Regrets, I’ve had a few
Elvis made his own cover of Frank Sinatra’s hit, “My Way.” I have always loved the Elvis cover, especially the rendition from his Live! From Hawaii Concert. The lyrics always seemed to be a sharpening tool, in that I found in it both good and bad. I think the pioneer spirit of going it alone, no matter the opposition and challenge, was the “good” part, to be emulated by people who struggle following their own heart and inner voice and have faced opposition in their lives. The other, is the side where “selfishness” and “self-centeredness” can take root and really reveal and develop a narcissism and self-absorbed personality that really makes room only for the ego and the self. If you want to see the “good” out of “doing it your way” then it needs to be for the good or more than your own personal satisfaction. It has to be for the good of others.
In the song, “My Way,” there are the following lyrics:
Regrets, I’ve had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.
I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.
In my life, I have had some regrets and those regrets are difficult to deal with at times
I like to write, and I like to talk and share. My thoughts, my words and my speaking them out can get me into hot water, be they in a social media post, a blog post, or as in the past, even some of my sermons that I have been brave enough to speak about out loud. In retrospect, my regret is that I have allowed my own ego to get the better of me. There is a price to pay for letting your own ego dominate and control your life, control your thoughts and emotions, and especially your actions and interactions with other people.
Even when I know I am right I can be totally wrong
I have found in the past, where I have been wronged by others, and I have suffered the slings and arrows of others, I have desired to be heard and to let people know they have wounded me or injured me emotionally, and it has in the past come across as a backlash response to slight and injury. I may have been wronged, but my response has in the past at times been totally inappropriate and over the top. While there have been parts of my personal make-up that have been “under developed” and “immature” emotionally, how I have responded to the actions of others have not been as they ought to have been.
Dealing with the root of fear and rejection and the perceived lack of personal safety
At the root of fear is anger. Anger will manifest in ugly outbursts and behaviors when people least expect it. When there is a fear of being rejected, and the resulting social anxiety increases the risk of sounding and expressing a sense of being angry, even when it is controlled and you don’t feel the anger yourself, you can come across as a totally angry, disagreeable, arrogant and self-absorbed person. When you have been raised in an environment that disallows you the safety of actually being yourself, and expressing what you think and what you believe, without being openly judged and criticized for those things, it makes it even more difficult to mature as an adult, even though you may be in your 50’s age wise, emotionally you may be a 9 year old cripple who has not felt safe enough to truly grow up to be an emotionally stable and free adult person.
I have been involved in public speaking and public discourse since my teen age years. I have won public speaking contests in school, and in the military. I aced homiletics and public speaking in Bible College and Seminary. I have no problem standing in front of hundreds of people and communicating what I need to pass on in a public address or discourse. I have been involved in facilitating small groups, both in a church context, as well as in a work and military context. When you are viewed and looked upon as being a leader, it is easier to “lead” than it is to “follow” in certain situations. I have seen that to be true in the work environment as well as the volunteer organization level. When I have had that leadership role, I knew I had “control” of the situation and I could manage the intended outcomes of the meeting. I often came across as being a strong leader and that sense of being strong can be a strength, but it can be a weakness, hiding insecurities, and anxieties below the surface.
I have come to see and witness my own social anxieties manifest in small group dynamics in attempting to engage with other people
Over the last few years, I have recognized my own social anxieties manifest in small group dynamics. I have felt tension rise in my body mixed in with a degree of excitement in wanting to share my thoughts or opinion on a matter being discussed. I feel myself becoming at times more emotionally invested in the discourse and as such I find myself really wanting to share what I sense, understand and comprehend about the subject at hand. I have felt my insides change as I have felt the urge to challenge what is being said, and the need to share an alternative view to what is being shared within the group. That tension can be viewed by others as an irritability or hostility by how the thought is expressed in both tone, voice and body language. I may be calm and controlled, but that may not be what is projected toward others as I express my thoughts.
At the root of that tension is the fear of rejection and the fear of being criticized and judged by others. I know this to be true for me. Anyone who would challenge what I say, I would internalize it, and perceive it as a personal rejection of me as a person, and not see it as them sharing their own opinion, and inside I would curl up and become quiet and internalize my thoughts to protect myself. All the while I would begin to seethe with anger at being judged and criticized. This social anxiety is a reality that I have dealt with and continue to deal with, as I mature more and more emotionally as a middle aged man.
