Blog Post for Cornerstone WLA: A Biblical Response to “You do You”

This pandemic has shone quite a spotlight on our deeply embedded American mentality, “You do you.” We have seen how painfully unloving and detrimental it can be when self and entitlement are at the core.

My latest blog post for Cornerstone WLA shows us through the example of Jesus how to approach the “You do you” mentality in a more loving, healthy way.

You can read the blog post here.

When an Over-responsible Caregiver Learns a Life Lesson from a 5 Year Old

I have in recent weeks come up against my limits at times of what I can give to others and accomplish in the course of a day, and it hasn’t always been a graceful acceptance of those limits. I have instead resented them, and then learned the harder way to heed them and their inherent God-given wisdom rather than slam myself up against them to see if they will budge (they won’t, not much anyhow).

It can be a double-edged sword, this tremendous pride and meaning we caregivers find in being so good at seeing the needs of others and going to them with openness to help meet those needs. This characteristic is both its own reward and its own potential enemy – precisely because we are so good at it and there is always more need. When I find myself holding too tightly to my caregiver persona to be my personal motivator and satisfier, there always inevitably comes a point where I am hit with my finitude, and either become embittered or humbled by it. Which response I choose will set me on a trajectory one way or another.

Choosing to become embittered may initially make me seem stronger and tougher, but in the long haul my heart only grows empty and hard. Digging my heels into the role when I have in fact hit my limits has only led to resenting others, and ultimately judging myself rather than listening to myself when I feel my own needs emerge. I become more a shell of a caregiver than true substance.

Choosing humility frees my identity from the need to always be (perceived as) the strong one for others. It allows me to value myself in all my strengths and limitations, and gently voice rather than demand what it is I need. It allows me to rest, allows me to receive help, and most importantly allows me to love and receive love based on who we all are, not what we all do or need to do.

My 5 year old daughter showed me in one simple exchange how much I had lost sight of what’s most important in my perspective as a caregiver, and invited me back into the beauty of it.

“Mommy, what is a privilege?”

“Well, it’s something that you are so lucky to be able to do, something not everyone gets to do. It’s different from a responsibility, which is something you have to do.”

“So… a privilege is like how you get to be a Mommy to me and Kayla?”

She stopped me in my tracks and showed me the change of heart that I needed. She wasn’t looking at an incomplete checklist of all my responsibilities. She was looking at our relationship.

“Yes honey. It is a privilege to be a Mommy to you and Kayla. It is a privilege.”

 

Four Lies of Perfectionism that Rob You of Joy

We all want joy and contentment. Much of that desire is God-given; before things in the world went terribly awry, we were created to live in perfect peace and harmony with our own selves, the world around us, our role in the world, and our relationships with others. It’s a longing for heaven, which means it won’t be fulfilled until we get there. Living in a broken world, there is then a danger in pursuing forms of perfection as a means to joy in the here and now. If you’re like me, you’ve found yourself exhausted, frustrated or discouraged from this pursuit time and time again. It’s important to recognize the lies about perfectionism so that we don’t sacrifice our hearts pursuing what will never deliver; instead, we learn to look to and rest in the Perfect One who alone can be our sufficiency when all else fails.

1.) Lie: The reason you lack joy and fulfillment is because you have not achieved as much as those “ahead” of you. Attaining to perfect life achievements is what will bring you joy.

Truth: The place where you believe you will feel you have “arrived” is an illusion; it will never be enough.

We live in an age where the charmed life seems to be all around us. Even for Christians, we can fall into a subtle trap of boasting about “blessings” without realizing we’ve simply thrown a Christian label on our charmed life posts. The result is the same: falling for the “best life now” illusion, hook, line and sinker. Once I achieve that level of success in my career. Once I become that Instafamous. Once I move on from singleness to marriage. Once I enter into (or get out of!) that season of parenthood. Then I’ll feel fulfilled. We don’t realize – or fully believe – there are challenges and new issues of discontentment tied to the role “ahead.” This is why Ecclesiastes tells us,

“So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” Ecclesiastes 2:9-11, 24-25

As I wrote in an earlier post about experiencing restlessness in the pursuit of our dreams, nothing is owed to me, but grace is given for today to enjoy what is before us here and now.

