- Start. John Acuff was right in his book, Start. Sometimes you just need to begin. Start doing what you have put off. Start doing what you know you need to do. Start doing before you have it all figured out.
- Beware of toxic, mean people in your life. Some people are mean! These toxic people want to hurt you. This may be your ex-husband, a former neighbor, or a total stranger. This meanness is evidence that you are dealing with a person who will stoop to most any level of behavior in order to get his ego stroked. This calls for wisdom and care in dealing with such people.
- Pray. Listen to children pray. Listen to how they pray without being self-conscious. Prayer is a reminder that all of life is larger than yourself and that each one of us desperately needs live in dependence on God.
- Show up. Think about those people in your life who are important to you. Is there an event in their lives that calls for your presence? Simply showing up and being fully present at funerals, weddings, showers, receptions, is huge! Being present in body while staring at your screen isn’t exactly what it means to be fully present.
- Remember names. You might say, “Oh I’m bad with names.” Ok. Most people I know have to make an effort at remembering names. At least they are making the effort. Remember that we all love to hear our name.
- Get over yourself. Growing in knowledge does not mean that you get to depend on God less while you control others more (Zack Eswine, The Imperfect Pastor, p. 113). Too some, competency seems to suggest that simple trusting faith is no longer necessary. Is your perception of your competency so important that you are almost offended when others go to someone else for counsel or advice.
- Don’t quit the first time you hit a wall. Yes, marriage is hard. Raising children is hard. Work can be hard. Ministry can be hard. Yet, hitting a wall does not mean that something is wrong. Some of the most valuable things that we are doing are hard! Anything that is important is bound to be hard at times. Instead, pray for the grace you need to persevere.
- Get focused. I saw a sign in Memphis the other day that warned drivers about getting distracted while on the road. That same day I saw a car racing across the freeway while the driver was texting. Some of us don’t text while driving, but we are nevertheless distracted, while we dart about from one distraction to the next. People who are focused put a value on the discipline it takes to pay attention.
- Learn. “…you were never meant to repent because you don’t know it all. You are made to repent because you’ve tried” (Zack Eswine, The Imperfect Pastor, p. 104). Smug and self-assured? Not exactly a learning posture. Yet, when I begin to sound very sure and certain about a situation I am in, my attitude may simply be an effort to mask my fear and shame.
- Laugh. Enjoy the laughter of children. Laugh with them! One little boy said to his mother not long ago when they were playing, “Mom, I just love to hear you laugh!” Laugh at yourself (most of us have plenty of material to work with). However, stay away from the mocking, evil laugh. You’ve met that person. He says something snide, hurtful, and condescending and then mockingly laughs. Such laughter is designed to hurt. Its intent is to demean and destroy the confidence and the strength of another. This is beneath the dignity of a child of God.
We had been seated in an outdoor area. The restaurant was very busy. We were waiting on our pizza. The people at the next table were inches away. They spoke no English (apparently). We certainly spoke no Italian (their language).
Yet, it did not take an understanding of their language to know that they were angry with one another. They glared at one another. Occasionally they spoke. We could not understand what they said but it certainly didn’t seem pleasant.
I wonder how long it took them to work out their problems. I wonder how long it took them to get beyond this quarrel.
What does it take for men and women to step up to the plate? Far too many of us are waiting for someone else to make the first move. We say, “If only she would do this or that, then things would be good.”
I knew a man who was alive and vibrant in his church in his 30s. He seemed to grow and connect with others in a meaningful way. However, something happened in his 40s.
He found his recliner. That became his location for much of his life. Sitting and mindlessly watching hour after hour of television.
Then there are others who seem to live vibrant meaningful lives until the day they die. Don’t misunderstand. For many of these people, life is anything but easy. They might have family struggles and health challenges. Yet, these people are fully alive.
So what can a person do to stay fresh all of her life?
- Build rhythm into your life (Luke 4:40-43; 5:15-16; 6:12-13). Many have no rhythm at all. Rather, they respond to every distraction (Facebook, Twitter, texts, e-mail, for example) that might come their way. People with rhythm understand that they must determine the priorities in their lives and manage their energy, or the distractions will consume them.
- Practice some of the spiritual disciplines to help with your formation. There are numerous spiritual disciplines available and various resources that might be helpful getting a better handle on this. However, two very important disciplines are prayer and Scripture reading.
- Invest in your family – even if they are grown. There is something life-giving about serving one’s family.
