I’ve been married for over 17 years, and man have I gotten better at fighting.
I win most of the time, but let me explain what that has come to mean for me.
When my wife and I first got married, and for the next 8 years or so, we lived under a mountain of tension, hurt feelings, and heated arguments. Most of the time, our quarrels would end in whoever didn’t get the last word giving in and walking away. We’d give it a couple of days or so, then act like nothing happened.
We rarely resolved anything.
Most of the people/couples I’ve mentored over the years are living the same way. The only thing fighting does is add hurt to the mounting cache of hurt-piles that will ultimately become too much to bear. Each argument is a step closer to the end.
Sometime in my mid-forties, I made a discovery that changed my life: when I get angry in an argument, 99% of the time it has nothing to do with the thing we’re arguing about.
Most of the time, I get pissed at my wife because she’s not listening to me. If we’re fighting, and I recount things from my perspective, and get shut down with a dialogue about how her perspective is better, I go through the roof.
And I’m not alone.
Most of us struggle here. When we have a perspective, when we want someone to know they’ve done something wrong, and they quickly, and with great volume respond with all the different ways we’re wrong, we won’t get mad because Read more →
I married an introvert, bless her heart, and spent the first 8 years or so of our marriage driving her crazy, and vice versa.
If you’ve married one of us extroverts, you’ve had some dark thoughts about your spouse. It’s OK. We’re nutbags who can suck the life out of you if we’re running the show.
But at the end of the day, it’s a personality thing. We’re not bad people, we just get a ton of energy out of things you tend to hate.
The Primacy of Parties
Sorry, if you have an extrovert in your house, you’re going to have to throw some parties. People you don’t know, and/or don’t care to know are going to invade your home, drink your booze, scratch up your floors, and corner you with small talk.
And if you’re my age, they’ll bring their kids.
Quiet get-togethers with a couple of friends over a warm cup of tea are death to an extrovert. We need music, grills, and loads of people.
I don’t know what it is about parties, but after I’ve thrown one, even a bad one, I feel great for the next few days.
And, really, parties are easy. Sure, the house gets messed up. Sure, I’ll “help” clean up afterwards. But the payoff is well worth the mayhem.
Never Met a Stranger
Sometimes strangers are more fun than old friends because there’s all this new stuff to learn about them, and no water under the bridge.
It’s fun to find out where people are from, what they do. And if they’re from planet Ex, well… get ready for hours of small talk.
Wife and I were on a date the other night to see the Broadway musical “School of Rock.” Shortly after we settled into our seats (that were probably designed by the Frontier Airlines anti-legroom department) I struck up a conversation with the elderly woman sitting next to me. About 10 minutes into our conversation I asked myself something I’ve never questioned before.
“Why am I sitting here chatting it up with a complete stranger and not talking to my wife?”
Wife’s not a boring person – by a longshot. She’s a thinker, and knows/loves me better than anyone else. But there’s something about a stranger. And this one happened to be an extrovert as well.
I know, this world is a crazy place. A stranger can be a really nice person, or a complete psychopath.
But for us, it’s worth the risk.
Because everything revolves around people, we tend to be sensitive when things aren’t right in our relationships and social interactions.
We worry about what people are thinking, and can many times suffer from social anxiety. We see things you introverts typically can’t. We’ll raise the alarm in the most peaceful of places. True, sometimes we’ll see problems that aren’t there, but at least 30% of the time we’re right on the money.
This can be a good thing when we have the courage to step into places of tension. But because we’re so sensitive to what others are thinking, we typically avoid it all, look past the problems, downgrade them, act like they’re not real, and get super unhealthy in the process.
So when we run from relational problems, especially the ones in our marriage, it’s not because we hate you. It’s super scary. True, we need to grow up and face the music, but we tend to struggle here.
Extroverts think as they speak, while introverts think before they speak.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve blurted out something stupid, then regretted it for the next 20 years because I later realized what I actually said.
I’d love to provide you with some juicy stories, but they’re so. embarrassing.
Well… maybe one…
I’d say “don’t judge” but that’d be asking too much of most humans.
