Truth In Love

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Ephesians 4:14-16

I have been leading a group through a study in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. Last week, our study brought us to the passage above. The phrase that jumped out to me which I have continually heard quoted was, “speaking the truth in love.”

Hanging around with church people, I’ve heard this phrase used countless times.

“I really need to speak the truth in love to him.”

“She felt that she had to speak the truth in love to me.”

“Just speak the truth in love, man.”

Having read the passage and heard the phrase as often as I had, I was somewhat surprised at how it hit me this time around.

First off, Paul’s words here are spoken into community. Relationship is assumed. Deep relationship. Truth speaking is something that is earned, it isn’t a God-given right or obligation. Speaking the truth, regardless of how it is done, is rarely well received when done to strangers or those with whom we have limited or no relationship.

In a culture that seems to have an ever evolving definition of truth and which seems to grow ever more offended when some version of the truth is spoken to them, it seemed a fairly relevant verse.

As a society, we’ve pulled away from honest dialogue, in my opinion. We are quick to be offended and yet generally disregard whether our words are offensive to someone else. We get triggered for one reason or another because of the “insensitivity” of someone’s words.

Rather than practicing good listening, we would much rather say our piece and get it off our chest, not concerning ourselves with how it’s received. I read a quote the other day that said good listening is listening to understand rather than listening to respond.

This has been a journey for me. I grew up in a family that encouraged getting everything out on the table. We were never mean about it. We didn’t seek to hurt or offend, we simply sought resolution with honesty as much as possible.

Over the past few years, I’ve adopted a practice of considering a few things prior to speaking. I used to justify my truth speaking by saying that I needed to get something off my chest, justifying what I was about to say by convincing myself that holding it in would not be healthy.

Sometimes, I would convince myself that the person to whom I would speak truth needed to hear what I had to say. I didn’t necessarily consider how they would hear it, just that it was important for them to hear it.

As time has gone on, I’ve asked myself whether I legitimately have the other person’s best interest in mind. Getting something off my chest is not good reason to speak the truth. An obligation to let someone hear truth is not good reason either. My heart needs to be for that other person’s benefit, well-being, and growth. If I love them and want to see them grow, then truth speaking may be justified, but I do have to consider how I present it and whether or not someone will be willing and open to hearing it.

Last week, a good friend of mine called me to engage in a conversation about which we didn’t see eye to eye. He politely asked if I had some time and then calmly explained the situation to me. There was no hint of anger or frustration in his voice, just curiosity and a desire to learn.

We talked for nearly an hour, sharing with each other our perspectives, seeking clarity and understanding, all the while being honest and open. At the end of the time, I couldn’t help but marvel at the blessing of this friendship. More than two decades of a relationship had allowed us to come to a place where we could calmly and lovingly discuss an issue that seems to have divided others. It wasn’t because of how amazing we are as people, just because our friendship has been time-tested and we’ve grown to have a love and admiration for each other that has allowed us to speak the truth in love with no fear of offense or triggering.

I’ve grown tired and weary of those who consider themselves Christians who assume that it’s necessary to speak the truth in love no matter what. I don’t think that was Paul’s intent with these words, especially considering that he was writing to a specific faith community who were entrenched in life together. We speak differently among our family than we do outside of our family, at least we should.

God is showing me the importance of keeping my mouth shut. That doesn’t mean that I never speak my opinion. It does mean that I am going to be far more honest within my “family” than outside my family. More often than not, I will seek an invitation into honesty through relationship and wade into those waters with humility and love. After all, truth speaking doesn’t really make much sense if nobody’s listening.

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The Legion of Decency

People who know me well know that I’m a bit of a cinephile, a film buff. Although I’m not completely sure where my love of film came from, I know that I’ve passed it on to my kids, for better or worse. I may or may not have been a little more liberal in my permission of what my kids have seen than my own parents were for me.

The other evening, my boys and I were watching Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Unprompted, my oldest announces to me, “These filmmakers are better Christian filmmakers than Christian filmmakers are. People playing God and paying the price.”

