Why Don’t We Think First—For A Change

Several weeks ago I had an awful day in the middle of a horrible week in the midst of a bad month. A sniffle turned into post-nasal drip which turned into bronchitis—the third time in five months. When I inhaled, it felt like shards of glass shredding my lungs.

I canceled everything so6990615-sick-man-sleeping-on-office-table I could have some recovery time. Later, that same day, I ended up with six hours of unexpected, unscheduled, and exhausting meetings.

Now I was both sick and tired.

That same night an organization I belong to sent out its weekly email. Hidden in the email was the description of a decision that I considered a tactical blunder. So I dashed off a short email to the leaders asking them to reconsider.

Alas! I ended the email with this nasty, sarcastic dig:

Why don’t we think first? For a change.

The next morning several people emailed back, correcting me for my caustic comment.

My initial response was self-defense: I was sick. And their decision made little sense. And my day of recovery had been stolen. And besides, maybe they deserved it.

But that was just defensiveness. The truth was I had been a jerk. No one forced me to write those words.  They were unnecessary and inflammatory. And no one had a gun pointed at me when I pressed “send.” I was the one with a gun, pointing it at others.

Why didn’t I just think first? For a change.       

Well, why?

I took the question to God: Why had I acted like a jerk? The answer I got back was, “That was no act.”

Now, of course, God didn’t call me a jerk. Not exactly. But as I prayed about my behavior—and when I asked myself the “why” question—I saw myself anew.

Most days I can keep my inner-jerk hidden. The sun is shining, the bills are paid, and the dog hasn’t pooped on the carpet. Life is good. I smile sweetly at the garbage man.

I even keep my inner-jerk at bay on bad days. The internet is down, I get sick, and the dog does poop on the carpet. I mix a dash of will-power with a touch of piety, and I say, “God works out all things for the good.

The day comes when my inner-jerk explodes. An extended illness, a prolonged sleep deficiency, a disappointingly ruined day, and a minor decision that I think is silly. I snap.

The thing is, the circumstances didn’t create my inner-jerk. They only revealed it. I simply didn’t have the energy or will-power or piety to fake it anymore.

What we’d all like to think…

I’d like to think of myself as a direct and reasonably gracious guy. I’d like to think that I was just having a bad day. I’d like to think that I was disarmed by the drawn-out illness coupled with a week thrown out the window and exacerbated by tiredness.

(I’d especially like YOU to think I’m a gracious guy confronted by bad circumstances!)

But it would be a lie. I can be a jerk much easier than I like to admit. I may not be a jerk through and through (the jury is still out), but there is certainly a bit of a jerk in there.

When comforts are removed, what remains is where we are on the journey. We may not like it (I don’t!); but we need to deal with reality, not what we’d like reality to be.

As for sending that email: Why didn’t I think first? For a change.

On that revealing evening—when my inner-jerk was shown to the world—I felt bad about myself. I was late on projects. My body ached. My recovery time had been raided.

What do we do when we feel bad about ourselves? We do something to feel good about ourselves.

We react. Now, each of us reacts in different ways. Some of us are irritable; some anxious; some scared. We say something harsh; we sulk; we throw a pity party. We visit the bar or a porn site.

We tend to look for solutions in the world; but it is only God who can fill the void.

Someone else once had a really bad day

Jesus had the worst day a human has ever experienced. He was betrayed by a friend and abandoned by others; he was the victim of a kangaroo court and unjustly beaten. Then he was tacked to a tree like a bug on a board, displayed naked for the world to see. Finally, all the sins of the world were thrust on his shoulders.

When every worldly comfort was taken from Jesus—when his true inner self was revealed—what did Jesus do to snap? His visceral, instinctive reaction was to love us more. He said, “Father forgive them, they have no idea what they are doing.

The true inner Jesus was revealed for all the world to see. Jesus literally bled love.

And here is what we most need on our worst days. The only healing that will ever silence the inner-jerk in all of us is this: we need to see him loving us in our very worst moments. We need to hear him saying, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

When we are at our weakest, we look for something to sooth that ache of feeling bad about ourselves. The only cure that will really satisfy our throbbing pain is the love of someone who sees us to the bottom and loves us to the top.

Next time I have a bad day in the middle of a painful week in the midst of an awful month—and then someone does something stupid—I hope to remember his love.

Hopefully I’ll think about that first. For a change.

Sam

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What do YOU think?

43 thoughts on “Why Don’t We Think First—For A Change

  1. Hey Sam, I can SO relate to this. Sometimes when the pressure is on, I don’t really like what is revealed in me. I’m reminded of the Eph 4:26 – trick is to feel these emotions of frustration and emptiness (vs denying or suppressing them), but exercise the choice not too sin. I just realise more and more how much I need grace!

