A couple years 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—for the third time in five months. When I inhaled, it felt like shards of glass shredding my lungs.
I canceled everything so I could have some recovery time. But, 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 by shooting off a nasty, sarcastic barb:
“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. By one of those leaders. And besides, in their haste they had failed to consider a crucial element.
But that was just defensiveness. The truth was I had been a jerk. No one forced me to pen those final words. They were unnecessary and inflammatory. And no one had a gun pointed at me when I hit “send.” The gun was in my hand, pointed at others.
Our romantic 30th anniversary trip to Italy began the same week Dan Brown published his latest book, Inferno (Italian for Hell). I think it was prophetic.
Carla and I have very different ideas of vacation. She likes cultural sites. I like scuba diving. She likes exploring museums. I like exploring shipwrecks. We are very different.
Our differences make it difficult to find a good place for anniversary getaways. We went nowhere for our 15th, 20th, and 25th anniversaries, except out for dinner. In the past we’ve had several family scuba vacations, so I agreed to a trip to Italy for our 30th.
On our first day in Italy we toured the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. On the second day we visited the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and the Pantheon. After two days, I had walked 33,134 steps through museums and cultural sites, and I had seen approximately 4,741 masterpieces.
My flat feet ached. My fat brain overflowed. I was irritated and I didn’t hide it. I kept thinking, “I can’t take another twelve days of this!” Maybe I sulked. I was tiresome enough that Carla was thinking, “I can’t take another twelve days of him!”
The countless masterpieces were driving me nuts, and my sulkiness (I’m ashamed to admit) was driving Carla nuts.
A few years ago a good friend of mine listened to a set of my sermons. He offered me constructive criticism. He liked what I said, but he had one bit of advice:
“Don’t use so many personal stories about your own weaknesses.”
He believed that the best spiritual leadership comes through modeling a spiritual life. He thought sharing personal weaknesses undermines the effectiveness of a spiritual leader.
I disagree. I think sharing personal weaknesses strengthens the effectiveness of a spiritual leader. But it’s complicated.
The vulnerability extreme
My friend reminded me of a time (years ago) he and I went to hear a speaker. The speaker attracted crowds because of his “vulnerable” speaking. He was “authentic.”
And the sermon was vulnerable. It was a virtual vomit of vulnerability. But the speaker mostly just vented. He flaunted his feelings, he wept over his wounds, and he wailed over his wretchedness. It was emotional upchuck. (Though authentic.)
But his message wasn’t redeeming. He didn’t offer healing. He helped people share problems but didn’t address then. He helped others admit their issues but he didn’t help solve them. The resulting culture was, “The world’s a mess. I’m a mess. Deal with it.”
My friend and I witnessed this firsthand. It was a revolting rant with no redemption.
Christ claimed that he came to set prisoners free, and we believe that we are indeed free. And yet, we live so much of our lives as though we are still captives. When difficulties or temptations arise—as they so often do—we feel trapped or confused, and frustrated.
Yesterday, God spoke to me of hope and joy in the middle of trials. This is what he said.
Everyone we know is looking for glory, significance and meaning. We are not just casually looking but desperately striving. We rarely admit it, and we seldom see it in ourselves. But we see others ruthlessly pursuing careers, or relentlessly struggling to be the best parents, or hungrily pulling out all the stops in their ministry. We are looking for glory. But whatever glory we find never lasts. And we’re off on the eternal treadmill, racing for more.
How can we get a glory, significance and splendor that endures?