Saturday, January 17, 2009

Three Words That Work Magic

This one is really just for me, although you are welcome to read it. It's a magazine article that I found WAAAAY back in 1985 when I was in high school. I've always been prone to worry too much, and so this really resonated with me then. I clipped it out and carried it in my purse for a few years. Then I gave it to someone who I thought could use it more than I. Twenty years later I was going through a crisis at work, and I'd wished that I still had it. I contacted Reader's Digest, and long story short, they were able to locate the article, and sold me one of the reserve copies of the issue that contained it. It helped me then, but I haven't given it much thought in the four years since then.
Until this morning anyway. I dusted the magazine off, re-read the article, and decided (among other things) that I need to have it in electronic format, so that I won't lose it again. Since you never know when a computer will crash, and I have a hard time organizing all the files that I back up so religiously, I've decided to store it here, as well as in a file on my computer.*

I'd ask you to excuse the indulgence, but this is a blog after all. Aren't blogs pretty much all about indulgence anyway?
Three Words that Work Magic

Some things clearly do matter. But too many of us too frequently fall apart over things that do not.

Condensed from These Times
Anya Bateman

"I'm going to share with you three words that will help you immensely in teaching and in life," a wise education professor once told a class I attended. "They're a magic formula to peace of mind. The words are; 'It doesn't matter.'"

It doesn't matter? The advice seemed to condone a "Who cares?" attitude, a direct contradiction to the attitudes we had been taught to foster; the importance of the individual child, the responsibility of being a teacher, and so on.

What did my professor mean?

He explained: "A teacher has many frustrations in his day that are really not important. If he lets those frustrations get to him, he can be devastated.

"I'll give you an example. Suppose you, the teacher, have carefully planned your day. There is much to be done. A special program is coming up and a holiday is looming.

"One little boy gets sick and throws up right on the mural that the students have nearly finished. Now, you can either fall apart because your plans are ruined, or you can say, 'It doesn't matter,' and convince yourself that it doesn't.

"Of course, you will have concern for what does matter, the feelings of the sick youngster. But as far as your plans are concerned, you will simply pick up your schedule where you left off."

I could see the wisdom in his words, and because I get frustrated easily, I penciled the phrase "IT DOESN'T MATTER" in capital letters in my notebook. I decided I would try not to let my frustrations and disappointments ruin my peace of mind.

It worked. I was happier and I got more accomplished as I accentuated the important and de-emphasized the unimportant.

Then came a challenge to my new attitude. I fell in love with good-looking Phil Jackson. He mattered. Oh, how he mattered. Phil was, I was sure, my Prince Charming.

But on a date one night, he told me as gently as he could that he thought of me only as a friend. The world I had planned around Phil came tumbling down. That night, as I cried in my bedroom, the words on my bulletin board seemed ironical: It doesn't matter, they declared.

"Oh, but it does, I whispered. "I love him. I can't live without him."

But when I awakened the next morning and looked at the words again, I began to analyze the situation. How much did it matter--really? Phil mattered and I mattered and our happiness mattered. But did I want to be married to someone who didn't love me?

As the days went by, I found that life was indeed possible without Phil. I could be happy. And surely someone else would enter my life. Even if no one did, I'd still be happy. I could control my feelings.

Several years later someone better suited to me did come along. In the excitement of wedding plans, I promptly forgot the words "It doesn't matter." I didn't need them anymore now that I would be "happily ever after-ing." My life would be void of frustrations.

How naive are the young! Marriage and motherhood void of frustrations? Five years and three children later, the pressures of home life began building up to the point that I found myself blowing steam too often. Why did children crack eggs onto a newly cleaned carpet? No matter how many time I washed, the hamper was full again the next day. And the noise! How dreadfully noisy children can be.

On my oldest daughter's birthday, I felt as if I were going to fall apart. I still had balloons to buy and blow up, and the party would start in a half-hour. My daughters were arguing loudly. I had two phone calls to make before I could leave.

After the calls, I grabbed the baby and hurried to find my girls and pack them into the car for a quick trip to the store. They were nowhere in sight. "Where are they?" I mumbled. Then I saw them. Their party clothes were covered with sawdust from the addition we were building. They had sawdust in their hair and had tramped it through the kitchen and dining room.

"Oh no! I can't stand it," I said. I felt myself ready to scream, "Oh you awful kids!" But something clicked in my mind. The words flashed by quickly, but they made an impression: It doesn't matter!

It really doesn't matter, I thought. At least not as much as I'm making it matter. I looked at the children again and shook my head, but laughed inside at the sight of them. Their eyes, large at my anger, peered out from little bodies covered from head to toe with sawdust.

It really didn't matter. It wasn't worth getting angry about. This special day belonged to them, not me. I wanted my children to have happy memories of birthdays and not "screaming mother" memories. They mattered: my children.

"Come on, let's get you brushed off," I said. I picked up the pieces of my day and started over with new peace of mind. And things turned out just great without balloons.

That night I printed the words "IT DOESN'T MATTER" on a piece of paper and pinned it on my kitchen bulletin board. I vowed I would not forget their message.

A few weeks later, my husband and I received some bad news. The money we had saved and invested in a business venture had been lost. After he read the letter to me, my husband left the room to be alone in the study. I could see him through the hall doorway, his forehead in his palms. The knot in my own stomach twisted as bitterness began to settle in. Then I remembered the three magic words; It doesn't matter.

Ha! I thought. This time, believe me, it does. But then the energetic pounding of our baby boy playing with his blocks diverted my attention. When he saw me looking at him, he stopped his pounding to chortle and grin a grin that had no price tag. Past him, through the window, the girls were patting the sides of a sand castle in eager, happy cooperation. Beyond them, behind our yard, silver maples met a sky that was clear and blue and endless. I could feel the knot in my stomach relaxing as peace took its place. Soon I felt myself smiling, and it wasn't long before I was heading for the study with a message for my husband: Everything is going to be all right. It's only money and it honestly doesn't matter.

In the large spectrum of life, there are many things that do matter. Our values and our honor matter. God matters. We matter. But there are also many things that threaten our peace of mind and our happiness that simply don't matter, or that doesn't matter as much as we make them matter. Now, if I can just keep remembering that.

*I realize that this could technically be considered an "unauthorized reproduction", and as such is prohibited. I've been trying to track down the author to ask her permission to keep it here, with limited success. I'll keep trying.

UPDATE:  I found her! She's okay with this being here.

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