Is Real Life Happening Yet?

reallifelogoFor years, I waited.

My perception of my life was all about circumstances. I saw myself as not being in the ideal circumstances but assured myself that one day things would be different. As I saw it, the present was always lacking in some way. However, things would really be good when, one day, life would be what I wanted it to be.

When I was single, I thought life would really begin when I got married.

When I was in college, I thought life would really begin when I graduated.

When I was in graduate school, I thought life would really begin when I finished the program.

When I was married, I thought life would really begin when we could settle down somewhere.

When we were renting a house, I thought life would really begin when we could own a home.

Three Signs of Arrogance

Career-Prep-Old-Arrogant-FeaturedNow, of course, you might say, “Not me! No way I am even remotely an arrogant person.” Sometimes we think of people who act pompous and immediately conclude that we are certainly not arrogant.

Yet, arrogance sometimes comes out in people who think they are:

Better.

This is the person whose idea of friendship is to associate with people who have something to offer him.  In other words, this person wants friends who in some way cause him to feel better than others.  Meanwhile, this same person may have no interest in being friends with someone who seems inferior.

Some people who are arrogant have little respect for the experience or knowledge of others.  They can quickly become self-appointed experts on preaching, finances, or building/remodeling.  A friend of mine once described another man as having a very pompous way about him.

Smarter.

This is the person who thinks she is a bit smarter than most.  In fact, she sees peers who have experienced serious moral failure as basically being weak or stupid.  In her mind, she is far too smart to ever become encumbered with such behavior.

To some, she seems almost reckless in her dealings with the opposite sex.  Sometimes she is flirty with men at work.  Her husband recently expressed his discomfort with texts that she sent to one co-worker in particular.  She believes that she is smarter than most people and that what she is doing at work is innocent fun.  She doesn’t seem to be worried about temptation thinking she is far too smart to mess up her marriage.

More important.

Some people think they are more important than others.  Now they don’t necessarily say this; however, this comes through clearly in talk.  Their friends are most often high profile people who make a lot of money, enjoy visibility in the community, or have a job title that commands respect.

This may be the minister who spoke about how the congregation couldn’t do without him.  Or it may be the woman who was stopped by the police for speeding and wanted the officer to know that her husband was a prominent attorney in town. Or this may be a businessman who regularly drops the names of important people he ate lunch with this week.

Arrogant people are usually highly self-conscious people who are so focused on themselves and their image that they rarely take the time or energy to pay attention to another.

Question:

What might a person be missing in life by holding on to such an attitude? 

 

Do They Think They Have You Figured Out?

Honest-conversationSome people think they have you figured out.

When this happens to me, I sometimes find it irritating.

I notice this when I am talking to someone and trying to explain a situation or dilemma. Some will nod and even interrupt.

“Oh yeah, I know all about that.”

Then the person goes on to explain his similar situation.  Or, a person explains that she understands and comprehends your struggle.  In fact, she believes she knows exactly what to do.  In the meantime, you have been unable to finish your story because the person keeps interrupting.

This is irritating.

Yet, I have been guilty of the same behavior.

  • I think I have someone’s dilemma figured out.
  • I think I know what to do.
  • I think I understand how someone feels.
  • I think I have an answer.

I remember a few specific occasions when I blurted out my response to someone’s story before they ever finished their sentence.  When I have done this, that person’s final words seem to fade away, as my own words and sentences overpower the conversation.

Yet, so often what others want is to simply be heard.

Two suggestions.

Ask clarifying questions.

People want to see that a listener is really attempting to understand what is being said.  Asking clarifying questions can be helpful toward better comprehending and grasping what another is saying.

“What did you mean by that?”

“How did you feel when she said that to you?”

“How long has this situation been this difficult?”

Speak back what you have heard.

This is especially important when another’s dilemma is complicated, involved, or is somewhat confusing.

“Ok, I think I heard you say this situation become more difficult when the next manager attempted to implement the new policy.  As a result your department became very chaotic.  Is this accurate?”

The other person then has the opportunity to clarify or elaborate on what what was just said.

Ultimately, I want others to feel like I really listened and tried to comprehend what they were saying.

 

Question:

What are some of the characteristics of good listeners that you know?

 

Can I Trust This Person?

trust_meter2-450x300Good question!  This is a question that many of us ask regularly.

Not long ago, a friend expressed his appreciation for our relationship.  He spoke of how often he had confided in me through the years.  I came away from that conversation not only appreciating our friendship more but with greater resolve to always be a trustworthy friend to him.

Far too often we learn that some people are just not trustworthy.

  • A person sabotages an initiative of a co-worker behind her back while being nice to when she is present.
  • You learn that a man in your community apparently has been living a double life that totally violates the convictions he claims to hold.
  • A student plagiarizes material that she used for a research paper.
  • A friend tells someone else some information that you shared with him in confidence.