2.) Lie: If people around you sing your praises with enough quantity and consistency, you will find lasting joy. Being perfect in the eyes of others is what will bring you joy.

Truth: The praise of people really isn’t all it’s cut out to be, and it can’t keep up with the neediness of your ego.

When we fall for this lie, we are always looking for something new, something better, something funnier, something flashier, to keep the stream of praises flowing our way. We should sense a red flag if we feel unsettled when there is too quiet a pause in the praise. The praise of people can be addicting; beware of placing the weight of your self-worth on its shoulders. It can rise and fall with trends, attention spans, moods, and others’ own insecurities and issues. Its supply often has more to do with others and less to do with you. Truly, the only One who is more than able to bear the weight of all of your self is Christ.

3.) Lie: Having perfect harmony and avoiding conflict in relationships will bring you joy.

Truth: We have to come to grips with the fact that healthy relationships, particularly the closest ones, will inevitably include conflict. It’s learning to work through the conflict – while guarding a safe place for one another – that brings about deeper love, a fuller experience of grace and forgiveness, and stronger character.

While it’s true we need general health in our relationships, we need to be careful not to equate “healthy” with “conflict-free.” I’ve never felt so much ongoing ‘conflict’ in my relationships as I do now that I am navigating the parental authority role with two toddlers whose job it is to constantly challenge me as they grow into themselves. It is impossible to avoid a clashing of will or personality, and for this peace-loving people-pleaser, it can be relationally confusing and exhausting. That is, until I come back to the realization that it’s not the absence of relational conflict that will bring me true joy. Because in my core, what I really want in my relationships is not to be conflict-free, but to be loving, patient, godly, self-sacrificing, renewed in spirit. These attributes are gold, but they only come about one way: Through the often-painful refinement experienced in working through the relational conflicts, big and small.

4.) Lie: When you are at your worst, you cannot be truly loved. Being a perfect self is what will bring you joy.

Truth: When you are at your worst, it is the most profound time to realize how deeply, unconditionally, and perfectly loved you are.

This lie encapsulates all the others, because we tie up our life achievements, our public image, and our closest relationships, with our very selves. So fundamentally, the perfectionists in us will be tempted to pursue perfection of self in the pursuit of joy.

What then, when we have bad moments, as everyone does? I mean, really bad moments. I mean, your worst moments when you’ve totally lost your rational mind and you’re throwing the tantrum of a 3.5 year old, but you lack the excuse that this behavior is developmentally appropriate in any way. Your worst moments when you’ve given into that sin once again and the voices of shame and hypocrisy are deafening. It’s easier to think that God and any other human witness to your behavior are merely tolerating you, because how could this mess merit any love?

When we find ourselves in the shoes of the prodigal son, clothed in rags of unrighteousness and still a long way off from the God we at some point wished dead, that’s when we find He has already run to us and said, “Yes child, I died, and my death was for you – not for you to be free of Me but for you to be restored to Me for joy. The best robe has been prepared for you; welcome home.” When Jesus took the sin of the world upon His holy self and suffered the horrific consequences for them, the Father still loved Him, and eventually raised Him to new life. Now that we have received His forgiveness for all our sin, past, present, and future, and have been donned with the robe of righteousness, how could the Father love us any less? It is profound, and it is our healing.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8

To pursue perfection in achievements, in the opinions of others, in our relationships, and in ourselves is to chase an illusion. When we can identify the lies of perfectionism for what they are, we can take our first step towards freedom from their entanglement and the subsequent exhaustion. As we run to Christ, the Perfect One, allowing Him to cover and fill us as only He can, He receives the glory and we receive the true and lasting joy.

Between You and Me

You could be my spouse, my child, my parent, my friend, my co-worker, my patient, my patient’s family, my acquaintance, my mailman, my neighbor, my boss, my pastor, my doctor, my nurse.

