Tag Archives: honesty

Why Do We Do This? Thoughts on Writing and Letting Your Life Speak

There’s a cage I’ve known.

No, not this cage.

For longer than I care to remember now (the archive in the sidebar shows 2004), I’ve questioned why I write. Why I feel like I should. It wasn’t enough just to say what Parker Palmer says in Let Your Life Speak. 

As young people, we are surrounded by expectations that may have little to do with who we really are, expectations held by people who are not trying to disern our selfhood but to fit us into slots. – p.12

I knew this, but I had to also question my reasoning. What was I saying about my desperate desire to speak–was I saying I didn’t appreciate my easy Christian suburban upbringing? Was I ungrateful for my safe life with dedicated parents, parents everyone else esteemed and loved?

In families, schools, workplaces, and religious communities, we are trained away from true self toward images of acceptability; under social pressures like racism and sexism our original shape is deformed beyond recognition; and we ourselves, driven by fear, too often betray true self to gain the approval of others.

IMG-0174

What racism have I known? What sexism? What true oppression? I’ve laughed along with the humor of regretting such an idyllic childhood couldn’t lead to great art. And I’ve believed my very desire to create such art was selfish at the core.

I’ve written. A lot. About this very thing. I’ve been self-focused and ashamed of that. I’ve found comfort in countless stories and recognized a certain underground misfit culture, and been emboldened by the beattitudes–if I feel this, maybe I’m among those he’s saying are blessed.

And yet, don’t I flatter and feign? Thinking about thinking is never helpful, but maybe there comes a time to realize as Anne Lamott says, “you own everything that happened to you.”

We are disabused of original giftedness in the first half of our lives. Then–if we are awake, aware, and able to admit our loss–we spend the second half trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed.

I’ve written to keep a record, spotty and inaccurate as it might be. And the many journals I’ve filled and the thickly self-conscious prayers I’ve written, it’s all been a way to hold back and not say what needs saying. Substitute vulnerability, surrogate struggle.

“Look how honest. Feel affirmed by this. Yes, I’ve felt it too.” 

Wayfarer

I became an editor and helped publish many books promoting healing and hope. But I never faced my truth. I never let my life speak.

‘Faking it’ in the service of high values is no virute and has nothing to do with vocation. It is an ignorant, sometimes arrogant, attempt to override one’s nature, and it will always fail.

You never have true character until it’s forged by regret and tested in the face of opposition.

Can I still change? Palmer shares Buechner’s definition of vocation, “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” And I know that’s right–starting at my deep gladness, born of the struggle I was given as a gift to convince me, to shape me, to form this maddening ambition to face the darkness come what may and be real, once and for all.

And the velveteen rabbit’s friend taught me how to do that long ago. You have to get beat up in the service of love. And this doesn’t mean denying the particular shape of the imago dei within us, but asserting it as the only way to show a divided world how to be whole again.

…people who plant the seeds of movements make a critical decision: they decide to live ‘divided no more.’ They decide no longer to act on the outside in a way that contradicts some truth about themselves that they hold deeply on the inside. -p. 32

When we’re done being diminished by all the ‘shoulds’ we’ve accepted, we can know the true result of sin isn’t just the bad we do, but also the bad we’ve been done. And both need acknowledging and specific healing to be finished once and for all. But they can’t be done in you until you accept they both already have been finished by the one who lived fully alive and gave all he had to remove its power.

Believing I was a victim has kept me safe in the cage, but I’m done accepting the reducing of that sin–the sin I’ve done and done to me. I believe something entirely different now. I’m walking out.

This is the message I’ve been given, by Parker Palmer and many others who’ve been Spirit-led, after 14 years and much writing and pondering: neither the sin we’ve done nor the sin that’s been done diminishes anything about us. And now that I know, maybe I can stand up and say to that cage “Open,” and I’ll be free.

 

Sometimes it takes a long time to play like yourself.

– Charlie Parker

 

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Why You Can Never Fail

I need a story about failure,” I said to Sheri and the girls as we sat down to a Saturday night dinner of take-out pizza.