I had a friend in high school who was way cooler than me. At parties, he would frequently do this maniacal laugh that would start out low and soft, then quickly build into something hilarious. Everyone thought it was hilarious. Every time.
As someone who desperately wanted to climb the popularity ladder, I tucked my friend’s crazy laugh into my “I’ll try that at a party sometime” pocket.
About a year later, I sat at the dinner table with my girlfriend of 6 months. Things had gotten uncomfortably quiet so I thought I’d try the maniacal laugh thing. The problem was that we were eating dinner at her mom’s house, surrounded by her family, most of whom I had never met.
I knew her mom though, and boy did that lady hate me.
In the midst of a quiet moment, I mimicked my friend’s shtick:
ha ha ha …
bwaaaa ha ha ha ha ha haaaa!!!!
And then sat back and waited for everyone to laugh.
Everyone looked at me. More silence.
You might be tempted to chalk this one up to sheer, unmitigated social-awkwardness, and you’d be right. I have a long history of clueless, awkward, social perpetrations. But an introvert would have stopped to do a bit of thinking, maybe something akin to, “I don’t know most of these people, and the matriarch, who outweighs me by a thousand camels, hates my guts. Maybe I should keep my mouth shut,” among other things.
Extroverts typically don’t do that.
We’re not insensitive, We’re simply in a hurry to connect.
And whatever connections we do manage are worth the risk of social embarrassment – in the moment at least.
When We’re Wilting
For those of us married to introverts, it’s easy to feel like we’re cramping their style, or simply annoying them.
We want peace and harmony, so we try to live like introverts, which doesn’t go well. When the kids come along, especially when they’re young, we get tired/lazy and stop putting fun stuff on the calendar.
Then we wonder why we’re so depressed, hiding in the garage with a bottle of whiskey when we think nobody’s looking – or whatever unsavory activity we’ve gotten ourselves into because our souls are drying up.
When we don’t get the time we need on planet EX, bad things happen; usually bad things that spread to the people close to us – too much TV, booze, can’t sleep, porn, overeating. We struggle with addictions, not because we love food or booze or TV, but because our souls have gotten so thirsty for extroversion time that they start groping in the dark for anything that feels like a party.
Addictions make anyone – regardless of personality type – grumpy, checked out, uninterested.
This makes us seem like we’ve completely lost control, which scares the H out of our introverted spouses, who are tempted to step in and help us get control, which can sometimes make things worse.
What we’re in need of is a good party, a Sunday afternoon bbq with friends, golf with buddies, beer with friends – even a boring Sunday school class can help.
If you’re an introvert living with an extrovert, don’t let them run the show. You have needs that they don’t understand, and that’s OK. But if your extroverted spouse hasn’t been out with the boys in a month, there’s trouble ahead. For your own sanity, you might need to throw an emergency party, or give them a weekend “off” to go do whatever they want – something – for God’s sake – before their innate desire for extroversion time burns everything to the ground.
It’s a crazy book to be sure, and crazy people love to beat non-religious people over the head with it, despite the fact that Jesus (in the Bible) told His followers not to do that.
It’s an ancient book too. Our modern Bibles are copies of copies of copies – spanning thousands of years. The people who made these copies sat at a table, with a pen, and a candle, and were sure to make mistakes, and press their own agendas.
The most popular book ever written about the origin of the Bible (to my knowledge) quickly became a bestseller, mainly because it told us what we wanted to hear – the Bible we have today doesn’t represent, with any reliable degree of accuracy, what was originally written. Toss it. It’s garbage.
Eat that, crazy religious people.
The problem is that the archaeological evidence doesn’t support this book’s conclusions, neither does a book that the same author co-authored some years before writing Misquoting Jesus.
You can say that the Bible is a crazy book, and reject it, and I’d totally understand, and we could still be best friends.
But you can’t say that what we have today doesn’t represent what was first penned.
I know, I’m an Evangelical, and this smacks of me trying to defend my tribe at all costs. But I swear to all that is holy that I’ve done my homework here. I’ve considered as many sides of the argument as I can. And while this might sound like it’s going to be a boring, nerdy blog post, there’s an interesting story here. Hang tight for a bit.
