Dropping My Guard

People like me often find ourselves in uncomfortable positions. By ‘people like me’ I mean those who fall closer to the honesty end of the honesty/kindness spectrum. As a Christian, I think that both qualities are essential — not just important, essential. Speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15)  is something we all should strive for — and for the vast majority of us, we only get half of it right, half of the time. Either we focus on other people’s reaction so much that we fail to tell the truth, or we tick people off by just being honest for honesty’s sake.

People like me — who value truth highly, who want to be honest, who want to be understood, much more than we want a hug or a compliment — can come off as unsympathetic and unfeeling. But I am writing this to try to illustrate for those on the other end of the spectrum that people like me have feelings too. Your empathy and sensitivity lies on the surface, and you often seem to look at me with questioning eyes, as though you wonder how I could be so callous as to say that. I’m going to try to explain, but you must believe me when I say that I have no incident or individual in mind when I write this. I am speaking from a composite experience over my 60 years of existence. It’s the feelings I want to convey, not any specific situation.

Let’s just start by saying that it’s hard to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. For extroverts, it can be a revelation to realize just how draining it can be for an introvert to spend the whole day schmoozing with clients, and introverts wonder why that guy is stir-crazy if he has to be alone for a few hours. Likewise, this honesty/kindness divide deserves some notice.

So here’s the thing. I’m about to bare my soul, put my real feelings out there, and invite you to judge me and tell me that my feelings are not valid. I get that all the time, but this is important enough for me to stick my chin out again. I feel like I’m climbing out on a limb and handing you the saw.

A big part of my frustration lies in the constant feeling I have that everyone else’s feelings matter, but mine don’t because I appear insensitive. I am constantly being called on to tone it down, be the grownup, and think of ‘where others are at’ and ‘what they can handle’ — the assumption being that I’m doing something wrong if I make anyone uncomfortable. But my plea is for you to try to understand that I am just as uncomfortable in your world as you are in mine. I know that you break out in a sweat when there is disagreement in a discussion. I see you sinking into your seat, wishing someone would just end this… So I usually back off and don’t say all that I think should be said. But for all your empathy, I don’t think you ever notice how uncomfortable I am in your cozy space.

I am dying a little inside every time I have to nod and smile when I don’t fully agree. When I speak, you smile and look like you are listening and then nicely ‘agree’ with me by saying just the opposite. I feel manipulated. I think well enough of you to believe that you are smart enough to know that we don’t actually agree, but for some reason, you are uncomfortable saying that you see things differently. Instead, you prefer to put me in a spot where you have been ‘nice’ and that makes me argumentative if I notice that we’re not saying the same thing and try to have a discussion.

When tension is running high in a group and there are issues, you are the first to try to smooth things over with kind words, food, or a nice social activity meant to bring us together and smooth over the tension. I truly appreciate your concern and initiative. I really mean that. I believe that you are following the Golden Rule and treating me as you would like to be treated, and I appreciate all your good intentions — and it makes me feel bad that I can’t respond ‘the right way.’ I just can’t feel really loved without being listened to, understood, and taken seriously, so just being nice and putting this behind us does not work for me. All that allows me to do is settle into a relationship that will never be unpleasant, but will only be as close as our shallow understanding of each other. I feel held at a distance and that I am not worth the effort to actually listen and understand. Maybe this is a ‘love language’ problem, and we all need to learn to show our love in ways that are meaningful to others. I’m not sure why ‘niceness’ has become the only recognized standard of love and sensitivity.

Sometimes you simply confuse me. You try to make people feel better all the time — and it doesn’t seem to bother you  if you have to bend the truth to do it. For example, you talk about how lazy you are to make a truly lazy person feel better, while you are probably one of the hardest working people I know. I see you think through something and make a good decision based on what you objectively believe is the best course of action — but as soon as there are tears, or outrage, or hurt silence, you back down. I look on wondering what you want me to do. Should I help you stick to your original resolve? Should I trust your new judgment and ignore what you said before? When I want to hold the line, I become the ‘bad cop.’

