It was something one of my mentors used to say every congregation should do and something every single healthy congregation actually does regularly. It was taught to me – by living instructors and long dead sages – as an essential spiritual discipline. It was stressed as a vital role in my own coach training and something I continue to emphasize regularly as a trainer of coaches.
No matter how many victories and accomplishments fill our resume, no matter how many defeats and failures litter our consciences, if we are to continue pressing forward with any semblance of health, hope and sanity, we must take time to celebrate.
Christian communities should be known worldwide for their parties. We’re ambassadors of good news for crying out loud! When the day draws to a close, it should be common practice to reflect upon the preceding events – giving thanks to God and rejoicing together in those areas where we were fully present; where we lived as Christ and saw Christ in others. And we should rejoice in our failures – if for no other reason than they give us the opportunity to reflect, learn from our mistakes, and possibly gain wisdom which will shape our future endeavors.
That doesn’t mean we should plaster on a smile when tears seem more natural – by all means, healthy disciples should mourn as well as they celebrate. I’ll venture a guess that our ability to do one of these truly well will increase our ability to do the other.
This past Friday after saying our Four Things and the Lord’s Prayer on the way to school, I issued Conner and Micah a challenge. This isn’t uncommon. Some days I just encourage them to focus specifically on one of the four things, or one aspect of the Lord’s Prayer. I even recently invited them to say the Prayer silently throughout the day. Conner is 9. Micah will be 7 in a month. They are exceptional dudes. But they are 9 and 7 years old. I didn’t expect them to come home chanting like the desert monastics. I didn’t really expect anything – I just offered a challenge.
Friday, rather than a more mental exercise, with no tangible markers of progress, I decided to invite them into something concrete.
“Today, your challenge is to see how many acts of kindness you can perform. Big things, small things, totally random things. How many times today can you go out of your way, even a little, to do something for someone else? And keep score, because the winner gets a prize.”
They’ve been talking about going to a restaurant to eat Mexican food – we don’t eat out much, so that’s kind of a big deal. So, in anticipation of something to celebrate, I decided we’d go to Miranda’s for dinner (then I forgot to tell Rachel, which goes in my own “today, I will mess up” column). I figured whoever won would get the be the hero and tell his brothers what we were doing. It isn’t always a hard task, but an important discipline for myself is actively looking for reasons to encourage these guys and celebrate with them – this was a great chance to do so as a family.
When Conner came in from school the first thing he said was, “I won the contest Dad! I did seven acts of kindness.” Some were pretty significant. One thing he said was, “I was talking to my friend Ryan, and I figured out that he doesn’t have Zook and we have two…so I want to give him one.”
Now, this is a BIG deal. Zook is a Skylanders figure. Some marketing genius created this game for the Wii – you not only buy the game, but you also buy little character figurines which are placed on a sensor attached to the Wii – there’s something like 70 of them altogether. The Wellsbrothers are obsessed with this game. They’ve collected dozens of these characters – and they love having duplicates because they can be upgraded differently.
A few minutes later I called Micah in and asked how his day went. As usual he didn’t have a lot to say. So when I asked about the competition I was prepared for his reluctance to answer…but not for the stated reason. He said, “I did five acts, but I don’t need to tell you what they were because Conner did more and that’s what I wanted to happen.”
Conner lost his ipod a while back. After weeks – maybe months – of it being awol, Rachel found it…in the van…right under Conner’s seat. So we told him that he wouldn’t get it back until we witnessed him doing something especially responsible.
Micah looked me square in the eye and said, “Conner really misses his ipod. I figured if Conner could do more than 5 acts of kindness that would be pretty responsible and he could get it back.”
That kind of selflessness…I still can’t really describe how amazingly proud I was – am – of that boy.
“Oh yeah, the one good thing I want to say: I told Aiden I would give him one of our Chop-Chops [another Skylander] – we have two of them.”
Both boys came to that kindness separately.
