How I’m Learning to Drop the Act

Letting Go of the Performance

Recently, I had lunch with a very close friend. The thing about this close friend of mine is that he’s an effortlessly funny guy. Comedy comes as second nature to him, as he always knows how to lighten the mood with laughter from one of his witty jokes or just his natural demeanor. And I admire that about him. But I started to notice something about myself as I was having lunch with him.

As we talked, I kept feeling this gnawing pressure to make a joke. I really wanted to say something funny. I racked my brain twice over thinking of a punchline or a funny voice or anything that I could muster from my personality in order to get a laugh. The pressure grew and grew as the conversation went on until lunch was finally over and I realized I had not said anything remotely hysterical. I felt like a failure.

For some reason or another, I felt dejected; like I lost a significant battle with myself. But I’ve felt this pressure before. I’m no stranger to it. I’ve felt this pressure for as long as I could remember. In fact, I’ve become so accustomed to the pressure that it has become engraved in who I am. So much so that I’ve been blinded to it’s consequences on my soul. And while I’m often prone to overlook this pressure, for some reason I couldn’t overlook it this day.

After lunch was over and as I was mulling over the defeated feeling I had in my soul, I finally asked myself the question I’ve always neglected: Where is this feeling coming from?

Why did I feel like I had failed at such a trivial thing as making a joke? That’s when I was reminded of something Donald Miller shared about himself in one of my favorite books, Scary Close.  In his book, he shares how when he was a kid and his dad split, he felt like he had to prove he was intelligent in order to matter.

One time, his sister and her friends were over so he took a broken tape recorder apart and he spread the pieces across his bed. Then, as he sat there holding his screwdriver, he pretended to act like he was fixing it by looking at the pieces intently and moving the parts around on his bed. When his sister and her friends asked what some of the parts were, he would say that they wouldn’t understand. But in reality, he had no idea what he was doing.

He went on to say,

Ever since I was a child, ever since I became wrongly convinced I had to be bigger and smarter than I really was, I’ve been trying to perform, trying to convince people I was more capable than I really was. I’d been sending that same nine-year old kid who took the tape recorder apart out into the world to speak and perform and interact with people.

When I went back and re-read this, I realized that’s me. Somewhere along the line as a kid, I felt like I had to prove something in order to matter. Whether it was proving I was athletic, smart, or funny,  I felt it necessary to prove I was any of these in order to belong and to matter to someone. That kid has still been interacting with others in my place to this day. Consequently, my relationships have suffered from it ever since.

Attraction Isn’t Intimacy

I couldn’t even be myself with one of my closest friends. I felt like I had to impress him with a joke or else he would see me for the fraud I really am and decide to bounce. I was afraid he would abandon our friendship after finding out how boring I was. That’s when I realized I didn’t just do that with him either, but with almost all of my relationships. I started to notice this pressure to perform to some degree manifested itself in every relationship I had. And while I was reluctant to make this revelation, it felt good to finally realize why I felt so much “performance anxiety” all the time.

Miller goes on to say,

The reality of trying to be bigger and smarter than we are is that it sort of works, and then falls apart. It’s true people are attracted to intelligence and strength and even money, but attraction isn’t intimacy. What attracts us doesn’t always connect us. I can’t tell you how many friends I have who have been taken in by somebody sexy or powerful or charming but soon after find themselves feeling alone in the relationship. It’s one thing to impress people, but it’s another to love them.

That’s the lie I’ve believed my entire life: attraction is intimacy. It’s a dangerous lie that has wreaked havoc on all of my relationships, and even more so my soul. I’ve sacrificed intimacy time and time again for the sake of making myself “impressive” or “attractive.” But thankfully, I’m starting to see the truth more clearly.

If you’re feeling lost because you believed the same lie your entire life, let me encourage you with the truth. And trust me, I’m preaching this to myself even more so. Here it is:

You don’t have to be smart, funny, athletic, or sexy to find love. No, you are loved regardless. Jesus looks beyond our outward, external reputations and identities, and he peers into the depths of our inward selves. He sees that little boy or little girl still trying to prove they matter. And he is telling us that we don’t have to be that little boy or little girl anymore. He tells us that we matter, that we belong, and that we are loved unconditionally, regardless of our talents, abilities, skills, appearance, or intellect.

Do I have a hard time believing that sometimes? Absolutely. And I’m sure you do too. But it’s true. I believe it’s true because Jesus went to the cross to prove it’s true. That’s what I forget far too often. It’s because of Jesus that we are free to be ourselves. He doesn’t ask us to impress. He just asks us to love.

All that being said, I think that’s what I’m going to do now. It’s time for me to drop the act and stop performing.

I can already feel the pressure fading. The peace and love of Christ are flooding in.

