Move on

In my discipleship group in college I learned Exodus 14:14, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”  We claimed it as this verse of trusting God and waiting on Him.  It was a verse of surrender and patience.

Fast forward 4 years and I’m sitting in church and Pastor Jonathan was literally in a teaching series surveying ALL OF SCRIPTURE.  It was a long series 😉  He got to verse 14 and I expected the same interpretation and application as I was taught.  And then he read verse 15 aloud:  Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.

MIND BLOWN.
(ALSO: Lesson learned in the importance of reading Scripture in context before memorizing it and claiming it as a “life verse” out of context.)

As much as I love to be busy and productive and take matters in to my own hands, I wish that v 14 is where the story ended.  I wish I could be still and let the Lord just work it out and holler at me when it’s done.  I suppose there are times when that might be the case, but most often I feel like it’s more a both/and.

The Lord will fight for me and He will tell me to move on.

The Lord will call me to still my soul and to press on.

The Lord will hide me in the shadow of His wings and I will throw off things that hinder me and run the race marked out for me.

He has given us things to do, even when we feel like there is nothing we can do.  He allows the sun to rise and set day after day even when, frankly, we’d rather Him not.

When things get heavy or hard and all I want is to sleep for a week or 3 until “it” passes, there are dishes to do and emails to answer and babies to bathe and meetings to run.  I can choose to be resentful of the routines that must continue, of the seemingly unsympathetic time that ticks on by– or I can see those things as means of grace.

Grace in the conversation at lunch with a friend in need that counters (or at least distracts me from) my self-pity.  Grace in the alarm clock that kicks me out of the bed.  Grace in a hot shower- a perfect place for crying, for a moment of solitude, and for drumming up the courage to step out into the day set before me.

I trust that the Lord is okay with it not being pretty or efficient or neat or without faltering.  It doesn’t even have to be out of noble ambition or holy desire.  It can be by feeble and limping faith in what I cannot possibly see or understand in this moment.  It can be in obedience and surrender despite my uncertainty and reluctance.

I cry out and hear the Father, full of compassion and tenderness, calling out to me…

Move on.

Embracing the Quick Change

I’m married to an actor.  I hear there’s a thing called a “quick change” in which you have to take off one costume and put on another …well, quickly.  Usually this is because the actor is playing multiple parts or in different scenes.

I had a stunning revelation the other night that womanhood in general, and my life in particular, is much like live theater in this regard.

I had this revelation around midnight lying on the floor of my daughters’ room.  There I was in striped flannel pajama pants and a VBS t-shirt, wrapped up in a Backyardigans blanket waiting for Lucy & Penny to fall asleep so I could army crawl out of their room and into my cozy bed that kept beckoning me. (Scene note: Parents, don’t judge.  We are transitioning Penny into a toddler bed and sharing a room with her sister.  We don’t always lie on the floor nightly until our children fall asleep.  But sometimes you gotta do what you’ve gotta do.)

10 minutes prior to that scene I was in a black cocktail dress and 4 inch heels returning home from an awards banquet where Starving Artist Productions had been nominated in several categories.  (Scene note:  A ballroom full of theater people is…no note can prepare you sufficiently for this, actually.)

Earlier that day I was kicking off my pumps to jump on the trampoline with my family in my church clothes.  This was after I shed the apron I was donning while making quiche and cutting fruit for brunch, which was an hour after I took my fancy magnetic nametag off of my red sweater to hand to Lucy to play with while pulling out of the parking lot of the church where I work.

We often say that women wear many hats, or perhaps in this analogy, many costumes.  It’s true.  We are constantly moving in and out of scenes, changing roles.  It makes for a busy, full life.   Some days all the hats and quick changes can run us ragged and leave us wondering who we are- which character we are and which ones we are just “playing.”  Which parts we wish we could play, which roles would be more glamorous.  Which ones are boring and which ones are fun.  Which ones we wish got more stage time and which ones we resent having been cast in.

I certainly have those days.

But as I pondered all of life being like a stage while lying on the floor last night in my flannel pajamas, my feet throbbing from excessively tall shoes, my eyes heavy due to a lack of sleep that comes with raising toddlers, my heart was grateful.  Grateful for all the quick changes to remind me of who I am and who & what I love the most.  All these parts we play, as it were, aren’t meant to confuse or cause compartmentalization or fragmentation or schizophrenia.  Rather, they are gifts that ground us and grow us.  They are gifts that keep us from painting ourselves and each other too broadly or flatly. They keep us humble and strong, needy and needed.

