Friday, July 31, 2015

Fighting the Politician Within

I was hanging out with some friends last night, one of whom was watching “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” (side note: I love Jon Stewart and it sucks that he won’t be hosting anymore) and it was the episode right after Donald Trump’s comments about how he does not consider John McCain to be a war hero.

True to form, Jon Stewart was ripping the Donald a new one for opening his mouth and saying horrible things. Stewart observed how this seems to be a trend with Donald Trump, always running his mouth and attacking people. Now I don’t really follow politics that much, but recently I’ve heard a lot of people remark that because of his candor and lack of verbal filter, Donald Trump does not seem to have much regard for what he says or does and therefore defies what it traditionally looks like to be a politician.

Most politicians have a very well thought out narrative crafted by a whole team of people specifically paid to help make sure that particular politician always has their best on display and never creates controversy or looks like an idiot. Since no human is perfect, no politician is ever truly without their controversies or dumb things they’ve said or done, but one could say that in most cases their biggest objective (especially when campaigning) is to paint the best possible picture of themselves.  

Whether they would admit it or not, for many politicians this need to display a flawless appearance will often take precedence above the very issues they are campaigning for. Regardless of your political stance (because that’s not the point of this at all) we can all admit that politics & politicians will forever be flawed no matter what they try to present about themselves or how much they attack their opponents. This is simply because human beings are flawed, its just the way it goes. 

Recently, someone I’m close to referred to me as a “politician.” The comment was made in jest, but it got me thinking nonetheless. If I’m shining a light on the deepest places of my heart and being honest with myself and others, there is absolutely a politician that lives within me. 

For as long as I can remember I have always been overly aware of what others are thinking about me and how the things I say and do are being perceived by them. My whole life I have been in a constant struggle between my desire to present the absolute best version of myself and the reality of my deeply flawed, sinful nature. It’s like I’m constantly assessing every situation I’m in to make sure that I did the absolute best job I could of presenting the best version of myself while desperately hoping that the other person thinks I’m awesome too. That makes it really hard to make mistakes or have an imperfect moment because when my flaws show up, I can't stop being afraid that I destroyed the “stunning perception” I think they have of me in the first place. It’s all quite confusing.

Even as I type this I find myself constantly going back over what I’ve written to make sure I am communicating at my absolute best and being clear about what I want to present while thinking about how you might be perceiving it. 

Part of this is healthy, it’s not a bad thing to be self aware or consider how others might perceive what you are saying or doing. But what I’m referencing within myself is the dark side of this that focuses so much on my ego and what others think of me that I lose focus of everything and everyone else.

It feels like so much work to tap into the honest, real, vulnerable, raw side of myself sometimes. I know that deep within I have a genuine desire to be in intimacy with God and have great, connected relationships with others, but if feels like the politician within me won’t let that happen.

The politician within is all about being in control. He is all about controlling the message that goes out to others whether its with what I say or what I do. The politician within has a deep fear that if any part of me ever comes off as flawed or vulnerable that I will be destroyed and lose all my (perceived) power & influence. (admittedly this is a deeply selfish thought)

A perfect example of this occurred this past week. The non-profit organization i work for, Current, was featured in the local paper (The Canton Repository) on 2 separate occasions in 1 week. Real, flawed, human, genuine Corey was just simply thankful for and humbled by these articles. He was just excited that the story of so many amazing people who make this city a better place was allowed to be shared with others. Corey secure in Christ wasn’t even worried about getting any recognition and didn’t pay that much attention to it because he knows where his foundation lies in Christ.

But the politician within instantly started feeling the pressure to live up to the public persona that was presented. God forbid people know that this past week I was waking up most days feeling emotional turmoil, overwhelmed, stressed out, afraid, constantly worried. God forbid people know that I’m not superman and that I make tons of mistakes in my relationships. God forbid people know that I sometimes feel very lonely, or angry, or discouraged, or arrogant, or whatever.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that as I’ve grown in emotional maturity and have tried to gain an understanding of what healthy relationships look like that I firmly believe there are appropriate & safe places to share certain things. I believe their are healthy levels of vulnerability/communication and that they shift depending on the health of the space/relationship.

Any public space forum (Facebook, speaking, a blog) is not the place to get into the nitty, gritty details chronicling every last difficult part of my life. This isn’t my monthly counseling session (though writing can be therapeutic) and I want to share not to just get it out there, but because I believe that by sharing certain parts of my story others can be built up and encouraged in theirs. 

However to walk around constantly over-analyzing, putting pressure on myself to be perfect, always being afraid to reveal the flawed parts of myself even in safe places is just not what I was created for. It’s not what any of us were created for.

We were created for broken, flawed, intimate, deeply beautiful relationships with God and others. We were created to be good gifts to each other in relationship, and a huge part of that is sharing our real, messy selves.

As much as we may want to, we simply don’t always get to control the message about ourselves going out to others. There is a huge difference in my mind between doing what is within your control to love others and be like Christ, and just learning how to say all the right things so you can control your appearance.

There are many in our world, especially within Christianity, who are only truly concerned with building up themselves, their kingdom, their identity, their ego. They aren’t fully integrated with themselves, meaning they are different people on the outside than they are on the inside.

