Childlike Faith – Living and Loving Your Life With God's Perspective

Tag - wisdom

When Your Goals Matter More Than Your Family

work-life-balance-family

“Society treats kids and senior citizens the same,” Rachel remarked to me the other day, and it got me thinking a lot about the truth of that statement on many levels. In the main, there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of time, respect, and wholehearted care given to those populations by the mass of individuals who find themselves chronologically between them, even if they are related to them.

Everywhere I look this is evident. And this is why many kids are raised in day care and after school centers, and why many grandpas and grandmas spend the winter of their lives in nursing homes and senior centers.

I am concerned that we will have a lot of regret at the end of our lives when we take a hard look at the choices we made, and the things we neglected.

It has been said that that which is most important to us can be identified by the things on which we spend the most time. From what I can tell, it’s often not family. It’s our selfish desires – our lives, our goals, our hobbies, our comforts, our distractions. And while it’s easy to excuse and rationalize away when we are caught up in work pressures, health issues, household responsibilities, and so much stress and anxiety, I am concerned that we will have a lot of regret at the end of our lives when we take a hard look at the choices we made, and the things we neglected.

I am definitely guilty of this. I don’t check in with my parents as often as I should, and I point to my never-ending list of responsibilities as the reason why. What about you – do you do the same?

I also get annoyed sometimes (although I try to hide it, often unsuccessfully) when my newborn keeps fussing and won’t let me get back to my work or chores or my phone without interruption. Can you relate? Does your kid annoy you sometimes for simply having needs at inconvenient times? What about your significant other?

I do love my parents.

And I do love my kid.

And I do love my wife.

They each want and deserve meaningful love and undivided attention. Heck, we all do. But I struggle to give it to them unless it’s done on my time and my schedule. Unless I am really in the mood.

And even though I would never ignore them or fail to come through for them, the attitude with which I sometimes approach the time and effort I am asked to give them betrays a major heart issue. And specifically, I think it points out that in my mind, my life is way more important than theirs.

I was mentioning to Rachel that from the age of about 20 to perhaps 60, adults (including me) have an aggrandized sense of self-importance. We get so wrapped up in building a successful career, making a name for ourselves, creating a nest egg, having a family, and striving for an idyllic and enviable life that we end up elbowing out anything that slows us down or otherwise seems to undermine our efforts. As if what we are doing with our life matters more than anything else (and what they are doing).

We get so wrapped up in striving for an idyllic and enviable life that we end up elbowing out anything that slows us down or otherwise seems to undermine our efforts.

But the reality is that no one is going to really remember 99.9% of us in 100 years. Even though I truly believe my work is important, and that I’m actually saving lives through my research, training, and service activities, no one is going to remember me. Seriously. Not in 100 years. Not in 2117 or 2118 or 2119 or 2120. Yes, I’ll have made a difference in the lives of others, and that difference absolutely does matter, but I’m not going to be in a US History book, and you probably aren’t either.

No offense.

And so with that in mind, it seems incredibly arrogant and pretentious to keep excusing that fact that I don’t give my absolute best to my parents or my kids or my significant other because my work and life goals are too important. They aren’t, compared to them. And it’s likely yours aren’t either. I don’t know you, but the odds are that you are probably fooling yourself.

I have always wanted to be able to say that regardless of my professional successes or failures, I gave my family the best of me.

The thing is though, I understand the struggle. I do. It’s often easier to give our best to our jobs and obligations instead of our families. That’s true in my life, at least. Why? I think it’s because I have more control over work stuff, and less control over family stuff because their hearts and feelings are involved, and they want my actions and words toward them to involve my heart and feelings. And sometimes that is exhausting, and that means I’m not always in the mood to give them my best. 

In addition, we often don’t see immediate, tangible rewards from pouring into our family, like we do in our work each day and each week.  Familiarity without constant and visible rewards seems to breed contempt, I guess. It’s just tough. But I have always wanted to be able to say that regardless of my professional successes or failures, I gave my family the best of me.  I’m trying to keep that goal first and foremost above all other goals, and let my moment-by-moment decisions each day be guided accordingly.  And I’m trying to deflate my aggrandized sense of self-importance by remembering that my loved ones matter so much more than the things I’ve spent my life pursuing.

What I’ve Learned in Two Years of Marriage

Somehow, some way, a bit over twenty-four months have passed while I’ve been doing this marriage thing. What the pez!? You’ll recall I shared some of the lessons learned after one year of being hitched, and I thought it would be important to reflect again now that we’ve hit another milestone. I’m not sure how the first couple years are supposed to be, or tend to be. Are we still in the “honeymoon stage”? Are we past it? Are we unique in any way? Are we like every other young married couple at this stage? I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter.

Here’s what I do know. We’re doing great. I can say that without even the slightest qualification. And I’m so thankful for it and don’t take it for granted. My love for her is definitely growing stronger, not plateauing or weakening in any way. I shared in a letter I wrote to her before I went to Ireland this summer that I catch myself feeling increasingly vulnerable in terms of my love for her. Like, I’m losing control, like she has this power over me that makes me feel all liquefied inside. Not always, but definitely when I’m missing her a ton, or thinking about her in the midst of exhaustion or loneliness or work struggles.

At those times, if I were to let the emotions completely overcome me, I feel I would turn into a blubbery mess. Because in that moment, I want her, I need her, I love her so painfully much. I don’t allow my mind or feelings to go there, but that’s what marriage and doing life with her has done to me 🙂

But you’re not here to read about that. Let’s talk about what I have learned. Allow me to structure this in terms of two things I say to myself on a consistent basis. That will most profoundly illustrate how my thinking and my living have been affected.

“It doesn’t really matter.”

I say this a lot in my head. Early on, a handful of things bugged me. In my mind, she loads the dishwasher a little inefficiently. Almost every day, the floor and counter would have one or two small sticky spots from her cooking or making tea or something (I really hate stickiness. Really.)   She takes a while to do something that I would have already knocked out. She’s a couple minutes late getting ready when we’re off to be somewhere on time. Stuff like that.

But in the grand scheme of things, I have learned that it’s not a big deal.

And I believe she is doing her best and is well aware of what might annoy me, and I need to leave it at that.

