I had a conversation today with someone I treasure. Someone I see as a strong force, a usually joyful person. Someone going through a tough time, and still smiling. My thoughts as she expressed her frustration in her struggle, and her desire to continue to temper her growing anger were that she wore it so well. I would never have known, but should it be this way? Should she continue to smile and pretend her way through this?
I have a phrase I hate to hear. It’s because it’s been said to me frequently: “Smile. You need to smile more. You look so mean.” Yes, I have been told I would “look” so much nicer if I would simply smile.
I am a deep thinker. I am also a deep feeler. If I feel happy, I smile. If something funny happens I laugh. If I am observing, and watching others, and taking it all in-I am most likely not all grins. I assure you, I am also kind, and full of compassion towards others.
But why the desire for me to smile more? Should I continue this facade even if things are going horribly? Does it make you more comfortable to know that I am “faking it ’til I make it?”
Paul was pretty clear about our responsibility when others were burdened: Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2, NLT
I don’t see in here where he told anyone to “smile more.” To “fake it.” To hide all their problems away because privacy was power. He was clear we needed to be there for each other.
And it’s clear if you look around at the hurting world, the news headlines, and the people around you-smiles are not working. People are hurting underneath that mask.
I see masks daily as a therapist. Clients who come into my office with their lives falling apart who tell me everything is great, fine, OK. And I know underneath the surface is a simmering volcano of bottled up emotions about to erupt.
Why do they hide it? Because someone told them that was the “family tradition.” Therapy wasn’t cool. Smile more. Don’t you dare disconnect, or set a boundary-you may make someone mad.
There is an acronym I learned in grad school for the word “fine.” Fearful. Insecure. Neurotic. And Emotional.
But we are totally ok with “fine.”
The world is not ok.
Smiling is getting us no where, and “fine,” is an overused word to make someone else feel comfortable.
I think it’s time to shoulder those burdens. Even if it makes you uncomfortable. We ask that WWJD question, but are we comfortable with the answer?
He would be comfortable looking past the smiles, and asking “Are you really doing OK?” And then be comfortable sitting with the tears.
He would be comfortable checking on someone who has gone silent, instead of assuming they are being distant, rude, or don’t have the same “energy” as you. He would check on them, and make sure it’s not the heavy burdens they are lifting that have given them no energy at all.
He would look beyond someone’s contemplative resting face, deem them worthy of approach, and engage them in a chat. Seeing them as worthy, and not someone to be avoided.
So, I wonder…if we consistently did this. Approached this broken world in the way of Jesus, instead of retreating from what we deem uncomfortable, would we not even have to tell people to smile more? Would we just see more of them?
Would we see more burdens carried? More hearts lifted? More people who feel they have reasons to smile?
Your own ears will hear him.
Right behind you a voice will say,
“This is the way you should go,”
whether to the right or to the left. Isaiah 30:21, NLT
In my daily travels recently for my current position, I have been blessed by the beautiful scenery offered by the mountainous terrain of the Blue Ridge. However, anyone who has ever made this trek over “the mountain,” as those of us from these parts call it, know-rainy days mean a foggy highway trek. If you are looking to see any mountainous terrain. Forget about it. You will likely see nothing.
It was the first of one of these foggy mornings for me this year. And it seemed fitting for the reason I was heading this way. Grief counseling in a school dealing with a sudden crisis. I was expecting the top of “the mountain” to have less visibility. I was not expecting it to have zero.
If you have ever been here, picture it with me. Hands gripping the steering wheel. Nothing but guardrails on your right and the fear of running up on a semi on your left. Or worse…a 50 car pile up. Because at this point, you can’t see two inches in front of you.
Everything is blurry. Murky. Cloudy. Vague. You knew where you were headed. But now you are not so sure. You are just hoping it’s not off the side of the mountain. If you don’t get some clarity soon, you are going to head in the wrong direction.
The same can be said about our spiritual path. The purpose God has for us. We have heard from God. We know exactly what He has told us to do, but somewhere along the way we end up in the fog, and we begin to see things with less clarity. Things seem vague. We don’t have clear vision, and we start to question and doubt what we know we heard.
