Birds of a Feather

All I wanted to do was help my daughter feed the seals.   She wasn’t too crazy about handling the slimy fish, but I thought if I did the first one, maybe she’d work up the courage to do the next one herself. 

The Sea World instructor gave us two instructions over the loudspeaker. 

  1.  Make eye contact with the seal before you throw the fish. 
  2. Watch out for the birds. 

Dozens of gulls perched on the rocks around the seal habitat waiting for us to toss our fish.  A big, ugly one to my right shifted anxiously from foot to foot.  His eyes were fixed on my hand.  He’d seen this show before and knew it often ended with dinner.

I wondered how many snacks he’d plucked from the sky as they left the hands of unsuspecting tourists.  Well, not on my watch.  I’d put down good money on these fish, and I had no intention of letting any flying felons swoop in and steal them away.

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Breaking Character

We’d been rehearsing the show for months.  Our three middle school actors stood center stage, playing a scene they’d practiced dozens of times.  In this pivotal moment, Joe, our lead actor, was supposed to break an expensive surfboard while clowning around.   This one act of carelessness would get him into all kinds of trouble and would drive the plot for the rest of the play. 

Everything was going like clockwork.  The costumes, make-up and set all sparkled under the lights.  The kids were hitting their lines just as we’d practiced.  Even the Styrofoam surfboard looked real.   Of course it had a slot cut out underneath to make it break at just the right time. 

The only problem was, it didn’t break.  Joe hopped on it right on cue, but the dumb thing held his weight.  Our entire production crew stopped breathing.  We had 300 people in the room, and the rest of the show hinged on how Joe would react to this mishap.  Would he stop?  Get flustered?  Fumble around?

Nope, he stayed in character.  We never saw Joe, only Jake, the character he was portraying.  He snapped the surfboard over his knee – which got a huge laugh – and just kept going.  I couldn’t believe how he’d handled the pressure and never broke character for even a second.  I was so proud of him. 

Staying in character is harder than it sounds.  In live theater anything can happen.  Anything can go wrong.  Actors may forget a line.  Sound and lighting effects could be cued at the wrong time.  Sets, costumes and props can malfunction in dozens of ways.

Staying in character means that no matter what goes wrong, the actor plays their role consistently.  It means they keep doing what they’re supposed to do no matter what. 

As hard as it is to stay in character on the stage, I can tell you it’s much harder to stay in character in everyday life.  There are two versions of all of us.  There is the me I show everyone else, and then there is the real me, the me I am when no one is looking.  When public me and private me are the same, I have what is called integrity.  When they’re different, that’s when life gets complicated. 

In life, just like in a play, things are bound to go wrong.  And when the pressure is on, that’s when people who don’t have integrity typically “break character.”  That’s when we see the real them underneath the role they were playing.  That’s when politicians from both parties resign or get indicted.  That’s when marriages fall apart and people get fired. 

When you find out the private me is radically different from the public me, you realize I actually broke character a long time ago.  But if the public me and private me are the same, my integrity protects me when life throws me a curve ball. 

What’s the easiest way for me to stay in character?  Close the gap between the two versions of me.  It’s like a man standing with one foot on a dock and the other on a drifting row boat.  If the boat keeps moving, he’s eventually going to fall.  His only hope is reigning in the boat.  His only hope is closing the gap.

Fortunately for all us, there is a God who wants to help us close that gap.  There is a God who wants to help us make private choices consistent with our public selves.  There is a God who gives us grace even when we break character.  He is a God who wants to make us whole.

The Bible says that people with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.  That doesn’t mean being perfect, but it does mean taking a step in the right direction to playing the role you were born to play and staying character a little more each day.    


The Rest of the Story

Randy Gardner holds the world record for the longest period of staying awake without stimulants, 264 hours.  That’s eleven days.  Some upstarts on the internet claim to have beaten him, but apparently he’s the only guy who’s actually been verified by a scientist sitting around watching him not sleep.  It makes me wonder when the scientist slept.  Does he hold the record too? 

I personally stayed awake for about 48 hours once in college, but in the spirit of full disclosure, there were massive amounts of Diet Pepsi involved.  Okay, so I may not have come close to breaking the world record for not sleeping, but I’m convinced that I am serious contender for the world record of not resting. 

Rest is more than sleep.  Rest is stopping.  Rest is renewing.  For people like me, rest is difficult. 

I had a friend challenge me once with the question, “If someone took a hard look at your life, would they want what you have?  Would anyone want to be like you?”  It’s made me think about several areas of my life, but the one that always comes to the top of the Reasons People Would Not Want to Be Like Jason list is the way I handle I rest. 

I’m typically busy, running late and cramming to get as much done as possible.  I say yes to too many things.  Even when I land in one place my mind is already on the next thing I have to do so I struggle to be fully present.    When I get my to-do list finished, I end up creating more work for myself, either on the job or at home. 

I’m not complaining.  I love work.  I love to have something to do.  It’s just that life is about more than doing.  Life is about being.   Being happens best during periods of rest.  And out of that “being” time, I gain the strength and perspective to go back to doing. 

I know all that.  I’ve heard countless teachers enumerate the benefits of what the Bible calls “sabbath,” which just means stopping and letting God run the universe for awhile.  Yet, I continue to have a rest debt.  Why? 

I did a little brainstorming this week, and here are the first reasons that came to mind of why I don’t rest:

  1. I have too much to do.
  2. I don’t want to disappoint anyone.
  3. I don’t want to miss out on an opportunity.
  4. I don’t want to say no to myself or others.
  5. I don’t want to fall behind.
  6. I don’t want to be lazy.
  7. Rest requires discipline.
  8. Rest feels selfish.

Some of these excuses contradict themselves.  I say I don’t want to be lazy, and yet I claim I don’t rest because it requires discipline.  Blowing off something because it requires discipline?  That actually sounds kind of lazy.  Like most of us, when I dig below the surface, I find a bundle of contradictions. 

The bottom line, though, is that all of the excuses I’ve given actually should motivate me to rest.  Rest renews me and helps me to be at my best.  If I have too much to do, then I actually need more rest to get it all done.  If I don’t want to disappoint anyone, then I need to offer them the best version of myself.  This is the rested version of me.  The rested version of me doesn’t just get enough sleep, but has downtime, relational time, hang out time with the people I love.

Resting isn’t just another item on my to-do list.  It’s not the distasteful broccoli of life management I’ve been trying to avoid.  It’s a gift.

The Bible says there is actually a God who wants to help us with our doing time by offering us His perspective, wisdom and strength to make us more effective.  But we access His resources during periods of rest.  It’s how we’re designed.

Maybe for you that means working out in your yard or going on a walk.  I have some friends who refuel by cooking.  For me, I rest best in nature, by reading and journaling and sometimes just staring out the window and daydreaming.  Others rest better with friends. 

Whatever fills your tank is rest. 

If you think about it, by the time Adam and Eve came on to the scene there really wasn’t much to do.  God had already made everything, so He basically said, “Hey, check out this new creation stuff.  Pretty cool, huh?  Let’s hang out.”

Sounds like a great idea to me.  So, I’m going to stop right here and take my own advice.  It’s time to turn off the computer and go on a bike ride with my wife.  Who knows?  Maybe someday I’ll set a record as the most rested guy in the world.