I’m embracing the quick change.

I’m calling it an honor to be entrusted with so many things to do and people to care for.

I’m believing that while I am more than the sum of the parts I play, each part helps to shape my life in profoundly beautiful and important ways.  I may not be exclusively defined by my roles, but I’m learning the grace that is letting my identity be informed and shaped by them.

Confronted by Love

Lately I’ve been haunted by the reality and necessity of confrontation in true friendship.

I put a lot of equity in friendship.  I pay it a lot of lip service.  I have always been fiercely protective and loyal to handful of friends in my life who are as family to me as family.  The problem I’m having these days is this:

I hate conflict.  I like for people to like me.  I like for people to be happy.

Except none of those things have anything to do with love, really.

I love my daughters.  I don’t want to fight with them.  I want them to like me.  I want for them to be happy.
Yet, if I see them doing something wrong, I correct them almost instinctively.  I don’t want Lucy to burn her hand on the stove if I can help it.  I don’t want Penny to run out into the road.  I love them enough and am secure enough in my relationship with them to care more about their own well-being than their opinion of me or even their own immediate happiness.

I love my husband.  I don’t enjoy fighting with him.  I want him to like me and my company.  I want him to be a happy man.  But if he is doing something destructive to himself or to me, I tell him.  (Okay, let’s be honest.  Sometimes that’s even hard for me in the safe confines of the covenant of marriage, but usually doable because I know he isn’t going anywhere.)

The conviction comes when I watch friends- men & women whom I deeply love- make poor choices or believe lies or run buck wild and I sit quietly and politely in my ringside seat.

I want to be the supportive, easy, encouraging friend.  I want to tell you to chase your dreams, find yourself, do it your way, go for it.  I want to believe that what you want is what is best for you, simply because it’s what you want.  I want to believe it will all work out for the best and that you can’t screw it up too badly.

Except none of those wants have anything to do with love, really.

Real love not only warns you when you are out of your depth, it comes to get you when you are over your head and don’t even know it.

It says “Please stop doing that.  You are going to get hurt.”

It says “I love you, but you are making a mistake here.”

It says “Your personal choices aren’t made in a vacuum.”

It says “That’s a bad idea.”

It says “That doesn’t sound like the Lord to me.”

The circumstances are endless.  The loving confrontation in any scenario has to come from a place of tenderness and compassion and assuming the best of someone.

To quote singer-songerwriter Derek Webb, “It’s not right or safe to let your conscience down.”

It’s not right or safe to let your friends down because you couldn’t bring yourself to say what they needed to hear.

I Corinthians 13 is always quoted in weddings and marriage books but was never intended to have such a narrow purpose.  It applies to our friendships, to our fellowship, as well.  And if it’s true that love bears, believes, hopes and endures all things then surely hard conversations and potential risky confrontations are covered under “all.”  Surely.

That’s what I’m choosing to believe, anyway.  That’s what I’ll stand on and remind myself of before picking up the phone or stepping into the restaurant or opening my door.  I’ll choose to trust that the Lord will go before me.

I’ll choose doing what is best for my friends over what is easiest for me, because that’s what love does.

Carried to the Table

At Renovatus we are in a series called Love Feast and we’ve been learning about what it means to respond to the invitation of Jesus to join Him at His table.  That the invitation is unseasonal and irrevocable, that it comes without condition or hesitation.  This past Sunday, Pastor specifically taught about what it means to receive from the table of Jesus in the sacrament of communion.

What is this meal that we share and why? How should we receive it?  What is the point?  What does the Lord want to say or do through it?  (I will not attempt to answer all of these questions, but fortunately Pastor did and you can hear it here!)

More than a symbol or token gesture or tradition we keep, we take the Lord’s supper as a means to experience the presence and power of Jesus.  We come to the table for wholeness, for help, for forgiveness, for hope, for rest, for healing.  (After all, who has need to come to a table when you are satisfied and without hunger or thirst?)

We concluded service by taking communion and singing Carried to the Table by Leeland.  It’s a powerful song that absolutely embodies all that we are unpacking during Love Feast.

