Myself 2.0

I had lunch with a friend yesterday. Nothing unusual about that. Among the things we talked about was the Enneagram, self-awareness, who we are, we were, and who we are becoming. Kind of deep for lunch conversation.

The last few years, for me, has been a journey of self-discovery, figuring out who I am, figuring out what I am good at, figuring out what I’m not so good at, and seeking to become better than I was yesterday. There are certain tools like the Enneagram and StrengthsFinders that have been helpful in that self-discovery.

But, as one who considers himself a follower of Jesus Christ, it’s more than a pursuit, it’s a calling. If Jesus is all that I claim that he is, then I should be changed by him. He isn’t some random stranger that I meet on the street who has no impact on my life. If he is who he says he is and who I believe he is, then like so many of the people who he met throughout the gospels, the collision between my life and him should have an altering effect.

As my friend and I discussed all this, he shared that he was struck by where I was in my overall emotional health. As I thought about it, I said, “Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?” I mean, the big theological word that people throw around is “sanctification,” the process of becoming holy and set apart, more like Jesus.

Funny thing is, I think that some Christians miss the “more like Jesus” part of that. They’ve got the “set apart” part down pat, but when it comes to being different like Jesus, we don’t often excel. We’re set apart and different but in a way that makes an onlooking world scratch their heads or shake their fists. I have a hard time believing that’s what was meant by being different and set apart.

I have often said to friends and those around me that I don’t want to be the person that I was five years ago. In fact, if I am really in pursuit of being changed, transformed, and different, then I shouldn’t be who I was. As I look back over myself through the years, I see changes. Some of those changes are good, some are not so good. Those not so good changes are the ones where I probably haven’t fully given myself over to the work of sanctification in my life.

It’s like training at the gym. It’s not often pleasant when we are going through it. There may be pain afterwards, but hopefully, what we are becoming is better than who we presently are. I think about Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:8, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

I have been blessed by a great cloud of witnesses around me. God has given me a lot of people that I call “rearview mirrors.” They act as aids for me to see those blind spots that I am unable to see on my own. But I’ve got to look at them and then heed what they say, just having them alone is not enough to make me better and to see the flaws that so desperately need to be changed and transformed.

Today is a new day and I am grateful for it. God’s mercies are new every morning. My constant prayer is that I will be just a little more different today than I was yesterday, that John the Baptist’s words can echo from me the way they did him, “I must decrease and he must increase.” It doesn’t mean that I lose myself, it means that I just become a more Christ-like version of myself. That’s what I’m going for.

 

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Why I Hate New Year’s Resolutions

new years resolutionsA long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I think I used to make New Year’s resolutions. Don’t hold it against me, peer and social pressure have a way of influencing us to do things that we don’t like or aren’t completely convinced will work. I’ll just chalk it up to that.

I’m not quite sure just when I realized how fruitless those resolutions had become. It may have worked backwards, discovering the ineffectiveness of resolutions in other areas of my life, at least once a year resolutions.

Now, I’m all for wanting to improve and get better, but my aversion to New Year’s resolutions is just like my aversion to annual reviews in the work world. If you aren’t having a conversation about the things that need to be changed and reformed throughout the year, why do you think in one hour’s time, you’re going to make a long-lasting change?

I like course corrections. I like to change on the fly. I like to find out how we can do better as we are still moving forward. I don’t think that it requires a specific day of the year. In the case of annual work reviews, if your boss isn’t telling you what he or she needs from you as you’re moving along, then your boss sucks! And if you aren’t telling yourself the things that you need to course correct as you are moving through the year…..well, then, you know the rest.

Why don’t we set up quarter year resolutions or even half year resolutions? Why New Year’s resolutions? Doesn’t it make more sense to just do regular check-ins to see where you are so you can know what has to change as you go? It seems that it would be much more effective, at least it has been for me.

I’m all for resolutions, just not big annual ones. What if we resolved some things together?

Let’s resolve to find some people who will tell us what needs changing as we’re making mistakes.

Let’s resolve to choose a few things to work on so that we don’t feel overwhelmed in our improvements.

Let’s resolve to encourage others and find those who will encourage us when we and they see changes that have been made.

Let’s resolve that honesty, though sometimes painful, is going to sting less when it comes sooner than later.

Let’s resolve that every day we are alive, we are given the gift of starting fresh with the new morning mercies of God’s love.

Now, these are some resolutions that I can get into. I could probably come up with a whole lot more, but I like to start small. Start small, gain a few little victories, and then go from there.

Here’s to 2019! And here’s to resolving our resolutions, making a point to resolve ourselves and be resolved as we go.

Strengths Based Marriage

The Clifton StrengthsFinders assessment is used to assess the top five strengths of an individual. While everyone has all of the 34 signature strengths themes in the assessment, everyone is unique in the combination of those strengths that make up their top five. While there may be others in the world with the same combination of strengths as you, the probability is fairly small. Understanding your strengths is key to growth and development.strengths-based-marriage

StrengthsFinders’ emphasis is to focus your energy and efforts on the strengths that are your top five, the strengths where you have the most capacity for growth and development. Focusing on your bottom five strengths is actually an exercise in futility as you not only focus on areas where your capacity is at the least but it also takes the focus away from the areas where you have the greatest capacity.

As a certified Strengths Communicator, I was very interested to read “Strengths Based Marriage” by Jimmy Evans and Allan Kelsey. As I’ve studied strengths, I have been curious to know how those strengths affect and impact our relationships with one another as well as the various roles which we fill in our lives. Evans and Kelsey look at marriage from their areas of expertise as marriage counselor and strengths expert, respectively.

They begin their book with an introduction to strengths, which is helpful for those who have not had significant experience with StrengthsFinders. I imagine that most people who pick up this book will have had some experience with StrengthsFinders to even open the book. The standard assessment for StrengthsFinders simply gives one their top five strengths yet Evans and Kelsey talk about the top ten and bottom five strengths. In order to get the full assessment with all thirty-four themes, the price is significantly more than just the standard assessment. Many books that talk of StrengthsFinders include an assessment code, something that this book does not include. It would be helpful to at least include an assessment code for the basic assessment and give the reader an understanding of the cost of the full assessment, even possibly offering a discount code for the full assessment.

Evans and Kelsey tackle each subject from their respective expertise, dividing each chapter into two parts, from a marriage counselor perspective and then from a strengths expert perspective. They share out of their own experience and give some practical examples of how strengths play out in their own marriages. They also share from their experience with various individuals and couples that they have worked with in the past. For those who are unfamiliar with the language of strengths, they use the language simply enough to be understood, in my opinion.

While there are times when they seem to repeat themselves, I think that “Strengths Based Marriage” was a good book. The authors offer practical steps toward improving communication, bringing healing, and strengthening a marriage. If nothing else, this book could help couples become more self-aware and more intentional and observant in their relationships.

The authors are realistic in their use of strengths as well, never claiming that the language and application of strengths can act like a “magic bullet” of sorts to bring complete healing and restoration to broken marriages. As Kelsey writes, “What I am trying to point out is that our strengths act like lenses, coloring the various activities of our lives and making us choose one thing over another.” StrengthsFinders is simply one more tool to help communicate and possibly improve relationships. The relationships that this book addresses are marriages. Whether your marriage is on the rocks or doing well, “Strengths Based Marriage” can be a helpful resource for improvements.

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

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?