Do you have the courage to redefine yourself?

What warrior poets are made out of.  Photo used with permission by Herman Soesilo.

What warrior poets are made out of. Photo used with permission by Herman Soesilo.

Recently, my mind has been mulling over a negative comment that was said to me.  It came from a boss I knew a while ago, and he said this to me the day I resigned from my position at the non-profit that I was working for.   He said this:

“I’ve seen a lot of people work in ministry, and I have to tell you, from my experience, you do not have what it takes to do this.”

To this day, I can still see his face and the words coming out of his mouth as he said this.  Everything is in slow motion, as if time stood still.

I don’t know if you’ve experienced this before, but for me, I’ve had many wonderful and amazing slow motion moments in my life – like, the first time my wife kissed me on the beach near Balboa Pier, or when we were saying our wedding vows in a little church in Orange County that had sunlight coruscating beautifully through the stain glass windows, or the three seconds of silent awe when I first laid eyes on my newborn son, before he was placed crying and wiggling onto my wife’s chest – and then, of course, there’s this.

It is like stepping in dog crap and never being able to get rid of the smell, and no matter how hard you try, it just won’t go away.  As much as I wanted to forget this, I can’t.

It is amazing how much thought I’ve put into what that boss had said to me.  It has become the silent and deadly antagonist on my life’s journey, and the sly voice of relentless self-condemnation.  It’s widened the surging black hole that sucks all my emotional energy, because I am constantly trying to prove to myself (and to that boss, who isn’t even a part of my life anymore) that I have “what it takes.”

My thought process usually winds up sounding like this, “Why don’t I have what it takes?  I must not have tried hard enough.  Why am I not good enough?  Maybe there’s something wrong with me.  What did I do wrong? I am a mistake.  Why am I so weak?  This is what happens when people find out what a failure and loser I am.  How do I keep people from rejecting me like this?

Round and round I go.  The more I ruminate, the more anxious I get about having to be people–pleasing and picture perfect.  The more anxious I get about having to be perfect, the more depressed I get, because in my heart, I know it is impossible.

However, shame cunningly disguises itself as rational neuroticism, coming out of the woodwork camouflaged as the voice of reason, telling me that the only way I can ever avoid feeling rejected or a loser is to:

  1. Never leave myself exposed.
  2. Never leave a chink in my armor.
  3. Never show any weaknesses.
  4. Never show any vulnerability.
  5. And always live beyond everyone’s expectations.

Shame is a cruel teacher and an unrelenting taskmaster that only motivates through the fear of rejection.  What that boss said to me was very hurtful, and on my bad days, it terribly affects my identity, my self-esteem, and my hope for the future.

The other day, I was listening to Erwin McManus talking about courage on the Mosaic podcast, and he said something that really struck me to the core.  He asked the people listening if they had the courage to redefine themselves, and it made me think through what has been going on for me as I was listening to him.

Am I defined by my greatest traumas and hurts, or do I have the courage to redefine myself by facing what I fear most and entering into the painful process of healing?  Am I defined by my most awkward and embarrassing moments, or do I have the courage to redefine myself by saying, “I tried and I value the risk and courage I took in stepping out?”  Am I defined by what other people say about me, or do I have the courage to redefine myself, by letting go of my desire (my illusion actually) to control what other people think of me, and to embrace God’s Unconditional, Unending, Unceasing, Infinite and Eternal, Always and Forever Love for me?

And here’s the kicker, am I defined by my greatest successes, abilities, and talents, or do I have the courage to redefine myself, holding loosely to the momentary highs of this life, to seek the deeper realities of my identity, my manhood, from the One who had created me and knew me from the very beginning in Joy – not some boss who has only known me for just a couple years.

It’s interesting, because this boss never really worked with me on any of my projects, and never sat down to really get to know who I am, but because I obsess over criticisms like the need to pick at an itchy scab, I’ve allowed a debilitating infection to seep into my soul, never allowing the wound to properly heal.