It was a powerful song on a powerful morning amidst a painfully tough week for a lot of people I love.  It seemed I was being confronted at every turn with sadness and difficult circumstances last week. Brothers and sisters walking by faith because if they were to walk by sight they wouldn’t be able to pull themselves out of bed in the morning.  Brothers and sisters battling sickness, death, wounds in marriages and struggles in friendships, depression… the list was long and hurt was deep.

As I watched the congregation come forward and eat from the table, I was overcome.  And while the sacrament of communion took on whole new meaning and life for me that morning, I was just as attuned to the broader idea of communing with Jesus- the hope and healing that comes with being in His presence and what it takes to get to Him.  I thought a lot about my own life and how often I can’t bring myself to the Lord.  How easily I can hide from Him.  How He is the Bread of Life and yet I can get so stuck in shame- famished and desperate for the only One who can help me.  The image was so clear- how He sits patiently and longingly at the table waiting to meet with me, to share with me, to help me.

And all of a sudden I became keenly aware of my need for my community to pick me up and bring me to the table (that is, the presence of Jesus) sometimes.  What a grace!  How long would I stay in that shame and guilt if they didn’t come for me? How long would I toil and wrestle and flail about if left alone?  And let’s be honest, sometimes my pride or my guilt won’t even allow for me to ask for their help and I may even resent it before I get there.  But at the table of Lord, in His presence, there is fullness of joy. There is salve for every wound.

I am grateful for brothers and sisters who get me to the table.

And in a week like this one, I get the chance to repay the favor to some of them.  Those who are so broken and devastated and ashamed and scared to death right now, those who can barely hold their heads up- it’s my turn and such a humbling honor to carry them to the table.  (Much like the account in Luke 5 of the paralytic being lowered through the roof by his friends to get to Jesus- sometimes you’re the paralytic and sometimes you get to be the friend! What a gift to be either, amen?!)

I suppose all I’m ultimately trying to say is this:

It doesn’t matter how you get to Jesus.  Just get there. Get to the table.

And be grateful for whatever means it takes to be brought before the One who can fix you and any mess you’ve made.

Be grateful for the open invitation to the only table that will ever satisfy.

“Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” Isaiah 55.2

For the love, get to the table, friend.

Living within your means is a spiritual discipline

Man, I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time!  I think about this a lot.  I am the executive pastor of a fairly young congregation.  I look over a lot of reports and numbers.  I have a lot of financial conversations with people from various generations.

And while I think my generation and subsequent ones after mine are particularly financially ignorant, this is not a new phenomenon and is definitely not limited to those 35 and younger.

I was raised by financially sound parents who started teaching me about money as soon as I could talk it seemed.  My grandmother tells the story of me being at the store and having a toy in one hand and my birthday money in the other as I soberly and tearfully had to make the hard, life altering decision of how I wanted to spend what little money I had.  My dad had to explain to me that he couldn’t just pull out the book of green papers (i.e., checkbook) when we didn’t have money in the bank for everything I saw and wanted.  I paid for my own Nintendo.  I saved up my own money to buy my trampoline.  The first thing I did when I turned 16 was open a checking account.  I had a Roth IRA at age 20.

I realize this is not a typical upbringing, but it is one of the things I am most grateful for in how my parents raised me.

All of this is simply to say that money makes a lot of sense to me.  It’s finite and measurable.  It’s earnable and spendable.

And while I realize that money is quite a hot button issue for church leaders to talk candidly about, I must say it is a far scarier prospect that we would leave it out entirely in the discipleship process or dance around it rather than equipping people to live in financial freedom.  After all, what is discipleship if it’s not learning how to live faithfully as a follower of Jesus?  And what are better indicators besides your time and your money on how faithful you are being with what’s been entrusted to you and where your affections & trust lie?

While I can’t unpack all of my thoughts on money & discipleship in one blog post, here are 3 of the things (in brief) that I most want to share:

1.  “Work” is not a four-letter word.

The ethic of work has been pitted against trusting God to “provide” and I  honestly can’t take hearing it anymore.  The Lord “provides” through work for the vast majority of us.  Sometimes that means we don’t get to spend as much time at home as we’d like for a season.  Sometimes it means we get a second job to make ends meet.  Sometimes it means we work a job we don’t feel “called” to (or even like) and we need to be grateful for the the provision of a paycheck.  God is not displeased by us taking personal responsibility for our finances.  On the contrary, Scripture is very clear  about the value of day’s work. (2 Thes 3.10)

Do not overspiritualize work or assume that because it’s hard or less than ideal that it isn’t from God. (Or that at the very least that He can’t use it for good in your life and the lives of those around you.)

