It is a wonderful thing to have been in ministry long enough to have a collection of sermons here and there over the last six years that show the wonderful places you have been able to minister, how you have grown as a preacher and the always timely word of God. While I have preached on a more regular basis, this is a sample of what is available through technology.
Campbell University Divinity School Election Day
July 19, 2015
New Highland Baptist Church, Mechanicsville, VA
Preaching during an interim period Keeping The Boat Afloat
May 6, 2018
May Memorial Baptist, Powhatan, Virginia The World Is More Delicious Than It Needs To Be
July 15, 2018
Mosaic Church, Clayton, NC
Preaching During an Interim Period Stuck In the Middle
July 29, 2018
Clarksville Baptist Church, Clarksville, VA
Preaching as part of a year long 200th anniversary of the church The Power of Yes
August 26, 2018
Kenbridge Baptist Church, Kenbridge, VA A Difficult Teaching
This is a version of the sermon I preached Sunday, November 19, 2017 at Hatcher Memorial Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.
I also preached a version of this sermon at May Memorial in Powhatan, Virginia in the spring. Here is the audio of that sermon.
In his book Meal with Jesus, Tim Chester says, “The world is more delicious than it needs to be. We have a super abundance of divine goodness and generosity. God went over the top. We don’t need the variety we enjoy, but he gave it to us out of sheer exuberant joy and grace. God’s creative joy wasn’t only for the beginning of creation, leaving us ‘eating leftovers.’ God continues to sustain creation out of joy.”
I love that, “the world is more delicious than it needs to be…” Chester is talking about food but our world as a whole really is more delicious than it needs to be.
Fall, the season we find ourselves enjoying, does not need to be so beautiful, so delicious. A web-site called earthsky.org says that, “Shedding leaves helps trees to conserve water and energy. As unfavorable weather approaches, hormones in the trees trigger the process of abscission whereby the leaves are actively cut-off of the tree by specialized cells. At the start of the abscission process, trees reabsorb valuable nutrients from their leaves and store them for later use in their roots. Chlorophyll, the pigment that gives leaves their green color, is one of the first molecules to be broken down for its nutrients. This is one of the reasons why trees turn red, orange, and gold colors during the fall. At the end of the abscission process, when the leaves have been shed, a protective layer of cells grows over the exposed area on the branch.” And even if you are not like the me, a former science teacher, and find that it incredibly fascinating from a biology stand point, you know that when we see the bright colors that surround us in the fall, the world is more delicious than it needs to be.
After a strong storm, when the sun shines just right, the sky fills with a rainbow. This incredible archway that colors the sky. A rainbow is caused when the sun shines on water droplets in the sky and reflection, refraction and dispersion of light. How in the world do we live in a world where water creates color in the sky. How crazy is it that this is the nature of light waves. Even when light hits glass or the right kind of plastic and a prism is created, it takes all of the waves that make up light and it spreads them out to create bands of color that dazzle inside your car, your home or where ever. The world is more delicious than it needs to be.
When temperatures are low enough and there is moisture in the atmosphere tiny ice crystals are formed. Which is miraculous enough, but then these tiny ice crystals collide and they stick together in clouds to become snowflakes. If enough ice crystals stick together, they’ll become heavy enough to fall to the ground. And the crazy thing is that each collision creates a snowflake that is completely unique. Each snowflake that blankets the ground is different. The thousands up thousands, millions of millions of snowflakes that blanket the earth in a snowfall are each different and unique. The world becomes kind of quiet and bright when it snows. The world is more delicious than it needs to be.
We meet someone and for a variety of reasons we are attracted to them, we are drawn to them. In fact, your brain will release lots of a hormone called dopamine. The internet says, “This is a feel good chemical that is released during pleasurable activities, including texting, talking and kissing your loved one. … Meaning that when you fall in love you are actually addicted to the person of your desire. People usually laugh because they’re happy, but laughter also has the power to make us happy. Laughter releases endorphins, or neurotransmitters that have similar effects as drugs like morphine, which are responsible for feelings of euphoria. We have all of these hormones, chemicals running around inside our bodies because we enjoy being around each other. We were created to need relationships but even at a cellular level, we were literally designed to benefit and feel good from being around other people. The world is more delicious than it needs to be.