Between you and me, there may be:

  • basic personality differences
  • age gaps
  • cultural gaps
  • expectations, shared and unshared
  • differences in communication style
  • gender differences
  • differences in upbringing
  • personal private issues to which the other may not be not privy to
  • different life stages
  • different worldviews
  • different political stances
  • different senses of humor
  • different hobbies and interests
  • different current moods
  • past hurts and misunderstandings between us that we’ve yet to work out

I don’t know why I am constantly surprised by the amount of effort it takes to bridge, build, sustain, and sometimes heal real relationships. Looking at this non-exhaustive list, it takes a lot to know and be known.

  • Humility
  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy
  • Skill and patience to ask good, or at least better, questions
  • Even more skill and patience to really listen to the answers
  • Even more skill and patience and humility – and wisdom – to hold one’s tongue when not every voicing of opinion is beneficial
  • Even more humility to bend to some of those answers so that real connection can happen

Between you and me, we’ve got a ways to go. Walk with me.

Navigating the Complexities of Relationships in Formal Ministry

As my husband and I take a step back from formal ministry for an undetermined period of time to find rest and renewal for our own souls, I have begun the slow, deep and at times painful process of reflecting on both the joys and the pains that have come with being the “pastor’s wife.” One thing that stands out to me in my early reflections is the complexity of our relationships as people in ministry. We have all at once felt so close to people, and yet so incredibly distanced. We have felt so privileged in the intimacy granted to us and also so sorrowful because of the barriers that felt so hard to overcome. I have a feeling that much of the emotional fatigue that we are currently recovering from is rooted in the tremendous effort required to navigate such extreme dynamics in our relationships for a prolonged period of time.

Before going on, I need to preface the remaining reflections with the declaration that we had the most amazing and supportive congregation and Board that we could ever ask for. When my husband mysteriously lost his voice for many months, our church family did not give up on him and gave him all the time (and some generous financial assistance) he needed to get proper medical care. What is a pastor without his voice, and yet they loved and supported him as their pastor through the whole process. I could go on and on about how supportive our congregation was to us, but that merits a whole other post in and of itself. By sharing the struggles, I do not mean to be ungrateful. It is simply inherent, I believe, in being in formal ministry. Or at least it was, in our experience.

Joy and Privilege

In the years that my husband spent pastoring our congregation, he has had such privilege to officiate weddings, funerals, and baptisms. This is not just about ceremony. This means we have sat with couples as they prepare to make a lifelong commitment to each other. We have heard their more private struggles in learning to be so vulnerable with another person. We have heard about their hopes and dreams with regard to their relationship, children, career and ministry roles. We have sat with families in hospital rooms, in their living rooms, and in funeral homes as they felt either the cold shock or the burning slow grief of losing a loved one. My husband has sat with individuals who have shared their spiritual journey with him and have sought his counsel in the significance of making a public declaration of their personal faith through baptism. What privilege, what intimacy, has been granted to my husband, and at times to me, because of his ministry role. We have shared some of our friends’ most significant life moments in the most personal way. This has been a true gift, encased in trust that has been more valuable than gold, from each person.

Distance and Sorrow

It is so curious, and so confusing, to experience such depth of relationship and yet, simultaneously, feel so much distance from people due to factors that are often hard to identify, much less directly address.

One clear factor is the ever-present gap we feel between our own brokenness and the expectations you feel others may likely have – or the expectations you have of yourself – for you to have it all together, to have it all figured out, all the time. Of course there are, and there should be, high standards for people who assume formal ministry positions. That said, my husband and I are broken people. God has been unspeakably good to us, but our lives have been pretty ridiculously hard at times, and we have not walked away unaffected. If you get close enough, you can see the patchwork that sometimes strains to hold us together when we are stretched. I think sometimes people in formal ministry roles feel that patchwork shouldn’t be too obvious, lest it somehow hinder the confidence and faith of their congregants. I think sometimes the world pushes for untouchable leaders and the church expects the same, forgetting that God’s ways are upside down and He uses the broken before the mighty. But we forget that, so we don’t want to let the patchwork show too much. It’s a hard balance – being authentic versus being vulnerable to the point where someone might decide you are not fit for ministry – especially when everyone’s got a slightly different idea of where those lines are drawn.

