Lead with your sadness, and follow with your success

vulnerability
My friend Dan and I went on our annual Adventure Week at the end of this summer, which typically involves either skiing/snowboarding (during the winter) or backpacking/hiking/climbing (during the summer) in Colorado. Even if my life is bursting with busyness and responsibilities and commitments (and perhaps especially so), I need to do this once a year and just get away. It helps me to get off the treadmill of normal life and intentionally slow down without any devices or email or pressures or stresses. All I am supposed to do during Adventure Week is to push myself physically, talk with God a lot, revel in the beauty of His creation, and intentionally shoehorn and wedge open some space and margin in my mind so that it is free to imagine, dream, process, and rest.

It helps me to get off the treadmill of normal life and intentionally slow down without any devices or email or pressures or stresses.

Normal life has a way of subtly convincing us that all of our rushing around and being productive and making things happen and accomplishing goals is the most important thing there is. It is not, by far. What is most important is protecting the state of my heart (i.e., making sure it is soft, sensitive, open, teachable, warm, and kind – instead of suspicious, cynical, calloused, judgmental, and closed off). I’ve written about that a lot in various blog entries, and I encourage you to check them out, in keeping with one of the strongest points that God makes to us in the Proverbs (and one you have probably memorized): Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life (4:23, NLT). It absolutely does. However, I wanted to share one of the new topics that came up during this Adventure Week: sharing good things and bad things and how it relates to the quality of relationships we have with others.

Unfortunately, our world is broken. And people are broken – me included. And we often let our emotions dictate our attitudes and actions even though we realize they are wrong upon reflection. For example, my eyes have recently been widely opened to the jealousy that people feel towards others. We want what they have, or we at least don’t feel the purest of joy for them when they share with us some good news (either in person or on social media). I’ve spoken on Comparing Ourselves To Others before and how it can be both positive and negative, but my point here is that we are acutely aware of the gap between our actual reality (what our life looks like) and the expectations we have (what we hoped our life would look like), and it bothers us.

Unfortunately, our world is broken. And people are broken – me included. And we often let our emotions dictate our attitudes and actions even though we realize they are wrong upon reflection.

Some days, it bothers us a lot and totally depresses us under its weight. Most days, we push it away and distract ourselves in innumerable ways so that the sadness it ushers in doesn’t immobilize us (“must…keep…getting…things…done”). For me personally, I totally know that I should be content, and when I do struggle I often hear Paul’s convicting words in Philippians 4:12 echo in the recesses of my brain: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” And I know the answer is that He alone fully satisfies, and I truly do understand that from experience. But then I lose it, because I have let other things get in the way. “Life” things. And from what I can tell, it happens to all of us.

And what Dan and I spent a lot of time discussing was how when our heart is in the right place, and when we are being satisfied by the Lord instead of by our circumstances, we genuinely are happy when someone shares about something awesome in their life. Conversely, when we are in the middle of a rough season, or aren’t feeling close to Him, or caught up major stress or bogged down with the cares of this world, we feign enthusiasm and force a smile and feel pretty crappy inside as we immediately think about our own situation. And it’s so disingenuous. But we can’t help it. Because we’re so focused on ourselves and what we have and don’t have that we cannot sincerely rejoice in the blessings of others. I mean, maybe we can sort of sincerely, but not really sincerely. And when you think about it, that’s kind of sad.

We talked about how I am seriously not comfortable telling some people in my life about the good things that are happening, because I am convinced that they would get jealous and look upon me unfavorably because I know they are not in a good place now (or, really, ever). In fact, I sort of feel led to share with them my sad stories and purposely exclude my happy stories just to relate to them better and commiserate with them further. But it makes me feel a bit yucky inside. And fake. Dan feels the same way. But maybe it’s just flat out wisdom. Maybe it’s being wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16) so we are not devoured by the world. I don’t know. I’m asking. I’m wondering. Maybe the fact that I feel yucky and fake isn’t because I’m doing something wrong, but because this is just really complicated and weird and not ideally how things should be, but frankly how things are.

I sort of feel led to share with them my sad stories and purposely exclude my happy stories just to relate to them better and commiserate with them further. But it makes me feel a bit yucky inside. And fake.

I was talking to Rachel about all of this, and she reminded me of the influence of our Christian testimony, and how that typically works to inspire and breathe hope into others. Its structure is as follows:

  • Share how things were not good in your life and in your heart before you met God
  • Share how you met God, and how that affected your life and your heart
  • Share how your life and heart are doing now that you know God and seek to live for Him

We know that it is incredibly powerful and transformative when conveyed in this manner, and I think that it’s a good model for how we should interact with others in general. When we have awesome news to share, maybe we shouldn’t always blurt it out without context. We should share how things were not good, and then how this cool thing happened, and now how things are better. We should lead with our trials, and then follow with our triumphs. Again, we should lead with our sadness, and follow with our success. And maybe being more strategic about it this way can really cut down on the jealousy which arises in all of us, and help us truly empathize so much more with each other.

Connections are formed through the sharing of hard times. Being vulnerable, and real, and raw. Diving into the messiness of life, and being okay with not putting up a front, or donning a mask, or wearing a fig leaf.

The bottom line is that people don’t want to hear about someone else succeeding all the time. In part, that’s why we get annoyed at celebrities, and our friends on social media with their constant highlight-reel postings of their life. That’s not what really leads to connections. And deeper, healthier relationships. And a desire to be closer, a desire to get to know someone more, and care about them more. From my experience (and likely yours as well), connections are formed through the sharing of hard times. Being vulnerable, and real, and raw. Diving into the messiness of life, and being okay with not putting up a front, or donning a mask, or wearing a fig leaf.

I love Eric Berry, who plays safety for the Kansas City Chiefs (my favorite football team), but when I found out that he was diagnosed with cancer, I loved him all the more. And prayed for him all the more. I love my friend Dan, but when the bottom fell out of his life, I loved him all the more. And prayed for him all the more. I love my wife, but I love her all the more when I see tears fall from her eyes. I love my sister and my mom and my dad not because of how good they’ve been to me, but because of the sad things that have happened to them, and the fact that we’ve been through so much together.

All of these things powerfully remind me that I’m not the only one who has to journey through the valleys and deserts of life. I know valleys and deserts very well. I have been in them, and I have so desperately and painfully wanted out of them. And because of those experiences and that desperation, I feel a deeper kinship and closeness towards those in the same place. But if I don’t know about your valleys and deserts, I just won’t feel it towards you. I’ll feel like I’m not able to relate to you. I’ll feel like you know nothing about life. And how hard it is, pretty much on a daily basis. I mean, I think sometimes about how I want to sincerely care about Kim Kardashian, and then I wonder why I just don’t, but I know it’s not going to happen unless she shares a story with me that I can relate to, and that makes my heart break for her, at least a little.

I know valleys and deserts very well. I have been in them, and I have so desperately and painfully wanted out of them. And because of those experiences and that desperation, I feel a deeper kinship and closeness towards those in the same place.

I really feel like God wants to help us more with this. And I really feel like He is always available to do so if we would just pause and consider for a split second what we are about to share, and to whom, and if there is a more vulnerable, gracious, and encouraging way to go about doing it – keeping in mind that the people around us are likely struggling on some level (just like we are). And we should look for more opportunities to be real with others – not to manipulatively pluck their heartstrings and make them feel sorry for us, but to foster meaningful connections and moments. Lead with your sadness, and follow with your success. I think it’ll help us understand each other better, and care about each other more. And I think it’ll do a ton to replace our inclination towards jealousy with a genuine desire to cheer for and celebrate good things in the lives of others.

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