My friend had asked me to meet her for coffee because she was smack in the middle of unsettling change and feeling lost. She was seeking direction, feeling powerless, overwhelmed and discouraged by her circumstances. She began our conversation by explaining that over the last few months, every time something would happen, she would think, “I really need to talk to Julie.”
Why me? Not because I knew what she should do, because I most definitely did NOT know what she should do. I don’t have some freakish sixth sense and as much as I pray for discernment, I have very little confidence in my ability to interpret God’s perspective on things in my own life, much less in anyone else’s life.
I responded by telling her that my plan was to listen and ask a lot of questions. She said, “THAT’S why I want to talk to you. You always know just the right questions to ask!”
I’ll admit. I can ask me some questions. And I know that both my plethora of questions and I can get annoying, especially when the answers begin to chip away at mindsets and decisions that were previously firm. But if I ask a question and someone’s answer leads them to doubt or to consider possibilities they hadn’t before, I view that as a good thing. It’s never good decision-making to dismiss alternative points of view without consideration. That kind of tunnel vision leads us to believe we have the best idea ever, only to come face to face with roadblocks and monkey wrenches later. Or even worse, it leads us to believe we’ve come up with the only viable solution to a problem, when really, it’s just what we found at the end of the path of least resistance. If we never consider alternative scenarios, how do we know if we’ve even come close to the best case scenario? Unchallenged thought processes run the risk of leading to substandard ideas and a false sense of security and, sometimes the high and low extremes of a false sense of superiority or resigned hopelessness.
My friend’s comment got me thinking. What are the “right” questions? There are a couple of factors.
First, I ask the honest questions, no matter how “inappropriate” or politically incorrect. I don’t have a lot of patience for pretense (reason #1 and reason #2). Because of my desire to be used by God and my understanding that He equips me for service, I always pray for Him to lead me, to give me the right words to say and to tell me when to ask them and when to SHUT. UP. I pray with full confidence that God will give me the right words to say and since I have that confidence, keeping my mouth shut or skirting around a question that pops in my head feels like a lack of faith. And disobedience. If I ask God for help and He gives it and I chicken out by rejecting or ignoring His help, that’s disobedience.
What else makes for the “right questions?” It depends. And that’s key. It depends on what the other person says. If you ever give me the honor of an onion layer conversation, I’m going ask you questions and based on what I hear, I’m going to try to ask MORE questions that (hopefully) progressively peel back the layers that may be concealing or distorting the crux of the underlying issue. I pay attention to your stories, examples and explanations with the foundational possibility that they are all manifestations of something bigger and deeper. I’m not a-scared to ask the questions that might be embarrassing or make someone angry with me. (Well. Usually. Remember the disobedience thing.) I try to test assumptions (yours and mine), whether I see them as valid or not. I’m not unaccustomed to people getting exasperated with me. As a matter of fact, exasperation is a big clue that I may be on to something. If they didn’t care about a particular issue, they wouldn’t get upset about it. The goal is to find out if they care because they are unwaveringly passionate about something or frustrated because they see the erosion of the reasoning for their point of view? Either is a step in the right direction as far as I’m concerned.
Rationalization is a huge obstacle in these conversations. I’m pretty good at it myself. Given enough time, the right books and at least 3 pages of Google search results, I can convince myself of just about anything. I can ignore the elephant in the room no matter how much he stinks. Statistically, I can not be alone in my expert and stealth rationalization skills. I’m thinking I have many, many partners in crime.
For the most part, I’ve found that deep down, people already know what they think and how they feel about their circumstances and choices. They just have trouble extracting it out of the subjective overwhelming chaos of their mind during the frantic pace of their days. We so rarely take the time to be still and think. And when we do, the sudden unaccustomed quiet is often barreled over by a deluge of overlapping thoughts all vying for top billing.
