The ceiling at St. George Orthodox Cathedral, Wichita, KS

Finding joy for someone else when you’re in the dark

Have you ever been happy just because you’re around someone who is happy? I got to go to a wedding this weekend. It was an unusual wedding for me because it was in a Greek Orthodox church. I’d been to this particular church once before and found it fascinating, so I was eager to see a wedding.

It was a pretty neat event. If you’re in Wichita and you’ve never been inside St. George’s Cathedral, you seriously are missing out. The building is gorgeous, and the acoustics are pretty much unmatched. And their choice? Wow. All a cappella. Just fantastic.

But as beautiful as the wedding was, as beautiful as the church was, as beautiful as the music was, nothing quite prepared me for the sight of the pure joy on my friend’s face as he watched his bride walk down the aisle. I seriously thought I was going to burst I was so happy for them. My face hurt from grinning by the time the wedding was over.

The ceiling at St. George Orthodox Cathedral, Wichita, KS

The ceiling at St. George Orthodox Cathedral, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 12:15.

Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

Have you noticed that it’s really easy to weep with someone who’s weeping? Maybe not in a literal sense. Or maybe it is in a literal sense too, if you’re a particularly emotional person. What I mean is that it’s easy to focus on the bad things that are happening in life sometimes.

I think it’s because life is so full of bad things. People die in horrible ways. Families split up. There’s drought where there should be rain and rain where there should be drought. We don’t like our jobs, we don’t like our schools, we don’t like our political leaders, we don’t like our church leaders. People we love are lost. People we don’t like hang around.

When someone is unhappy, there’s normally some kind of unhappy common ground you can find with them. I mean who hasn’t been jilted in some way or another? Who hasn’t lost a loved one? Who hasn’t been forced out of a job or a career or a dream?

And you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay to weep with people who are weeping. It doesn’t work to go to someone who is grieving and expect them to be happy and cheerful. They won’t be, and that’s fine. Everyone experiences loss, and everyone needs to grieve. But the problem comes when you have to get out of that grieving mindset and start rejoicing.

Maybe life isn’t going the way you want it right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be happy for the people around you who are achieving great and wonderful things. Maybe you’re going through a rough patch where nothing seems to be going right, but that doesn’t mean you have to drag everyone else down into your dark moments.

No, don’t ignore your dark moments. Recognize them. Those times where you need to grieve, where you need to be sad, are important, and you should have someone in your life who you can go to where you can be completely honest about how you’re feeling.

God didn’t create people to be nocturnal. We were never intended to live in dark places. Doesn’t mean we won’t be there every now and then. It’s just not healthy for us to stay there.

And you know what? Even if you’re in a dark place, you can still rejoice with someone. And it might even help you find the light a little sooner.

Is it confrontation or just plain criticism?

Has someone ever confronted you? If you’re a Christ-follower and you’ve made some really unChristlike decisions on purpose, has anyone ever come up to you and challenged you?

I know people who have experienced that, and I can’t imagine it’s pleasant for either person. And I think it’s important, especially if that person is a Christ-follower. If you’ve given your life to Christ, you shouldn’t look like everyone else. You should look like Jesus. And we may never get there, but that’s our goal. Or at least it should be. And that’s why we have each other–to help keep us accountable.

But what about for other issues? Has another Christ-follower ever confronted you about your lack of one-on-one time with God? Or about how little time you spend reading the Bible? Or about how often you volunteer to help others? Has anyone ever confronted you about those things?

If so, what did it do to your heart? Did it make you want to go sign up to volunteer right then because you love God so much? Or did it just make you really, really angry?

pedicure2Today’s verses are Romans 14:1-4.

Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval.

Confrontation is essential in our lives. We have to know how to do it, otherwise we’ll constantly be stepped on and undervalued. We’ll never stand up for the things that matter, because believe it or not, the world doesn’t much care for the things Jesus does.

But more often than not, I really think Christians take confrontation to the extreme. Granted, I know Christ-followers who have confronted believers with their sins, and it’s turned them around completely. But it isn’t the confrontation that did it. And it isn’t the person who spoke up. It’s the Holy Spirit in that believer’s life Who made the difference.

But what about those Christians who are trying to get the basics down? Do they need to be confronted? Or does your confrontation look and sound like criticism?

