What did you see?

by admin on April 17, 2014 · 0 comments

What did you see in me, when we met?

Was it the way I dressed, or carried myself?

Was it the stories I told, or the words I wrote?

Was it something you saw on the outside, or in?


Because I still wonder and doubt

Up front, or behind the screen with trembling hands

My words and heart exposed


What will you see?


And in that moment, Your words echo in my mind

And I lose myself in You, with only a prayer remaining


That whatever perceived as competence, would be seen as dependence

Whatever perceived as confidence, would be seen as love that rejoices in truth

Whatever goodness in me, would point to the grace You first showed me

Whatever strength in me, would shine forth as weakness made strong in You


My Creator and Sustainer, the source of all I know to be good and true


What do you see?


I hope that instead of seeing just me

You saw His love for me

In the people around me


I hope you saw… and see

The kingdom of Christ around

And in


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    This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Choices

    “I wish the ring had never come to me.  I wish none of this had happened.”

    “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

    - Fellowship of the Ring

    We have a deep need to practice the discipline of articulating and vocalizing our needs, desires, and challenges to others.

    I want to flesh out more of what was discussed in the last post, and give more examples of how these principles impact our real life situations, day to day.  But before that, I want to address maybe the biggest question of all:

    How Do We Learn to Do This?

    What enables us to know our needs and desires?  How do we learn to vocalize them to others and take appropriate responsibility?  What gets in the way of our ability to do this?

    The answer is not to “just suck it up,” or “get your act together.”  Sometimes as we begin to learn to do some of these things, we may have a tendency to become overly eager to do things well or perfectly, or our expectations for other people may rise.  That’s not a bad thing, but we do have to remember that we are all in process, and these are not easy things to do.

    I believe we can only truly learn to do these things as we grow, in relationships with others and with God.  Growth is key: if we are not growing and letting people and God into that process, we can’t expect to learn to do these things.  Dr. Henry Cloud, in his Changes That Heal and How People Grow, outlines three key ingredients of growth — grace, truth, and time.

    It takes time to grow and to learn to know our needs and desires, and to express them to others.  When we burst into this world as helpless babies, we are naked and utterly vulnerable.  We have countless needs and desires, whether it’s eating food, getting changed, staying warm, being soothed to sleep, or having the attention and care of a parent.  But in the very beginning of their existence, babies only know one way to communicate… scream!

    It’s the job of adults to “read” their kids’ behaviors, and figure out what they need and want.  Part of parenting is to help children gradually be able to identify their needs and desires, and express them clearly to other people.

    By the time we are adults, most of us have learned to do this in many areas of our lives.  We are able to know that we are hungry or thirsty, and feed ourselves.  We know when we are tired, and how much sleep we need. We understand that nobody can know better than us when we have these needs.  We have grown over the process of time, and with the help of our parents who have given us both grace and truth.

    Cultural and Familial Influences

    However, as we grow older, our needs and desires have become more complex — and a multitude of challenges stand in the way.  Some people have grown up in households that weren’t so healthy, and didn’t model unconditional love or appropriate boundaries.  Some grew up in cultures that didn’t encourage the sharing of emotions, or saw “neediness” as weakness.  Some grew up with parents who took care of everything for them, so they never learned to do such simple chores as washing dishes or doing laundry themselves; they never had to initiate or be direct in communication, because all of their needs and desires had already been anticipated.

    Still others were abused or neglected, or faced negative societal messages regarding ethnicity, gender, or socio-economic class, and never believed in their own worth.  All these influences and experiences are challenges that should never be minimized!

    This was the case with Will Hunting.  It wasn’t an accident that he became a closed-off young man with so many fears and insecurities — we learn in the movie that he was an orphan, and abused as he moved around from one foster family to another.  It takes time for him to come to grips with this, and vocalize these hurts to Sean.

    But time is not enough.  Growth also involves grace and truth in relationships.  Without Sean’s honesty, compassion, and desire to know Will as he truly is, who knows how much longer Will might have remained in his defensive shell?  Without Skylar’s love and his friends from Boston, Will would never have taken the step to go after what he really wanted in life.

