Adulting: Plays Well With Others
At Gateway Church in Austin we concluded our series called Adulting: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.
Growing up physically and intellectually do not guarantee we will grow at the same pace (if at all) emotionally and spiritually. Charting a path of growth towards becoming our true selves requires that we take an honest look in the mirror. Are you ready?
Discussion questions for your life group or family dinner are here.
This includes creating a User Manual for yourself.
Audio of the Message I Shared at Gateway South:
Notes from the Message by Ted Beasley:
What’s wrong with the world today? Where’s the love?
Around 1917, with the world engulfed in the senseless slaughter of World War I, The Times, the leading paper in England, ran a series of essays in its Sunday edition. They asked great scholars and thinkers of that age to try to offer an explanation for hatred in the world. Simply they asked, “What’s wrong with the world today?” And they published sweeping, brilliant treatises over many Sundays from well-reasoned, passionate writers. Finally, they asked GK Chesterton, one of the most renowned Christian writers of the past 150 years, “What’s wrong with the world.” He wrote:
No truer words have ever been written in a newspaper about the cause of people in the world not getting along. I am.
There’s something in all of us that thinks we’re right and the other person is wrong, that never stops to consider the point of view of the other, that wants what we want when we want it.
Chesterton says, don’t go blaming, don’t go judging the narrow-mindedness of others. The world changes when we grow up and look in the mirror.
The Problem is Us
James takes more than two words to answer the question about what’s wrong in the world, but let me read it for you, just the same.
Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it. You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way. You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way . . . So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet. – James 4:1-10 (The Message)
This message from James encapsulates some of the heart of this series we’re wrapping up today on Adulting. Many of us aren’t happy where we’re at in life as the calendar flips to 2017. Or at least, we’re hungry for more spiritually. We want a deeper encounter with God. We want to live with more joy.
Impeding us at every step is a kind of immaturity in our approach to God.
Are you ready for some of the challenging relationships in your life to turn around? Do you long for your best relationships to go deeper? Then it’s time to grow up.
The reason why we don’t get along, sometimes with the people we love the most, is that there’s an underlying spiritual immaturity. What’s at the spiritual root of it?
Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing. – Philippians 2:3-4
At the core of relational immaturity, then, is selfishness. Holding yourself at the center of the universe. Not seeing the world from others’ perspective.
The Jewish theologian, Martin Buber’s, framework on this. Buber, too, lived in a divided world. He was a university professor in Germany during the rise of Hitler and escaped the Holocaust. He wrote a book called, Ich und Du, translated, I and Thou. Maybe better would be, You and Me. It’s profound and comes from his own faith and his conviction that the problem between people is spiritual. Buber says relationship is the fundamental reality of the universe. The most healthy and mature relationship possible is I-Thou. That means, I can not only see that I am made in the very image of God, but you (Thou) are to. You have a separate and valuable existence from me. You deserve my respect. Even though we have different beliefs or backgrounds or experiences, I still need to understand you, value you, love you.
Echoing James 4 and Philippians 2, Buber says that this picture gets all messed up when we lose sight of people being separate from us. We treat them, instead, as objects for our own use. People are It’s, and the diagram moves to Ich-Es or I-It. Are you guilty of ever doing that?
Who are the It’s in your life right now? In the quiet of your heart, where only God can hear, I want you to think about two people.
First, someone who you don’t know on a deep, personal level. But they make you so frustrated. Their attitude. What they do. How they treat you or someone else.
- What assumptions have you made about them?
- How have you summarized and generalized and dismissed them?
- How would things change if you started by viewing them as someone the Father deeply loves?
Then a second person, think about a person who you love. But if you’re honest, you know you’ve been taking them for granted. You haven’t been considering what they want. You’ve heard them, but what you desire is winning out in your mind. Is there someone you love who you are using as an object to prop up something you want for yourself? You’re not really valuing them or cherishing them the way you should.
The Sacred Space Between Us
Buber says there is a divide between us and people, but the divide is bridged when there is sacred space that fills the gap. When love, which is the essence of reality, becomes the buffer or the medium through which we relate.