We mean well. I think we truly want to help other believers, because we have found such amazing joy in our own walks with Christ that we want others to share it too. But I think we forget that God made us unique, and that means we all serve Him differently.

It’s you know they’re sleeping around or abusing people or living a life that God says is wrong, that’s different, of course. But for a Christ-follower who is doing the best they can with what they have, please, just remember who you are and who their Father is.

It’s like the thumb criticizing the big toe because it isn’t doing a good enough job. But if you work an office job, of course your thumb gets more use than your toe does. You sit down all day. What matters is that when you stand up, your big toe holds its weight.

We’re all a part of God’s body. Some of us have been here longer than others, but we’re all one body. And criticizing each other discourages and demoralizes the members who are doing the best they can with the time and opportunity they have.

If someone wants to get closer to God, they’ll look for a way. If they want to know the Bible better, they’ll ask. If they want to serve, they’ll step up. God works in different people’s hearts in different ways, and that is between that person and God.

Don’t be afraid to invite people. Don’t be afraid to include others in what you’re doing. If you’ve got a great Bible study, ask others to come with you so they can hear what you’re learning. If you work in a ministry, invite others to come with you so they can see what you’re doing. But don’t tell them they aren’t working hard enough for God. That’s not your judgment call to make, and all you’ll do is hurt them.

Keep yourself in line. Be willing to share what God is doing in your life. And, honestly? Just chill out. God is responsible for helping people grow. Not you. If you get to be involved, it’s because God has invited you.

Water lily at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Why asking is better than demanding

Have you ever had to pull rank on someone? I don’t have to do it very often. The last time I had to do it was over the phone with somebody, which is awful. My best friend and I were trying to get to Philadelphia for a writing conference where we were speaking on a panel, and the airline had canceled her flight with no warning. And I ended up on the phone for four hours, arguing with three different airline representatives about the situation.

If it had been our fault, I would have backed off. If it had been a vacation, I would have backed off. If it was the weather, that would have been something else entirely. But we were committed to speaking at this conference, and it was the airline’s fault. So it was only right that they find us another flight. They just wouldn’t.

Until I got direct with them. Until I told the guy I was talking to exactly how I felt about the situation—that I would never fly their airline again (I haven’t) because I’d never experienced customer service so lacking (I hadn’t) and that I intended to contact them regarding the entire fiasco (I did). And surprise, surprise, he happened to have a flight waiting just a few hours later.

But I don’t like to be demanding, even if I’m demanding the right thing. With an airline, to a certain extent, I understand that they are limited by restrictions and regulations. Although, in this case, they should have done what was right the first time I asked them and saved us all four hours of anguish.

But what about between Christians? Have you ever had to pull rank on another Christian? Have you ever had to demand that a Christian do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do?

Water lily at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Water lily at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are Philemon 1:8-9.

That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do. But because of our love, I prefer simply to ask you. Consider this as a request from me—Paul, an old man and now also a prisoner for the sake of Christ Jesus.

I love the way Paul approaches this entire situation. Onesimus was a slave that had run away from his master, Philemon. Philemon was a Christian, and when Paul met Onesimus in prison and led him to Christ, Paul wrote to Philemon asking him to forgive Onesimus.

If anyone could have pulled rank on Philemon, it was Paul. Paul was one of the greatest Christ-followers in history. I guarantee, if he told me to do something, I would have done it.

But Paul didn’t operate like that. Philemon was his friend and his brother in Christ and instead of simply demanding that Philemon forgive Onesimus, Paul just asked him instead.

Why does that work? Why is that better?

Well, for one, if someone makes the choice to do what is right instead of doing it because they’re told, you can know it’s because their attitude has changed. There’s a big difference between doing something because you’ve chosen to do it and doing something because you’ve been told.

It’s a bigger blessing for the one who chooses and a bigger blessing for the one who asked.

Does that mean you’ll run the risk that they’ll say not? Sure. And in some cases, you have to pull rank and demand what is right. But if you have the opportunity to ask instead of demand, take it. It’ll help you grow in your relationships with others, and it’ll give people around you a chance to do the right thing for the right reason.

Raindrops on daisies at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

We all need a little grace

It’s so easy to complain about people when they can’t hear you. Even if you’re saying true things, it’s a lot easier to say them when there’s no danger of being overheard. Why is that?

