The Unexpected Journey
Chapter 17

Getting It

Anyone who teaches should identify readily with the following problem:  “He/she just does not get it!”  A person who has tried to teach on a continuing basis—your children in the family, students in school, a volunteer class, an apprentice, etc.—has experienced the following frustration.  The teacher seeks to teach a concept that the teacher regards as obvious and easy to understand.  It is strikingly evident that the student does not understand what the teacher is saying.  The teacher explains the concept, illustrates the concept, and simplifies the concept in every way he/she knows how, and still the student does not understand.  Finally, the exasperated teacher throws up his/her hands and says, “He just does not get it!”

My 93 year old mother still remembers how difficult it was to teach me the concept of fractions.  My classroom teacher tried until she simply had to move on with the rest of the class.  My teacher explained the difficulty to my mother, so a determined Mom took up where the teacher left off.  She patiently tried to help me see the concept.  Nothing “got through” to me as I did little but blankly stare at her.  Finally, she had a brilliant idea (I was a farm boy, and a wire fence separated our yard from the pasture).  She asked me, “If five birds perched on the fence, and three flew away, how many would be left?”  I promptly replied, “Two!”  She quickly responded, “Two what?”  Confidently, I responded, “Two birds!” only to watch her shake her head in disbelief.  (Thanks to Mom’s determination and patience, I finally learned the concept of fractions.)

Recently a retired math teacher (quite a good one!), who is now in a second career, saw the picture of an oil- soaked pelican with the caption, “Tarred and feathered.”  She commented to a much younger fellow worker what a good illustration of the difficulties of the gulf oil spill the picture and caption were.  The younger worker returned an obviously unknowing stare.  He did not know what tarring and feathering were.  She, with difficulty, explained the practice of tarring and feathering.  The response: “How does that practice relate to that picture?”  Exasperated, she refused to explain more to someone “who did not get it.”

It is astounding to note how many past concepts that were commonly understood served as excellent illustrations that today illustrate nothing.  There are a number of reasons for this happening—aging, a changing world, a shrinking world, the rate of change, emerging emphases, generation gaps, etc.  One significant contributor to the phenomena is personal expectation.  All of us can expect a certain result with such conviction that the only information we “hear” are facts that agree with our expectation.  All other information/facts do not compute and are automatically ignored.


A Jesus’ Disciples Illustration

After Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, the twelve were arguing among themselves about which one of them was the most important (Luke 22:24).  Evidently, this heated, vested discussion appeared frequently among them throughout Jesus’ ministry.  Matthew 18:1 states that the disciples even asked Jesus to declare the criteria for determining significance in the kingdom.

Jesus’ response was consistent.  He stressed humility and/or being of service.

Perhaps the most insightful of these encounters was produced by James and John, Zebedee’s sons.  Though the Gospel of Mark also referred to this incident (Mark 10:35ff), consider Matthew 20:20-28.  Note several things.  (1) They had their mother ask that they be given the key positions that signified prominence—sitting beside the king.  (2) When Jesus responded with a question, the two disciples—not the mother—answered.  Because Jesus directed his question to the sons, it indicated Jesus understood the source of the request.  (3) They requested something Jesus could not give.  (4) The request made the other ten disciples indignant.  (5) Greatness would be determined by servitude, not by possession of authority.

Relevant question: Why were the other ten disciples indignant?  Could it be that (1) they all wanted what James and John wanted, (2) they did not appreciate James and John seeking an advantage by using family, or (3) how dare James and John seek to take an undecided issue “out of play”This was NOT the way to settle such a sensitive issue—had they not all made sacrifices to follow Jesus? 

What were the disciples’ expectations?  (1) Jesus would reestablish the earthly kingdom of Israel; (2) Jesus would rule; and (3) the twelve would be Jesus’ advisors.  No matter how often Jesus stressed humility and servitude as the path to significance among the disciples, they never understood.  They finally understood Jesus did not want them to discuss their greatness (see Mark 9:33, 34), but they never understood that significance was not determined by authoritative position.  Why?  In their world, that was the way things worked.  This humility and servitude emphasis just was not the way it was done.  THEY DID NOT GET IT!

Why were they so discouraged and inactive after the resurrection?  They were delighted Jesus was alive, but resurrected men were not kings who sat on thrones—so they thought.  Jesus’ death ended their expectations, and they had nothing but void left.  THEY DID NOT GET IT!

On that last night in their last “free” meeting with Jesus, his washing their feet was awkward (John 13:1-11).  Jesus washing their feet must have begun an evening of confusion that was merely an introduction to escalating confusion.  When Jesus took his robe off, tied a towel around his waist, and washed their feet, the silence must have been profound!  Jesus must have looked like a slave—not just a slave, but the lowest slave of all the servants.  How humiliating to have their Master wash their feet!  Did he not understand that the reason their feet were dirty was that none of them could risk looking inferior to the other disciples?  They certainly did NOT intend for Jesus to wash their feet!  Obviously, they still did not get it.  Even Jesus said that they did not understand what he was doing, but they would understand later.

Why did they not get it?  Their expectations filtered out Jesus’ information.  What Jesus said did not fit their expectations. 



