What if I Let Everyone Teach Me Something? (Yes, Even Her)

Sparrow-352-e1452826625889.jpg

Friend: “One more thing. And Kasey, this may just be the hardest thing I will ever say to you.”

Self: proceed to standard conflict and confrontation self-check:

  1. Is there awkward tension resulting in your spontaneous pit-sweating? - No.
  2. Do you have an accelerated heart rate, you know, the one that produces dying baby rabbit noises from your mouth? - No.
  3. Would you rather “accidentally” pee on yourself and be dismissed in self-deprecating humor rather then hear what she is about to say? – Oddly, no.
  4. Did you try your throaty ’Steve Brown sigh’ and glare at her in order to prepare her for the 80’s game version of Mortal Kombat, [Debate Edition], that is about to go down? – Don’t think so?
  5. How about reciting that one paragraph from your Developmental Psych class that you memorized in case you ever needed to talk words long enough to make everyone in the room forget why they were there in the first place? - Hmmm, Nope.
  6. Oh! What about play that passive-aggressive card you hold in your back pocket? You know, the one that reads like Matthew McConaughey in that Lincoln commercial: “I am sooo excited to hear from you, friend. After all the hurt I have been through, it is an answer to prayer to know that you have thought sooo deeply on how to encourage me and speak wisdom to me in this season.” - Dang, it’s that good, but no.
  7. Start to cry, offer up some foolproof emotional blackmail—the trusted response that will provoke doubt in the most Mother Teresa of all our friends—the one reaction that forces all people within eye-shot of you to immediately reconsider their theology, their job, their marriage, what kind of car they drive, the cologne they wear, and if they turned off the coffee pot this morning before leaving their house. Just cry! – I did think about it, but no.
  8. Then you have to be streaming visualizations of the demise of everything that you love at the end of this conversation, right? —Like, after this conversation: your husband will now break into maniacal laughter whenever you enter the room, your children will start leaving frogs in your coat pocket like those brats did to Fraulein Maria in The Sound of Music, your church will ask you to serve in the preschool department, there will be a book burning in your honor (a small flame, because you’ve only written two), your Facebook page will suddenly erupt in snarky Anchorman GIFs and quotes from Justin Bieber’s comeback, and most devastating of all, Downton Abbey will kill off Matthew Crawley (oh wait). – Y’all, I still got nothing.

All of my common ‘confront when confronted go-tos’ were oddly silent. Not as though absent in presence, (obviously I could think them through in detail from the psychopath section of my brain—see above), but absent in power. Not once in my 35 years of doing life with other people had I checked ‘no’ in every category. Never. Certainly not given the trigger statement of, “This may be the hardest thing I ever say to you.” I don’t even know when or how the dysfunctional way of belonging dissipated with her. But here I was, receiving her words of loving rebuke and counsel with no fear, no shame, and no condemnation. For one of the first times in my life, I was actually welcoming instruction, wanting to be wrong, and longing for someone to love me enough to say, “Hey friend—there’s more for you. Can you hear me?”

 

CRAZY HARD PEOPLE

For just a moment, think about all of your people (as applicable): your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings, employer, your core friend group, your periphery friend group, and the most annoying, frustrating person in your life. You know, the one who you only text-respond to even though they called you on the phone…to talk…with their voice.

Consider the hardest of your people—the ones who have deeply hurt you, but just keep on living as though everything is fine…the friends who dominate the conversation and never slow down long enough to ask you a question…the ones so unlike you in every way that the emotional-stretching it takes you just to be in their presence seems physically painful at times.

People, in general, are crazy hard. People are hard for us whenever we approach them from the perspective of our pride. Pride is our most natural choice and bent. It is the place in us that wants to control our comfort and keep all hard people at a safe distance so that we never have to ask ourselves why they are hard for us in the first place. Pride draws a line in the sand wherever our expectation begins. The line reads: “Hey weirdo—I will let you this close. As soon as you meet my expectation, I may let you in closer—but not a moment before.” Any person in our life who requires more than we prefer to give of ourselves will be labeled: hard, crazy or dismissible.