2.  Don’t pass the buck.

Be self-aware enough not to dress up your desires or justify your poor decisions as God’s will or provision if those things compromise your ability to live within your means.  No, I don’t think He intended  for you to buy that “dream” house you can’t afford.  No, it doesn’t sound like the Lord’s will for you to buy a 2013 minivan when the car you’ve got runs just fine and you are already living paycheck to paycheck.  Nope, I don’t think the Lord ordered those steps into the Apple store to buy a Macbook Pro on Monday when you can’t seem to find your wallet when the offering plate passes you by Sunday after Sunday.

I know I’m being tough and pointed and everything about this aspect of discipleship is uncomfortable.  I do not mean to say that God does not give good gifts to His children.  Quite the opposite.  A good Father doesn’t give His children their wants at the expense of their needs.

I’m worn out by people who won’t take the initiative to ask for help to learn how to live within their means but who have no problem repeatedly making poor choices with money and wrapping those choices up in spiritual language and then expecting God to “fix it.”    You might not have had any financial education growing up.  You might not understand the value of compounding interest or what the heck a Beacon score is.  But the tools and resources you need for living within your means are available to you.  Do not live financially ignorant.  It’s simply not necessary and not worth the stress and turmoil it produces in your life.

3.  Self-control will sanctify your spending

We all have our weaknesses.  Shoes, clothes, electronics, coffee, eating out, cars, concerts, travel- surely you could name yours.  Mine is eating out.  I like to cook but eating out is convenient and a treat and fun for me.  So, I’d be happy to have 60-75% of my meals in a week not come from my kitchen.  However, we live on a tight budget and eating in 80-90% of the time means we can make it to the end of the month in the black.  It’s what is wise for us.  Let me be clear:  I would MUCH prefer the Original Pancake House for my usual Saturday breakfast over the Rouse Pancake House (though our chocolate chip pancakes and pumpkin waffles are pretty spectacular)!

No matter what income bracket you are in, living within your means, practicing the virtue of self-control, will always be a discipline.  There will always be more things you could spend your money on.  There will always be opportunities to blow your budget or compromise your financial health. There will always be a list of things you “need.”  That is not unique to those on a limited income.  It is unique to mankind.  Set some financial goals and boundaries, or at least a budget, and protect it!

The Lord is compassionate and gracious; slow to anger, abounding in love.  It’s true.  There is grace and mercy for our mistakes, for our carelessness, for our greed, for our lack of self-control.  But repentance requires change.  And discipleship is more than having a quiet time and fasting from chocolate during Lent.  It’s about faithful living.

The Constant

My sister, Trish, and I haven’t always been as close as we are now.

We use to fight over everything: who got to ride shotgun, who got to wear Mom’s earrings or whose turn it was to have a friend sleep over.

When I was 3 she convinced me to touch the electric fence in our backyard. When I was 8, I was insanely jealous that she got to go to the Tiffany concert and I didn’t.  (Can you blame me?!!)  Over the course of my entire childhood, my sister would find it amusing to sit on me, pinning me down and then proceed to pop my toes until I could break free.  She still thinks this is funny though it wasn’t and still isn’t.

I was forever blackmailing her and tattling on her. (In my defense, she was always getting herself into trouble. I was just using her rebellion to my advantage!) She was always trying to boss me around and I was always shouting “you’re not my mom!” at her.  It was a rocky decade or so.

Fast forward to 1993.

A shift happened when Trish left our home at the time in Mons, Belgium for college in Abilene, Texas.  I actually missed her! And I realized my need for my sister in her absence more than I could have known in her presence.  I was 13 and my parents were on the verge of divorce.

Fortunately for me, she came home to Georgia when they actually did file for divorce a year later.  That was the summer before I started high school in a new town.  Trish and I shared a room in an apartment with my mom. It was the first and only time in our entire lives that we shared a room.  (Luckily that didn’t last long!) For the next four years, I would have my sister by my side helping me navigate through the drama and friendships and relationships that are in full effect for any teenager.