She’s a separate person with a separate way of doing things, and it’s totally fine. It’s not fair for me to expect her to do everything in the exact same way as I would, at the exact same speed. Preserving harmony in the marriage takes precedent. “Us” is always more important than “me.” And seriously, I’m sure she bites her tongue every day when it comes to my idiosyncrasies and annoying habits. I wouldn’t want to do life with me. I’m so thankful she does. Being so intimately acquainted with my faults, it’s actually kind of miraculous.

Remember that the other person is doing their best. They are not trying to annoy you or irritate you in the least bit.

For those in long-term relationships or marriages, try to tell yourself often that “it doesn’t really matter.” There are very few hills you should die on. Yes, have convictions about the important things – the things that reflect integrity and industriousness and wisdom and kindness and faith – but try to let go about the comparatively trivial things. Remember that the other person is doing their best. They are not trying to annoy you or irritate you in the least bit. They are trying each day to be all you need them to be. And you should be thankful for all of the ways they are patient and gracious and ever-loving with you.

“Only one thing is necessary.”

I say this to myself a lot too. And it helps me to be a better person, which in turn helps me to be a better husband. It’s from Luke 10:42, when sisters Mary and Martha are hosting Jesus. Martha is running around the house trying to manage life and responsibilities and appearances and demands. Mary is just hanging out with the Lord, getting to know Him and His heart, and finding her worth and value in Him. And when Martha complains about Mary not helping her with all she has going on, Jesus lovingly admonishes Martha and praises Mary’s singular devotion and choice with the words, “Only one thing is necessary.”

It’s true. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in trying to stay on top of life. And pursuing that goal has the side-effect of pushing out my pursuit of God and my pursuit of Rachel. I start to think that sweeping the floor, or writing another paper, or preparing for tax season, or organizing my closet is more important right now than them. But they aren’t. Ever. Those tasks always come in second to the way I love my Lord and the way I love my wife. I’m not saying you have to let those things go; rather, you should make sure that your good intentions to get things done doesn’t undermine the best possible relationship you could ever have.

It’s so easy for me to get caught up in trying to stay on top of life. And pursuing that goal has the side-effect of pushing out my pursuit of God and my pursuit of Rachel.

I find this extremely tough. I hate mistakes and I hate problems because they get in the way of me living how I want each day (I do realize this is dysfunctional and selfish and prideful and controlling). And so I do all I can to avoid them by laboring in ways that prevent their possible occurrence. I’m always thinking ahead. I spray for bugs just in case we have a random infestation. I trim palm trees to keep them from possibly knocking down a gutter. I plan for old age. I maintain proper tire pressure in our vehicles. I stay on top of mail and bills and filing paperwork. There is always something else to do. Always. I’m never caught up the way I want to be. Ever.

But all of this takes so much time, time that I could be – and should be – giving to God and my wife. Obviously, I’m supposed to be a good steward, and take care of the domain over which He’s give me ownership. But I clearly need to trust Him more to hold everything together and not let the bottom fall out (which is fundamentally what I am afraid of). I’m trying. It’s going to be impossible for me to keep this up when we have children. I just have to trust more. And do less. And give myself to my most important relationships above all else.

It’s going to be impossible for me to keep this up when we have children. I just have to trust more. And do less. And give myself to my most important relationships above all else.

That’s it. Pretty simple, actually. There are so many lists in books and online with top tips for relationships and dating and marriages, but all of that can be subsumed under two succinct phrases for me: “it doesn’t really matter” and “only one thing is necessary.” Or, as Stephen Covey has said, “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” I feel like when I’ve concentrated my energies on living out these two overarching statements, everything else falls into place. Not perfectly (because we are broken people in a broken world), but pretty dang well – and marked by a good measure of peace, harmony, and even joy. That is all I want as Rachel and I enjoy each other’s love, laughter, and companionship, and team up to accomplish epic things for His people, purposes, and renown.

Why I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

New-Years-Resolutions-Faith
New Year’s Resolutions are normal, healthy, logical, and helpful. They springboard and incentivize us towards positive change. I understand why we make them, and why I made them for a good portion of my life. But when I consider the driving motivation for me personally with these January commitments to myself, it clearly reminds me why I stopped.

Resolutions are typically prompted by a feeling of discontent. At the end of December, something feels unsettled, unresolved, and lingering. Like “more” could have been done, or should have been done. This largely manifests in two ways:

  • More in the professional sense (better job, higher income, growth of business, more property, more investments)
  • More in the personal sense (wiser spending habits, being a better person, more time with family and friends, getting organized, enjoying life to the fullest, higher levels of health and fitness)

I am a fan of all of these. A huge fan. I want you to do them. But I just want you to remember that next year – while you’re doing all of these things, after you’ve done all of these things – you will still struggle with discontent. Even after accomplishing the really noble ones. Really. You will.

Maybe you already know this, but it took me a long while to really get it. Year after year, I kept thinking that if I just got better and better and better in all areas of my life – through more commitments to myself, more tweaks to my system of doing things, more goals and triumphs, more esteem and approval from my employer and peer group, more good times with family and friends – the discontent would go away. Forever. Never to return. And I’d be finally fully satisfied because I was now Sameer v2.0, or 3.0, or 10.0.

And so I made some New Year’s Resolutions, where I:

  • gave up soda
  • worked out more
  • earned my degrees
  • published papers
  • got promoted
  • bought a home
  • gained more followers on social media
  • went on more adventures
  • finally set up a 401K
  • watched more TED talks
  • read more books
  • learned more life hacks
  • spent more time with family
  • began guitar lessons
  • volunteered in the community
  • drank more water

But the discontent remained. I could tell myself that it was gone – that I was living out my days in the best possible of ways, pursuing excellence and accomplishment and fitness and adventure and success – but it would slowly show up again. I could forcefully shut the door on my discontentment, and barricade it out with a litany of goals and achievements and rationalizations and arguments, but it would still creep in under the sill and find its way back into my life like a mold.

And so I have gotten back to basics over the last handful of years – not perfectly, but in large measure. I’ve gotten back to a committed pursuit of God, and the priority of daily intimacy with Him. This is my number one mission, no matter what. Now to be honest, it doesn’t happen every single day. But He knows that it is my heart’s desire, and that I am doing my best. And that is what matters to Him.