IMG_0032

“Surely you can help me think of something,” I added, laughing. “Should be plenty of material.” 

But whether they knew something they didn’t want to share, or couldn’t think of anything, no one had an answer. Apparently, I’d also failed to show my appropriate glee in being a miserable failure.

“I once got an F in Old Testament in college,” Sheri offered. “Or maybe it was a D. It felt like an F.”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “Old Testament was crazy hard.” 

“I once got a B in science,” Ellie added. “Mrs. Sutton’s class in fifth grade. I totally deserved it, but I was devastated.”

“Really?” I hadn’t realized. “Did you mention it and I just forgot?”

“I don’t know.” Her hand paused on her pizza. “I only ever got A’s, until that.”

We’ve lived together every day of her life, but how little I really know about her. Is this my failure to ask about her days? Or maybe to truly listen? It could be she just failed to tell me about it. But even so, maybe she believed I’d fail to offer comfort. “It’s fine,” I could hear myself saying. “A ‘B’ is still pretty good….” 

Whatever the case, I had my answer. My parenting is often so incredibly inadequate. And the fact that my daughters and wife wouldn’t say so directly may only be more proof. 

164819_494124054563_777394563_5801658_7068250_nAnd I’m not just being ungracious to myself here. If I were to open the floodgates and start sharing all the ways I fail constantly–to be who I truly am, the more selfless and giving me–wouldn’t I truly connect more?

Isn’t that what relating really means—to relate your truest stories of your inadequate self that could help someone else relate?

It looks like a giant opportunity stretching out before me, a big, bold solution to several fundamental struggles I have. I always want to accomplish a lot and have big impact, but no matter how much I get done, I end up feeling like a failure, a “dad by default,” a distracted, disorganized, disappointment of a dud. It might take me a few lifetimes to replace this bad habit with a good one, to wake every day and remember that whether I can do everything I feel called to that day or not, sharing my authentic self is the real goal. 

I’ve needed to remember this, to look beyond what I do or don’t accomplish, to the awareness of how I’m doing at noticing, being, and sharing me. 

Because here’s what I know: the big things we want to do aren’t the point. Family and friends are the real point of life. And we can’t help wanting to do more and be more than we are. But to do that, we need to start getting some better mileage out of our failures.

IMG_0616Isn’t this the vulnerability Brene Brown and others have talked so much about? We all want to do such big things and have such great impact, but why aren’t we more honest about our shortcomings? Why don’t we shed our inhibitions and share what we’re bad at, where we struggle, and even our discomfort over appearing inept?

Of course, because of judgment. We’ve been wounded and we took those voices in and let them chastise us relentlessly. And that shaming formed us, formed our self-image to a large extent.

On top of that, as Christians we hear “die to self,” and “the heart is wicked above all else,” and “put aside selfish desires.” And we can struggle for years trying to believe all the Bible memorization and church attendance and prayers and journaling should help.

And why can’t we “Just. Get. Over. It. Already?!”

Everyone else is more resilient than we are, more determined to press on, more spiritual. We’re just failures. And we’re right to be ashamed.

We take all of this in and dwell on it to no end. It’s right and good to care what others think and we never realize this entire foundation is made of sand. 

We could let it all crumble and rebuild on rock. This inner torment could be discarded and we’d be free.

We’ve hidden our feelings and true personalities from this bully God, the one who’s so disappointed in us he can hardly bear to hold on and offer us this supposed “free grace and forgiveness.”

He’s only doing it because he has to. 

We all believe this in our deepest hearts. How could we ever accept that we’re failures? Our deepest fear broadcast and spread far and wide? Come to full life on the big screen for everyone to see?

Are you kidding me?

No one needs to know the pain and suffering we’ve endured. We’re so tired of feeling like failures all the time….

IMG_0763To let that all go and embrace our inadequacy we’d have to accept our deepest fear: our shame. Sharing our stories of failure could be our greatest opportunity to connect, but to do that we’d have to accept and come to believe it’s important to be vulnerable.