Trish took me to freshman open house and dropped me off at band camp.  She attempted to teach me how to drive stick shift (which incidentally almost sent her into premature labor with my nephew)!  We ate pineapple pizza at crazy hours and watched the same movies over and over together.  She was always in the stands to cheer me on playing soccer and conducting half-time shows.

During that same season we watched our father remarry and our mother begin to date.  Both surreal experiences, I might add.

We survived it together, me & Trish.  When the foundations of our family began to be re-negotiated in every conceivable way, our sisterhood was the thing that remained.  It was the constant in the tumultuous equation we were forced to solve.

We stood beside each other on our wedding days.  Trish married an Army officer and moves every few years all over the country.  (In fact, he deployed for Afghanistan on the day of my wedding! What a bittersweet day that was for her!) We don’t see each other very often and don’t get to “do life” together now that we are adults.  But she remains a constant.  She’s my first phone call when I need another mother’s advice.  She’s who I want on the other end of the line when I have a problem I can’t solve or a crisis to weather.

I now have two daughters.

Lucy & Penny are 25 months apart to the day. They play and laugh and hold hands. They push and grab toys from one another. They vie for their parents attention and affection.  They hurt each other and cry and hug to make up.

I am smart enough to know it’s going to get harder before it gets easier for them.  They will likely slam doors and say hateful things to one another (especially in middle school, I predict)!  They will compare themselves to the other in academics and sports and appearances.  They will be each others’ source of comfort and frustration, seemingly simultaneously at times.

For as much as they will change and grow and make their own choices, it is my forever prayer that they always play and hug and fight and laugh and cry together.  Because they are sisters.  And, praise God, there’s no changing that.

Rest

Those who know me well know that I love sleep.  I love naps and sleeping in (which rarely happens when you have 2 children under the age of 4!) and talk about sleep all of the time.
A couch and a blanket always sounds appealing to me.

I wake up thinking about the next time I get to go back to sleep, no joke.

Despite never getting enough, I love sleep, but I know nothing about rest.  And while they share some space, they are not the same things entirely.  Rest is even more elusive than sleep for me.  It’s infinitely more difficult for me to prioritize.

In fact, vacation often feels like house arrest or being in witness protection the first few days for me.  It feels like an expensive and inconvenient consequence when if I had it “my way” and a few days off I’d rather be at my house painting a room or organizing closets or something that will make my daily life feel less chaotic and more peaceful in the long run.   Crazy, right?!!

There is definitely a place for productivity and chores, I know.  But rest is not optional.  Rest is not a luxury.  For a human, it’s essential for your health and sanity.  Additionally, for the Christian, it’s a mandated grace all throughout Scripture.

Rest (from what I hear) is taking the time to be.  To be reflective, to be silent, to laugh, to read, to walk barefoot in the grass.  To do whatever renews your spirit and breathes life into your soul.  Maybe it’s meaningful conversation with a treasured friend on a porch swing.  Maybe it’s a long drive with the windows down.  Maybe it’s a quiet night and good book.

It’s generally not the stuff that makes you feel proud and accomplished and productive.  It’s not usually the stuff that shortens the to-do list.

Most of us don’t want or need to escape or be rescued from our lives.  What most of us need- what I need- is just a moment sometimes.

Give me a minute. 
Give me rest.
Give me a chance to get some perspective, to see things as they actually are, not how they seem.
Rest is about giving yourself the time and space to respond to all the life you’ve been living.  To process that tough conversation you had last week, to prayerfully consider “what’s next” in this season, to be grateful for the little things, to be inspired, to be renewed.  Who doesn’t want that?  Yet we fight it and neglect it and trade it for a dozen lesser things.

Years ago I discovered a hymn that has stayed with me.  It’s my reminder and invitation to rest.  I hope it can be the same for you.
Jesus I am resting, resting In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness Of Thy loving heart.
Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee, And Thy beauty fills my soul,
For, by Thy transforming power, Thou hast made me whole

Jesus! I am resting, resting In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness  Of Thy loving heart.

Oh, how great Thy loving kindness, Vaster, broader than the sea:
Oh, how marvelous Thy goodness, Lavished all on me!
Yes, I rest in Thee, Beloved, Know what wealth of grace is Thine,
Know Thy certainty of promise, And have made it mine.