    • Hi Sonja,

      I completely agree with your ending summary of what we need: I just realise more and more how much I need grace!

      That is an excellent interpretation of the Romans passage: “God works out all things for the good.” He even brings good out of our sin, when we let it drive us to him, to see our in adequacy such that we really need him all things. Our sin–when we respond aright–can lead us to deeper intimacy with Christ.

  2. Thanks Sam, appreciate your honesty. I don’t like it when my inner jerk pops up too.
    blessings, Elizabeth

    • Yeah, I hate it when it happens. It reminds me of what really lurks beneath the surface, waiting to torpedo our false self-esteem.

      Then Christ comes along and gives us a true self-esteem, when he loves us at our worst.

      Thanks

  3. Sam, Just a curiosity question. So how did the “tactical blunder” pan out? Did they change direction to a wiser path even though some thought you responded caustically? The point is, there are 2 stories going on here. 1. You had enough “give a rip” for this organization to share a heart felt need to take a different path…and 2. OK, your presenting this came out a little strong/offensive to some. I see this as a very common event; I’m also on a board…and yes very often, too often I’m thinking “hey guys, wake up, look down the road, let’s think first”….
    Great post BTW, thanks.

    • Hi John,

      Thanks for your comments. My answer to your question is … “It’s complicated.” On one hand, I still think my suggestion (to reconsider the decision) is right. On the other hand, I also know that I’m wrong many times each day!

      A friend of mine wrote a book called Holding on Loosely (http://www.holdingonloosely.com/). Part of the message of that book is to hold “loosely” to our own ideas, positions, observations, etc.

      My closing, caustic comment revealed I wasn’t holding on loosely. Alas. It is good for us to be direct about our own positions; but we also have to remember that God gave us each other so that we would NEED each other. And my idea or plan needs to be complimented (and often trumped) by the ideas of others.

      I think God is much more pleased with my recognition of my own sin that he would be if the organization did all my suggestions…but my heart didn’t change.

  4. I need this daily reminder. I remember once, when the kids were younger, going to a B&B to be by myself for a weekend. On the second day I told myself, “Now, this is the real me–peaceful, calm, loving. If it weren’t for all those people back at home!” God reminded me that the “real me” was who I was with “all those people back home.”

    2 Corinthians 3:4 and Galatians 2:20 are key verses for me. When I remember that in myself, I am NOT enough, then Christ can be more than enough for me. In myself I do not have the resources, the wisdom, the character or the strength to do my life well. I must remember that Christ is my life, my competency, my sufficiency, my all.

    • Great story, Deb. how true. I too often find myself thinking that this in control, peaceful, easy-going person is me… But he mostly shows up when things are in control, peaceful, and going easy. Dang it…. I’m so glad you shared this… I don’t want to live in that fake place.

      Thanks, Mark

  5. Sam,
    Thanks as always for the post. I am especially pleased that you used the example of Jesus on the cross, quoted His prayer for US, and went on to highlight that this revealed His true inner self. I think that you could turn this posting into an entire series of postings because I believe that you want to help us with the true “Beliefs of Our Heart” which is so much more than just helping us learn to manage our inner jerk. Perhaps our inner jerk serves a purpose to the extent that it reveals some beliefs of our heart, bringing them to God’s light where we can take them to God. A few of the topics I think that you could address from a “Beliefs of the Heart” perspective are:
    + what do we really believe or think of other people?
    + what do we believe we know about situations? Do we see the complete picture or just believe we know everything or at least know enough to judge the situation?
    + what impact do our words and other actions have on the “Beliefs of Others Hearts”?

    Thanks and God bless,
    B(r)other Roger

    • Roger: I am laughing loudly.

      Everyone else: Roger’s closing line, “B(r)other Roger” references an email I once sent him. I ended it saying, “You are a great bother.” I meant “brother.” That email was not an example of my inner-jerk; rather it was an example of my inner-fool, a twin brother to my inner-jerk.

      Back to Roger, thanks for those great suggestions on Beliefs of the Heart. I’m going to take you up on those suggestions.

