Tuesday, February 26, 2008

P4E.060 Grace Observed and Received

A few weeks ago, I was part of a team at my workplace that was to submit a Proposal for a big job. It was Karen's (not her real name) responsibility to physically get the Proposal to its destination before the deadline. At around 1:00 pm on the due date she walked into my office saying, "I'm in big trouble." Karen had thought that the Proposal was due at 5:00 pm. It had, in fact, been due at 10:00 am that morning. We called the potential client, but were told that no late Proposals would be accepted. I felt at least partially responsible because I was part of the team. What made matters worse was that the previous week a bid from our company did not make it to the prospective client by the bid-deadline. This was the second time in two weeks that something like this had happened.

Karen was very upset at herself for the mistake that she had made. She felt that this mistake could cost her her job. We tried all day to get a few moments with our boss to let him know. We left phone messages, e-mail and tried to schedule time through his personal assistant. In the late afternoon, he left the building. I was convinced that we shouldn't let this news lie until the next day. I went down to Karen's office and called our boss on my cell phone. He picked up, I put the phone on speaker and Karen shared the news with him.

I won't quote him, but what he said went along these lines:

- Things like this happen sometimes.
- I know you guys worked really hard on that Proposal and it looked good.
- We can use a lot of the material on the next Proposal.
- I know Karen probably already feels terrible about what happened.
- We need to figure out a way to not let that happen again.
- We'll get the next one.
- Thank you for coming to me right away and not trying to hide this thing.

Honestly, it made me want to cry to see the look of relief on Karen's face. The boss had every right to be upset with us that afternoon. But he chose not to be. I felt many good emotions flood through my spirit. Awe and surprise at his response, relief, joy at Karen's reprieve, peace that we were going to be OK, grateful for grace, loyalty to a man who would let us off the hook that way, determination to do better next time, persuaded and excited to follow his example the next time something goes wrong.

I'm trying to wrap my mind around the idea that God could have orchestrated an example of grace so that we could observe it and receive it. Knowing how it feels to receive it, I want to remember to extend it when the time is right. I know the challenge will be that the circumstances will be troubling to me, they will want to make me upset, I will be inconvenienced or truly wronged when the time is right for me to extend grace. God help me, because I know the benefits for the one who receives and the one who grants grace.

Peace, Kim

PS - I wrote an e-mail to my boss thanking him and praising him for extending grace towards Karen. He just replied, "Thanks." They say things happen in threes. A couple of weeks later, our company missed a third bid deadline in a row. Hopefully, we've got it out of our system now!

Friday, February 15, 2008

P4E.059 The Other Side of Grace

My father taught me many things. His teachings had been handed down from generation to generation. I learned what he taught whether I wanted to or not. If the circle remains unbroken, my sons will follow my example and so will their sons.

This is some of what my father taught me:
- complimenting and praising the efforts of others is not necessary.
- no effort on the part of others is good enough.
- to be critical.
- my ways, my ideas, my opinions, my understandings are superior to others' and if they are not in agreement with mine they are stupid.
- to set my expectations of others so high that they would be assured of failure and then I learned how to criticise and condemn them for failing me.
- how to belittle the efforts and decisions of others.
- how not to forgive and how not to extend grace.

My father confirmed for me what he was teaching because when I tried to broach this subject, he very soon thereafter disowned and disinherited me.

When I began to become more self-aware I believed that these were "Chinese" traits. After meeting with, hearing and observing many men I've come to believe it's a curse that afflicts many (most?) men because it has more to do with our flesh nature than our ethnicity. My wife and sons suffered under my example and I'm praying that my efforts to reverse the damage will bear fruit.

What I want to explore here is what I call "the other side of grace." I've found that because I was not "encouraged" in my youth, I never learned to "encourage." I'm uncomfortable with both encouraging and receiving encouragement. Because I did not grow up around someone who could laugh at his own mistakes, I'm uncomfortable with laughing at my own and being around someone who can. Because I did not experience grace from my father, I'm uncomfortable both extending grace and receiving grace. This can be a real hindrance for a professed Believer!

Part of "the other side of grace" is the ability to accept compliments and praise from others graciously. What I learned was how to ignore or downplay or actually contradict the compliments and praise of others. This I tried to pass off innocuously as "modesty." But, what I've come to realize is that under the guise of "modesty" I have truly been ungracious. Worse yet, I've done this in public to my own wife. She has tried to compliment me and praise my efforts to others and I have contradicted her to her face and in front of others. She then rightly felt that her opinions were devalued and was embarrassed and humiliated. I'm trying to learn to be gracious and simply say "Thank you. I appreciate that."

I don't know if this phenomenon is just me... Does this ring a bell with you?

Your ally in the pursuit of Christlikeness, Kim

PS - Part of my quest for spiritual maturity, having identified these deficiencies in my character, has been to move away from placing blame and self-pity. Instead, I'm moving forward to repair what I've broken and taking care to build-up instead of breaking down.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

P4E.058 Regrets

After reading my last post, Marcus Goodyear told me that he asked himself some tough questions:

1. What am I doing right now that I will look back on in the future and regret?
2. How can I be fully present with my family right now when they need me?
3. How can I not fall into the trap of making my family into just another idol that I worship and twist into an enemy?

Marcus liked my answer and I thought I'd turn it into the next installment of P4E:

Well, I don't know what you are doing that you'll regret later, but I know what I regret now (in no particular order):

- Putting those blinders on and focusing the majority of my energy into my work.

- Not listening to (and acting on) the "help" that God gave me (my wife) when it came to relationship issues. She is still the "expert" especially when compared to my feeble relationship abilities.

- Not understanding (and therefore screwing up) how becoming a "Christian" was supposed to change the way I think, act and talk.

- Holding "deep convictions" that I believed were based in my "Belief" and expressing those in a way that was detrimental to relationships with those close to me.

- Not asking questions of my wife and others who could have helped me avoid disaster.

- That by not asking questions, I did not remain teachable and therefore became arrogant and stayed ignorant. These characteristics squelched creativity and hindered growth in understanding and wisdom.

- Not establishing reasonable boundaries between my family of origin and my wife and children.

- Not taking a more active role as a husband and father in the spiritual development of my self, my wife and my children.

- That I have been a hypocrite, in the "whitewashed tomb" sense of the word. I was one person in public and another at home or with those who were close to me.

- Being exposed to and becoming a consumer of pornography.

- Not believing that I could exercise some self-discipline in my life and therefore being un-disciplined in much of it.

- Being a proud, explosively angry, impatient and frustrated man.

- Making decisions without being "one" with my wife.

- Not understanding the differences between men and women and how they are meant to glorify God.

- Not valuing my emotions or the emotions of others so that I became spiritually and emotionally dead.

- Not handling my finances in such a way that my sons could see a positive, balanced example of what that should look like.

And that's just to name a few! I know that I've heard other men express some of the same regrets.

As far as making your family an idol, I don't think that's something that most of us men have to worry too much about. Especially as time goes by it will be much more likely that you will have to worry about the other extreme of taking them for granted, having unrealistic expectations of them, being disappointed in their performance, spending less and less time with them, disregarding them and generally being un-Christlike towards them.

Of course, the antidote to all of this is the pursuit of Christlikeness. All of our future regrets could be avoided by purposing to be fully present for our families right now by being sensitive, gentle, kind, humble, peaceful, self-sacrificing, patient, faithful, generous, spirit-filled and disciplined (among other Christlike characteristics).

Peace, Kim