If we want mature spirituality, then we need to invite God and his perspective on other people more and more into this space.
Three kings who royally screwed up some of their relationships. I read a really helpful book many years ago by Gene Edwards called, A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness. If you ever aspire to be a trustworthy leader, or you’ve ever lost trust in an authority figure in your life, this is a fantastic book.
Here are some helpful tactics for growing up relationally and having deeper connection to those we love:
Tactic #1: Check Your Assumptions.
You stop treating people like an It when you first check your assumptions before jumping to conclusions or to rash action. Saul was the first king of Israel. You can start reading about him around 1 Samuel 8.
God wanted to be Israel’s king, but they kept whining so God gives them Saul. He looks the part. Scripture says he stands head and shoulders above everyone else in the kingdom. He’s lethal in battle, too. However, God notices a flaw in Saul’s heart. Rather than seeing himself as a servant to the people and the Lord, Saul starts feeling entitled. People need to serve him and God needs to be his genie in a bottle.
God calls all of us, even kings, to check our assumptions when were are hurt. An upstart leader named David comes on the scene in Israel. He slays the giant Goliath. He starts leading armies into military conquests. People start talking. Saul’s jealous, and he assumes that David wants his job.
“They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David. -1 Samuel 18:9-10
You read there in chapter 18 that one night at dinner, David is playing the harp and Saul whips a javelin at him. David escapes, and for years, Saul chases him around the countryside trying to kill him. The interesting thing is that David loved Saul. He didn’t want to take Saul’s kingship. In 1 Samuel 24, many years later, there is this amazing scene. Saul is hunting David and ends up in a cave to relieve himself. It happens to be the same cave where David was hiding from Saul. David cuts a piece of cloth off of Saul’s robe. After Saul leaves, David calls out:
This day you have seen with your own eyes how the Lord delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, “I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the Lord’s anointed.” See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand!
– 1 Samuel 24:10-11
Do you want to have spiritually mature relationships? Do you want to repair a close bond you once had? Do you want to experience relational peace? Then check your assumptions about what someone else’s intentions or actions before you let anger consume you.
Jesus says in Matthew 5:23-34 that if you think that maybe somebody has something against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.
This is incredibly hard, but it’s also incredibly mature.
Simply lead with, “I’ve been noticing the way you’ve been acting toward me. It makes me assume XYZ. Am I right about XYZ? Help me understand.” It’s amazing how many times we are wrong about someone’s motivations. Saul carried a grudge and a spear for years. Who do you need to check your assumptions with?
Tactic #2: Be Present and Listen.
Saul eventually dies in a battle, and David is crowned king. Since he is king, and he had to go through all of that misunderstanding with Saul, and since he was so close to God that he was writing all the Psalms, you’d expect him to be totally mature about relationships in his middle age, right?
David has adult kids now. Prince Absalom is his oldest. Tamar is Absalom’s little sister. There’s this really horrific story in 2 Samuel 13 about how one of David’s other sons by another woman, Amnon, Absalom’s half-brother, lures Tamar into his house and brutally rapes her. Tamar refuses to be a silent victim. She wants justice. Why is she willing to go public? Because her dad is the king, a man after God’s own heart. He commands armies. Of all the people on this earth, surely her own father will have her back, but her big brother, Absalom, is the first responder to her side. He wraps his cloak around her, and brings her to his house to care for her. Absalom and Tamar wait on David for days, weeks, and even months. The call never comes. David gives them no attention.
When King David heard all this, he was furious.
– 2 Samuel 13:21
Furious, but impotent. Maybe he’s just busy. Maybe he’s afraid of punishing Amnon. Maybe David looks at his own history and brokenness and figures, “I have no moral authority to get involved.” What a coward. He leaves poor Absalom and Tamar twisting alone in the wind.
And King David longed to go to Absalom. -2 Samuel 13:39
But he was a no show. David’s near to Absalom in proximity. He has intentions to be a loving father. But he’s just not present.
Spiritual maturity, relational maturity is about being fully present. It’s about making yourself aware of what’s happening in the heart of that person. It’s possible for you to be physically there in a relationship, but never really be emotionally there.