So when I’m blessed with an opportunity to engage in these deeper conversations with someone, I try not to start out by talking. There are already more than enough voices in their head already. I wait my turn, listen to the voices and, based on what I hear – sometimes spoken out loud, sometimes in between the lines – I ask questions.
“If it was easy, everyone would do it” is one of my mantras.
I say it to my kids when they struggle with ANYthing and I see discouragement or frustration start to set in. I say it to my husband, friends, clients and sometimes, even strangers.
I say it to myself.
When I’m supposed to be writing and find myself staring at the screen, fingers atrophied over the keyboard.
When I spend two hours writing, proofread what I’ve written and immediately want to start over.
When I’m trying to curl a 15 pound dumbbell for the 12th time in my second set.
When I’m 2 minutes and 20 seconds into my 2 minute, 30 second forearm plank.
When I’m trying not to fly off the back of the treadmill during my HIIT walking program.
When I drag myself off the couch to pick up that stupid dumbbell or put on my walking shoes.
When I’m 3 seconds short of an 18 second note I’ve been trying to hold out. For the 100th time.
When my voice breaks on that high note I’m trying to hit in full voice. After two years of voice lessons.
When I’m vocalizing for the third time in a day in an attempt to get the “right” technique to become second nature.
Just a few weeks ago, during a break in a recording session, I mentioned something about needing to work on something with my voice teacher. The sound technician said, “YOU have a voice teacher!?” I responded with a big “Heck, YEAH!” He paused for a moment and then said, “It just seems more like you would teach voice lessons, not take them.” I quickly and firmly told him that I will never be too good for voice lessons.
But that exchange emphasized a very common misconception: The things people are good at just come naturally to them.
SO not true.
And the persistence of that mindset devalues the accomplishment, no matter what it is. The persistence of that mindset liberates other people from trying. It turns a potential mentor into someone to be resented and berated. Instead of being viewed as someone who met a goal as a result of hard work, they are instead viewed as “lucky.” Rather than inspiring someone else to take their own steps toward better and stronger, they become a discouragement to others. Because the perception is that whatever the goal, it’s not achievable by anyone but the lucky ones.
The book, Talent Is Overrated claimed, “One factor, and only one factor, predicted how musically accomplished the students were, and that was how much they practiced.”
The fact is that excellence isn’t easy. It doesn’t happen without work. Usually hard work. Developing a skill takes time. and repetition.
Experience is a teacher in and of itself.
What most people don’t realize is that mediocrity is only one short day of slackin away. Just because I do something well, doesn’t mean I’ve finished learning or practicing.
The fact that I was in a writing zone yesterday doesn’t insure against writer’s block tomorrow.
Being satisfied with today’s writing doesn’t mean I won’t be filled with doubt and repulsion about tomorrow’s.
The ability to lift a 15 pound dumbbell today doesn’t mean I won’t have to opt for 10 pounds tomorrow.
Making it through a 2 minute, 30 second plank today doesn’t mean I won’t collapse at 2 minutes the next day.
Finishing the 30 minute HIIT treadmill program today is no guarantee that I won’t wimp out the next time.
The fact that extracted myself from the couch today doesn’t mean won’t stay curled up on it tomorrow.
As I’ve discovered, holding a note for 18 seconds one time, does NOT mean I can now do it any time I want.
The same is true for that high note – once does not mean always.
Even after spending hundreds of hours practicing the “right” way to sing, I still drift into old habits . . .
For me, excellence isn’t a destination I’ll ever arrive at and rest comfortably. Because of my relentless determination to be a good steward of all that God has blessed me with, the striving for excellence is a lifetime journey.
To find out why I’m so obsessed with striving for excellence, check out this post: I. Want. More.
Fair is when hard won preparation and relentless dedication to excellence earns opportunity.
