3 Immutable Laws of Life

Adam Saveage of Mythbusters famously likes to say, “I reject your reality and substitute my own!”  Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work so well in real life.  While it is true that there are many ways of looking at life, there are 3 basic facts of life which one must be reconciled to at some point:

1. Life is hard.

2. Life is not fair.

3. You cannot change other people.

These are not bugs in the system of our life.  These are the features.  There is nothing you will ever be able to do to change them.  There is not enough money or power or influence in all the world to earn an exception with.  If you can make peace with these 3 basic fats, life may not necessarily be easier, but it will be easier to take.


Know Thine Self

Getting to know yourself can be one of the biggest, most difficult jobs we will ever undertake.  But you can’t properly love yourself – or even really like yourself! – if you don’t know who you are.  If you don’t know who you are, how will you know what about yourself there is to love?

Occassionally take some time to listen to yourself.  Sit quietly and think of a topic or question you are interested in.  Usually, when you do this a pat answer will immediately pop into your head.  This is the standard answer that you think is supposed to be the right one.  Let that answer fade away and listen for what pops into your brain next.  Notice any feelings that come up.  Ask yourself lots of follow-up questions.


“Why do I feel this way?”

“Why do I think this?”

“Is it true?”

“Does it make sense to me?”

“Is this what I want to be true?  Why?”

Just listen to what you have to say.  Usually it’s much more interesting and enlightening than the pat answers you normally come up with!

Learning to avoid conflict

For some people the problem isn’t tolerating conflict; its learning to avoid conflict that’s the challenge!  Conflict is part of life, but its important not to allow unneeded and unproductive conflict to become a regular part of life either.  Even when it’s necessary and productive, it’s not fun!

As a rule, if the conflict is triggered by your emotional state (I’m crabby) or an emotional reaction (you’re pissing me off), it’s unneeded.  If there is an ongoing problem or pattern that is upsetting, there are many much more productive ways to find a solution than letting your emotions lead you into conflict.

Also, if you are walking into a conflict knowing what’s going to be said and with no realistic hope of resolution, do what you can to skip it.  Maybe the time isn’t right or the best solution hasn’t presented itself you.  Or maybe its one of those things which will always be a sore spot that you just have to deal with.  But conflict with no hope of resolution is generally pointless.  Just avoid it.

How to avoid it?  Smiling and nodding is a good go-to method.  (“That’s an interesting approach.  I hadn’t thought of it that way before.“)  As is just admitting your own struggle: (“I’m really irritable right now.” or “This is always a sore spot for me and I’m not up for getting into it.”)  Asking to revisit the issue later can also be helpful.  (“I’m sorry, but I’m just not up for getting into this right now.  Can I come and find you so we can discuss it when I’m feeling better?”)

Sometimes peace isn’t the destination you’re headed towards.  When that’s the case, simply keeping what peace you can salvage is the healthy, feel-good way to go!.

Learning to tolerate conflict

There are many people who believe themselves to be peacemakers because they avoid conflict at all costs.  But peacemakers don’t avoid conflicts, they walk through them in order to find peace – if not an actual resolution.  To be a peacemaker, you must learn to tolerate conflict – even when that means having someone mad at you!  (This doesn’t mean tolerating abuse from someone who is upset.  Leave the room, the building, the area or whatever  you need to do to get away should you find yourself involved in a conflict with someone who is being abusive.  And don‘t apologize for it!)

To start learning to tolerate conflict, first try speaking up for yourself in a situation where you would normally keep quiet.  Sometimes we are so conflict adverse, we hesitate to even mention our preferences or opinions.  Start challenging yourself to just speak up for yourself in little things like food or entertainment preferences.  Make up an opinion if you don’t actually have one!  Just learn to say what you think without being afraid of causing offense or disagreement.

Of course, the reason people hate conflict is because you can’t just say your piece and have everyone jump up and down with praise and agreement.  (My preferred reaction to whatever I say!)  People will push back and this is where we can lose it.  But if you usually back down at this point, just take a deep breath and state your case calmly.  Listen, pause to think, respond.  If you are not used to conflict you will almost certainly find that you are better at dealing with it than you thought you would be.  But you don’t get to peace by backing down.  Be willing to walk through the discomfort of disagreement – it is your chance to learn to make peace from discord!