An abuse of personal freedom can be costly toward others and established relationships
In our quest to be “free to share” and to be “true to ourselves” we can at times over-reach and presume we can just about do and say whatever we want in the name of “being honest.” Being honest can and often hurts and injures other people, even if that was never our intention. We can try to be honest and share, and often what we share, ends up being misunderstood and misconstrued as a personal attack or criticism or judgment by another party. That is the risk involved in our quest in wanting to be “transparent” and “honest.” None of us have the “thick skin” of an elephant. Not me and not you. All of us have areas of our personality, emotional make-up, or sense of identity, where we are vulnerable to the opinions and spoken thoughts and words of other people. We risk hurt and rejection and pain, when we engage with people. Yes, to be sure there are those people who seem oblivious to tact and decorum and what and how something should be said while we discourse about a variety of subjects, especially in a social group of people, and especially so in communal groups, like church groups.
Our sense of personal freedom to be who we want to be and to be authentic with others, does not give us the freedom to abuse others, either intentionally or not. In a Christian context, we are called to love the other person. Jesus stated in the Gospels we are to love God, and love others as we love ourselves.
In the Message Translation, Eugene Petersen translates the text in this way:
34-36 When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”
37-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” [Matthew 22:36-40, MSG]
Jesus centered his life in the Father, and his core DNA was and is love. In Luke’s Gospel, in relation to how we interact with and how we serve others, Jesus addressed our heart motivation for what we say and what we do. Jesus said:
31-34 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. [Luke 6: 31-34, MSG]
Jesus was not alone in this understanding of “love in action” and “action in love” as the apostles who were given the mandate to take the “love transforming message” to the world, did so at great personal cost, and with great passion and compassion. They found the message of love worthy of imitation to the point of their own martyrdom for the faith. Jesus modeled “loving unto death.” Paul the former persecutor of the Church, became its greatest advocate and proclaimer of this message of love, and he himself became a martyr for the faith because of it. It is the message of love that changes hearts and transforms the world.
Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthians:
1 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
2 If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
8-10 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
11 When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. [1 Corinthians 13, MSG]
The words of Jesus of Nazareth, echoed by the apostles, such as Paul, resonate throughout the centuries and the millennia to our own day that we who call ourselves after him, we so called “Christians” or the “followers of the way” are called to imitate Jesus’ ethic of love toward all humanity, and especially so, to those who consider us as their enemies. This “enemy love” is an expression of a heart that is renewed and moving in grace is that beyond human ability. Only a heart set aflame by divine love, can actually love and respect and accept another. Perhaps the most neglected of the apostolic admonitions to love others is found in the first epistle of John.
13-16 This is how we know we’re living steadily and deeply in him, and he in us: He’s given us life from his life, from his very own Spirit. Also, we’ve seen for ourselves and continue to state openly that the Father sent his Son as Savior of the world. Everyone who confesses that Jesus is God’s Son participates continuously in an intimate relationship with God. We know it so well, we’ve embraced it heart and soul, this love that comes from God. [1 John 4:13-16, MSG]
Be the change you want to see
The greatest practitioner of peace and non-violence to grace the 20th century was Mohandas Gandhi. The influence of Leo Tolstoy upon Gandhi and his thought and practice of non-violence, was based on the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth from Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount. The impact of the teaching of Jesus on Gandhi led to a peaceful revolution that brought about democracy and freedom from colonialism for 500,000,000 people of the Indian sub-continent in 1948.
The impact of this transformation in India by peaceful means and non-violence impacted the streets of the United States of America and the struggle of the black community and the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s and the pioneering work that was led by Martin Luther King. King himself taught that Jesus provided the moral authority and teaching of loving others and utilizing non-violence as a means of living one’s life, and that Gandhi provided the model or the application on how to carry out non-violent protest in order to bring about societal change and transformation.
The same principle applies in ALL of our relationships
The same principle that Jesus Christ, Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King taught, the love and respect of our fellow human beings, applies just as much so, in how we who claim to be followers of Christ ought to conduct our lives and relationships within and without the Christian community and relationships that we have with our fellow followers of Christ.