It was a moment of pride for me. He’s obviously picked up on my disdain for sanitized storytelling in the form of the Christian market. I’m convinced that Christians have a tendency to whitewash things and offer storybook versions of reality rather than embracing the difficulties and challenges of life. I’m all into fantastic storytelling, but when those fantasies are depicted as reality, I struggle.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had some challenges in my life. Maybe it’s because I like to call the elephants out in the room. Maybe it’s because I’m tired of false prophets portraying the Christian life as easy and full of rainbows and unicorns. Whatever it is, I’m tired of that sanitized storytelling.

When I was a teenager, I was a big Stephen King fan. My fandom has been tempered in my adulthood, mostly because I haven’t had the bandwidth to read very many 500+ page books. His book “On Writing” made an impression on me in my own writing and how I look at art. He comes to a place in that book where he speaks of the Legion of Decency and how some writers, for the sake of said league, sanitize their dialogue at the sacrifice of realism. In fact, he writes, “The point is to let each character speak freely, without regard to what the Legion of Decency or the Christian Ladies’ Reading Circle may approve of. To do otherwise would be cowardly as well as dishonest….”

When I read those words, something clicked within me and I realized why I had struggled with so much of what had been labeled “Christian fiction” or “Christian film.” While I struggled with the storytelling a little, I struggled more with the lack of three dimensional characters. As King says, when your character hits his thumb with a hammer, he probably doesn’t shout, “Oh, sugar!” There may be certain characters that do, but if we’re honest, that’s not really being honest.

I’m not advocating for letting kids watch movies with objectionable material just because those films let their characters be true. Parents can choose what’s appropriate for their kids to watch. As my mom always used to say, I don’t have to subject myself to that kind of language.

I agree, Mom, but I also don’t have to pretend that language doesn’t exist. Sometimes people swear. Sometimes those people happen to be Christian, too.

I recently read a book, a tribute to Madeleine L’Engle. It was such a fascinating read to me because people just didn’t know what to do with her. To Christians, she was too secular. To secularists, she was too Christian. She wasn’t a fan of the line between sacred and secular and so she chose to not adhere to that line. She blurred that line, not in an irreverent way, but in a real and honest sort of way. Her faith came through in her books, but she didn’t sacrifice her characters or her storytelling simply because of her faith.

I guess that’s kind of the heart of what frustrates me. Can’t we just have storytellers who happen to be Christians? Can’t we have musicians who happen to love Jesus? Why do we have to throw the Christian label on everything so that it can be approved by the Legion of Decency?

Frankly, the Legion of Decency has never done me any favors. It didn’t change the fact that my mom got cancer that killed her and my dad died of a broken heart, both literally and figuratively. It didn’t change the fact that my heart was impacted by a virus I had when I was in high school. It didn’t change the fact that one of my best friends lost his little boy at six months to cancer or that a relative delivered their first child stillborn. So, whether the Legion of Decency likes it or not, I honestly say that those things all suck.

That’s why I hold on to hope in something other than what I see around me. But just because I have that hope doesn’t mean that I have to sanitize everything else. The less sanitized that we admit things are, the more awesome that hope comes across. And I really think that hope is awesome, something far beyond anything I could conjure up on my own, and if we’re really honest, the story of how we gain that hope might fly in the face of the Legion of Decency.

 

What Are You Hiding?

In the wake of the suicides of two prominent public and successful figures, many are reeling and wondering just what happened. How did two people who had experienced such success find themselves in such darkness and despair that they felt the need to take their lives? How did it come to this? And the question that haunts me more than any other is, “Did anyone really know how bad it was?”

We live in an age of information. We get up to the minute news details from around the world. At our fingertips lies more information than generations before us could gather in a lifetime. We call ourselves “connected” but deep down inside, there are so many who are alone, afraid, and in desperate despair.