An Appreciation for the Absurd

If you ever meet me, have ten minutes and want to see me laugh, ask me about my wedding day.  It’s a story I would never tell a bride-to-be.  That would be like going into the gory details of how you and your baby were painfully maimed in labor with a pregnant woman.  Because things didn’t just go wrong that day; they went absurdly wrong.  (Plot highlights include someone getting set on fire, a dog hit by a van and a doomed wedding cake.  My favorite part was at the end of the night when my mother asked me if my wedding was everything I had wanted.  I had to resist the urge to respond, “yes, Mom – I’ve always dreamed of not showering on my wedding day!”)

Sometimes life spins so wildly out of control and everything goes so completely wrong, that the word absurd is about the only one that fits.  At those times when your life could make a top-notch sitcom or dark comedy, you might as well learn to laugh along.  I think that an appreciation for the absurd is a good antidote to just about any disaster than doesn’t involve permanent harm.  Because sometimes, despite your best efforts, disasters happen.  And laughing when they do is much more fun than any of the other options available to you when life becomes absurd.

Being right is not the most important thing

Shortly after I got married, a girlfriend passed on this advice: “Sometimes you have to ask yourself if you would rather be right or you’d rather be married.  Because you can be right all the way to divorce court.”  The is the best advice for life I have ever heard.

We humans have a strange obsession with being right.  Not only do we tend to think we’re always right and be very resistant to thinking otherwise, we even think that being right should change the way our lives work.  If we are right, everyone should get in line with us and life should go well for us.  Of course, it rarely works that way.  So we get all bent out of shape.  But when relationships are being destroyed and hearts are being broken, being right means nothing.  Holding onto it is choosing the petty over the important.

Think of an ongoing disagreement or conflict you have with someone in your life – big or small (starting small is usually easier).  Decide to let go of trying to convince the other person that you are right – no matter how right you are!  Instead, decide to focus on convincing them that you love and cherish them and see what happens.

“You’re so sensitive!”

“You’re being too sensitive.”

Oh are those ever familiar words.  All through my childhood they trailed after me like a tin can tied to the end of my shoelaces with each step in danger of sending it bouncing across the floor.  The sound of those words clanging along behind me made me wince until I could hardly bear to move from my spot any more.  One day, when the strain of being planted in one spot got to be too much for me, I got wise, cut the string and walked away.  For a long time though, the memory of that ugly sound haunted my steps.   But many, many years of freedom from the constant accusation “you’re too sensitive” faded even that away until I was able to move about my world with an ease I had not dreamed was possible back when I was trying to be quiet and still enough not to send that tin can clattering across the floor.

I am sensitive.  I am very sensitive.  As I explained in the section of my book devoted to part of my spiritual memoir:

I was the sort of kid who felt bad for the fake Santa’s at the mall when little kids would cry in their laps.  An old woman struggling to pull change out of her coin purse in front of my at the grocery store made me tear up.  If the other kids were teasing the girl from special ed classes who smelled funny and dressed badly, I felt compelled to step in to help her even though that was a great way to find out that I also smelled funny and dressed badly.  If you were someone I actually cared about, an angry word or harsh action could wound me down to the depths of my being.

Too sensitive – right?  Only being so sensitive isn’t a design flaw in my personality some would like to make it out to be.  It’s a main feature of my personality, gifted to me by my maker with great love and care.  It’s the source of all my other giftings.  It’s the reason that I, a white, upper-middleclass college girl from the suburbs could go into a juvenile prison and have conversations about God and love and pain and healing with young, minority criminals from the violent projects of Chicago.  Because feelings are the same no matter who you are or what you have been through.  If we have nothing else in common, we are all connected by the experiences of pain and joy and betrayal and fear.  Being sensitive is the reason I knew how to parent a baby so challenging that even my own dear mother dreaded having to watch him for more than a very short time.  He was just doing on the outside what I had often felt on the inside.  So I taught him the lessons I had learned from being such a sensitive person and he will never need to know what it’s like to feel badly simply for being the person God made him to be.

It is a gift to be so sensitive.  Because emotions work like curtains pulled open and closed by a cord; as far as they are pulled in one direction, they are be pulled in the other direction as well. The same sensitivity that makes me so vulnerable to hurt also allows me to be open to the joy, peace and wonder that flow with abundance through the simplest parts of everyday life.  In the middle of some misery, I can know that as deep as my misery is in that moment, that’s how high the joy waiting for me later will be.  Even in my deepest despair, I can hardly avoid experiencing the pull of a child’s love, or the beauty of nature or the pleasure of singing leading me out again.