And that can seem downright impossible.

I was Ellie’s age when I realized my worst accusers were inside of me. I didn’t want others to see I was afraid of failing, so I held back and tried to stay hidden. Insecurity became my foundation.

But failure isn’t what we think it is. Failure doesn’t kill you. And sharing your failure with others makes them feel better. And that makes you feel better. In fact, when you fail and share it, it can be success. Failure connects us because we’re all inadequate. And we all feel shame about it. But real connection is what we really want deep down, so we have to stop protecting ourselves and yes, “die to self.”

Give up our shields and trade them for true resilience.

We forget that if we couldn’t be embarrassed, couldn’t be shamed, couldn’t be knocked off our high horse because we’re already vulnerable down on the ground,  we wouldn’t need to self-protect.

Upholding appearances is what prevents us from feeling good and successful in our lives, not failing to accomplish the big things we have planned. But our hyper-driven, happiness-worshiping culture keeps us distracted with supposed “free,” guiltless, nutrition-less, connection-substitutes to consume today—we’re “amusing ourselves to death” in binge-watching and window-shopping. The theaters have been full and the churches empty for a long time now.

All our apps and video games and prepackaged foods full of wish-fulfillment fantasies won’t free us. The endless parade of addictive modern fripperies will only make us more inadequate.

We’ve forgotten what healthy connectedness requires. We aren’t the center of the universe. And we need to struggle if we’re to learn anything at all.

I looked at my girls eating happily and said, “Embracing failure can ironically become a new place to succeed.” I tried to explain, but I knew I’d probably fail to convey the full idea.

But it didn’t matter anymore. I could try again. Failure was all I needed to get what I really wanted.

Want to stop being afraid of feeling like a failure? Want to escape the demands of your over-scheduled, under-nourished life? Want freedom? 

Accept your inadequacy and remember who is sovereign. Your failure is not the end of the story–it’s the beginning.

And every experience of failure is a connection story waiting to be shared.

No we don’t have to be achievers or successful or hold these perfect images together. We just have to give up that substitute happiness and our addiction to the numbing, feel-good drug, face the truth, and see that we’re all vulnerable. And we’re all failures. And that’s a very good thing.

We all want to connect and escape shame. And we all have failure stories. Sharing them is how we will succeed.

Do you know someone who could use this freedom? Will you share it with them? And in the process, you’ll remind yourself: this is how we succeed, by sharing our honest stories and connecting. 

And when you do, you may find that you can never fail because every failure is another way to succeed.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Living the Art: The Make-Over Edition

This writing thing, it takes so long to learn.

Actually, it takes so long to heal and develop better habits.

Maybe that’s the nature of making art: it has to make you over first.

red flowers

Sometimes I think I’ve figured something out only to realize I haven’t captured the most important part. Sometimes I think I should be more practical and stop pretending and just amusing myself and my family right into poverty.

But here’s what I’m done with: narcissism that passes for authenticity. This pseudo-vulnerable disease I’m prone to. The tell is in the motivation. True honesty can’t be faked. The ego falls away and the humanity shines through, and you feel known and seen and helped.

I want to experience something real in opposition to the undertow of the ever-deepening mire.

white flowers

The higher purpose is in the unfakable connection. It’s fighting to hold to what’s real and learning to avoid the rest. It’s holding to the change we really need and finding the maturity to resist pandering and dismiss more simplistic stuff.

And sure, some days I can’t seem to do it and I forget to set my timer and go AWOL on the ol’ Interwebs. But more and more often, I’m succeeding because I remember that to embrace the mystery of a story is a feeling without parallel and in it, I know I become more fully alive.

But why do we treat those who slow us down to appreciate more of our lives as obstructions rather than the true angels they are? It’s a priceless favor and I’m so grateful to the artists, the poets, the musicians who hold the line against the encroaching chaos, who hold my face up to the smudgy window to see as they’ve seen for a few precious moments with my few remaining breaths fogging up the glass.

See? they ask. See what you could be?