The Dead Sea Scrolls.
Sometime in the mid 1900’s, a shepherd tending his flock near the ancient settlement of Khirbet Qumran threw a rock into a cave to scare out one of his sheep that had wandered in. He heard a crash, then entered the cave to investigate. His rock had broken a jar containing what he thought to be a bunch of old leather – a portion of it was sold to make shoelaces until someone got a clue that these were very old, very valuable religious documents.
Among these manuscripts was a complete copy of the Old Testament book “Isaiah,” dated around 125 BCE (the actual book was penned around 700 BCE).
At the time, the oldest copy of Isaiah known to be in existence was penned around 1000 CE.
There was a stretch of almost 2000 years between what was originally written and what we had in our hands. It was widely believed, understandably, that the 1000 CE copy of the Isaiah scroll could be nothing like the original. Too many scribes (and others) had gotten their hands on it – surely it was corrupted beyond restoration.
And now we could prove it. We had a copy of this scroll that was penned somewhere in the middle between the original and the 1000 CE version. Everyone knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that when the 125 BCE version was compared to the 1000 CE version of the Isaiah scroll, they’d be different, proving that the people who made all these copies, changed them – over and over again.
Here’s what happened, and it turned everyone’s understanding of the Bible on its head – for awhile.
When the 125 BCE Isaiah scroll was compared to the 1000 BCE version, there were differences. Here’s an example of one place where these two scrolls diverged – from Isaiah 53:3, what many scholars believe to be a prophecy of the coming Messiah:
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 1000 BCE version
He is despised and rejected of men and man of sorrows, and he knows grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; and despised him, and we esteemed him not. 125 BCE version
Of all the differences now catalogued between these two versions, 95% of the time, they’re not a big deal, and don’t change the meaning of the text. Sure, there’s an occasional “big deal” change that was made by ancient scribes, but a) it doesn’t happen very often and b) modern scholars are really good at comparing all the manuscripts we have and getting at the original – sort of like people who restore old paintings, they can tell what’s missing by what’s there.
What the Dead Sea Scroll taught us was that, somehow, a bunch of ancient, different, unrelated people managed to transmit a very lengthy document for 1000 years with an alarming level of accuracy.
The same holds true for the scads of New Testament manuscripts that we have in our possession. There are differences – legions of them, but the vast majority are “small deal” differences; something akin to “see spot run” vs. “see spot hasten.”
For example, one copy of Galatians 1:4 reads “… who gave himself for the sake of our sins” while another reads “… who gave himself to atone for our sins.” Someone changed something, but both say the same thing.
To be sure, there are “big deal” changes that were made, something akin to “see spot run” vs. “see spot read,” but they don’t happen very frequently (liberal scholars put it at 5%, some say less), and again, there are folk trained in the fine art of getting close to the original based on what they have.
In the popular book I mentioned above, Misquoting Jesus, Dr. Ehrman only offers “big deal” examples of the changes scribes made. He doesn’t mention the fact that these don’t happen very often. This leaves the reader with the impression that every time a scribe changed something, it was a huge change that significantly diverged from the original meaning of the text.
It’s easy to read Misquoting Jesus and walk away believing that our modern Bibles are garbage.
But in an earlier book that Dr. Ehrman co-authored, the facts are more clearly stated – 95% of the time, scribes got it right, for thousands and thousand of years. For some reason, he left that out of Misquoting Jesus, which is a good thing if you’re trying to sell a book about the Bible to our modern culture.
Word of God?
Bart Ehrman’s spot-on. Scribes changed the Bible – they got sleepy, left out some things, added others. Sometimes they got uncomfortable with what they were reading. Sometimes they added explanations and qualifications, either in the margins or directly into the text. But, at worst, 95% of the time they did it right – no technology, no governing body, nothing to keep them in check, save the fact that they thought they were copying the very words of God, and they might get in a world of trouble if they screwed up.
You can say that the Bible is utter hogwash, or that the people who wrote it were crazy, but the belief that we can in no way recover what was originally written, or that our modern Bibles are a collection of horribly corrupted manuscripts has no sound evidence.