For me, I can tell you it’s because I hate confrontation. Even if it’s telling someone something they need to hear, that doesn’t mean they’ll accept it. That doesn’t mean they’ll be gracious. And I’m pathetic. I really am. All it takes to get me to tear up is a sharp word. And while I recognize the importance of a sensitive spirit, it doesn’t make living in the real world any easier.

But if it’s something you can talk about behind closed doors with people who weren’t involved, it’s something you ought to talk about with the person who started the problem.

Raindrops on daisies at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Raindrops on daisies at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are James 4:11-12.

Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?

We’ve all been there. Unscrew the halos. I’ve been there, and you’ve been there. Something happens. Somebody makes you angry. And instead of going to the person who made you angry, you stuff it down deep inside and press on.

But when the opportunity comes up in conversation with other, uninvolved people, you tell the story of what happened. And everyone shakes their heads. How unprofessional! How immature!

Be honest, grownups. You feel vindicated.

There’s something about having people agree with you that is cathartic. There’s something about having people on your side that makes you feel strong. But talking about your hurt feelings with people who didn’t hurt them is the easy path. And nobody who takes the easy way is usually ever called strong.

Talking about your problems with the person who offended you is the harder choice. Facing the person who made you angry or wrecked your day or whatever and communicating honestly with them is not only difficult, it’s terrifying. And for me, most of the time I convince myself it isn’t worth it.

Can you guess what happens when you take that route?

Yup. Nothing changes.

The problems that are still problems stay problems. And your resentment builds and builds and builds, and the person irritating you keeps doing what they’re doing without being held accountable. Why? Well, quite honestly, until you speak up and let them know that they’re irritating you, they probably don’t even know.

We all have different standards of professionalism. Some people are impossible to work with because their standards are so high. Others are impossible to work with because their standards are so low. It doesn’t mean necessarily that one perspective is wrong and one is right. It just means that we all need a little grace.

Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t sit back and let your temper build and build until you explode. And don’t be a coward and complain about the situation where they can’t hear. Do something about it. Granted, do something in love. But do something.

First, make sure that what’s bothering you isn’t actually your own issue. When we get stressed out, it’s so easy to blame people around us for our frustrations. But before you jump to conclusions, take a moment and assess your heart and your attitude.

If you can say with a clear conscience that the issue isn’t yours, then approach the person who’s irritating you. Let them know kindly, politely that they’re bothering you. Do it discreetly. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Don’t put on a show. Just be respectful, like you’d want them to be if they were approaching you.

If they choose to make it into a show, that’s their problem. If you’ve addressed them respectfully, reasonably, politely and they turn it into a confrontation, they’re the ones being ridiculous.

But you have to at least give them a chance to make things right before you give up on them. You have to give them the opportunity to realize that their behavior is bothering you before you label them as hopeless cases. If you skip that step, if you give up on them or label them before you’ve even given them a chance to change, you aren’t acting like Jesus.

Jesus is the King of second chances (and third chances, fortieth chances, one-hundred-and-eleventieth chances, etc). How often have we embarrassed Him with our behavior and how often has He labeled us as a lost cause?

That’s right. Never.

So why do we think that gives us the right to do the same with other people?

Bright tropical fish beneath the water at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

What you miss when you judge others wrongly

Have you ever made a judgment call on someone else’s personality only to discover later that you were wrong? Yeah, it’s kind of embarrassing. And it happened to me yesterday.

The first leg of my flight went from Philadelphia to Atlanta yesterday around noonish, and I ended up tucked against a wall at the back of an MD88 next to a grouchy, irritable woman and her absent-minded mother, and of course we were sitting in front of an infant who wouldn’t stop crying for the entire two-hour flight.

So needless to say, by the time I got off the plane in Atlanta, my nerves were shot. So when I boarded the flight bound for Wichita, I was already in a pretty foul humor.

I walked up to my seat, and there was an old man in my row. I politely told him that I had the window seat, and he took one look at me and my WSU t-shirt and said: “Oh, you’re one of those #$%& Shockers.” And then he proceeded to mutter about idiots and morons as I climbed over him to get to my seat.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to say or what to think, so I just tried not to do either. I responded politely, buckled myself in, and then plugged my earphones in for the rest of the flight.

What on earth could possess someone to say something like that? Or to be so mean in general? Seriously. It was extraordinarily rude.

Fortunately for my mental state, the seat between us remained empty, so we both got to stretch out a little for the short hop between Atlanta and Wichita. But I kept my earphones in because I really didn’t want to talk to him.

