Mayday, Mayday…I Don’t Need Anything

I’m the reason that the stereotype of the stubborn, “Mr. Fix-it” male still exists. It’s as though I have an internal mechanism that makes it virtually impossible for me to 1) allow any problem to not become my problem, and 2) ask for help when I happen to have a problem myself. Number 2 is more difficult to deal with. Sure, sometimes things are hard. Sometimes I’m in over my head. There are other times where I have absolutely no idea what to do. But no, I don’t need help.

These times of difficulty are marked by my really lame fake smile and a generally angry attitude. You want to be just like me, don’t you?

Here’s the deal, it’s hard for you to ask for help, too. Maybe not for everything, but almost certainly for something. Everyone has some stuff that isn’t emotionally significant, so we’re glad to ask for help – especially if we pay for that help. This is how I feel about rotating my tires. I know I could do it, but it’s not really help because the mechanic isn’t doing it out of the kindness of his heart.

Then there’s that one thing that you absolutely refuse to ask for help with. Maybe you’re stubborn, maybe you’re embarrassed, or maybe you’re just too apathetic to deal with it. We need to get past the question of why it’s hard to ask for help, and just acknowledge that it is.

This gives us freedom to ask a better question: what cost do we pay when we refuse to ask for help? This is one of the hardest questions for me to ask myself. When I answer this question, it puts me in a place of great fear. I’m not talking about an, “Oh, I’m scared of spiders” kind of fear. It’s more like an, “Oh dear Lord I’m gonna die!” kind of fear.

I was raised on bad 90’s action flicks where the hero is never actually scared – he only hesitates for dramatic effect. I don’t think I can blame these movies for my innate feeling that fear should be handled individually, but these movies offer a good caricature of how I operate.

This is the point of fear we all reach when we’re facing that thing that overwhelms us. We choose to live with the fear of facing difficulty on our own instead of the fear of acknowledging we have limitations and inabilities.

If this resonates with you, then you understand how this makes faith annoyingly difficult. If you’re not going to ask people you can see and have built trust with for help, then you’re going to have a tough time asking this invisible God shrouded in mystery and unanswered questions for help.

I get nervous to allow God to be helpful because I’m not always sure he’ll show up. Look, I read the Bible, and I don’t just go to a church, I work at a church. I like believing in God. I want to believe in God. I think the God story makes really good sense. But I’m genuinely afraid sometimes that if I ask God for help, he won’t show up. If he doesn’t show up, then what does that mean for the things I believe in?

Here’s the harder thing to admit: I don’t have an answer for this problem! I’ve tried a lot of things to make this particular fear go away, but I can’t shake it. Here’s the closest thing I have to an answer: I try to tell or record the story of my life with God at least twice a year. I do this is so I can identify the times I was afraid to ask God for help and he appears to have helped me anyway.

This doesn’t change how I feel – I’m still carrying my fear of asking for help and of being disappointed by God, but my feelings are challenged by another story. It is a story that is more objective than the whims of my feelings in the moment. By owning the story of my life lived with God, I see that:

God is not against me.
He is not distant from me.
He has not forgotten who I am.
He has not become disgusted with me.

There’s a good chance I drive God nuts. But my story tells me that even if I do drive him nuts, he’s not ready to bail on me. He may not do what I want, when I want – I guess since he’s God I should grant him that prerogative – but my story proves that he has not failed me.

I don’t know when I’ll finally be able to feel differently about asking for help or my fear that God won’t help. But until I do, I will keep retelling the story of my life with God. I hope that I will also keep seeing evidence that will challenge my feelings and give me a hope that I don’t have on my own. Until I can find the courage to ask for help, I’ll just have to keep acting like a person that needs help.

 

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Out of Balance, On Point

For years now I’ve felt guilty because parts of my life are out of balance. I wake up to an alarm 7 days a week because I feel guilty for sleeping in. I don’t have any hobbies because I don’t want people to show up at my funeral and lie to about how good I was at wood working. I want people to say that I made a difference. I want my kids to have memories of me playing with them, but I’m more interested in my kids having memories of me making personal sacrifices for what I believe in.

Aside from the fear of being trapped underwater in a car (I literally think about this every time I get in my car), my greatest fear in life is that I’m not driven enough, or that I don’t have the discipline required to do anything that is really worth doing. What I know with certainty is that if I keep everything in my life “in balance” then I absolutely will not have the time, nor the energy to do the things that I believe will be of greatest value to those in my circle.

You can live a balanced life and still fail at living a life that makes a difference.

Here’s the point, though. I’m gravitating toward the idea that “balance” is just one big joke dreamed up by some bum that doesn’t want to work. I blame my grandmother for this. She passed away just a few years back at the age of 102. I would listen to her stories of what her life was like and one great difference I notice is that balance was out of the question. Unless you were one of the social or political elite, there were no vacations, sabbaticals, personal days, or sick days. There was work and there was rest. There was an ever-present reality that life was not easy and life was not fair. The only way to overcome these two factors was to work hard- both as an individual and within the community you were part of.

This has been profound in thinking through my life, faith, and work. I’ll be honest, I don’t want to work 12 hour days. I don’t want to trade in the intangibles of my life for a pathological addiction to being productive. But what I do want to do is live my life in a way that matters. This means I have to work- and so do you. I believe that work is larger than your 9:00-5:00. It includes the work of building great relationships, pursuing an active faith, the work of personal maturity, the work of being a really great neighbor, and more. If you want to live a life that makes a difference beyond your own wishes and wants, then you have to give up on keeping everything in balance.

