Saturday, April 19, 2008

Monthly Mailbag


Hey everyone,

Thanks for your patience this past week. As you may or may not know, I went back to school this past year and I'm just finishing my first year of Grad school (I also work a 'day job' 30 hours a week). Because of these final papers, there've been a few delays on the site. My apologies for that.

By the way, when school finishes this next week, I'll be working hard over the next four months sending my writing out for publication and getting new representation. I said goodbye to my last literary agent 18 months ago. Don't worry, I always think of this site, and you readers, first. I'll be active here through the summer.

On to the mailbag...

There were a number of questions and comments concerning my column "Stop Apologizing", so I'll print the longest one here, because it seems to have resonated with others.

Dear Steve,

I understand what you are saying and there is a fine line between degrading yourself or lowering yourself to being "meek" and "longsuffering". I myself have a very difficult time at my job......how do you be a witness where they purposely use you as "entertainment" how do you be a witness where they say and do things constantly towards you. When it's management and bosses, and they purposely treat you wrong...how do you respond in a Christ like manner? They did that to Christ and he didn't apologize to them....He apologized FOR THEM.
I do feel my self esteem lowering, my confidence being smashed, I do feel empty days when I walk around with my spirit crushed....and I can't apologize for them.....I keep going to Jeremiah 17 and reading where it says, "Lord let those who persecute me be ashamed..and the rest of that scripture." How do we find a middle ground? I apologized one day to one of them because when I heard her saying something to someone else "about me" I was having a *before Christ* day and I confronted her. Later I went up to her and I apologized and she put her hand in my face and said she didn't want to hear it. SHE was the one that was in the wrong I apologized and she put her hand in my face.
ERRRRRR What do we do? I have been praying for about a year and a half now that God would move me somewhere else.....but I have been there for fourteen years....
Tina, Dayton, Ohio

Hey Tina,

I'm truly sorry about this situation. Believe me; you're not alone in trying to figure this out. How do I be a Jesus follower without giving away my self-esteem? Am I not supposed to be meek? Let me say a couple of things. (By the way, I love your willingness to do the hard thing and ask forgiveness. That must have hurt. I'm not sure you needed to do it, but your soul will be better for it, simply because it was so difficult.)

Meekness is often misunderstood. In the gospels, for example, when Jesus talks about walking the extra mile with a Roman soldier, it has nothing to do with being generous, it is about being equal. The same is true of turning the other cheek. To offer the other side of your face to the soldier would require them to hit a Jew with their open hand, a sign of equality. Jesus wasn't teaching that we take a beating, but rather passive resistance. (Think Gandhi) Strength without violence.

Most people don't realize it, but our workplaces can often be emotionally violent places. If you can't leave your job, financial constraints or whatever, than you have to create some emotional apathy. What I mean by that is you have to emotionally distance yourself from the people at work who cause you distress. I was in a similar situation, and in the end, the best thing I did was simply leave. The toll was too great. I now make a third of what I was making, but my time at work is not only healthy, but in many ways, I am recharged there for other aspects of my life, including my writing.

As to your other question, Christians are often persecuted in the West, not because of their faith, but because they confuse taking their faith seriously with taking themselves seriously. What you should strive for is the former, not the latter. When we take ourselves too seriously, or refuse to allow things such as swearing or rude comments about religion to simply roll past us, what we're in effect doing is attaching our ego to our faith, and allowing others to assign us value. Example, someone makes a joke about Christianity or you as a Christian. My advice is to simply state what you think, but do it with a smile and a laugh. Who cares what they think. Don't take it personally. Many people have been hurt by religion, have been hurt by the church, so be gentle about it. Don't apologize for your faith, but don't feel the need to always 'advocate' for God. He's big. He can answer for Himself.

You might also want to learn to ignore what others say about you. People at work know they can tell me anything, and they also know I'm the last to hear anything. We have to be conscious of who we allow to assign value to us. Ideally, we get our value from God, who loves us unconditionally. This is the first step. After that, we will allow people to speak into our life, but we must choose them carefully. Learning to ignore things you hear is the next step.

