Christian Living

How many truth-tellers are in your life?

Truth-tellers–the awesome people we have in our lives who tell us like it is, regardless of what we’d like to hear. I really, really appreciate the people in my life who do this. One of my values is to be someone who is open to correction.

It’s hard to be corrected. It hurts and is embarrassing, but I grow because of it. I’ve been thinking about 1 Timothy 4:11-16 where Paul says:

Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (NIV–emphasis mine)

I hate when people see my mistakes. It’s really hard for me to be open enough with anyone to admit my flaws, let alone have them point out my flaws. As I was thinking about all that, this passage struck me. If people are seeing Timothy’s progress, that means he wasn’t starting out at the finish line; he wasn’t perfect. Paul is encouraging him to be open enough that the people around them can see his growth.

I wonder what our churches would be like if everyone followed that advice. Would we be more accepting of people’s flaws? Would we be more accepting of our own flaws? Would we be better able to encourage each other and to point out small issues before they become big problems? What else would change?

Have you ever looked at someone else’s life and seen where they bring problems on themselves? My husband and I were just talking about how we need people outside of our family to see the obvious things we could change. Sometimes things look obvious from the outside but are less simple from the inside, but sometimes they really are that simple to fix.

I’m also consistently in awe of people who can put themselves out there like this. Brene Brown talks about how important vulnerability is–that without it we can’t have joy, love, creativity, or innovation. It’s vital to a thriving life. It also takes a lot of courage to live so openly.

Those are the two sides to having truth-tellers in your life: being open about your life and being willing to be corrected.

So how about you? do you have truth-tellers in your life? Are you the kind of person who is open to correction? Are you the kind of person who can be vulnerable enough for people to see your life?

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The Whys of Manipulation

I think I’ve told y’all before that I’m working on a fantasy novel these days. I would say I’m knee-deep in it since I’ve got a first draft of the first 100 pages, but… well, that’s only about the first quarter of the story, and I have no idea how long it’s going to be.

Anyway! One of my characters, Ilane, manipulates people like nobody’s business. She’s done it her entire life, bending her circumstances to try to survive. It’s been really interesting to spend so much time with someone like that. I can’t condone her actions, but I can definitely understand them. As the author, I’m aware that it’s just part of her make-up because, as much as she manipulates people, she’s never actually gotten what she truly needs: love. Her primary motivation in life is survival.

How many of us are like that? I’ve been thinking a lot about the parts of her I see in myself. I have that same drive to try to steer circumstances. Culturally, we’re pretty okay with telling “white lies” or exaggerating if it helps our case. We share information with people we shouldn’t or withhold information from people we shouldn’t. We hide who we really are so that people will accept us or portray ourselves as someone we’re not in order to gain something from someone else.

In 1 Thess 2:5-8, Paul says, “You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you” (NIV).

Paul didn’t manipulate. He didn’t put on a mask. Over and over he talks about how he’s seeking God’s approval above man’s approval (e.g., Gal. 1:10, 1 Thess 2:4). He didn’t even act like an expert while he was with the Thessalonians–despite the fact that he was trained as a Pharisee and knew the Bible like nobody’s business. The more time I’ve spent with Ilane, the more I’ve come to realize that manipulation is born out of need–whether it’s perceived or real. Someone who manipulates does it because they don’t think they can get what they need otherwise. If you’re like me, you find yourself manipulating people without even being aware that you’re doing it. The solution isn’t to work harder at being honest/non-manipulative. The solution is to be so full of God that we don’t need man’s approval, to be so grounded in who God is and the reality of our belovedness that we don’t worry about our lack.

One of the verses I have prayed for myself and my family off and on is Psalm 90:14. Spending time with Ilane has convicted me that I need to pray that one every day because the reality is if I don’t intentionally get my needs met by God, I will spend my day working to get my needs met by any means possible.

Ps. 90:14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days (NIV).

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Stretching and Being Stretched

I recently read two very different Star Trek AOS fan fics. In the first fic, the author did some really amazing things with Spock’s childhood and how his father’s disapproval and his peers’ bullying formed him into someone with serious issues in how he viewed himself. He started to believe them–to see himself as less than vulcan and less than human and, ultimately, less than a person. So the author used that starting place to stretch Spock and to force him to grow in some really neat ways. It also gives a really interesting potential window into the movie’s background and sets up Spock to change the people around him. He becomes a force for change. I love stories with good character development!