So, what happened?
You got focused on the fog. You got lost in it, and it most likely had to do with mixed messages.
Perhaps a story will help.
Saul has just been chosen to become the first king of Israel, and he is doing a fine job. He has defeated the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11), and he gives all glory for this defeat to God. But then something happens. He stops seeking God for wisdom. Enter Samuel. Samuel also claims he was told by God to bring a message to Saul: “It was the Lord who told me to anoint you as king of his people, Israel. Now listen to this message from the Lord! This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for opposing Israel when they came from Egypt. Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation-men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys.” (1 Samuel 15:2-3).
Saul? He didn’t do this. What did he do? He “spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs-everything.” (1 Samuel 15:9). He did this because he thought he was “called” by God to…simply because he was king.
Quite a “foggy” situation, don’t ya think?
Yet, this is where we find ourselves at times. We heard what God told us. We know the vision He placed on our hearts, but we end up in the weeds, because there is noise, constant messages, and chatter all around us, and the message becomes blurry. We begin to wonder if we ever heard Him at all.
We lose focus because we consult all our human devices, we consult people, we may even talk our “vision” to death and get too many opinions, and we lose the clarity that God intended when He originally called us to something.
So, how do we get out of the fog?
Well, on the top of that mountain on that dreary October day, I gripped the steering wheel, and called on Jesus. Because I was simply terrified. A simple prayer as I white knuckled it, and stared straight ahead. “Lord, please. Please get me through this fog. Please. Please help me off this mountain. Lord, please. Please get me off here safely. Please help me see again.” Until, the fog lifted, and I could see miles ahead.
Is this what you need? A simple prayer to drown out all the noise? “Lord, please help me see again?” But perhaps, it doesn’t stop there. Getting alone with Him is necessary too in order to seek the path He intends for you to be on. Not the one your friend is on. Not the one you keep hearing about in Bible Study. God wants us to seek Him, and not everyone else. When was the last time you did this? When was the last time you searched what His Word said about what He had to say about it, and not what the internet, or your buddy had to say about it?
Are you turning to the right and to the left for all the answers, and still in a fog? Still with no clear answers? It’s time to shut off that noise, and turn to Him. Turn to His Word, simply be still, and listen until you hear Him simply say-“This is the way.” Then, my dear…you’ll finally be out of the fog.
Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragment to those who hear them. Ephesians 4:29, NLT
It had been going on for days. Constant bickering. Name-calling. Arguing. The two had been fighting like toddlers. “She hit me.” “Well, he was making fun of me.” In the car on the way to dinner. In the car on the way to church. At the dinner table.
As they got up to put their dishes away, I was finally done. I didn’t raise my voice, just simply said: “The next time either of you says anything mean to one another, you lose electronics or something fun. This is getting exhausting, and it’s sucking the soul out of me.”
It was. Quite literally, sucking the life out of me.
Think about it. Think about the people in your life. Think about the ones who you have a strong desire to spend time with. What is it about them that makes you want to be around them? Is it obligation? Sometimes that can be it. Family can be in this category. Co-workers. Friends even. Some of those may be have-to’s. I am talking about the want-to’s in your life.
I would imagine these people are “feel-good” people. People who make your soul feel good. Who put a smile on your face. Who make your heart jump for joy. The conversations you have are probably filled with good things. They are probably encouraging. You don’t talk about others, and if you do, it is probably to talk about how to help others, not to tear them down. These are the people who consistently use positive words. Kind words. Words to build up. Life-giving words.
What about the others? You know who I mean. The life-suckers. Being around them takes a considerable amount of emotional energy. Your conversations usually consist of talking bad about people, or gossiping. Sometimes you may even feel like you are trying really hard to put a positive spin on everything they say, and much of what you hear is a problem, and not a solution. You do not feel good when you leave these people. Sometimes, much like I did at the dinner table with my kids, you can’t wait for the conversation to be over; and you find you want to spend less and less time with them. You may even need days to recuperate.