 

HOW WE DEAL

Mostly, we hold hard, tricky people at arm’s length. We realize that to the degree we let them in, is in the same degree that we will be forced to own our crap and see things from a different perspective. Our pride feels so gross—it really is the worst part of us. Therefore, it makes sense that we prefer isolation to confrontation, defensiveness over humility, and sarcasm over sacrifice. Pride wants us to separate ourselves from knowing and being known by people so that we find ourselves alone, bitter and cold-hearted. Pride wants us to assume that, ‘this is all there is’ to a person—that somehow we hold the rights to their truth by the tiny, little fragments we have been allowed access to. Proverbs 3 tells us that to believe only what we want of others is a sure-fire way to make us real stupid, real quick.

 

A BETTER WAY TO BELONG

The opposite of pride is humility. And humility is available to us when we position ourselves in gratitude. When I step up to any person with even an ounce of gratitude for their life, I am allowing humility to have a chance with me. Humility bypasses our perceptions of another person and offers them up as a gift to us. Yes, even and especially the hard, different, crazy, annoying, frustrating, demanding and exasperating of us all. When we position ourselves in gratitude, we are given access to truth—truth about God, others and ourselves. In gratitude, we can rest fully in the truth that God alone moves people on and off our path for his glory and for our good. He has a plan for each personality we come in contact with—and that plan is to redeem us and them to himself.

 

Here is the way it shakes out:

Proverbs 3:3: Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. First and foremost, we must hold tight to the unconditional love God has for all mankind. The Hebrew word for love in this passage is not referencing how mortals should respond or feel about God, but how God promises to love us despite how we feel or what we do. We must be absolutely convinced that God is for us at all times if we want to be humble, wise, and generous with people. 

Proverbs 3:5-8: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes—fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. When we think we have others all figured out, it makes us dumb. Our own eyes cannot see the entire perspective. Our brain is only equipped with the truth of our predetermined genetics, our development, our relationships and choices up to this point. There is oh so much more to learn, and lifetimes of experiences (good, bad and ugly) in plenty and available to us. We need the lens of him, her, and them over there. We need to be stretched out of where we are and into the possibility of what might be. God reminds us that to fully trust in him is to trust him fully with who he brings along our path. Maybe it is a girl sitting next to you in Psych class who also likes to smoke weed, maybe it is a mom at the park with her kids looking as though she could cry and punch a puppy at any moment, maybe it is your grandparents who you haven’t visited in months, your sister, best friend, or the cashier at Target.

Perhaps this healing that reaches to our bones is felt most when the awe and fear of the Lord is greater than our defenses and prejudices toward man. Perhaps to think us wise is really stupid, but to offer ourselves to the counsel of another instead, a most refreshing place.

As we stand in awe of God we no longer need fear what man may say to us. We get to be wrong about our stuff and believe it is good to be called out on it. The fear of the Lord makes us grateful for the truth that God fits all people into our life for his purpose. But alas, there is evil. As I understand it, we cannot turn away from evil by turning away from people—it is unrealistic to think that way, plus, a life in isolation rids the Gospel of its power. I believe that to turn from evil is to let others expose it—to allow people to cross the line, come close, make us uncomfortable, push our pride hard and painfully low until the ‘little g god’ inside of us is found and destroyed. To be a Christian is not to reduce the hatred we feel toward evil, but to despise it the same in others as we do in our own selves—feel sorry for it, disgusted by it, and hopeful that man might know and believe there is a cure.

 

WHEN I AM AN ARROGANT, UNTEACHABLE JERK, I:

  1. Think I know it all or that my way is the right way.
  2. Avoid confrontation at all costs.
  3. Say no to someone or something out of fear that my perspective will be compromised.
  4. Talk way too much about myself, and rarely ask questions of another.
  5. When someone is talking I look away or mentally check out, because I don’t really feel their words are worth it.
  6. Prioritize my relationships and outings to include only the people and places that stroke my ego, feed my comfort, affirm my opinion, or place me in a leadership role.
  7. Use words like, “always,” “never” and “only.”
  8. When confronted with instruction or a different perspective, I am already drafting my rebuttal in my head while they are talking.
  9. Place strict boundaries on my home, children, money, time and resources, because I really feel that God needs my help.
  10. Love people the way I prefer to receive love.