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” ~ John 4:14

To followers of Christ, this makes sense, and you realize that this is the answer. You’ve experienced Him being your everything, and all that you need and want, and how glorious and truly satisfying it is. But it’s so easy to lose it, to have lost it. Especially with so many daily and hourly pressures and pushes and pulls, along with cultural and societal messages that indirectly and directly cause us to lose focus.

To those who have never walked with Christ, I know this sounds weird and churchy and completely out of touch with the way the world works, and with all that you know (and all you’ve been told) about doing life. I totally get that.

But if you struggle with some level of discontentment every year, and you continue to assume that the answer has to be “more” (fitness, money, degrees, popularity, relationships, you name it), I just want to suggest that it will likely leave you right where you started when it comes to fulfillment, and when it comes to peace. From my experience, what you truly want and need will ultimately remain elusive. Maybe from your experience as well, as you look back over the last handful of years.

“If we have not quiet in our minds, outward comfort will do no more for us than a glass slipper on a gouty foot.” ~ John Bunyan

But perhaps you’re thinking, “WAIT – this time could be different. This new year – if I can just make certain things happen – everything will finally work out, and be awesome, and I’ll have arrived.”

You’re welcome to try. I hope it works out for you this time. Or the following year. Or the year after that. It just never did for me, and for basically everyone else I know with a few decades behind them.

What I have found is that His love and presence and closeness is better than life. Better by leaps and bounds. And it doesn’t leave me missing something, or searching for more to resolve the tension between where I am and where I think I need to be.

And here is the kicker, and what I think is so amazing as it relates to the end-goal of New Year’s Resolutions: an intimate, abiding relationship with God inspires and directs and guides me to pursue the personal and professional goals that I want and that He wants for me. And when both of us are fully on board, it’s so much better because I know He’s in them, and they’re the best He has for me, and that He will help make them happen. It’s not just me, all alone – year after year – deciding to chase after this, that, and the other to keep a gnawing but pervasive sense of dissatisfaction at bay. And I’m not left to just spin and sputter in futility. He’s helping set the goals, orchestrate the action plans, and always there along the way to bless, encourage, and support me.

“You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in You.” ~ St. Augustine

Don’t make resolutions in another well-meaning attempt to resolve the discontent you currently feel. You’ll soon enough find something else you think you need to have, or do, or become. Instead, inquire of God – not blindly, but thoughtfully, considerately, and genuinely. Take a chance on Him being real, active, unconditionally loving, and wanting to be meaningfully involved in your life. And, if He shows Himself strong (as I know He will), resolve to pursue Him and His heart above all else. The personal and professional success will take care of itself along the way, but will pale in comparison to what you find truly matters, and truly fulfills.

Give this a go in the new year. You have nothing to lose, and absolutely everything to gain.

Image source: http://bit.ly/2h99FEt

When You Can’t Help Others Help Themselves

codependency-savior-complex
In my last blog, I talked about my “savior complex” and how my compulsion to rescue others from their perceived or actual problems actually made me miserable. Perhaps you could relate to that. Today, I want to explore in depth when it isn’t a good idea to get involved in other people’s lives unless it’s truly led by God, instead of your own mercurial emotions and desire to constantly be the hero. I’m sure this list isn’t comprehensive, but here are at least a few situations that come to mind when I think about it.

1. You might have the solution they need, but they might not be in a place to receive it. When this happens, it’s like talking to a wall.

It’s so frustrating when you want to help someone and you are convinced your insight or assistance can get them to a place of breakthrough – but you also know that they just won’t really get it. I know a married couple who has been struggling for years and years, and even if I talk to one of them about the obvious dysfunctions they have in their relationship and that they need to address them so they stop fighting all the time, they won’t. The codependency is too deep. They are too ensconced and comfortable in their messed-up patterns of interacting and living. And yet for so long I would bring it up (when they would vent to me) in my desperate attempt to get them to a better place. But I’ve stopped.

As much as you want others to learn from your bloody experiences, sometimes they just need to bleed for themselves.

Another example would be when your friend comes to you for advice in her romantic relationship, and you tell her flat out that she should kick him to the curb because you and everyone else knows he’s major trouble – but she doesn’t. And she’s not going to. She’s going to do what she wants, which is to wait for him to change, or justify the way she’s treated, or avoid breaking up because she can’t deal with being alone.

Even right now, I’m mentoring a guy and he is coming to me for advice and his situation with a girl is jacked up, but there is nothing I can do because he just isn’t getting it. He’s seeing what he wants to see, and believing what he wants to believe. Of course, I want and need to be loving and gracious towards these people in my life, because I know in my own past I have perhaps not heeded wise counsel as quickly I should have – simply because I wasn’t in a place to receive it and put it into action. As much as you want others to learn from your bloody experiences, sometimes they just need to bleed for themselves.

2.  When you come through for someone, you might be keeping them from learning the lessons that God is trying to teach them, and from the growth He wants them to experience.

People should desire in and of themselves to become whole, healthy, healed individuals. They should have an internal – and not external – locus of control and know that they (with God and their loved ones) can deal with any problem that comes their way. You can’t want this for them more badly than they want it, and if you keep rescuing them, they never hit rock bottom and decide of their own volition to make changes. And making changes in their lives of their own volition is the surest way for that change to actually last.

If you are always swooping in and saving them, they never learn personal responsibility and autonomy. Instead, you’re a co-conspirator in their learned helplessness and victim mentality, where they start to rely on others to be their conscience, their reminders, their motivation, their brain. And you’ve become a cattle prod and a full-on enabler. And eventually a major reason why they stay in the same place they’ve always been.

If you are always swooping in and saving them, they never learn personal responsibility and autonomy. Instead, you’re a co-conspirator in their learned helplessness and victim mentality.

I’ve done this. For example, I want my parents to work out more (I bet everyone wants their parents to work out more!) so that they can stay strong and healthy. But they need to want it for themselves. I used to remind them all the time, but I don’t anymore. Another example is when someone keeps bailing out a friend who has money problems. Or a person who refuses to file formal charges against an abusive domestic partner. Sometimes, you have to let them feel the full weight of the consequences they are due. Sometimes, if they sow the wind, they have to reap the whirlwind – and not be protected from it.

If someone wants to change badly enough, they’ll figure out a way to make it happen. They’ll carve time for it. They’ll prioritize it, and they’ll reach out for help, and they’ll get it done. If they don’t want it badly, it’s not up to me to convince them otherwise. It’s their life, and not mine, and that is a bitter pill to swallow. Trust me, I know. But as callous as it sounds, it is the healthiest option you can make – for yourself, and for the other person. It is tough love at its finest.

