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knowing when to stop

Sometimes life just seems bizarre. While some people are laughing and partying and watching a sporting event in one part of the world, others are dying in street skirmishes in a war-torn region. While one teenager plays video games and drinks Coke and thinks about nothing more than unlocking the next level, another adolescent faces painful surgery and possible life-altering complications. While a new baby is born into one loving family, another dies from neglect, hunger, or worse. At any point in time, we find ourselves touched by the good, the bad, the ugly, the painful, the funny, the overwhelming, the surprising, and the sweet. On good days, I can see some grand cohesion between these multi-dimensional aspects of life, but many times, I find myself puzzled or even at odds with what is happening.

This is a joyful time in my life; I am about to graduate with my MA and have a summer of relative ease before I plow into doctoral studies in the fall. I find myself laughing and dancing and being silly (just check out my last blog for proof of this). However, some of my friends are in painful seasons of life, and I wonder if my lightness of spirit is inappropriate in view of the larger suffering of humanity. But I don't believe in a communist-style equalisation of experience where we dial down the exuberance of some in order to temper the sorrow of others. No, please no. I want my grief to be fully grieved, but I also want to let my joy be explosively enjoyed. Let my love be gratuitous and indulgent, as love should be. Let my pain be borne with honesty. The richness and maturity of life depends on letting each colourful experience have its moment. And knowing when those moments are done.

I was taking the subway downtown yesterday, deeply immersed in a new book. I had my pen and paper out, taking notes. I lost track of time and when I looked up, suddenly found myself arriving at the station where I had to catch a connecting train. I wanted to finish my sentence, my thought, the word I was writing, so I continued what I was doing. The metro car stopped. The doors opened, and I knew I had to stop immediately or I would be stuck on the train, going in the wrong direction. I grabbed my book, paper, pen, jacket, and backpack, clutching them all in my arms in one big messy bunch, and scrambled off the train. A connecting subway pulled away in front of me just after I exited the car. Sometimes it can be annoying to miss a transfer, but this time, I was just happy that I managed to get off. I needed a bit of time to collect myself before getting on the next train.

And I thought about this urgency I felt to get off - to be willing and able to stop and leave a place when it was time, even if I didn't feel I was quite ready. Sometimes the journey is not so much about moving forward, but about getting off and stopping. Because if I continue on, I will end up where I don't want to go. Staying too long in sorrow turns into depression. Living too long in grief leads to bitterness. Remaining in party mode for too long makes one numb and irresponsible. Joking about everything stunts my ability to deal with reality in a compassionate way. Always talking about my past failures or successes means I never get off that train and as a result, don't go anywhere. Being stuck in editing mode means I never finish writing.

Stopping. Sometimes it is the hardest thing to do. But it is necessary to stop what we are doing, how we are reacting and thinking, because one mode, one train, cannot get us where we want to go - to living a full, rich, meaningful, maturing, loving, giving, life which belongs to God. There is a season for everything in such a life as this.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace. ...
[God] has made everything beautiful in its time (From Ecclesiastes 3, NIV)

This is a photo of one of the cars on the street during the Grand Prix celebrations in downtown Montreal last weekend. It was stopped, and good thing too, because there were pedestrains all around it.

BONUS VIDEO: For a good example of silliness and wisdom each in their own time, but still together, watch Conan O'Brien's recent convocation speech at Dartmouth:


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