What to do with personalities?

Yesterday I continued my slow sermon series through the Beattitudes, landing on “Blessed are the peacemakers….”

I mentioned the ways our personalities tend to get in the way of real peacemaking, primarily because our personalities more often than not, become our starting point for peacemaking. We tend to either be peacefakers (ignore the truth) or peacebreakers (ignore the love). Sometimes I find myself fluctuating between the two, and I think that might be common as well.

I call this personality-based peacemaking, which is often not real peacemaking. 

But then two questions may arise (at least in my mind): 1.) What role should our personalities play in peacemaking2.) To what extent CAN or SHOULD our personalities change?

1.) What role should personalities play? Whether you tend to fall into one of these two camps, or fluctuate back and forth, it is necessary to honestly examine your own tendencies. We naturally run from conflict or run over “conflicters.” So self awareness is key.

Here’s a practical difference it can make in your relationships. 

Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker encourages folks at times to “look over” an offense. Because the gospel is the motivation, you can now do so. How do you know when to do so? Consider your personality. If you are naturally someone who enters into the fray, often times with your “truth guns” blazing, it’s probably wise to not voice every concern you have. Even if you’re right. Why not overlook or keep quiet at times? Like George Costanza, who chose to do the opposite of what he naturally thought (he realized he was always wrong) why not consider doing the opposite of your natural reaction? There’s a good chance you could be mistaking the Holy Spirit for your personality. If you tend toward peacefaking, then it might be wise to pull the trigger a bit quicker, because you know you’re tendency is to say nothing.

2.) What extent CAN or SHOULD your personality change? Unlike Lady Gaga or Oprah, Christians never make “just being ourselves” our highest aim or standard since we are now honest about ourselves: the thoughts of the natural man/woman are “only evil continually (Gen 6:5).” Now of course Christians have had hearts of stone replaced with hearts of flesh (Ezek 36:26), but we still have left-over sinful residue. So just being yourself is never the goal. 

However, personalities that are tainted with sinful residue still bear the image of God and so some parts should not change. Only you can be you and only you can image God in a unique way. So when the gospel is applied to a personality, the sinful parts experiences tweaking. For instance someone very timid may tend to overlook all offenses (because of fear), but that same person can and will speak up when necessary (now having a Spirit of power). And it’s beautiful when that happens. The gospel has now freed that person from their personality constraints (always peace-faking) and enabled them to speak truth humbly and gently. And yet its that person’s personality, now freed and highlighted by the gospel, which makes them a great truth teller when they need to be.

So personalities can provide limits on what we naturally do, but when the gospel gets a hold of them, individuals can then uniquely image God.

How much can personalities change? For some folks, personalities are changed by the gospel in the same way a sprinter improves from race to race. Allyson Felix is fast. Allyson Felix has always been fast. But in the last two Olympics, she has only landed the silver. Through much training, she is now the fastest lady at 200 meters in the world. Sometimes personality changes but a “hundredth of a second.”

For other folks, who may have sinfully dominated personalities, the opportunity for change may look more like a distance runner. With much training, a 1500 meter runner, can improve by 5 seconds, whereas a sprinter may not change more than 5 hundredths of a second. Sometimes personalities can change a lot. 

Regardless, the gospel can redeem the sinful parts of our personalities and highlight those which best image God’s glory. And when it comes to peacemaking, a careful look at Jesus, then an honest look at oneself, can make a big difference than if you simply start with “that guy” who needs to change.

Allyson Felix, Lashinda Demus, and Ricky Bobby

Last night I had the opportunity to watch someone win and watch some “lose.” The gal who won, Allyson Felix, had been a “loser” the last two Olympics. Now that is accurate you want to define “loser” in a traditional Ricky Bobby “If you ain’t first, you’re last,” sort of way.

Lashinda Demus the 400 meter hurdler, lost just a bit before Felix won. She got the silver. If you had seen the look on her face-which maybe you did since a number of people actually watch the Olympics-you probably thought someone had just kidnapped her cat or something. As though she had stumbled on a hurdle while in the lead as Lolo Jones 4 did years ago in Bejing.

Maybe she listened to her inner Ricky Bobby?

Silver on the highest stage possible with her husband and boys cheering her on is not too bad of a gig. She belied a tiny bit of thankfulness in the post race interview, but vowed to keep vying for the gold. Only gold would seal her “legacy.” Although I would have preferred she use more accurate terms like “personal worth,” or “reason for living,” because I think her kids are probably OK with a silver legacy. They probably just love their Mommy for who she is and want to spend time with her. But maybe I’m reading too much into her twin 4 or 5 year old boys.