When I was in college, one of my friends, a member of the same singing group I was in, angrily told me it wasn’t fair that I got so many solos “just because I sang better than her.” She said she “couldn’t help it that she couldn’t sing as well as I did.” She said “God had just given me a better voice than her.” She had been shortchanged and she was disappointed. And ticked off. At me. And she let me know it. This particular time she said it out loud while looking glaring me in the eye, but most of the time the message was sent through her sulking body language and mopey facial expression every time I got assigned a solo or actually performed one.
Fast forward 20 years. I joined our church’s praise team and after a few months, all the vocalists were put on a rotation. The theory was that it would be easier for the musicians if they didn’t have to make a weekly commitment. Less burnout. I told the worship leader I didn’t want to be on a rotation. I wanted to sing every week. Why?
I needed the accountability; preparing for a mid-week evening rehearsal and Sunday morning service forced me to sing EVERY day. If I didn’t work every day, I wouldn’t be as prepared as I wanted to be.
I needed to build up my stamina, increase my vocal range and improve my breath control. Consistent daily work – on all three – was the only thing that was going to get the job done.
I was being exposed to, and challenged by, a new style of music that I was instinctively gravitating toward.
The mental challenge of memorizing a boatload of lyrics was exponentially increasing my memory skills. I was being forced to employ abandoned memory techniques I had learned years ago.
The weekly exposure of being in front of a large group of people during the praise and worship service was slowly nicking away at the stage fright that had crept in during the 10 plus years I had taken off as a serious vocalist. I was once again becoming comfortable, more at home on stage.
The worship leader’s easy dismissal of my screw-ups was leading to more self-confidence and as a result, I was taking more risks vocally and stylistically.
I was experiencing emotion when I sang and I was gradually allowing myself to feel it. Rare for me to experience it. Unthinkable to actually allow it. Inconceivable that I didn’t feel compelled to retreat.
Every week I was gaining experience and growing stronger. I began asking for a DVD of every service and I watched the “game film” every week. That DVD is unedited; the vocals are unmixed. I heard what was going into the microphone, not what was coming out after I got a little help from the sound guys. I heard THE HARD TRUTH. Every week, I meticulously listened to the quality of my voice, my harmonies, and whether my phrasing and breathing matched the worship leader’s. I forced myself to evaluate my appearance and my stage presence. I relentlessly critiqued myself. I was determined to identify my weaknesses and work on eliminating them. I found a vocal coach and started working with her regularly. I was rehearsing 10 to 20 hours per week and I came to rehearsal as prepared as I possibly could. I had to make some hard choices to give up some good things in my life to fit in those 10 to 20 hours.
I was working my butt off.
And then another vocalist caught me off guard with a simple question: “Why are you so special?”
I was dumbfounded. “What?”
They said, “Why do you get to sing every week?”
I heard, “It’s not fair. You get to sing more than me.”
I was stunned. Since it wasn’t a real question, they didn’t really expect an answer. They just wanted me to know I was getting undeserved special treatment and they didn’t like it.
I learned a long time ago that when I’m faced with criticism, I really need to strip away all the emotion and acrimony and bravely look for a grain of truth. Special. Was I getting special treatment?
Yes. I sang every week. I was excluded from the rotation.
I found myself thinking about these two interchanges from my past multiple times today, and it led me to this video. Check it out. Only 1 minute and 2 seconds.
As soon as I watched that commercial on youtube I knew it was true. Both of these people from my past were making excuses. Both of them assumed that my voice was just a God-given gift and that I didn’t have to work for it. I was their scapegoat. Their guilt-free pass to rationalization and self-delusion. It was easier to blame me for hogging all their opportunities than to work hard for what they wanted.
Neither one of them came to rehearsals prepared, having learned their own individual parts ahead of time. Neither one expressed interest in voice lessons. To my knowledge, neither one recorded and listened to themselves. Neither one made adjustments to their commitments or schedules to allow extra time to work on their vocals. Neither one sought out and encouraged honest feedback about their vocals, instead depending on the polite comments of friends as justification that there was no room or need for improvement. Both of them garnered support through whispering campaigns, resulting in high tension and drama. I spent a LOT of time with my college friend and I never, ever heard her rehearse or vocalize outside of our weekly group rehearsal.