Who can afford to waste one more day in the prison of amusement? A-musement, literally “without thought.” We think of amusement as fun, but what’s fun? Is it fun to escape what’s real? Or is real fun finally escaping into what’s real? What’s ultimately the difference between entertainment and education? Shouldn’t both be for our betterment?

pink

“Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.” – Marshall McLuhan

And yet not everything is equally bettering. I don’t want to make art that amuses because amusement steals the best and replaces it with the good-enough. It panders to provide unhealthy preoccupation and tempt with shadow missions. I know too many of those all too well.

I have no need of amusement. I’ve been called to something better.

Insecurity about this causes me great doubt. And in that compounded self-pity, I accept all the ugliness that forces me to fight still harder for the truth. To write, I must get free of blindness and narrowness to see as Jesus taught with the eyes of compassion, or I’ll only linger at the beginning of this endless journey.

The fearful writers share much in common with the ego-driven—they’re two sides of the same coin.

I know these traps too well.

books

But it matters to get to the root of your issues to improve your own core. That’s the artist who is making the art, doing the thinking, wielding the tools.

“You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.” –Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Okay, I admit it. That’s why it takes so long. That’s what I want. I’m not looking for perfection. I just want to be an engaged artist. I want the higher purpose, to be bettered so I can better. For the work to be the inevitable result that connects me to a community who’s doing that too. For the art not to stand alone but to be the effect of this greater cause.

When the artist is more patient and mature, the art will be simpler and finer as well.

If you’re blocked or worried or jealous of others, you look at that because it points to what you really want. That’s what artists know. It’s an arrow to what you need to face next.

sky

St. Lamott: “better to feel it and talk about it and walk through it than to spend a lifetime being silently poisoned.” Blocks and worries and fears and especially jealousy all reveal your dreams.

That’s a fact. And my jealousy tells me I want to be Neil Gaiman, Markus Zusak, John Green, Madeline L’Engle, Harper Lee. That’s terrifying to admit because I immediately hear laughter. Witness the egomaniac! “Who do you think you are?” I’ve heard that voice a long time and I’ve coached writers for years because I need to hear the truth and learn to follow my own advice. If only I could believe that’s not God’s voice, it’s never God’s voice asking that.

pink2Look deeper. Listen more closely. It’s an accusing voice. The Accuser. And we know the only one who can answer that devil question.

And what does he say? He says, “He’s/She’s MINE!”

As I’m in Christ and he’s in me, to be love by his power, that’s never a pride thing. It’s being humble enough not to fear being so honest. To begin truly helping others rather than merely amusing myself I must be who someone needs.

And that someone is me. I experienced this conviction just this week and had to repent of getting sidetracked yet again. Then a decision to be changed was needed:

Am I his? 

hearts

Throughout my journey I’ve seen Christs in my parents, my wife, my siblings and their wives and my kids. I’ve seen him in friends and other writers and in their characters and they’ve become my story too. Thank God for the lives I’ve known. They show me my own journey and why I want to do this work.

I was first changed by Meg Murray in A Wrinkle in Time 30 years ago.  She was Christ to me. And then so many others too, but I can only contribute if I’ll die to the selfish part that wants approval and realize, as Jennifer Dukes Lee says, I’m already pre-approved (if you struggle with being known and accepted, oh my, get this book).

Do I believe that more than in theory? And does my fear prove that functionally, at least, I really believe the opposite?

So I persevere to preserve the best words I can.

And I write to experience what’s real.

How Honest Is Too Honest?

Being real isn’t easy. It isn’t commonly practiced. It isn’t valued.

Yet some folks have the idea that it’s becoming too common and we need to be careful about being transparent. They don’t agree we should promote more honesty and openness.wreath

Make no mistake, there is a battlefield over vulnerability.

“…but once you are real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.” – Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

So what are the real folks supposed to do? Hide themselves? Restrict how honest they are for the sake of those who don’t understand?

This is a real question. Especially with the new online frontier where everything seems to be free for all and no one seems to hold back in their critiques. It isn’t safe to be your true self anymore.

swing

Jonathan Merritt at Religion News Source says, “Vulnerability has almost become a Christian virtue, and they often desire to create ‘viral’ content to get noticed and increase their platform.