 

PEOPLE REALLY ARE THE COOLEST

Proverbs 11:14: Where there is no guidance, a people fall, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. This year, I am preaching to myself (and praying also for you) to drop the prideful defenses keeping us from learning something from everyone in our path. We can give ourselves to all people, simply because we trust God completely. We can choose to believe that he will guard and protect for our good—not to shield us from toxicity and dysfunction, but to keep others from our own snarky comments and confrontational go-tos that can cut them like a knife.

I really don’t believe that God will place someone in our life (even in the line at the grocery store) that is not ultimately placed there for his good and redeeming purposes. Each personality we encounter has the potential to prick a place in our own heart that needs to be pricked—the place that convicts us, draws us toward sweet confession, and leaves us a more grateful, free person than just one moment before.

Learning from others is the state we must pass through in order to believe God more—there is no other way. Here are a few ways we can start this year off right learning from others:

  1. Settle in to the fact that we will always be wrong about something.
  2. Realize that there is an ounce of truth about us in even the most hurtful words.
  3. Look for the best in others even when they are not giving it to us. Determine that all humanity, even the vilest of sinners, are a gift.
  4. Ask loads of questions of others and really listen—don’t blink no matter the amount of curse words or how contrary the words are to your personal beliefs.
  5. Know that getting curious about another person is a surefire way to fight depression and anxiety. Caring about the story of another is a scientifically proven way to bust up the lies we are believing about ourselves.
  6. When you see someone hard heading your way, engage them despite how you feel, ask the Lord to make you curious about who they are, and believe that God will redeem your time if you are running late or prefer to be somewhere else.
  7. Be real about the fact that you are someone’s crazy hard person too—apologize if you can, really mean it, let them say all they need to say to you (even if you do not feel it is true of you). Then, consider letting them off the hook of being your friend. Someone out there really needs you to be their friend—stop spending sideways energy on someone who doesn’t want you back.
  8. Understand that to be vulnerable is to experience God—put down all of the bestselling books and podcasts if they are keeping you from intimacy with real live, human people.
  9. Don’t assume so many boundaries—God may use the most hard and dysfunctional people to reveal his love to you and your family. Let them in—to your home and to your heart—and remember that people feel most loved by your mess.
  10. Learn to enjoy, even welcome, counsel and guidance that stretches how you perceive the world. Ask for it from those closest to you. Write down their words, pray over them and really think about them. Breathe through harsh words from a stranger—try not to defend yourself—you really don’t need to. Take a night to consider their words, hold them up to the Word of God. Believe His Word, err on the side of grace, dismiss the lies and let yourself off the hook baby.

 

Oh! And the hardest thing ever said to me? It was simply this—“Kasey, it’s you.”

The common denominator of all my relational dysfunction turned out to be me. How grateful I am to have believed her counsel a gift to me, for through it, I was kept safe and experienced healing of my flesh and refreshing deep in my bones.

I am preaching to myself this year to approach everyone in my life as though they are a gift to me. I am committing myself to learn something about God from each glance, hug and conversation. I will get it wrong a lot and this will not be pretty, but, I really believe that Jesus is in his people—and I want to see him so badly, don’t you?

{This is the first in a 7-part blog series by KASEY VAN NORMAN, entitled DEAR 2016 SELF. Subscribe to this series at kaseyvannorman.org. Connect with Kasey on Instagram, facebook, & twitter @KaseyVanNorman}. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in physical form, in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For posting online, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. For audio, please embed from the original source. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Kasey Van Norman. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Kasey Van Norman. ©2016 Website: kaseyvannorman.org