The interview was quite sad. But I didn’t feel sad for her loss, just sad for her. Sad for the idol she had put her hopes in: behind the gold was a real search for significance.

Allyson Felix didn’t “lose.” She got gold after 4 years of intense training with a somewhat unlikeable at times coach Bobby Kersee (husband of Jackie Joyner Kersee). She wanted that gold bad. She might have tried-and might still try-to get that gold in Rio. But from what it appears, I think the interview might have gone in a different direction.

I’ve always pulled for Felix. Now I know why. She grew up a preacher’s kid and her father is now a professor at The Masters Seminary. Check out this great article about her. Here’s but a snippet.

My faith is definitely the most important aspect of my life. My dad is a pastor and I grew up in a very strong Christian home. Our family was very involved in our church. I came to know Jesus Christ as my personal savior at a very young age. Ever since then, I have continually been striving to grow in my relationship with God.

She plans to be a school teacher some day. I can imagine the kids not in her class will be quite jealous of the lucky ones some day!

Missy Franklin vs. Gabby Douglass

Last night I had the opportunity to watch the Olympics “live” (I know that technically that is not true, but its more “live” than 2 degrees removed on the DVR) with my 4 year old. His nap “promoted” him to watching gymnastics and swimming “live” with Mom and Dad. 

When I look at him, I wonder how good he will really be at baseball (he is better than most 4 year olds I know-though I confess to know a dearth of four year olds). Right now I think he’s pretty good. But does that mean a decent player, an all-star, high school standout out, college scholarship, etc….?

Parents want the best for their children. That is typically the case and it should be so. However “their best” can present quite a problem when “their best” becomes the ever-consuming-yet-leaving-you-drained idol that “their best” most often is. For the kids, but more often for the parents.

As a parent, will I be willing to do all that I can to make sure he is able to do his “best?” There might be good things which I should ask myself will I be willing to sacrifice? Like fishing, watching football, sleep, etc..

But there is another pertinent question for parents: should I do all that I can do so that he can do his “best?” What should parents sacrifice and what should they not sacrifice? I’m at somewhat of an advantage (in my opinion) in that I’m a pastor, and so travel leagues taking Connar away from worship on Sunday are an impossibility. So will he then be able to do his best? Most parents jump to the conclusion and say “no.” But I would caution folks to not jump to such a conclusion.

For many Olympic athletes not in communist countries, yet still in high school, the question really resides with the parents. Will parents do ALL that is possible to see the young athlete succeed?

When that “best” is not the all consuming idol of power, significance, fame, pleasure, I do think that it is possible to do your “best” without taking the normal “at all costs” sacrifices to which most parents willingly offer. 

Let me give you two examples of different approaches, yet both seem to have done their “best.”

1.) American gymnast Gabby Douglass moved from Virginia Beach to Des Moines, Iowa, to get the best training possible. Wow. Her older sister had to convince her to keep training, when she clearly wanted to quit. Looks like it paid off as Gabby is competing in the individual all around competition in place of favorite Jordyn Wieber. Doing her best however, meant sacrificing much of her childhood.

2.) By contrast, let’s look at Missy Franklin. Missy is just a teenager. An incredible swimmer already with a gold medal, she’s still just a normal kid. When questioned about moving away to Florida (would have been tempting for me!) or California from Colorado because it wasn’t a “swimming state,” she responded, “Why leave family or school or friends?” In other words, the pursuit of swimming was not an “at all costs” thing. It wasn’t an idol upon which she would sacrifice other more important things. She stayed at home, even resisting the sponsors which would have precluded her from competing on her high school swim team. She didn’t sacrifice her childhood.

Now whether her parents had a say in the whole “we’re not moving so you can do your best at swimming” decision, I don’t know. The interview was silent on this part. But perhaps they had parented her in such a way that “her best” didn’t become an idol? She could do her “best” in Colorado, alongside family and friends who would love her even when she fell short of her best.

Was her training stunted because of inferior coaching? Doesn’t seem to be. This girl is gifted and a hard worker. In this case, that seems more important than the “opportunities” she could have had elsewhere.

I wish more Christian parents would think through these two questions more carefully

1.) Is honoring Jesus more important than my/my kids’ performance?

2.) If my kid is really gifted and works really hard, can he/she still compete at the highest level, even when my commitment to Christ may preclude some “opportunities” which would regularly take him/her away from corporate worship?