I grew up singing hymns at church, and this last week, I was listening to the song, “Blessed Assurance,” redone by Steven Curtis Chapman.  I love the last two lines of verse three, where it says:

“…watching and waiting, looking above,

filled with His Goodness, lost in His Love.”

It takes great courage and faith to continually seek the voice of the One who love us, which redefines the very essence of who we are.  For me, it is the sound of God’s voice resonating in all corners of life, which “echoes of mercies” in the presence of trusted, true companions, and “whispers of love” in darkest nights of silent prayer and meditation.

Myth: Men Don’t Care about Feelings

What men eat for lunch everyday.

What men eat for lunch everyday.

So, I was on the phone with my friend, Will, the other day.  He’s a good friend that I use to work with.  We saw each other almost everyday at the office, hung out, got lunch together, spent hours talking about ministry and our future goals, our families have hung out together, he loves playing with our son, and he’s even come over many times to help me fix a few things around the house.

I haven’t seen him for a few weeks, and I was calling him back about some tickets to a show that he and his wife were going to that night.  There came a point in our phone conversation where we just ran out of things to talk about, and there were a few seconds of silence over the phone.

In an effort to be funny, but at the same time, wanting to see if my friend missed me, I asked:  “So, ya miss me?”

And immediately, his response was, “I DON’T GET EMOTIONAL LIKE YOU DO!!”

I guess I was asking for it, but still, I was a little hurt by this and the best comeback I could come up with at that moment was, “Jerk!  You have emotions you don’t even know about!”

(I don’t know if I was trying to psychoanalyze my friend by saying that he was in denial, or if I was just trying to be mean here.  Either way, I totally failed at both, because I felt hurt and I was shootin’ blanks on wit that day.  The best way to describe me in that moment was two words: awkward dork.)

This incident reminded me of another.

I was hanging out with Chris, Terrence, and J. Hoang in my living room, talking about their first year of college, when Chris started talking about the college confessions page on their campus.

We began talking about the different kinds of confessions that people were confessing on college campuses nowadays, and some of the ones that we found most interesting were the ones that have to do stereotypes or racial biases.  One of the funnier ones that Terrence mentioned was a confession that said, “I’m a Korean guy, and I suck at LOL (League of Legends).”  We thought that was hilarious, because that is one of the biggest stereotypes out there today: that most Korean guys are incredibly good, if not amazing, at online gaming.

It made me wonder what a Chinese man’s confession would be, so I said this, just to be funny:  “I’m a Chinese man, and I’m okay talking about my feelings.”

We all laughed, because we were all Chinese, and said, “Yeah, that’s a good one.”

If this was a confessions page, I think that would be my confession: I’m a dude, and I like to talk about relational dynamics and feelings, but I’m afraid that the guys can’t handle it and that they might look down on me.

I’m the oddball.  If a bunch of my good buddies were swapping big fish stories, I’d be jumping in and asking why we are even swapping stories on who actually caught the biggest fish.  I’d be teasing (or calling out) how one of the guys got his feelings hurt earlier and now he’s just trying to one up the other guys just to prove that his manhood is still intact.

I know talking like this throws a lot of people off or make people feel uncomfortable, but I guess I’m tired of the bravado and the pretense that tells me I’m not allowed to be afraid, vulnerable, or have weaknesses.

Perhaps I never saw myself fitting that macho man mold, because I found that my strengths lie outside of what our culture is telling us what being a man is suppose to be.  I’m giving myself permission to be how God sees me, and I know the first stop is embracing His love and grace, not my fears and shame.  This is what I believe.

Like most myths and stereotypes, they were meant to be broken, and just a few days ago, I was talking with Will over lunch and he actually admitted that he actually keeps his feelings bottled up most of the time.

I just sat there and thinking, “That’s awesome.  I shouldn’t stop letting people surprise me.”