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On Strong Personalities And Real Strength

Strong Traits List
You do know you have a strong personality, don’t you? Megan half asked, half stated. You are intense.
I furrowed my brow. Not the first time the words were applied to moi. But I winced a little still.
I love you, but you do. 

Guilty As Charged

Don’t mind the context, only know that Megan’s comments were wrapped with love. I might even have left this topic alone, but a friend forced the issue when she used the phrase in a different way last night. It was a <whistle and head shake> “Whew, she’s a strong personality!”

It might just be semantics, but to these ears there’s a world of difference between being strong and having a strong personality.

I’m all about strong. In fact, a couple hours before Megan pegged me, I had inscribed a gift book to a friend. You know what I wrote inside the cover? “Be strong in the Lord,” Ephesians 6:10. Not to mention practically every other JoyPrO post is about growing stronger in faith and being strengthened by graceSpiritual strength is definitely something I seek. 

So, yes. That shoe fits. I grant that.

Strong in the Lord vs. Strong Personality

But strong personality? I wasn’t so keen on having that attached to me. Because to these ears, it smacks of character traits I don’t want to claim, like domineering  and stubborn and mulish. And you know how I feel about mules.

But I am convinced that God wants all his children to be strong, that we should all pray for our “strength of soul” to increase (Psalm 138:3), and that the call to be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might is not just for those naturally inclined. It is for all God’s children.

But “strong in the Lord” isn’t the same thing as a strong personality. So, Let a righteous man strike me; it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it. Megan’s comment was oil. I dare not be defensive. Because when it comes to criticism, we the redeemed by his blood, ought to be the least defensive people on the planet.

But I did do some web-surfing and some Word-searching.

Strong Personality Traits

The “strong personality” results first.

Online, “strong personality” turned up mostly positive traits. Which is probably not surprising at all. Because like Megan said as I promptly pulled out my phone to get the terms defined– a sign, I’m sure, of a strong personality- That must have been written by a strong personality.

This Lifehack was the first one I read and I concur- it must have been. Because these traits, for the most part, I own. The shoe fit again, and honestly, it felt pretty good. I read that strong personalities don’t often waste time whining, don’t fear risks as much as others and don’t much like small talk. Check, check, check. Especially about small talk.

Then I landed on the 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. I liked that list, too. Traits #1 and #4, for example, are great:

1. They Don’t Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves

Mentally strong people don’t sit around feeling sorry about their circumstances or how others have treated them. Instead, they take responsibility and understand that life isn’t always easy or fair.

4. They Don’t Waste Energy on Things They Can’t Control

You won’t hear a mentally strong person complaining over lost luggage or traffic jams. Instead, they focus on what they can control in their lives. They recognize that sometimes, the only thing they can control is their attitude.

The more I surfed, the more I liked Megan’s assessment. It felt more like a hug than a strike. But, honestly– as a strong personality would say– what Megan thinks of me or even what I think of myself matters very little (1 Cor. 4:3). 

What matters most is what God thinks of me.

The Word On Strength

As it turns out, God has a lot to say about that. John Rinehart sums up some of those identity-building truths here. This paragraph especially sheds light on the strength God wants his children to have:

Don’t live by your own power or understanding. No, live by my Spirit within you (Zech. 4:6Prov. 3:5)…The Spirit will guide you into all truth, help you to obey me, and empower you to do my work (John 16:713Acts 1:8Gal. 5:16).

God wants his people strong and he empowers them to be. In the span of 12 verses in Joshua, God tells them to “Be strong,” no less than four times. Why? For I am with you. And you’ll find verses like “Be strong, all you people of the land,” and “Let the weakling say, ‘I am strong,’ and “He will keep you strong to the end,” scattered throughout his Word (Hag. 2:4, Joel 3:10, 1 Cor. 1:8).

If you spend much time studying it out, you’ll see the source of all that strength.

Be strong. God is Stronger.

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 

That’s 2 Timothy 2:1. Kevin DeYoung launchea recent message on 2 Timothy 2:1-15 with those five words. His summed it up with five words this strong personality loves: Be strong. God is stronger

We are made strong because of God’s grace to us. And that grace is active. Titus 2:11-14 says it trains us to say no to ungodliness and yes to self-control, for example. But the bottom line is that the spiritually strong, those with strength of soul, are only made strong in union with the Almighty God.

