Sunday, December 9, 2007

Take the advice of a faithful friend.

Yes, another title right out of a fortune cookie (literally), but hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

I came across an article a while back entitled "How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise." It's a fairly lengthy article, but a very interesting one. (If you don't read it, then the rest of what I say here will probably make even less sense than usual.) I started reading the article simply out of curiosity about the title, but as it went on I was struck by how closely it mirrored many of my own experiences and actions.

Throughout my education I was labeled one of these "gifted" children. It was a label I hated, and in each new situation I tried (and to some extent, still try) to avoid it for as long as possible because the way I was treated always changed the instant it was applied, but still I grew up with words like "smart," "gifted" and "genius" (hardly accurate) being bandied about. It wasn't a description I subscribed to myself (still don't), but even so, the idea that success was expected of me stuck, and my response to the possibility of failure or embarrassment was more often, "How do I get out of doing this?" than "How am I going to accomplish this?" The things that were easy for me, I did, and the things that were hard for me, I simply "wasn't capable of." (For the record, my mom never let me get away with it when she caught me — the absolute right thing to do.) That the result of many of these wrong choices has landed me in a situation I fully believe is where God intends me to be is evidence of His grace, not my success.

The fact I couldn't ignore is that all of the things I am most thankful for right now are things that I had specifically intended to avoid, had God given me the chance. It took me sixteen years to realize that my way wasn't working. It took me another eight long months of refusals before I finally submitted to God and committed to doing something about it. I resolved that "I don't want to" and "I'm afraid to" and "It's hard" could no longer be reasons for not doing something. It was a resolution I instantly broke and continue to break, though, by the help of God, not every time.

It's a terrifying thing, to no longer say "no" based on those reasons. Because of it, I have had to commit to doing some things (even tonight) that have caused me no end of apprehension. Even though I now, with hindsight, do not regret these things at all, and though every time I have trusted God to enable me the result has been success, saying "yes" still hasn't gotten any easier, and it may never.

Going back to the article, I think the spiritually "gifted" encounter this struggle as well. Those who are continually praised for their "faith," "joy," etc. without a realistic emphasis on the process of failure and forgiveness that is universal in the Christian life find it hard to confide those failures to their Christian brothers and sisters for fear of losing face. When victories are lauded at the expense of encouraging perseverance, the result is an inclination to hide pain, doubts and struggles rather than share them as a community is supposed to do. The solution lies in not focusing only on the desired results, but instead encouraging each other toward effort, diligence, dedication and openness (as well as in being open ourselves).

In the end, the responsibility is mine: do I crave the good opinion of fellow men, or do I crave the good opinion of God? The answer is usually "yes" and which one wins out in the end depends on where my focus is at the time. That is where the community comes in (a fact I have not yet mastered), and so perhaps a good way to end this post is to say "Seek the advice of a faithful friend."

Some Googling led me to the article "Is There Anything Good About Men?" by Roy Baumeister (the researcher mentioned in the previous article), which presents some interesting speculations, not all of which I agree with. It is very much a speculative article though, with very little hard evidence being offered. I don't really have much to say about it, I just wanted to share this quote. It is both amusing and hard to argue with:
"All those retarded boys are not the handiwork of patriarchy. Men are not conspiring together to make each other’s sons mentally retarded."

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Blogger Dave Furman said...

Jon....good thoughts...I know that it is continually a struggle for seek the opinion and approval of man instead of God...I feel like I also share some of the struggles growing up...I never really grew too tired of hearing praise for how smart I am....I think I took much pride in it...even if it was often over stated. I have had to work hard to realize that whatever I do have is from God. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007 9:47:00 AM  

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