When we are dealing with our coworkers or anyone, we must address the emotional issues in ourselves and those around us before we can get to any spiritual issues. A girl who's been abused by her father does not want to hear about the kindness of God the Father. Most of the time we don't know what people are dealing with, so a smile and gentle answer and an easy laugh are always the best route. We need to learn to read below (not between) the lines.

As it is, the only way we can do this is if we are completely secure in our relationship with God. We can always tell if our relationship with God is a bit rocky when we start getting upset by the comments people make about us, especially when it comes to our faith or doctrine. (The more insecure we are about God, the more we tend to insist on the rightness of our doctrine) And sometimes our longing for those around us to be Christians is as much influenced for our desire for a peaceful homogeneity, as it is to see God work in their life.

Either way, we don't need to apologize for our faith or who we are, but we do need to laugh at ourselves. The more comfortable I am in my weaknesses, the more people around me become comfortable in their own insecurities. Forget about reputation, and learn to listen to that inner voice that will tell you when to stand up and when to let it go. My only caveat is that if you feel a drain in your self-confidence, than chances are you are not standing up for yourself.

Jesus never says love your neighbour. He says love your neighbour as yourself. If you don't like who you are, than guess what you will manifest towards others? In the end, your willingness to make yourself vulnerable will make the difference, especially if you can do it with a smile.

Hi Steve,

I am so blessed to get to read your stuff. Every time I think of canceling internet due to costs of everything rising, you write something that lifts me up and puts reality back in focus. Guess direct TV will go to chopping block. LOL thank you,
Lisa, Texas

Thanks Lisa,

Wow. That's pretty humbling. Just know that you give as much to me as anything I may contribute. (I've had Direct TV... believe me, 'tis a HUGE compliment... lol)

Steve,

First you write that we should aspire to our dreams, and forget about trying to pursue the things that are difficult. I think you said that we should go after what we're already good at. And then you tell us to do the 'hard thing.' I don't get it.
M., Seattle

I don't either. (Just kidding.) These are two different issues. You have been gifted in a certain area. If you don't know what that gifting is, than you need to figure it out. (The first step is to take the personality test on the top corner of this page, but I can give you other tools if you'd like) Some people believe they have no talent or ability whatsoever. Nonsense. Everyone does, even if our culture doesn't magnify it. (Like beauty and singing... American Idol?!) You may have the gift of mercy or hospitality, or something more 'showy' like public relations. That is what you need to pursue. Don't think you have to be a CEO if you're good at public relations or working with kids. Be what you are good at. Be what you love.

As for the hard thing, that involves our daily living. The day-to-day things in our lives that we know are good for us and those around us, and still refuse to do. Especially as it involves relationships. I referenced this in my column about Skimming, which I'll address more in the next letter.

Hi Steve,
You talked about Skimming and going for a run or exercising when you don't want to. Is there anything else YOU struggle with?
D., Thornhill, ON

So, you're saying you want me to be more open. Lol Sure, I can tell you where I Skim. I do it with people who subscribe to fundamentalist thinking, I tend to label them and dismiss them. I shouldn't. I Skim when it comes to my budget, or organizing myself for school. Sometimes I Skim when it comes to my family or friends. I spend a great deal of time 'in my head' and so I'm not always very good at proactive maintenance of relationships.

I also Skim when it comes to church. I don't like this idea of 'weekly sessions.' And I don't like the idea of 'you must go.' I think church is a good idea, in that meeting with other Christians and worshipping together are necessary, but because of my past, I can forget the importance of going, or in the very least, understate its value when I talk about it. In that sense, I Skim.
Honestly though, we're always at risk at Skimming in every area of our life. The best thing is to think about it, see where we need tend to take shortcuts, and do our best to do the hard thing. Life is messy, and we're bound to screw up, but somehow God loves us anyway. When we start to truly understand that, my friends, tomorrow becomes a great idea.

-Steve

Authour Note: Thanks, everyone, for your questions and comments and also for your kind words and notes. I've already started work on the next column. It will be up shortly.

Sneak preview...

You made at least ten promises yesterday, perhaps as many as a hundred. Did you know that? It was only a moment, but you made a promise to someone without ever opening your mouth...