Or, as Paul says in Ephesians 6:10, Be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might. That’s real strength.

Real Strength

But real strength is shown not in the power to control or dominate others by force of will or with persuasive words. Rather it’s shown in the ability to control ourselves. Spiritually strong people learn not to let negative thoughts and yo-yo emotions steer their ships.

It’s also not shown in living my way or the highway. Rather it’s prefer each others interests to your own (Philippians 2:3). Whenever I try to steam roll the show, I prove I’m not so strong. And I prove that far too often- just ask my husband, my sons, Megan.

Growing truly strong is a process. But by God’s strong grace, I am empowered to fight those dark sides of my strong personality. I can be really strong because God is stronger, and his Spirit lives in me.  

So call it strong or call it strong personality, but whatever you call it– if it’s the right strong, if it’s real strength- it is a divine gift of God.

In fact, it is God. 

The LORD is the strength of his people.

Psalm 28:8

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Be Freed From Perfectionism

Sign with perfectionism crossed off.

“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” 

G.K. Chesterton

Perfectionism Paralysis

Perfectionism paralyzes. For perfectionists, the perfect is the enemy of the good. According to productivity gurus, it’s also the enemy of the done

Because perfectionism is crippling. When the project looked great on Pinterest, but then the drive to make it match the pin made you freeze? Like when I a blog post and feel so overwhelmed by the thought of knocking it out of the park that I grab a bowl of popcorn and pour a cup of tea and dust those cobwebs in the corner and grab another snack and… well- the post never gets started, much less done.

We’ve all been there. In fact, I just left my last stop there about an hour ago. Now I’m soaking in the wisdom of just doing something. Namely, of imperfectly writing this.

Because when it comes right down to it, I agree with G.K. Chesterton that, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” And, honestly, as D.L. Moody once told a critic, “I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.” 

Or as I often remark, “Something is better than nothing.”

Perfectionism Stifles Growth

But we’d best define terms. I’ll borrow Jon Bloom’s definitions of both perfectionism and excellence. They’re not the same.

What we call perfectionism is not the same as the pursuit of excellence, though sometimes the lines can blur. When we pursue excellence, we’re determined to do something as well as possible within a given set of talent, resource, and time limits. But perfectionism is a pride- or fear-based compulsion that either fuels our obsessive fixation on doing something perfectly or paralyzes us from acting at all — both of which often result in the harmful neglect of other necessary or good things.

His clarification is important. Children of the King are called to excellence, to working “wholeheartedly, as unto the Lord” (Col. 3:23). The focus is God. But that is entirely different from a self-focused orientation that insists on flawless, likely motivated by fear or pride to win others’ approval.

In one area or another we all have an inner drive to excel. Whether running a faster mile, proofreading before sending, or becoming a better listener- we strive to do well.

Making good resolves is a healthy way to grow.

Perfectionism Or Healthy Striving? 

But perfectionism is not a healthy pursuit of excellence. Those who strive for excellence- and, dare I say for *perfection?– in a healthy way take genuine pleasure in trying to meet high standards.

I do this when I strive to make a batch of chewy chocolate chip cookies or teach a lesson that drives a point home or write in a compelling way that makes you want to read it. I enjoy this sort of striving. But perfectionism does not promote joy. Instead, it leads to discouragement, self-pity, and fear.

Though not overtly “Christian,” this article is insightful on the distinctions between paralyzing perfectionism and healthy striving. 

Perfectionism

  • Never being satisfied by anything less than perfection
  • Becoming depressed when faced with failure or disappointment
  • Being preoccupied with fears of failure and disapproval
  • Seeing mistakes as evidence of unworthiness
  • Becoming overly defensive when criticized

Healthy Striving

  • Enjoying process as well as outcome
  • Bouncing back quickly from failure or disappointment
  • Keeping normal anxiety and fear of failure within bounds
  • Seeing mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning
  • Reacting positively to helpful criticism

Do you see the difference? Are you more of a perfectionist or a healthy striver? Your focus probably determines your answer.

Focusing on Christ leads to freedom. Fixation on self enslaves. 

Be Freed From Perfectionism

I struggle to rest in God’s grace when I am so aware of my failure, a friend confided. I can relate. I suspect every Christian who struggles with perfectionism can.

Can you rest in the grace of God when you miss the mark? In other words, can you know God’s love when your life is an imperfect mess? 