You have to ask good questions, and you have to repeat back to them what you hear them saying to check your understanding.
Questions that would have helped Absalom from his dad:
- What makes you happy?
- What are you worried about these days?
- How can I help you?
- What’s God up to in your life?
- If you could be anything, what would it be?
- If you could change anything about our relationship, what would it be?
Think about someone you love who you are around a lot of the time, but maybe you’re just coasting in the relationship. Maybe you’ve got so much going on in your life right now that you don’t have emotional energy to find out what’s going on in their heart. Or maybe the thought to do so really doesn’t even occur to you.
We take people for granted, we treat them like an It when we’re near them, but not present with them.
Who do you love, but you just haven’t been present for lately? Whose heart do you need to pursue? To be near, to be curious, to ask good questions, to really seek to know?
Tactic #3: Be Upfront about What You Want and What You Can Offer.
Some of us aren’t relationally mature because we won’t communicate our expectations clearly to others. We won’t own what we really need or want from them. We hint. We drop clues. We presume they SHOULD know. We’re either afraid to ask people for what we need because we fear they might reject us or we don’t want to be a burden to them or we don’t want to sound selfish.
Unstated expectation are almost never met.
This leads to disappointment, anger, rejection and loneliness. We all need to grow and be more upfront about what we need.
Absalom is now the third generation in the line of Israelite leaders. He should have learned from the mistakes of Saul and David. He should have been mature. But the rift between he and his pop is on his shoulders, too. He’s simply unwilling to go to his dad and tell him what he needs – to be reconciled. To be treated like the prince that he is. For David to give justice to him and Tamar. Look at 2 Samuel 14:
In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. – 2 Samuel 14:25
Like his father in earlier years, Absalom is charismatic. He’s a born leader. He’s handsome and highly skilled verbally. Each day for four years, Absalom would position himself at the gate to the palace, and he would stop travelers on their way to see the king. And he would ask, “Why are you here?” And very often it was an issue they wanted David to deal with. And each time, Absalom would say, “You know what, your business is a very important issue. I’m afraid my father, the king, is not going to be very helpful, but let me help.”
For four years, Absalom is the guy who becomes seen as the real power in the kingdom. Now 11 years since the crime against Tamar his sister, Absalom instigates a coup. He overthrows his father’s rule, the entire country rallies around him, and David flees for his life into the countryside.
Think about someone who’s disappointing you right now.
- A boss who has passed you up for a promotion.
- A friend who hasn’t had time for you lately.
- An overly meddlesome parent who is trying to micromanage your life.
- A spouse who seems to be taking you for granted.
- Maybe it’s even God. Maybe he seems distant these days, and some of your tangible needs are not being met by him.
It’s important for people to be accountable and own what it is that they need.
You have to be upfront and honest with people about what you have to offer and whether or not you think you can meet their expectations. Overpromising or being imprecise is dishonest and it breaks trust.
The tale of the three relationally immature kings ends in tragedy. Absalom makes himself king. The armies of Absalom are routed in the field, and Absalom is killed by David’s general, Joab. Then the news from the front reaches the waiting king. The young man Absalom is dead. And there is this moment of clarity, which for some leaders fathers and mothers and friends and brothers and sisters comes too late. The text says that David shakes all over. He tears his clothes and beats his chest and gnashes his teeth and cries out. Because reality comes crashing down on him. This little life he was entrusted with. This baby boy who came into the world with all the promise. This kid he rocked his arms and sang songs to at night. This young man who had greatness about him, who could have led his nation into a new era of peace and prosperity. All of these hopes and aspirations and memories flood over David. And he sobs. He thinks of all the ignorant choices he made. All of the words he should have said. And ironically . . . tragically . . . in this last moment he pronounces the one word that he should have been able to say all of his life, but couldn’t. The word that would have made all the difference if he had said it 11 years before. It’s the word son. Son.
“O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”
– 2 Samuel 18:33
Don’t be so immature or prideful that today, before it’s too late, before a relationship runs its course, that you aren’t willing today to go make it right. To say the one word or words that you should have said a long time ago. “Maybe I made the wrong assumption. How’s your heart? Here’s what I need from you.”