One day, probably about ten years ago, when my niece was just a toddler, I went in her room to get her from naptime. I can still remember the light coming in through the curtains creating a golden glow. I remember her little face, her chubby plump cheeks and lips and her sweet, innocent expression as she was waking up, and reached up her arms for me to take her from her bed. Even then I teared up because I knew this was a beautiful moment, one of those moments that remind us just how delicious the world is. It is more delicious than it needs to be.
We know the world is more delicious than it needs to be when we play with a puppy, feel the beat and rhythm of our favorite music pulsing through us causing us to move or bringing on a tear, when we eat an amazing dessert that just makes our whole body seem to relax, when we have the high of really good exercise and pushing our physical bodies to our limits. Think about the taste of fresh watermelon, ripe strawberries off the vine, a good ripe tomato. Or what about a really good cup of coffee or cup of tea, or an ice cream sundae. I mean, come on, hot fudge. And we live in a world that at any moment you can look up on your computer and find pictures of babies laughing or cats doing weird things. Just yesterday I watched a video of two babies I do not know looking at one another and laughing their baby laughs at each other. I looked at pictures of huge cats trying to fit their bodies into small containers, their bodies squishing out the sides. The world is more delicious than it needs to be.
Even in the toxic world it feels like we live in today, we have much to be grateful for. We have much to be thankful for.
“Thank you” is an essential, everyday part of family dinners, trips to the store, business deals, etc. Saying thank you is one of the first things we teach children to do when interacting with other. Saying thank you is almost such a part of what we say that we almost don’t realize we are even saying it.
University of California at Berkeley has a “greater good science center” that studies, among other things, gratitude. A few years ago they accepted applications for money for research projects that expand the science and practice of gratitude.They received almost 300 applications.One of the projects that won research money was, “The Impact of Gratitude on Biology and Behaviors with Heart Disease.”Their website has articles and videos you can watch about how to be a more grateful person in life.You can take a gratitude quiz. You answer the questions with the responses about how often you are grateful for these things. Are you grateful never, once a year, a few times a year, once a month, a few times a month, once a week or more than once a week.
How often do you really allow yourself to stop and be grateful? The discipline of gratitude is forcing ourselves to pay attention to the good things in life until we don’t have to force ourselves anymore.It is where we live.
Gratitude begins with recognizing that there are good gifts we are given in this world. True gratitude is realizing that we did nothing to make these good things happen, there is something beyond us, bigger than us. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. It didn’t stem from anything we necessarily did in which we might take pride. We acknowledge that all good things come from God.
The world God gives us is truly more delicious than it needs to be and it only gets more delicious when we live in a place of gratitude, not just visit it occasionally. We must develop the habit and discipline of being grateful for what we have, what we experience and what we have to offer the world.
We cannot ignore the world we live in. The classic movie, Pollyanna has the main character, Pollyanna, played by Hayley Mills who is an orphan girl of missionaries whose father taught her to play the glad game. In this game, they would take something negative that happened and counter it with something to be glad about. She tells of a story where one year they were sent crutches for their Christmas gifts when all she really wanted was a doll. When they played the glad game, they decided that they could be glad they didn’t need the crutches.
While it is a nice concept, I think sometimes we’ve been so eager to play the glad game, we miss out on the painful parts of the world. We don’t grieve when we really need to grieve. We don’t get angry when we need to get angry. We don’t fight when we need to fight. So, if you need it, I give you permission for all of that. Getting angry shows us there are things worth fighting for. Grieving shows us that we had something really wonderful. If we can’t let in these emotions, we can’t really experience the deliciousness of the rest of life. I would argue even those moments are part of what makes the world delicious. I would argue that deliciousness, deep deliciousness, involves both pain and pleasure.
This week, as we focus on what we are thankful for, I add the challenge to be a person who lives in a state of gratitude. Find yourself practicing thankfulness and gratitude more than once a week, maybe even daily.
Pause before each meal to really be grateful for what is on your plate, the people that surround you, the activities that have filled your day.
Begin a journal where you write down a list of the things you are grateful for before going to sleep at night or first thing in the morning.