 

 

 

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Rain, Writing, and Forgiveness.

It’s been raining in Joplin for the last two weeks and it’s starting to feel like Seattle. Granted, I haven’t been to Seattle, but I hear it rains there a lot. God said he would never flood the earth again and he put a rainbow in the sky as a promise, but he never said he wouldn’t flood an entire town again. So I’m building my ark as we speak and the only people I’m allowing on are pugs and chimpanzees. Deal with it.

Granted, Seattle has beautiful mountain ranges, good coffee, and Powell’s City of Books, but I don’t think I’ll move there if this what it’s like most days out of the year. I imagine it’s because I probably have that seasonal depression thing. When it’s sunny outside, I’m sunny on the inside. When it’s cloudy skies and rainy weather, I’m as useful as a slug.

But here’s one thing the rainy weather is forcing me to do: stay inside. And I’m the type of person when I stay inside, I start thinking. And when I start thinking, I write.

So here’s what I’m thinking about today:

“but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15)

This is one of those hard sayings from Jesus that I don’t like to hear. Honestly, I’d rather pass over that part of Scripture and pretend it doesn’t exist. Nonetheless, the Lord knows I need to hear it.

The first thing that comes to mind when I read it is the word “trespasses”. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that word I think about all the times as a kid growing up that my friends and I would see a sign on someone’s property, which said in big, red, and bold letters: NO TRESPASSING. Naturally that was our invitation to adventure, and the next thing we know, we’re in our neighbor’s yard in an old-fashioned Mexican standoff with their large, slobbery dog. But it’s what we wanted. We were the Sandlot generation and we all just wanted to be Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez.  

I think Jesus calls them trespasses because that’s what sin is. When we trespass against someone, we’ve disobeyed God’s NO TRESPASSING sign and foolishly marched onto the property of someone else’s soul. We stomp our feet on someone’s emotions and trample around on their hearts, leaving boot-sized scars in our wake.

But someone has done the same to us and we remember those scars all too well. Not to mention, some of our guard dogs were chihuahuas, which didn’t make it any easier.

Here’s the really hard thing: Jesus calls me to forgive my trespassers or else the Father won’t forgive me.  Now I’m not a Bible scholar, but that seems pretty straightforward to me. If I don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive me. How is this possible?

Some of us have had terrible sins committed against us. Some of our scars are still fresh wounds. Deep, painful wounds like sexual abuse, bullying, murder of a family member, etc. Why can’t God just forgive us first and then let us worry about forgiving others later?

I think part of the reason Jesus says this is because we cannot receive forgiveness in full as long as we still carry resentment in our hearts.

To put it simply, it’s because resentment and vengeance stand directly counter to the gospel. God goes to the cross to forgive us our sins and wipes away our eternal indebtedness to Him, yet we still hold others in our debt? I’ve been naive enough to actually believe that.

We have yet to fully understand the gravity of God’s love and it’s implications for our lives.

I don’t want to undermine the weight of our scars. Some of the sins committed against us were plain ugly and we didn’t deserve them. But in truth, nothing that has been done to us is as severe as the sins we have committed against our infinitely holy and perfect Creator. If He can forgive us for our atrocities, we can forgive others of theirs.

I know. I really wish Jesus didn’t say this either. But I also know Jesus loves us and want what’s best for us. If we can trust Him, we can find the willingness to change.

“We don’t want to grow. It hurts. And yet we do, bravely and scared, bit by bit. We tell it–it hangs in the air with its amazingness–we begin to cooperate with kindness, and we remember the good we’ve seen in our own lives. We soften ever so slightly, with one to two percent willingness, and I’ll be damned if that isn’t enough.” – Anne Lamott

As Lamott reminds us, it’s going to take a little bit of spiritual WD-40 and a whole lot of help from the Holy Spirit to soften these hard, calloused hearts of ours, but what’s waiting for us on the other side of forgiveness is the peace we so desperately desire, along with the healing our soul craves.

To conclude, it’s still raining outside, I’m still building my ark, and I haven’t forgot about the pugs and chimpanzees. But now that I think about it, I think I’ll go ahead and leave the door open for anyone to come on in. It’s less lonely that way.

 

 

 

Featured image: Jarrell Jackson

Instagram: @jarrellmljackson

Check out his stuff at vsco.co/actionjackson9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I Found Freedom

I used to think freedom meant having the ability to say “yes” to whatever I wanted. Now I know real freedom is about being able to say “no” to all the things I used to say “yes” to before.

I passed one class my first year of college: English Comp. Other than that, I flunked out of every other single class I took. Apparently that’s what happens when you skip 90% of your classes. But I’m sure I missed class the day they taught that lesson. Figures.