Certainly, people do this, even Christians. But is it following Christ? The commission was not, “Come, follow me, and I will get you noticed and make you well-respected.”

Not that that stops many Christians from believing it.

Some will be authentic within reason. They’ll only get personal up to a point, yet talk about Jesus very openly.

Others will set a looser boundary on personal honesty, but never even mention Jesus’ name. They’ll be blasted for not taking a stronger stand for Christ. But others will love them for being “so real.”

There are many points between these 2 extremes, but Christians seem to identify more with one or the other. So who is right? How honest should we be?

Sure some make a platform of their faith. And the Christian market loves it. Yet others merely strive to live by the principles Jesus did—humility, honesty and putting others first. Is one better than the other? Both are callings. Aren’t both equally valid? We all must decide our path and let others decide theirs.

sparrow

One blogger recently shared about her experience telling a police officer about her grandfather molesting her when she was young. She says, “I called my sister, Aimee, and put her on speakerphone. We were all crying. Aimee, I said, He’s writing it down. He wrote it down. We said, This happened to us, and he listened. He WROTE IT DOWN. I cannot begin to tell you how powerful that was.

When we express our truth and someone listens to it and affirms it, we are liberated. How honest is too honest? Maybe the question is, How much truth are you willing to live?

Will the haters kill you? Do you fear the scorn of the critics more than God? Sure, there are bad people out there who want to steal and hurt and take the love, joy and peace you’ve found. Will you let them by silencing you?

It’s always easier to walk away. When something’s difficult, it will always be easier to get up and go see what there is to eat in the kitchen. While waiting for inspiration or courage, we need grace for ourselves and our ordinary fears.

But eventually, it’s clear what we have to do, isn’t it? The process of honesty is the most important part. To practice patience and to wait for all that won’t come easily, this is the work. Especially when it causes pain. It will always be easier to bury it. Everyone knows this. It’s easier not to feel it but that’s what the world does. They numb it and stuff it down.

Well, maybe being a Christ-follower means being different. Maybe we had no choice to get wounded, but we have a choice now how to respond. And maybe we have no choice but to live through what he allows, but by his grace we have a choice now and this is it.

And I, for one, will respond.

blinds

So what if some people use their stories to try to get famous? Can we do what’s not easy and use our vulnerable truth to help others?

Practicing discernment is critical. But shouldn’t we always aim for complete honesty in what we share? Not that we disregard restraint and decorum. We must wait and take enough time to heal before publishing, or we’ll face more trouble.

Unresolved pain makes us think and do many bad things. Such unexpressed and unhealed pain created this dangerous world we live in. And our pain-shattered world will flame you in their unresolved pain. The words may hurt.

But will it make you live afraid to bare your true, honest soul?

Who will listen before they speak? Who will preserve dignity and yet risk vulnerability to share their intimate selves? Who will work through the initial blindness strong emotion always causes, to get free of the impulse to spew unconsidered exposure? Common emotion, anger and anxiety, leads to oversharing, but when the truth is finally expressed, it will be seen for what it is: immortal, eternal, indestructible.

There are but a handful of critics. But there are entire nations who need your raw, unfiltered honesty.

Why shouldn’t we accept that that naked truth must be fought for to be expressed?

It’s true: the most personal stories are the most universal. As writers we must realize, our silence means someone else may not fully live.

And what if that someone is first yourself?

Here’s the truth: writing for any reason other than to share who you really are is worthless. And who you are is a worthless mess except for love. I’m only able to see because of the love I’ve been shown. Life’s pains have prepared us to bear the burden of sharing our truth.

So share it. None of us is deserving of love, so embrace the rebukes and disrespect with humility. You have everything you need; you are completely provided for. Oh, you’re not deserving. But you’re worthy. Because He has said so.

Believe it. And choose to do the harder thing.

Derision or accolades change nothing. I am who God says I am: loved.

And that’s all the honest truth I need.

Mick