I’ve been through my own struggles lately, none which have led me to the sickness unto death. Struggles are one thing, but where do we go with them?

My thoughts on my own recent struggles and experiences are raw, but one thing that has emerged larger than life to me is that we are rarely honest people. We love to cover things up. We will divert and project and use all kinds of tactics to ensure that no one has a clue what’s really going on inside of us.

Even the answers that we give of our despair are untrue. We tell ourselves lies, and we tell those lies to others. Why? Why are we trying to hide? What are we trying to hide? What keeps us from confronting the truth of the situations in which we find ourselves?

I am a student of people. I watch, I learn, I gather information. Over the years, I have been both frustrated and intrigued to find that the answers that people give and reasons for their actions are rarely true. I’ve rarely received an answer when asking for a reason or rationale that I haven’t felt the need to mine, dig deeper, and discover the real reason behind the reason.

In an age when we are all supposed to feel closer than ever, we couldn’t be more further apart.

I have been blessed by many things in the midst of this world, but three stand out to me.

First, I have a family who I love and who loves me. My family has gone through transitions in the past few years, losing my parents, losing other loved ones, but we adjust. I am grateful for what I have in the form of loves ones.

Second, I have a select group of friends with whom I feel I can be more honest and open. Some are near, some are far, but the benefit of having those who I feel no need to hide from, whom I don’t need to don a social media presence before, that benefit is invaluable.

Third, my faith in Jesus Christ. Yes, critics of Christianity have criticized it as a crutch. Many horrid things have been done in the name of Jesus, but putting the blame for those things on Jesus hardly seems fair. Call it a crutch if you will, I know the depths of despair from which I have been rescued because of the hope and faith that I have. While that certainly can’t be distilled down into any empty statements suggesting that Jesus is all you need to avoid despair, depression, and suicide, I know that the smallest glimpse of hope has saved me and helped me to seek help in trying times.

I want to be part of a community that knows how to be honest with one another, even when it’s awkward, even when it hurts, even when it’s uncomfortable. I have seen the alternative and it’s been less than appealing to me.

And when we can’t be honest with each other, when we feel the need to hide, can we dig and probe and ask questions to get to the bottom of the despair that’s plaguing our hearts? Can we not settle for, “I’m fine” when we know that it’s less than an honest answer?

Two passages from the Bible come to mind. The first from Proverbs 20:5, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” It takes time and trust to get to the deep waters of a person’s heart, are we willing to spend that time? One who has insight and wisdom will take the time and will do their best to draw it out.

I am also reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul from one of my favorite passages in all of the Bible, Romans 12:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

As much despair as there is in the world, there is always hope, we can always find it if we look in the right place. I hope and pray that wherever you are, wherever I am, that we might be honest enough with those around us that we can face our despair and find hope in the midst. And if we can’t be honest, for whatever reason, I pray that there are those around us who will take the time and do the hard work of loving us and drawing out the purposes of our hearts so that we can move towards hope and peace.

What’s Better?

truthBefore I dive into this post, I need to say two things, and I need to say that what follows may ruffle a few feathers. I’m not perfect and am constantly being transformed, but part of my working this out is being done as I write it out.

First of all, I was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in New England. My mom, dad, and brother were also all born in Brooklyn. The New York directness of which people speak was inherited by me. If there was something to be said or talked about, we pretty much put it on the table. There weren’t a lot of rugs in my house under which we could sweep things. As hard and uncomfortable as it was to be direct, I experienced it frequently in my family and I think I am a better man for it.

Second of all, I’m not a big political guy. Like other things in life, politics, to me, is a necessary evil. I was the kid who came home in elementary school from a mock election voting for the opposite candidate that my parents had supported. When I told them who I’d voted for, I got a stern talking to in order to set me right. As the decades have worn on, I’ve been just as jaded as everyone else with the political climate in the United States. But, regardless of my dislike or disagreement with a political figure, I’ve still understood that there should be a certain amount of respect that’s due a political candidate, usually because they’ve earned it.

