Friday, February 12, 2010


As we go through life, there are times when (if we are wise) we realize that we need to work with others. Because being part of a team is an important part of all of our lives, we need to know how to do it well. Below I've listed a few tips that I've learned about teamwork from a Christian perspective.
  • Be thankful for your teammates. Team participation doesn't always feel strictly voluntary. Still, whether or not we or our teammates really wanted to work together, we're still benefiting from each other's efforts. Every bit of work that each person does brings the entire group closer to the goal. When we feel frustrated that we can't get the job done alone, we should think about how our teammates are making it possible to do what we need (or want) to do. It's a good thing we have other people to help us when we need them.
  • Useful contributions can come from unlikely sources. Often when we're assembling a team, we seek out the most qualified people for the task at hand. We decide how to delegate tasks based upon our opinion of each person's abilities. Sometimes, however, we can limit the productivity of the entire group by selling some members short. I've learned that enthusiasm can be more important than talent and hard work and common sense can trump intelligence and experience. If we look at each team member generously, we will better see their full potential for contribution to the group.
  • It's not all about you. Even if you're the "star" or "leader" of a group, the entire work of the group is not all about you. The supporting members of the cast share in the opening night triumph, and politicians show appreciation to their staff when they're elected. When I ask friends to help me do something that won't directly benefit them, I try find ways to make them feel like they're getting something positive out of the experience (even if it's just good karma). We ought to show appreciation to our teammates and encourage them to feel a sense of accomplishment when the task is complete, no matter what part they played. 
  • Feel some team loyalty. We shouldn't automatically bail the second things get tough. A team can make it through difficult times that one person couldn't handle alone, but if everyone quits when it gets hard there won't be a team. In addition, each member of the team both gives and receives something. Make sure you're giving something to your teammates and not just taking their efforts for yourself. If your team succeeds, it probably won't just be because of you. Feel proud of yourself, but give them some credit too.
I work in teams of all shapes and sizes, in both my professional and my personal life. Right now I'm working with others to produce several publications at my job. I belong to two musical groups. I am coming together with others to help a friend plan a special event, and I'm even doing mundane things like working with my husband to balance our household budget. Some teams, like my marriage, are small. Some are large—like the staff of more than 500 who works for my employer. Some are intimate and some are businesslike. Sometimes I'm the team leader, and sometimes I just do grunt work. Some of the projects I accomplish with the help of a team are big and important, but sometimes they're just little things. Sometimes I work in a team to accomplish tasks I could technically do alone, just because I find it more enjoyable to work with others.

Teamwork is an essential part of my life. It allows me to do things I couldn't do on my own and provides a different dynamic even to simple tasks. I feel blessed that I have people in my life who are willing to work together with me. It's great that my efforts can be multiplied when I combine them with others. I want to be sure to properly appreciate the opportunity to work with others and to treat my teammates with respect.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


It is a Muslim tradition to use the term "Insha'Allah" any time one talks about future plans. The words mean "God-willing" or "if it is God's will". The Qur'an instructs Muslims to always consider the will of God when they make plans for their lives because they need to recognize that God's will trumps any of their ideas about how their lives should unfold. By saying "Insha'Allah" on a regular basis, Muslims remind themselves of God's role in their lives.

While we Christians do not always explicitly state that our plans are subject to God's will, we too need to be reminded that that's the case. In his epistle, the apostle James wrote, "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.' "(James 4:13–15)

I get reminded of this fact frequently. Every time I think I know where my life is going and start to plan accordingly, I seem to get a surprise. Somewhere in this jumble of careers, homes, money, hobbies, and loved ones there is a master plan for my life, but I don't always know what it is. When I was a child, my plan was to live on the farm where I grew up forever. I wanted to buy or inherit it from my parents and live a long and happy life there. I didn't. We sold that farm my senior year in high school, and the new owners have transformed it into a different place. Later I had plans about marriage, family, and careers, but those plans haven't always worked out. My life is becoming radically different from what I might have imagined only a year ago.