Do I think there is a such a thing as too much positivity? Yes, certainly. Being positive about everything, and just not being vulnerable and honest can at times be toxic. But if every word that comes from your mouth is an onslaught of criticism, doom and gloom, and humdrum, hurtful language, take it from the mom at the dinner table-to the person hearing it, it’s soul-sucking.
And the Bible is clear about this as well. It mentions how words can be harmful or beneficial to the hearer, and the health of the hearer. In Proverbs, Solomon mentions words a handul of times, and mentions how words can either be positive for one’s health, or not so. For instance, in Proverbs 16:24, Solomon states, Kind words are like honey-sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. In contrast, in Proverbs 15:4, he mentions that a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit. Safe to say…your words have great impact.
You can turn on the TV. Open social media. Walk down a sidewalk or a school hallway and hear enough bad language and crude remarks to grow weary, so I wonder at times why our every day conversations continue to also be filled with them. And certainly, I cannot be the only one simply exhausted by it. Crushed in spirit even.
Perhaps it’s time to think about which person you are in any given conversation. Are you the one people can’t wait to talk to? Or are you the one people can’t wait to leave? Consider this from Proverbs 18:20, another message about our words: Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction. Personally, I want others to leave my presence satisfied by what they heard. Full of the Spirit, and full of love. Not leaving, and desiring to leave a bad review about the “poor service” they received. How about you?
Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. Romans 6:12-14
There is something my youngest pokes fun at me any chance he can for saying-“The ‘p’ in pastor doesn’t stand for ‘perfect.’”He repeats it anytime he recalls some slip of tongue in the car in the past at an inept driver, any transgression deemed unbefitting of someone “called” to lead a flock from the past 10-13 years of his life. “I know. I know. ‘P’ in pastor doesn’t stand for “perfect.”
Why have I had to say this so many times until it’s almost some ridiculous mantra repeated at dinner? Because, yes. I struggled with road rage for a number of years, and my children were witness to it. During those moments, a range of 4 letter words would flow, and my kids reminded me they were not appropriate. But what bothered me most? Even after I was “reformed,” started waving instead when someone flipped me off, and stopped cursing when someone cut me off, was that they just never let me forget it. Hence the need to remind them that the process of sanctification, was a process. Even for pastors.
Paul even reminds the Roman church of this in Chapter 6, in his letter to them, reminding them of where “perfection” comes-through their new life in Christ.
But how many of us are like my children at times? Continuing to bring up the used-to’s? The behaviors before Jesus came in and cleaned up that mess, before we fully surrendered, and handed over all those sinful practices to Him? Are we just not willing to let it go? That person whether pastor or not, may have truly decided not to let sin control them-whether it’s cursing or something else, but we won’t stop bringing up their old desire to do so-so we deny the work of the Spirit in their lives, look past what God has done to move them through a process of change, and fail to celebrate the new life that has been born. They start to believe…well, they will just never be “perfect” enough for you.
There is a better way. Paul also talks about it to another church. The church in Corinth, when he talks about something else we view as perfect by the world’s standards-love. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul describes perfect love-Christian love. He says, this type of love does not keep a record of wrongs (v5). In addition, this “perfect” love, never loses faith and is always hopeful (v7). So, someone loving and celebrating new life, displaying Christian love; would not harp on another’s flaws, but would rejoice in the making new.
Are we walking this better way-with others or even with ourselves? Focused on the making new, in the dead life we were removed from when Jesus called us out of those ways into something better? If we are still holding onto the old, can we let it go, so we can truly help others move forward in the Christ-like “perfection,” and ourselves as well?
Because He certainly did. And He expects us to as well.
In a conversation while watching TV, my husband and I reflected over the death of the TV sitcom. Streaming has killed mainstream TV, and the idea of sitting down with kids to just watch a family TV show seems dead. Gone are the days of shows like Who’s the Boss, Family Matters, and Growing Pains.
Growing Pains…not just physical, but those emotional ills we go through when anything in life or relationships change. That’s what the show was all about.
It’s what life is all about. And throughout mine, I’ve had my fair share. Even well into my late 30’s and even as recently as a couple years ago. As just like the sitcom, Carol, Mike, and the others had the Seaver parents; and I had people who helped me, guided me, and truly wanted the best for me as I was growing through them.