Political correctness, in my opinion, feels like the bane of my existence, mostly because it seems to fly in direct opposition to honesty and truth. While I was raised outside of New York City and I understand and embrace the directness that stems from that subculture, I have also learned over the years that while directness is a good thing, tempering that directness is also an essential part of getting people on board. That’s not to say that I do that well all the time, but it’s something that I have grown in and something which I am constantly striving to get better at doing. Just because something is true doesn’t mean that it needs to be said or said in its truest fashion.

As my wife and I were talking the other day, I was lamenting the fact that there is so much hatred, anger, and animosity that spews all over social media and the media in general. Criticism is one thing, but hatred is a completely different animal. I’ve received enough of my own criticism to understand that there is value in that when it is received and applied well.

But I’ve struggled with the fact that we are not a nation of truth tellers and we don’t seem like we want to be told the truth either. Some people would rather be lied to and be treated well then be told the truth and treated poorly.

What’s worse is that people have somehow equated telling the truth with being mean and nasty and lying as being nice, as if we’ve set up limitations that you can only be one or the other. I can either lie to you and treat you kindly, polishing my speech and candycoating my flaws, or I can speak freely, frankly, and harshly while not caring how my speech comes across.

I don’t think it’s either/or.

We have seen people in the public eye who are forthright and honest but who are complete jerks about it. They cut right to the point, which may be a draw, but their delivery is atrocious and offensive. But why can’t people be direct and kind at the same time? Is it possible to speak the truth in love with a genuine desire to tell people the truth while still being careful and sensitive to what’s being said and how it’s being communicated?

At the same time, why do we have to put on all kinds of fronts in public in order to hide the beast that seems to be lurking behind closed doors? That’s been more than apparent as we’ve seen on a larger and larger scale in the area of sexual harassment. People who have looked polished and clean on the outside have really been devious predators behind closed doors. What’s causing this?

My heart goes out to all of these women (and men) who have come forward with stories of sexual harassment and assault against some fairly high profile people. The courage that it’s taken to stand up and speak into such a difficult and damaging situation is something that I applaud. But what is it that has caused this? Something has propagated this to the level that it’s at and I think it goes much deeper than anyone is willing to admit.

Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount seem to get a lot of press, but it’s usually only certain of his words. We seem to forget the whole picture and just like our culture and the media, we like to soundbite things that support our own cause. I realize that in saying that and then quoting Jesus, I may be doing that very thing, but bear with me a second. In Matthew 5, Jesus said, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” In other words, let what comes out of your mouth be truth, don’t shift your words or waffle around.

One of the conversations that I’ve had with my boss lately has been about what this looks like in our church. How do we become lovingly honest? A phrase that has been used in regards to what that looks like is being ruthlessly self-aware. We become ruthlessly self-aware as we are able to have honest conversations with each other, lovingly and willingly entering into dialogue to talk about things that may be uncomfortable but, in the end, are worthwhile because of the growth that can take place when those conversations happen.

I’ve grown tired of the loss of integrity in our culture. That’s not to say that I am perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I do my best to make sure that who I am in public is who I am in private as well. It’s not always easy and to be honest, when who I can tend to be in private comes out publicly, it provides accountability with people who are close to me who confront me on these glaring issues that they see.

So what would it look like if we moved towards these kinds of relationships and conversations? How would it be if we didn’t feel like being honest always meant being a jerk and being nice always meant lying to someone’s face?

I think that we can be lovingly honest. It’s something that I want to strive towards and hope that those who are closest to me will strive for the same thing. That kind of approach can go a long way in changing more than just ourselves and our relationships, I think it can move out and help others to strive towards the same thing themselves.

 

Insights

We’ve been using an app during our Sunday morning gatherings at my church. The app allows you to do a live event during the message and to ask questions of those who enter the app. On the Monday mornings after I preach (and on some when I don’t) I check in online to read through some of the answers to the questions I’ve asked that I’ve gotten from people. It’s been insightful.

