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Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Secret to Getting “Scary Close”

My copy of Scary Close by Donald Miller.

My copy of Scary Close by Donald Miller.

Everyone wants to be loved, but no one wants to be vulnerable. So we find ourselves stuck, because love is impossible without vulnerability.

This is what Donald Miler learned after breaking off an unhealthy engagement. After decades of dead-end relationships, he had hit bottom and knew something needed to change. In “Scary Close,” Miller is more honest and transparent than ever before as he explains the long road to his healing.

Written in his trademark reflective essays, the book traces how he learned to “drop the act” and open himself to a life of intimacy. The journey leads him to rediscover himself underneath the barriers he used to keep other people at a distance. Things like being smart, funny, or manipulative. Anything it’d take to hide who he really was.

And he realized he wasn’t alone in pretending.

“Somewhere along the line I think many of us buy into a lie that we only matter if… We only matter if we are strong or smart or attractive or whatever,” Miller writes.

We’re superheroes wearing masks so no one recognizes us for being ordinary, boring, imperfect humans. The downside is people never have the opportunity to love our real selves under the masks. Our act designed to help us connect with others instead becomes the brick wall separating us.

As a teenager, my brick wall was silence. I thought I needed to be intelligent and wise for anyone to like me. With nothing profound to say, I relied on silence to create a façade of thoughtful sagacity. My guiding motto was: “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues” (Prov. 17:28). Yet the plan didn’t work like I had hoped. Instead of drawing friends, I felt coldly distant from my peers. Even the ones inviting me to their cafeteria lunch tables and birthday sleepovers. They assumed they knew me, but it was only a caricature.

College gave me the chance to start over. I developed more confidence in speaking, whether or not I sounded wise. It seemed like progress…until I realized the power of wit and sarcasm. I could make people laugh. I could catch their attention. I could cut them using only words. As Proverbs 18:21 warns, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

After some time, the witticisms act also unraveled. Speaking impulsively, I wouldn’t think through opinions before claiming them. I’d say shocking or offensive words just for the gratifying attention, and then later regret speaking at all when I realized those were not my actual thoughts. My careless words hurt people who cared for me. I was again misleading others into an unreal impression of me. To let others know me, I’d have to speak up…but only what was true.

“The whole experience makes me wonder if the time we spend trying to become somebody people will love isn’t wasted,” Miller writes, “because the most powerful, most attractive person we can be is who we already are, an ever-changing being that is becoming and will never arrive, but has opinions about what is seen along the journey.”

Miller’s greatest test came when he decided to try again at love. He began dating a woman who refused to put up with his acting. When he practiced vulnerability instead, he experienced a truer intimacy with another person than he had ever felt before.

“I felt a sense of relief,” Miller writes. “If honesty is the key to intimacy, it means we don’t have to be perfect and, moreover, we don’t have to pretend to be perfect.”

Paul directed the Ephesian church with a similar challenge. He wrote, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Eph. 4:25). Vulnerability with each other is the key to both giving and receiving love. The truth is when we can finally let others love us just as we are, no hiding or pretending, we gain the ability to love in return. We’re no longer defending ourselves behind brick walls; we’re reaching through an open gate to take each other’s hands.

Miller married the woman who helped him learn how to be vulnerable and therefore intimate. He knew she was good for him in many ways, but he struggled to grasp what he could possibly offer her. So one day after their engagement, he asked her. She laughed at him, surprised he couldn’t tell. She listed some examples of how he had changed her life for the better. After that, Miller began to enjoy more his time spent with other people. He’d looked forward to meeting a friend for coffee because he wouldn’t be the only one to benefit.

“I wonder if we’re not all a lot better for each other than we previously thought,” Miller writes. “I know we’re not perfect, but I wonder how many people are withholding the love they could provide because they secretly believe they have fatal flaws.”

We need to recognize our doubts that tell us, “We only matter if…” and finally take advantage of the enormous good we’re capable of giving others. It’s scary, of course, but well worth the risk. Love is impossible otherwise.

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Posted by on September 26, 2015 in Books

 

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Choosing Between the Plane and the Freefall

There were fourteen people squashed inside the back of the gutted airplane. We couldn’t see much out of the windows. The smoke from Eastern Washington’s summer fires had finally rolled over the Cascades. Seated behind me, my tandem instructor said he would normally point out the nearby islands but they were lost in the grey. I nodded, a little disappointed we wouldn’t have a view for what was coming next.

“Spotty” asked me why I had decided to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Good question.

“I like heights.” Besides, it seemed a better option than whitewater rafting. “You’ve got to choose something,” I said. Why not skydiving?

A cloudy view.

Spotty had been skydiving ever since his first jump for a hospice’s charity event.

“What’s your favorite part?” I asked him.

“Jumping out.”

Funny. That was the part my friends and I were most afraid of. If there was any point likely to test our courage, we felt sitting at the open door looking down at miles of open air would be it. Self-preservation tells you to stay seated. Courage is all talk until there’s nothing holding you up.

It wasn’t exactly the freefall that scared me though. I knew that part would be amazing. It’s called “the ultimate freedom” for a reason. I knew I would enjoy the flight up and the fall down, but it was the transition between the two that had me worried. Maybe it’s the self-preservation instinct, but I think it’s because I hate change.

I wish I had Spotty’s attitude in the rest of life. He didn’t choose either the plane or the freefall but rather the moment in-between. He had already jumped at least nine times that day, but it was still his favorite part of every trip. Lately life has felt like skydiving tandem with God, and I still dread the leaps of faith. I know I like where I am, and I know I will like where God calls me to next. Both are great. It’s just the in-between that terrifies me into paralysis.

Cross arms. Look up. Say a prayer.

Cross arms. Look up. Say a prayer.

When it came to it, I didn’t actually jump. And no one asked if I was ready. Instead, my instructor told me to put my arms in the “safety position”– crossed over my chest, like a dead person. We dangled our legs out the door. He told me to lean my head back and look up. And he pushed us off. One moment we were seated safely on the plane and the next we were plummeting through free air, 13, 500 feet off the ground.

Switching between the plane and the open air caught my breath. I couldn’t think, only react. So I screamed as loud as I could in the rushing air. It was as much from overwhelming joy as awe and terror. After the first few seconds of shock, I could put thoughts to what I was feeling: “This is really happening! I’m really here! This isn’t a dream! This is AMAZING!”

Flying with Spotty.

Flying in the airplane–seat-belted in safety–was a fun ride. The tandem instructors were cracking jokes. The new skydivers were nervously laughing. We had a pretty view of the ground through the windows. But skydiving…that was exhilarating. So much better than the airplane.

In the Christian life, there’s a similar choice of experiences. I could be safe and have a pleasant life without ever taking risks for Christ, but I don’t believe that’s the kind of life God wants for me. The other choice is to go all-in, giving up everything and following Christ whatever the cost on an adventure beyond my imagination. Too often, it’s tempting to settle for less than the exhilarating ride God offers. I pray that he will give me the courage to sit on the edge, the faith to look up, and the trust–when the time is right–to be pushed out.

“My lips will shout for joy,
when I sing praises to you;
my soul also, which you have redeemed.”
Psalm 71:23
When has God told you to jump in faith? Did you let fear keep you in the airplane, or did you jump gladly, trusting in him?
 
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Posted by on September 1, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

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