On Birthday #50 I asked a painful question.
How did I get so grumpy? I wasn’t born grumpy. I wasn’t grumpy as a kid.
Is it something that automatically happens to old men? Sure seems like there’s a lot of us.
I decided to take an inventory of all the activities and attitudes that had changed over the last 20 years. Maybe this was my fault? In my personal audit I noticed 2 things that were all but absent in my younger years.
First, fat. So I made a lifestyle change, bought a fitness watch, lost some weight, slept better, and got a bit less grumpy. But losing weight’s a walk in the park compared to the other thing I noticed – a bad habit that seems to get worse as I get older.
It’s something I didn’t do in my 30’s. I didn’t need it. I definitely didn’t do it when I was a kid; life was too fun to waste time on crap like this.
Now, I can’t seem to go five minutes without paying homage. It makes me feel good, and feeds an emptiness that’s been growing since I became a Christian, oddly enough.
In the early 1990’s I entered the world of Evangelical Christianity and began attending a small church in Texarkana, Arkansas. I was a mess at the time and needed a place to belong, a place where I felt valued. This was it.
I remember sitting in the back row during Sunday morning services, looking at the small gathering of fellow congregants, thinking to myself how good and holy these people were.
They were fighting the good fight, saying “no!” to the evils of the world and “yes!!” to God.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but in this moment, convinced that there was a significant number of people in the world that I saw as “good” convinced me that my world was “good.”
It was one of the most peaceful chapters of my life.
Years later, I became a pastor and quickly learned that Christians can be just as bad as everyone else.
I could no longer sit in church relaxing in the glow of corporate holiness. “That guy cheated on his wife.” “That couple’s getting a divorce.” “Those people love to gossip.” “Big Charlie’s on his fifth donut.”
I also learned that Christians can be mean. As a minister, I got my ass kicked.
The peace I felt in my Texarkana years quickly evaporated.
Aren’t we supposed to be different than everyone else? In some ways it seemed like Christians were worse.
In this ministry chapter of my life, I couldn’t seem to find anyone I could call “good,” including myself. And in this absence of good people, the world seemed like a bad place.
The biggest difference between 20-year-ago-me and present-me is the way I look at people. 20 years ago I thought people were good. Now I struggle with that idea. I’m learning that the way I view my world is tied to how I view people.
If people are bad, my world is bad.
And if my world is bad, I can’t be happy.
In a nutshell, the way I view people is making me grumpy.
But in the past few years, I’ve learned two truths that are “saving” me – two beliefs about humanity that are changing my world, and my ability to be happy.
Anatomy of a Jackass
Show me somebody who’s being a jerk and I’ll guarantee you – we can travel back in their past and find multiple people who’ve hurt them.
Jesus said “we love because God first loved us.” It’s the same with hate. We can’t be a jackass unless some hurt us first. And when we fail to resolve those hurts, as many of us do, they come out in ways that end up hurting others.
Be careful when you decide to be a jackass – shooting the bird on the highway, snipping at your waiter, yelling at your kids – it ripples far beyond us.
Ultimately, nobody wants to be a jackass. Believing that helps me to forgive, to approach the jackassery of our world with compassion and understanding.
I’ve come to believe that someone can be a jackass, and still be “good.” And that’s affected my ability to be happy.
The Best You Can Do? Seriously?
But we look at the jackasses of our lives, firmly convinced that they simply need to think differently, or act differently. Our only option is to judge them, tack some label onto them. We see them as “bad” because they can’t get their shit together.
Again, if enough people become “bad” in our eyes, our world becomes “bad,” and our ability to be happy goes down the tubes.
A few years ago I read something by Brene Brown that I absolutely hated. It made me a little sick to be honest, but I know she’s right. Quoting a friend of hers, she stabbed:
“Steve said, “I don’t know. I really don’t. All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” His answer felt like truth to me. Not an easy truth, but truth.”
I could name at least 10 people who I firmly believe need to get their shit together. If I could somehow accept that for the toilet water that it is and believe that these people are actually doing the best they can, I would experience a mountain of change.
The people who I’ve labeled “bad” would suddenly become “good.” That would change the way I view my world, which would take a huge bite out my grumpy-old-man crap.
But labeling people is something that I’ve done for a long time now. Climbing out of this hole, cutting people the slack they deserve, and moving toward peace will be one of the most difficult changes I’ll ever make – far more difficult than things like losing weight, or learning more about the Bible, or all the other changes we make in our middle age quests for happiness.
And while I’m not very good at the lifestyle I’m proposing here, I can attest, from personal experience, that the more people we label as “bad,” the more pieces of our souls will be forfeit.
But, trite as this might sound, souls grow back.