A Poem for Black Friday

Black-Friday-Phone-Deals

It’s Thanksgiving Thursday and all through the house,

The turkey coma’s set in, they’re passed out on the couch.

The meals have been eaten, desserts were consumed,

They’ve eaten and eaten until there’s no room.

Football, parades, holiday movies have been watched,

There’s still something waiting, more plans to be wrought.

All the circulars are stacked and set on the table,

Our lists have been made and we’re hoping we’re able

To take part in this wonderful time of the year

When we buy things we don’t need to bring us some cheer.

retail crowds

We stand in the lines, we wait in the cold,

We ignore tales of chaos that we have been told.

Someone trampled at WalMart, a fistfight at Target,

At Best Buy the SWAT team is ready and set.

I’ve heard they’ve got SwapForce and Wii U’s aplenty,

Just what you “need,” but hurry, they’ve only got twenty.

There are TVs as big and as cheap as can be,

It won’t matter they stop working a week from today.

The prices are slashed, they’re half what we’re used to,

What we didn’t really need has become an essential.

But what’s it all for?  Who says what we need?

Should we leave our families with such vigor and speed

To go after the deal that’s really quite small

When you weigh out the price for the product overall.

We’re passionate for savings, we’re searching for deals,

But what have we lost as we abandon our meals.

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I thought that Thanksgiving was about all that we’ve got,

Our families, our friends, our blessings and not

About all the things that we wish that we had

Hoping to buy into the latest big fad.

Contentment with all that we have been given,

I think that’s the real meaning of Thanksgiving.

So, maybe I shouldn’t go search for the bargains

And instead take some time as this season begins

To reflect on all of the things that I’ve got

Rather than searching for things that I’ve not.

I can be thankful for what’s been given to me,

My house and my friends and my great family.

For there are many people, every place, everywhere,

Who’d be grateful for some of it, even a very small share.

Happy Thanksgiving, a day late, but it seems fair

That if they can take our day then we can take theirs.

Here’s hoping and praying that we can hear

That we should be grateful every day of the year.

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Thanksgiving

thanksgiving - rockwellHolidays just aren’t what they used to be for me.  I can remember years gone by, what seems like a lifetime ago, when I was a kid and we would get aunts and uncles and cousins together for a get together.  Conversations would ensue.  There was lots of laughter.  The aunts usually played tricks on each other, then gathered on the couch to watch “Pollyanna,” a movie that I didn’t begin to appreciate until my twenties.

But time marches on.  Families spread out and move away.  Loved ones are lost.  It becomes harder to gather everyone in the same place.  Things just don’t look like they once did.  In some ways, it begins to feel like a Winter of sorts.

But just as the buds begin to emerge through the snow and the trees begin to show signs of life as Winter begins to fade, so our lives are seasonal as well.  As we look around, we begin to see new things, new life, new opportunities.  They don’t necessarily replace the old opportunities, after all, they’re different.  But they provide for us to find afresh what we thought we had lost.  They provide opportunities for us to live again.

If we aren’t careful, we can get bogged down in lamenting what once was, what used to be, and in the process, miss what’s right before us.  I’ve fallen into this trap too many times in the past few years.  Before me is my family, my wife and 3 children, behind me is a memory of what made me who I am.  By focusing on the family before me, I’m not discounting or forgetting the memory of what was.  In fact, I think that I can better honor what WAS by investing in what IS.

Thanksgiving is an opportunity.  Every day we have the opportunity to be thankful, but we’re given a day when we are almost forced to think through what it is that we are thankful for.  Do we have a choice in the matter?  Well, yes, we do.  Black Friday creeps into Thanksgiving Thursday and our attention is pulled away from where it should be.  That seems to be a trend in life, to be distracted from what really matters in exchange for offering a temporary salve to your empty soul.  And I’ve been there, at the place where I really think that the temporary salve can actually provide a long-lasting solution.  It never does, and I am always left wanting.  More.  More.  More.

Today, when I sit down at the dinner table, there are fewer faces there than there were last year.  But there are new faces as well.  If not new, than they are at least changed faces.  I am thankful for the opportunities that I have sitting right before my eyes.

