People-pleasing

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I am a people-pleaser.

It manifests itself in different ways.  Sometimes, it crops up when a person has an expectation of me.  In order to make the person happy, I will bend over backwards to respond to their wishes.  I will return a phone call immediately.  Even if something else is on the docket, I will push it to the side in order to meet with the person.  I will give a ministry consideration a second look in order to cater to the person.

In other cases, it shows itself after a difficult conversation.  The uneasiness causes me to want to quickly apologize, amend my comments, or dwell on what the person now thinks of me.  For me, it is not the tension but rather the opinion of the other person that is causing this anxiety.  In essence, it is a response to people-pleasing.

Other times it involves weakness.  Because I want to appear competent, I hide certain struggles.  In these cases, it is not a desire to please that person but rather for that person to be pleased with me.  Yet, it is still a form of people-pleasing.

The sad truth about people-pleasing is that it shoves God to the fringes of my mind.  I begin to live for other people rather than God.  In these moments, the opinion of someone else becomes more important than the opinion of God.  More so I can at times deprive the voice of God from speaking to that person if in fact the difficult conversation was necessary for that person’s spiritual maturity.  I then become irritated because I feel as I have squelched my own personhood for that of another person.

Christ challenges me in this area.  The ministry of Jesus was never about people-pleasing.  Certainly, he was gracious and kind.  However, when it came to matters of truth, he never minced words.  I do not see Christ apologizing to the rich man for challenging his affections towards wealth as he was walking away.  “I am sorry I made you uncomfortable.  Let me rephrase that.”  When it came to his challenge to the Pharisees with the woman caught in adultery, Jesus did not soften his stance.  “Did I say he who has no sin throw the first stone?  What I meant to say was I applaud your commitment to holiness.  You are doing a great job in this area.  But, can we work on your approach as you were a little strong with this woman?”

No, Jesus was not a people-pleaser.   His primary concern was that people were good with God.  He was deeply interested in their spiritual maturity to the point that many walked away from him because of it.

Am I advocating for unfiltered frankness?  No.  There are people who rationalize their unveiled bluntness for the sake of spiritual truth.  We need to speak truth with grace.  What I am saying is that we should not water down truth so that another person likes us.

What if this became our posture in life?  What if we prayed for our interactions with people not with a tone of accommodation but one of truth and grace?  What if we lived in the moment not in some realm of guilt regarding something we said or did?  What if we stopped imaging what a person wants us to do and rather respond to what God desires for us in the moment and then be ok with it?  What if we became God-pleasers rather than people-pleasers?

 

Discover the Day

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I am the person who considers the road not taken.  I look backwards evaluating decisions.  Was it the right choice?  Should I have taken a different path?  What would my life look like if I would have chosen option B instead of option A?  I do this with small things as well.  I will purchase an appliance yet spend the next two weeks scouring ads to make sure that I got a good deal.  The purpose is to ensure that I made the right choice.

This mentality also creeps into present moments.  In order to avoid future regrets I strive to pack life with as much as possible.  Vacations are oftentimes the epitome of this.  Trips are meant to discover, explore and do new things.  Rest is something that can be enjoyed at home.  Now is the time to do stuff we have never done before.  Genuinely, I enjoy doing new things.  However, part of the motivation is to make sure that I can look back at life and say, “no regrets.”  Yes, it seems a bit manic.  Welcome to the inside of my head.

As I reflect on this life approach, I realize that it does in fact suck joy out of the present moment.  I can sit here thinking back on a vacation or life experience and feel quite content. However, the planning and striving towards a regret-free life also robs me of joyous, spontaneous experiences in the here and now.

Years ago we had a sign made that stood above one of our doors exiting the house.  It read, “Discover the Day.”  This statement was a reminder to us that each day is a gift.  New adventures await us each and every day.  Life is to be lived in the moment not the past or future.  Honestly, there were weeks where the sign simply became a decorative placard on our wall.  Yet, it should be more than that – it should be a reminder of how to look at life today.  So, I stand today reflecting on how to discover this moment in light of my carpe diem mentality.

