Tuesday, October 2, 2018

I Missed You

It's interesting to me how words and phrases can mean different things.  For example:

Image result for hideous dress
Nice dress.
If that is your favorite dress that you have ever seen, or if it's the one you wore to prom, then I meant I love it.  Not really.  I don't like it.  At all.  It was the 4th picture when I Google Imaged "hideous dress."  But I'm guessing  you read that in my tone of voice, even though the idea of reading tone of voice in a blog post is preposterous.  It's sarcasm, and the intent is clear.

But it's not always that clear.  A few weeks ago my neighbor came to me and said the tree on our property line was sick.  He said he wasn't sure whose tree it is.  Actually it was infested with carpenter ants, as it turns out, and it was only a matter of time before it lost the will to live.  So he wanted to know if I was ok with him calling someone to cut it down.  Sure!  Please do.

A couple of weeks later the guys were here to cut the tree.  They did a great job.  That evening my neighbor came over again.  We talked about how great a job they had done.  He mentioned again that he wasn't sure whose tree it was.  We talked a bit more, and then we went into our homes.

I called Lisa to tell her what all had happened.

"Did he ask you to help pay for it?"
"No, which I thought was strange."
"That is strange, since it's right on the line like that.  Are you sure he didn't ask you to help?"
"Yeah.  He just said a number of times that he wasn't sure whose tree it is."
"John.  He did ask you to help pay for it."
"No, not at all.  He just...oh.  Right.  Yes.  I'll call him back and 'offer' to help pay for it."

Some people are really good at picking up on these subtexts.  Lisa is.  Some people are not very good at picking up on the subtexts.  I'm not.  For me, the problem is I tend to take people at their word.  How can it be my problem if you didn't just say what you meant?!  The answer is, of course, that sometimes people are trying to be nice or considerate.  They really don't want to tell you that you're a complete idiot any more than you want to hear it.  We're in the South, after all.  There are rules.  Sometimes I envy people who have the gift of seeing subtext so clearly.

Image result for x ray machine
For the rest of us...
Sometimes I don't envy them.  Because the problem is sometimes when you read subtext, you can read subtext that isn't intended.  So you turn yourself completely in knots trying to figure out what someone was really trying to say, or even worse thinking you know what they were saying (when maybe they really did just mean they thought your outfit was ok).

You know where I've seen this a lot?  Church.  Church choir!  "We missed you."  See, when I hear someone say that, I think, "Isn't that nice to be missed."  But as it turns out people skilled in the art of reading subtext often realize that "we missed you" actually means something more like, "You should feel very guilty that you didn't show up to help us pull weeds in the children's playground.  It was for the children.  You're a monster."

Image result for playground weeds
If it weren't for the weeds, the children would love this.
The problem here isn't a question of subtext.  Unfortunately it's much worse.  The problem here is a question of honesty and authenticity.  And it's made worse because sometimes people who are making the statement don't actually know they are being dishonest!

Here's why.  When people in the church say, "we missed you," they think that's what they mean.  But what they really missed wasn't you.  It was your labor.  Or your voice.  Or your--dare I say it?--your money.  And when they say "we missed you," they really want you to come next time so you can contribute your labor.  Or your voice.  Or...your money.

That's not what church should be.

It's true that everyone contributes something unique to the life of the church.  It's true that the church is less when you aren't a part of it.  But you aren't welcome in the church because you have something to offer.  You are welcome in the church because everyone is welcome.  And God loves you.

Confession: I used to say, "We missed you."  I'm sorry about that.

Image result for I'm sorry
You have to forgive me now. 
Look at those eyes.
That said, along the way I've picked up a few ways to reclaim authenticity in this area, and I'd like to share them with you.

1. Actually care.  It's that simple.  Actually care about people more than you care about the thing or the project.  You cannot fake this, no matter how hard you try.  If you direct a church choir, care about the singers more than the sound or the size of the choir or how impressively they can sing in tune (note: that doesn't mean you don't care about those things...just that you care about the people more).

2. Trade "we" for "I."  I missed you.  "We" means I'm speaking on behalf of others, and it implies I'm speaking for all the other people who showed up to pack the lunches for the children."I" is personal.  Because it's personal, it means more.  It means I noticed you weren't there.  There's not a bunch of us ganging up on you.  I'm not trying to make you feel like you're on the outside.  I looked for you.  I didn't see you.  I wish I had seen you because it would have made my day brighter.

3. When you tell someone you missed them, listen for a moment if they tell you what was going on.  Respond.  Ask questions.  Invest in the relationship, because nothing will communicate that you missed them more effectively than caring about them.

4. Actually care.  I know I already said this.  It's really the only one that matters.

Or, put another way, when you say, "I missed you," make sure you mean, "I missed you."

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