Today, I am thankful for my family.  I am grateful that we are together.  Family that I have and family that I have lost, for all of them, I am thankful.  I am thankful for what God has given me.  My needs have never been in question, and that is a privilege beyond what I can fully understand.  For that, I am thankful.

I am thankful for freedom.  I can think.  I can talk.  I can speak my mind.  I can write my mind.  I can vote.  I can drive.  I can worship the God who made me.  I can choose.  For these things I am thankful.

I am thankful that I am still here.  There are so many things before me that I want to experience and pray that I can.  I am thankful that I have friends who have joined me in this journey.  I am blessed because people care for me and about me.  Not everyone can say that, so therein lies yet another privilege.

I am thankful that I am a child of God, created for His good pleasure, gifted with things that I can use for His glory.  I am thankful that my life is different because of what He has done for me.  I am thankful that I am not the man that I was a year ago and that next year, I won’t be who I am today.  I am getting more refined, transformed, not by my own will power and determination, but by the power of God within me.

Many people have sacrificed to allow me all of these things for which I am thankful.  Those sacrifices are not lost on me.  Freedom is not free and privileges are not to be treated as rights.  I am thankful for what I have and I need to remember what is right before me.  I hope that today you will do the same.

What’s In A Name?

peaceIn the Old Testament, there was a method to naming children.  If you look back, nearly every name that was mentioned had a specific meaning.  The names were given with purpose and meaning, representing something so much more than simply a name.  Today, we still use names to signify something, sometimes more often than others.

When my oldest son was born, my wife and I agreed on a first name that we both liked.  There was no real meaning attached to it for us, it was more that we could actually agree on a name.  His middle name was the name of my wife’s paternal grandfather though.  We wanted to make sure that when we had kids, part of their name was a legacy, somehow connecting them to the generations gone by.

When my second son came along, we took a similar approach.  Instead of simply picking a name that we liked, we found a family name that was meaningful to us.  We borrowed his first name from an uncle of my father who was instrumental in his spiritual life.  He preached the sermon at my father’s ordination service and acted as a spiritual mentor for him.  He was the spiritual father that my dad had been missing all during his years of growing up.  My second son’s middle name was also a family name.

My wife and I thought that we might be done having children after the second one, but God had other plans.  While we weren’t planning, we weren’t preventing either.  It turned out that my daughter came during an incredibly tumultuous time in our lives.  Within months of my parents moving closer to us, my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and we found out that we were having a third child.  It was an incredibly emotional few weeks which became months and even years.  Over the course of 2 years, I watched my mom decline and finally succumb to the horrible disease of cancer.  Then, I watched my father die from a broken heart, both physically and emotionally.

Having had two boys, my wife and I decided that we wanted to find out whether we were having a boy or a girl.   We hadn’t done that with either of our sons, but this time around, we wanted to find out what we were having.  We were used to boys and wanted to know whether we were going to have to learn something new.  It was with mixed emotions that I found out that we would be having a daughter.

Mom always wanted a daughter.  She embraced both of her daughters-in-law with open arms and treated them just like her own.  She loved them and was grateful for the care that they took of her sons.  I hesitated to tell Mom that we were having a girl because we knew that her time was short and that she most likely wouldn’t meet her granddaughter, a girl that was her own flesh and blood through her son.

Once we found out that we were having a girl, we began the arduous task of coming up with a name.  Funny, we had chosen girls names when we were expecting our first two children, but this time seemed so much harder, at least to me.  We weren’t crazy about too many of the family girls’ names, so we tried hard to think through the process.  We wanted to honor my mom in some way but the female names from that side of the family were just not ones that we fell in love with.

As we continued searching and seeking, we thought about first names and middle names again.  My mom’s name was Irene, which means “peace.”  We had both liked the name Chloe, which we came to find out meant “blooming.”  We decided to take a non-traditional approach towards things and give our daughter three names.  Together, the names would mean, “blooming peace and joy.”