Each of those two people, because of their unwillingness to strive for continued improvement, prevented each group from rising above their lowest common denominator: Them.
Is it possible these two people might have put a tremendous amount of work and effort into becoming stronger vocalists only to discover they don’t have enough core talent? Possibly. But neither of them will ever know. They had dreams, but dreams without action are just wishes, not goals.
Wishin don’t make it so.
And fair isn’t when everybody gets a turn.Fair is when hard won preparation and relentless dedication to excellence earns opportunity.
But I learned a long time ago that life isn’t fair. And these two people from my past are by far not alone in their belief that fair is when everybody gets a turn. They are by far, not the only people who feel entitled to opportunities they don’t earn. And those opportunities are continuously provided to people who don’t work for them because it’s easier than having the difficult and honest conversation that will most likely hurt their feelings.
It’s not limited to music, it’s everything. Everywhere. So when an opportunity I continue to work so hard to earn is given to someone less qualified in the pursuit of fairness, I’m left with a choice.
Take my ball and go home because it isn’t fair? That fits me worse than pink clothing.
Be less because someone else can’t or won’t be more? Not gonna happen. I refuse to give God less than my best. I refuse to stifle the gifts He’s blessed me with.
I will be the best steward I can possibly be – of all He’s given me, even if that stewardship leads to resentfulness and jealousy and leaves me with significantly diminished opportunities.
I’ve described my mother as a “defiant non-compliant diabetic.” She ate what she wanted, when she wanted, blood sugar be damned. After decades of neglect, her body began to deteriorate and finally shut down completely. I found a receipt in her wallet dated just days before her death. She had driven through Burger King on the way home from dialysis and ordered a BK Stacker (22 grams of fat, 700 mg of sodium.). She was suffering from congestive heart failure, taking 14 different medications and on dialysis 3 days a week, but she wanted a BK Stacker, so she got one. There were more fast food receipts in the pockets of her clothing and on her desk.
Time and time and time again she chose immediate personal gratification and a comfort zone, over long term goals, discomfort and inconvenience – and not just with food.
She bought what she wanted when she wanted it, even if she didn’t have the money.
She wanted a warm, inviting home, but she focused on the house and its contents more than the people who lived in it.
She wanted passionate relationships, but was controlling and plagued with pride.
She wanted to travel and experience new things. But instead, she booked the same vacation for years.
She loved to play the piano. But she didn’t make time for it.
She loved to sing. But she only sang in the house. And rarely.
She wanted to write. But she didn’t. She wanted so much, but she settled for so little.
Her desire for the things she wanted made it challenging and sometimes impossible for her to recognize, much less appreciate, the blessings she had. Her inability to see that she had power to change her circumstances if she stayed true to her long-term goals kept her firmly rooted in mediocrity and the status quo.
I paid attention. And I learned quite a bit about what I want for my life by watching her choices.
I still pay attention. And I look for consequences – good and bad – so I can learn from other people’s choices. I learn a LOT about what I want as a result of my OWN choices and their consequences.
My mother had a stroke and blamed her doctors and her medication. She had a stroke and I got a personal trainer. Before and after her stroke, she relied on medications to make herself feel better and to lengthen her life. Before her stroke, I was following in her footsteps. After her stroke, I began relying on exercise and lifestyle changes to make myself feel better and to lengthen my life.
I had a choice. I could continue to go with the flow and eventually find myself at risk for a stroke or I could intentionally and consistently walk backwards against the current. If you know me, it shouldn’t surprise you that when I’m floating in a lazy river, I will at some point, become bored and walk backward against the current. It’s a metaphor for my life. I intentionally choose to view every experience God has allowed in my life – good AND bad – as a blessing. Together, these blessings fuel me with determination.