When you begin to feel you are getting to the end of your rope, frustration is overwhelming you, take a moment to think about the deliciousness that surrounds you. Right there in the middle of traffic, an argument, a difficult assignment for school or work, just pretend that you are putting on not the proverbial rose colored glasses, but delicious glasses. These glasses have special lenses that filter life so you just see the delicious things.
Most important, stop and savor how delicious our world really is.
Last week I returned home in the cold and the rain and took my dog out to the backyard like we do every time I come home. The backyard was covered in a blanket of wet leaves as it has been for the last week but I noticed lots of white dots covering the leaves. I realized that the young man I had seen pushing a small fertilizer spreader had used it in my backyard. My grass, or sorry excuse for the grass covering my back yard, could really use the fertilizer. However, there it sat on top of the leaves, not doing anything helpful. Actually, I said out loud, “Well, that’s not at all helpful.”
While I don’t blame this guy because it was really cold and really wet, I have to ask, what was the point? What was he supposed to be accomplishing in our yards? What was he trying to do? I think the answer should have been that in order to live up to the “TruGreen” name of the company, the goal should have been trying to get the fertilizer on the recently aerated lawn in order to give it what it needed to make it ready for grass to grow in the spring. Instead, his goal was just to spread the fertilizer. Get rid of it. Take that little spreader and just run it around the neighborhood.
It reminded me of something I learned years ago. I was working as a summer missionary for a church start in New York City. Our goal was to reach out to young professionals on the upper west-side of Manhattan. In order to connect with this population, we would set up a table early in the morning in front of the comedy club where we held worship services and hand out breakfast bars to young professionals headed to the subway. Our goal was to connect with them but also to give visibility to our church. The pastor of the church had ordered a large banner made for this purpose, advertising who we were. Our job was to hang the banner on the building behind our table.
Our first morning, it did not hang as it was supposed to and we decided to just forego the banner. The pastor came by and questioned why the banner was sitting rolled up. Without it, people had to stop and be willing to talk to us to know why we were there. Let’s be honest, there were not many New Yorkers willing to do this and so without an advertisement of who we were, we just looked like crazy people handing out breakfast bars on the street. Our leader asked why we had not tried other methods of hanging the banner, or why we had not visited the hardware store just down the street to find a new method. For heaven’s sake, why had we not just at least gotten some duct tape? Our ultimate goal was to connect and build relationships with young professionals in the area. We had this amazing church community that we wanted them to know about. What we were trying to do to those people was connect with them and connect them to the church community.
The good leaders are the ones who go for the duct tape. They are the ones who recognize what is important and do whatever it takes to follow through. They do not just give up and leave the banner rolled in the corner or smile and say “sorry.” If you want to be a great leader, you must know what is most important. There are many smaller details that a good leader knows can be flexible. They are able to keep from sweating the small stuff. An ineffective leader will wear others out making sure the non-essentials happen just the way they intend or in-vision them happening. A good leader knows what is important, what contributes to the vision and ultimate success for their organization or event. They will do whatever it takes to make sure the vision is not compromised. They keep the most important, most important and will do what ever it takes for success. While success may be held together with duct tape, it is still success.
One of my seminary professors, Dr. Bruce Powers, a leader in effective Christian Education, was famous for teaching us to ask, “What are you trying to do to people?” He wanted us to start with the end goal, the purpose, the vision before any of the planning and the doing. You cannot know if you are effective if you do not know what you are hoping to accomplish.
In terms of our calling in the world, we must take your passions and begin to get specific. What is it you are hoping to accomplish, to change, to impact in the world? What does it mean to help the poor, to develop leaders, to help refugees resettle, to minister to children, to disciple adults.
In order to be effective, begin by learning who else is out there doing it. How can you gain experience, how do you learn from best practices. How do you come alongside others? Learn what are the right questions, what is the root question or problem that needs to be addressed and answered.
Keep going back to the question, “what are you trying to do to people?” Are you just get rid of the fertilizer? Just giving out breakfast on the street to young professionals? Or are you working towards what really matters.