How important that name came to be for us.  The months after we chose that name were difficult.  My mom died just two months before her granddaughter was born.  My father’s health declined rapidly and we needed to find peace and joy in the midst of the tumult that had become our lives.  Our little bundle of joy helped to provide just that.

While I wouldn’t say that she is a peaceful little girl, her name has come to mean so much to us.  Over these two years, she has provided levity to our lives, reminding us of what’s important and how valuable our families are to us.  She has made us laugh and she has summoned the mischievousness of my mom, who I tend to think is looking down and smiling every time that she does something which resembles her grandmother.

I will never forget the circumstances into which my daughter was born, her name will always help me with that.  She has helped us to see life in the midst of death, peace in the midst of chaos, and joy in the midst of mourning.  She’s helped us to realize the gift that she is to us, over and over again.  I am so grateful that my wife and I took the time to think through her name, and the names of all of our children, for that matter.  Each of them is unique in their own special way and the meaning in their names will always stand as a reminder to us of how special they really are.

Are You Listening?

woman listening to gossipRecently, I preached a sermon on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, a passage that has come to be known as “The Shema” by Jewish people (there are additional verses that add to these to make up the total Shema).  The word “shema” is Hebrew for “hear” or “listen.”  Listening is not something that I always do well.  But I’m not alone.

It seems that most of us, when we listen, are distracted or forgetful 75% of the time we should have been listening.  Human beings listen at a rate of about 125-130 words per minute and think at about 1000-3000 words per minute.  After “listening” to someone, we only recall about 50% of what they said to us.  We, as a society and human beings in general, are distracted.  We are bombarded with information.

Depending on the sport, I am a big fan.  It’s mostly baseball, but if a New England team is playing on a TV close by, my eyes will wander to check in on scores.  It can be detrimental for dates with my wife if there are TV’s close by, especially during the World Series when the Red Sox are playing.  She’s important to me, but that could easily be questioned with my distractions with sports TV.  That’s not a good thing.  I shouldn’t be so distracted.

So, how much do we listen?  How much do we pay attention?  When we’re “listening” to someone else, are we really thinking about other things?  Are we catching even 50% of what the person speaking is telling us?

Over time, I’m not sure if I have gotten better at this or not.  I was in a one on one meeting with someone recently and I took notes so that I was sure to capture everything that was said.  It was too important for me to miss anything.  If that’s what needs to happen, it might seem strange at first, but I would be surprised if someone objected to note-taking if they know that it results in them being heard more effectively and efficiently.

How do we eliminate distractions?  One at a time.  It’s better for me to be seated away from TV’s in a restaurant if I want to give my wife the 100% attention that she deserves.  If that’s what I need to do, she is more than worth the sacrifice.  In order to eliminate distractions, we need to be aware of what they are, identify them.  If we don’t know what they are, how are we supposed to eliminate them.

I know how frustrating it is when I speak with someone and I feel that they are distracted or disengaged.  I just need to remember that feeling when someone else is talking with me.  I can’t be distracted from listening to others and think that they will actually pay attention to me when it’s their turn to listen.

Information is coming at us in waves all through our days, I don’t think it’s ever going to slow down.  But, we have the opportunity to slow it down ourselves.  We can eliminate distractions and honor the voices that are most important to us.  This is a lesson that I am learning one day at a time, one step at a time.

Repeat Listenings

I have a fairly broad taste in music.  I laugh when I write that because I have heard dozens of people say the same thing to me, but I actually mean it.  Usually, when I hear other people say that, I begin to probe, starting safe at first and then venturing into the more adventurous and less likable.  But, I listen to a lot of different stuff.  When it comes to music, I’ll generally try anything once.

In 40 years of listening, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes as well.  I can’t tell you the number of bands or artists that I wrote off at first, only to be swayed and converted later on.  Steely Dan.  The Grateful Dead.  The Who.  The Rolling Stones.  Dave Matthews.  And the list goes on.