The other factor is the sense you get that others struggle to let you in when you are in formal ministry because of their own shame, fear, theological / political / moral disagreements, or their own misunderstandings / misperceptions about your expectations of them. Some people decide they want a distance from your role and therefore must have a distance from you as a person because it feels near impossible to distinguish the two. This is especially painful if you as a person have had a relationship with them, and then they later decide down the road for their own reasons that they want or need distance from you because of your role. Sometimes, you just miss your friends.

As with all big topics, there is much more that can be said about all these things. For this season, what my soul longs for is two-fold. First, I want to come back to having a relationship with God not so that I can be something to or for other people in my “ministry,” but because He knows my name, He knows where I have been, He gave His life for me, and I love and need Him for all these reasons and more. Second, I want my relationships to be a bit less susceptible to the extremes I’ve described. I just want people who know me, know where I have been, who can sit with me and be stupid and shallow and real and deep and fun and serious and love God together in all our messiness because we’re messy people. I want others to feel they can be the same with me. I am hopeful during this season of coming back to the basics. Rediscovering God, rediscovering others, rediscovering myself.

Twenty Things I Would Like to Teach my Future Children

Today’s brief foray to the market, my second departure from the house in an otherwise homebound week full of flu-like symptoms, inspired me to make a list of things I would like to teach my future children, God-willing. I wanted roast beef but the pre-packaged slices contained 22% of your daily sodium intake per serving, so I opted to buy my own pot roast and make my own low-sodium roast beef, despite the fact that my current ickiness level does not predispose me to a strong desire to cook. I wanted last-minute Halloween candy, but the bulk bags placed strategically in the middle of the store with VERY large, very bright “SALE” signs proved to be more expensive per ounce than smaller bags tucked away in the candy aisle. I do not mean at all to imply through the making of this list that I have these skills down by any stretch of the imagination, but they are things that I hope to always personally cultivate, and teach to another person, in at least some imperfect way.

So here we go.  At least twenty things I would like to teach my future children:

1.)  How to read food labels.

2.)  How to read price tags beyond the “sale” sign.

3.)  How to budget in a way that intentionally prioritizes the needs of those less fortunate.

4.)  How to maximize a load of laundry or a load of dishes.

5.)  How to travel light.

6.)  How to take care of another living thing, be it a plant, a fish, a dog, or a person with special needs.

7.)  How to refrain from habitually turning the focus of conversation onto themselves.

8.)  How to wait for others to finish their sentence before interrupting.

9.)  How to say to another person’s face, “It’s not ok that you did that.”

10.)  How to recognize and respect social cues.

11.)  How to read the Bible.

12.)  How to listen to and think about perspectives radically different from their own.

13.)  To think a lot about how another person would feel walking into the space they just left behind, in the bathroom, at home, at work.

14.)  To greet housekeepers and maintenance staff at hotels, restaurants, etc. in the eye and say “thank you” often.

15.)  To tip wait staff generously for good service.

16.)  To spend at least a month in a foreign country, preferably one less developed than the United States, and preferably in living conditions equal to that of the locals for at least part of the time.

17.)  That they should never expect to be exempt from unexpected suffering.

18.)  That sometimes, it does matter what other people think of them, because integrity, influence and character matter.

19.)  That God’s love will always be greater than any negative thought or emotion they will ever think or feel about themselves.

20.)  That it is worth it to work through the hard questions about God.

I wasn’t lying then, but I am more honest now

Do you and your husband interact differently now than when you first got married?

I can’t stop thinking about this question posed to me and the husband by a soon-to-be-married couple, and my brief response at the time:

I think we’re a lot more honest with each other now.