We have enough folks who feel like showing up is enough. Once when I was doing leadership training around effectiveness and appropriateness of age graded work with children, I had a volunteer comment, “you should be happy you have people volunteering at all and not be concerned with how we do it.” But it does matter if you are leading in a way that is not effective. Living into your potential takes more than just showing up, putting something on the calendar, giving out food or clothing, teach the class.
People who live into their potential get the duct tape, they move the leaves before they fertilize, they learn how to communicate better with the children. They think about giving to the poor in a way that is redeeming and doing more to change the larger systems. They find the root of the problems for women on the margins and they seek to create change. They start with the question, “What are you trying to do to people?” and then make plans appropriately, focusing on the details that really matter for the ultimate vision and passion.
I previously released this blog post in January, 2017. In light of election day today, and an important gubernatorial race here in Virginia, I felt it was important for us to revisit.
Church, are you paying attention?
Our world is crying out and I wonder if we are paying enough attention. Do the things happening in the voting polls last year or the events of this past weekend hold any meaning for you? Are you listening? Because the people are crying out. Church, they are crying out to you. They are crying out for help, for meaning, for someone to show they care.
We wonder today why many of our churches are dying. We wonder how we can get more people in the pew, get them tithing, get them volunteering to take over our responsibilities but those are the wrong questions.
I did a training session last year at a church that was hiring a new pastor and wanted to be aware of what were some of the trends of church involvement, issues new ministers were facing, issues facing young families in their area, etc. One older gentleman tried to quickly cut me off. He spoke up, interrupting me with a gruff, “I don’t hear you talk about Jesus. We just need to get back to Jesus. If people would get back to Jesus they would be in church on Sunday.”
Here’s what I told him….Jesus is in all of it. If we say that Jesus is who he he says he is, if Jesus is relevant to this world, then what happens in the world matters. If this faith is big enough, it should be bigger than what can be contained inside an hour of worship on Sunday morning and Wednesday night prayer meeting. It should affect every area of our lives, it should affect the way we do our work, it should affect the way we engage our community, it should affect the way we treat our neighbors. It should draw us into our communities, draw us away from our often over-filled church calendars.
The world is crying out. Crying out to be loved, to have work, to have food, to have health care, to be able to pay their bills, to be respected. It doesn’t matter where your community lies politically, there are needs you can meet. People from all sides are crying out.
Many say that we shouldn’t let culture dictate the church. That was the cry of this older gentleman. Go back and read the words of Jesus because his ministry was all about meeting the needs of other people, and not just the people that were on the church membership list.
He healed the sick, heard their cries. He fed the hungry. He treated women with respect. He did this outside the walls of the church.
We’ve ignored the signs people are holding outside the church for far too long. The future of the church will look different, like nothing we’ve known in the past.
“We are unsure if the church will survive to the next generation. The answer is not to try harder but to start a new adventure: If talking, trying or tricks work, they would have worked already. They are only going to be solved through new insight into the context, the values and the systemic issues at play in the congregation and within the leaders themselves. In other words, before we can solve any problem, we need to learn to see new possibilities.” (Canoeing the Mountains by Tod Bolsinger, page 33)
It may mean that we as a church need to stop doing something inside the walls of the church so that we can be the presence of Christ outside the walls. The future of the church may look more like words on those signs we have seen over the last year than the materials on Christian bookstore shelves. But make no mistake, if Jesus is really all that he said he was, he is present in both.
Want new possibilities for the church? Take a look at the signs. They are calling us into uncharted adventures that are frightening and challenging but are also exciting.
“In an era in which war and terrorism – at home and abroad – are often based on racial, religious and ethnic differences, rediscovering the wisdom of love and compassion may help us increase our survival at a time when an increasingly divided country and world so badly need it. ” – Dean Ornish
Honestly, I know nothing about Ornish but I really loved this quote. I loved this quote especially in a week where my TV and radio are filled with political ads for the contentious political season Virginia finds itself in. For those of us who are living and leading in this contentious age, here are some resources to help…and a bonus link for Stranger Things fans.
To put things back into perspective, it’s important for us to look to both history and global events and continue to tell the stories of our brothers and sisters who actually are facing daily persecution and even intentionally putting their lives in danger for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We can look back to the earliest of martyrs such as Bartholomew, who was flayed alive and then beheaded (and it’s worth noting that he is rumored to have sung hymns the entire time, hence the beheading), or Peter, crucified upside down.
