Poets to Come by Walt Whitman (1819-1892) Poets to come! orators, singers, musicians to come! Not to-day is to justify me and answer what I am for, But you, a new brood, native, athletic, continental, greater than before known, Arouse! for you must justify me. I myself but write one or two indicative words for the future, I but advance a moment only to wheel and hurry back in the darkness. I am a man who, sauntering along without fully stopping, turns a casual look upon you and then averts his face, Leaving it to you to prove and define it, Expecting the main things from you.
There was a time when I didn't have friends. I grew up in Japan(1993-2000). Since I didn't attend public school I didn't get to interact with other students outside of church. The relationships I did have centered around basketball, soccer, or video games. These were inherently competitive relationships. There was always a winner and a loser.
I think I believed that all relationships were a competition. Win graciously and try not to lose too many times and you have a good friend. When they won it was proof they were a worthy friend deserving respect.
I won with my words. I developed a wit that could cut others. Humor was my powerhouse. Humor requires the two main elements of superiority and surprise and I loved both. You make others laugh when your surprising wit makes them feel superior to the target. All humor must be cruel to some target or it is not funny. My "friends" were often my target.
Sarcasm, cynicism, body type, speech impediments, clothing, everything was fair game for my one man comedy show. I thought I won when everybody laughed. Everybody except the target that is. They would only laugh to save face. I hurt people with my words. In my relationships me winning meant others losing.
Eventually it meant me losing. People may have respected my wit. But they didn't respect me. People I thought were close friends started disappearing from my life completely. Nobody wants to be around someone that makes them feel like a loser.
When I started as a youth pastor 14 years ago my leadership was horrible. Good people were afraid to follow me because I proved over and over that I cared more about my win than theirs. I led people to be like me, and created competitive environments where wit was the supreme value.
I was lonely. I didn't trust anybody. How could I trust others with my pain, faults, and shortcomings? I knew they would just use it against me. If you have the wit to wrangle a crowd you are responsible for the environment you create. God gives us abilities to serve others for His Kingdom and His Glory not our own.
We can win together.
One Christmas years ago I decided to change. I went to a friend that I had hurt time and again, and I said I know I hurt you. I was wrong. I'm sorry. Please forgive me. They did and now we laugh at how I used to be such a jerk. I'm thankful I caught it before I was too far gone.
It was difficult at first. My wit fired so indiscriminately. My apologies had to fire just as fast. Every time I caught myself saying something hurtful to anyone I would go to the person and apologize.
Here are the steps I've taken to change:
- Apologize every time I catch myself saying something hurtful
- Apologize when someone tells me I said something hurtful
- Catch myself before I say something hurtful and don't say it!
- Refocus on helping others win
- Make myself the target of my wit and humor and invite others to laugh with me as I laugh at myself.
- Remove myself from sarcastically competitive relationships and environments.
- Be honest, be vulnerable
Now I have years of retraining under my belt. Now my relationships complement rather than compete. I have many close friends, and I avoid competitive relationships. Competitive relationships lead to unhealthy environments. How would you describe your relationships?
I was having coffee with a friend in ministry and we were talking about record keeping and tracking mileage required for our tax records.
I shared how I track mine and what a pain it is. Sometimes I am good about writing it down and sometimes I just snap a picture of my odometer so I can write it down later when I get around to it.
We both lamented how much we dislike the tedious details required for keeping accurate usable records. He said how he wished we could just estimate and write something down that was close enough without any abuse or taking advantage.
That is when I had a clear thought of how to view this tedious detail we are required to do that we both look at with disdain. What if we looked at it as building a foundation?
It is the foundation we stand on that allows us to tell our story.
Sometime we only look at the story. Without having a strong foundation of handling our finances and taxes above reproach we will not have a chance to tell our story.
The story of how we are fallen sinful men and women wishing for a shortcut. There is no shortcut. There is only hard work. The hard work is paying the price for our sin. Christ paid the price so we may be redeemed.
The life that I live and the way I conduct myself is not so I can be redeemed but because I am redeemed.
It is the foundation I stand on that allows me to tell others that are living a fallen and broken life, the life changing good news of Jesus Christ. My passion for the story of Christ and desire to tell others is the motivation I need to do the tedious work of building a platform for ministry.
For me it is keeping records, a clean vehicle and an organized desk. What area of your foundation needs work? Use your passion of telling the story of grace and redemption to clean up and make your foundation strong.
Today I called my dad, and when I pulled up his contact info there is a picture of Dad in a tux from when he went on a cruise several years ago.
My dad is a pretty classy guy, but he doesn't wear a tux every day lol.
This is actually a reoccuring theme. See I have profile pictures of hundreds of people in my phone. Many are of students that I had in youth group 10 years ago.
Some are married, and have real jobs and adult lives now, but I still have their myspace pic of them in the akward stage wearing an August Burns Red t-shirt.
It's easy to see myself as a growing changing person.
I know what I've started, and stopped since last we hung out. I know what books I've read, experiences I've had, and character building pains I've endoured.
I don't know any of that about you unless I see you all the time. It's so easy to label a person based on our last interaction with them. This label becomes the "Single Story" that we then filter all our future interactions through.
It's hard to see others as growing changing people.
I first got this idea of a single story from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who gave a ted talk on this.
So who have you labeled with a single story? We must acknowledge others ability to fail, grow, and change around us. Or we become a single story of judgement, criticism, and prejudice.
If you don't allow others to add chapters to their story, then you won't get to add to yours.