    All three of these ingredients (grace, truth, and time) are key for authentic growth to happen.  Dr. Cloud writes (original source here):

    For God’s system to work, you have to have all three. Grace and time together, without truth, will make you comfortable in your stuckness. Truth and time together, without grace, will discourage and break you. Grace and truth together without time will give you a vision and then not have you reach the completion of that vision. They must go together.

    We need to always be growing, to be able to do the things we are describing in this series.  What gets in the way is that we sometimes neglect to see our need for continued growth.  We can assume we already know enough, or that we don’t need help.  Or perhaps we don’t pursue relationships that will give us the appropriate amount of grace and truth.

    Fortunately, we can do something about this!  We can start to build these kinds of relationships by starting to express some of our challenges to people in our lives, and asking for honest feedback.  We can start this off by talking with people who are more mature, who know us, and who we know will tell us the truth in love.

    How to Apply These Principles in Many Contexts

    So along those lines, here are some ideas for how to apply some of the principles we’ve been discussing in this series within practical contexts we may face:

    1)  First, write down what it is that you want and need.  For example, say you are organizing a conference, and realize you can’t do it all by yourself.  Make a list of the areas that you need help in, and what would make your experience a good one.  Even if you don’t like writing, it is a great step that requires us to think about our needs and desires, before we bring anybody else into the process.  Plus, it gives us a written record that we can use in later conversations and projects.

    2)  Next, write down the 2-3 biggest challenges that make the process hard.  For instance, maybe you’re not used to asking for help, or there is a shortage of manpower, so you feel like you’re being a burden.  Or perhaps you are a perfectionist, and it’s hard for you to give control to others.  Be honest, but don’t get carried away here.  The top 2-3 challenges will give yourself and others a good picture of what you’re dealing with, without becoming overwhelming.

    3)  Next, make a list of what you think you personally can do to meet your needs and desires (in 1 and 2).

    4)  Finally, make a list of what you think others might be able to do to help meet your needs and desires (in 1 and 2).

    Then, it’s a matter of communicating these things honestly to the appropriate people.  In some cases, that’s an organized e-mail to your coworkers.  In other cases, it’s a phone call to a family member before a vacation.  My wife and I usually have multiple conversations about our needs and desires before traveling, so that we can both do our best to make the experience as good as possible for one another.

    One note here: I believe all of these principles and steps are crucial, no matter what our personality or cultural background is.  It may look different how we choose to take these steps, but I don’t believe it’s right to avoid taking these steps at all simply because “introverts or internal processors are not as expressive” or “Asian Americans are indirect communicators.”  I do believe these principles are fundamental to healthy human functioning and interaction, across the board.  “How things are done” is open to cultural diversity, but “whether or not they should be done” is not a question in my mind. I know there are a variety of perspectives and angles on this topic, though, so feel free to weigh in with your own!

    It’s About Honest Communication, Not About Always Getting What We Want

    I want to acknowledge here that expressing ourselves does not mean we will always get the totality of what we want and need.  We often have to sacrifice and compromise in life.  However, the key is our ability to identify and vocalize what we do want up front, and also what our challenges and honest hesitations are.   What is hard for us?  What are we sacrificing to make this decision or choice?  When we can articulate and vocalize these things early on, it brings invaluable clarity to ourselves and to other people.

    The point here is that we can’t expect other people to know all of the challenges we face, internally and externally.  How could they know the whole picture?  Ultimately, we are most responsible to do our best to sort some of this out, and make our realities known to others.

    For many of us, the source of our challenges may run deep, and we may have to make a sober assessment of the challenges we face — whether it’s acknowledging our familial or cultural upbringing, or the unjust systems of society that marginalize certain groups of people or perspectives… and so on.

    For some situations, it won’t necessarily be too difficult or complex.  Sometimes honestly communicating our challenges and realities is just telling somebody that we are tired, busy, stressed, or even lacking motivation!  It could be as simple as your husband asking you to cook dinner one night because he is craving a particular dish, and you responding:

    “I really would love to make that dish for you.  But the kids got sick today and I’m exhausted, and don’t think I’d be in good shape if I cooked tonight.  Why don’t we pick up food instead at one of your favorite restaurants, and then I’ll mark it down to cook that dish you want sometime next week?  What do you think?”