Jesus is essentially saying, “Look, I am walking this same road. And I am telling you that the way of God is not the way of separation and confrontation with your enemies. That is not the way to bring peace. If you yourself don’t find a way to show mercy and compassion to people that you don’t like, it’s likely that you yourself will experience more violence. The community will not become more peaceful if you, the people of God, don’t extend God’s love. And ultimately, you may find yourself on the side of the road, left for dead, if you can’t recognize the hated Samaritan as your neighbor.”
Loving your neighbor, especially those you don’t like, has the power to radically change the world.
I know you feel something breaking inside lately; an invisible fracture that only you’re fully aware of.
I know the way you walk away from conversations with people you once relied on for wisdom and clarity and compassion, doubting your own sanity because you no longer recognize those things in them.
I know the way you feel internally estranged from the friends, coworkers, family members, and neighbors you used to find affinity with—and you wonder if you’re losing your mind.
I understand how you stare at the perpetual parade of horrible scrolling past you, from the second you wake up prematurely in the early morning until the stretched out nighttime moments you try unsuccessfully to fall asleep—and how you question the grip you have on reality.
You might think white conservative Protestants are more political than black or mainline Protestants or Catholics. You’d be wrong.
Just as the Bush Administration’s Faith-Based Initiative called attention to congregations’ social service activities, the 1980s rise of the Religious Right called attention to congregations’ political activities. The organized Religious Right is not what it used to be, but concerns and debates about the appropriate limits of congregations’ political involvement emerge every election season. Clarity about some basic facts might inform these debates.
The show’s protagonist is a girl named Eleven. She is pretty clearly a Christ figure (Her nickname, El, even means “God” in Hebrew). She has a mysterious birth story and her true father is never mentioned, even though her mother does make an appearance. She possesses seemingly miraculous telekinetic powers. While in captivity, government officials “tempt” her to use her powers to kill a cat, which she refuses to do, paralleling Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11).
The world of Stranger Things resembles the Christian understanding of our world. It has two interconnected dimensions: The first is the idyllic world of the 1980’s, filled with nostalgia that almost immediately causes viewers long for a simpler time. The second is the Upside Down. It’s described as a world of death. The air is toxic, and it is filled with predatory monsters (or, at least one) who feed on flesh. It even acts as a sort of prison for Will, a kid brought to the Upside Down by the monster.
“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability-and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually-let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you. And accept *the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Here are words for the season where you know God is doing something, you are just not sure what.
Words for the season where you feel like you only hear “no” and “not yet.”
Words for the season where you may not be able to see the hand of God working. Where the pain and “the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete” feel overwhelming.
Words for the season where there seem to be so many possibilities, great possibilities to life, you are overwhelmed with them.
Words for the season where you feel like you are doing nothing but growing.
Words to trust in. To trust the often slow work of God. To trust in the hope that our masterpiece is constantly being created, we are not a work that is done yet. To know that even though the world is a broken place, God can work, redeem and bless in the middle of the pain caused by the brokenness.
Here are words for the season where you just have to take the next right step. Where you have to be faithful to be open, grow and take opportunities as they come with a lot of waiting in between the steps.
Despite the renovated hallways and determinedly cheerful lobby pianist playing “Wind Beneath My Wings,” the hospital is not always the place I want to be. The best way to comfort someone in the hospital is (spoiler alert) not a teddy bear from the gift shop with HUGS embroidered on its fuzzy abdomen.
Spending days in a hospital bed can be uncomfortable and downright miserable. Little gestures that make me feel more human and connected to the outside world go a long way to making the experience a little easier.
Want to be an Awesome Hospital VisitorFriend™? Sneak one of these ten things through security.
Even if you’re not a freelancer or a “creative,” you’ll probably benefit from a page that lays out your accomplishments, and not just your work history. If you ever want to give a talk, get quoted in an article, work a side hustle, start your own business, or just get a job offer, then you need a public portfolio.
Address the Bare Minimum
Try this experiment. Ask a friend to do a quick Google search for your greatest work accomplishments, and your contact info, from scratch. If they can’t find both in thirty seconds, you have a problem to fix.