People can remain anonymous and share their honest answers to questions that we pose to them through this app. While there are times when we get the cookie cutter answers to questions that we ask, there are other times when the level of honesty can be downright brutal.

As I get older, I am learning more and more the level of brokenness in this world, in myself and in others. The deeper you dig, the more you see it and, sometimes, you don’t really have to dig very deep at all because we all want to be know and we all want to belong. It’s a valuable lesson for me to learn when in regards to listening to others. As someone who talks…..A LOT….I’ve been learning more and more to be a better listener, to ask good questions, to offer advice only when asked.

I appreciate the fact that I can be part of a community that is seeking to journey together. The life of faith is not always easy. Jesus never promised us that it would be easy, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to us when it takes effort. Community is such a huge part of the equation when it comes to life and faith that I just don’t know what people do without it.

I appreciate the level of honesty and the bravery that comes from sharing one’s thoughts, feelings, and pain. I’ve found that when we step into that level of honesty and bravery, we find that although we thought we were all alone on the journey, there are more people walking in step with the same struggles, fears, and anxieties.

I don’t have it all together and I am so grateful to be in community with others who don’t claim to have it all together either. Life is a journey and the best journeys always leave space for adventure along the way!

For the Love – A Book Review

For the LoveAlthough this is the first of her books that I’ve read, Jen Hatmaker has been on my radar for years. If you roll in Christian circles at all and aren’t familiar with who she is, chances are that you aren’t paying much attention. Her book “7” garnered rave reviews and a faithful following as she counter-culturally challenged people to cut down the excess and move towards a life of less, pointing people towards ways of narrowing things down to just 7 items in all areas.

Jen Hatmaker wrote “For the Love” to remind women (and anyone else who reads her book) that in this world of impossible standards where grace is hardly extended, that same grace is necessary for survival. In a society driven by social media, Hatmaker says that it has a way of making it seem like everyone else is just killing it at life, cooking meals, parenting like a boss, and being as creative with projects so as to be called a master artist in the world of Pinterest.

She talks about the need to stay connected. In a society where the hum and buzz of social media and technology can too easily replace the actual heartbeat and breath of real life flesh and blood, she stresses the importance of community, noting that, “Instead of waiting for community, provide it, and you’ll end up with it anyway.”

Hatmaker has some quality wisdom and advice to share, reminding people of the fact that they are not alone in their imperfections and shortcomings. She reminds people that there are others out there and points people to find those people; build relationships so that you can hang with people who get it.

In “For the Love,” Hatmaker takes the opportunity to vamp on everything from getting older to calling, fashion to using your gifts, cooking to parenting, children (“If they don’t love Jesus and people, it matters zero if they remain virgins and don’t say the F-word.”) to school, marriage to difficult people, and church (“If folks don’t recognize God is good by watching His people, then we have tragically derailed.”) to mission trips (“The world is so done being painted by the American church.”). She shares her heart with honesty and spunk, using her own brand of self-deprecating humor and wit to get her points across, and she does it masterfully.

Throughout the book she has a section called “Thank-You Notes” where she takes the opportunity to sarcastically thank people, places, and things. From NetFlix to the skinny girl in the dressing room, from Facebook to Angry Birds to Yoga pants, Caillou to Target to Pinterest to automatic flushing toilets, it seems that no stone is unturned and nothing is “off-limits” while Hatmaker takes time to vent about humiliating, frustrating, or fulfilling experiences.

I know I’m not the target audience for a Hatmaker book. As I read this book, there were moments along the way when I felt like I was eavesdropping on a women’s book club, Bible study, or phone conversation. There’s no denying that she has to offer a lot to anyone who takes the time to read her books.

As a pastor, there were moments when I resonated deeply with some of what Hatmaker writes. She says so many of the things that I have thought and often wanted to say but either never had the opportunity or knew that if I wanted to keep my job, I couldn’t. It’s an interesting thought considering that she’s a pastor’s wife, so it’s encouraging to think about the kind of culture that she and her husband, Brandon, have created in their church.

