Sandy Hook Deserves Our Honesty

Aside

It is difficult to put words to the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. As a father, I cannot imagine what these parents and families are going through. There is a thought that breaks my heart: No doubt, there are homes with presents under a tree that will never be opened. Our thoughts and our prayers rightly go out to all those affected.

I am saddened by what happened. But today I am mourning the loss of empathy in our society. I, like many, followed the events of yesterday on social media. Hours was all it took for people to climb on top of their soap boxes and feel the need to connect this tragedy to a heart felt cause. I’m not saying those issues aren’t important, I am lamenting our ability as a society to “mourn with those who mourn.”

I think our inability to enter empathetically into the suffering of another comes, not from our preoccupation with our particular causes, but from our emotional immaturity. It might be right to label it as our emotional ignorance. I wonder, in the face of so many posts about gun control, mental health, violent video games, and the media if we really know how we felt yesterday.

Did the person who posted about guns not being the real issue understand their post as an anxious response to indescribable evil?

Did the mental health advocate see their response as an effort to negate the choice of another by labeling it as a disease?

Did the media hater recognize their desire for a scapegoat?

My Facebook and Twitter feed filled with people blaming this or blaming that or making the case as to why we shouldn’t blame that, but very few (if any) stated the most common emotion we all felt: fear. Deep down I believe all of us felt fear.

Because that could have been our children.

It could have been our son.

It could have been our neighbor.

It could have been our town.

It could have been me.

I wonder how we might respond if we moved towards our fear rather than shroud it in a brazen opinion about what may or may not be the reason for evil. Evil exists. And people make evil choices. We can try and figure out what makes a person do what they do all we want but we will never eradicate evil. No amount of legislation, medication, or anything else is going to change the broken nature of a human being. My wish, is that in the face of evil, we as a society could be authentic about what we are really feeling. Because maybe if we admitted that anyone who could walk into a school and shoot children scares us, then we might be able to embrace our humanity enough to embrace another. Maybe our mourning for others would really be mourning. Maybe we would really show compassion. Maybe grace might be extended. Maybe people would feel cared for because they wouldn’t have to wonder if they are being used by some cause. Maybe our authenticity would lead to a genuine care for each other. Maybe in saying how we really felt we would see what we would really hope for.

Maybe this might happen less.

So, for the sake of authenticity, how did you feel yesterday?

Have you ever been truly understood?

Check out my guest post at the Faithwalking blog HERE.
I’m also beginning to see how much I assume as a listener.  I assume I understand what the person is trying to communicate.  So I don’t ask follow up questions.  I assume they know that I know what they are talking about and therefore feel heard.  But that assumption is pretty arrogant.  It is pretty arrogant to think that I understand what they are trying to communicate without being clear about it.  And even if I am right about what they are trying to communicate, it is pretty unkind if I don’t show them that I hear them.  This is an area that I have been working on.  I have really been trying to understand people.  My need for ongoing growth really shows up when I vibrate (get anxious).  In one of the spontaneous conversations I had this week I vibrated and went right back to old habits.  I got competitive which means that I listened to attack and defend.
Even in all that, I can honestly say that I am a better listener.  Just a couple weeks ago my wife and I had a couple over to our house.  They had a matter they needed help sorting out and my wife and I were helping them through it.  After the couple left, my wife and I sat in our living room and “debriefed” the conversation.  At the end of our conversation I asked her, “What did you notice about how you and I worked together?”  Her response is still something I am proud of.  She said, “I notice that you ask more questions than before.”

Balance

This past week I engaged nine people in transformational coaching/discipleship. This is quickly becoming one of the my favorite things about being a pastor. I used to say preaching, which I love, but I am finding that preaching without the one-on-one discipleship is incomplete. This is not to say preaching has lost its place in the life of the church. To the contrary, I still believe the proclamation of the Gospel has a central role in the life of the church. Preaching, when done faithfully, holds the Gospel in front of people, calls them to continued fidelity, shapes the conversation of the church, and gives hope to the hurting. But, for far too long preaching has been overemphasized. Rather than being a component of discipleship (which is the mission of the church), it has become the sole means of discipleship. Of course we would never say that. But by and large, if you ask a pastor what receives the majority of his time during the week, most would respond with sermon preparation.

If we look at the life of Jesus we see him teaching the masses and proclaiming the nearness of the Kingdom of God. But we also see him sitting at the well with the Samaritan women and making his way to Zacchaeus house for dinner. He stands on the mountain teaching thousands, then retreats to a solitude place with his three closest disciples. In the life of Jesus we see a balance of preaching and one-on-one discipleship.

This is also evident in the life of Paul. In 1 Thessalonians Paul writes, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” It is one thing to share the gospel. And that is right and good. But it is another thing to share your life as well.