    Empowering Others With Upfront Clarity

    One truth that can’t be overlooked in the process above, is that we are doing it not just for ourselves, but for the people we love and want to serve!  We are helping them to know us and our unique challenges better.  We are letting them know how they can love and care for us, as we do the same for them. We are creating mutuality.

    Some people will look at the process outlined above and think, “Why be so ‘needy’?  We just have to serve without complaining as we do things.  We need to be humble enough to think of ourselves less, and be strong enough to be okay if our needs and desires are not known or understood.”  Often, this attitude is associated with being a self-sacrificing servant.

    However, I think it actually takes more humility and inner strength to let people in to our needs and challenges.  It actually empowers people more to let others know they can play a role in helping us where we are vulnerable.

    I once led a project where I wasn’t clear up front with the help I needed, or the challenges I was facing.  I decided to take it on alone.  However, when things started to get overwhelming and difficult, I took out my frustration by wondering, “Why isn’t anybody seeing what I’m going through?  Why isn’t anybody offering to help or stepping up?”  When the people in my life heard me express some of these things to them, they actually felt confused and resentful.  That’s the last thing I was expecting to hear from them!

    But I slowly came to realize: they did not know what I really wanted or needed, and I even put up a front of being “strong enough” and wanting to do things on my own.  But then when things got hard, I turned around and was blaming other people for not knowing or offering to help more.  I realized that whether consciously or not, my behavior was actually passive-aggressive.  I wanted it both ways — to get the praise and control for doing the project by myself, and to have help when I needed it.

    I saw how unreasonable it was to expect other people to “read” into my situation and be available precisely when I needed help… all without my asking for it!  I expected them to anticipate my needs, without taking responsibility for knowing them myself, and making them clear to others.  It was an impossible task for my friends, and it wasn’t helpful or empowering to them at all.

    A coworker of mine passed on a nugget of wisdom from a counselor-writer, who said that when there is an excessive amount of “blame” in a person’s heart, there are usually also many unexpressed needs.  If we are not upfront and clear, not only will we likely become resentful when we don’t get what we were hoping for, but we may take out our blame on other people.    

    That’s why the principles and process outlined above are so important not only for ourselves, but for the sake of the people we are working with.

    It’s Not on Us to Do Everything

    I want to make an important disclaimer, however.  I’m not saying that all responsibility in every situation lies upon us.  Especially when we are asking for something we should expect, but are not receiving from a group or organization, we have every right to expect that people check in with us.  For instance, if we are working for an organization, we should expect our boss to ask us, “What do you need?  How can we help you?”

    If we are going on a family trip, we should expect the organizers to touch base with us before the trip.  That’s why high quality customer service will check in with you, before and after your massage appointment, hotel stay, dining experience, major purchase… even videoconferencing call!  How ridiculous would it be for an organization to expect you, the paying customer, to be fully responsible for this kind of communication?  No, instead they ask: “What can we do now to make your experience excellent?  What can we do next time to improve your experience?”

    Of course, even in these situations, we have some part of the responsibility, too.  We have the choice and ability to call ahead to let them know we will need a crib or refrigerator in the hotel room.  We can let the managers know that the noise level is too high for us to get decent sleep, and ask them to speak to the guests in the room next door.  So, there should be ownership and responsibility on both sides of a situation like this.

    There are things we cannot control, and when we don’t experience the kind of leadership and support we should, it’s incredibly disappointing.  Feelings of blame are sometimes justified, in the sense that we should be upset or disappointed when we experience bad leadership.

    But when we do what we can control, and make our needs, desires, and challenges clearly known to others, it can bring a certain level of acceptance and peace.  And it puts the onus on the “other side” to respond appropriately!

    What Next?

    In closing, it’s important to remember that learning to take responsibility for our choices and lives is not an easy thing to do.  It takes time, and it takes grace and truth in relationships with others and with God.