In friendships, in a church, or in a working relationship, it is especially important to know that you can trust another with what you say and what is said to you.

There is absolutely no substitute for being trustworthy.

Three suggestions:

1.  Consider a person’s manner.  If he regularly gossips, breaks the confidence of others, and bad-mouths people, do not expect him to speak differently regarding you in your absence.

2.  At the very least, consider the reputation of another.  A person once said to me regarding a mutual acquaintance, “Do not tell him anything that you do not want repeated to others.”  That turned out to be very wise counsel.  On the other hand, I was recently advised regarding a mutual friend, “You know that you can confide in him.  So many of us do.”  He had earned a very good reputation.

3.  Express appreciation to those you have found to be trustworthy.  Such relationships are not to be taken for granted.  In a culture where trust is often broken, others might be encouraged to occasionally hear you express your appreciation for their trustworthiness.

When You Realize You are Out of Control

outofcontrolOne night I was driving home from my job at UPS.  It was about midnight and was raining. I was in college and was driving my father’s car, which I rarely drove.  As I recall, my car was in the shop being repaired.  I was on Stemmons Expressway (I-35) and going much too fast considering the rain.  At one point, the car began to hydroplane on the water surface.  I remember wondering how I would stop.  The car began to do a 360 on the expressway.  I wondered if I was going to get hit from behind.  Finally after turning around completely, the car came to a stop. I then slowly began to drive ahead again.

I had been totally out of control.

Reynolds Price, novelist and longtime English professor at Duke, spoke at the 1992 Founder’s Day at Duke and challenged his audience with some observations regarding many students.

But you’ll find other sights that breed concern. . . . walk your attentive self through the quads.  Stand at a bus stop at noon rush-hour; roam the reading rooms of the libraries in the midst of term and the panic of exams.  Lastly, eat lunch in a dining hall and note the subjects of conversation and the words employed in student discussion.  (I’m speaking mostly of undergraduates, but not exclusively.) 

Try to conceal your consternation at what is often the main theme of discourse — something less interesting than sex and God, the topics of my time.  If for instance you can eat a whole meal in a moderately occupied Duke dining hall without transcribing a certain sentence at least once, I’ll treat you to the legal pain reliever of your choice.  The sentence runs more or less like this, in male or female voice – - “I can’t believe how drunk I was last night.” 

Considering that the social weekends of many students now begin – - indeed are licensed by us to begin – - at midday on Thursday and continue through the morning hours of Monday (as they never did in the old days of “country club” Duke), maybe the sentence is inevitable – - at least in the bankrupt America we’re conspiring to nurture so lovingly and toward which we blindly, or passively anyhow, wave our students.  

“I can’t believe how drunk I was last night.”

Totally out of control.

Mark of Dysfunction: Keep this Deadly Secret

shhhOne mark of a dysfunctional marriage, family, or church is that others within the system are not supposed reveal the secret.

What is the secret?

You are not to tell anyone about the way things really are in this marriage, this family, or this church.  After all, what would people think?

Of course, I do appreciate husbands and wives who obviously love one another.  It is really nice to see husbands and wives who still have much affection for one another after many years.

I do remember seeing an interesting Facebook status one day.  It said something like this:

Twenty-five years ago I met the man of my dreams.  We have loved together, laughed together, and dreamed together.  I am so fortunate to be this man’s wife.  Looking forward to the next 25 years.

Now many people enter a status like this one on their anniversary or spouse’s birthday.  What struck me as odd about this particular post is that it never occurred to me (and I suspect many of their other friends) that she in any way adored or treasured this man.  In fact, it really didn’t appear that they valued each other very much at all.  The way they treated one another each day made such a post on their anniversary seem odd.

It was almost like she was trying to sell something to the rest of us.

Why Are You So Angry?

portrait of angry young man shouting using mobile over black bacHave you noticed?

Some people are very, very angry.

  • The angry driver who is furious because another driver dared to pass him on the Interstate.
  • The grandfather in his 60s who pounds the check-in desk with his hand, demanding that the clerk yield to his demands.
  • The young man and woman who stand beside their car in the afternoon screaming at one another.

James Houston, in a presentation called “Living the Mentored Life,” suggests that three kinds of anger are often seen in people.

1.  People who are angry with a controllable anger.  This anger can be like a spewing volcano.  These people are visibly angry.

2.  Pleasers who are angry.  These people suppress their own identity in order to placate others.

3.  Givers who are angry.  These people give to others but are often very angry as well.  Often these people are perfectionists as they relate to other people.

Houston says that these are actually faulty substitutes for emotions found in healthy relationships.

I’ve rarely, if ever, heard anyone refer to himself as an angry person.  However, I have heard numerous spouses speak of the angry people they married.  I have a good friend who speaks of the long legacy of angry people in his family.  In fact, his father/grandfather were both known for their rage.