  6. Thanks, Sam – especially for reproducing your dialogue with God. “That was no act!” How different the Living God is from the Great Affirmation Therapist in the Sky we often invent to direct our prayers to. Like the idols of the Old Testament, that “god” cannot save, and the affirmation it gives is so often directed to our old man, fighting desperately to survive. Instead, our True and truly loving God lances the boil. Ouch!
    I am trying – and mostly failing – to see the (ever-increasing number of?) “jerks” in my life as the friends of my soul, who awaken in me my own, all-too-real inner jerk I’d rather forget about. I’m not at the point of waving “hi!” goofily at the guy who cuts me off on the freeway, but thank God I’m not making those other gestures anymore, either! 🙂

    • Hi Fr. Michael,

      I like your approach of how we bring idols into our lives, and pray to those; even when they can’t save. And I love your honesty (the ever-increasing number of”jerks” in my life…). You know; honesty can really be healthy, though painful for a bit.

      I don’t think I can wave goofily either!

    • I first read your comment to be, “Sam, that was convincing”–as if I had finally convinced you that I’m a big jerk. But then I realized we met last weekend.

      So you really didn’t need anymore convincing!

  7. Sigh,

    I don’t really like being reminded that I am a jerk, but alas, I can’t hide it from myself for long. These are good reflections,

    David

  8. What strikes me most about this is God’s sense of humor in the words he chose. It’s also evidence of the depth of your relationship with him that he knows that YOU know he’s not condemning, just enlightening.

    I hope you laughed. Or at least smiled ruefully.

    • Hi Cynthia,

      I really laughed uproariously. It was so disarming. I think I needed the disarming laughter to empower me to look deeper. You know … the first step toward healing is admitting the disease: jerkitis.

      Sam

  9. Sam, I feel like you were telling my story. How I long to die to the old (jerk) man. Just when I think that I have finally started getting somewhere and some spiritual maturity in my life and I’m rock’n out to some worship music in the car on my way to work and singing praises, someone will cut me off on the freeway and in a nanosecond this monster comes out of me with venomous words spewing out of my mouth. As soon as that happens, and I can hear the worship music still playing, I realize how so weak I still am. I then find myself humbled and have to say, “Father forgive ME, I have no idea what I am doing.”
    I continue to pray that not only will I think first, but that my instinctive reaction will be love and forgiveness.
    Thanks for your thoughts Sam,
    Pete

    • Hi Pete,

      I have a theory about why God doesn’t just snap his fingers and kill that inner-jerk in all of us. I believe God–for unfathomable reasons–longs for a relationship with us.

      If he just snapped his fingers, he would be like a magician on a stage. We’d get the “magical healing” and not need him.

      But, if our healing comes from simply being in a relationship with him, we’ll keep coming back to him, time and again. It is the relationship with him, knowing his love, that heals us.

      Thanks

  10. Thanks for this, Sam. I feel like I’ve just uncovered a beast hiding under the terrain of my own life, and it has given me a glimpse at how the crazy circumstances of the last year could really be an opportunity for healing. It’s so hard to see in the moment how those situations that just hurt and hurt and we react to over and over in the same unhealthy ways are trying to help us move forward. Bla, but a good bla. 😉

    • Hi Laura,

      A friend of mine loves to quote Soren Kierkegaard: life can only be understood backward but it must be lived forward.

      I believe that someday you will look back on this year, and you’ll say it was the best thing for you. But when we are in the middle of it, we wonder if anything good can come out of it.

      God is strangling the “beast” (I love your choice of words).

      Thanks

  11. Sam, I really appreciate your honesty and transparency. I don’t always even want to think about my inner “self”. Your words have challenged me. If I’m to be honest, there is a some “inner jerk” in me, too. But it can be really hard to see clearly until I actually get squeezed. I need to learn to be attentive at those moments.

    Thanks for sharing your heart!

    From one recovering jerk to another, 😉
    Mark

  12. Sam,

    As always, thank you for your being transparent with those who follow this blog. To get to know one’s truest self, good and bad, gives us options in how we can choose to behave. It is easier said than done.

    I met with a man yesterday, in fact, to talk about your recent blog about asking questions, (and here’s where I go south) and actually listen to their response. He mentioned a quote that is used by his company in staff sales meetings, quoting John C. Maxwell, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

    Blessings,

    • Hi Timm,

      I’m not sure that you’re going south–after all, you actually remembered what he said. That’s the hardest. First we ask (hard), then we listen (even harder), then we remember (sometimes it feels impossible). So, congratulations.

      I had heard that quote before but–!!!–I had forgotten it. It’s good.

      Thanks

    • Timm,

      Alas, your quote from a sales staff meeting reminded me of a bad sales staff meeting joke. The sales manager says to the staff:

      “The key to success in sales is sincerity.”

      “Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

      Ah, the benefits of having been in corporate America.

      (Was I just tempted by my inner-jerk or by my inner-fool??)