    It’s hard to share our wishes and needs with other people, rather than keeping them to ourselves.  Letting others into our souls makes us vulnerable, and that takes risk and trust.

    These are all significant challenges, and we are all still growing in figuring out how to best handle these things, and express ourselves better.  There is grace for those of us in this process… none of us have arrived!

    When I think about my life, I’ve had to come to terms with the reality that I’ve faced challenges that others cannot understand or relate to, and some that people will never know.  However, I’ve also had to wrestle with the reality that these challenges do not rob me of my God-given ability to choose ownership of my decisions and life.  In fact, they can help me to grow even more when I do take the appropriate steps towards maturity and choice.

    The first step is to know ourselves deeply.  The second step is to grow in making ourselves known to others.  We have a deep need to practice the discipline of articulating and vocalizing our needs, desires, and challenges to others.

    This won’t happen overnight, and I will have to keep learning to do these things, through mistakes and failures… and that is part of growth.  But what gives me hope that I’m on my way?  I am committed to pursuing growth in my life, because I know how much I need to grow!  And I think that’s a good place for anybody to start.

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      This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Choices

      We have a deep need to practice the discipline of knowing our needs and desires.

      Hope you enjoy this upcoming series, and feel the freedom to weigh in if you have any thoughts!  Help me figure this out, since I’ve been noticing this topic seems to be incredibly common and important in what most of us face every day.

      Do You Know What You Want and Need? (Choices, Part 1)

      I finally figured out the main message of one of my favorite movies, “Good Will Hunting.”  It’s this: the first step in maturing and taking ownership of one’s life, is recognizing what we want and need, and honestly expressing it to other people.

      Sound simple?  I’ve discovered it’s much harder than you may think.  However, it’s one of the most important and applicable life lessons I’ve ever learned, because it has to do with choices, those daily decisions we make that shape and define who we are as human beings.  Let’s explore this more.

      One of the most memorable scenes from the movie, is when counselor Sean confronts young janitor genius Will Hunting at a park.  He says (in summary): “When I look at you, I don’t see an intelligent, confident man.  I see a cocky, scared kid.  If you want to talk about you, who you are… then I’m fascinated.  I’m in.  But you don’t want to do that, do you sport?  You’re terrified of what you might say.”

      Throughout the movie, Will tries every kind of trick and mechanism possible to dodge and distract from talking about himself, and revealing his desires and needs.  During his first meeting in Sean’s office, he walks around, critiquing theories and other peoples’ ideas — to which Sean simply asks, “What about you?  Do you like art?  What do you think and believe?”

      When Will realizes Sean won’t let him deflect conversation from personal sharing, Will shuts down and refuses to talk.  Sean sits for an entire hour, letting him sit in the discomfort.  He knows that Will is looking for any excuse to not expose himself, whether to critique or to love.  Will would rather have Sean speak, and then be able to say, “That’s what you said, not me.  It’s not my choice; it’s not something about me that I’m expressing and owning.”

      How many times have we done this, and said, “I’ll do it because somebody else thought it was the best idea; because somebody asked me to do it?”

      The Courage to Make Your Needs Known

      That would keep Will safer; he would be less vulnerable to rejection or loving so deeply that he might feel the pain of loss.  And that is what he faces when his love interest Skylar tells him she loves him, and asks him to move to California with her.  He lashes out at her, because his wants and needs have been exposed and make him vulnerable to pain and rejection.  His wants and needs have taken the form of a person (Skylar) who now holds that power over him!  So he tries to detach himself as a defense mechanism.  Knowing so clearly what he wants and needs, and having it clear to others, is a new experience for Will.  It terrifies him.

      That is why he prefers to take a janitor’s job, and critique intellectuals from a distance, rather than choose a job that would actually challenge who he is and his abilities.  Throughout the movie, counselor Sean persists in fighting not only the forces inside, but outside Will that seek to compromise the sanctity of this process of the young man owning his life and choices.  That’s why towards the end of the movie, when Will chooses a job that Sean had concerns about, Sean simply asks, “Is that what you want?”  After Will says, “Yes,” Sean tells him, “Then we’re finished.”

