Antidotes to emptiness?
I receive email/blog posts from a program called “The Energy Project” headed up by Tony Schwartz. I usually appreciate the reading… even when it doesn’t seem like rocket science, I’ve spent a few minutes thinking about how to live better, which is good no matter how your slice it. Today he posted one of his articles featured in NY Times Dealbook: The Antidote to Emptiness
Tony Schwarts is a brilliant guy. He makes a few great points about why some arguably brilliant and powerful people do some fairly unbelievable things… the kind of stuff that makes us shake their heads in dismay and judgement… scandalous skirt chasers, performance enhancement drug users, senseless spending, and so on. He boldy shares his own struggles with the emptiness that comes from a constant search for validation through “the next level of success”… I admire that kind of brave vulnerability! Then he puts 3 antidotes out there for anyone who might struggle:
1) self awareness (of insecurity, etc)
2) acceptance of our deep opposites – the good and the bad, the success and the failure, the whole enchilada
3) serve others
OK Tony, I’m on board… you’re right. People sometimes act-out in emptiness and an addiction to validation, adventure, etc. amidst a canvas of a culture of success worship. Brene Brown (Daring Greatly) has some parallel thoughts on the matter… we live in a “shame culture” where success reigns and failure is shamed. Pride and shame on opposite sides of the same coin. The more our self worth is challenged, the more bizarre are our actions.
We look at would-be heroes who fall from favor with their transgressions. We shake our heads. We judge. we blame victims. We forget that things like that could happen to us. We too could act completely out of character. So maybe Tony’s article is spot-on and just what people need to wake up… to stop believing they are not susceptible.
But maybe there’s more…
Shame culture has cornered the market on the idea of “you must follow these rules in order to be worthy and accepted” and it’s the antithesis of Christ’s message… “You are worthy and accepted, flaws and all… Follow Me and let’s mend this broken world together.”
I’ve noticed since I’ve signed on and recognized the real gift of Grace, the real deal with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that I worry less about what people think about me, about validation and self worth. That’s a new pair of shoes, friends. I was pretty good at shaking off self-consciousness before, but not like this. I’ll admit, I’ll resist checking for feedback on this blog or my wittiest facebook posts… was it liked? how many readers? any ping-backs? And I have witnessed inspirational bloggers recognize when they fall into this feedback frenzy and start to judge their worth by it. Again, I guess what’s important is to remember “it could happen to me” just as it could happen to you. And we have to know that when we get their, we’re going to have to do battle with our deep dark shame and pride monsters.
What strikes me is that even though Tony doesn’t mention accepting God’s Grace and being part of His team as being antidotes, I find myself wondering if God speaks through him a little bit… because really, between self-acceptance, self awareness, and serving others, we’re talking about an antidote sandwich just dying to be wrapped up in some beautiful spiritual paper and tied with God’s ribbon.
If you were to unwrap it, the sandwich might look like this…
1) Be aware: Know the evils and tendencies you’re up against
2) Stop worrying about your self-worth and how you measure up to others. Lean on God’s Grace and know you are good and loved and worthy
3) Live for more than yourself – be part of mending a broken world
Even if Tony does have spiritual or religious beliefs, that’s not the stuff that sells. That doesn’t bring readers back for more hits and higher advertising revenues. And that, I believe, is because of the way pride/shame and shame culture turns our attention toward ourselves, as opposed to toward God and toward each other. What a pity that so many people are so much more interested in furthering their own successes and lives and self-fulfillment than mending the brokenness of the world. How sad that self-development wins out over world-development and the commitment of belonging to each other. I say this not out of judgment… but rather in question and concern. How do we create a world where more people focus on a better world than a better life?
The timing of the bits and bytes that come into my life on any given day is usally pretty extraordinary once I find how the fit togehter. Last night I listened to a sermon from Flood Church about how what’s on our bucket list might not be what’s on God’s. Meanwhile, I am at exactly the midpoint of an international assignemnt and was looking at my bucket list for this trip all week. I found myself reviewing my assignment bucket list with the lens of my accomplishments in the eyes of my company when this article came through. And as what was missing from the article struck me… it occurred to me that among the to-do items, God had a way different bucket list for me than I knew about.
I’ve been here for a coworker who has an opportunity to learn to stretch into grief (another timely blog post I read and shared with her from Deeper Story) and who needed to learn about the choices before her, rather than assume she had none. She would never have shared her delicate situation with me from afar. I’ve had the opportunity to share my testimony with coworkers over lunch… coworkers who have grown up oppressed by catholic churches and a very heavy shame culture. I’m not saying I converted anyone and I’m not claiming victories for His Kingdom, but perhaps I gave them an opportunity to give it a second look. I’ve had the opportunity to build relationships with people who, like coconuts, hide their vulnerability and tenderness and authenticity behind tough shells of bravado, diversions, and sarcasm…and pride. I’ve read about vulnerability and shame resilience and belonging to each other. I’ve considered what I’ve read about how people tend to treat people of service and actively practiced treating them as though we belong to each other. I’ve helped to financially support two families who have been here for us like family for transportation and childcare. I’ve had opportunities to reach people, and find people who reach children in ways I never knew were needed so desperately. I’ve shared a smile and light conversation with a sweet child on the street… and bought handmade straw flowers from her to give to my daughter, a travelling coworker’s daughter, and my driver’s wife… and this child and her mother and baby sister will have another meal. I’ve been inspired. I’ve had time to read a book that has taught me about the Apostle Paul. I’ve reflected. I’ve blogged deep thoughts to share with strangers and found people who think similarly… and I know we’ll all grow from sharing our thoughts and loving each other up. I’ve built memories and a deeper bond with my daughter. I’ve given her an opportunity to expand her world view. And along the way, I’ve built some infrastructure for an office of 25 people to know they are supported by the company they work for.
When the discussion of this assignment came up, I didn’t worry too much about justifying it or whether or not it would happen. I just asked God that I would be sent here if it was His Will and that He would provide me opportunities to do my best to reflect His Image, here or otherwise. I asked him to Lead so that I could follow.
I’m aware that I have begun to ramble… I can always tell because I find myself checking the title to see what this was supposed to be about… and I mention that only because it’s the reason it occurs to me to tie this back to the main idea: Antidotes for Emptiness. I don’t feel emptiness from this trip. I don’t feel like my worth is based on how well I do to master the tasks of the bucket list. And while I’m certainly not immune to emptiness… I know from the depths of my heart the antidote I’m taking in heavy doses along the way… God’s Grace, Love, and Guidance… and my connection with Him that leads me only to follow and bask in the warmth of purpose that is His role for me in a partnership toward mending a broken world.