Yesterday I preached at a church where I served twenty-two years ago as their summer youth worker. It was through a program called Youth Corps that paired college students with small, usually rural churches for a summer of service. The church gave the worker housing and half of the small salary and the state convention paid the other half. If you talk to folks in Baptist churches in North Carolina, ministers and lay people, it is overwhelming how many of them served in Youth Corps!
I showed up as an eighteen year old (turning nineteen a couple weeks later) with no idea what I was doing with the confidence only an eighteen year old can have. I worked with the children, youth and senior adults in the church. The people and families of this church hold a special place in my heart and yesterday, I preached their homecoming service.
Returning to this home from my past led me to do a lot of reflection. I could not help but think back to that eighteen year old and the way she thought her life would unfold. Here’s a hint, it did not resemble much of the life I am now living. And while the truth is, I would not have it any other way, grief bubbles up for the lives I thought would be mine.
In college and into my early twenties, I thought of my future like a jigsaw puzzle. One of those really big ones with lots of little pieces. I felt like I had to sit down at the puzzle and figure out which one went where. There were extra pieces. There were pieces that might be able to fit if I pushed hard enough and made it work but it was my responsibility to figure out which ones God intended to go together to create the perfect picture. (I now just get exhausted reading that last sentence) The perfect future, because there was just one perfect future for me at that time. I did not know what it looked like, though I had some strong ideas, but I was terribly afraid of getting it wrong. I was told that you had to guard yourself against wanting “less than God’s best.”
Remember in It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, Linus is looking for the most sincere pumpkin patch around. The Great Pumpkin will visit the most sincere pumpkin patch and he is sitting there waiting for the visit. I have learned that God’s plan or God’s will does not unfold as I struggle to figure out which puzzle piece fits perfectly to create one perfect picture. Instead, God shows up in lots of small ways when I have a sincere heart. Like the sincere pumpkin patch, when I am still, when I am sincere in my desire for God’s will in my life, God reveals the next right thing to do. I’ve also learned that I do not believe in one complete picture that when I get one piece out of place, the whole thing falls apart. I think that would make God pretty cruel and I’ve learned to see that God has more grace that I gave God credit for earlier on.
My life has not turned out the way I would have imagined but I would not have wanted it any other way. I really cannot look back over my life, at the major decisions I have made, and find something I would change. Some seasons have been hard but God has used each one, has redeemed them for a purpose. However, it does not mean that I do not find myself grieving those other lives. Those other lives that included marrying young, having a family young, taking other jobs, moving to other locations, getting a different education. Sometimes I grieve the lives that I did not choose or the circumstances that did not choose me.
Does any of that sound familiar to you? We have to give ourselves space to grieve what could have been. It is done with a knowledge that those lives would not have been perfect either. It can be done even knowing you would not go back and change a thing but their is still somehow grief. And with a grief, there is a letting go. It gives space for a release that allows us to move forward.
I just got an email with a profound quote. It was trying to sell me something but it is still powerful, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” That may be a little over-stated but when you visit that grief, are their pieces of those other lives that fit where you are now.? Are their children that could be adopted or loved like they were your own? Is their a degree or training? Is their a change in your career path? Is there some place you always wanted to travel? Something you’ve always wanted to learn how to do?
We do just get one shot at this life. My advice would be to get up from the table that has that huge, confusing puzzle in front of you. Go sit in a pumpkin patch with a sincere heart and listen. And if you find yourself down the path of life a little more, ask yourself what was on those other paths that you could still add to the one you are on? Lean into the grief. Feel it….and then let it go and keep doing the next right thing.
Co-working and co-living spaces are a new trend. As more people do not choose a traditional path for their life and work, new opportunities for working and living with others have been created. Check out Roam Coliving to learn more about how they are connecting people around the world. I know nothing about this company other than finding them on the internet and being fascinated by their concept. I think this could provide some creative ideas for people of faith looking to create community in different ways or for those of you who want to live out your calling in this world literally moving around the world.
Not so long ago, nobody met a partner online. Then, in the 1990s, came the first dating websites.