  1. View each day as an opportunity. How sad is it to approach a day as something to survive?  Yet, this is oftentimes what happens.  God, help me get through today so that I can get to the weekend.  A difference scenario is possible:  a day filled with sharing kindness with another person, celebrating the grace of God in our lives, seeing a child compete in a sport, or enjoying laughter with a family member.
  2. Don’t waste it on trivial matters. Oh, it is so easy to flit your day away by surfing through nonsense, binge watching some forgettable program, or getting wound up over some stranger who ticks you off.  It is not worth it.  Enjoy something or someone that matters.
  3. Yes, life sucks at times. Move on.  There are days where there is very little to laugh about.  In those moments, you want to reboot the day or fast forward it.  Experience the pain.  Grab hold of the most important people in your life who walk through it with you.  See the lasting blessings.  Then, move on to the next day’s discovery lest we find ourselves in a cycle of depression.  Been there.  Done that.
  4. Throw off anxiety. Worry gives me nothing.
  5. Embrace the mundane but make it more than mundane. Life a series of routine events.  Dinner every day.  Exercise is necessary.  Emails have to be checked.  Yet, why does it have to be mundane?  Dinner can be about relationships.  Exercise is a chance to rejuvenate oneself.  Emails are an opportunity for godly influence.  The mundane does not have to be mundane.  It can be an adventure.

Ok, this is the start of my list.  What is yours?  Discover the day is not a new motto.  Christ stated he came to give us life and life abundantly.  Today life can be abundant.

Legacy

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It is natural to think about one’s legacy.  In some ways I think about it more as I am oftentimes surrounded by mortality.  Funerals are a common aspect of my ministry.  In these moments, a person’s legacy is front and center.  The family is confronted with the task of summarizing a person’s life accomplishments in a few sentences to be shared during the service.  It is natural for people to list the usual descriptors, e.g. job achievements and awards.  Yet, more often than not, legacy is framed in terms of character and relationships.  Almost always the bulk of a funeral comprises meaningful connections made over the years.

Since this is true, it is best for us to change how we build a legacy.

To do so we need to understand what a legacy is not.  It is not a momentary accomplishment such as an award or recognition – a spotlight moment.  It is not a job that you have enjoyed for years only to see it handed over to someone else.  Occupations after all are expendable.  A legacy is not an inheritance that you pass on to your children.  I have yet to see someone stand in a funeral praising their mom or dad for the estate.  Granted, it would be fairly tacky to do so.

Rather, a person’s legacy is always framed by the impact they have had on another person, as a relative or a friend.  Therefore, it is best we begin investing in such relationships.

Genuine legacies are not built in a day.  They cannot be created at the end of one’s life.  It necessitates daily, conscious decisions to pour into another person.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  It involves waking up and taking time to listen and care for those closest to you.  It requires constant gestures of encouragement and service to lift another person up.  Genuine legacies are defined by those moments when you have to decide whether or not to stop and help a person even though you are not in the mood.  Because even in those anonymous acts, character is formed that frames all other relationships.  The same is true for those times when you are slighted and have to decide whether to retaliate or not.  For a graceful response elevates the soul that in turn grounds our character.

You see, genuine legacies do not magically appear as one nears the end of life.  They are cultivated through years of decision-making made in the moment, whether seen or unseen, in times of frustration and joy.  Genuine legacies are a commentary on one’s life which requires investment throughout one’s life.  For me this is a challenge.  It involves choosing to live today as I would want to be known for in the future.  But it also gives me hope because it means I have the opportunity to enjoy the lasting stability of meaningful relationships with those dearest to me.

Lesson Learned

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Lesson learned:  own up to your mistakes.

In the midst of all the human interest stories surrounding the Olympics, one of the more powerful reminders came in the form of an act of vandalism by a swimmer.  Being a former swimmer myself, the story captivated my attention.  At first, my preconceived biases framed my perspective, e.g. look at the tragic crime in Brazil.  It is clear the country was not in a position to protect all the athletes and tourists.  As the story unfolded, the tale flipped as it became clear the swimmers were not the victims but the instigators.  Rather than own up to their reckless behavior, they attempted to hide it.