Simply trusting Thee, Lord Jesus, I behold Thee as Thou art,

And Thy love, so pure, so changeless, Satisfies my heart,
Satisfies its deepest longings, Meets, supplies its every need,
Compasseth me round with blessings, Thine is love indeed.

Ever lift Thy face upon me, As I work and wait for Thee;

Resting ‘neath Thy smile, Lord Jesus, Earth’s dark shadows flee.
Brightness of my Father’s glory, Sunshine of my Father’s face,
Keep me ever trusting, resting, Fill me with Thy grace.

Own it.

Friday Night Lights is one of my all-time favorite TV shows.  In fact, I’ll go ahead and declare it second only to The West Wing for me.

I recently recalled a scene from season 1 where one of the players (“Smash” Williams)  during practice is shouting to one of his slacker teammates (Tim Riggins):

“You’re making us look weak.  If one person fumbles the ball, we all fumble the ball.  If one of us shows up half drunk, we all show up half drunk. We ain’t got time for your games.  We’ve got a game to win.”

Now if you aren’t a Friday Nights Lights fan yet, you can’t appreciate this to the extent that I wish you could, as Smash and Riggins have quite a bit of animosity toward one another, both are talented players, but one is driven and invested and the other is not (at least not yet).

In leadership we talk a lot about the importance of teamwork and recruiting “team players.”  If I have a soapbox about anything, it’s followership.  I’m a big believer in playing well with others and submitting to authority.  However, I realized sitting on an airplane a few days ago that I want more than that out of my team and I think you should, too.

You can get along and help each other out and be supportive all you want, but until you fully commit (that is, until you realize that whether it’s your “job” or not, whether it’s your responsibility or not is fairly inconsequential) simply being a “team player” isn’t enough.

I want a team full of committed, creative, responsible, smart people.

People who realize that our own successes and failures are felt beyond our own individual “portfolios” 

People who realize that we are only as successful individually as we are corporately

People who realize that our failures and our choices aren’t made in a vacuum

People who realize that when one of us fumbles, we all fumble

People who are in it to win it

I want owners, not just players.  Owners know what is at stake.  Owners are personally, emotionally, and financially invested in the success of the endeavor.  Owners don’t blame shift or pass the buck.  They are less interested in how the ball got dropped as much as how we can ensure it doesn’t get dropped again.  Owners are builders and not maintainers.  Owners are a bit restless and a bit hungry.  They have a “what’s next?” attitude that sets them apart.  If we are sticking with the football analogy, these are the ones who keep moving the ball down the field.

Sure, training and experience matter.  But a person who demonstrates a capacity for ownership  and responsibility will distinguish themselves far and away from any lengthy resume.  I’d much prefer to teach someone a skill set than try to cultivate a passion or sense of ownership.  That’s infinitely more difficult to do.

If you find yourself in a position of leadership and are looking to staff a team, look for owners.  We don’t necessarily need teams full of leaders and visionaries so much as we need teams full of owners on every level, in every position.

The work to be done is challenging enough without the added unnecessary task of motivating people to care.  Owners come with care built in already.

If you are looking for a place to serve, applying for a job, joining a team, make the decision to own what you are spending your time and energy on. It will make the work more rewarding and the sacrifices worth it.

I know I’ve mixed metaphors here a bit between sports and business, but I hope the through line is clear enough:

We’ve got a game to win.

And in the words of the best football coach of all time, Coach Eric Taylor:

CLEAR EYES, FULL HEARTS, CAN’T LOSE!

I’ve Got a Question.

There is an ongoing joke with the people nearest me about my “spiritual gift” of asking questions.  I love asking questions and the learning that comes along with it.

I am curious.  About everything.  All of the time.

I have way more questions than you have answers for or time to entertain.

If you are around me long enough you’ll be subject to my random questions and come to either find it endearing or annoying, or perhaps both!

If you were to drop into a Renovatus staff meeting on a Tuesday morning, you’d likely witness our team with index cards in front of them answering 5 questions I just threw out to them related to the topic I’m speaking from.

There are many things about leading a team and running a church that do not come naturally to me.  I’m not very strategic.  I’m not process driven. I’m not task-minded.  I like helping.  I like keeping the peace.  Nevertheless, here I am responsible for a lot of people and resources on a daily basis.  Thankfully, the one thing that is instinctive for me is asking questions.

This got me thinking about how asking questions is a really valuable practice.

