reality; we entertain imagined issues instead of actual truths.
We stop talking to people. We stop going places. We avoid events. All in the name of avoidance that, at the root, is fear.
The Right Thing: As stated earlier, avoidance only hurts us more. Stop avoiding. Start engaging. There’s nothing wrong with hurt, pain, challenge, and problems. We all have them. Admitting yours, admitting mine, is the beginning of healing.
Healing is a decision. Healing involves action. There are a thousand ways to heal, and a thousand resources available this very second to help us move forward. If you have to, get away and start the process. Then return, dig in, and go for it.
Continue the process, because it is a process.
Being open and vulnerable can be tough. The fear of being hurt resides at the center of avoidance. The fear of feeling pain or rejection stands behind shutting other people out. It might take going back and figuring out what original hurt caused the wall to rise in the first place, in order to take the bricks down, one by one.
But don’t let fear to keep you from choosing to live fully right now. Don’t let fear mess with you any more.
Mess #10: Believing it’s too late.
Too many of us give up. We throw in the towel. Instead of making it over the top of the mountain, we look at the climb and say, I can’t.
Or we say, Oh well. That’s shot. It’s too late to fix it. This is too far gone to make it better. I might as well just scrap the whole thing.
Then we behave badly because, hey, it doesn’t matter anyway, right? It’s too late to fix it, so whatever.
The Right Thing: That’s a lie. It’s never too late.
You and I hold power. Power to change in this exact moment. Power to do the right thing.
If the thief on the cross could change his destiny, so can you and I. It took to the very end of his life, but he saw the Truth and made it right.
The Power Of Choice
Well, if Saul, a man who hated, chased down, and killed people, could intimately know Jesus Christ—and change his life completely—and find joy in some of the biggest messes that life handed him (being thrown in prison, having a physical issue that wouldn’t leave, and having to deal with a lot of other people’s messes, to name a few)—then so can you and I.
Power is created in single charges, linked together. Every good thought, decision, and action is a powerful move. Everything we do matters.
One moment. Built on another moment. And another moment. Until all of the moments run together. It’s true: Our life is only a succession of single moments so, yes, every single moment counts. It’s in the single moments, added together, where we find ourselves living on the other side of the character arc.
But you don’t have to wait until the end of the story.
In fact, the best part of the story is this: While smack-dab in the middle of a hard situation, the Hero decides to act. She stands up and says, I’m in. He sets his jaw, pulls out the sword, and runs forward with a warrior cry into the middle of the battle—and keeps fighting. That’s the part of the story where we cheer, isn’t it? Why cheer?
Because it’s in the middle of the challenge, when we decide to all-out do the right and healthy thing when it’s hard, that we win. Not at the end.
Even when it’s hard, we find the power and joy in that very moment to do the right thing. And it’s in doing the right thing that we find a peace that we didn’t know existed. We find that we’re actually joyful in the middle of what looks like a mess on the outside circumstance. But on the inside, it’s not a mess at all. It’s beautiful.
Now that’s what faith is all about.
Decide right now to act. To become emotionally healthy. To become emotionally intelligent by infusing healthy words into our minds. To make time for growth. To purposefully place wisdom into our lives. To hang with people who encourage us. To take one step. Then another. And another. To reach higher and farther than we have before. To renew the vow every morning. To put growth-events into our day, on purpose, scheduled. To save time for the people we care about.
One more thing: Lest you think I’m just a rah-rah cheerleading kind of positive-thinking-woo-woo person, let me tell you something: I’ve had my share of heartache. Seriously. The bad kind. And just like you, I have my moments with anger and tears and questions.
But I keep coming back to this: God didn’t say that we’d have a great life. What He did say was that He overcame the world, and because of it, we can have life—abundantly. In the middle of challenge. Faith is about having positive, joy-filled living now. Faith is about triumph. Not about creating or living in messes.
There are a thousand ways to turn messes into triumphs.
We all mess up. Leave the mess behind. It’s what we do next that matters most.
The triumphant character arc makes for a good life story.
Erin Brown Conroy, MA, MFA, is an author, speaker, professor, and online course designer. She oversees two online writing programs and teaches writing, leadership, and interpersonal communication at the college level.
You can find her writing at coffee shops and putting her feet up at night to watch a good movie with her teens and three dogs.
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(Picture Sources: WordPress / Erin Conroy)
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