It is a difficult task to see yourself for who you really are. Self-assessment is not easy, and I would say it is especially more difficult for men. We always want to see, and quite easily do see more often than not, the best in ourselves. We always want to think we are right, and even in our own moments of self-deprecation we think we are humble. We are capable of simultaneously admitting we have faults and seeing the faults of others who offend us as far more egregious. It is a rare man indeed who can see himself for who he really is.
When couples are angry at each other, it is far easier for them to see the changes the other person needs to make in order to "fix" the situation. In one breath admitting they may be at fault for some part of the division that exists, each is internally insisting that their position is due to the actions of the other person, and so it is the other person who must give way, change, and make amends, in order to make things better.
It's not just in close relationships where men have this trouble either. I have seen men walking around who should be embarrassed by the way they have presented themselves in public, but the problem is, they do not see a problem with it. Whether it is the way they dress, the way they talk with others, or their own behaviors, they do not see a need for change because they cannot see themselves for who they really are. In fact, "Reality TV" has built up an entertainment industry around this fact.
If we are going to be genuine and truthful with ourselves, we need to admit we need someone else for help in assessing where we are in life. This is where that friend, unconditional, becomes of great value. If you have a real friend, try stepping into their life for a few minutes to ask them to give you a reality check of the type of person you really are. Remember, this should be a friendship without condition, and one where your friend will keep your best interest at heart while still being completely honest with you even when they know it is going to hurt.
Have you ever seen the making of a sword? The process is quite brutal at times. The process is one of continuous heating and folding of metal that is beaten by weighted hammers against an anvil. Over and over again this process goes. The blade slowly takes shape from a block of iron into a length of metal that is then put to a grinder, and slowly, over time the process becomes more and more delicate as the final blade takes form. In the end, a lethal instrument ready for battle is the result.
This is what the Bible means when it says in Proverbs 27:17 "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." That is what a real friend will do for you. When iron sharpens iron there is friction, there is heat, and sparks fly while there is a whittling away of rough bumps so that a razor's edge may be attained and the blade that results will be far more useful and effective in the end. A friend unconditional will not tell you what you want to hear, but they will tell you what you need to hear while still accepting you for who you are right now. In the end, when really good friends do this for each other on a consistent basis, they are both changed into someone far more effective and useful.
Working at a job site, I often need to get into an attic space via a storage room. This almost always requires me to use a stepladder, and then transition from the ladder laterally to the attic space. I've done it before. In fact, I've done it lots of times on lots of job sites. On a day earlier this week though, something went wrong. During the transition from the ladder to the attic space, I felt as if the earth had been jerked out from underneath me, and I fell. It wasn't a slow-motion event, or one where I knew just before I fell what was about to happen. One second I was standing firm, the next I was in open air falling. It all happened faster than the blink of an eye.
Looking back, it must have been comical to watch. I felt like Wile-E-Coyote after he had chased Road Runner just a little to far and now found himself flapping like a bird. When I fell, I immediately reaching out for anything to catch myself, but before I could even worry about it, I had hit the ground. I fell 8 feet in total, and a fall from 6 feet can be deadly or cause serious injury. The person I was with was quite worried and kept asking me if I was alright. I got up, checked myself over, noted some scrapes that would definitely turn to bruises, but generally felt fine.
Maybe it was the adrenaline flowing, but I was able to get back on the ladder, get into the attic space, and walk the rest of the job site to complete the survey. When I got back to my car about 90 minutes after my fall, I had a call come in that had gone to voice mail. It was someone calling just to touch base with me, and to let me know they had been praying for me.
I'm not going to go super-spiritual and say that they were praying for me at the exact moment I fell, but I have no doubt it was God's protection that kept this family man out of the hospital or worse. Truth is, getting that call simply reinforced my faith in in the power of prayer, and it also reminded me of one very important lesson regarding prayer for other people.
When God lays someone on your heart to pray for them, you may think you know them well enough to know where they are, what they are doing, and how things are in their life. However, that may not always be the case. In fact, unless the person is there with you when you pray, you have no idea what they might be facing in just that moment. At that moment when you pray, they may have just received some very bad news you may or may not ever hear about, or they may be about to come into harms way and never see it coming.
We all need others who care enough to pray for us. How often has someone drifted into your mind and you thought to pray for them? You simply do not know what someone else might be facing at that moment, or what they will be facing later that day. Take a moment to think of who might be praying for you, and then take another moment to pray.
It's tough to be a man. Not that women have it easier than men, but that the natural tendencies of men tend to bring out contradictions between intentions and results. For example: a wife comes to her husband in tears about how someone at the office has been treating her, and the husband, wanting to come to the rescue of his wife, will instinctively want to give her a list of ways to fight back, or ways she should be acting in response to what is happening. The result of all this helpfulness is either the wife will react defensively in which case an argument may ensue, or the wife may just "give up" emotionally with the feeling that her husband is "out of touch" with her. For his part, the man is confused and is usually left wondering what went wrong.
Whether it is with a spouse or with children, men want to be the hero who comes to the rescue, but often ends up the villain perpetuating and reinforcing whatever problem was brought to his attention to begin with. He may even become part of the problem, even though this was most assuredly never his intention. What really is going on? How can a man break the cycle?
I am well versed with these questions because I am well versed in being a man of the male variety in my own home. Whether it is with my own wife or one of my two daughters, I have found myself frustrated by being caught between the desire to be a real help to my family, and sorely failing. When they are feeling down, it seems I cannot find the right words to cheer them up. When I try to shake them up, they look at me as though I were from another planet with no connection to them whatsoever.
Though I have heard the words and read many articles over this, it has taken many years of marriage and countless interactions to finally sink in: before you can really help anyone, they need to know you understand.
