When it comes to reaching our goals—and even more importantly, God’s goals for us—I find that we are more often than not in a conundrum. We want to reach the goal, but we don’t want to stretch and strain. Which of course, presents a problem: we can’t have it both ways.
The picture that I am using for this post is a rare “personal” picture. The boy in red is my oldest grandson, Hudson (I am so proud of him!). Note the expression on his face, the muscles in his arms and legs. Can you tell that he is straining? All of life isn’t that intense, of course, but there will be days, situations…
What does “straining” look like in everyday life? Here are a few examples.
I have been a real estate agent since 2005. When I first started in that business, everything felt like a stretch. I was continuously afraid of doing something wrong, of ruining someone’s life (I know; I’m overly dramatic). I did not get comfortable selling houses until I had sold a few. But to sell the first few, I had to be willing to go through that uncomfortable phase. And then about the time I got “comfortable” selling houses, someone wanted to buy land only. That presented a whole new set of scenarios I had to learn. The easy (aka, comfortable) thing to do would have been to just opt out of selling land—to be a residential specialist (only). But to be an excellent real estate agent, I needed to be well-versed in all kinds of properties. And so I stretched myself. There were also leases and farms and commercial sales to learn, followed up by listings of all kinds. The point is, I could learn the bare minimum, just enough to get by and make a few dollars, or I could commit myself to the process and be excellent.
Another example. For years, I walked for exercise. It made me feel good about myself, it appeased my conscience (regarding being healthy), and it was downright pleasant. I loved it; I was comfortable with it. Then one eventful day, I ventured a run of a few feet (see My Running Story for the details). It was not comfortable, it didn’t particularly make me feel good about myself (it’s hard to feel good about yourself only being able to run a few feet!), and it exposed the true level of my physical fitness. Nevertheless, that experience was the beginning of a stretch in the physical realm that has bled over into many other areas of my life. I continue to “strain” via running, and I am stronger physically than I have been my entire life (judging from measurable criteria such as endurance).
In my relationships with people (those near, like family and close friends, and those that are merely acquaintances), I have lived most of my life as a “people pleaser.” And why wouldn’t I? I want people to like me, and I don’t want to rock the boat by dealing with differences or confronting those who are under my leadership. Obviously, the people-pleasing paradigm produces very shallow, un-authentic relationships, and it is definitely a disservice to those whom I am leading. It’s comfortable—at least in the moment—but it’s wrong. The correct, and uncomfortable, approach is to learn to be authentic while being as tactful and compassionate as possible when dealing head-on with “issues” (Talk about stretching! That combo is indeed a stretch). Needless to say, dealing with issues creates some discomfort for those on the other side of the equation, too, but for those that are “straining toward the goal” like I am, they are ultimately thankful for the honesty and directness. We all benefit from the interaction; we all grow through the process. We all are stretched to a new level.
On the converse side of that same equation (confrontation), it is not necessarily comfortable being corrected by someone in authority over me. However, I can honestly say that I have moved beyond resisting and rejecting correction. As one in a leadership position, I know that correction is not handed out lightly. Also, as a student of the book of Proverbs, it is so evident that one of the keys to knowing God’s will is to be able to respond well to correction (Proverbs 1:23), whether from God or man. My goal, then, is to learn to embrace correction and discipline, which is a novel concept in this age where rights, freedom of expression and comfort are far more emphasized than maturity, responsibility and “straining.”
As I conclude this post, I will re-state what I posted on Facebook earlier today: When Paul said he was “pressing” and “straining,” I believe that means he was stretching beyond his comfort zone, he was not coasting. To reach God’s goal for us, we’re all going to have to do the same—s-t-r-e-t-c-h! That will manifest in numerous ways every single day—the way we work, the way we respond to people, the way we treat our families, the way we think, etc. Are you stretching or coasting? Leave me a comment and let me know how all this hits you.
Speaking of Facebook, if you are not already a follower of MyPleasantPlaces, you can become one simply by clicking the Facebook “like” box in the sidebar to the right. By doing so, you will receive the daily tips for personal development that are posted on Facebook, and you can participate in the occasional casual surveys that I conduct among the “followers.” These surveys provide background for some of the topics that I will be writing about in the future.