On a recent trip to London, I learned to maneuver my way through the city using their underground transit system – The Tube. I was captivated by the quaint British accent announcing: “Mind the Gap” as we approached each stop. I loved the way these three simple words brought new meaning in how I would proceed on my journey. Sometimes there was a visible gap between where the platform started and the train ended or a step up or down to the platform. To me, these gaps represented the various traps or stumbling blocks we can fall captive to if we are not mindful as we move along in life.
A stumbling block is an “obstacle or impediment” that can trip us up or cause us to lose our footing. Life is full of these traps, and being aware can sometimes help us avoid them. Even more important than avoiding is to recognize we all face them – no one is immune.
One of the most critical challenges is recognizing the difference between happiness and pleasure. Immitations are deceiving. We live in a time of “knockoffs,” where there is profit in trying to sell the consumer on a fake imitation of the genuine article. If we pursue that which is elusive and slippery we can be, in the end, left with nothing. James E. Talmage describes it beautifully:
“In this day of counterfeits, adulterations, and base imitations, the devil is busier than he has ever been in the course of human history, in the manufacture of pleasures, both old and new; and these he offers for sale in most attractive fashion, falsely labeled, ‘Happiness.’ …He has learned the tricks of the trade, and knows well how to catch the eye and arouse the desire of his customers. He puts up the stuff in bright-colored packages, tied with tinsel string and tassel; and crowds flock to his bargain counters, hustling and crushing one another in their frenzy to buy.”
It has been said “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and the point is well worth considering. When we compare we often contrast the worst version of ourselves to the best we see in others. Social media puts a seemingly positive spin on others. What we don’t see is their unfolded laundry, the sink full of dishes, and dirty bathrooms. Don’t hold yourself up to some ambiguous standard of greatness. We all are unique in our journey with our own set of highs and lows. If you must compare – compare your progress from a year ago. And in the words of my 3rd-grade teacher, “Keep your eyes on your own paper.”
We have all experienced the feeling of betrayal from being deceived. How often do we consider our the level of honesty with ourselves? Does it seem as if your misfortune is a result of someone else’s actions? Do the burdens of your consequences not seem to add up? Self-deception is a stumbling block and very real trap. It can “blind us to the true cause of problems,” and impede our ability to perceive situations as they are. Justification, rationalization, lying, blaming others, and failing to take ownership of our actions are just a few symptoms of self-deception. Ultimately, this type of deceit can catch us in a kind of dual life. One is based in reality while the other is reflective of the person you try to show to others.
Stumbling blocks are hard to avoid. Have you ever hiked along a trail that was full of large rocks and small boulders? The easiest way to move through them is to step directly on top of each stone rather than around and in between. Abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher suggested that stumbling blocks can become “stepping stones to a noble character and Heaven.” Stumbling through life’s problems is not always easy to endure, but “minding the gap” enables us to possibly side-step a painful setback. Contemplate your possible stumbling blocks and instead consider how to make building blocks to learn, grow, and become the type of person we were meant to be.
What stumbling blocks have you turned into stepping stones?