These kinds of surprises upset a lot of people, but I'm getting used to them. It's not always so bad when my life deviates from my plans. Even things that feel like failures or disappointments at the time can turn into new paths that lead me in exciting directions I never imagined possible. I'm OK with change, and it's all right with me when my well-laid plans don't work out. I'm going to be fine because there IS a plan that's still in place—God's plan. I know He's looking out for me, even when it seems like my life is going haywire.

So tomorrow, if God wills, I will post another blog entry, go to work, ice skate, attend a rehearsal, and spend time with family members. With God's help I will go forth and explore the amazing array of possibilities that my life has to offer.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Scandals are all around us. We live in a world of infidelity, embezzlement, Ponzi schemes, performance-enhancing drugs, and domestic disputes. We see selfishness, deceit, greed, and cheating all the time. There's corruption and heartache everywhere, and yet we still feel surprised when it hits close to home. We Christians are supposed to be the "good people" right? We're not supposed to be stained by the same sin that infects all those other Godless people. Yet, the evidence is to the contrary. We do sin, all the time.

I've learned that the world is not divided into good people and sinners. Maybe we're not all murderers, armed robbers, or promiscuous sex addicts, but we all share the same sinful tendencies from which these crimes stem. I myself get unreasonably angry, behave selfishly, and entertain lustful thoughts about people other than my husband. If I say that I'm a completely different person from all the criminals and jerks out there, then I'm in denial. I make mistakes both large and small, and some day I may do something that I never imagined myself capable of. I have to understand that I am a flawed human being, and sometimes those flaws assert themselves alarmingly.

I was surprised last year when my nuclear family was split apart by divorce. I knew there were relationship problems and I'm well aware of divorce statistics. So why was a surprised? Maybe I had convinced myself that divorce doesn't happen to people who've been married a long time or that my loved ones were too smart to be unable to work it out. It just couldn't happen to my family because we were somehow supposed to be different. Basically, I was in denial. I had to wake up and realize that life isn't that simple. Divorce isn't limited to stupid, stubborn people any more than criminal acts are limited to sociopaths. All of us get into messes that we can't work out on our own. I can either look at the people struggling around me and condemn them for their mistakes, or I can consider my own failures both past and future and pray fervently for all of us to receive mercy.

I don't want to be like the Pharisee in Jesus' parable (Luke 18:9–14) who stood on the temple steps and congratulated himself on being a completely different person from the lowlife tax collector groveling in prayer beside him. I know that the pharisee and the tax collector are both sinners, and I know that I am too. Yes, I am disappointed when scandal breaks out and heartbroken when it strikes close to home, but what right have I to condemn? My sins may be different, but I am intrinsically no better than any of other sinners around me. Without God, I would be completely enslaved to my basest urges. Even with God's help, I have done more damage than I could possibly pay for on my own. Even if I could convince myself that I was less sinful than everyone else, in reality I would still be a sinner.

I don't want to live in denial about my sins or the sins of the people that I love, because then I would miss the opportunity to pray for mercy. I will not pretend to be clean just to make myself feel better. I want to actually be clean, and I can't do that on my own. God have mercy on us all.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Only God

There are a lot of really special people in my life whom I love dearly. Each of them adds something unique to my life, and I am a better, happier, and more complete person because of their love and contributions. Still, if I am being realistic, I must realize that no matter how much I love all of these people (or how much they love me), none of them is perfect. There isn't one person in this world upon whom I can depend completely, 100% of the time, in any situation. Every person I love will eventually fail to be there for me at a time when I feel I need them, and each of them will hurt me now and then through mistakes or even small bouts of selfishness. In fact, I will also wrong them from time to time, and there will be a bit of sadness to punctuate the happiness in our relationship.