The answer is a resounding YES!  But only if our focus is right. Jon Bloom again, 

God has something far better for us to strive toward than our idealized imaginations of perfection, which only end up enslaving us.

Perfectionism’s subtle, but great danger is its self-orientation. Since it is a fear- or pride-fueled effort to win approval for the self, its primary focus is de facto on self, not God or others. In other words, perfectionism, even in the battle against sin, is not motivated by love or faith. And “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom.14:23).

But God wants us to be free — free from the tyranny of pride and fear. He wants us to live in the freedom of knowing that he has our past, present, and future perfection issues completely covered.

Do you want to be freed from perfectionism?

Look For Growth

In our ongoing battles with failure and sin, we must know that God is not looking for perfect, externally performed behavior. He is looking for us to look to Him. He is looking for faith that works through love (Gal. 5:6) and for us to trust in his love (Psalm 147:11).

God is not concerned with our never falling, but at our getting up again (Prov. 24:16a). Our heavenly Father wants to see us grow (2 Peter 3:18, Ephesians 4:15, 1 Timothy 4:15).

Remember, growth implies we haven’t arrived. If we were already perfect, there wouldn’t be room for growth. But God’s call for us to grow also means we shouldn’t be not stagnant and stuck. Or paralyzed by perfectionism.

Because when God commands a thing, he also enables it. The God who calls us to grow, gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7). And that God calls us to grow also means he knows that there’s room for growth. He knows. 

Can you rest there? 

There’s Grace For That

A friend and I tag that on a lot when we talk, and confess our sins to each other. “There’s grace for that,” we say. For my being late, again; for her overeating, again; for my hasty words that cut, again. 

That’s why He died. That is the gospel, my friends. If we were already perfect, Christ wouldn’t have died for us. He loved us and gave himself for us when we were dead in our sins. Perfectly dead.

That truth knocks the perfectionist breath right out of me. 

Because Scripture is clear: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved (Eph. 2:4-5).  This is true.

This truth has power to demolish the lie that you can only please God and know his love if you are perfect. It is both humbling and exalting.

Because, as Timothy Keller so poignantly put it, 

We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. 

Maybe we recovering perfectionists ought to write that out and tape it to our bathroom mirrors. Then maybe we should to take a tour through the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11.

Commended for Faith, not Perfection

I did that with my Sunday school class yesterday. And it was so refreshing to see the very imperfect saints on the walls in there.

There’s Rahab the prostitute and Samson the proud who loved a prostitute, Jephthah the reckless and Abraham the liar, there’s Noah the drunk, David the adulterer, and Moses the murderer– just to name a few.

And all these, though commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised (Hebrews 11:39). Do you see? These were not commended for being perfect. They were commended for their faith.

But perfection will come. In fact, the very next verse tells us when perfection will come. It will for the ancient saints when it comes for us (Heb. 11:40). We will be made perfect together in glory, when we see see Jesus face to face.

Until then, we press on in faith and love. But we do so with our gaze on the God who loves us so and has already made us his own.

And with Him in focus, and his grace, we can be freed from perfectionism.

Not that I’ve already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Philippians 3:12

*P.S.- I know it. I didn’t deal with the command to “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). But stay tuned. I will.

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Trust Issues?

Child holding adult hand, trust

Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. 

Psalm 62:8

Do you have trust issues?

I do. But my trust issues aren’t so much with trusting others so much as with others trusting me

Trust Me

I don’t mean trusting me to decorate a cake or back a semi-trailer into a loading dock or entertain a two-year old. I don’t even trust me to do those things well.

No, my trust issues come when people don’t trust me to do what I said I’d do. I mean, trust me to keep my word and come through without micromanaging or second guessing me. That kind of carte blanche trust means the world.

Trust, I know, is built on trustworthiness, tested-ness, character. We trust others because we know something about their character. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. 

And I am thrilled to the depths of my firstborn, take-charge, competence seeking soul when people trust me with a task. I still glow to think about the affirmation a leader gave me when I proposed a project a few years ago. “Abigail’s got this,” he said to the team. “Best thing we can do is let her run with it.”

But it’s also why it’s such a blow when I get demoted. When people don’t trust us to do a job that’s in our wheelhouse or to keep our word, that can cut us to the core.

I mean, mistrust hurts.