I’m a big believer in benchmarking. When I want to learn how to do something, I find people who do it well and I copy them. But I also learn what not to do by watching the things that people, myself included, do poorly. I pay attention to choices and consequences – good and bad. I call it opportunistic learning and it helps me discover what I want in my life.
I want more than immediate gratification and a well worn spot in my comfort zone.
Iwant MORE than the comfort of air conditioning, dry, pleasant smelling clothing, a good hair day, less laundry and an extra hour every day. I don’t consider a handicapped sticker on my car to be a well deserved ticket to a great parking space and the inability to walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded scares me more than a hurricane warning. The inability to walk up a flight of stairs at all scares me more than an actual hurricane.
I want a stronger body, even if it needs two showers in one day, generates smelly, wet laundry, “wastes” 30 minutes or more of my day and requires a longer walk from the parking lot. I want to get stronger as I get older, not weaker. I want to be a good steward of this body God has blessed me with. I’ve experienced the limitations of a body that won’t do what I want it to do and I hated it so much I NEVER want to experience it again. I’ll do anything I can to make sure that my body doesn’t deteriorate due to neglect.
I want MORE than a 6 inch high plate of nachos with a phenomenal cheese sauce or the most decadent, melt in your mouth chocolate lava cake in the world. I want MORE than the thousands of milligrams of sodium and double digit grams of fat in the restaurant food that saves me from cooking dinner when I don’t feel like it. I want MORE than a bedtime snack of ice cream or a Grand Slam breakfast from Denny’s. I want MORE than a BK Stacker.
I want unblocked arteries, normal blood pressure and stable blood sugar. I want my 7 day pill case to be filled with vitamins and supplements instead medications. I want to model good nutritional choices for my children, especially my daughter. I want to live a longer, healthier life than my mother did. I’m not swayed by spoonfuls being shoved in my face along with an exasperated voice telling me to “just taste it.” It’s not that I secretly want it and am just denying myself. I really don’t want it. I’ll never be convinced to abandon my long term nutrition goals just because someone belittles me for not eating something they want to eat. I’ll never belittle them while I watch them eat – but I also won’t sanction their choice or cave to middle school level peer pressure by picking up a fork and joining them.
I want MORE than a good marriage. I want MORE than candy and flowers and jewelry on Valentines Day and my birthday. I want MORE than a husband who handles car maintenance, toilet repair, heavy lifting, jar opening and high shelf reaching. I want MORE than a “good” sex life and a husband who does what I want in order to get it. I want MORE than a husband who agrees with me to avoid conflict and who spends time with me because he’s supposed to.
I want a GREAT marriage to a man I can’t go a day without talking to. I want to be the person who respects my husband more than anyone else in the world and I want him to know it beyond a shadow of a doubt. I want to come to the end of my day and be confident I didn’t say a bad word about him to ANYone. I want to be the kind of wife he wants to come home to and I want to be genuinely happy that he’s home when he walks in the door. I want a partner – a LIFE LONG partner – who tells me the truth in a gracious tone of voice, motivated by love. I want us to share EVERYthing without holding back: our thoughts, our ideas, our weaknesses, our fears, our passions and our bodies. I want to share household and parenting duties and I’m thankful that I figured out early in our marriage that different isn’t wrong. I want us to be able speak in idioms and always understand each other. I want us to be able to communicate with facial expressions and eye contact. I want to stay married to my best friend for the rest of my life and I’m thankful that we are both willing to run to a marriage counselor the minute our relationship can be described as “fine.”
I want MORE than compliant children who make good grades, keep their room clean and behave appropriately at all times. I want MORE than happy, safe children. I don’t want my children to do what they’re told because I say so.