As good and loving as my friends and family members are, they just aren't perfect. Because of that, they will sometimes fail me. These occasional hurts do not mean that our relationships are worthless. I highly value the times that my loved ones do come from me and the joyful moments when they exceed all of my expectations. Still, knowing as I do that they cannot say and do the right thing every time, I need to have a back up plan. If I cannot count on the people I love most to have my back every time I get into trouble, then upon whom can I depend? As a Christian, I believe that is precisely the reason I need God.

God is the only friend I have who will always have the right answer, always act in my best interests, and always be there no matter what happens. God's patience cannot be warn out by my mistakes, and God will not be swayed by the weak (and sometimes sinful) human emotions to which my friends, family, and I fall prey. God is never too busy to listen to my struggles or too fed up with my pathetic humanity to be sympathetic. He loves me even when I'm being unlovable, and He knows what's best for me even when the situation seems convoluted to everyone else.

Sometimes I will have to be alone in this world, and then I must be able to rely on God. Even if all the people I love and cherish are powerless to help me, God will be my help. As much as these people love me, God can do what they cannot, and that is why I love Him first and above all. I have many loved ones, and I cherish them all—but I have only one God.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Being Right vs Being Righteous

Our egos can get us into a lot of trouble by convincing us that we need to be right all the time. We're afraid that conceding the validity of a viewpoint that differs from our own (even if that concession doesn't necessarily mean we are "wrong") will destabilize our very foundation of self-confidence and self-sufficiency. Unless we're intentionally seeking out someone else's opinion, we all too often want nothing to do with other people's ideas. We need to be right, and we need to do things our way. If anyone challenges that, we'll defend our right to be right like a mother bear defends her cubs. We'll fight and argue over tiny points of minutiae just to prove that we're right, whether the topic at hand really matters or not.

Being right is not what Christian living is all about, however. God wants us to be righteous, not right. Being righteous means willingly following God's commands, and He has instructed us to love Him and to love one another. Yes, knowledge can be helpful to a Christian, but a loving and generous heart is much more important. During Jesus' time on Earth, the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees were all very learned about the Hebrew Bible and God's law, and yet they were unrighteous in their opposition of Jesus. They did not help anyone but simply sought to raise themselves above the populace by being "right". All too often, believing that we must be right gives us a feeling of self-righteousness that is in serious opposition to true righteousness.

God doesn't necessarily want us to always know what's right. He wants us to admit that He knows better than we do and to follow Him with trust and humility. After all, Adam and Eve fell because they ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Had they simply followed God, they would not have needed to know the difference between right and wrong because God would have guided them in righteous paths. God also doesn't want us to argue with each other about who's right. He wants us to work together as His servants in the world. Our disagreements frequently distract us from our true mission, and if we put our differences aside we often find that they do not inhibit our ability to do God's work nearly as much as our arguments did. Sometimes there is nothing to gain by arguing about who's right, because such arguments may never be resolved. Some issues are opinions and not facts, interpretations and not provable certainties, and we could spend the rest of our lives debating them. Or we could decide that it doesn't matter whether we're right or wrong so long as we are doing our best to follow God and love our neighbors.

Occasionally we argue with others about who's right because we really and truly care about the issues. More often, it seems, we just fight because our ego demands that we come out on top. In those cases, we need to stop feeling so insecure and realize that God (and our loved ones) value us whether or not we're right. If someone else proposes an idea that could work, sometimes it's best to defer to that person out of love instead of fighting to the bitter end because our own ideas might be slightly better. If people who love us are trying to help us in an endeavor, maybe we shouldn't criticize their work just because they aren't doing things precisely the way we would. The fact that people want to work together and that they love and respect each other is far more important from a Christian perspective than whose plan gets used or who gets recognized for having good ideas.

When it comes down to it, I would much rather be an idiot with a kind and trusted master and loving friends than an infallible genius living in isolation. Being right will not necessarily teach us about love, and trusting in ourselves to be right may even lead us away from God. Being righteous means that it's OK if we're not right all the time—we just need to keep God ever before our eyes and continue to care about the people who are working through the right and wrong answers just like us. I think it is a much more joyful thing to be righteous than to be right.
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