For me, the Bible has saved my keester on many occasions. In it, I’m commanded to unconditionally forgive, to invest in the lives of people who are poor, folk who are hurting. It paints the picture of a God who doesn’t fuck around, yet also loves and forgives without limit or qualification.
This book has taught me to give myself and everyone around me a break, which has brought a level of peace to my life that no other book has.
And when another Bible-believing brother or sister tries to convince me of things that are “un-Biblical,” like “fight the gays!” and “God’s a Republican!” I’ve been formally trained to use the Bible to straighten them out.
There are some things in the Bible that are difficult to reconcile, and hard to understand. If there is a God who can know and do much more than us, His truths will seem weird, even crazy at times. So I go with the stuff that seems clear to me, and leave the rest to the mercy and love that the Bible has led me to count on.
Articles on “how to heal from low self esteem” are all over the internet. And the advice they offer drives me crazy.
Find a New Challenge
Learn to Be Assertive
Focus on Your Positives
Take Care of Yourself
Avoid Negative Self-Talk
If you’ve tried any of these remedies, you know none of them work, which makes you feel like a loser because you couldn’t fix the problem, which is the last thing you need right now.
To get any victory here, you’re going to need to start with one of the most painful questions you can ask.
Where did your low self esteem come from?
Hint: you’re not born with it.
Why You Think You Suck
You didn’t come out of the womb with low self esteem.
Someone gave it to you.
Sometime in your early, formative years, someone passed their low self esteem to you. In many different ways, this person (or persons) conveyed the message that you’re not worth much.
And you believed them.
Maybe you were physically abused, sexually abused, screamed at. Perhaps it was more subtle. Maybe you were neglected too much – not enough for the neighbor to call Social Services, but just enough for you to believe there’s something wrong with you.
I have a friend who’s parents follow her around 24/7 and tell her what she’s doing wrong.
She’s grown up feeling like an idiot and can’t shake it.
Or what about the guy who’s parents only loved him when he did something good? He’ll spend the rest of his life only feeling good about himself when he manages some kind of accomplishment. He’ll live from mountaintop to mountaintop, struggling to be present in his own family because the only thing that matters is success.
Low self esteem drives all manner of problems from relational discord to addiction to suicide.
Unfortunately, most people have it.
And what drives me nuts is the fact that most of the articles and resources aimed at helping people heal don’t deal with the most important truth about your low self esteem.
It came at the hands of someone else.
The Only Way Out
That might not sound like an epiphany to you, but that truth has a huge bearing on your healing.
Because your low self esteem came at the hands of someone else, the remedy is going to have to come through the same medium.
You’re going to have to spend time with people who love you, people who see the real you. Positive people. Healthy people.
These people, through their words and actions, just like the people who gave you bad self esteem, will tell you over and over again that you’re OK, that you’re not a bad person.
This truth about you can only come from someone else.
You can’t think your way out of this, or change something and watch your low self esteem magically disappear.
But because we don’t like who we are, we surround ourselves with the pretty people, the successful people – and they’re the worst. Their self esteem is just as bad as yours, they’ve just found a way to cover it up better than you have.
Healthy people don’t worry as much about style and other cultural alternatives for self worth. They’re not the sexy people; the people everyone wants to be around. Most of them can be found at churches, volunteer organizations, and nursing homes.
How boring is that?
But these people can, and will, change your life. All you have to do is put yourself in their arena. They’ll do the rest. It’s who they are.
Years ago, I drank the Kool Aide and started attending church. Because of my career, I ended up in a tiny, conservative, Evangelical country church in Texarkana, Arkansas.
While that might sound like death to you, it was the beginning of the end for my low self esteem. I was mentored by one of the elders who was an expert at encouragement. I became friends with the youth pastor who never took issue with my many unsavory qualities.
To be sure, this congregation wasn’t without its kooks. But for the most part it was filled with people who were committed to helping me see the truth about myself.
It’s who they were.
I’ll never forget them, or what they perpetrated against my low self esteem.
Now, as a Stay at Home Dad and a volunteer at our church, I deal with the unsavory qualities of others on a regular basis. I don’t spend nearly as much time as I should in the company of healthy people, but I get enough to keep moving forward.