Don’t Grieve God’s Heart

This got me thinking about trusting God (more than the GPS Girl) and how our lack of trust- our little faith- must displease him. Could it be that our fear and anxiety and grieve God for at least some of the same reasons that others’ mistrust grieves us?

At the heart of this hurt, I think, is the fact that others’ lack of trust in me betrays the truth that people don’t really know me as well as I thought they did. Mistrust can betray a lack of intimate knowledge. 

I know it borders on audacious to compare my sin-twinged reactions to distrust with our Holy God’s. But I dare.

Because if it hurts my puny fail-and-drop-the-ball-self how much more it must grieve the faithful God’s heart when His people don’t trust Him. Like the disciples in the boat, with the waves splashing in on them (Matthew 8:23-27). Can you hear Jesus saying, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” 

In “The Theology of Rest” Oswald Chambers imagines how that felt. 

“O ye of little faith!” What a pang must have shot through the disciples — “Missed it again!” And what a pang will go through us when we suddenly realize that we might have produced down right joy in the heart of Jesus by remaining absolutely confident in Him, no matter what was ahead. 

At rock bottom, our anxiety and distrust reveal that we don’t trust God. Which means we really don’t know him as well as he wants us to know him. 

Trust Him Wholly

So trust God. I know- easier said than done. So I’ll let you in on a little secret. It will be way easier to trust God more if you know him better. So get to know God. Seek him where he is to be found. Read his self-revelation. There are 66 books of the Bible all about him. He wrote them because he wants you to know him. 

And He wants you to trust him. Because He is faithful to all his promises. God always keeps his word. Because, as the old hymn reminds us, those who trust him wholly, find him wholly true.

God is the only one worthy of our complete trust. Even the best of friends will sometimes disappoint us. But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

One of my favorite Bible verses is Psalm 145:13. The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. Faithful and loving. Could there be a better pair of traits to gain our trust?

Like James Forsyth said

If he gave you breakfast this morning, and he’s given you life everlasting, can you not trust him with what comes in between? If he has demonstrated his love and his concern by even dying on a cross to give you life everlasting can you not trust him with your concerns?

Still it’s hard. Trusting an unseen God with our hopes and our hurts and our very lives is hard. I feel the tension to trust him or to go my own way every day.

But I can assure you of this. Often sooner and for sure later, it’s way more sweet to trust in Jesus. And it makes God glad.

The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who trust in his unfailing love. 

Psalm 147:11

For our heart is glad in him, for we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you.

Psalm 33:21-22

 

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Work Hard, At (Dragon) Play

Boy playing with dragons

Whatever you do, don’t breathe a word of this post to Gabe. He has no idea I took these pictures. He’d be mortified if he knew you knew that he did battle with a dragon yesterday.

Gabe started sixth grade last week and Gabe still works hard at his play. At imagination. And as much as I pray his imagination thrives until the day he dies, I’m aware that there probably won’t be too many more dragon battles.

That’s why I had wet eyes.

Never Laugh at a Live Dragon

I don’t laugh at dragons. Yesterday I almost cried, but I wouldn’t dare laugh. The full quote is “Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool! he said to himself and it became favorite saying of his later, and passed into a proverb.” If you haven’t guessed, it’s from The Hobbit.

Saturday night Gabe said he couldn’t put his figures away because he hadn’t finished the battle. He’d assembled the Playmobil warriors Friday morning. Then life took over, the fair and friends came, and the army waited, helmets on, swords in hand- for 48 hours on the couch in the back room.

Until Gabe woke early Sunday morning to do the great work of imagination: to make dragon and men do battle.

Too many of us grow up and we forget about imagination. We forget that we still need imagination to grow spiritually. Reality can be beaten, G.K. Chesterton said, with imagination.  I still believe it.

So last night when Gabe asked, not really out of the blue, “Mom do you think there really were dragons, that even breathed fire?” I paused.

“Gabe, I think maybe there were.”

Not Too Old Too Imagine

You’re not too old. A sixth-grader is not too old to fight a dragon battle and you’re not too old to set your mind on things unseen. You are not too old to imagine. In fact, you might say, that’s part of your “calling” if you’re a Christian. It’s what we’re supposed to do.

Because imagination is not mere pretending. Merriam-Webster says it is the power of the mind to form images of things not present to the senses or within the actual experience of the person involved. Imagination is the ability to form an image in the mind, to see in the mind’s eye what is not present to the physical eyeTo these ears, that sounds remarkably Pauline!