I remember watching “Mr. Holland’s Opus” when he talks about listening to John Coltrane for the very first time.  He brought a record home from the store, put it on the turntable, and proceeded to listen to it, and he just didn’t like it.  So, he listened again, and again, and again.  Finally, he began to fall in love with John Coltrane’s music.  I’ve been there before, done the same thing, with similar results.mr.-holland's-opus-screenshot

I remember a friend in college telling me that I needed to listen to some new music.  I gave it a listen and just couldn’t get into it.  I tried over and over again and just couldn’t get into it.  Months later, that music that I just couldn’t stand began getting significant airplay and the Dave Matthews Band continued their rise to stardom.  I was wrong.

Unknown bands are one thing, but how about music by people that I’ve listened to for years.  It’s happened before.  Or music that everyone else seems to really love and I despise.  My first question in cases like that is, “What am I missing?”

The best way that I’ve found to try to see what I’ve missed is a similar approach to what Mr. Holland took in the movie: repeat listening.  Listening to an album once, twice, even dozens of times and seeing if I can figure out what I’ve missed.

Does it always work?  No.  There is just certain music that, no matter how many listening or tries, I just can’t get into it.  But there are plenty of others that all of a sudden, on the umpteenth listening, something finally clicks, and I realize the sheer brilliance that has somehow eluded me.  Maybe it’s my frame of mind.  Something I ate.  A bad day at the office.  Regardless of what it was, when it finally clicks, it feels like the music has been there all along, kind of like a well-known and loved companion.  It almost feels like home.

It’s a good life lesson for me to remember too, if my first impression isn’t what it should be, I might just need to give it another try.  There are so many things that can influence that first impression, don’t I owe it to myself and everyone else to wade through the subjectivity as much as possible?

I know that there will continue to be music that I just don’t like, and there may even be people who rub me the wrong way the first time around and every subsequent time after that, but at least I can work at giving them the benefit of the doubt.  After all, I may just be the one who gives the bad first impression and I’d sure hope for a second chance.

Inevitable Emotion

gibsons circa 1979I start listening to Christmas music fairly early.  I have many reasons why, the first of which is that there’s too much good music to try to listen to in the course of a month.  I also have to start planning for things well in advance in order to not be cramming during the Advent season.  Christmas music also makes me fairly nostalgic.  Not sure if there’s anyone for which that doesn’t happen, but I know what it does to me.  This morning was one of those nostalgic times.

My wife was out at the bus stop with our two boys and my little girl was with me.  I sat down at the piano to start tinkering out a song that was in my head and ran over to the computer to see if I could find a recording of it.  I did and my daughter and I sat at the piano as I plunked out the notes along to the recording.  It was a song called “Sing” by the Carpenters.

It didn’t take long for nostalgia to kick in.  My mom was a big Carpenters fan.  I remember her always talking about Karen Carpenter and the tragedy of losing her at such a young age.  I grew up listening to the Carpenters on vinyl and probably even 8 track (if you were born later than 1980, just go to Wikipedia).  The Carpenters were actually from New Haven, Connecticut, where I worked before I left Connecticut almost 10 years ago.  Among my favorite recordings by them was their Christmas album.  I could be anywhere and hear a song from that album and it immediately take me back to my childhood.

As the computer moved past the song that I was listening to, it moved into songs from the Christmas album.  As I sat there at the piano with my daughter, I pulled her a little bit closer and began to be taken away to a place far away and a time that seemed too long ago.  I thought about Mom and the smells of Christmas.  I thought about her smile.  I thought about how wonderful it would be for my mom to meet my daughter.  As I thought more and more, a smile began to emerge on my face.

The Christmas season holds so many memories for me.  Actually, this whole holiday season is so nostalgic, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s.  I have such great memories of so many family gatherings, eating, laughing, watching movies, shedding tears, singing.  It’s hard not to smile when the rush of memories floods into my brain.

This year will be another first for me.  This is the first Christmas without my dad.  Despite the inevitable emotion that’s on the horizon, I’m not dreading it, I’m welcoming it.  For each memory that comes back to me, I have the opportunity to make more with my own children.  Sure, I wish that my parents were here to make memories with my children as well, but I can share those memories with the kids, telling them of times gone by, years past.