      I love “Good Will Hunting,” because I believe this main message of the movie gets to the heart of what we all wrestle with in our lives.  What do we want?  What do we need?  And what challenges come in the way of our taking responsibility for those things?

      Is It Selfish To Think About Your Needs and Desires?

      To some, these questions may sound selfish and even un-spiritual in light of verses in the Bible that encourage us to “think about others before we think of ourselves.”  I appreciate that mindset and certainly agree with the heart of sacrificial service.

      I suppose the way I reconcile it, is that I don’t see asking those questions as being selfish, but rather foundational so that we can make authentic and mature choices that serve other people.  I have just seen too many people who serve out of obligation or “for other people,” without acknowledging that this kind of sacrifice is what they chose to do, because it was worth it to them.  I’ve done this many times myself!

      This only can last so long, before we often become bitter or resentful, or passive-aggressive.  We may start to blame people for not knowing how much we’ve given, or act like a victim of our circumstances over which we say we had no control… no choice.  However, at the root of this is also often our inability to acknowledge our needs, desires, and challenges — and to take responsibility for our decisions and their consequences in light of all of that.

      Which brings me to my question for you.  Do you know what you want?  Do you know what you need?  If so, have you been honest with the appropriate people, and expressed that?

      Examples of Communicating Your Needs and Desires

      It could be as simple as telling your roommate, coworker, or spouse that you need more space to be by yourself, or more affirmation for the chores you’ve done around the house.  Or it could be asking your boss for a role change, so that you can operate out of your giftings and better serve the company.

      It could be choosing to volunteer at your kids’ school, not out of obligation, but because you believe in supporting the educational system and contributing to your child’s learning environment.  Or it could be deciding that getting married or applying for graduate school is what you want to pursue, despite the possibility of rejection and the sacrifices that may come with those decisions.

      The applications are truly endless, when we stop to think about things this way.  And we realize that we as humans have choices, every day.  We are faced with decisions about what is important to us, and what we will value as we relate to others around us.  Those choices and decisions shape and define the people we are becoming every day.  In the end, we are the ones most responsible for who we are.

      Don’t Our Past Experiences Define Us?

      Sometimes it may not feel that way.  After all, we all have powerful influences upon us, from our parents, schooling, ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic background, traumatic experiences of loss and grief, and countless other factors (some of which we’ll explore in the next post).  Much of that we cannot control, and I disagree vehemently with people who minimize these influences, and simply say, “Get over it.  That’s in the past, and now you have a fresh slate to work with.”  No, we must not ignore the past and the way it inevitably shapes us today.

      At the same time, I refuse to believe that we are robots who live in a deterministic universe, fated to make certain decisions due to our upbringings and life challenges.  That is the mindset of a victim.  Perhaps the best way to explain it is that our past shapes us, but does not dictate who we are.

      We cannot control many of our formative influences, but we can choose what we do with those influences. That is what makes us human — our ability to choose!

      We are not victims, but stewards of our life stories.  I believe God gifts us with that privilege, and every day our choices and decisions are stewardship opportunities.  That is the power each of us has — the power to choose.

      A Practical Idea to Grow in Knowing Yourself

      How well do you know yourself?  Will Hunting thought he knew it all, but when faced with life’s realities, he realized by the end of the movie that he was a kid just starting to know who he was… and longing to be known and loved by other people, whether Skylar or Sean.

      Here’s a practical idea.  In the next few months, try taking a personal retreat for one or two days by yourself, without interaction with anybody… and of course, no cell phones or Internet.  Get a feel for what’s going on inside yourself, without the constant influx of information that floods us each day, and without having to process and navigate other peoples’ needs and desires.  It may end up being one of the hardest things you’ve ever done!  But you may find it an invaluable discipline in knowing yourself, so that you can serve others maturely, in a way that will endure.

      What we’ve really been talking about is stewardship of ourselves and our lives.  And stewardship begins with knowing who we are, and what we will choose.  We have a deep need to practice the discipline of knowing our needs and desires.  Do you know what you need, and what you want? 

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        Back to Blogging (Why I Write)

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                    This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series My Spiritual Journey

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