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Life Notes

The Rat Race

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and (rats) consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor (rats) consume and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21

With apologies to self-respecting rats everywhere, we humans often refer to life – particularly our work lives – as a rat race. I suspect the term is intended to represent a large group of self-absorbed, desperate beings doing whatever they can to survive, often at the expense of each other. I imagine a group of starving rats fighting over meager scraps of garbage on the subway tracks of New York City. Many of us spend the majority of our waking hours trying to get ahead in life, in whatever way we define ahead. Unfortunately, for too many of us, getting ahead in life means getting more stuff than our friends and neighbors – a battle we can never win. Lily Tomlin is credited with saying, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”

A cancer of discontent eats at us from the inside. The stuff of the earth – cars, nice homes, guitars, clothes, flowerbeds – is tantalizing. Someone at work upgrades to the latest iPhone, and we believe we must upgrade ours, too. Someone else shows pictures of their tropical vacation, and we charge our way to a similar trip. “Keeping up with the Joneses” is one way we express this obsession with laying claim to as much of the earth as our desperate attempts allow. We focus on what we lack, instead of the abundance we already have. One problem with comparing ourselves to others is that the comparison is not with one other person or family, but a conglomerate of persons and families. Typically, it will appear we are significantly lacking, when compared to the combined abundance of many.

Jesus warns us, in the Gospel of Matthew, against storing up treasures of the earth – those things that can be stolen or that wear out over time. Our hearts reside with what we treasure. When our hearts are invested in that which does not last, our hearts will be broken over and over again. Like a cancer spreading within, we simply cannot out-buy our desire for more stuff. Learning to be content with what we have requires a significant change of heart and mind. We can be happy with another’s nice, new car without feeling the need to buy one for ourselves. When we believe we will be happy with one more possession, we fall into the trap of consumerism – that happiness and things are directly related. The truth is that more stuff never brings more than transitory happiness. True and lasting happiness is a product of gratitude and contentment.

Come home to church this Sunday. Leave the rats and join the saints (and the sinners)!

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Life Notes—November 28, 2013 

  “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:14-15

Grandma Hildenbrand was a grateful person. She appreciated the good in everyone. I do not recall gossip, pessimism, or foul language ever crossing her lips. I actually felt guilty, because the person she saw in me was far superior to the person I believed myself to be. She unfailingly praised and encouraged me. She was grateful to God for me, her first grandchild. Being positive and grateful was a way of life for my grandmother.

Recently, I watched a TED Talk (www.Ted.com) by Shawn Achor titled, “The Happiness Advantage.” He is a proponent of Positive Psychology, which suggests how we view our world largely shapes our experience of reality. A focus of the talk was to encourage listeners to untie happiness from success. Our definitions of success are constantly changing and seldom reached. Therefore, if we believe we must be “successful” to be happy, we will never be happy. Even when we reach a long worked-for goal, our definition for success will likely shift before we reach the goal. The speaker had a formula for creating positive change in our lives. The first step was to identify three new things to be grateful for, every day, for twenty-one consecutive days. While success and happiness may not be related, gratitude and happiness certainly are.

Thanksgiving Day is a day of gratitude. It occurs in the late fall to recognize the blessings of the year. While it has become an exercise in over-indulgence, the foundation of the day is thankfulness. Most of us gather with family and friends, share a meal or two, and enjoy fellowship with each other. Life is good. In spite of the many tragedies and challenges sprinkled throughout her life, grandma was thankful. We should be, too.

Being intentionally thankful is a wise choice to make. A grateful heart is not only pleasing and helpful for others, expressing appreciation is a biblical charge, as in the passage from Colossians above. Perhaps most importantly, there is a selfish reason to be grateful—it is good for us! When we observe our life through a lens of gratitude, we find reason for hope and optimism. We become happier people. Until we begin identifying the many reasons we have for thankfulness, we cannot understand how truly blessed we are. I pray you find much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

Come home to church this Sunday. Thankfulness, not success, is the key to happiness.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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