3. When you operate completely in human effort and led solely by human emotion, which is untrustworthy. This is an exhausting way to live, and from my experience far from fruitful.

I care about a lot of people, and when they post or mention their needs or wants on social media or in conversation when we’re hanging out, I always think – I could help with that, I could come through for you, I could advise you in this area, I could lead you out of this foxhole. But I have also learned over time that only when God clearly and repeatedly puts that person on my heart does my help really make a difference, and really have a lasting impact. Otherwise it’s like, “um, yay, thank you,” and then it’s back to business as usual for them, and I’m left feeling unsettled, unfulfilled, and really let down.

What I find much more productive and beneficial is when God clearly leads me to step in to help others, instead of me doing it out of compulsion, obligation, or emotion.

What I find much more productive and beneficial is when God clearly leads me to step in to help others, instead of me doing it out of compulsion, obligation, or emotion. Then, He ends up making things go way better and way smoother, because He is actually involved in the process. I always want to be led by Him. I want Him to direct my steps. I want Him to make my paths straight. I want my efforts to really, actually matter – and my experiences have shown me that He supernaturally blesses what I do when it’s been bathed in prayer and prompted by Him alone. And, to be honest, the feeling is the best feeling ever – to be led in these ways, to be a light in someone’s darkness in these days. Frankly, I want that all the time! It feels like what I was meant to do.

4. You and I actually have better things to do than get involved in every situation and drama and issue that we see in the lives of those around us.

Unfortunately, it’s so easy as a Christian who has the best intentions and the kindest of souls to get caught up in other people’s messes in an unbalanced way. And like I’ve alluded to earlier, it’s so easy to rationalize as “doing God’s work.”  For the reasons stipulated above, I just don’t think that we should invite ourselves into the problems that others are having unless He clearly prompts us. If your heart is in the right place, I promise that He will prompt you and He will push You out of your comfort zone to be a blessing to others.

But if we are constantly doing it whenever we are asked, and in any and every situation without wise discernment about what is right for us to take on, I just feel like it’s foolish. I’ve seen people constantly pour themselves out on behalf of others as a way of “taking up their cross” while their own lives, family situations, and health fall apart. It makes me so upset. It is such a travesty.

I’ve seen people constantly pour themselves out on behalf of others as a way of “taking up their cross” while their own lives, family situations, and health fall apart.

Please don’t misunderstand the gist of my message here. I fully understand that we are called to be a blessing to others, and those of you who know me will attest to the fact that I walk the walk. All I am advocating for here is more God-sourced vision and selectivity for when and how we come through for others. I hope that the reasons and examples I’ve provided above, as well as the stories of my own failures in this area, help to convince you of its merit. I’d love to hear if these words have struck a chord with you – please let me know in the comments below!

When You Always Feel Compelled to Rescue Others

savior mentality
I was talking with my friend Brittany recently about the way we spend our time, and one of the things that came up has to do with our involvement in the lives of others. Now, I think we are meant to do life in community, and be connected with a group of like-minded individuals who can be there for us while we also are available for them. Life pretty much sucks when you have to do everything alone, and you have no friends with whom you can share your highs or your lows. However, we started to discuss how many individuals are too involved in the lives of others, and at best it is unproductive and unwise, and at worst it is harmful to both you and the other person.

Whenever there was a need, I would jump to action and come through. Whenever someone was sad or lonely, I would step in and work to lift their spirits through my words and actions.

Throughout my teen years and even in my early twenties, I unknowingly had what has been termed a “savior complex” or “savior mentality.”  Whenever there was a need, I would jump to action and come through. Whenever someone was sad or lonely, I would step in and work to lift their spirits through my words and actions. Whenever someone had a problem, I was the first to offer a solution.

You might be asking yourself: okay, so what is the issue? I honestly couldn’t see anything wrong at that time either. We are called to be a blessing to others, and I was doing that. We were meant to pour ourselves for others, as Christ did for the church. We are asked to love one another as God has loved us.

However, I was constantly operating out of my emotions – they were the driving force. In various ways, my actions were prompted by the following messages in my mind:

  • People now count on you. This makes you important and valued to others. Keep doing it. Otherwise, no one will care about you. You won’t have any value to them.
  • This is your identity now. This is who “Sameer” is. This is what keeps you affirmed, and validated, and appreciated.
  • People don’t have everything together like you do. They are a hot mess. You know what everyone needs, and you have what everyone needs. You should feel sorry for them and give them what they need.
  • People need you to help them because if you don’t, no one will. It’s up to you to save the day.
  • If you helped other people in the past, why wouldn’t you help this person now? You need to come through for as many people as you possibly can.
  • Life is brutal, and if you come through for others, they will come through for you – in precisely the ways you need them to. Or God will. Because that’s how this thing works.
  • Jesus died to Himself every moment of every day and was always spending Himself on behalf of others. Do the same. Be like Jesus.

Hopefully you are starting to see that while my intentions were really good, my thought processes were also kind of dysfunctional. And definitely unhealthy. I needed others to need me, and I enjoyed their dependency on me. But I never stopped to ask myself the hard questions:

  • Why do you feel this constant compulsion to rescue others?
  • Why do you feel so inadequate just the way you are that you need to constantly be the hero to everyone else?
  • Why do you feel it is your job to make sure that everyone is doing okay?
  • Why must you try to fix others and clean up the messes that they make?

In retrospect, I can point to the fact that I was the oldest son in the family and already was used to taking responsibility for others. And that I didn’t actually believe that people would be drawn to me naturally, and so I had to get them to lean in my direction through my selfless actions. Or that I didn’t understand the importance of self-care, and how I need to be loving myself well before I’m really able to love others well. Or that everything was definitely not up to me.

But the reality was that back then, this is how I lived my life and this is how I interacted with people. And after a while, it started to take a very noticeable toll:

I began to get resentful because I was always pouring out to others, and no one was pouring into me.

I started to hate myself because I felt like I always had to be proving my worth and value through these selfless actions.

I was tired and drained and physically wiped out, but I felt like I had to keep gutting it out to bless others even if I was personally miserable.