- Be aware of your own emotional maturity. Some of us carry baggage from the past into our marriages and the church. Many people have sought professional counseling and have received tremendous help. Grappling with these issues can take time, but will ultimately bless your relationship with your spouse and children.
- Be a good steward of your body. My entire being is impacted by exhaustion, and a lack of sleep. This, coupled with little exercise, is a recipe for fatigue and lethargy. Ignoring my physical body impacts the rest of my being.
We don’t all live forever, of course. However, I would like to stay vibrant as long as I am alive physically. So much of this has to do with intentional decisions that you make today.
One of those secrets exists in families where the husband/father is a narcissistic man. During thirty six years of congregational ministry, I noticed that occasionally a certain kind of man would emerge who could be quite a problem for others. This person had a view of himself that was completely self-absorbed.
Sometimes the issue was marriage related. At other times the issue centered on the problems that adult children had with a certain man in the family. Today, this particular pattern in a man is often referred to as narcissism. This husband/father is a narcissistic man in terms of the way he sees himself and consequently the way he relates to others.
One Sunday morning, a husband flies into a rage toward his wife. He calls her several demeaning names and then tells her she is crazy. Yet, a few hours later, he leads the opening prayer at their church. Others comment to her regarding how “lucky” she is to have such a husband. She wonders for a moment if she is not making a big deal out of nothing. After all, these people at the church think he is such a good man. She concludes that maybe she just needs to try harder.
Bullies seem to be everywhere.
Some are married. Some are single. They come in all ages and from various economic and ethnic groups. You may work with a bully. You may have one in your family. Even assembling with your church may not be an escape from a bully. A bully can even be a church leader.
So what does a bully do?
- A bully relies on power and control, either physically, emotionally or both.
- A bully convinces another that the only option he or she has is to give in to his demands.
- A bully can be mean, especially if you do not yield to his power.
- A bully can be charming. At any moment, he can turn on the charm or be especially cruel.
- A bully thinks he is more intelligent than you. He thinks he has more to offer than you. He believes he is right.
- A bully is convinced that he is one of the few who really gets it.
- A bully wants to get his way and will use any number of weapons to do so.
- A bully is low on empathy. Yet, he can become teary eyed or enraged, whatever the situation seems to require. Often, this emotion is not due to empathy but rather is being used as a means to get what he wants.
The bully attempts to dominate by intimidation, power, and control. Yet, what confuses some is that the bully can turn on the charm. Yet that charm can quickly turn into emotional venom if another displeases the bully.
A woman chooses a spouse. Her friends are shocked at her choice. She always said that she would marry someone godly and mature. Now she has begun to rationalize. She is convinced that “he has a good heart” and the potential to change. Besides “He’s cute!”
A minister chooses a new congregation. His minister friends are stunned by his choice. He always said that he wanted to serve a church that was more of a fit than his previous congregation. At this point, however, he has begun to rationalize. He is convinced that the elders in the new congregation are more serious than ever about reaching people in the city. He believes they have the potential to change from what they have been. Perhaps. It might do him well to pay attention to their history.
Some people choose poorly again and again.
When I was in graduate school, I took a number of marriage and family therapy classes. I recall a lecture from one of my favorite professors as he talked about the importance of choosing well.
He said, “When it comes to marriage some people make bad choices again and again.” I would argue that the same is true for some ministers. Some ministers, repeatedly, make very bad choices regarding the churches they agree to serve.
Perhaps some self-reflection and self-awareness might be helpful in making these choices.
“What is there in me that causes me to continue to make very poor choices regarding my relationships?”
Or, as a minister, I might be more discretionary and steer away from choosing a church that is a poor fit and dysfunctional. Yet there are people who almost seem to be most satisfied when there is some kind of drama going on. Could it be that drama feeds something within me? Or, perhaps I am just choosing poorly.
What can you do to choose well?
- Listen to the wise and godly people in your life. Refusing to listen to the wise and godly people in your life is like driving down the expressway at 60 mph with your eyes closed so you don’t have to see potential problems.
- Don’t let desperation cause you to lower your standards and jump into something unwise. Many people have made hasty decisions only to eventually experience even more pain and heartache.
- Listen to the people who really love you. What do the people who love you say about the relationship that you are about to step into? If you are becoming defensive with these people, what is happening within you for you to react this way.
- Let new relationships be based on history, not potential. So many women marry men based on potential. Sometimes, a woman marries a man and he then becomes her project to encourage and prod that he might reach his potential. Likewise, some ministers do the same when they agree to serve a congregation because of potential, while ignoring its history. A person’s history or a church’s history is a more accurate gauge of what they are apt to be like in the future.
