Tag Archive: character


Experience, Sometime Foe

There’s a proverb commonly used about experience. It says, “Experience is the best teacher.” People certainly seem to believe that when it comes to jobs. Having some work experience can certainly make it easier to get hired. I’d say fire and heat is another area where we’re great believers in the teaching power of experience. As Tolkien wrote, “The burned hand teaches best.” One of the reasons I trust my doctor when he gives me a diagnosis is because he’s experienced. The checker at the supermarket who has been there a few years is definitely faster than the brand new one. I’d rather take my car to a mechanic who has some experience than one who doesn’t. Pilots should definitely be experienced. I don’t want to book a flight on somebody’s first ever attempt.

Experience, while not the be-all-end-all (other factors, like education, work ethic, and a good attitude are important, too), has advantages. People with it can work more smoothly and efficiently. Common pitfalls are generally more adroitly avoided, and experienced people fumble less. Somebody who knows the territory usually gets lost less than somebody who has never been there before.

So if education is twelve kinds of awesome, why is it that sometimes having experience is held against you? What makes some kinds of experience a “bad thing,” not to be trusted, or somehow a problem? It’s almost like there’s sometimes a prejudice in place.

See, my dad wasn’t the world’s best dad. He wasn’t the world’s worst, either, but he was closer to worst than best. He beat my sibs and I and did other things that loving fathers aren’t supposed to do to their children. Abuse and neglect are strong themes in my childhood story, making for lots of hard experiences, and I most certainly did learn things from those experiences. I will be the FIRST to admit that some of what I learned was bad, like how to hurt and manipulate other people. Being afraid of my father is not a good thing to have learned, either.

Other people’s reactions to my story can be pretty interesting. Some people are very sympathetic and supportive. Others can clearly relate all too well, some are unsympathetic, and then there’s another group. They acknowledge that I was hurt, but then seem to hold that against me. I’ve been told that my beliefs or opinions about family, parents, church, and all kinds of things probably are just the result of pain and bitterness and therefore couldn’t possibly be valid. I don’t get that reaction. I think it’s condescending, not to mention rude and lazy and sometimes self-protective. Quite frankly, I’d rather deal with outright hostility than deal with somebody who believes that I’m so crippled by my past that I’ll never be able to “walk. “

I do understand that sometimes when people have been badly wounded, they aren’t necessarily reasonable or rational. I know that it’s easy to become set upon what a person knows, those lousy experiences, and to refuse to grow. I know bitterness is a sweetly fired, spreading poison that gnaws the bones. But just because somebody is unreasonable or irrational and not necessarily objective, does that make them wrong? Does that invalidate their opinion? Does it make their information worthless? Should we merely humor and otherwise dismiss them? If “the burned hand teaches best,” why on earth would the burn victim’s experience be counted as less than the person who hasn’t faced the flames?

I am not saying that experience can’t be a problem. It can be. It sure can be. All the wrong lessons that keep a person bound and crippled and festering are frequently learned from painful experiences. I just don’t think it’s fair or right or very smart to uncritically discount what those have faced flames have learned. If nothing else, even if they’re all wrong, simply listening without dismissal can tell them that they matter.

Thanks for listening!

Links for This Week

This last week, I’ve been pretty busy working outside, playing with my sisters, and painting hope onto my wall. In other words, I’ve slacked off and not written a post, but it’s all good. I’ve been meaning to put up a post recommending another blog. In the last week, Kari provided some great posts, and I definitely think her work is worth reading.

For a little background, I found her blog on Facebook. Half my lifetime ago, Kari and I went to the same rural church. Since it was small and relationally oriented, everybody knew everybody. We were a community. The church attended services together, ate together, worshiped together, worked together, had retreats and Family Camps and weddings and all kinds of stuff. It was really a great church in a lot of ways, so for me, it was fun, 10 or 15 years later, to see that Kari had been keeping a blog. It was even better to read it and see that she definitely still loves God. I always love to see that! She writes about faith a lot, and when she’s not writing about that, she often writes about some practical ways to keep a house and live more frugally.

This week, she wrote a series of posts dealing with the dreadful “d” of disappointment. The first is called “When the road is long.” Kari shares some thoughts about disappointments which last a long time. The second is called “When no one understands.” It’s an interesting thought. I hadn’t considered how disappointing it can be to not be understood. The third is “When you must be silent,” and she talks about the difficulty imposed by silence. That’s one I do understand. Not being able to talk about things can just swell your throat shut so that the time comes that it would be okay to talk, you can’t. Come to think of it, that right there is pretty disappointing.