Looking back on the last 20 years of my life, and at whatever success I’ve had in restoring my self-view, I see a long line of people who stood by my side and spoke truth, over and over again, about who I am.
Without friendships like these, I’d be a wreck.
If you’re struggling here, you’ll get nowhere without people in your life who have a healthy view of themselves. They’re the only ones who can undo the self-lying that you’ve been living with for so long.
This parenting nugget will sound like bad news if you’ve never heard it:
Our kids’ development hinges on whether or not we make a regular, solid, meaningful connection with them.
Connected kids do better in school, better in relationships, and have a better chance of growing into high-functioning adults.
The state of Colorado requires somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 hours of parenting classes for people who’ve chosen to adopt kids. These classes are a ton of time and energy to attend, but forever changed my understanding of what’s most important in the life of any kid.
We’ve adopted 3 kids now, so we’ve racked up almost 100 hours.
One of the biggest take-away’s for me was this: Our kids’ development depends on whether or not we connect with them in ways that are meaningful to them, not us. All the movie dates, trips to the ice cream store, reading before bed, etc., don’t matter if our time together doesn’t communicate – to them – that they are loved and valued.
In a nutshell, I play one of the most fundamental roles in their lives. If I do the connection piece well, they’ll form a view of themselves that nobody can mess with. If I fail here, they’ll wander zombie-like through life, letting everyone and everything define who and what they are.
That’s unacceptable. So I went into early parenthood scared to death that I’d fail here and damage my kids. Fear and shame have always been great motivators for me, unfortunately, so I tried hard, really hard, to plan opportunities for connection, which seldom went well.
For example, I’d plan some game-time with my oldest. She’s very competitive, and prone to cheating, so this always ended up with her crumpled up on the floor because she landed in Molasses Swamp and didn’t appreciate my lectures on honesty and fairness.
I’d then get angry because a) I have all this anxiety about connecting with my kids and felt like a failure and b) 20 minutes of Candy Land with a close-minded cheater is no fun.
Fortunately, about 5 years into my journey, I noticed something about her that applies to my other two kids as well.
If I could offer one piece of parental guidance, what follows would be it.
Connecting on Their Terms, Not Ours
My oldest comes alive at around 8:00 PM, which is unfortunately the worst time of day for me.
But if I can muster the energy to be present with her, even if it’s for 15 minutes, boom. Problem solved. I don’t have to plan anything, or come up with creative ideas, or spend tons of money. All I have to do is show up, forget about the stuff I’m worried about, talk, play, answer questions, watch the occasional funny cat video, and she feels loved, heard, valued.
It takes a ton of energy for me to get over my tired-dad-8PM shtick, but it works wonders for her.
If I try to connect with her at any other time throughout the day, with rare exception, she ain’t havin’ it.
So I made a game-changing rule. I’ve decided to let her run the show on the whole connection thing. If she wants to talk, or show me her school work, I try like hell to drop what I’m doing and be present in this window of opportunity that’s not always open.
This is So. Much. Easier.
In a nutshell, I can’t more highly recommend learning the fine art of being sensitive to those times when our kids want to connect. Dropping what we’re doing and responding to them is light years easier than planning, spending, and failing – not to mention the hopelessness that comes from botched connection attempts.
No Such Thing as Bad Kids – Child Development 101
My kids are more well behaved when they feel good about themselves, and it’s impossible for them to feel good about themselves when I’m constantly blowing them off.
Connection is just as fundamental to raising good kids as anything else.
When they’re not getting the time they need, they feel shame, and shame causes anxiety. Most of the time, anxiety causes kids to go berserk. They don’t know what to do with it, so they act out. As parents, we’re tempted to focus on the behavior, not thinking about what’s underneath, so we punish, lecture, raise our voices, etc., which exacerbates the bad behavior, which makes us less likely to connect…
…wash, rinse, repeat…
They’re like any other human who’s dealing with anxiety. Have you noticed how hard it is to be the parent you want to be when you’re experiencing high levels of shame, fear, and worry?
The only reason kids treat other kids like crap is because they’re feeling like crap. The same goes for adults.
