The Payoff and Price of Flourishing
My brother in law and I were joking about my relationship with my kids over the holiday break. He is the cool uncle, the fun one, the world traveler that takes them out and shows them how to have fun in the world and how to live in the moment. I am very thankful for him. We were joking about how these now grown men, my so-called “boys,” might feel about their dad in contrast. At least I thought we were joking because (and don’t be shocked) the joking was more me being self-deprecating around being a less than stellar parent in the fun department.
Just as I was slamming myself, my brother in law got serious for a second and looked me in the eye. This was a bit of surprise as it was one of those “hanging around in the kitchen,” amidst a bustle of activity, in the scurry and flurry of the holiday, moments. In that split second, for me, everything got still. He said something like (and we never really recall exactly what people say- so I don’t fool myself):
“John, your sons respect you, they value your opinion, and that is huge.”
That has not left my mind in the weeks since he said it. I am definitely someone who overanalyzes things anyway, but that one statement, in that moment and since, has both filled me with pride and (immediately) set me on my heels with abject humility.
When someone says things like that, our human tendency is to feel supremely validated. Yes! I did something right! I think there is some merit to that, but I also can’t help but be aware of how powerful of an influence I’ve been on my kids for good and probably some detriment over the years. We can’t help being both because we are only human. Hence, the acute need for humility.
Recently, a similar dynamic has happened at work. A few times a week, I will receive some feedback about how well thought of me and my work partner are in the work world. We’ve done some pretty cool stuff, but neither of us did it alone. Nonetheless, this dynamic of kudos persists. It struck me this morning that the same thing also happens in my church community a good bit. It also happens on social media occasionally. My friends and family will say similar things…. you get the picture (sorry if this makes you nauseous, there is a point, I promise :) ).
Although these worlds are varied, I try my best to be the same person in each and I find the theme is prevalent throughout. I think what all this means is — I am flourishing? Wow! That sounds so pompous to say in my head let alone write it in a blog, and I know that is the last thing someone who isn’t flourishing wants to hear from someone like me because I wasn’t born flourishing. (At least I didn’t know I was born flourishing, because I didn’t understand who God was back then nor even as recently as ten years ago when, by all accounts, I had begun flourishing in many of the ways the outside world views flourishing. )
This all came together about 4 am one morning as the term flourishing or the feeling of flourishing was really on my mind along with this pervasive pinging on my heart around humility. I couldn’t sleep, so I was listening to a podcast with Ed Stetzer and Carey Nieuwhof and Ed quoted a guy named Andy Crouch- and what he said acted as a crucible for all these thoughts and emotions in that instant:
Why is power a gift? Because power is for flourishing. When power is used well, people and the whole cosmos come more alive to what they were meant to be. And flourishing is the test of power. Andy Crouch
Just like that moment in the kitchen, I was humbled and taken to my knees by the fact that it is exactly and precisely when we are flourishing that we have to be the most careful and the most grateful! To be more precise, it is ok to be thankful and grateful in the flourishing as long as we have the right posture about it. Yet, we don’t get to bask in the hot tub of gratitude or take a “well earned” victory lap for very long. Unfortunately, to quote a less austere, but equally awesome dude: Stan Lee:
With great power comes great responsibility.
I find the joy of flourishing and the heart of gratitude to be a positive and overwhelming set of emotions, but the brain and the devil will constantly try to deceive you into thinking you did all this without any help when the reality is the exact opposite.
Flourishing is a test of power and we must never forget that. In fact, I would edit this to say flourishing is a relentless test of power. The test is how you use that power. The test is ongoing. The test is how you show up in the world. In the flourishing, I catch myself growing a bit bolder, which can be a good thing until I let my arrogance creep in — I have to go back to a place of humility.
This is most evident when I catch myself wielding influence in new and varied ways to help other people flourish or give them some relief from stress or pain, but then (often unaware) neglect to give them my time or get too busy for them or give them the wrong advice and counsel. One of the hardest parts of this realization is that the more I flourish, the stronger the influence, the sting of hurt to those looking to me is that much greater.
So what can you do with this information? I didn’t write this post to brag about my flourishing, I have probably done that enough in so many subtle and not so subtle ways on my social media feeds I have sickened people (Insert nervous laughter here.)
What can you do? If you are not flourishing, let me first say I am sorry if this hurts to read about someone else doing so. First, please know that blog posts are like a lot of other media and artistic license always paints a rosier, Instagram version of reality and my flourishing is probably not all it is cracked up to be in many ways. Second, I submit to you that comparison is a joy killer and a trap. If you are a believer, one of the most beautiful things about God is that he will heal you if you let him and free you from that trap.
What can you do if you are flourishing to avoid all the pitfalls and truly use the power you have been given? That is my question to you. I fully realize your answer may not be my answer.
Here is my answer:
- Wear your curiosity and humility about you at all times like a seat belt.
- Serve others abundantly.
- Talk to God about the not so shining moments you have while flourishing.
- Have a strong person or set of persons in your life that will bring you back to reality in a moments notice.
- Lastly, wield your power with gentle grace and loving intent to help as many people flourish as you can.
Flourishing is not a solo sport, it is best done as a team, and the bigger the team the better.
Donald Miller says this much better than I do, so I point you to this quote as you (and I) consider the best way to flourish.
Those who realize the epic story of life is not about them but actually about the people around them somehow win in the end. Its counterintuitive, but its true. In fact leaders who think the story of life is all about them may achieve temporary successes but are usually remembered in history’s narrative as a villian.