  • As in 2 Corinthians 4:18: Look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
  • Or Ephesians 1:18: Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. 
  • And Colossians 3:2: Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 

You are not too old for this.

Narnia’s No Dream

One of my first and favorite JoyPrO posts was about imagination. It started with a 4 year old Sam making a face out of flower petals. But it ended with one of my favorite scenes in all of the chronicles of Narnia.

Eustace, Jill and Puddleglum the lanky, languid Marshwiggle are closing in on their rescue of Prince Rilian. The Prince had been captured and held hostage by the evil Queen of the Underworld who had him under her spell, believing there was no other world.

The Queen’s

…steady, monotonous thrumming…you didn’t notice after a few minutes. But the less you noticed it, the more it got into your brain and your blood.  This also made it hard to think.  

Narnia, said the witch thrumming, is all a dream.  There is no sun.  The lamp is the real thing, the rest is a children’s tale. And Aslan?  Why, he’s only a big, make-believe cat. (The Silver Chair, p. 182)

Then, just as the enchantment was almost complete, Puddleglum did a very courageous thing. He stomped his webbed Marshwiggle foot in the Queen’s enchanted fire. And there’s nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic. 

Live Like A Narnian

Puddleglum’s mind became perfectly clear, and this is what he said:

Suppose we have made it up.  All I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seems a good deal more important than the real ones.  Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right.  I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it.  I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.  (p. 190-191).

If you’re “into” Narnia, maybe you’ve already adopted this  as your battle cry: Live like a Narnian!

Maybe you’ve already make it your battle to shake off dull sloth and joyful rise, and set your imagination on things above.

That is labor! Some of the most effortful work I do happens the first few minutes after my alarm clock goes off.

Do Battle (For Joy) Every Morning

Exertion is just as necessary for us as it was for Puddleglum if we’re to break free from the evil enchantment of the Underworld. We need to exert our minds to form images of what we can’t see right now. Imagination can break the spell of worldliness.

Gabe did battle with dragon Sunday morning. Every morning I have to do my own battle.

Most often it’s against discouragement, selfishness, and the pervasive pride of self-pity. If you wage war in bed first thing in the morning, you’re in good company.

John Piper explains the fight of faith as a fight for joy in the Lord; a battle “to continually recognize, see, savor, receive Jesus as more valuable” than anything in this world.

I get up every morning and fight that fight. Every morning, that’s my war. Am I wanting to look at Twitter before I look at Jesus? Sounds stupid. That’s how stupid sin is. So every morning, there’s war in the Piper household. It’s not against my family; it’s against me, and my old man that I have to reckon dead over and over again (Ephesians 4:22) and pray that the Holy Spirit that would poured out on me, that my eyes would be opened; I would see and savor Christ as supreme. That’s war. That’s called the life of faith. Faith is seeing, savoring, the supreme treasure of Christ.

Give Thanks First

George Mueller, a great man of faith, famously said,

Above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you…But I deliberately repeat, it is of supreme and paramount importance that you should seek above all things to have your souls happy in God Himself…Day by day, seek to make this the most important business of your life.

It’s effortful. Other things will press upon you. But God’s grace has been teaching me to make this my first labor each day. So, I thank God- sometimes I force my selfish self- to thank God for 5 things before I roll out of bed.

That’s usually how my battle with the joy-stealing dragon begins.

Labor Each Day: Imagine Dragons. Fight For Joy.

G. K. Chesterton had a way with words. Some of my favorite quotes come from him, including this one: “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.

I did some digging and the quote is not exact. But it seems to be based on this bit from his essay “The Red Angel“: 

Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Gabe was St. George on Sunday. Defeating the evil and the ugly. I was him this Labor Day- fighting evil and ugly- and pray I’ll be everyday.

But defeating an evil dragon is work. It’s noisy work sometimes.

Can You Handle The Noise?

After I snapped the pictures yesterday, I walked in, Bible and journal in hand,

Gabe, would you mind if I sit out here and read for a little while?

I was ready to leave and give him battle space, the pause was so long. Then the shrug,

Well mom, if you can handle the noise, it’s okay. 

I sighed the happiest of sighs. Doing dragon battle is noisy, but Gabe wasn’t ashamed.

Oh yeah, Gabe, I can handle the noise.

In fact, I love the noise. Because it’s the noise of real life.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:1-3, NLT