      • That thought entered my mind as well. Fortunately, the company that used the Maxwell quote is in the bio-med field…which provided me with a drug called Neulasta. Neulasta restores white blood cells to chemotherapy patients who have next to none, with an already compromised immune system. My point being that they (at least the rep I know) are genuinely interested in the success of their product for cancer patients, as well as the bottom line.

        On a personal level, that quote tells me that if I don’t care about others, I mean really care, then I am no more than a clanging symbol and should keep my mouth shut.

        I didn’t intend to apply this to your circumstance, per se, but thought it was relevant in regard to “thinking first.” I need to examine my motives in regard to how I treat others.

        Lastly, I forgot to mention that I hope you are feeling better and can get some rest. I also hope your commrades will cut you some slack. From experience, it is hard to be benevolent towards others when we are feeling run down and aren’t playing our “A-game.” Most of us have found ourselves in this position at one time or another.

  13. Sam. One of your best. Thanks for showing your humanity in a way that makes me all the more thankful for forgiveness when my real me shows, and for loving even more that Jesus who bled love. Thank you.

    • Hi Robin,

      “Praise from the praiseworthy is praise indeed” (Farimir, from Lord of the Rings).

      I love your line, “the real me.” May we all become more aware (and more in touch) with the real me. Even the ogre within!

  14. Sam, this reminds me of listening to Tony Campolo once – he talked about how he tried being a pastor but he discovered he was just not cut out for it. He doesn’t say it as bluntly as you do, but the point he made is that he was essentially too much of a “jerk” at times. He then related a time when an older lady came up to him after the Sunday service and said she didn’t like the music they chose. His response was, “That’s OK, lady, we didn’t pick it for you!”

    Great post, thanks for putting it together.

    • I love it, “we didn’t pick it for you.”

      I think there is a difference between being a jerk (me) and being a direct, bubble buster (Tony). The truth is, we Christians are simply too nice too often (not me, of course, I’m the opposite). But really, let’s be real. Let’s call a spade a spade and a heart a heart.

      Thanks.

  15. I love the fact that the thing you hated in others (“why don’t we think first for a change”) was the thing you found in yourself. I’ve heard that there’s a principle in that, and I think I believe it.

    Last Sunday I was listening to the sermon and, as is pretty much my constant habit, I was responding to it with wishes that this loved one or that could hear this point or that—because it was EXACTLY what they needed to hear. Then, as I occasionally do, I tried to amend by turning those wishes into prayers—that this loved one or that would hear this point or that because it was exactly what they needed to hear. This time, though, my constant habit and my occasional “amends” were met with something that had never happened.

    A weird suggestion came to my mind: If I refrain from applying these correctives and insights to others and concentrate my energies on listening on my own behalf, searching diligently for applicability to myself and then consistently acting to appropriate what I see, then it might somehow make a big difference for loved ones. No promises on results, just some hint at what may be the real economics of removing the beam from my own eye.

    So I tried it.

    No immediate breakthroughs to report on my loved ones—but there sure was a significant word for me in that sermon! And to think I was going to miss it…

    • Hi Martha,

      Great insight. I do the same thing, “If only so-and-so could hear this message.” Yikes. I’m often that so-and-so.

      By the way, I LOVED your comment on the last blog, “I’m so vain.” It was perfect. I kept trying to think of a smart come-back; but nothing could come close to your comment.

      It was perfect.

      Sam

  16. Sam,
    You raise four excellent points. First, we are vulnerable to attack and stumbling when we are already stretched thin by illness, sleep deprivation, hunger, deadlines, grief, or other forms of stress. There is a reason Satan chose to tempt Jesus after forty days’ fasting, then “waited for a more opportune time” to attack again. Second, the stress points often crack through our carefully constructed facade to reveal what’s within, not infrequently by bringing our own words back to haunt us. Students are especially conducive to this form of self-correction. Third, we can either become defensive, focusing on the occasion for stumbling as an excuse, or we can recognize the event as a warning sign or reality check. Fourth, we can embrace the opportunity to run back to Jesus, recalling what happened when He was broken for us, recalling what spilled out of His heart, and recalling that He wants to reproduce Himself in us.
    Jesus is a gentleman–the shy God as Philip Yancey puts it–and will not force his way in, but He is always willing to accept an invitation. The larger the crack in my facade, the easier his entry.
    By the way, God is faithful to complete His work of making you a gracious guy.

  17. Awesome post, Sam. Didn’t read through all the comments so someone may have mentioned it, but Jack Hayford wrote a little book (published in a size like THE PRAYER OF JABEZ) titled HOW TO LIVE THROUGH A BAD DAY, about how Jesus responded on that REALLY BAD day!