After reading “For the Love,” I can see the draw of Hatmaker, Where we’re so used to being politically correct and pussyfooting around issues, Hatmaker has a knack for telling it like it is. She doesn’t hesitate to voice her thoughts and opinions, opinions that some might feel are a bit abrasive.

The book isn’t for everyone, especially those who are easily offended. There were moments when I bristled a little bit and thought, “Can she say that?” Ultimately, this Northern boy felt like it was a breath of fresh air and was actually surprised that a Southern girl could speak so frankly without adding “bless your heart” to the end of the phrase.

If “For the Love” is any indication of who Hatmaker is and the insights that she has to offer, then I think I’ve just added a few more books to my “To Read” list. If you want to laugh, be encouraged, and be challenged, then pick up “For the Love.” You won’t be disappointed.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

The List

It seems that most people that I talk to who have faith in God have a list. Now, I’m not sure whether it’s a real list or if it’s a list that they’ve compiled in their brains, but this list is purported to be made up of all of the questions that they plan to ask God when they come face to face with him. Somehow, I get the feeling that there might be somewhat of an overwhelming feeling when that actually happens, causing them to forget the list if it’s simply stored within their heads. So, I think I’ll write mine down.

My anger with God rises and falls and I have to face it from time to time, acknowledging its presence and coming face to face with the grim reality that although I believe in him, I still struggle with the decisions (or seeming indecisions) that he makes at times. I struggle with his blatant ignoring of requests to intervene in the areas of peace, hunger, cancer, and many other issues and situations that seem to impact us all. Of course, his hand is at work, but I don’t always see it and in the midst of my own selfishness, I struggle.

On the heels of the third anniversary of my mother’s death, I was hit with the news that another saint breathed her last after succumbing to cancer…….and I was angry.

I was angry not so much that God hadn’t healed her but that she got sick in the first place. The same could be said of my mom, my anger stemmed more towards the sickness coming at all and not so much at the “not being healed” part. More importantly, again from a selfish standpoint, I was frustrated not so much by what was gone but by what was left behind. It’s always seemed the case, to me, that those we wish would stick around end up leaving far too soon.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, there might even remain some of those whom we kind of wish had been taken. Don’t gasp in horror! If you are REALLY honest with yourself, you know exactly what I’m talking about, those people who seem to be fueled by piss and spite, those who seem to take vindictiveness, criticism, and bitterness to a new level of super villain proportions. In fact, I’ve often wondered whether scientific experiments had been performed on these individuals to see if all of this spite and bitterness has acted as a kind of preserving agent, like formaldehyde, prolonging their departure from this world while the rest of us suffer.

But the sweet, gentle, loving saints seem to leave us behind, asking questions, scratching our heads, compiling our lists.

The Psalms have often been a solace and resting place for me in my time with God. My mom showed me a method of getting through them all within a month’s time and it has stuck with me for years since. Their raw honesty and forthrightness remind me that God can handle honesty, disappointment, and even anger. The question is what do we do with those things once we discover that they’re there.

While taking a preaching class in seminary, I preached a sermon on Psalm 131. It’s a very short Psalm, only 3 verses, but those 3 verses struck me in a powerful way, particularly the first verse, “My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”

After listening to his friends ponder what might have brought upon his recent clash with disaster, Job continued to believe in God. When God finally spoke to Job, he asked him where he had been while God was laying the foundations of the world. In many ways, Psalm 131:1 seems to remind me of the same thing, that God is in control and his ways are not my ways, that his knowledge is higher than mine and I just can’t understand. His ways are too wonderful for me, but it doesn’t always stop me from trying to understand them……..and coming up short pretty much every time.

Yes, a saint has left this world and another one of God’s children has entered his eternal kingdom. It doesn’t change my disappointment, but it does help me to keep things in perspective. We continue here on earth with hope of the resurrection. We don’t always like it, we’re not always happy with it, but we know that there are some things that are just too wonderful for us to know. I guess I’ll just have to keep adding to that list.