Much of this is because we know ourselves a lot better, we know each other a lot better, and we’re more familiar with ourselves in light of one another. We know ourselves in ways that can only be revealed through shared life under one roof for an extended period of time. It wasn’t so much that we were being dishonest during the period of courtship. There were just so many things that had yet to be more fully revealed; hence there was only so much we could intentionally disclose to each other, much less ourselves, when we were still just dating. Learning to see oneself and one’s spouse truthfully in the context of many different life circumstances inherently takes time, effort, and experience. Surviving the occasional shock of these lessons requires honesty, humility, and the openness to being shaped and reshaped by another person – again, and again, and again. I thought I knew myself so well when we got married. I thought I wouldn’t really change all that much with time. Wrong on both counts. But a good kind of wrong, I would say. Deeper self-awareness and growth are from God. This marriage has been both the context and the tool.

Much of this is also about growing in trust and commitment. Unlike in dating or engagement, the entire relationship is no longer on the line if I say too many things that displease or unsettle him, and vice versa. (Obviously I am not applying this to more extreme cases like abuse.) We’re committed to walking together for life now, so we might as well be more honest about those issues that make the road rougher, and learn to truly smooth them out rather than romantically gloss over them. After all, if I’m not really planning to stick around, or he’s thinking of calling it quits, then I can lie and say it doesn’t really bother me that much that he roots obnoxiously for the Trojans. But since I must live with this major character flaw of his, then I might as well tell him how I really feel about it and then figure out some sort of compromise. No honey, we can’t paint the whole house cardinal and gold, but you can buy that ugly jacket. Just don’t wear it out on our date nights. Our love for one another is not perfect, obviously. (How could anyone love a Trojan fan perfectly?) But we can move from places of being stuck in our shortcomings, forgive one another because Christ has already forgiven us, and work hard at moving forward for good because this is how God in His forbearance loves us.

We’re coming up on eight years of marriage. I had someone say to me the other day, “After fourteen years for me and my spouse, it’s now more about tolerance than it is about love.” I found that to be incredibly sad. Less newlywed romance, perhaps. But mere tolerance and only wistful remnants of love? I don’t think it has to be that way. I think with each day, month, year together, we’re building something that is ultimately helping us to say an even more honest “I love you” now than what we uttered on our very wedding day.

On Being The Listening Type

I like myself. Not in the I’m-God’s-gift-to-the-world kind of way, but in a way that I think God intended us to have a sense of self-respect and gladness for our uniqueness as individuals. And not that I don’t have insecurities, because I’ve got plenty of the standard. I’ve got insecurities about my acne and my weight and the bags under my eyes and my lack of that hipster factor. I’ve especially got insecurities about my awkwardness with small talk, and the fact that I am usually exhausted by my efforts at it, and the fact that I’m convinced everyone is as acutely aware of my faltering as I am.

A guy I dated in college invited me once to a casual gathering of his friends; it was going to be my first time meeting them. I still remember what he said, “You learn a lot about a person when you see them interact with a group of people they don’t know.” Great. What he was about to learn was that this girl who could talk happily and easily with just him, was going to morph into the girl who shut down conversations with pauses too pregnant with overthought and who would ultimately excuse herself to the bathroom just to escape the relentless pressure of trying to overcome this.

The thing is, you see, I like being me. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t want to be any other way. Well, maybe a little less awkward at times would be nice. But I love being quiet. I just do. I love that listening, and listening well, is one of my most commonly identified strengths. I love that people feel they have been heard when they are with me. It means a lot to me and I feel I’ve got something valuable to give to my friends through my listening.

My struggle in being the listening type, however, is that I often feel less heard. I don’t interrupt conversations in groups readily or comfortably. It’s important to me not to cut people off but sometimes that’s how a lively conversation goes, one person after another cutting in, cutting off. But me, I’m uncomfortable cutting people off and equally uncomfortable being cut off. Call me crazy, but I like complete thoughts.

It can feel lonely, lopsided. Often knowing everyone else’s thoughts, big and small, but feeling less heard, less known. No one is more to blame than the other. I love when people ask me real questions and offer a space for my voice, but they don’t necessarily know I’m looking for that. I haven’t told them, how could they know. Sometimes I think that people assume just because I’m quiet means I don’t have a desire to talk. It’s more that I’m always looking for a more comfortable context to voice my thoughts but often struggle to find it. Other times I think that people assume my quietness means I’ve got some kind of extra steady hold over my troubles, and don’t need a listening ear myself. But it’s more that I’ve just got a steady hold over my expression of them. I could still use a listening ear now and then, too.