But then Rachel brought up an important and potentially problematic issue. All three of our boys love Skylanders. Josiah no less so than the others. So, we told Conner and Micah that their little brother would need to sign off on the decision to give these characters away.
And then I held my breath as they presented their idea to the four-year-old, King Josiah.
Conner: “Joey, we have two Zooks and Ryan doesn’t have any. I think we should give one to him…it would be a nice thing to do.”
Josiah: “Hmm. Yeah, okay. That’s a good thing.”
Micah: “And Aiden doesn’t have Chop-Chop, but we have two. We should give him one.”
Josiah: “Yeah, sure. Let’s do it!”
We have a lot to celebrate as a family.
…and I’ve never had more delicious enchiladas.
Every morning for the past three years I’ve asked my children this question. It started with just Conner, but then Micah caught on and now Josiah.
In response to the question we say our “Four Things.”
Today, I will pay attention.
Today, I will be Jesus.
Today, I will see Jesus.
Today, I will mess up.
And then we say the Lord’s Prayer together.
Often we’ll take one of the four things and talk about what it means. Paying attention means listening to our teachers, parents, and other adults. But its more than that. It also means that when a friend is talking to us (not during class) we listen carefully to them. A “grown up” way of saying this is we seek to be fully present. It means that we notice what’s going on around us. We notice when someone is alone. We notice when someone is really happy or really sad – and we want to know why.
Most days I ask the boys to choose one of the four to focus on specifically. Yesterday, Conner chose paying attention as his focus. He later told me that during recess he looked over and there was a girl sitting alone on the swings. He told me that it looked like the wind – which was CRAZY yesterday – was the only one willing to push her. So he went over and asked if she wanted someone to play with.
Being Jesus means that after paying attention we look for the good we can do and be in a situation. We’re kind to those who are lonely and we’re kind to those who are mean. We don’t just notice the lonely person on the swings, we go over and say hi. The wind will not be the only person a friend has so long as we’re around. Being Jesus means we not only choose not to engage in bullying, but we stand up to those who bully others. Being Jesus means that people matter to us and they should know it.
Micah chose being Jesus as his focus yesterday. At one point, because of good behavior he got to choose a prize from the “treasure box” in class. He didn’t see anything in the box that he couldn’t live without. Instead of just getting something, he asked a friend if there was anything he wanted, selected that thing and gave it to him.
Seeing Jesus is probably the hardest. It requires paying attention and being Jesus. We are committed to looking for signs of Jesus present in every person. Especially those who are mean; who we consider our “enemies.” It may be harder to see Jesus in some people…but it is also harder to hate those people or neglect them when we do see Jesus.
Somebody once suggested that we shouldn’t end our Four Things on “Today, I will mess up” because it was a negative ending. I disagree – and so do our boys. This is a final reminder of grace. We talk about it all the time. We’re not perfect, we’re going to miss opportunities. And that’s okay. Every day we strive to live up to a high calling. But that high calling comes from our identity, not the other way around. So when we mess up we are not wracked with guilt. We talk about why we missed the opportunity to pay attention or be Jesus, and what we might do tomorrow in order to grab on to a similar opportunity.
When we talk about our Four Things in the evening, the mess up part provides a chance for confession – Rachel and I participate in that confession as well. We learn that sharing our struggles is an opportunity to be loved – because our confession is met with forgiveness and grace. If the mess up involved wronging someone, we talk about what we can do to make it right…and since we do this often, its rare that the boys haven’t already begun making amends by the time they share their mistake.
If “Today, I will mess up,” is viewed as a negative its because we have a misshapen understanding of confession and holiness. We see confession as a retributive rather than redemptive act. We see holiness as a harsh demand rather than an inspiring calling. Today, I will mess up. Period. So how will I deal with that incompetence when it manifests?
This morning, Josiah called me on his way to school. He didn’t get to say the Four Things with Conner and Micah, and wanted me to hear. This is what I heard over the phone…