I wish you could understand my motives in places where I seem hard and inflexible. I wish you could understand my experience. I have gone through things myself. I know that escaping consequences only prolongs the problem. I know that hard truth is worth hearing because it brings deep comfort in the end. I know that healing a wound slightly, leaving a festering sore beneath the surface, only leads to complications that can be fatal. So when I want to lance the wound, my motivation is love, and I truly desire the best for that person. Yes, I can be too zealous — I need your help with my timing, tone of voice (sigh!), and priorities — but I want you to understand that sometimes I am not just being difficult and argumentative. At root, I have a deep desire to see lives change, relationships go deep, and people to be truly free.

 

Death is Swallowed Up in Victory

At Easter, we especially think about Jesus’ resurrection, though it should always be front and center in our minds. As incredible as His incarnation was — the infinite God taking on the likeness of sinful flesh, not just human flesh, but fallen, sinful flesh… As incredible as His willing offering on the cross for sinful man was… the resurrection is the capstone of it all. The resurrection puts the final exclamation point on the declaration that God has stepped into human history and redeemed His people. The resurrection is a total game changer. Without it, we are hopeless.  And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! (1 Cor. 15:17) In His resurrection, Jesus makes all things new. He is doing the ‘new thing’ promised in Isaiah 43. He is undoing the curse of the Fall. And the final victory on our behalf is over death itself.

Death — that terror of terrors — holds no more power over us in Christ. In a sense, death has become our friend — because it is only in dying that we truly live. Jesus tells us — unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:24-25) In a sense, our whole Christian life is a process of dying to self and sin and the world so that we can truly live. …always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. (2 Cor. 4: 10) Our life in this world is a constant putting to death of this old man who will not go quietly, and we feel weighted down by the body of this death that encumbers us (Rom. 7). 

For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven,  if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. (2 Cor. 5:1-4)

We do not long to be free from the body, but to be clothed in a better body, in immortality. So Death loses its terror and becomes our greatest victory — it takes us finally into the presence of God as perfect, whole people, at last free from all the struggles of this life. Our lifelong campaign to be rid of the Old Man that weighs us down is ended in an instant as we are clothed with immortality, freed at last from the ravages of sin, and ushered into a new life in the presence of God forever. The Enemy’s worst threat has become a sweet release from all our struggles. Jesus truly makes ALL things new — even death.

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”    (1 Cor. 15:50-54)

The Bounds of Fellowship

In response to a recent discussion in our church regarding ecumenism, I have be ruminating on the bounds of our fellowship. We certainly should feel solidarity with true Christians regardless of denominational ties. There is much to be learned from dialog with those who differ with us in the doctrinal details and practical outworking of the gospel. We are together the Bride of Christ, and it is not for us to despise any part of that beautiful Body.  We should feel a fundamental unity with all who share our faith and trust in Jesus’ work of redemption. The bounds of our fellowship should be wide!

But there are bounds. There is a lot of wiggle room when it comes to defining what we can call a ‘credible confession of faith’ — but doctrinally, the deity and lordship of Christ, and practically, a life of humble repentance and obedience come to mind as pretty fundamental.

I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?  But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.” (1 Cor. 5:9-13)

We have Christian fellowship with other believers because we truly are one in Christ. This passage suggests that we are also to be friendly to those outside the church and love them as those created in God’s image and in need of God’s grace. But there is a dicey middle ground — ‘Christians’ who effectively deny the faith by their actions and beliefs. This is the place for caution and discernment. We are called to judge those in the church. While we are not always in a context where church discipline is an avenue open to us, I think we need to be cautious about relating to such people as Christians.  We may live life alongside them, work with them, buy stuff from them, go golfing with them, and treat them with respect… but participating in joint ministry and commending them to others as Christians seems unwise. Jesus was kind and inclusive to all kinds of sinners, but He was hardest on the Pharisees because they were hypocrites. We do not have Jesus perfect knowledge of hearts, but often there are elephants in the room too large to be ignored.