I’m thankful for authors like Adam McHugh and Susan Cain who recognize the wisdom and grace of God in shaping us introverts the way He has. I could honestly hand you their respective books, “Introverts in the Church” and “Quiet,” and tell you that you would know so many of my intricacies just by reading them. But at the end of the day, I’d like for friends to hear me use my own voice too. I may not be a big talker, but I’ve got some things to say.

Guest Blog Post: The Collision of Introversion, Culture, and Confrontation

They say that it is in our relationships with other people where we see our true selves come to light. This is especially true when we are faced with situations in which we must decide whether to confront another person. If not, why not? If so, why and how?

Personality type and culture are obvious factors influencing how we approach (or shy away from) confrontation. I wrote this recent guest post on Adam McHugh’s blog, addressing some of these issues after a very uncomfortable encounter at a local farmer’s market which left me wrestling with a big moral dilemma and a whole lot of soul-searching. Adam is the author of a most wonderful book, Introverts in the Church, which I’ve alluded to in previous posts.

Here is the link to the guest blog post:

http://www.introvertedchurch.com/2012/05/introvert-saturday-collision-of.html

How introversion suits my pastor’s wife. And oh, that’s me.

Back in my college years, I remember dreaming about becoming a pastor’s wife. Oh silly, naive me. I certainly found a shepherd’s heart to be wonderfully attractive. I thought it would be neat to be an encourager, the main encourager, to a person in that role. I thought it would be neat for my own self to have more doors open for me to care for others.Then, I married a pastor, and I cried.  I can’t do this. I can’t. do. this.

Please don’t get me wrong. Our church community is as genuinely supportive as it gets in their care towards us and their respect of our boundaries around our personal lives. They are actually quite amazing in how supportive they are. But even still, the roles of pastor and pastor’s wife are just inherently hard. Boundaries between the professional and the personal and incredibly blurry. Our personal life, in so many ways, is completely intertwined with my husband’s professional life. That’s a lot of pressure when you’re having a bad day. When my Sunday mornings come on the heels of a busy stretch of shifts at work in the hospital, I can tell that my ability to engage in meaningful conversation at church is not so stellar, and it’s in those moments that I hope people can understand that this introvert can’t always keep up so well with the roles of nurse and pastor’s wife without a bit of social faltering here and there. I hope they can remember that I’m primarily Stephen’s wife, not ‘the pastor’s wife’. Well, beyond that, I hope they can remember that I’m just me.

After reading Adam McHugh‘s lifechanging book, Introverts in the Church, followed by Susan Cain‘s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, I have become significantly more comfortable with my personality type and have learned how to recognize, treasure, and make the most out of the strengths that introversion has to offer. I’ve learned how to pull myself out of overstimulating crowds and engage in smaller, quieter conversations with just one or two people. I’ve learned how to communicate my needs for periods of solitude to my husband so that he can plan his meetings and dinners at our home accordingly. I’ve learned that I do not need to feel guilty when I keep my open days open, and use much of that free time to read, write, and take long walks to pray. I’ve learned that this is what makes me a better listener and a better talker in the long run. And I have to admit, I still relish the shock on peoples’ faces when they find that I have a very sarcastic, pranksterish side that I love to keep quietly hidden until just the right time.

But really, as I have gained a much better understanding of who I am and what my introverted rhythms are in terms of a social versus private balance, I honestly feel that this has helped my husband and I guard our own time together in a much healthier way. While he is an introvert as well, he has much more social stamina and he does not have as strong of a need for structure in his days. My counselor suggested that I help build in structure, not only for my own alone time, but for the two of us, in order to help ensure that we both have sufficient space to breathe, rest, and receive.

Some may say that pastors and pastors’ wives would do better if they were all extroverts. I would say that I love being an introvert married to an introverted pastor, and I would say that our personality type is a good, good thing for us.