Of course, one can choose well and it is still no guarantee that marriage or the ministry will be full of joy and peace. One can choose well and others can later make choices which may end up being destructive and hurtful. We can, however, seek to choose with wisdom and good discernment. Even then, we bring these big decisions before the Father in prayer.
Far too often men and women will unleash their anger on the people closest to them. Perhaps it is someone in the family, a friend, or someone at church. What transpires is often hurtful, damaging, and sinful.
- The young couple who unleash their fury on one another cussing at one another and calling one another vile, degrading names. Yes, this couple is typically in church on Sunday.
- The teenage boy who torments his insecure sister making fun of her weight and appearance. Yet, this same young man is often known as a very sweet and kind boy by some of his teachers at school.
- A group of people went into an elders’ meeting one evening angrily demanding that the preacher be fired. At one point, one of them cussed and demanded the elder group do what he requested. Yet this same group will later tell you that they “love” every one of these elders.
- The married adult daughter of an older woman in the church regularly talks harshly to her mother. Her mother is in poor health. Yet, this daughter is often rude, abrupt, and hurtful. Among many of her friends, however, she is known as sensitive and kind.
- A man in the congregation verbally attacks a friend whom he has known for years. His friend was stunned at the man’s accusations. A week later, the same man acted as if nothing had ever happened.
It is almost like we give ourselves special permission to talk to particular people in a manner that we would never speak to most people in our lives. We will say things like “I know I shouldn’t say this, but . . . .” What comes after the “but” is often deadly to a relationship.
Some seem to think that the words or behavior of another gives them the right to say what they want in return.
Not exactly the way of Jesus.
Ministers have the opportunity to influence other ministers as well as the elders of the congregation by what they model in their professional life as well as in their private life.
Some ministers are overly concerned with their visibility and their status among others instead of focusing on their character.
As a result, some ministers become preoccupied with things that just don’t matter that much. Some may keep score. “They asked him to keynote a lecture at Pepperdine again!” Or, maybe you see that your friend is preaching at a number of churches over the next few months and you can’t believe they asked this person instead of you. Or, you find yourself checking to see how many Twitter followers that a certain preacher has or how many Facebook friends this person has.
When the forming of our character is ignored, it may show up privately, publicly or both. Privately, one may begin to harbor grudges, resentment, and hatred for others. Or, you may begin to make poor personal choices and give yourself the license to follow your lusts. Quite often this means opening the door to pornography. Once that door is open, it is often quite difficult to ever get it closed again.
When we ignore the building of our character, it may show up publicly, perhaps in the way we do ministry. We may lie about the attendance at our church. We may exaggerate the good things that happen at our church. Many ministers take short-cuts. Some plagiarize sermons while others practice manipulation and dishonesty with the elders or a congregation.
Several years ago, Charlotte and I were at dinner with several friends. I realized at the end of our evening together that I had felt very relaxed throughout this dinner. We talked, laughed, and told stories. There was a certain ease about the evening. It dawned on me later how special the evening really was. I realized that I had been with people who I trusted.
I value friendships where deep trust exists. This kind of trust does not typically happen overnight. It can take months and even years to develop. When deep trust exists in friendships, it is very special.
Of course, I want to be in the presence of people who are trustworthy. The place to begin, however, is by making sure that I am a trustworthy person myself.
So what are some qualities of people you can trust?
1. A trustworthy person is genuine. When you get to know this person, you realize they have no hidden agenda. This person is not trying to use you or manipulate you. Rather, this person has a certain authenticity about her.
“Were you afraid?” she asked. Of course I was. We were moving across the country after living in Waco for twenty years. We were leaving the known and entering the unknown. Yes, I know fear. Typically I become afraid of what could happen. After all, “What if?”
Meanwhile, early this morning I sat at a table in Starbucks. I was near the door. My cup of coffee was to my right. My computer was open. I was working on a document for a lunch meeting that I would have in a few hours. The morning was calm. People were coming and going, each leaving with a cup of coffee. I anticipated a full day with several meetings scheduled and some other work that I needed to take care of. The sun was shining and all was well. Fear was nowhere to be found.
However, there are times when I have awakened in the middle of the night only to be faced with my fears.
1. What if the situation I am working through goes bad? What will I do or say?
2. What about my children? What about their future? Will they be all right?
3. What if I die suddenly? What will Charlotte do? Will she be all right?
4. What about my work and ministry? What if I’m not as competent as I should be?
5. What about my health? What if I am suddenly stricken by disease?