In our house we have a simple rule:  do not hide.  Come clean.  Tell us if you did something wrong and we will work with you.

It is surprising how often human nature bucks against common sense.  Hiding almost never works yet we rationalize and conspire in the hope that we will not get caught.  Oftentimes we come up with some clever tale in order to escape responsibility.  Somewhere in our mind is this flawed thought process that says it is better to hide than to be honest.

A couple of observations:

  • Hiding from our mistakes only conflicts our soul. Rationalizing one part of our life impacts all other areas.  Once we make a decision to sacrifice integrity in one area it begins to erode other areas.  The standard has been compromised.
  • Hiding erodes our relationships. Genuine friendships are built on transparency and personal accountability.  Relationships are strengthened not in the absence of hurt but rather when we own up to something we did.  Do you think the other swimmers involved in the vandalism will be quick to trust the primary instigator?  Trust was damaged more by the hiding than the act itself.
  • Hiding leads to far greater consequences. Millions of dollars will be lost from endorsement deals over this one act.  Enough said.
  • Hiding dilutes our relationship with God. Concealment in our personal life eventually leads to the same behavior with God.  Confession is lost.  Rationalization with God is put forth.  And even though we know God sees everything we begin to act as if this is not true.

Lesson learned:  own up to your mistakes.

 

 

 

Second chances

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I am watching the Olympics on Monday night.  The track and field events begin to air.  Up next is the 110 meter hurdles.  The runners are getting set.  They crouch into position.  The camera zooms on various athletes as they raise their bodies up.  The starter says “sets” then shoots the gun to begin the race.  Immediately, a second shot goes off.  There is a false start.

The replay is not necessary to see who started early.  Wilhelm Belocian from France goes over the first hurdle before kicking down the second one.  You can see the exasperation on his body as he realizes that his Olympic dreams are over.  He has been disqualified from this event.  Cameras show him laying on the ground completely crushed as the reality sets in.  The rules of the Olympic Games dictate that a false start eliminates an athlete from completion.  There is no second chance.  There is no redo.  It is over.

I cannot imagine the agony for this man.  He has trained for years to get to this one moment.  Hours and hours have been spent running in all conditions for the one chance to compete for his nation.  At his national trials, he beat out numerous countrymen for this opportunity.  The buildup.  The work.  The sacrifice.  The excitement that flowed through his body must have been electric as his name was called, “In lane 3, Belocian from France.”  Then, in a second, he is in defeat without even a chance to run.  For the rest of his life he will remember this moment.

Oh, if only an official came over and said, “You made a mistake.  It happens to everyone.  We are going to give you a second chance.  Get back in the block and let’s try again.”  This would be a glorious moment.  Some would say this is unfair.  He blew his chance.  Others would celebrate it as a tremendous display of grace to an athlete simply wanting to do his best.  If such a chance was given, it would have been life-changing for the hurdler.  He would have been more careful, focused, and appreciative of the chance to compete again.  Regardless of the outcome, he would have returned home to his nation with pride knowing that he gave it his all.  He would have basked in the grace.

Not having a second chance eliminated this.

I am thankful that the Olympic rules do not apply to my spiritual life.  God is not a one and done God.  He does not say, “You have one shot at this.  If you mess up you are done.”  In the midst of my failure, He comes over and says, “Ok, that was not good.  You shouldn’t have done that.  Now, let’s try again and get it right this time.”  He is gracious.  He is patient.  And He loves to give second chances.  To be honest, He has given me hundreds of chances in some areas.  And for this I am thankful.  It encourages me to be more focused in these areas.  I sit back and bask in His grace.

 

 

Rejection is a powerful experience

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Rejection is a powerful experience.

Inside of us are longings for acceptance and worth.  We want to matter to someone or something.  We want to feel loved by another individual.  We want to feel valuable to a company, organization, or church.  We want to have a sense of true belonging.

Rejection shakes those pursuits.  It causes us to question our core.