My oldest, like any other kid, has a “tell.” When she’s not feeling connected, she picks on her middle sister, which drives me insane because her middle sister’s adoption story is the hardest of the bunch. She’s not in need of more people treating her like crap.
Best Seat in the House
To respond to my daughters bad-behavior-that’s-actually-a-cry-for-connection, all I have to do is put the two younger kids to bed early, sneak into my oldest’s room around 8, climb into bed with her, maybe prime the pump with a couple of easy questions, and she’ll take the reins. We’ll hang out for 15-20 minutes, and it will mean the world to her.
Unless it’s been awhile since we’ve connected.
If that’s the case, it’s harder for her to get back to that place where she knows she’s loved. It might take us a couple of tries, there might be a few nights where I go out of my way to spend time with her, only to get rejected. This is a big deal for her, there’s a piper to pay if I’m not consistent.
But I’m getting better at seeing the signs, and better at making consistent routines so that I’m not always spending my energy playing catch-up.
I’m also getting better at laying my worries/anxiety aside so I can be present with my kids. Consistently flexing this muscle makes me stronger, more likely to flex it, even when life is difficult.
We’ve got one kid that I have no problem connecting with. I’m not sure why, we just “click.” At any time in the day, barring the times when she’s mad about something, we hug, snuggle, laugh, kiss. It’s tempting to think “why can’t the other kids be like her?”
Parents do this all the time. I’ve done it for most of my parenting life.
We find all kinds of ways to blame our kids for their bad behavior. Who wants to take that kind of responsibility? And if we’re really good at blame-shifting, we can excuse ourselves from the whole connection piece and get on with our “lives.”
As a pastor/coach/mentor, I’ve spent a ton of time helping people work through the damage caused by parents who consistently failed to connect. These people deal with a mountain of shame/anxiety, and will take a lot of it to their grave.
But it’s a mistake to go at this with some kind of fear that we’re going to screw up our kids if we don’t get this right. I’ve done that, it doesn’t work – the last thing us parents need is more anxiety.
It’s a guarantee that our kids, multiple times throughout the day, are going to make a bid for connection. They’ll start talking about something important to them, or crawl into our laps, or do something annoying, or a host of other things that might be difficult to see as a request for closeness.
If we can manage to see these gestures for what they truly are – untimely, inconvenient, and annoying as they may be – and if we can drop what we’re doing and be present, we can nourish our kids, give them something powerful, and sit for a moment in a place that we all need to be.
When you see us dropping the kids off at school in our slippers – a little shot of whiskey in our coffee – have pity.
The divorce rate for stay at home dads is significantly higher than marriages where dad brings home the bacon.
This is not a happy place.
A few years ago, I was working as a pastor, with a cozy little web business on the side. Since my schedule was more flexible than my wife’s, I was on tap for getting the kids to and from school.
But our kids were struggling. They’re all adopted, still crossing swords with the aftershocks of whatever they experienced before coming home to us. They needed one parent to go full-time.
And I was blown-up tired.
My wife’s career is a bigger deal than the one I had scratched out, and far more lucrative, so I drew the short straw, passed the web business off to a girl I had been working with, and stepped down as a pastor – which was a good thing. I’ve never been good at pastoring.
I’ve had lots of career dreams and aspirations in my life. Stay at home dad never made the list. Read more →
We got in a huge fight about 2 months into our dating relationship.
She said something akin to “debt is wrong.”
I, having a relationship with debt that closely resembled my relationship with oxygen, got offended by this. Most of my friends had insane credit card balances too.
I seriously reconsidered breaking things off – having such a fundamental difference of perspective might get toxic. So I went to my pastor to discuss…
He did a really good job of listening to my side of things, which led me to believe that I was in the right, and should consider a different direction with this relationship.
Then he turned a complete 180, called me a freakin’ idiot for entertaining the idea of me, breaking things off with a smart, beautiful woman who happens to have a super healthy view of money. Strongly implied in this dressing-down was the idea that someone like me was super lucky to find someone like her. Read more →
Our youngest daughter was 8 months old when we adopted her from an orphanage in Ethiopia. She had some difficult trauma to navigate, and it would take time to win the right to be Dad.