Questions:

What has been helpful to you in dealing with your own anger?  What has been helpful in dealing with the anger of others?

Lifelong Learners Live Balanced Lives

balanced-bird (1)Leaders who are lifelong learners take care of the physical body that God has given them.

I once saw a picture of my father-in-law when he was in his twenties. He was standing next to another minister. He looked overweight and uncomfortable. His skin seemed to be a pasty white and puffy. He did not look healthy or fit at all.

Years later he reflected on those days and told me of his lifestyle. He got virtually no exercise. He hurried from one town to the next to preach weeklong revivals.   If he preached on a Sunday morning, then he might stay busy all afternoon visiting with people in the congregation or town (as opposed to resting). Then before he preached that evening, feeling exhausted, he would drink several cups of coffee. He once said, “Looking back, I would have been much more effective if I had rested on those Sunday afternoons. Perhaps I could have taken a walk or gone running.”

My father-in-law had health difficulties for many years. These problems began while he was in his early thirties and continued throughout much of his life. He believed that his lifestyle as a young minister contributed to some of his early medical problems. Later, he wisely lived a more balanced and healthy life. He gently encouraged me to do the same.

Lifelong Learners Grow Emotionally and Relationally

learn1They may be pleasant and intelligent people. Very often, they are Christian people.   There are some people who have developed their thinking processes quite well. There are some who have the capacity to grasp intellectual complexities and make sense of them.

Yet, some of these same people never seem to grow up emotionally.

Yet, there are people whohave just never been able to progress or move ahead in terms of allowing the Gospel to make a difference in the way they handle their emotions.

Lifelong learners are willing to learn and grow. Learning, however, is not limited to mental, cognitive growth. A commitment to be a lifelong learner is not just a commitment to read more books.

No, we make the commitment to grow relationally and emotionally.

A few years ago, I read Peter Scazzero’s The Emotionally Healthy Church. A good book.   This particular paragraph in the Introduction (p. 17) caught my attention:

The sad truth is that too little difference exists, in terms of emotional and relational maturity, between God’s people inside the church and those outside who claim no relationship to Jesus Christ. Even more alarming, when you go beyond the praise and worship of our large meetings and conventions and into the homes and small-group meetings of God’s people, you often find a valley littered by broken and failed relationships.

5 Marks of Mature Behavior

maturityEmotionally immature people can do great damage to others. This is compounded when these same people perceive themselves to be spiritually mature.

I’ve seen this far too often.  A few examples:

1.  Years ago, a “spiritually mature” person explained to me over lunch why he didn’t have to forgive a family member for the way this person had treated him.  (He had accused this family member of swindling him in a financial deal.) This “spiritually mature” person concluded that he did not have to forgive this person because Jesus did not address situations exactly like his.

2.  A person who saw himself as “spiritually mature” was not on speaking terms with a person who had been a longtime friend.  This “spiritually mature” person would not speak unless spoken too.  He would deliberately move to the other side of a room if it appeared he would be in close proximity of his former friend.  This became obvious to others.  On one occasion, he was confronted about the problem that existed between the two and denied there was any problem.

So how does a person seeking maturity behave?

A maturing person seeks to behave appropriately (instead of allowing raw emotion to dictate one’s response).

A maturing person seeks to grow and display the virtues of Christ (instead of yielding to one’s own fleshly appetites).

A maturing person desires to display love (instead of yielding to one’s moodiness or impulsivity).

A maturing person takes responsibility for her emotions (instead of justifying foolish, self-absorbed behavior).

A maturing person is known for integrity and truthfulness (instead of being known for manipulation and a self-seeking attitude.)

I like the following thoughts by Peter Scazzero:

It’s taking people beyond outward changes and moving into the depths of their interior life in order to be transformed.

We look at this process in two broad strokes. First, we say that every Christian should have a contemplative life. Simply put, that means that each follower of Christ needs to cultivate a deep relationship with Christ—without living off other people’s spiritual lives. That requires slowing down and structuring your whole life in such a way that Christ really becomes your Center.

Secondly, emotionally healthy spirituality means that emotional maturity and spiritual maturity go hand in hand. It’s simply not possible to become spiritually mature while you remain emotionally immature. And emotional maturity really boils down to one thing: love. So if you’re critical, defensive, touchy, unapproachable, insecure—telltale signs of emotional immaturity—you can’t be spiritually mature. It doesn’t matter how “anointed” you are or how much Bible knowledge you have. Love is that indispensable mark of maturity. Emotionally healthy spirituality unpacks what that looks like (“The Spiritual Importance of Becoming an Emotionally Healthy Preacher,”   

Question:

How would you describe the behavior who is serious about maturing?