It felt like if this was the Christian life, and if this is what Jesus asks of us, I didn’t know if I could do it – or even want to do it.

Thankfully, my pastor pulled me aside one day after I asked an 80 year-old woman at my church to have lunch with me, just because I thought I needed to show her love and interest since other people at our church weren’t really doing that. I’m serious. I had nothing in common with this person, nor any reason to spend time with her. I just felt compelled to be the hero, come through for her, and rescue her from her presumed loneliness.

There’s nothing wrong with random acts of kindness, and doing things for people who can’t do anything for you. In fact, those are awesome things. But that’s not what I was doing. I was operating out of a twisted mentality. I had no balance or perspective. What I was doing was becoming pathological.

I’m so much happier because my interpersonal interactions are healthy now, and not co-dependent. I own my life fully, and I let other people live their lives fully.

Through the blunt conversation I then had with my pastor, my eyes were slowly opened. And over the next few months, I faced the manifestations of my dysfunction, and really committed to rooting out the savior mentality in my life. It has helped so much. I’m so much happier because my interpersonal interactions are healthy now, and not co-dependent. I own my life fully, and I let other people live their lives fully. I really think it’s the best way to be.

Next time, I’m going to explore specific reasons why it’s simply not wise to play this role in the lives of others (based on my extensive experience with this). For now, though, I want to know what personal examples come to your mind as you think about when you’ve tried to be the “savior” in the lives of others.  Please do take a moment and share in the comments below, and I will definitely weigh in as well!

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When God Corrects Us to Protect Us

right-way-wrong-way
During our recent backpacking trip through parts of Europe, an interesting thing happened. We were walking around a city square in Ghent, Belgium one workday afternoon, and we saw a child running from the middle of the square toward the busy, crowded street. He must have been about two years old, and it caused us alarm because nobody wants to see a kid to go running into a dangerous situation packed with oncoming cars and buses and trams. I was like, whoa, what the heck, this is not good! But then I saw another child – probably around six years old – moving fast towards him on his little bicycle, with wide-eyed fear plastered across his face. He was dressed in the same manner as the younger child, and so I am going to assume it was his older brother. And I watched that older brother stop his bicycle in front of us, put down the kickstand so it wouldn’t fall over, and then run hard to reach his little brother and grab his arm before he walked out into traffic.

Despite the six-year old’s insistence, the two-year old refused to budge and move away from the street! He just sat down on the ground right at the curb, and threw a fit with screams and tears.

What next ensued was surprising, but then not surprising. Despite the six-year old’s insistence, the two-year old refused to budge and move away from the street! He just sat down on the ground right at the curb, and threw a fit with screams and tears. But I watched the six year-old patiently stand by him, and did not raise his voice or get upset. He just attempted to gently kick him and nudge him towards the square, towards a safer place. And that helped a little – the little boy did move just a little bit away from the road, and kept doing so with every gentle nudge. Albeit with his arms crossed in disgust, a constant whine and whimper, and a frown on his face.

Rachel pointed out how this reminded her of how we are with God. It’s so true – I rarely know what is really best for me. And I often run in this direction, or that direction, in search of excitement, or purpose, or fulfillment. In fact, I get on these seemingly noble but still wild goose chases where I convince myself that I *must* do this, or must do that. I see in retrospect that God has saved me from so much – the wrong relationships, the wrong work partners, the wrong investment decisions, the wrong choices. But I’m embarrassed to say that many times – before I get a clue – I am quite stubborn and childish in my immediate reaction when He corrects me, or diverts me, or undermines all that I wanted to do, or planned to make happen. My attitude and actions pretty much all the time tend to betray that I know what’s best for me. But I don’t. I just don’t. Only God does, and it’s at best foolish and at worst dangerous for me to think that I do.

My attitude and actions pretty much all the time tend to betray that I know what’s best for me. But I don’t. I just don’t. Only God does, and it’s at best foolish and at worst dangerous for me to think that I do.

Plus, when He corrects me in these ways, it feels like it’s a blow to my autonomy, my freedom. I feel like my choice is being taken away, and having that choice seems inextricably attached to my identity, my life, who I am. But the reality is that I am not losing freedom – I am simply being protected. That decision would just not be best for me. He knows, and I don’t.

But in these moments, all I can think about is how the derailing of my plans is painful. How His correction stings a little. How it’s not fun at all, and how sometimes I just want my way with no consequences. Just like I bet that two-year-old felt when his older brother was kicking him so he would move away from danger and back toward safety.

What I really want to work on is not moving ahead with any idea or choice without going to Him and making sure He’s on board. To be sure, I know that many times He won’t give me a green light and that I need to take the first step of faith if I feel good about the decision. But what I have learned from experience is that if I give Him that voice into the situation while I am taking the first step or two (before completely running off and doing my own thing), He will give me a yellow or red light. And that will serve as the direction I need, and keep me choosing options that are in line with His best for my life.

 

 

When You Really Want to Find a Mentor

The Karate Kid – the original version, which came out in 1984 – is one of my all-time favorite movies.  Why? Well, I could relate to Daniel LaRusso, the introverted, awkward, skinny underdog who was valiantly trying to make friends and fit in at his new school in California.  Plus, most boys my age saw the film and instantly developed a hopeless crush on Ali Mills in all of her ponytailed spunkiness, and could empathize with Daniel’s wistful desire to win her heart and be the hero of the story.  Finally, I loved the movie because I knew what it was like to be bullied, and the feeling of helplessness that stemmed from a sheer inability to stand up for myself.  I mean, no one had ever shown me what to say or what to do when other kids gave me crap or pushed me around.

As you’ll recall, Daniel didn’t either.  Until he met Mr. Miyagi, and his life was forever changed.

The aforementioned reasons underscore why the movie enjoyed commercial and critical success, Mr. Miyagi and his role in Daniel’s life still stands out in my mind decades later.  If you’re familiar with the story, you remember that he was the repairman at Daniel’s new apartment complex, and early in the movie he defends Daniel against five members of the Cobra Kai.  As a result, Daniel asks Mr. Miyagi to teach him how to fight, and is then taken under his wing.  Through this relationship, Daniel not only learns karate, but also many lessons of greater import related to life, relationships, stability, confidence, and courage.

Through this relationship, Daniel not only learns karate, but also many lessons of greater import related to life, relationships, stability, confidence, and courage.