I know it will be a hard season, but it will also be a full season.  I’m looking forward to experiencing joy with my family.  Every new season is full of new memories and it’s always good to remember why we celebrate this time of year.  From November until January, it’s really about thankfulness.  I am grateful for all that God has given me, past and present.  I am grateful for the gift that we received so many years ago in Jesus Christ.  I am grateful for that gift that gives new life.  There’s too much to be thankful for to wallow in misery or get caught up feeling sorry for myself.  I’ll just enter this season with expectation, that’s really what Advent is about.  So, here we go.

Finding Rhythm

Size-of-a-Drum-KitYears ago, when I first became a music pastor, I had a lot to learn.  Music had always been a part of my life and I had played in various different groups, but playing along and leading are two very different things.  There is a language among musicians that can easily be missed by those who don’t speak it.  Even among musicians, there are dialects that are spoken by specific instruments.  I had played a lot of instruments, although not proficient in many of them, but there was one instrument that I had not really given a shot: the drums.

In the first month after I began my job, I carved out a few days to sit down in front of a drumset.  I had watched so many people drum before, had played with and listened to so many others, I figured that something had to have rubbed off on me.  I think I was wrong.

I tried and tried and tried to figure out how to keep hands and feet moving, to no avail.  I began to isolate the different parts, trying to master one hand, adding the other, and seeing what happened once my feet got involved.  A little progress, but not what I had hoped for or expected.  After a few days of frustration, I knew that I needed to change my approach.

I sat down behind the drums and closed my eyes.  I was thinking too much, that could easily get me into trouble, and it seemed as if it really had this time around.  I had to stop thinking and start feeling.  When I did that, it started coming to me.  What I needed was to find the rhythm, and to feel it.

That became an incredibly important lesson for me, especially at the outset of things.  I have fallen back on that lesson time and time again, whether leading a choir, a band, an ensemble, or just figuring things out for myself.  It has been in invaluable lesson to help me and others understand that music is more than just notes on a page, it’s something that reaches us, deep inside, and grabs a hold.

We can overthink things.  We can come to a place where we forget that we need to feel.  We can leave emotion out of the equation, resulting in cold and calculated approaches towards life rather than free and easy approaches.  When we lose the emotion, when we lose the rhythm, we lose the song, we lose the heart of where we’re going, of what we’re trying to do.  It might still sound okay, technically, but emotionally, it feels flat and empty.

It’s too easy to fall into step like this, thinking too much and feeling too little.  I need a constant reminder that simply walking through steps, notes, or whatever doesn’t allow for the joy that I can get when I actually let myself feel.  It can be scary or dangerous or exciting and new, but we won’t know until we put our mind on pause and begin to let our heart take over.

This obviously can break down quickly, I’m certainly not advocating for living our lives by always following our hearts and never using our heads.  What I am advocating is the wisdom to know the difference between situations that call for heads and others that call for hearts, or even situations that call for both.  A “one way or the other” approach will limit our perspective and experience, it will limit us to what we feel like we can control rather than experiencing something greater than that.

As for drumming, I didn’t become the next Neil Peart or John Bonham, but I was able to figure things out enough to have some intelligent conversations with the drummers that I led.  I still sit behind the drums once in a while.  I won’t really play for anyone, and I rarely even consider playing with others, I’m just not that good.  But the vantage point is always a good reminder to me in the thick of a situation that I might be overthinking, “Don’t think too much, find the rhythm.”

Collaboration

collaborationWhen I create something or think up something creative, I like to get the credit for it.  I’m not always good at sharing the credit.  Maybe I just didn’t learn enough about sharing in pre-school and kindergarten.  Maybe I’m more selfish than I ever thought.  Maybe I get jealous if someone else gets credit, especially if it’s for something that came from me.

Over the years, I think I’ve gotten better at this.  It’s probably happened due to some amount of maturity, but it’s also happened because I’ve seen the insignificance of getting credit.  I’ve also seen what happens when I put my head together with other creative people.  Collaboration, for me, has been a savior of sorts, providing for an exponential amount of creativity.  Two heads are better than one, and if you have more than that, imagine the possibilities.