One is a colleague I look up to. I admire her and her professionalism. In a conversation this week, we were discussing some of the challenges for the new school year with staff changes; one of them being the previous week’s meeting that I had been asked to lead. The one that had not gone as planned. I told her how a few years ago I probably would have left that room crying, and cried about it for days; but these days I no longer take things that are not about me personally. Her response was unexpected. One I was not needing to hear for validation (though in the same years I would have needed that, too), but confirming in a way.
“January, you are exactly right. You have grown so much. It’s been so awesome to watch you develop into such a great therapist, and a really strong leader.”
I was humbled. Coming from someone who five years ago, scared me to death…yes I was humbled.
And I said as much-that she used to scare me-because five years prior I had sat in her office as a resident in counseling with 2 years of overdue paperwork needing signatures. Having not attended any groups in the last three months, because I was meeting the requirements of everyone else around me, and not the path of the career I said I was passionate about. Her promise to never sign another overdue quarterly report after that date stuck with me, and I vowed to myself I would never turn in another one late. And I didn’t. I also never missed another group supervision. I made sure my placements knew those were monthly commitments I had to meet as part of my residency. She was right-I could have sat there and made excuses. I could have given up. But I didn’t. I owned it. Fixed it. And didn’t do it again.
Now…I’d like to say I never made another mistake I had to be held accountable for, but then I would also have to tell you I am superhuman, and I am not. I have had to own my junk. Fix it. And suffer some growing pains. And each time someone has been there who has truly wanted the best for me. Someone has had to show me the crack, the area needing growth, and push me to fix it.
And we hear that a lot: “I am telling you this because I want the best for you,” or “I wish you the best.” But does everyone? And how do you know the difference? Because there is a difference.
Here’s an illustration to help you:
After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said. A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep. John 21:15-17
Jesus gave Peter instructions and asked Him to serve Him, as He had been instructed to do previously. If you love me, you will go on serving as you have before; but you will change your behavior.
Leaders, friends, loved ones who want the best for you-don’t hold your past missteps against you. Jesus didn’t do that to Peter. That colleague had not even remembered those reports-I had. She had just silently been watching me grow.
Those who want the best may have to call out a fault. A blemish. May have to ask you to correct a mistake, or an area of growth, but they do so in gentleness, in love, and with the understanding that you have the opportunity to make it right, and even get better. It’s not to hold these wrongs over your head for later. They don’t yell at you, or shame you. Or keep them in their back pockets as ammunition to keep you from moving forward later.
Those who want the best SEE the best. Potential. And not just the products of your mistakes. They can’t wait for you to bloom into what you will become. They even want to help you do it.
Now, those who really don’t want what is best for you…but maybe for them?
At first, they tell you the mistake is no big deal. You are forgiven. You have some time to make this right, and may even encourage you with a plan. But then it shifts.
They keep a record of your wrongs. Like receipts. Adding them up to list them each time you mess up. They remember that meeting 5 years ago, and won’t let you forget it. They even remember why you were there.
They see a crack. And instead of gently talking to you about it; they expose it. With maneuvering of others in front of you and your gifts, desires, talents. They may even poke at it to expose the weakness more.
Those who want what is best for them? They want competition. If you do happen to fix the crack? To move forward? Bloom? Grow? Despite the adversity? Don’t expect an ally. Expect the silent treatment. And an all out lack of support. These people may even just ghost you.
These are the people who would have never went to Peter and asked him to feed their sheep, but would instead be talking to the sheep about Peter. Or would have already replaced Peter with a new first mate.
You get it now?
Those who want the best for you, sometimes don’t get to have the best conversations; because they are the ones willing to have the tough ones.
The ones that may cause pain, but instill growth.
The ones that may hurt a bit, but are necessary for change.
The ones that reveal cracks, but are crucial for repair.
These are the best.
Don’t be afraid of those who challenge you. Because they are the ones who just may be conduits of your strongest growth. Those are the ones who want the best.