And because I like lists almost as much as I like questions, I decided to write down a few reasons why I think asking questions is incredibly important and healthy:

1.  Shows honor & concern– When someone asks you a question about yourself or for your perspective, it’s validating.  It communicates respect, interest, and care.  We live in a wildly individualistic, egocentric world.  It is counter cultural and perhaps even counter intuitive to take the time to look someone in the eyes and ask them a meaningful question.

2.  Fosters humility– We often feel the need to know everything (which is silly and another rant for another time) and asking questions reminds us that we can’t and don’t have all the answers.  It acknowledges our need for people and things outside of ourselves, which incidentally, is really helpful at keeping our pride in check.

3.  Creates space for vulnerability, trust and intimacy to formPeople are open to people who are open to them.  It’s amazing the relationships and opportunities that are birthed by curiosity or a well-timed question.  We all appreciate the opportunity to explain ourselves and take ownership of our responses.  Asking questions (as opposed to speaking in the declarative all of the time) often lowers defenses and increases our receptivity to what another person is trying to communicate.

4.  Challenges mindsets and ruts– My dear friend Amanda once said “it’s a spiritual discipline to break your routine.”  I think about that a lot in a number of different contexts.  In this particular one I’d simply say that asking questions breaks us out of our routines, out of our box.  This is a very, very good thing.  We can all think of a time when we were challenged, for better or for worse, by having to answer the question “why?” for doing something the way we do.

5.  Produces good leaders– Your effectiveness as a leader (and maybe more broadly, as a human being?) is correlative to your desire and discipline to learn.  Whether this is in personal relationships or developing new skills at work or picking up a new hobby at home, asking questions is a great way to learn and an easy place to start.  Additionally, asking questions is a great way to help develop leaders around you!

6.  Keeps us open to wonder & gratitude– This is more abstract, but just as important.  Asking questions keeps our eyes open to new ideas, to see beauty in the world, to dream new dreams, to recognize the gifts around us and to be grateful for it all.

Are you seeing all the potential & possibilities wrapped up in questions?!

I know none of this is novel or earth shattering, but hopefully it’s a good reminder of how we can communicate and lead and love one another really well.

Start with a question and see where it takes you.

Recovering People Pleaser

Hi. My name is Tracey and I’m a people pleaser.

I don’t need everyone to like me, I just need everyone to be alright.

I don’t need to be popular or at the center of a conversation, I just need everyone to keep the peace and get along.

I want people to be well and free.  I want to be well and free!

The difficulty with being a recovering people pleaser is that there is some rightness wrapped up in there that can’t be altogether abandoned.  There is some good that comes with wanting people to be well.

However, what I know is that the desire for wanting everyone to be alright can become an idol.  I (all too willingly) sacrifice my own emotional health and the health & development of others on its altars in the name of keeping the peace.

The irony of worshipping this idol is that I also know (all too well) that just because there is no commotion, no crap hitting the fan, doesn’t mean everything and everyone is alright!

Furthermore, I’m coming to see the value in the tension, in the conflict, in the disruption.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t like it at all.  I’d rather avoid the awkward conversation or swerve to miss the punch to the gut.  BUT I recognize that there’s a lot of learning and growing that happens in the confrontation and the disruptions.  No one chooses to have their plans hijacked or their lives thrown into a tailspin.  But for better or for worse, we learn by doing.  And if I have any hope of learning and growing in any capacity in my life, I’ve got to be okay with people not being pleased sometimes.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve landed a job that is THE crucible for me and my people pleasing ways.  When you are a leader of leaders, next to never is everyone alright.  Next to never is everyone keeping the peace.  There is always a conflict to manage.  There is always a sensitive relationship to be mindful of.  (Being an executive pastor is practically People Pleasing Rehab for me!)

People pleasing can dress itself up like compassion.  It also does a pretty good peacemaker impression.

But at the end of the day, our motivation tells us the truth of the matter.  Am I avoiding the hard, but right thing?  What could be gained by letting this conflict play out?  What’s really at stake here?

I don’t want to miss the opportunity to invest in someone because it’s easier or more comfortable not to.  I don’t want to hinder ministry and discipleship in order to keep the (faux) peace.

I don’t want to worship a god who keeps me as anxious as a sheepdog always trying to count the flock and keep them all peaceably moving in the same direction with their heads down.

That’s not leadership and it certainly isn’t love.