Why I Blog

I’ve been getting together with a friend every Tuesday morning for the past half a year or so. We’re going through our second book together. Having started with “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning, we’re finishing up “To Be Told” by Dan Allender. Allender is the president of Mars Hill Graduate School near Seattle, Washington. He is a professional counselor, therapist, speaker, and author and speaks/writes/counsels not only out of his education but out of his own story and experience.

As I come to the end of Allender’s book, I come to realize more of why I choose to blog. Allender shares that we all have a story to tell. While many of those stories have their fair share of victories, joys, and celebrations, many of those stories are also marked with hurt and pain. Part of our responsibility as followers of Christ is to share our stories, to allow others to enter into those stories. In doing so, we allow them to know us more but we also allow them to know that the hurt and pain that they have experienced or will experience was not specific to them. In other words, they aren’t alone in that pain and hurt.

Writing is therapy and I have had to write a lot over the past few years. Out of the brokenness that I have experienced and the pain that I have been through, it felt like an essential part of who I am to write, to do my best to put into words what I have experienced, what I have felt, in order that others might know that their stories are not simply floating out there in space, solitary and alone. Allender even takes a step towards saying that sharing our stories is required of us as Children of God. Our stories are what God has given us and they can be used for the benefit and healing of others. If we fail to share out stories, we fail to be stewards of the gift that we have been given.

I’ll be honest, my story doesn’t often feel like a gift to be shared. The hurt, the pain, it isn’t something that I would have chosen for myself, but at the same time, I can’t let it be wasted, especially when there is a chance that it might connect with someone. In my blogging, I have encountered others whose stories have far outdone my own as far as tragedy is concerned. But it’s not about outdoing one another in pain and suffering, it’s about entering into one another’s story, learning to listen, learning to practice the gift of presence with those who simply need to be heard.

More than once over the past few years, I’ve heard from others who have experienced loss. They have shared with me that the words that I have shared have had the power to capture feelings and emotions that they’ve felt but were never able to fully articulate in words. Those messages have made it all worthwhile to me, even if there are only a handful of them.

It gets very tempting for me to write in order to get more hits on my blog, and I will admit to pandering towards certain topics which I know will generate more interest. But I can also admit that some of the pieces that I have put the most effort into are the very pieces that go seemingly unnoticed, and I have to be okay with that. Quality is important. Quantity? Not so much.

I will keep writing. Writing is as helpful for me as it is for those few that have somehow connected with what I have written. I hope and pray that I am being a good steward of my story and in being a good steward, I hope and pray that my story can be used to help others in the midst of whatever story in which they find themselves.

Accentuating the Positive

plus signI’ll be the first to admit it, when given the opportunity to discuss the positives and negatives, I might find myself gravitating towards the negatives first.  It’s not that I don’t see the positives, it’s just that, somehow, I’ve been wired in such a way that my “Default” switch always seems to find the places labeled with the “Needs Improvement” sticker on them.

Recently, I was hanging out with a group of friends after a conference.  I was asked my thoughts and takeaways from the conference and immediately I went to my struggles before I could unpack what I liked and appreciated.  Before I could get very far, someone came down hard on me for being so negative.  Funny, I hadn’t seen it that way, it was just the way that I was processing all the information that I had taken in.

As I think about my approach towards assessing situations, I wonder how much of it was a product of conditioning.  In other words, have I gravitated towards focusing on the negative and the “needs improvement” areas because that’s how people have always focused on me?

Over the years, I have had supervisors who have done just that, they have focused on the growth areas rather than commending the strength areas.  I always marveled at the review process for jobs when I would have an hour with my supervisor.  I was a good worker, I got the job done, I met deadlines, yet that hour was very lopsided.  It seemed that maybe 5% of the time was spent on strength areas, areas where I had excelled, and the rest of the time was for all the ways that I needed improvement.