I want to hear about everything that interests them, because I know that if I don’t listen with interest, they will stop telling me. I want to be challenged by their mind, fascinated by their discoveries, respectful of their ideas, convinced by their reasoning, inspired by their passion and exasperated by our differences. I want to always strive to respect them as individuals instead viewing them as extensions of myself. I want to be comfortable with their potential to embarrass me for the sake of their (and my) learning curve. I want my children to learn life lessons from remorse and disappointment as well as from pride and achievement. I want to equip them, not protect them. I want them to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, even when nobody is looking.
I want MORE than the ability to pay my monthly bills. I want more than a nice car and a big house with a screened pool. I want more than great vacation destinations. I want more than stuff.
I want to be debt-free. I want to own my home, not hold a mortgage. I want my car to start every time I turn the key, and if it does, I don’t care how many miles are on it. I want to be a good steward of my financial blessings. I want to save and pay cash for the things I want. I don’t want to pay interest. I want to teach my children the value of a wise financial choice. I want to teach them that delayed gratification ultimately makes them happier and more secure than an impulse or convenient purchase. I want to give God MORE than 10% of what he entrusts to me and I want my kids to want to do the same.
I want MORE than to help lead a “good” praise set on Sunday morning. Lukewarm makes me restless. Holding back makes me unsettled. Trying to please everyone is deeply discouraging. Settling for fine wears me down. I don’t want to give God less than my very best. No one is drawn to mediocrity.
I want to work my butt off to prepare and when Sunday morning comes, I want to block out all the logistics and make myself open and available for God to equip me for service. I want to respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, not the body language of someone in the congregation who is missing His presence because they are preoccupied with what someone else thinks. I want to allow myself to be saturated with the Holy Spirit, so much so that Satan doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of distracting me from my goal of bringing as many people with me as I possibly can while I abandon myself to authentic, consuming praise. I want to go all out and see what God will do with my all.
I want to use everything God has given me – the good and the bad – to serve Him. When I write, I have no idea if the result is a cathartic purge or if someone will identify with something I say and be encouraged or changed by it. It’s just as possible that what I’ve written will alienate or discourage someone. I have no idea if God will use it to reach someone, but I pray He will. I don’t want the words I write to be in a vacuum.
I. want. MORE.
Do I always get it right? Not by a long shot. I do not find all this to be intuitive. These are determined choices I make, over and over and over again. And when I screw up, I start over, even if I have to start over multiple times a day. But I’m not going to stop striving. And I’m willing to wait for whatever God hasn’t entrusted me with yet. I’m willing work for it.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness,knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 5-8
“Never neglect what you’ve seen God do in your life. Take a careful look at these things from God’s perspective, all the way from your birth to where you stand right now. They’re all significant.”
(a short excerpt from the book I’m writing – and WILL eventually finish)
Why is it that when faced with a problem, my first inclination is to do something? To take action? Why is it that my knee jerk reaction is to throw myself into problem solving mode? Then, when I’ve expended every effort, when I’ve explored every possible option, only then do I pray? Why is it so counter-intuitive to pray first? Why is it that I, more often than I’d like to admit, see prayer as a last resort in a time of crisis instead of a first line of defense?
This is not something I’m proud of, nor is it something I can rationalize or dismiss. What I want to do when faced with a challenge or crisis, is immediately, intuitively go to God for help, but instead, time and time again, I find myself at the end of my own abilities, begging God for direction and ideas – and supernatural intervention.
Prayer is seriously underrated. We tend to keep it in a nice, neat little box, taking it out only when we need it. In the words of Robin Williams as the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin:
“Phenomenal cosmic power! itty bitty living space.”
I’ve found that when I’m actively committed to consistently spending time with God, the tendency to handle things on my own is automatically diminished. When I’ve already spent time with God on a given day, reaching out to Him as a first response when something happens later in the day is much more intuitive. I’m also less easily discouraged because when I talk to God first, my approach to a problem is much clearer and calmer. I’m not saying that every time I bring a problem to God I come away with a crystal clear approach to successful and immediate problem solving.
But in the great debate of whether prayer changes God’s mind or our hearts, chalk this one up to a changed heart.
