Monday, March 24, 2014

The Building Blocks of a Good Life

Seeing a young child at play always makes me smile. Haven’t you looked at a young giggling face and felt joy, and maybe even a little envy? Wouldn’t it be great to recapture some of that childlike wonder and love of life again?
The truth is, the good life is closer than we think, as close as watching a child play.  But how can watching a child play show us how to live a good life?
Picture in your mind a toddler playing with blocks. They are caught up in the wonder of each block, all the different shapes and colors and sizes.
They take each one in their hand, turning it all around in wonder & joy. There are some blocks that will be their favorites, but if even a favorite one rolls under a couch they will soon let it go & keep playing with the others.

After examining the blocks they have been given, they start experimenting, stacking block upon block to make different creations. If one block doesn’t seem to fit, they just lay it down and reach for another.
When their little tower falls down, they might show a momentary grimace, but then they realize it just means they have the opportunity to build a bigger one. Once they see that all towers eventually fall over, they will knock over their creations themselves so that they can build new ones.
Finally, when it is naptime, they will take one last contented look at all they have done, and nod off to dream of taller, greater towers to come.
But what if it was different? What if the toddler, instead of playing with all the blocks before them, would only pick up the square ones? What if they became fixated on only one favorite block, gripping it so tightly they wouldn’t even build with the others? What if they wailed uncontrollably when one of their towers fell down? What if they became so fearful of a tower falling down, or losing their favorite block, that they stopped playing altogether?

Comparing Blocks to Our Life

How sad that would be. But isn’t that how we often approach life?
We are the children at play; we are all given a set of blocks of all different shapes and sizes. Some blocks we start out with have labels like beauty, strength, & intelligence. Other blocks we acquire, like reputation, wealth, & possessions. Finally, we have the building blocks of roles we play, like career, friend, spouse, & parent.
Each one of us has our own unique set of blocks in this playtime called life– but how do we play with them? Isn’t it easy to spend all our time looking at someone else’s blocks and wish we had them? To get angry when our carefully constructed tower falls down, or stay so fearful of our tower falling down that we stop building at all?
Worst of all, we can fixate so much on one block, like gaining wealth, or finding a soul mate, or being a good parent, that we forget that it’s only a block, one that just like all the others will be tucked back in the box at the end of the day.
Sometimes we even get so confused to think that we ARE the block. We can end up wrapping all our dreams & energy & self-esteem into our job or looks or relationship that we actually lose ourselves, our own identity, along the way.

Understanding Our Blocks – Road to the Good Life

We don’t have to be this way. We can learn from the little children in our midst. Take a step back, and write down a list of all your “blocks”– all the different roles you play in your life. Go ahead. Make a list. My list includes:
  • My body, (middle aged, slightly overweight & out of shape)
  • Intellectual (very)
  • Doctor
  • Friend
  • Writer
  • Spouse
  • Father
  • Geek (& hardcore Apple fan for 30 years)
  • Dry humor (hard “core”– core, Apple, didn’t you get that?) ;-)
  • Mentor, teacher
  • ENTP (my Myers-Briggs personality type)
All of these things are parts of my life–the blocks I get to play with–but they are not me. They are not the eternal core of my soul that will keep living when this few decades of playtime is over.
I need to take delight in all these blocks that God has given me: use them; try them out in different ways; discover everything I can about them. But I don’t need to worry about them or keep too tight a grip on them, for they are all temporary.

Shifting Perspectives

Take, for instance, my building block of being intellectual. That’s a great block, one that I’m thankful for and love to play with. But when I was younger I was too focused on it– I thought it was the only block I had.
As a result, I identified too closely with it– I thought everything I was or ever would be revolved around my intellect. I even let my thoughts focus on the fear of losing my intellect through dementia.
Because I almost exclusively identified with my intellect, I found it hard to relate to anyone except intellectually– it was uncomfortable to hug, difficult to express love, difficult to form emotional bonds at all. As a boy my hero was Mr. Spock, because he didn’t have such lower, mundane, primitive things like emotions.
Fortunately, I’ve learned that though my intellect is a very useful “block” that I enjoy using it’s NOT all there is to me. I am so much more than just my intellect!
And since I’ve learned to loosen my grip on my intellect block, I’ve grown so much as a person. I’ve learned to play with some of my other “blocks” like warmth, empathy & love, and building “towers” in my life that I never would have imagined as a younger man.
Another problem we all have is that of only playing with our favorite blocks. We see the especially shiny or big blocks, the ones that we seem especially good at or that seem really important, and we devote all our time to them.
We don’t think to try out some of the smaller blocks in our box, or ones that seem a little misshapen. For example, the woman who never sings because she knows others are better than her. Or the man who doesn’t try out the management position because he thinks others are better leaders than him. In both examples, they are holding back from playing with all their blocks.
But our all-wise Father wants us to play with all our blocks, experimenting with even the ones that don’t seem to be the “best.”
An example in my own life is my running. Yes, my physical prowess block is never going to win me a marathon, but it doesn’t have to. Just completing my first half marathon at age 45 was an amazing experience, but one that would have never happened if I had only stuck with the blocks that I thought were my best.
I firmly agree that we should invest in our strengths, but to live our lives focusing on only a few blocks, and not trying out all of them, severely limits the height and breadth of the “towers” that we can build.

Playing With Your Blocks

So now, in your mind’s eye, look at all your blocks in the play box of your life. Look at all of them– big and small; important and seemingly not so important. Is there a block that you are holding too tightly, for fear of loss?
Is there one block you’re too focused on, and have wrapped your whole identity up in? Or is there one you’ve not even taken out of the box, because you don’t think it’s good enough?
May I say this to you?
Be a wide-eyed child again! Be free! Be joyful! Play!
Live your life to the full, in freedom and joy playing with all your blocks, so that at the end of your playtime in this life, you and your Father can exchange contented smiles, knowing that you built some really cool towers with your blocks, and that all is well.

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