I wanted that.  I wanted that so badly.  And I saw it all in so many other stories: Luke Skywalker had Obi Wan, Neo had Morpheus, Harry had Dumbledore, Frodo had Gandalf, and Peter Parker had Uncle Ben.  I can’t express to you how much these relationships resonated with my heart – and still do, even today: the desire for an older man to come along and train up the next generation in the way he should go.  To mentor me, encourage me, and teach me tangible skills.  To advocate for me, champion me, to always have my back.  To simply be there – as a guide, as a sage – and remind me that I didn’t have to face everything alone.  Author John Eldredge writes about how that is the primary thing all men struggle with: the feeling that everything is up to us, that there’s no one out else interested or available to really help us through the tough stuff of life.  I know that is a plaguing thought with which I wrestle constantly.  The question remains: who really is there for me…to show me the ropes, to go to bat for me, to teach me the ways of the warrior?

The question remains: who really is there for me…to show me the ropes, to go to bat for me, to teach me the ways of the warrior?

My dad and I are very close, and he has raised me well to be a man of integrity, wisdom, discipline, and cultivated in me a deep love and loyalty to family.  But I didn’t receive spiritual mentorship from him.  Instead, three pastors invested in me over the years: Pastor Mark in Orlando, Pastor Bob in West Palm Beach, and Pastor Matt in Stuart.  They have taught me about true faith, and developing a friendship with God, and waiting for His best, no matter what.  In between, I also was spiritually mentored by a number of Christian authors who taught me about authentic masculinity, how to honor and cherish a woman, how to set boundaries for healthy living, and how to remain stable in the midst of storms.  Sure, I would have loved to learn those things from people in real life, but that wasn’t what happened.  The cool thing, though, is that God’s plan to train me up in the way I should go wasn’t dependent on the people immediately around me.  He made so much of it happen through books, and I am grateful for that.

Even still, there is so much that feels solely up to me.  I wish someone would teach me more about investing, about certain home improvement projects, about how my car works, about how to build a successful business, and about how to walk the line between letting others know what you have to offer, and waiting for God’s hand to exalt you in due time (1 Peter 5:6).  Right now, I’m having to learn a lot on my own – and pretty much every guy I talk to feels the same way.  It’s not easy.  In fact, it’s downright exhausting.  I think of Thoreau’s words…how the mass of men are leading lives of quiet desperation.  Honestly, I think there is a bit of desperation in trying to figure out how to do life well on your own, and fending off the questions and lies and accusations and doubts that you are in this alone, with no one really there to help you.

There is a bit of desperation in trying to figure out how to do life well on your own, and fending off the questions and lies and accusations and doubts that you are in this alone, with no one really there to help.

Most of the time, I trust Him to be what I need, give me what I need, and provide the right opportunities and people in my life at the right time.  Occasionally, I cry out to Him for more, because I do need guidance and insight and tangible help.  I do.  We all do.  I’m okay with that.  And He understands.

Through all of this, I’m learning two things.  One is that I need to pay it forward.  Well, let me strengthen that statement: I want to pay it forward.  And so I’m trying to be readily available and am seizing every opportunity to do that when it’s clear God wants me to step in.  And He does make it very clear – I know when He is sovereignly orchestrating it, and when I want to do it only because I feel the need to try to rescue the other person.  It works out so much better when it’s arranged by Him, instead of rooted solely in my own human effort.  I find great joy in guiding and mentoring the teens He has put in my life, and He keeps confirming that I am made to do this, that I am meant to do this.  This also helps me stay balanced, so I am not wasting my life building my own kingdom and a protected, comfortable little life for myself.  I don’t want that.  I want a life that is epic, one that has a transcendent and inspirational impact for many.  And I have learned over and over again that any other kind of life is pretty empty.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” ~ King Solomon

The second thing I am learning is that I need to position myself so that others see a need and want to help me, as they are prompted by God.  If no one sees or hears about my needs, no one will rise up to the challenge.  No one will pray about whether God wants them to step in and be that guide or mentor or positive influence in my life.  I do believe that other men are surrendered to His will and leadings, and would gladly swoop in to help a younger brother out when the occasion presents itself.   This is because they have experienced the same need, or they themselves were taught and counseled along the way, or they viscerally understand that – like Jesus – the best lived life is the one poured out for others.  Thinking back to Daniel and Mr. Miyagi, it’s patently obvious how much the Karate Kid needed and benefited from his sensei.  But upon closer observation, it’s also clear that Mr. Miyagi needed and benefited from Daniel in his life in equally wonderful life-altering ways.

Asking for help is super hard, and goes against the things I have told myself to steel up my defenses, and grit and grind through life as I’ve known it.  But I know I must.

So, I am trying to ask for help more often.  I can’t do everything – and really don’t want to do everything – on my own.  But asking for help is super hard, and goes against the things I have told myself to steel up my defenses, and grit and grind through life as I’ve known it.  But I know I must.  I know it is the right, healthy, and honest thing to do, even if it renders me vulnerable to rejection and failure.  I have to ask.  And just see what happens.

And no matter what, I have to trust the process.  Even if someone doesn’t come through for me, I know that God will.  He always has, in one way or the other.

Let us all be more sensitive to the needs we see around us, particularly those which we could rise up and meet.  Let us be quick to come through for others, because we remember how much we have needed someone to come through for us.  Let us do so enthusiastically, knowing that we are spending our life in the most worthy of pursuits, honoring God, and doing Him proud.  And let us humbly but pointedly ask others to consider being that guide, that sage, that mentor in our lives.  If they say yes, they will be blessed.  If they say no, the only thing that will hurt is our pride.  And even then, we can hold onto the truth that God is still working everything together for our good, and He’ll make something else awesome happen – in time.

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When You Are Scared of Sudden Disaster

childlike faith
When I look back upon my life, I realize that the most unproductive thing I can do is to fear the future. And yet, I have done it. I mean, we all have done it. We just want life turn out a certain way, and we pour ourselves out to make that happen, and don’t want our blood, sweat, and tears to be wasted. And so we spend even more of our time and energy tossing things over and over in our heads.

But the reality is that certain things are ultimately out of our control.

We just want life turn out a certain way, and we pour ourselves out to make that happen, and don’t want our blood, sweat, and tears to be wasted.