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.“
. . . when you realize you have nothing to contribute. When you realize everything that can be said has already been said, that there are literally countless people who can do what you’re trying to learn to do – and they are already phenomenally better at it, and that you should give up this fantasy you’re chasing and get back to real life . . .
. . . and then you come to your senses and say, “Get thee behind me Satan! I am so unbelievably sick of you and your lies.”
(this is a re-post from March 2010. writing about seasons of prayerlessness and forgetting God and started thinking about it.)
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.”
Romans 8:1 (NIV)
I was introduced to the writings of Henri Nouwen through the writings of Philip Yancey and I’m finding in Mr. Nouwen a trait I gravitate to in writers: The willingness to be open about their weaknesses and the courage to publicly share their questions about God. When I read authors who allow me to see their confusion and doubt and take me with them, through their writing, to explore the possibilities, I am the better for it. They make me think about things outside my relatively tiny little world. And I believe that God, through these writers, sometimes teaches me what my life looks like through His eyes. Henri Nouwen is a case in point.
Nouwen, in seeking to answer the question, “What do we really desire?” believes the word “communion” seems to best summarize the desire of the human heart:
“Communion means ‘union with.’ God has given us a heart that will remain restless until it has found full communion. We look for it in friendship, in marriage, in community. We look for it in sexual intimacy, in moments of ecstasy, in the recognition of our gifts. We look for it through success, admiration, and rewards. But wherever we look, it is communion we seek . . .”
My favorite coffee mug reads, “That which is good to know is difficult to learn.”
Ain’t it the truth?
Why is this so difficult to learn? Why is it so difficult to remember that these temporary distractions stand in the way of experiencing the communion with God that really satisfies and fills me with the peace of God I crave?
Because I forget God.
And I am not alone. Look at the Israelites. Time and time and time again, they forgot God. And I’m no better. I forget God. And when I do, what do I do? I can stand around paralyzed by guilt and whine about the fact that I forgot Him AGAIN, or I can repent, confess and come back. I choose to hurry up and come back. Time’s a wasting! I don’t want to lose one minute of communion with God because I’m too busy beating myself up for something Jesus died for. This is why God sent His son. He KNEW we would forget. He KNEW we needed Grace.
And I gratefully accept His Grace. So I repent and come back into communion with Him. But I know I’ll forget Him again. And. So. But. Repeat.
C.S.Lewis talked about the fall of man in the book “The Problem of Pain“. He acknowledged that while most of us think of the “fall of man” as an event, something that happened in the Garden of Eden, he also sees the fall of man as something that happens daily. It’s a, sometimes moment by moment, falling away from God’s presence. He wrote:
“at this very moment you and I are either committing it, or about to commit it, or are repenting it.”
Ain’t it the truth?
I can also identify with Jack’s daily determination stay in communion with God:
“We try, when we wake, to lay the new day at God’s feet; before we have finished shaving, it becomes our day and God’s share in it is felt as a tribute which we must pay out of our own pocket, a deduction from the time which ought, we feel to be ‘our own.’
Since I don’t shave every day, I’m wondering how much faster I take my day back than Jack did. Do I claim my day for myself before my feet even hit the floor? I’m thinkin some days – YES.
“When he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault saying to God, “I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss.” Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it. “(emphasis added)
I’ve forgotten God. I forgot Him yesterday. I forgot Him earlier today. And I will forget Him again. I will fall away from His presence. Again. Even after having experienced the profound peace and contentment from communion with God, I will instead strive after the temporary distractions Henri Nouwen described. But, when I remember HIM again and I recognize my God-given desire for communion with Him, I will come back and by His Grace, I will “give myself no further uneasiness about it.”
What blocks forgiveness is not God’s reticence,
-‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him
and was filled with compassion for him’ – but ours.
God’s arms are always extended; we are the ones who turn away.
Philip Yancey What’s So Amazing About Grace?