It's not that you agree with them, but that in some way, you come around to their perspective and begin to see the place from where their own emotions are being developed. You begin to see why they are frustrated, and see in a way that you understand. You being to see why they feel the way they feel, why they say the things they say, and why they do the things they do. You somehow get to this point, and then communicate to them that you understand. "I get it" is the message you want to convey.
From there, you now have the opportunity to talk with them instead of talking at them. Now you have the possibility of coming along side them to be an encouragement to offer hope, rather than an outsider who throws comments and advice at them to do this or that. When you truly understand someone, and can communicate that understanding to them, you are perceived as someone who is working along side them, and they will see you as someone who is lending your strength to theirs to move forward. In short, when you understand first, then you can offer hope.
Being able to communicate you understand is not easy. It the difference between yelling at someone and trying to direct them out of harms way, and actually coming alongside them physically, wrapping their arm over your shoulder, and lifting them up as you help them limp along out of harms way. Understanding, at it's root, is compassion; co-suffering with someone else, and leading them to a better place. Understanding the value of understanding is one thing, and putting it into practice difficult. However, when you practice understanding with regularity, you will find the relationships you have now will become much deeper and stronger than you thought they could be.
Last night we had family game night and played the game of LIFE. While not going into all the details of the game itself, there are at least two points in the game where a fork in the road appears. Go one way, and one thing will happen. Go another way, and another thing will happen. What will also happen is that other possibilities of going down one path will become possible, while simultaneously denying the chance that the opportunities of the other path will ever happen. It is a choice. During the game, we can see what will happen and each player gets to choose which scenario they want to play out, however, life is not always so clear.
I have been told, and read in various books by some pretty great leaders, that a man is influenced by the people he meets and the books he reads. What never occurs to some is that the people we ultimately meet, and the books we finally read, are choices that are up to us to make.
Being one of two parents raising two daughters is not easy. Even with the great strength of my wife, together we sometimes feel we are falling short in some areas. We want to raise our daughters to be able to think for themselves, but to do so with the values my wife and I share so that their choices will reflect those values. To a large extent, we exercise great control over their environment, but have given them great latitude to explore, learn, and experience life within those boundaries. The day will quickly come though when they will slip beyond those boundaries into the greater untamed environment of the world we live in, and I think to myself, "How will I prepare them for that day?"
You see, a choice is a fork in the road. It represents a decision to be made, whether to go this way or that. Some choices are obvious when compared to a predetermined set of morals, values, or standards. Other choices are more difficult, and cause us to see and even explore the blur of grey that separates what was a black and white decision before. I want my daughters to understand the choices they make are important, because with each choice a pattern is being forged in their minds. It is a pattern that seeks to be revealed, and eventually one day will tell them who they are.
While certainly, on a purely objective level, anyone is capable of doing anything, there remains that pattern of choices behind us that lays the outline of the choices to be made before us. That pattern can tell us whether or not we are the type of person who would ever do such and such a thing. Most people will immediately recognize that at any moment the pattern can be broken and a different path chosen, but such words are of no comfort to a life lived, a rutted path carved deep, and a way of learning that dictates how things are supposed to be done.
I want to make sure my daughters understand all this. I want them to know that a choice to tell a lie today will make it easier to tell a lie tomorrow, and how a lie many years from now can cause them great harm. I want them to know that the day they slip the boundaries of the protected environment of home, they will come to many different forks in the road. While they will grow to crave and greatly desire the chance to make those choices and decisions in their own lives, what I want them to understand most is that each of those choices will belong to them not so much as a freedom, but as a responsibility. It is a responsibility to bear the consequences and outcomes of those choices personally, to understand that the choices made can also have a great impact on others, and to either enjoy the benefits of good choices or suffer under the weight of bad ones.
Our house has recently become a way station for lizards. You know, the small Anole type lizards you see scurrying around outside? Well now we have them in our house. What is more, these little green travelers are here by invitation. You see, my daughter loves catching them, but keeping them healthy and alive can be challenging. In the past, we have allowed her to catch them and keep them overnight in her little lizard habitat, but in the morning she would have to release them. I could always tell it was a little bitter-sweet for her to let them go, but it was best.
Watching her let a lizard go one night, I asked myself how I could make this bitter-sweet moment into something more. That night I sat and talked with my daughter about lizards, and just started asking questions. As she talked, it became evident that what she knew about lizards was very little, but that she wanted to know more was also evident. So, I went to my office in the house and sat at my computer. Reflecting back on my conversation I drew up a list of questions, or things we would like to know about lizards, and put them with blanks next to the questions. In effect, we came up with a "Catch & Release Report" that she could now perform whenever she caught a lizard.
With the first catch, we went through the process of measuring its length, measuring it on a gram scale, taking pictures of it, noting the time of day and outside temperature, and other factual data. There was also a couple of places just for observation and even a page where there was a blank outline of a lizard so she could color and put in details about the lizard she noted on her own.
My daughter is suddenly very excited about lizards. Before, she caught them because they were a novelty, and now that she is asking questions, her mind has opened up and she is seeing lizards in ways she had never seen them before. She is able to make comparisons in size, color, temperament, and physical details. She is learning. Why? Because she is asking.
This may not sound like such a big deal, but it is an important lesson for everyone in all walks of life, and in the Christian life as well. There is no end of learning until you stop asking questions. If you want to learn how to improve your relationship with your spouse, stop having all the answers and start asking questions. If you want to learn how to improve communication between you and a coworker or your own child, start by asking questions. It is such a small, little word, but has so much power when applied.
When you pray, stop for a moment and ask yourself: am I praying for what I want because I think I have the answers to my own problems? What if you stopped having the answers? What if you simply opened your heart and prayed along the lines of asking God for His answers to your problems? How would that change how you relate to God? How would that affect the way you live your life? Ask.