Years ago, I tried to come up with ideas all by myself.  It was exhausting.  I would float things to people here and there, but I would never sit down and brainstorm with anyone other than myself.  If I didn’t think of it, nothing would happen.  I was at the whim of the creative moments that I found or created.  If those times were unproductive or ineffective, I was up the creek.

As my schedule got busier and busier, I began to see all of these incredible people around me.  In conversations, I would hear them floating ideas about this or that and it got me excited.  I thought, “Wow!  I wonder if they would be interested in some kind of collaborative effort.”  As I began to develop relationships, I began to branch out into the world of collaboration and now, it kind of makes me shiver to think of what life was like before this discovery.

My dad was pastor of a small church in Connecticut when I was growing up.  In order to have bigger events or services, he needed to understand the need for collaboration.  I watched what happened when he collaborated and I saw the benefits.  He never had the burning need or desire to get the credit or glory for something that took place, he was content to share credit, or pass the credit off to someone else.  The end result was the most important thing to him, not who got credit along the way.

The other advantage of collaboration is the safety net that it provides.  When ideas come from collaboration, it’s harder for someone to put all the blame on one person when it doesn’t meet their preferences.  If I don’t like something, and that something was one person’s idea, it could easily become personal.  But if an idea came about through the collaborative process, there is shared ownership of everything and there is safety and protection in that.

I have finally come to a place where I am surrounded by a group of really creative people.  All of us have different perspectives and all of us have fairly broad experience.  It’s a beautiful thing to see an idea take shape and form in a group like this.  What starts small can easily grow into something magnificent and grand.  What seemed like a dream at one moment can become a reality when all of this creativity comes together to work in tandem.

I hope that I have many more years of ministry and creativity before me.  I hope that I will always see the importance and need for collaboration.  I hope that I continue to see the benefits that it provides.  I hope that I always look to the benefits that come from collaboration rather than worrying about who gets the glory.  When I hesitate to collaborate, it seems like I can easily stagnate.  That’s a lesson that I would much rather learn by seeing it happen to others and not to myself.  Here’s hoping and praying that collaboration stays a top priority for me.

Fear of Heights

replacing the chandelierThe other day, my wife and I were talking and she said that she was beginning to feel “normal” again.  By that, she meant that there was a “fog” in which she found herself after having all three of our kids.  She said that about the time that they all turned 2 was about the time when she began to feel like herself again.  So much happened in the first years of all of my children’s lives, so it’s no wonder that neither of us have completely felt like ourselves.  Seminary.  Job changes.  Health issues.  Loss of parents.

Surveying the house, my wife began eyeing all of these projects that she had been wanting to do but either never had motivation, energy, or time.  Thus the creation of the “Honey Do” list.  I told her that she was trying to make up for 4 1/2 years in seminary.  Painting.  Lighting fixtures.  Chandeliers.  New toilets.

Of course, the best laid plans seem to fall by the wayside at times.  What begins as a little project can easily spiral into something bigger.  Having a house that’s a little bit newer, we thought that we would be in pretty good shape when repairing or replacing things.  We were wrong.  We have found shoddy craftsmanship in many of the nooks and crannies in our house.  A simple replacement of a lighting fixture generally means some kind of drywall repair as well.

My wife is a bargain hunter too.  She’s been looking to find just the right deal on the lights that she wanted.  The other day, I got an email from her announcing that she had found the new chandelier for our entranceway foyer.  The price was about half of what it usually would be, but I wasn’t certain about it for a number of reasons.

First of all, I had no idea how I was going to get to the ceiling of our 2 story foyer.  I didn’t expect that my ladder would reach.  Secondly, and more importantly, I have a fear of heights that can easily disqualify me from jumping buildings in a single bound…..or replacing lamps at 2 stories.  I just didn’t know that I would be able to hack it.

I put the plea out on social media for a ladder that might work and within hours, some friends came over with a ladder.  Together, we managed to conquer the job, but not without a lot of sweat and a lot of fighting my inner battle with heights.  I guess that I realized I was more afraid of my children and wife thinking me a coward than I was of heights.  My hands were incredibly sweaty though, and I had visions of me falling the 15-20 feet from the top of the ladder because of my sweaty palms.