In life, “getting it” requires a high level of open mindedness.  The person who “gets it” must be willing to think about things that he/she never before considered, must consider perspectives he/she never held, and must realize “my” normal may not be someone else’s “normal.”  That is more difficult, more challenging than many realize!  It is much simpler to defend my “normal” than to understand your “normal”—especially if your “normal” is in significant disagreement with my “normal.”  That does not mean either of our “normals” is totally correct, but do we not need to understand people who are different?

For example, frequently individuals must battle depression because they are forced to take an unexpected journey that either slowly evaporates physical abilities or dramatically, quickly destroys physical abilities.  Perhaps what was much enjoyed in the past is no longer possible.  Perhaps the present (the now, the today) is frequently a frustration because what occurred without thought before now takes a conscious effort, or maybe does not occur at all.  Perhaps what had been future plans or hopes suddenly become a puff of smoke.  Perhaps they hear others complain of having to do tasks that those on an unexpected journey would be delighted to do if they had the physical ability to do those tasks.  The “perhaps” are likely too many to count, but each “perhaps” becomes a real opportunity for the one on the journey to feel depressed.

The tendency for those who can do is to say (at least to themselves), “Why don’t you just get over it!  Just decide not to be depressed!  Do you not understand being depressed will not change your situation?  Just take a pill!”

Is the suggestion to stop feeling?  Does anyone really think a person can chose to ignore continuing regret?  If the adjustment is a continuing reality, can a person be blind to his/her own reality?  If a person has known the fulfillment that came from the experience of being productive, how does the person deal with not being productive?  Is it success to “numb out,” or to adopt an “I don’t care” philosophy?  A key realization: “feelings” alone did not produce the unwanted journey, and “feelings” alone will not solve the situation.  A person’s understandings will not “cure” the problem.  However, some understandings may make the situation more complex.

The minimum goal of those fortunate enough not to be on such a journey should be this: “I will not make the trip of those on the journey more complex.”  Do not initiate or reinforce frustrations that make the journey more complex.  Do not add yet another layer of frustration that comes from being misunderstood.


Challenges for Those on a Journey

To those on such a journey, these are suggestions to be considered.  These are not demands that are intended to serve as a self-evaluation of what you should expect of yourself.  Every journey is unique. Every person on a journey is unique.  What may be possible for one may not be possible for another.  The challenges will not be fulfilled by a comparison to others on a similar journey, but by measuring you by you.  This is difficult and demanding in a society that makes enormous use of evaluation by comparison.

1.     Retrain the way you think.  You are not better as a person because you can do something someone else cannot do, or less of a person because you cannot do something someone else can do.  You are you!  You want to challenge yourself, but you do not wish to use comparisons to humiliate yourself.  If you cannot do something, you cannot do it.  If you can do it, you can.

2.     Learn to celebrate small accomplishments.  Instead of focusing your attention on regretfully thinking about what you cannot do, focus your attention on what you can do.  Regretting what you cannot do will not alter your situation or physical abilities.

3.     Appreciate and value your own accomplishments—you know better than anyone else the dedication and effort it took to achieve them!  If you refuse to find joy in what you achieve, why should anyone else find joy in it?  You will never know how much your effort encourages someone else!

4.     Set doable goals for yourself.  Instead of setting an unattainable goals (which often are more wishes than goals), break your hopes down into doable steps.  Instead of making your ambitions a source of powerful discouragements, promise yourself you will re-evaluate your situation when you do the doable.  Make the progress you are capable of making right now.  (In my situation, I was told to expect a constant decline.  The objective was to make the decline progress slowly.  My goal is to make the decline crawl like a snail!  I cannot stop the decline—but five years later I am not yet in a wheel chair.  Will I be?  Yes, but hopefully not tomorrow!  How do I help myself?  (1) I do as my doctors instruct.  (2) I go to the gym five days a week.  (3) I refuse to do things that will hurt me—use good judgment!  (4) I do what I can about my weight to keep pressure off my joints and muscles.  Is all of that fun?  No!  However, I surely enjoy being able to walk!)

5.     Value what you can do instead of regretting what you cannot do.  The issue is not what others think of your accomplishment, but what you think of your accomplishment.  Exert yourself!  Expect of yourself what you are capable of doing!  Where will it lead?  Who knows?  However, if you do not do what you are physically capable of today, you will be able to do less than you do today in the months that are before you.   

Realize that often what happens physically to you with your permission results in mental declines as well as physical declines.  Physical discipline can (and often does) translate into mental discipline when we struggle.

 For those of us on an unexpected journey, there are happenings we cannot prevent.  There are a number of stages we will experience as we accept our new reality.  Yet, ultimately (hopefully) we will “get it”—things are highly unlikely to ever be as they were physically.  When we “get it,” most of us will do one of two things: (1) We will waste the rest of our lives feeling sorry for ourselves, or (2) we will do what we are able to do and make full use of life within our new limitations.

The unexpected journey we are taking was not a matter of choice.  How we use life as we are forced to take that journey is a choice.  That choice has enormous relevance to each of us, and to many others as well.

Copyright 2010

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