The transformational work of Christ is not to teach us how to be religious and simply say the right things. The transformational work of Christ in our lives involves action. It involves dressing up like Christ and putting on his qualities even when we don’t feel like it. It involves constantly dying to ourselves. It involves saying the right things and then actually living them out. It means our daily lives show that we value the things and people we say we value.

It’s not enough to say to my wife “I love you and will lay down my life for you.” Thats great, but if when push comes to shove I only act selfishly and in my best interest and in doing so hurt her, then I’m not in tune with reality. What I say, what I profess to believe, and what I do are all different things in that scenario.

I see this sickness that lives within. I am the man who wants to build his own kingdom. I am the man who says one thing and lives another. I am the man who tries to control others, use people, and who only fights for himself. I am the man who is different on the outside than I am on the inside.

I’ve heard this big phrase “vein imaginations” tossed out in counseling before. It basically refers to the ways that each of us as individuals perceive ourselves that don’t line up with reality.

The politician within thrives on these “vein imaginations.” They are his lifeblood. When I allow these vein imaginations or false narratives to be in control, instead of Christ, I’m fighting a losing battle in my relationships.

Vein imaginations can be good or bad. They can lead us to think that we are way better and more perfect than we really are, or they can convince us that we are more worthless and terrible than we really are.

The only way to combat these imaginations & the politician within is to fix our eyes on Christ. When I allow Jesus to tell me who I am, when I allow Jesus to guide my relationships, when I allow Jesus to be my sole focus, everything else becomes clear.

I no longer have to let the politician within be in control. I can be vulnerable and weak with others and risk getting hurt because Jesus is where I find my identity, not in what others think or perceive. I can be the man I claim to be and take real, life changing action in my relationships because I am being empowered by the Holy Spirit to be different, not just by my own effort.

When I surrender to Christ, the politician within disappears.

Because who I am, what I say, and what I do become more aligned with the person of Jesus. I begin to look more like Him. I begin to grow in character, maturity, & integrity. I don’t have to present a false self to others to gain their approval because I already have it in Jesus.

Where do you see the politician within active in your life? Where do you see him holding you back from connecting in meaningful ways with your relationships? With God?

Where have you allowed your identity to be dictated by others in a negative way? Where have you tried to gain control over others? Or where have you tried to control the message coming out about yourself to others?

We all have a politician within. We all have vein imaginations and false narratives about ourselves. We all tend to look at others as slightly less perfect versions of ourselves instead of looking at them as different people who, like us, were created in God’s image and therefore worthy of our sacrifice and love. 

Maybe you just flat out think that you aren’t even worthy of being in relationships with others or God because of all your baggage.

Whatever the case may be, it is my hope and prayer that starting today you and I can stop looking to ourselves or to the politician within to try and gain the relationships, the love, the intimacy, and the connection we so deeply desire. My hope is we can start fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author of our story, the giver of life and freedom, the one who speaks into our identity as his sons and daughters.

When we turn our eyes toward Jesus, all the junk and cares of this world start to grow strangely dim, and a funny thing happens: we become who we were created to be.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

You Are Good at Relationships.

Over the course of my life, I have been blessed to know lots of people and have many relationships. Within those I have learned much about myself and my identity, both the good parts and the bad. Unfortunately, whether it’s lies about my identity others have knowingly or unknowingly made me believe or mistakes I have made in relationships that led to real consequences, I have developed a narrative in my head most days that I am bad at relationships. 

Sometimes this leads to isolation, other times it causes me to fight for myself and I   become mean, arrogant, or just plain selfish. But a thought struck me today as I was reading “Scary Close” by Donald Miller (a book I highly recommended), which is all   about connecting with others in true intimacy in light of who God is and our identity as his children.

Miller talks about a conversation he had with a friend where Miller was highlighting all of his relationship mistakes and baggage. Miller's friend tells him that in spite of all his mistakes he thinks Miller is "good at relationships."

This led me to think:

"What if in spite of all my mistakes and past/present relationship baggage, I am good at relationships?"

It’s always some combination of both right? I certainly have had times where I am very bad at relationships. I cause hurt, pain, I judge others, I act arrogantly/selfishly, I lack patience, I don't give grace. But I’m also good at relationships. I love, I fight for the   highest good of others, I show compassion, humility, grace, etc.

I wonder what would happen if my identity wasn’t built on a false narrative in my head that I am just plain bad at relationships. I wonder what would happen if I stopped     viewing every conversation as nothing more than a battle to hide my flaws and started actively looking for the ways I could be a good gift to that other person.

Because I think we were created by God, in His image, to be good gifts to each other. 

Just check out Ephesians 2:10:

"For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

I think we were created to connect, to be in relationship, to build each other up as co-image bearers of Christ. I think we were created to have freedom in Christ and not be held hostage to the expectations of others or to hold others hostage to ours. I don’t     think life was meant to be a game of guilt, shame, identity bashing, control, manipulation, and constant fear.

What could we gain or give by seeing ourselves as God sees us (good gifts)? 

What would change in our lives if we weren’t driven by guilt, fear, and a need to controlothers? 

How would we begin to see our relationships evolve if we felt the freedom that comes
from knowing our identity in Christ?

What would it look like to truly love one another instead of isolating ourselves or alwaystrying to prove ourselves?