Many times in the past, when I’ve tried to conquer my fear of heights, I have found that if I am distracted, I can easily put aside the fear.  When I have something that I am focusing on like replacing a chandelier, cleaning a gutter, repairing siding, or something else, I can more easily focus on the task at hand and put aside my fears.

I wonder how many of us have fears that might be conquered in a similar manner.  Sometimes, our fears seem bigger because they are the only thing that we are focusing on.  We look at them and they seem so big and glaring and we neglect to focus on the bigger thing, usually the task at hand.

Fear can easily overtake us, paralyze us, and convince us that it’s bigger than it really is.  What we need in those times is perspective, to look at something bigger to pull things back into perspective.  When we do that, somehow the fears seem to diminish..

I’ve tried and tried to conquer my fear of heights.  I think I’ve done a pretty good job.  I’ve rappelled off of buildings, climbed ladders, stood on rooftops, and ridden roller coasters, all in an attempt to conquer the fear.  Still, focus remains the key.  I need to remind myself of that the next time a fear seems too big for me.  If it seems too big, I’m probably focusing on the wrong thing.  A simple readjustment might be all that it takes.  I’ll let you know how that works out for me.

Taking Responsibility

I_Didnt_Do_It_The_Bart_Simpson_Story1There are many phrases that seem difficult to roll off of our tongues, some more so than others.  One of those phrases which seems to be building up steam in its ever-increasing difficulty is, “I was wrong.”

Who likes making mistakes?  I don’t.  When I make mistakes, I can easily take it and internalize it, blaming myself and mentally flagellating myself.  When we make mistakes, it’s hard to own them.  We quickly want to shift the blame onto someone else.  We don’t want to lose face because we’re afraid that someone might begin to question our worth and value or even who we are as a person.

Mistakes are part of life, though.  I don’t say that in a defeatist kind of way but in a realistic, “It happens” kind of way.  Think back to when you were a child and you began to do things for the first time.  Did you always get it right the first time around?  Did you make the transition from tricycle to bicycle with training wheels to bicycle without training wheels in one fell swoop, seamlessly, without hesitation?  If you did, you’re probably an exceptional individual.

Mistakes are what make us stronger, smarter, and wiser.  Hopefully, when we don’t get something right, we can go back and tweak the process to have a better and different outcome the next time around.  Hopefully, we’ve got enough humility to acknowledge that we were wrong and we made a mistake.

I wonder how many relationships go south because of this one thing.  I wonder how many marriages fail because spouses are unable to own the responsibility for breakdowns that occur.  I wonder how many people lose their jobs because, somehow, the pecking order of responsibility led to them and no one above them was willing to acknowledge their own mistakes and responsibility.  I wonder how many kids find themselves with severely diminished and tainted relationships with their parents because those parents were unwilling to own up to their own mistakes.

It’s hard to own up to mistakes, but as I’ve grown as a person, as a pastor, as a husband, as a father, and as a child of God, I’ve seen the value in it.  When we find ourselves in positions of leadership, owning that responsibility becomes a model for those around us, if we fail to model it well, we shouldn’t be surprised when that model becomes a reality for all who are watching.  If we do model it well, we will hopefully see the fruit of that humility translate to a culture shift.

Not too long ago, I sat down and had a conversation with someone who expressed some hurts that they felt I had caused.  It was a humbling time for me.  My prayer leading up to the meeting was that God hold my tongue.  In the words of James 1:19-20, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”  Slow to speak and become angry, quick to listen?  That’s pretty difficult, yet that was my prayer.

God honored the time and I was able to listen and speak very infrequently.  I learned a lot during that meeting, not the least of which is that people are people and when you cut them, intentionally or unintentionally, they bleed.  Owning up to your mistakes, though, goes a long way.  1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  When we genuinely love others and are willing to show them and also acknowledge our responsibility in hurts, God can help healing take place.

This is still a learning process for me.  I don’t get it right all the time.  It’s still hard to acknowledge responsibility, to own up to my mistakes and be humble, but I’m learning a little more every day.