We see the answer to the latter question is yes. Talent and hard work makes some “opportunities” superfluous. You can say NO and still see your kid succeed. 

Just some things to think through when we look at our little ones and genuinely want for them to be the best that they can.

Andrea Kramer and asking questions

Sideline reporters often have little to offer the coach, the athlete, or even the viewer. Their questions are often obvious, ill timed, or just plain dumb. With the Olympics happening only every 4 years, one might think that we would see an exception to the rule. One might be wrong.

Andrea Kramer, the gal entrusted with interviewing the successful or struggling swimmers just minutes after their races, has completely bombed. Now I realize that she is a two time Emmy Award winning broadcaster. But in my opinion, she seems to have miserably failed to “read” the interviewee. She has routinely asked the losers ridiculous questions (and even the winners-“which Michael Phelps will show up?”), so much so that when she thanks them for the interview, several have just walked away quietly and unresponsive with a gracious perturbation. The athletes don’t like it. The viewer doesn’t like it. So does NBC?

If we can learn anything from Andrea Kramer, it is this: Bad questions + Bad timing=people who don’t want to talk with you.

Now in Kramer’s defense, she has no option in regards to timing. Time is of the essence as the events just keep coming. But for most of us, as parents, pastors, and just plain people, we have time to let people cool down. Even good questions asked at the wrong time can lead to not so good answers and attitudes. Yet good timing probably even covers over not-so-good questions. Something for me to think through when teaching my passionate 4 year old soon-to-be Tee-baller, “There is no crying in baseball” (unless you get hurt of course).

Patience may be the difference in getting a good interview or just making folks walk away angry without listening to you.

Don’t Waste the Olympics

I’ve been digging the Olympics. It’s only once every 4 years that I find myself caring bout such seemingly insignificant sports/events/hobbies that would have trouble finding their way onto ESPN8 “the Ocho.” But because these games only occur once ever four years, I care that the USA wins Water Polo over Montenegro. I can legitimately say that I care.

But one thing that has put me in a more contemplative mood has been the losers. Micheal Phelps not medaling and Jordyn Wieber not being able to compete in the gymnastics all around have been my major “stand-outs.” But since there is pretty much a new crop of gymnasts every four years, an every four years “fan” can’t get to know them. So I’ll briefly share some thoughts on the former American golden boy Michael Phelps.

Four years ago, this guy could simply jump in the pool and he’d win. According to an interview with his family, his sisters recounted that he had become more desirable than famous male celebrities. I can’t remember which one, but then again, I’m not really into male celebrities or movies stars. And yet, during the grueling 400 meter medley, he didn’t even medal. Losing to Lochte, who described these Olympics as “my time,” had to sting just as badly.

The winner was now a loser.

How will he fare in the rest of the Olympics? Will he garner more gold or miss out on the bronzes again? 

But more existentially, who will he really be, now that he cannot describe himself as the best anymore? Who we really are is shown not in victory but in defeat. In victory, we can hide behind gold medals. We can hide behind successful careers, well behaved kids, new houses, thriving churches, approval ratings. But when we “lose,” those things are revealed for what they often are. Simply places to hide behind.

I hate losing. I hate it when my team loses. I cannot imagine training for four years for an event or events (though Phelps did only for 9 months in that medley), and then blowing it. But sometimes God will tear down those walls. He tears down walls that not only serve as barriers to the horizontal relationships, but to the walls we erect in our relationship with Him. It’s at that point, that we are no longer Olympic athletes, successful businessmen, parents, or pastors, but we are just His children. Or we’re just losers grasping at something else to hide behind. Being is children is plenty enough. When it’s not, God will in His goodness, show love by allowing you to lose. When the tears dry, lets remember to thank Him because losers can see Him more clearly.

My four year old asked if Micheal Phelps tells people about Jesus. I told him that Phelps, to my knowledge, doesn’t love Jesus. His response, “Well then we need to tell him.” I told him that we probably won’t be able to meet him. So I guess we’ll have to pray.

There are many ways to not “waste the Olympics.” Here’s just one: Pull for winners, but remember to pray for the losers. They’ve just had their walls broken down but they need their hearts to be made alive (Eph 2:1). As a family, we’ll pull for Phelps (Lochte is way too arrogant) to win, but we’ll pray that his losses, and/or even his medals, will only lead to his ultimate gain (Phil 3:8).

Whether the athletes win or lose, here is a fitting verse to pray for the athletes and thus participate in the games, even as you spectate. 

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ”-Phil 3:8