I have seen individuals wrestle in the wake of rejection.  I have counseled people in the emotional aftermath of a job loss or breakup.  A person fell in love only to find one day the other person decides to end the relationship.   A man works at a company for twenty-five years only to show up to his job one day and be informed that he is fired.  A parent tries to repair a damaged relationship with a child only to be scorned.

There are numerous reasons we don’t like rejection.  There is a loss of control as rejection is not up to us but rather up to someone else.  It is a blow to our ego in that we are viewed as not adequate.  It shakes our courage as we put ourselves out there only to have our emotions dashed.  It hinders our trust by causing us to question the relationship or the possibility of a future one.

As I think about this common human experience, a few thoughts come to mind.

  • Christ understands rejection. Jesus was rejected by his closest friends.  The cross was an experience of abandonment and rejection.  He was alone.  He was forsaken.  In the midst of our rejection, we can find one who fully understands these emotions.
  • Rejection is NOT the final word. Jesus died.  Jesus rose from the grave.  Even though rejection surrounded his death, it did not have the final word.  Hope emerged from his death.  Oftentimes the moment of rejection feels like the end of the world.  It is not.  There is hope that emerges on the other side as new relationships are formed and new opportunities are opened.
  • Rejection is not absolute. Loneliness and frustration are normal.  However, they are not the true reality as believers.  We might feel alone.  In truth, we are never alone.  The hope of the cross is the promise that we will never be forsaken.  God is with us in these emotions.

Rejection is part of life.  However, it is not the essence of our life – that is found in Christ Jesus who absorbed the rejection of the world in its totality and flipped it on its head by extending grace to the very ones who abandoned him.  Christ brought redemption from the pain of rejection.  And so, for us, there is always hope even and especially in the midst of these experiences.

 

God and Tandem Bikes

 

©Earl Harper

A friend at the church owns a tandem bike.  He has been after me for some time to give it a go.  I finally got around to borrowing it.  The last time I jumped on such a bike was nineteen years ago when my wife and I were visiting Mackinaw Island.  Sunday was the first time either of our kids rode one.

Tandem bikes are an interesting invention.  They require a great deal of patience and coordination.  It involves communication and focus.

There was a bit of anxiety the first time we jumped on the bike.  One person would turn towards the left; the other person towards the right.  At times, the front person would stop peddling while the rear person continued.  It caused a lot of instability.  The bike would shake back and forth.  On several occasions it seemed as if we were going to topple over.

On one stretch my son wanted to be in the front.  The front person is in charge of steering, speed, and braking.  In essence, they control the bike.  In my opinion, it is also good to have the heavier person in front for balance.  But, I thought this would be a good experience for him.  So, Ryan jumped on the front while I sat on the back.  Needless to say, there were some tense moments.  It took several attempts to get the bike going as it wobbled back and forth between the grass and the sidewalk.  One of us would shift our weight in the seat causing the bike to twist and turn.  He wanted to go faster; I wanted to slow down (primarily because I did not have control in the backseat).  I kept instructing him by barking from the back seat to speed up, slow down, keep it still. Several times we had to stop the bike.

However, once we got going, once we were in sync it was a very enjoyable ride.  It was smooth as both people peddled together.  There was coordination as the front person focused on steering while the back person kept their eyes open for other bikers coming up behind us.  The moments we worked together were the smoothest and most enjoyable.

Our relationship with God works in a similar way.  Too often, we are out of sync with God.  God is moving life along at a particular pace.  Yet, we have a different plan.  We want things to happen quicker or slower.  We are asking Him to speed up, slow down, or keep it still.  Other times He is prompting us to talk to someone, serve in a particular area, or surrender a specific area.  However, we are very happy ignoring these promptings by going in the opposite direct.

We want control.  We want to lead.

When we work against God it leads to a stressful ride.  It is not smooth.  It is tense.  It is confusing.  It does not work when we try to be in charge.  God desires that we work in tandem with Him.  We can choose not to.  However, we should not be surprised when it leads to problems.  It doesn’t mean the ride will always be easy.  We learn through difficulties.  Yet, many of our anxieties and problems would be resolved by simply allowing God to be in control.  Let God steer.  Let Him dictate the pace.  Let Him direct us.   It is much more enjoyable and smooth.