One thing I would mention about disappointment is that it can be quite the thief. It will steal hope from your heart if you let it.

Following those three posts identifying some types of disappointment, Kari wrote a great post about expectations titled “What to expect when you’re expecting…” I love this one. There’s truth in it, truth that can help point a person to God and make them aware of their need for Him. Look at this!

So what should we expect?

Opposition. Persecution. Obstacles. Suffering. Trials. Conflict. Hardship. Storms. But most of all …

Except to see and encounter Him in the midst of it all.

He is found in the midst of the storm, the suffering, the obstacle. When we run from those things,  we run from Him. He is there.

I expect to face these things, and I expect to see His face there.

That’s what I can expect.

I love this, not because the idea of being used as a punching bag sounds like fun, but because God doesn’t leave me. Because God is there. Because God works things out for good. Because even death can’t beat Him. Life is not a soft, fluffy, sweet teddy bear on which we can land without the least concern. Bad things, hard things, painful things – they all happen, and they happen without regard for my wickedness or righteousness, my foolishness or my wisdom, my poverty or my wealth, or any number of other things. We can’t control much of what happens. In the middle of it all, in the good and the bad, God is there. I sleep better at night because of that.

Have a good one!

When You Are Old

2011 is nearly over. We are about to celebrate the first day of 2012. People will stay up late, throw parties, eat junk, and make New Year’s resolutions. While I’m not fond of the “I promise to be good” flavor donned sometimes by New Year’s resolutions, I do like the reminder to contemplate my own life a little bit.  It also seems a perfect time to ask a question, “What or who do you want to be when you’re old?”

I probably got asked that in junior high or high school at some youth event. I know the “what would you want your epitaph to be?” one did get asked. The question and its answer could be trite, slathered with all the “right” answers, but I do think it’s an important question to ponder, because you are going to be somebody or something to others. That’s guaranteed. You’ll have made choices and lived with the consequences. You’ll have a reputation, a history. All of that will help to determine who or what you are when you are old. “What or who do you want to be when you’re old?”

This isn’t something we suddenly get to decide when we finally reach that invisible point of old age. We make decisions as younger people that play an important role in people we become when we are old. Those decisions we make today about health, finances, relationships, character, and so on affect the health, finances, relationships, character, and so on in your future. How do you live your life now? That’s going to make a difference tomorrow. It’s going to make a difference in what or who you’ll be when you’re old. If there’s a strong family history of heart disease, eating five eggs a day may not be your best bet. Saving money today instead of spending all you have and then some means that later in life, you’ll probably have some put back, and you might have even made money on it! If you marry somebody who treats you wonderfully, your old age will probably look a little different than if you marry and divorce a few times. If you’re telling lies today, it’s probably a little much to expect people to believe you’re telling the truth tomorrow. See how this goes? “What or who do you want to be when you’re old?”

Don’t kid yourself, either, that tomorrow never comes. Technically, tomorrow never does come for us, but the future held by tomorrow does eventually become our today. I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older that tomorrow becomes today quicker and quicker. I suspect that trend will continue, and that one day I’ll wake up all of the sudden and realize that I’ve achieved old age. Will I be the person I wanted to be? I hope so. The time to start that process is now.

Happy New Year’s!

P.S. I think Ecclesiastes does a fine job of discussing the brevity and purpose of life, so I’m including a few verses from the end. Enjoy!

Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:7

New International Version (NIV)

Remember Your Creator While Young

7 Light is sweet,
and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.
8 However many years anyone may live,
let them enjoy them all.
But let them remember the days of darkness,
for there will be many.
Everything to come is meaningless.
9 You who are young, be happy while you are young,
and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.
Follow the ways of your heart
and whatever your eyes see,
but know that for all these things
God will bring you into judgment.
10 So then, banish anxiety from your heart
and cast off the troubles of your body,
for youth and vigor are meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 12

1 Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”—
2 before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars grow dark,
and the clouds return after the rain;
3 when the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim;
4 when the doors to the street are closed
and the sound of grinding fades;
when people rise up at the sound of birds,
but all their songs grow faint;
5 when people are afraid of heights
and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
and the grasshopper drags itself along
and desire no longer is stirred.
Then people go to their eternal home
and mourners go about the streets.
6 Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
and the wheel broken at the well,
7 and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Integrity

Let’s take a look at integrity today, shall we? It’s one of my favorite words in a long list of words I like, and it’s one I’ve spent some time absorbing. Integrity is something I very much want to have present in my life. Like most everything in life, its presence has been something of a process.