Match.com went live in 1995. A new wave of dating websites, such as OKCupid, emerged in the early 2000s. And the 2012 arrival of Tinder changed dating even further. Today, more than one-third of marriages start online.
Clearly, these sites have had a huge impact on dating behavior. But now the first evidence is emerging that their effect is much more profound.
A surprisingly poetic description of social-anxiety disorder can be found in the DSM — that is, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, sometimes referred to as psychiatry’s “bible”: It’s an “illness of lost opportunities.” Much has been said about the trendiness of boasting online about your reclusive tendencies — about your relief over canceled plans, or your belief that “staying in is the new going out.” Everyone needs to retreat from the world from time to time, but for some, a tendency to avoid social situations can become debilitating.
Shortly before our wedding, someone gave me and my husband this advice: “Marriage is good. It’s hard—and sometimes you’ll want out, but it’s worth it.” I remember thinking that was an odd thing to say to a couple about to get married. It seemed like such a bleak view of marriage.
Since then, I’ve heard plenty of other people say similar things to engaged and newlywed couples. I’ve heard pastors say it during weddings. I’ve heard parents say it at receptions. I’ve heard couples say it within a year of their own weddings. I’ve seen marriage books, blog posts, magazine articles and anniversary posts on social media say it: Marriage is hard.
Introversion, thanks largely to Susan Cain’s 2012 best seller Quiet, is having something of a cultural moment. Once a mostly misunderstood personality trait — and often considered a behavioral defect when it was considered at all — it’s now the subject of countless other books and online listicles (and, more recently, parodies of listicles). And as more regular, non-scientist types started to talk about introversion, psychologist Jonathan Cheek began to notice something: The way many introverts defined the trait was different from the way he and most of his academic colleagues did.
The words of this poem have been haunting me all week. Their truth has pierced me as I’ve found myself, for no good reason, being extremely unkind to myself lately. I sat on a different bicycle in my cycle class this week that had a different view from what I normally see of myself. Instead of seeing the strong body that has lost 39.5 pounds since mid May, I saw all the parts of me that were moving around that I wanted to be gone!
Why is it that I do not attribute beauty to so many of my own qualities?
And this is not just a beauty problem. It runs pervasive in our culture. We are so used to seeing the world through our unique perspective, offering our gifts and strengths into the world, that we no longer see them as strengths. They seem common to us. The really good qualities, the strong qualities, the intelligent qualities are those possessed by others.
I work with people using personality assessments to write their resumes. Over and over again people spend more of their energy trying to hide what they see as negative. I’m not a detail oriented person and so that must be what they want and so I spend lots of energy proving that I am a detail oriented person. This only gets you a job that is not a good fit for you.
Just because you possess a trait, have a certain quality, possess a certain perspective does not immediately mean that it is common. We have to stop spending more time working to improve the things we do not see as valuable, the things we see as a deficit, and spend more time improving, growing and embracing what we do have to offer the world.
In her book, Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert tells the following story:
“I once encountered a man in India who owned nothing of value but an ox. The ox had two handsome horns. In order to celebrate his ox, the man had painted one of the horns hot pink and the other turquoise blue. He then glued little bells to the tips of each horn, so that when the ox shook its head, its flash pink and blue horns made a cheerful tinkling sound.
This hardworking and financially stressed man had only one valuable possession, but he had embellished it to the max, using whatever materials he could get his hands on-a bit of house paint, a touch of glue, and some bells. As a result of his creativity, he now possessed the most interesting looking ox in town. For what? Just because. Because a decorated ox is better than a non-decorated ox, obviously!” (p. 157 *which is also where the title for this post was taken)
We all have an ox, we just have to figure out what it is and know how to paint it. We have to stop naming traits beautiful, intelligent, important just because we do not possess them.
Find someone who can speak honestly about your strengths. Take a personality assessment, ask for a job evaluation, etc. Name your ox.
Find out how to best paint it. Work with a coach to develop your strengths, to name and claim what it is you have to offer and what you value in the world. Seek out leadership development opportunities and experiences to develop your strengths. Clearly name what kind of work, what kind of opportunities, what kind of relationships are the best fit and work to make those the reality in your life.
Now, stop being so critical at the image in the mirror, in the negative comments of others and get busy painting that ox.