We can’t control if we will land our dream job, and if we do – we can’t control how our boss treats us, or our co-workers treat us, or whether it will fulfill us as much as we thought it would. We often can’t control what happens to our physiological health. Even with exercise and a great diet, things can take a turn for the worse because of a genetic predisposition, a freak injury, or even simply due to the natural aging process we all face. We can’t control the choices our girlfriend or boyfriend or spouse or even children will make in the future. We can love them, advise them, shepherd them, teach them, encourage them, remind them, and even plead with them, but they will invariably do what they want to do – even if their actions harm themselves or others. We can’t even control what is done with our money and property down the road. We could be incredibly hard-working, wise, and investment-savvy, but we could lose it all in a moment with a bad deal or random disaster. Or, it could be stolen or frittered away by those who come after us.

The older I get, the more I realize that control is so elusive. Actually, it’s more than elusive – it’s an illusion. You live enough years, and you totally understand this. And if you don’t, yet, you will. It’s one of the hardest lessons we all have to eventually learn.

The older I get, the more I realize that control is so elusive. Actually, it’s more than elusive – it’s an illusion.

With that said, though, those of you who know me know that I am an eternal optimist. You know pessimists by their belief that “if anything can go wrong, it will.”  Well, I deeply and truly believe that “if anything can go right, it will.” Seriously. And I know it’s one thing to say that you are an optimist, but another thing to actually walk the walk. I really try to walk it out. And it isn’t swagger, or arrogance, or confidence in myself. Really, it isn’t. I do believe in myself and my abilities, but I also know that with so much out of my control, it can’t solely be up to me. It just can’t. And frankly, I don’t want it to be.

And so my confidence has to be in something outside of myself. And decades ago, I found it in God. The cool thing is, He has never let me down. Sure, I’ve been disappointed, and hurt, and even broken by life and the circumstances that have come my way, but in the big picture, He has worked all of those things out for my good, for my benefit, for my intrinsic or extrinsic gain.

Being into God – and having a personal, living, vibrant relationship with His son Jesus – has shown me over the years that His Word is true. All that I’ve learned from it and put into action has been of great value in my life. It’s provided me with emotional stability, guidance for romantic relationships, wisdom related to work, lessons for living, ways to conquer doubt, reasons for hope, reminders on the brevity of life, peace in the midst of stormy situations, and so much more. And one of the things that has been helping me recently has been God’s ability – through His Word – to allay any fears that sneak their way into my thoughts and emotions about what the future holds. And it’s been really powerful.

My main fear is that at some point, the bottom will fall out. The other shoe will drop. The wind will shift and the house of cards will all come tumbling down. That’s what I worry about.

My main fear is that at some point, when I am not expecting it…the bottom will fall out. The other shoe will drop. The wind will shift and the house of cards will all come tumbling down. That’s what I worry about. Not always, but definitely sometimes. And when I talk to others, they often echo the same sentiments. They’re concerned that despite their best intentions, efforts, and even prayers, disaster will strike. Suddenly. With their job, their health, their relationships, their family, or their money. At some time or another.

And so we fret. And sometimes freak out.

And scramble to secure ourselves against sudden disaster.

But it’s exhausting. And we’re running themselves ragged. And even when we do all the things we think of doing, we still feel unsettled. Like there is more that should be done, that can be done.

And our lives are filled with anxious thoughts and worried days and sleepless nights. And there is no peace to be found.

There are two verses that I have built my life upon that help me in these moments. And I remember them, and I remind myself of them in my head whenever I start to fret and freak out.

Proverbs 3:25-26

Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.

Psalm 112:7-8

They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.

I fully, completely believe those words – most of the time. And on days that I struggle, I meditate on them, and repeat them to myself, and fight to get them embedded into my heart. They help me to let go. They help me to trust. Just like so much else in the Bible, they aren’t just words on a page, but promises to me. Because God doesn’t want me always spinning, always on edge, just waiting for something to go wrong. He wants me to surrender, and expect for things to go right, and – more importantly – for things to keep going right.

The title of this blog is Childlike Faith because I really believe that it is the answer to so many of our difficult questions. When we were a kid, we believed and trusted and were convinced that life was going to be good to us, that God was going to be good to us. But then hardships and letdowns and so much pain came along, and we lost that innocent, wide-eyed, soft-hearted approach to it all. And He asks us to go back to that mindset. It’s super hard – especially when you haven’t done it a lot – but it does get easier the more you make it your objective, no matter what. I keep doing it, and it’s become who I am – and people know it and I know it and God knows it and I am so thankful. And again, it helps so much.

It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks or says or does. It doesn’t matter what the future holds. He’s got me. And He is good.

I refuse to believe that sudden disaster is going to strike my job situation or body or wife or future kids or savings or anything like that. And I refuse to spend my life worrying about and fearing any bad news that might come my way. Instead, I want to remember that truth of those verses: that He is right next to me, He keeps my feet from any traps or trapdoors, and my heart is steadfast because my life is perfectly secure in His hands. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks or says or does. It doesn’t matter what the future holds. He’s got me. And He is good. I don’t want to be pessimistic, or cynical, or suspicious of His goodness towards me – now or in the future. I just want to trust. I just want to relinquish my desire for control to Him. And I just want to enjoy the peace He willingly provides, if we will let go of what we’re holding onto and take it instead.

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How the Shortness of Life Can Motivate You

None of us like to think about our impending mortality. But I think about it all the time. And for me, it’s a good thing. It helps me. It serves as my decision filter on a daily basis. And so I thought it would be worth exploring the value of this notion, because the years keep going by and our mortality is just—relevant. It’s something we can benefit from keeping in our pocket and pulling it out periodically to look at, and learn from.