In the second fic, Jim negotiates some awesome thing with another species, and they reward him. They decide that the thing Jim needs most is a happy childhood, so they give him this potion and he reverts back to the last time he was truly happy (when he was living with his grandparents at age 3 or 4). This is not an unusual plot for Star Trek AOS. What was unusual about it was that the author made it so that he didn’t retain any of his adult memories and in the end, the crew was unable to bring adult Jim back. They decide it’s their job to give him a happy childhood–especially McCoy and Spock–so they go through the process of raising him. It was an unfinished fic, so I don’t know exactly where the author was taking it, but what really struck me was the author’s note about how he/she had had a happy childhood and was appalled at Jim’s childhood so he/she was going to give him a happy childhood.

The author KILLED Jim Kirk! I mean, the essence of who he is in AOS is defined by the experiences he’s had. Yes, if you wipe his memories, he’s still alive, but so much of what he’s passionate about is a direct result of his screwed up childhood. For instance, would he be so against “no-win scenarios” if he hadn’t had his father die in one (and/or gone through Tarsus, depending on your AOS character philosophy)? A huge part of what makes him a good captain is all those crappy experiences that shaped his life.

John Eldridge talks about how Satan’s flaming arrows are lies that we get told over and over in our lives. A recurrent theme in my life is the idea that I wreck the lives of everyone who gets close to me. Crazily enough, I’ve been told that by a few different people. And for a long time it was just part of my identity. I used to see myself as so broken that it was like I was made of broken glass and whenever someone got close to me, they’d get sliced open.

However, that analogy only works if everyone else around you is made of flesh instead of broken glass. The reality is that we’re all like rocks in a tumbler, getting our rough edges smoothed off by each other–or like iron sharpening iron. We’re both stretching others and being stretched. So yes, I know I’ve hurt people in my life–who hasn’t?–but that doesn’t mean I should stop getting close to other people or see myself as having more destructive ability than any other human being. We all hurt the people in our lives. It’s part of being broken humans. But all those rough edges we’ve got are less like knives waiting to slice each other open and more like tools that God can use to shape the world and the people around us.

After all, if we let them, it’s the difficult things in our lives that shape us and give us a destiny.

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Authenticity and Growth

Lately, my husband and I have found ourselves talking a lot about relationships and openness. Sometimes I feel like that kind of relationships God calls us to in the Church are far more difficult and more rewarding than I want to engage in. God tells us that part of being one in the Church means we put off all falsehood and be truthful with one another (Eph 4:22-25). At a church function last week we were talking about authenticity in our church–how being authentic with one another involves being transparent and vulnerable. This authenticity then drives us into conflict with one another, like rocks being tumbled, which spurs us on toward Christlikeness.

Frankly, I just don’t want to do it. It feels too hard! I don’t like conflict. But over the years I have realized (and re-realized) that I will only grow as much as I let people in. Here’s what I mean by that: if I’m a house and I only let people and God into certain rooms, the rest of those locked up rooms will stay the way they are. It’s really easy for me to convince myself that it’s better to not share my junk… it’s messy, sometimes it feels selfish because it takes time and energy from other people to listen and engage, it hurts my pride to admit the depth of my depravity and brokenness, and my experience tells me it is the height of foolishness to intentionally tell someone where my weaknesses are. Yet God has commanded us to love one another and love, by definition, necessitates honesty and vulnerability, despite what anyone may say.

I have been so blessed to have people in my life–my husband, friends–who have sat with me in the dark places of my soul and have helped me face what’s there and deal with the reality. In a sermon I heard several years ago, the pastor quoted a statistic that each of us needs 8 close friends in order to feel loved and to grow. I have to admit when I heard that statistic, I was floored. At that point in my life, I had about 1 1/2 people who really knew me that I interacted with regularly. In a culture starving for relationship, entropying toward depravity, it’s worth asking yourself if you have people who can bear your burdens, who can listen. Henri Nouwen said that listening is the art of creating space for someone to be fully themselves. Are you allowing yourself to be known and loved? Do you have people to encourage you on toward love and good deeds, people who know you? Are you that person for someone else?