One week later, as she lay on her changing table, we locked eyes for a moment. She seemed to be thinking, “Maybe this guy’s legit.”
All I could think was, “This kid’s black.”
I was completely taken by surprise.
I grew up in the metro Dallas area in the 70’s and 80’s. Jim Crow was 10 years out of its misery on my birthday, but Northeast Texas was still a difficult place for people of color. I entered my teens desperately seeking the approval of the cool crowd, which always poked fun at black people. There were never any black kids in our squad, and we seldom talked about them without invoking the n-word.
When I became a Christian, I was introduced to a new crowd, one that didn’t value disparaging others. My outward racism quickly ground to a halt, but the damage had been done. Like most of my friends, I lived with a very firm conviction:
there must be something wrong with black people.
Decades later, staring into my daughter’s huge, coffee-brown eyes, I was confronted with the racial prejudice I had engaged, entertained, and tolerated most of my life.
I eventually fell in love. I became her father—in her eyes and mine. I can’t imagine any kid, even a biological kid, feeling more like my kid than this kid. I see a human being, wrapped in beautiful brown skin, with all the potential of any other person.
But my feelings for this one black person had me convinced that my prejudice against all black people had been put to bed.
Living in the Wrong Story
Like so many in America, I’d come to believe that if blacks can’t make life work, it’s their fault. We’ve adopted a mountain of legislation to protect them. They’re now more educated and empowered to pursue their dreams than ever before.
I saw prisons full of blacks, and my favorite news outlets were often awash with the misdeeds of ne’er-do-well nonwhite folk. The voices I trusted reassured me over and over again, “there must be something wrong with black people.”
A few years after my daughter came home, I was introduced to an entirely different story when my exasperated non-white spouse encouraged me to read a book.
Ten years ago, author, lawyer, and social activist Michelle Alexander claimed that our criminal justice system is recklessly skewed against the black community. Her book, The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, is a mob of statistics, history, personal narratives, and testimonies that I had a hard time believing.
So I fact-checked her over-the-top story. It was 10 years old after all. Maybe things had changed.
I spent 6 months poring over crime, arrest, incarceration, and drug use information provided by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Few would argue their legitimacy.
I wish I hadn’t looked.
There’s no need to recount the studies, charts, and other proof that our country has a big problem here. People like Michelle Alexander have been vocal about this for years—their work is now a quick internet search away. I was shocked and embarrassed to learn that I’d been in the dark for so long.
All of this was accompanied by a bit of righteous anger. I had just been introduced to our country’s morass of racial inequities, and began to think about how I might do my part to change things.
A racist person wouldn’t do that, right?
Emancipated by a Large Group of Black People
We now have two kids from Ethiopia, both attending an inner-city school near our house. Every morning, we walk through hallways jam packed with black people, then sit in a crowded auditorium waiting for teachers to gather their classes.
My racist inner voice goes off the chain in these spaces, telling unflattering stories about people I’ve never met, simply because of the color of their skin. That woman looks like she’s still in her pajamas—lazy. I wonder if that guy’s in a gang—criminal. Look at that piece-of-junk he’s driving—irresponsible.
I’ve since gotten to know a few of the parents, some of the teachers, the principal. Where I used to see people who need to clean up their acts, I’m starting to see heroes who have a mountain of barriers stacked against them. Many could be playing the victim, but aren’t.
I’m adopting a new understanding about the black community. But the old story is still there, and won’t leave without a fight. Each morning, I engage in a sort of emotional-intellectual war, trying to give this new story space to grow roots.
I’m still tempted to believe that my racism has been put to bed. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that I’ll always have work to do. Once you embrace this spirit, it’s super hard to get rid of.
I don’t think I’ll ever be done.
What’s Missing in Our Attempts at Reconciliation
While I’m ashamed to share my predicament, I know I’m not alone. There is no shortage of voices claiming that racism is a problem among people of faith. A growing number of these are white Evangelical authors, scholars, and pastors.
We should listen. Every time the spirit of racism has taken hold of a country, the devout are often its unwitting supporters. It is arrogant to believe that us church folk are immune.