This all came to a head a few years back when I felt that things had been going well only to sit through my review.  I was blindsided by all of my “growth areas” that seemed to have been readily apparent to my supervisor.  How could I have not seen them?  How was it that they were so apparent to him and he felt no need to share them with me until it was time for an annual review?

Since then, I’ve taken the “what am I missing?” approach towards things.  I have surrounded myself with people who can help me see my blindspots.  I call those people my “rearview mirrors,” they help me to see the things that I am unable to see myself.  They help me to constantly assess how I am doing.  They have strong enough relationships with me that allow them to speak honestly and openly, even when it’s uncomfortable.

I have always said that criticism is autobiographical, the things that drive us crazy about other people are usually the things that, if we look hard enough and dig deep enough, we find in ourselves.  I have rarely seen exceptions to this.  There is something within us that triggers a disdain or dislike for someone else.

I am growing, I am working towards accentuating the positive, not only with myself, but with others who I lead.  This includes my children.  If the only thing that they ever hear is that they are missing the mark, that they have a long way to go, what kind of people will they turn out to be?  If the critical eye that has been formed in me is passed on to them, it will just continue from there.  But I don’t want that to happen, I want to break that cycle…….here and now.

It’s a constant process of growth, a journey that we are on.  I am grateful for those who can speak honestly into my life.  It’s a process that some might call “editing” your life.  I have editors that I trust, who know me, who care for me and love me, who have right motives in why they want me to succeed, why they want me to grow and get better.  Unfortunately, there are many people who are much older than me who have never had that privilege, they have never had someone who can speak honestly to them for fear of the offense or hurt that might result from that kind of honesty.

What kind of a person are you?  Do you accentuate the positive?  Do you focus on the negative?  How does that translate to others?  How will it translate to those who you lead and mentor?

What the blog?

It’s been about 6 years since I started blogging.  I remember when my wife first broached the subject with me.  “You should start a blog,” she said.  I tried not to act stupid, pretending that I actually knew what she was talking about.  I think I had to sneak off and secretly Google the word “blog” to see exactly what it was.  It’s nice to have a wife who’s one of your biggest fans.

It’s an intimidating thing to start putting your life into words and then to have the audacity to think that someone will actually care about it.  You feel exposed, naked, vulnerable.  You wonder whether people will keep coming back, keep reading.  You hope that what you say might actually be worth something.  In many ways, when I started writing, it felt like it did for me when I used to play coffeehouses with music that I had written.  There is a side of yourself that you can share in words written in songs or blogs that’s not quite as easily shared outside of those places.

I have constantly tried to find some kind of explanation or parallel, maybe a comparison for bloggers.  While it might seem a stretch, bloggers can be the prophets of the modern day.  Of course, that comparison breaks down, it’s not universal and it’s fairly generalizing, but the bloggers that I find myself reading and following are the ones who speak truth, who invite conversation, who try to wade into issues without blowing them up, overexposing them, overgeneralizing them, or dogmatically addressing them.

The best bloggers that I know are ones who leave me thinking at the end of what they’ve written.  They don’t necessarily provide answers so much as they give me cause to search for my own.  They provoke me, they cause discomfort, they cause stirrings in my soul that result in action.  That’s what I have tried to do since the beginning of my blogging career.

I want people to see something different in me.  I want people to see me as a man of conviction rather than dogmatic.  I want people to see me as compassionate and not obsessed.  I want people to know where I stand strong but not be afraid to offer contrary opinions or views.

Electronic communication can easily be one-sided, and most of the times, it is.  There are many people out there who simply want to offer unsolicited advice and opinions.  I hope that I am not one of those.  I hope that I can listen as much as I speak.  I hope that I can learn as much as I teach.  I hope that I can love as much as I am loved.  I hope that I can care as much as I am cared for.  If I can do all these things, I’d say that’s a pretty good start.

Here’s to many more years of blogging.  Thanks for reading.