I remember years ago a dear friend telling me, “you don’t have to be afraid of your feelings.  They can’t physically hurt you, you know.”  In my head I knew she was right, of course.  But my heart was horrified.  “Oh you foolish woman.  If you understood the strength of my feelings you would know that they could kill me.”  Which simply shows that a sensitive heart must also be a well-trained heart if it is to survive.  But people who say, “you’re too sensitive” don’t know how to help a child learn to tame and train their wild hearts.  So, I sought out every scrap of wisdom, knowledge and understanding I could find to teach myself to live in peace.  The things I write on this blog are my attempts to share some of the fruits of that quest with anyone who wants them.

Call me too sensitive if you wish.  But I know that I am sensitive like the finest aviator watch that uses the motions of the adventurer wearing it in unlikely places to keep its own tiny, perfect gears moving in synch.  I am sensitive like a flower that responds to sunlight and opens or a bird that senses danger and flies away long before it arrives.  It is not easy being so sensitive, but even that simply drives me deeper into the arms of divine Love.  Because I am exquisitely sensitive.  Just like God made me to be.

Every good gift

As we go through life, many of us are excellent at noticing and trying to protect ourselves against what is wrong or bad.  However, if we don’t force ourselves to, we will rarely spare a thought for what is right and good in the things and people we come across.  Basically, we become experts at studying the dark while remaining mostly oblivious to the light that is also all around us.

Decide to become an expert at spotting what is right, good and true – where ever that good pops up!  After all, if something is true, it’s true whether it comes out of the mouth of the pope or of Brittany Spears.  So, don’t worry that something isn’t 100% right – value whatever portion of it that is right.  After all, any good we come across exists because of God who has created every good thing.  So it’s only right that we should grab whatever bit of good we come across and value it when we see it.

Here’s a great way to practice recognizing the good things that come across our path:  read or watch a politician or activist who you disapprove of.  Leave your opinions aside for the moment and listen for anything they say that you could agree with and take note of that.  Remember, good comes from God, so resist the urge to simply dismiss or explain away this point of agreement.  Instead, be glad for whatever good you find.  If you practice, you will start noticing more of what is good and be effected less by what isn’t.  Which is fantastic because noticing what is good makes us much happier than fixating on what it bad.

Easy Listening

Recently, my 16 year old son gave me what I consider to be a great compliment; he told me that I needed to talk more in conversations with other people.  Of course a couple of weeks later someone else I know complained that I wouldn’t let her get a word in edgewise.  Some days, I’m sure she’s right.  But the fact that my kid who spends an enormous amount of time with me has observed me listening enough to comment on it makes me happy.

I love to talk.  That came naturally to me.  I also love to listen, but I had to learn that.  Some people don’t find talking naturally appealing and learned to be good listeners that way.  I will never be as good at listening as those people.  But I did learn a secret that helped me be a better listener and enjoy it more: be interested.

Yes, I know.  Some people aren’t interesting.  Some topics scatter flies from the walls with their dullness.  But a person talking is always interesting because they are always sharing something about themselves.  Sometimes a person has something interesting to say.  They may have knowledge or perspectives and ideas that you have not encountered before.  Other times the way a person says what they have to say reveals something interesting about them.  Maybe they are showing you that they are excitable or easily irritated or sweetly niave or whatever.  When you take the time to listen to and be interested in another person talking, you are being given a peek into a mind that may be very different than your own.  And I think that’s always interesting.

There will always be people who can’t keep a conversation going on without help.  And you have interesting things to share as well.  But if you wish you were a better listener, try listening a little differently than usual.  Ask follow-up questions when someone’s done talking rather than chipping in your 2 cents.  Bring up a topic and ask for the other person’s opinion.   Tell a story and specifically invite the other person to share if they’ve ever had a similar experience.  You might find that it’s much easier and more rewarding than you knew it to be.

Looking for the Good – People Edition

Finding and explaining what’s wrong with people is a great past-time.  It’s fun, easy and makes you feel better about your life.  It’s the junk food of human relationships!

Believe it or not, figuring out what’s good about people is a great past-time as well.  It’s challenging, satisfying and makes you feel better about the world.  It’s the gourmet meal of human relationships.

There are always people in our life who cause us to yearn for a delete button to use on them.  It could be our child’s principal or some politician or your own family.  Instead of just letting them drive you nuts over and over, make yourself look for something you could genuinely like about the person.  Turn it into a game if you need to.  Some people need you to think of multiple things to like about them just so you can stand their existence.  Well, guess what?  They aren’t going anywhere, so you might as well learn to like something about them!