I chose to embrace the idea that if I want something in my life, then I must pursue it with a level of intensity and focus that is out of balance. I need to stay up late, get up early, put in extra hours, and think about it when I’d rather be watching Netflix. I need to invest more than I want and play less than I’d like.

I really don’t care if you buy my thoughts on balance. I do care about you living a life that you’d be proud to pass on to the next generation when you’re dead. So go figure out that thing that you really care about and get your life all bent out of shape in the pursuit of it. If you’re lucky, your grandkids will thank you for it.

 

Emotions: The Stuff Nightmares are made of.

I sometimes think I have the emotional IQ of a toddler. I’m not good at the whole feeling thing. To be clear, I’m cool with you having emotion. I respect the feelings you have. My problem is that I’m not good with my own emotions. I really only register two feelings. I’ve got happy and then I’ve got angry.

I’m usually happy- until I’m not. A lot of internal work has helped me to understand I do have more than two feelings, but everything besides happy all feels the same. I don’t like how that “everything else” feels. When I don’t like how it feels I get angry.

In my vast experience over these last 33 years of life, I’ve noticed that there’s more space for emotion now than I perceived even in my mid 20’s. Feeling statements have become a big deal. I got my first introduction into feeling statements when my wife was working on her M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy. That was a season of life where I ran into feelings everywhere I turned. I spent a lot of time playing violent video games during those years to combat the encroachment of all those feelings.

I’ve come to accept that this growing acceptance of feeling, both in me and culturally, is a good thing. That’s great for a lot of reasons. For starters, people have feelings. Even those of us who pretend to be robots have feelings. To ignore that does no good for anyone. As we become more comfortable acknowledging feelings, we open new doors for conversation and growth. Even though it’s good, it’s really hard for me, and for folks like me. It means we’ve got a lot of work to do.

It’s not just the emotionally stunted among us that have work to do. A real challenge we face today is the ability to disagree without dividing. As our conversations and relationships have become more emotionally driven, we may have lost some proficiency in the arts of debate and argumentation. What’s more alarming is that we’ve lost proficiency in the arts of basic human dignity and loving our neighbor.

To feel differently than someone can’t be a deal breaker.

It’s good of us to make more space for feeling. But that space can’t come at the expense of engaging in situations and relationships that make us feel bad. To have bad feelings toward someone- whether it is because of their intellectual position or their character- is an indicator that more work needs to be done. More conversation needs to take place and more understanding needs to be cultivated.

I’m guilty of avoiding people who bring up bad feelings in me. And I’m guilty of blaming them for the unpleasant feelings that grow out of interacting with them. If unchecked, I can carry these feelings around wrapped up in a little ball of anger that I blame the offending person for. In truth, the problem is not them, it’s me.

In a context of increasing diversity, our feelings serve as a powerful guide. They make us aware of what is not working. But those feelings must be matched by a profound commitment to do what is right. I believe that right is defined by bridging gaps that exist between people and seeking to understand that which we currently do not.

Let us feel more so that we might be more aware of that which is wrong. And let us match our feeling with a resolve to dive head long into those situations and relationships that give us emotional pause because we’re committed to be people who confront what is wrong so that we can cultivate what is right.

Straight Lines Don’t Exist in Nature

My two best friends are order and control. I put a lot of time into researching and planning  my life. It’s a constant exercise in making decisions that will lead to the straightest line possible from where I am now to the best case scenario. This is completely born out of my visceral awareness of just how near the worst case scenario might be. The real truth is that I spend a lot of time stressing out about decisions because I’m paralyzed by the fear of making a decision that will put a wrinkle in my perfectly laid path.

The more accurate truth of my life is that I have walked something very different than a straight line. I’ve also rarely encountered the best case scenario, nor the worst case scenario that I’ve imagined. My life looks more like an unfinished connect the dot worksheet that is beginning to resemble a picture that I can’t quite make out.

My efforts to obtain order and control are about as real as the imaginary Pokemon war my kids are currently waging in the living room. I’m just making it all up. But I feel good about my imaginary future. It helps me sleep at night, so I don’t really want to give it up.

I’m learning that the straight line I see toward my future will not be straight.

Knowing this does not prevent the period of emotional unravelling I experience when my current situation is out of line with my expected future. I’m not chill enough to go with the flow. I need some time to have an internal freak out. I need to stuff my face with chips and queso. Then I’m ready to accept that the connect the dot puzzle just took a turn I wasn’t ready for.

What I’ve learned from the rhythm of ordering, deciding, unraveling, and eating is that my decisions really aren’t as life altering as I imagine them to be. I have to accept that as true for two reasons:

  1. My life is not substantially better because of the good decisions I’ve made.
  2. My life is not irreversibly ruined because of the bad decisions I’ve made.

I have to accept that straight lines don’t matter much. Maybe I need to make straight lines in my head so I can be free to make decisions. But the important thing is not the decisions I make. It’s actually that I make decisions. Decisions move our lives forward. That, my friend, is important. That’s why I keep making decisions- I want to keep moving forward.

I want tomorrow to be different than today. I want to love my kids better tomorrow than I do today. I want to make my wife happier tomorrow than I did today. I want to be better at my work tomorrow than I was today. I want to be a better friend tomorrow than I am today. Tomorrow is only better if I live more in line with what is really most important to me. And I only discover what is truly important to me by making decisions. So today I’ll probably make some arbitrary decisions so that tomorrow I’ll know a little bit more about what I really care about.

Try to make a decision on something today. It will make things different tomorrow, and it will force you toward a new decision that you didn’t see coming. Keep doing this for a few days and you’ll see the dots starting to come together. The lines won’t be straight, but the picture will be worth admiring.