It’s not that we don’t care about justice, equity, and solutions to our segregated Sunday mornings. These topics have been growing in popularity for years. As a seminary-trained church leader, I’ve had numerous conversations about our responsibility here. And we’ve made some unprecedented strides.
But we typically excuse ourselves from the question: “Are we racist?” Me? You?
We don’t feel racist. And we get mad enough when the topic of systemic racism is broached. Imagine how angry we’d get during a sermon on personal racism.
It’s not a question we should be skipping.
I have an elderly friend, Miss Asie, who was raised by sharecroppers in Mississippi long ago. I asked what she thought would be more powerful: whites and blacks going to church together and fighting racial inequity, or white Christians dealing with their own racism?
She chose the latter.
There are lots of us. White Evangelicals occupy one of the most powerful demographics on the planet. If we were able to somehow manage mass-repentance, Asie knows that mountains would move.
As discussions about racial healing become more prominent in our churches, it’s mission-critical for each of us to back up and ask:
Do I have negative feelings about the black community?
Do I say “All Lives Matter” because I feel like blacks exaggerate their experiences with racism?
Do I feel like blacks are mostly lazy, uneducated, entitled, criminal?
Do I tell myself stories about people I don’t know simply because of the color of their skin?
Am I racist?
I asked that question, diabolical as it is, and never imagined the answer would be yes. I have black friends, black children. I’ve been to multiple meetings about racial equity, reconciliation, and integration. I’ve marched in the MLK marade on Colfax with my friends from Black Lives Matter.
It was a difficult thing to admit, and began for me a journey of repentance that’s been less-than-cozy. But the power and clarity that came with the pain have been well worth it.
I had no idea how free I wasn’t.
Now, I’m left with some deep concerns about the impact that racism is having on our attempts to bring healing. Would our reconciliation campaigns find new freedom, power, and success if they were accompanied by repentance at the personal level?
Is our racism holding us back?
This unholy spirit has constrained our country since day one. It chained me up for years. I have no problem believing that it’s constraining God’s church as well.
When I was in grad school I had a crush on a girl who I thought had a crush on me. When I asked her out in the library she squirmed a bit and said, “Hmmm… I’ll need to pray about that.”
I said, “Oh, yeah, OK” and walked away feeling like the biggest idiot this side of the Mississippi.
A few days later, while I was studying in same said library, a girl I knew walked by and asked me if I was going to go on a school-sponsored trip to Mexico. I said I had a ton to do and wouldn’t be able to make it.
We talked for a bit about life. She said she was taking a break from med school to take a few missionary classes at our seminary.
When our conversation wrapped up, she walked away and I thought “wow, that was the most amazing conversation I’ve ever had.” To this day I can’t get that girl out of my mind.
And you can bet your ass I went on that Mexico trip.
When I came home from the trip, Prayer girl decided that she wanted to date me, so we started hanging out. But I couldn’t stop thinking about Amazing girl.
Questionable at best to date one girl while being interested in another – but these were my days of confusion.
And I’ll never forget the night I decided to break up with Prayer girl and start dating Amazing girl. Read more →
I wish I would’ve learned this in my 30’s, it would’ve saved so much grief, frustration, relational entropy – emotional energy.
I’ve spent most of my life believing that situation determines happiness – the right job, a good boss, money, etc. I’ve had multiple careers as a result – nothing salves a crappy life better than a drastic change.
There have been some fun moments, tons of things to be learned, not many of which have helped in my latest career – Stay At Home Dad (SAHD). Regardless of where I’ve landed vocationally, there’s always been a nagging compulsion to change everything as soon as life becomes stale, boring, unjust, or downright bad.
Feeling like I can’t be happy until things change has always made me downright bitter, especially in those times where I was powerless to change things. There’s nothing worse than being stuck, feeling like you’re supposed to be somewhere else.
Everything changed in my late 40’s when I was assaulted in a men’s airport restroom.
I left my wife at the gate with 3 ancy kids, hoping to be back in time to board. This particular facility was attended by a soon-to-be elderly gentleman of Middle-Eastern descent. Read more →