A little more than halfway through the flight, when the flight attendants came around with drinks and pretzels, he put the middle tray table down and indicated that I could set my drink there if I didn’t want to risk spilling on my Kindle.

After I finished my drink and my pretzels, I packed them up neatly and shut my eyes for just a moment. Well, I guess I must have fallen asleep, because I woke up later to discover that he had taken care of my trash too. And a few moments later as the plane began to descend, he started doing the cha-cha sitting down. I thought there was something wrong with him, but then I realized he had earphones in too and was rocking out to some kind of music.

It was actually kind of funny.

Shortly thereafter we were on the ground, and the grumpy old man and his wife disappeared in the rush to deplane. But it left me wondering if he really was as grumpy as he seemed. And maybe I missed an opportunity to have a really great conversation with someone.

Bright tropical fish beneath the water at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Bright tropical fish beneath the water at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Today’s verse is John 7:24.

Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.

We hear it all the time: Don’t judge. Don’t judge. Don’t judge. Well, guess what, folks? We all judge. We judge everything all the time. If we didn’t, we’d all be making stupid decisions every moment of our lives.

We have to judge. We have to make judgment calls. If you never weigh two decisions against a standard, you never know what it is to make a choice, and you never understand what it is to make a wise choice.

What is interesting about this verse is that Jesus says it to the religious leaders of His time. They were attacking Him because He had healed someone on the Sabbath, the time when people weren’t supposed to work, but Jesus threw their attacks back in their faces. And rightly so. Because the religious leaders only grasped the letter of the law and not its meaning.

Every situation, every person, every thing in life is more than it appears. There’s always more to the story. There’s always more to a person than what you see. But if you make your judgment call based on something superficial, you may miss the point. And you may miss the opportunity to bless someone or to be blessed yourself.

Now I’m not saying you should throw caution to the wind and run out and do something foolish right now. That’s not what I’m saying at all. What I am saying is that maybe we should give people the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe that grouchy old man had just gotten off a flight where he’d had to listen to a child screaming or had to listen to the psychotic ramblings of an angry passenger. Maybe he was at his wit’s end too. That didn’t mean he wasn’t worth talking to.

So the next time you encounter someone who might not look or act the way you think they ought to, don’t just write them off. Don’t just ignore them because you don’t think they’re worth your time.

You never know. God may have put you in their path for such a time as this–or vice versa. But if you pass them by, you’ll never know.

Swan on the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Give grace away because nobody is perfect

How often do you get frustrated with people? I wish I could tell you I was the epitome of patience and forgiveness. But I’m not. Not even on my best days.

Some people just have a gift for finding every button I have, and they seem to thrill at pushing it over and over and over again. Sometimes I think they do it on purpose. Most of the time, I don’t think they even realize that they’re doing it.

Seriously. Think about it. Not every person who drives you nuts is a jerk. It could be that they are oblivious to how they are bothering you, and in that case, it’s in everyone’s best interest to talk it out.

What it really comes down to is understanding that nobody’s perfect. We say that. We say it about ourselves. We say it about each other. But do we really believe it?

Swan on the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Swan on the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Colossians 3:13.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we lived in a world where nobody screwed up? Where everyone loved each other? Where no one hurt each other?

That world is coming one day, but it’s not here yet. For now, we’re locked into this world where people with the best of intentions still end up walking all over other people. People who may just be trying to do the best they can end up hurting people around them. People who are just people make a wrong move and cause irreparable damage.

And what can be done about it? Well, if something wrong was actually done, then learn from it. If mistakes were made, correct them. But what if there was no mistake? What if there was no wrong? What if the only thing two people have against each other is their personalities? What do you do then?

Is one person’s personality wrong?

People come in all shapes and sizes and moods and shades and flavors, and God made them all that way for a reason. He’s got a special plan in mind for every person He’s made (whether they accept that plan is up to them), and while we all do need to do our part, just because your personality doesn’t mesh with someone else’s doesn’t make them wrong. And it doesn’t make you wrong either.

Some people just naturally rub each other the wrong way. But that doesn’t mean you can’t love them. That doesn’t mean you can’t forgive them when they drive you crazy. Believe it or not, you probably drive them crazy too. Remember that next time they have you climbing the walls.