If I claim to love Jesus Christ, I then must not only listen to his words. I must act on them and practice what I profess to believe.
Jesus said in the Gospel of John:
15-17 “If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you! [John 14:15-17]
This is my challenge. This is your challenge, if you claim to be a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. Our obedience to Christ doesn’t reveal that we are religious devotees. It reveals our heart submission to him as Lord and God of our lives, and not just our allegiance, but our willingness to die to our ego and its pull and demands that pit our true desire for God with our own self interests.
I want to grow in my relationship with Jesus. I want to be changed from the inside out. I want my character to be hewn and chiseled into the character of Jesus. For that to manifest in my life, my ego self must yield and submit to the Spirit of God and my thoughts and my actions must be controlled by the Spirit, and must manifest the fruit of the Spirit as I engage with other human beings. I must demonstrate by my actions who owns my allegiance and love. If I claim to be of Christ and do not bear his fruit in my life, then I am not his disciple and he is not Lord of my life. It really is that simple.
We must intentionally walk a life of change and transformation
I must take my profession of faith and turn it into a faith of action that declares by my attitude and actions that I am the embodiment of Jesus of Nazareth. Just as the Incarnation put a “human suit” on God, and Immanuel, “God with us,” materialized and walked the dusty roads of Palestine 2000 years ago and literally became one of us and walked among us, so we must “incarnate Christ” among our fellow men and women and children. Our calling as professing Christians is to incarnate Christ in the world.
This means that we are not absorbed with the self or ego and that we live a life that honors the person we claim to be our God and our life. This means we must put away those childish like behaviors and intentionally desire and purposely act to walk out the fruit of the Spirit in all our relationships and interactions with people.
I need to follow Christ by walking in the fruit of the Spirit as Paul instructed in his letter to the Galatians:
16-18 My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?
19-21 It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.
This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.
22-23 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
23-24 Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.
25-26 Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. [Galatians 5: 16-26 MSG]
In order to manifest the Spirit of Christ in my life, I need to walk in his love and grace for others.
I need to treat others as I would expect to be treated, with respect and love and kindness. Where I have injured others, be it maliciously or without intent, I need to humble myself and seek forgiveness for my inappropriate words and conduct and attitude and do all that I can to make things right. And as per all things of this kind, in personal behavior, this kind of humility is very difficult to walk out. But with the grace of Christ within us, we are compelled by his love toward us, to walk in his love and give it away to others. This is how change and transformation begin to truly manifest in our hearts and lives, when we humble ourselves and do all we can to love and honor other people. This is how we become agents of change. It always starts with ourselves.
The world calls being an agent of change “paying it forward”
Now I need to consciously and intentionally pay it forward, to both the stranger and to those who are known to me and are close to me, from within faith communities and within family and extended family. I need to model humility and grace toward others, and as I extend it to others I will reap it back to others. As I model “paying it forward” I will see fruitfulness in my life. I will benefit from the overflow of kindness that is extended toward others. My character becomes renewed and transformed.
Age is not a qualifier for being an agent of change
We are not limited by our age or maturity. Often it is our egos that get in the way of being the kind of people we truly desire to be. Often it is those who are younger who end up living out a more wise and more humble lifestyle of goodness and kindness toward others. They can model for us what it is to be an agent of change and stand in the gap for the benefit of others.
I am left with contemplation that demands action
Having reflected upon the reality of the dynamics involved in interpersonal relationships, and the conflicts and issues of discord that can arise within them. I am left with the need to search my own heart, see my issues and see what I contribute to the cause of discord and disharmony. It is up to me to act on behalf of others, and to rectify what I may have caused to escalate, and I must attempt to make things right where I have injured another person with my words and actions. I want to receive the same courtesy and blessing in my own life, and there is a reaping and a sowing that takes place, especially in how we treat other people.
My actions demand humility, and contrition, as well as asking forgiveness wherever I have caused injury. It really is not an option, if I am going to mature and grow in my faith in Christ. I don’t want to be one of those people that is all talk and no action. If I hurt someone, I need to own up to it, and make things right. I would expect no less from another Christ follower who has hurt or injured me.
The proof is in the pudding. Now I really need to practice what I believe.
~ Samuel M. Buick