The question is, “Do we?”

Do we intentionally love another and share our lives with them?

Do we intentionally love another allowing them to share their life with us?

I am convinced that preaching the gospel explicitly is absolutely necessary. I am convinced that, in the proclamation of the God who took on flesh and went to the cross and rose again, conversion can happen. But, I am also convinced that true discipleship happens in the context of relationship. Without the delicate balance of proclamation and relationship, deep, “from one degree of glory to the next,” transformation will not happen.

I am finding that balance. I’m not there yet, but I am finding it. And it gives so much more meaning to what I am doing. My preaching is better because of my relationships with those I am discipling. And my discipling is better because of my study and work in preaching.

And here is the dirty little secret…this balance is transforming me too.

Content

I’m sitting in a coffee shop writing. I’ve got a perfectly brewed cup of coffee to my right. A beautiful balance of earthy aroma dancing with a sweet acidity that makes me relish the warmth hitting my stomach. I’ve got music playing in my earphones, but not loud enough to drown out the ambient noise of conversations and the coffee machine. I just turned on my phone to check the time and saw the picture of my family on the home screen. God, their beautiful.

I’m feeling one thing…

Gratitude.

Gratitude for the life I live. Gratitude for the family I have. Gratitude I have for the comforts I am afforded. Gratitude for the abilities I have. Gratitude for the work I am called to. Gratitude for the grace extended me to experience all this right now.

Gratitude.

We move fast. Furiously fast. Fast enough to never be content. As I slow myself down a bit today, I can’t help but wonder, “Does contentment escape our grasp because we move too fast to catch it? Can contentment only be obtained when one slows down enough to grab hold of it?”

I think of all things I am trying to grab hold of. Some of them are honorable, others, not so much. I’m not sure the couch that makes bacon at the press of a button is an honorable desire, but it would be awesome. But all of the things I chase after are things I believe will bring me contentment. If I just get this….If I just obtain this….If I just get to this point…. The reality is grasping for another thing will not bring me contentment. To grasp contentment I need to grasp for contentment. Not another thing. Not another recognition. Contentment.

Which means looking at what I have to drink deep of those things now. My life is filled with good things and, unfortunately, I do a half-assed job of enjoying them. No wonder I am not content! I don’t even fully enjoy the things I have!

But here’s the insidious thing. To not be content is to not live in the present. Presently there are beautiful things in front me. And I could miss out on this, not even noticing the beautiful taste of this cup of coffee I am drinking, if I am thinking about what is next. Discontentment is simply a sign that we are not fully present to what is in front of us right now. In this moment.

This song.

This cup of coffee.

This conversation.

This person.

This grace.

Fully present, deeply enjoying these things, I am grateful.

And content.

It’s not you it’s me…or maybe both of us…

Relationships aren’t easy.  In fact, they are very, very difficult.  Even in relationships we value and enjoy there is difficulty.  One of my closest friends can absolutely drive me nuts. They are overly intense, sure of themselves, black and white and almost always right.  Drives me nuts.  To the point that it can be annoying and difficult to be around them.  Anybody have anyone like in their life?  No…just me…humor me as I continue.

As I have thought about how to be in relationship with others, I have found that there are three things I can do when I am annoyed or bothered by another’s actions in our relationship.

1.  Honestly assess if I am being overly critical.  I need to be honest and say that there are times I am annoyed with people simply because I am overly critical of them.  They may have a character trait, a way of being, or even a habit that rubs me the wrong way.  And it is completely possible that way of being is okay.  What’s not okay is my reaction towards them.

2.  Share the impact of their actions with them.  People will continue to do what they do unless they become present to the impact of their actions.  A friend of mine once lovingly helped me become present to the impact I was having on him.  He said to me, “I enjoy being around you and think you are great, but I have rarely left a conversation feeling loved by you.”  Getting very present to the impact I was having on him, and on our relationship, affected change in me.  Maybe the best thing we can do for someone and for our relationship with them is to help them, as gently as we can, become present to how they affect us.

3.  Share what I need from them.  This is along the lines of sharing the impact of their actions, but is a bit different.  Many times what bothers me in the relationship is not what they are doing, but what they are not doing.  In some relationships I need people to show more interest in my life.  In other relationships I need people to be less competitive as I have enough of that in myself.  From others, I need to have them show initiation in the relationship towards me as I feel as though I am always doing the initiating.

Doing any of these three things requires a lot of me.  It requires humility to see myself accurately, courage to share authentically with the other person, and a willingness to have them do the same toward me.  So maybe there is a fourth question, “Do I love this person enough to take action around any one of these things?”  Because if I don’t love them, I’ll be content to be annoyed behind their back.