The plain and simple truth? Everybody needs grace. Not one person is sufficient to make it through this life without God’s grace. And if God is good enough and big enough and great enough to give us grace for the things that we have done, don’t you think we can give grace to the people around us?

Now, giving grace doesn’t mean you restore someone who screwed up to a position of high authority right away. That goes into trust issues. But what it does mean is that you don’t hold it over their heads. You don’t keep bringing up their screw-ups and you move on.

That’s what God does for us, and that’s what we should do for each other.

So the next time that family member or coworker or fellow church attender does something to make you angry, take a moment and ask yourself if he knows he’s doing it. And if you feel strong enough, ask him about it. If he knows that what he’s doing drives you crazy and he does it anyway, you might want to rethink that relationship. But most likely, he won’t have any idea.

And in that case? Offer some grace. Forgive him and let it go. Life is too busy and too big and too awesome to spend your life fretting over tiny little upsets.

Give grace away. Everyone needs it.

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Ignoring conflict never makes it better

For being someone who communicates for a living, talking to people is hard work for me. I’m much more comfortable communicating in written words than I am in spoken ones, mainly because I don’t trust myself to be able to say what I want to say out loud when I want to say it.

Generally I can talk to anyone if I have to.  But it becomes extraordinarily more difficult to talk to somebody if I know they have something against me–or if I have reason to hold something against them. Conversation just falls flat. And it’s my personality to just run away from it, ignore that there’s a problem, and get on with life. Whenever I face conflict, that’s my first reaction. But that’s not healthy, and that kind of reaction doesn’t do anybody any good.

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:23-24.

So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.

Communication is hard work, and even if you do it well, you’ll still run into times when something goes wrong and somebody gets his or her feelings hurt. And in those instances, you have to make a decision–let it go or face it.

Now, it’s true, in some instances, it’s better to just let it go. Otherwise you’ll be making the proverbial molehill into a mountain. But sometimes communication problems start out as mountains, and they’ll only get bigger if you don’t take steps to correct what went wrong and reconcile everyone involved (as much as possible).

I think it’s really interesting that Jesus talks about this. He considers it so important that He would rather you leave your gift on the altar and go fix what’s wrong between you and the others around you first.

Let’s be honest here. It would be so much easier to just finish doing what you’re doing before you track down people to smooth out your relationship. Am I right?  But that’s not what Jesus says to do.

If you realize someone has something against you, drop what you’re doing right now–even if you’re doing it for God–and go and make it right with that person. Not from a distance. Not with an email or a text message. Go talk to them in person. Sort it out.

Do it first. Or the chances are you’ll never do it at all. You’ll keep finding reasons not to because communication in conflict is more difficult than any other sort of communication out there. And human beings are really talented at finding excuses.

But what if you can’t make it right? What if you’ve missed your chance? What if the person you need to get right with won’t listen or isn’t around anymore?

I think how Jesus phrases this is interesting: “You suddenly remember that someone has something against you.” Think about that.

He’s not saying you’re remembering something somebody did to hurt you. You’re remembering something you did that hurt somebody else, either intentionally or not. You remember what you did wrong, and you take it on yourself to go make it right.

I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about it that way before. It’s a lot easier to look at conflict as though it’s somebody else’s fault. After all, we never do anything wrong, right? We never hurt anyone else’s feelings, do we?

In all seriousness, conflict always takes at least two sides–at least two people disagreeing about something. Conflict isn’t inherently bad. Sometimes conflict can be good, and we certainly do grow as a result of it. Many times the strongest friendships we have in our lives have experienced some kind of conflict and have overcome it together.

So what’s the point? Don’t run away from conflict. Don’t be afraid of it either. Conflict is a natural part of living on Earth, and if we treat it right, we can learn from it and grow stronger as individuals, families, friends, and teams.

But we always have to remember that conflict is never just one person. If you have a problem with somebody, communicate with them. If you come to a realization that your actions have hurt someone, don’t shrug it off. Don’t ignore it. Don’t pass it off. Own up to your actions. Take responsibility for your choices. And make it right with the people you’ve hurt.

If you don’t, you’re going to be distracted. If you continue to muddle your way through life, leaving a trail of conflict behind you, even if you’re serving God, you’ll be so distracted by all your unfinished relationships that you may not hear God speaking to you.

It’s time to clean house, Christians. Be honest with yourselves. Who have you hurt? And are you courageous enough to face that person and try to reconcile?