“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)
One of my go-to questions when I meet with someone as a communication/life coach is:
“How do you receive and process negative feedback and constructive criticism?”
Sometimes, people know the answer. Sometimes I have to provide a few multiple choice options:
(1) Do you usually deny it? Assume it’s not true?
(2) Do you get depressed? Maybe shut down or give up?
(3) Do you get fired up? Determined to prove the criticizer wrong or to overcome whatever weakness the feedback and criticism points to?
(4) or do you get depressed, shut down and THEN get fired up and determined?
The most difficult to deal with are the two extremes of denying and shutting down.
I don’t know about you, but my knee jerk reaction is to deny. Way back in college, my favorite interpersonal communication professor, Dr. Grasty, assured me I wasn’t alone by confirming that:
“When we are criticized, our tendency is to be defensive.”
And then he gave us this sage advice:
“Don’t be a deluded wimp. Have the courage to look for any truth in the criticism. Strip away any acrimonious language, any selfish motivation or defensiveness of the criticizer and diligently search for even a nugget of truth in the accusation.”
This is one of those occasions where the words “the truth hurts” ring loud and true.
I’ve learned that in order to grow – personally, professionally, mentally, physically and most importantly, spiritually, I have to face the truth of where I am right now.
Praying for God to search my heart. Asking Him to give me the courage to look at what He reveals. Begging Him to comfort me when He shows me the ugly that’s hiding in there, layered in rationalizations and rainbows.
And praying for Him to equip me with the motivation and stamina needed to purge from my life the things that separate me from Him.
In a previous post, entitled “I’m not your ‘fun’ friend.” I said I didn’t have a lot of patience for “surface” conversation because I have issues and that you either get used to me or you avoid me.(CLICK HERE to read that post.)
It set me thinking about why I’m so intense about life and so overly aware of lost opportunity.
I’m skipping over #2 because I’ve been thinking a lot about #3 lately.
Death. What do I mean by that? Let me tell you a story.
On Tuesday, January 12, 1988, Lee, an attorney, went to a meeting at a doctor’s office with Roger, a potential client. Roger wanted Lee to represent him in a medical malpractice lawsuit. The case had been tried before, but Roger had lost. The consult with the doctor that afternoon was intended to help Lee determine if Roger’s claims of medical malpractice were valid. Based on the doctor’s review and opinion of Roger’s medical records, Lee would make a decision to take Roger’s case or decline.
He decided not to take the case.
The meeting concluded and the doctor later recalled hearing Lee say ”Let’s go home and see our children.” Just moments later, as Lee still sat in his chair, putting papers into his briefcase, Roger calmly and quietly pulled out a .25-caliber handgun, put it to Lee’s right temple and pulled the trigger.
Two more shots were fired before the doctor managed to wrench the gun out of Roger’s hand and when Roger tried to run away, the doctor, his body coursing with adrenaline, chased him down and tackled him, pinning him until police arrived. Roger was arrested and just a few weeks later, he tried to end his life by shoving a 6 inch ball point pen 5 inches into his chest and 3.5 inches into his heart. When they found him, he apologized for failing to kill himself.
I didn’t know Roger. I knew Lee.
I was 23 when he was murdered. He had taken a risk hiring a 21 year old college dropout with no legal experience to work as his secretary. I spent 18 months working for him before I quit to go back to school. At that time, he was a sole practitioner, so most of those 18 months, it was just the two of us working alone in a small office. He used to walk around the office in sock feet while the shoeshine guy in the lobby shined his shoes, he would forget to turn off his tape recorder after he finished dictating in the car and would accidently record himself singing to the radio and he’s the only person I ever met who actually did break a tooth by chewing ice. I washed his coffee mug every day, picked up his lunch orders, and accidently saw him in his skivvies when he walked into his garage not knowing I was in there talking to his wife. I was his house sitter, his dog sitter and his baby sitter.
For nearly 18 months, I spent five days a week working in an office alone with that man and I never, not once, shared my faith with him.
To this day, when thoughts of Lee enter my mind, they are immediately followed by this one: If that man is in Hell, I had something to do with it.
In those 18 months, I had multiple opportunities to initiate a discussion about faith. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of them. I let each and every one pass.
Because I was 22. I was undereducated compared to him. He was important and he was professional and he was intelligent. And I was intimidated. So I stayed safely silent.
When Lee left his house that Tuesday morning in 1988, it never even crossed his mind that he would be shot in the head at point-blank range by a bitter, 72 year old man. When the doctor greeted his visitors that afternoon, he had no idea that less than an hour later, he would save his own life by wrestling a gun out of someone’s hand. When the paralegal left her routine office job that afternoon to attend a simple meeting, she had no idea she would see her boss murdered right before her eyes. When Lee said goodbye to his wife that morning, she had no idea it would be the last time she ever saw him alive. When he hugged and kissed his two little girls goodnight on Monday, they had no idea it was be the last time they felt their daddy’s arms around them.
When I left that job, I had no idea that my lack of courage would later leave me filled with regret; that my choice to stay within the boundaries of my comfort zone would result in such serious or long lasting discomfort; that I would forever wish that I had said something about my faith in Jesus Christ.
But wishing don’t make it so.
Is it possible that Lee was a Christian and I just never knew it? Sure. But that’s not the point. The point is that I didn’t know. How is that possible? This wasn’t a strained, formal or awkward relationship. I was comfortable talking to him from the moment I met him. My job interview took place in his car while he made an emergency trip to the mall to rescue his wife and baby daughter after she locked her keys inside her car.
It’s just wrong that I knew he wore tighty whities but didn’t know if he knew Jesus Christ. And yes. I do know how weird that sounds, but stay with me people, I’m making a point here.
Time’s a wastin.
We all have opportunities to talk to people about how are lives are different as a result of our relationship with Christ. Every single one of us. Every. single. day. Without exception. But if we aren’t intentional about our choices, those opportunities expire.
Sometimes, we don’t get a second chance.
Life is too short to waste it. People are dying every day. People will wake up in the morning and have no idea that it will be their last day on earth – or a loved one’s last day on earth. And too many of us spend this precious gift of time focused on things that fade away. Too many of us slink away from the difficult conversations because it’s easier to talk about “surface” stuff. Too many of us are afraid to look someone directly, maybe even uncomfortably, in the eye and ask, “How are you, really?”
God gives me opportunities to serve Him EVERY day. Every day, multiple times, I choose to ignore Him or obey Him. My prayer is that I choose the latter much, much more often than the former. Because, in the end, after I’ve spent my last day on earth, I’m desperate for God to say “Well done.“