Up until my first year of college, I was the archetype for cliche high-schoolers. I was all about living in the now and not considering the consequences. So naturally, as one can expect, college meant one thing to me: freedom.

Pure and unadulterated freedom.

As far as it concerned me, I was free to do all that I saw fit. Stay up as late as I wanted. Sleep in as long as I wanted. Drink all the beer I wanted. Smoke all the weed I wanted. Party all I wanted. Go to class? Eh, I don’t think so. Class was no place for a free man like myself.

And to be quite honest, it was pretty fun for a while. I was meeting a lot of girls, making tons of new “friends”, and making even more memories. Every night came with a new adventure or risk. I don’t think I had ever felt more free in my entire life.

Then things started to change.

Too much became never enough. The more I consumed, the more I craved–a craving that grew stronger the more I fed it. It was an endless cycle, and the more I succumbed to it, the more my soul became restless.

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” – Augustine

Little by little, without recognition, I was slowly letting go of real freedom. The more I said “yes” to my sin, the more I was developing the inability to say “no” to it.

Before I knew it, my sin had taken me as a slave.


I guess that’s the thing about slavery. It’s never as obvious and outright as we think. Slavery is a subtle, gradual, and downward slope into a dark, lonely pit; a pit that we walk ourselves into with naive happiness.

I basically dove head first into it. It wasn’t long before I realized I needed someone to come along to loosen my chains and get me out.

And along came Jesus.

What I love about Jesus is that he doesn’t call me to be obedient for the sake of gaining his love or approval. Rather, in His love for me, He asks my obedience because he knows it offers the freedom my soul truly longs for.

I used to think freedom meant not being held down by rules. But real freedom, I discovered, is found in obedience. And Jesus gives us one big commandment to obey: love God above all things and love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s in obeying that command that I’ve found the freedom my soul has always wanted.

“But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:21-23)

I eventually gave up that lifestyle. But it wasn’t out of guilt or fear. I wasn’t afraid that my disobedience would disqualify Christ’s love for me. It was the exact opposite. His unconditional love bred within me a desire for obedience.

I suppose that is the paradox of the Christian life. Real joy comes in trading worldly freedom for slavery to Christ, because slavery in Christ means the freedom to live the life we truly want–a life of unending freedom.

Pure and unadulterated freedom.

 

 

Featured Image: Kathlyn Wieland

Instagram: @kathwieland

Grace.

 

I don’t believe there is as liberating a word in the human language as Grace.

If I were asked the biggest reason why I follow Jesus, I would probably answer, “because of grace.” Honestly, there’s nothing like it; especially for a sinner like me. Diligently search every other religion and you will discover that none of them come close to possessing the grace that Jesus does.

Let’s look into that a little further.

We Christians believe that God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, taking on human flesh, giving up the riches and the glory of his throne in Heaven for a lowly position on earth. Then He spends his life teaching, healing the sick, performing miracles, serving the broken and outcasts among him, and preaching good news to those without hope. And in the end, what happens? We crucify him.

Leading up to his crucifixion, he is silent. He is put on trial multiple times, yet never does he defend himself. As the Scriptures note, “he was like a lamb led to slaughter.” Though he would have been perfectly just in damning all of us to hell right then and there, Jesus does something far more radical.

He dies for us.

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8)

Woah, woah, woah, he did what?

Jesus actually dies for his ENEMIES. He dies for the people who mocked him, spit on him, cursed him, and put him on the cross. I have a hard enough time as it is trying to be a decent friend.

As Jesus was hanging on the cross, another man was sentenced to crucifixion alongside him. He was a thief. While the people  go on mocking Jesus, yelling at Him to save himself and come down from the cross, the thief looks over to Jesus and says, “for [I am] receiving the due reward of [my] deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he adds, “Jesus, remember me when you have come into your kingdom.” And Jesus replies, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Jesus gives grace freely to those who don’t deserve it.

Some of you think you don’t deserve grace for the things you’ve done. And my response to that is, “Exactly!” That’s why it’s called grace. I promise you, however, that nothing you have done is so big that the grace of Jesus Christ can’t cover it. If Jesus can give grace to a crucified thief who hasn’t done a single thing in his lifetime to merit God’s favor, he can give grace to you. If he can give grace to me, he can certainly give grace to you. And the great thing about his grace is that it’s free. It wouldn’t be grace if we had to work for it. All other religions make you work for it. Jesus flips the script though. He finished all the work for you.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

That’s what we Christians believe. Pretty crazy stuff, right? I don’t know what that means to you, but to me and my depraved self, it’s astoundingly good news.

If you’re overwhelmed by the weight of your sin today, talk with Jesus. He has a lot of grace He’d like to give to you.

 

 

Featured Image: Jarrell Jackson.

Instagram: @jarrellmljackson

Check out his work at vsco.co/actionjackson9