An important part of this process has been asking questions. As I began to ask them, an unpalatable realization emerged. I was not as honest a person as I’d thought I was. I’d been fooled, I was fooling myself, and since I was doing that, I wasn’t telling other people the truth, either. This hurt. I’d prided (can you tell what got hurt?) myself on being an honest person, and I’d had nothing but contempt for liars. To find this discrepancy in myself was indeed painful.

Unfortunately, in some ways,I didn’t help myself very well in dealing with my own lies, but that’s another story. What I think that I did do well is to search for understanding of what honesty means. Along the way I learned that there is a difference between behaving honestly (what I’d been attempting to achieve) and being an honest person.

Being an honest person is much more demanding. You can’t settle for a mask or the appearance of honesty. Instead it requires some soul searching to see if the honesty goes any deeper than the surface. You have to look at uncomfortable things like motivation. Honesty is a good thing, but there are bad reasons to pursue it, like pride in one’s good behavior. I can tell you firsthand that pride in one’s honesty can give a person an unwarranted sense of superiority.

I was trying to move past the mask. I did the soul searching and got very angry about what a crappy person I was. That, by the way, would have been me and not God piling on the blame and hate. He doesn’t operate like that. Anyway, I also dragged out a concordance and started looking up references containing honesty. I pulled out dictionaries and found definitions of honesty. I even got into the thesaurus and found synonyms for honesty and repeated the process with some of the synonyms.

Not surprisingly, integrity was listed as a synonym. Honesty and integrity go hand in hand. At the time, all I knew about integrity was that it could be used instead of honesty, and it would mean the same thing. It was a synonym, right? Well, that is true, but as I dug some more, I had a beautiful insight.

Here’s the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of integrity:

1 : firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility
2 : an unimpaired condition : soundness
3 : the quality or state of being complete or undivided : completeness

Let’s compare this to honesty, shall we?

1 obsolete : chastity
2 a : fairness and straightforwardness of conduct b : adherence to the facts : sincerity
3 : any of a genus (Lunaria) of European herbs of the mustard family with toothed leaves and flat disk-shaped siliques

We’ll skip the obsolete meaning and the one about the mustard family, because we’re talking about people, and focus on door #2. Honesty, the “fairness and straighforwardness of conduct,” could be fairly mistaken as a behavioral measurement, could it not? You do this, this, and this, and you’re considered honest. Yay! You look good. However, let’s go back to integrity and pick out a couple  of words, like “condition” and “state.” Those go a little deeper than “conduct.” You start talking about the state or condition of something, and you’re talking about what it’s like. You might even be talking about its essence, that elusive element that makes it what it actually is. Interesting, no?

Let’s look at another dictionary’s definition of integrity, which is what I did to reach that insight. I looked things up all over the place, because I was trying hard to understand what I was reading and not be writing my own mistaken ideas into it. Integrity is:

1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire.
3. a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship’s hull.

Look at that. Isn’t it beautiful? Whole, entire, undiminished, sound, unimpaired, perfect – I don’t know about your heart, but that’s exactly what mine was straining toward. God says things in the Bible about how His people will be a “new creation”, that we’ll be born again and have eternal life, and that the life we have will be “to the full.” If you go snooping about the Bible, you can find all kinds of good things God says about the people He calls His. You can even find some references regarding integrity. I like I Kings 9:4-5 and the ones in Proverbs, personally, except for 29:10. But, yeah, beautiful!

There I was with a disconnect between who I was and who I wanted to be, between who I was and who I should have been, and there’s integrity, a word meaning wholeness, perfection, and unimpaired condition. Now, remember that my goal in life is and was already at that point to love God with my heart and mind, soul and strength. How do ya’ do that without integrity? How do you do that without wholeness or soundness? How does a person who is diminished or impaired or broken all to pieces even try to love God with their whole being? Got me! I don’t even want to try. I don’t think it’s possible, and I started asking God specifically for integrity.

For myself, honesty alone doesn’t cut it. I need something more than “straightforwardness of conduct” to – well – keep me honest. Integrity, however, seems to fit admirably. It’s got more depth and, to me, more hope to it. It’s about being honest all the way through. It’s about wholeness and soundness and being a person who actually might be able to love God with all that they are.

I even hear that God likes it! See?

I Chronicles 29:17a

I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity.

Catch you later!