First off, I want to clear up some things. By reminding myself that one day, I too will die, is not my version of YOLO. To me, “you only live once” is a sort of hedonistic anthem used to justify immediate gratification and pleasure-seeking, or simply recklessness. When I remind myself that I am not going to live for forever, and that I’m not even guaranteed tomorrow, it’s a clarion call to make the most of every single day. Like many of you, I am constantly inundated with responsibilities and demands. And they pull me in every direction. And meanwhile I have my own dreams and goals that I want to prioritize and pursue to keep investing in my own heart and future. It’s easy to feel completely lost in the fog of choices swirling around you. And so I need a way to cut through that fog, and find my way again. So I pull my mortality out of my pocket and face it head on. And here are some things it reminds me:

Make today great, not tomorrow. Of course I want to make sure that my family is not struggling when my wife and I are senior citizens because I know that medical expenses will mount up, and kids are super expensive to raise, and emergency situations do happen. But I just don’t believe in the stereotypical notions of “retirement” that so many pursue. I don’t want to kill myself for forty years just so that I can have a nest egg of hundreds of thousands in the bank just because that’s what everyone else tries to do. I also don’t want to die with a lot of money that just gets passed on down to the next generation because 1) I want them to learn how to work hard and sacrifice and 2) it flat out seems like a bad idea to be a “slave” to “the man” or “machine” just to get to an age where you can’t even really enjoy it. So, I choose to live wisely and in fiscally responsible ways, but want to go on adventures and epic trips now – when my body is able to do all the things that I want it to. I tell myself “we’re all going to die soon,” and I go. And I have never regretted it.

I choose to live wisely and in fiscally responsible ways, but want to go on adventures and epic trips now – when my body is able to do all the things that I want it to.

Love recklessly. I feel like many people I know don’t make (or haven’t made) the time to let their closest loved ones know they are deeply loved. Like in a way where you know if something tragic happened, you said what you wanted to say and have no regrets. I don’t want to live that way. Like John Eldredge taught me years ago in his book Wild at Heart, I want to love others with reckless abandon without needing them to show me love first. And I don’t want to keep procrastinating out of laziness or because I am focusing on other things that really won’t matter at the end of my life.

Early in the fall of 2006, one of my close friends was killed in a motorcycle accident. All of a sudden everything came into focus for me about the brevity of life and the importance of loving family and friends fully and deeply, and making sure everything you want to say is said. And earlier that year, I had heard on a broadcast Family Life Today the idea of writing “tribute letters” to my parents, and that really struck a chord with me. These letters would be my way of honoring them for the legacy they have left in me, and for all that they have done to raise me right. Every child who grows into adulthood knows the pain of watching their own parents get older, and I knew that there was so much I wanted to say to them, and that I needed to do so before it was too late.

Like John Eldredge taught me years ago in his book Wild at Heart, I want to love others with reckless abandon without needing them to show me love first.

So I honestly prayed for months that God would prepare my heart and would speak through me and give me the words to say. And then in early November I sat down one day and just started to write one for my mom, and then one for my dad. I made a few slight revisions here and there over the next few days, but it was remarkable how pretty perfect and complete they were in their very first draft. And that gave me confidence that it was a God thing. I had them typeset, matted, and framed, and decided to give them on Christmas morning. I first asked for their forgiveness for dishonoring them in certain ways while growing up, and asked them if they knew how much I love them. And then I read the letters out loud.

There were a lot of tears, and it was really difficult to even get through the readings, but it was probably the most powerful and memorable moment we’ve ever had in our home. And now they are hanging up on a wall at my folks’ house, and I am so thankful that I took the time so that they would really, really know how much they mean to me. Because “we’re all going to die soon.” And I needed them to know the depths of my love for them.

Pursue my passions. One of the saddest things I see around me is so many people who are clearly not happy in their career. And so many of those people simply don’t take time to pause, step outside themselves, and try something new. Perhaps it’s because this feels incredibly scary and risky, or because it forces painful and exhausting self-reflection. Maybe they are in a phase where so much is competing for their energy and attention that the parts of their soul that are crying out for help can’t really be heard. And so they just stay the course, and endure it, and live their lives in survival mode. And for sure, the weekends help them recover a bit from their super difficult weeks, and their annual vacation time helps them recover a bit from their super difficult years. But you can still tell that it is taking a devastating toll on their emotional, psychological, and even physiological well-being. And then one day they wake up and realize they have spent the vast majority of their life doing something that sucked all of the joy out of them, and left a shell of who they once were.

One day they wake up and realize they have spent the vast majority of their life doing something that sucked all of the joy out of them, and left a shell of who they once were.

In 2014 my sister realized that her work environment was slowly killing her, and wrestled for months with many hard questions. And I listened a lot, and tried to offer encouragement and advice when the moment was right. She could stay the course as so many others do. In fact, doing so was quite safe, and the routine – though unpleasant – was comfortable. Plus, she was really good at her work. For my sister, life would have kept on going had she chosen to stick with it. And it would be a good life, a noble life, a life of value and meaningful contributions and even a measure of fulfillment. But, what if there was something better in store for her? What if she had a different calling, or purpose, mission, or destiny? Wasn’t it worth finding out? Wasn’t it worth taking the time to explore what could be, and entertain options and even dreams that were now real possibilities again? When we are growing up and thinking about what we wanted to become, we’re filled with so much awe and excitement. But then we often lose it. What if it could be rediscovered, and what if now was the moment to make that happen?

In our conversations together, I specifically remember reminding my sister that “we’re all going to die soon.” And while I don’t believe she hinged her decision on that, I do feel that it cemented her already-existent desire to not have regrets, and to live her life to the absolute fullest (John 10:10) – no matter what. And so she took a leave of absence for a year and went to leadership trainings, spent quality time with loved ones, pursued dance and fitness and other things that bring her joy, went on adventures, and evaluated multiple new and exciting career opportunities. It has been so good for her, and I wish so many others would figure out a way to do the same.

When we are growing up and thinking about what we wanted to become, we’re filled with so much awe and excitement. But then we often lose it.

Life is so ridiculously short. And it’s going so fast. Pastor James MacDonald says it moves even quicker when you start to have more years in the rearview mirror than you do in front of you. Perhaps if we were intentionally considering this truth more often, we would live out our days with so much less regret, and with so much more confidence. I want to enjoy my life in the here and now, and I want to not take loved ones for granted, and I want to spend myself in life-affirming and not life-sucking ways. I also don’t want to hold grudges, burn bridges, be sad all the time, or try to fit into a mold that isn’t me. When you think about the current trajectory of your life, I bet you know what you don’t want to do. I know what is worth it, and that’s what I am going to try to make happen. And I hope you choose to do the same. You are always carrying your mortality around with you, regardless of whether you are well acquainted with it. Pull it out and stare at it from time to time. And allow it to help guide you along.

Image source: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/content/dam/news/photos/000/848/84883.ngsversion.1422287057410.adapt.768.1.jpg

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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