Visiting Liberty University

Visiting Liberty University

Friday, May 22, 2015

Open Heart Surgery

If you know me, you know I like to talk. A lot. I learned to talk long before I could walk, and I haven't stopped since. It's only been in the last 5 years or so of my life that I have gained some measure of self control over my words, and that's solely by God's grace!

I'm also by nature very literal. I'm like the story book character "Amelia Bedelia" who sprinkled baby powder on the furniture she was told to dust and put doll clothes on a raw chicken because she was told to dress it. I use my words very literally and I tend to interpret everyone else's words the same way.

For a long time these two traits of mine caused countless problems. I said whatever I thought, exactly how I thought it, only to discover that, apparently, that's not a socially acceptable way of communicating. My life became a cycle of:

Open mouth.

Insert foot.

Repeat.

I also found myself endlessly confused by people whose first language was sarcasm. I used to hate getting teased, because I didn't understand that, for most people, teasing was another way of saying, "I love you." I took every comment at face value, and I took them all personally.

I couldn't understand why people wouldn't say exactly what they meant. And I found myself incapable of saying things I didn't mean. Even now, I can't type something like, "Praying for you," at the end of an email unless I actually have been praying for that person over the last few days. I've had to find tactful, less blunt ways of saying what I mean, and sometimes I've just had to learn to hold my tongue.

Because nothing bothers me more than the proverbial elephant in the room. Nothing agitates me like misunderstanding and miscommunication.

Have you ever had a time where something just wasn't right in your system? Maybe you had inexplicable bouts of fatigue, or your heartbeat wasn't regular, or you had strange aches or pains that just wouldn't go away. It's easy to put off going to the doctor for things like that. About a year ago, my friend's dad waited months before going to the doctor, only to discover that he had a potentially terminal form of cancer. (Praise God, after chemo and surgery he is now cancer-free!) Maybe the issue isn't anywhere near that serious, though. Maybe a couple of weeks on antibiotics, a few months of physical therapy, or adding a vitamin supplement to your diet will solve the problem. Maybe all you need is to drink more water, get more sleep, and exercise!

Regardless, the issue will not go away unless you address it. Until you tell someone, "Hey, something's wrong," and describe your symptoms in detail, you'll suffer needless discomfort or pain and risk serious long term consequences. A diagnosis is crucial, and a misdiagnosis can be deadly. Once you acknowledge that the problem exists and figure out what's wrong, you can take care of it. To quote whoever said/wrote it first, "The worst part is not knowing!"

To me, personal relationships work exactly the same way. People aren't perfect. Stuff goes wrong. Issues arise. No one wants to talk about them. So the problem just sits there and festers, until one day, it bursts. At that point, there's usually not a lot that can be done to fix things, kind of like appendicitis. Or maybe the problem is more like a cancer that grows secretly and silently, draining away the life of the relationship and eventually killing it altogether.

I'm not suggesting that you tell anyone and everyone about your issues, but at some point you have to tell someone. It's good to talk with the people directly involved in the issue. It's especially NOT good to gossip with uninvolved people about the issue. But you can at least tell the "innocent bystanders," "It's not you. There's something else going on, but I can't really talk about it right now." That way they don't sit there for days... or weeks... walking on eggshells around you and worrying that maybe they said/did something wrong when you really have no issue with them!

Sometimes, issues require measures as extreme as open heart surgery. Surgery is messy, painful, and delicate. It requires weeks... or months... of recovery time and therapy afterwards. But the end result is (hopefully) always worth it. My mom had double bypass open heart surgery when I was 6 years old. She was born with a heart anomaly that had gone undetected for 30+ years of her life but could have caused her death at any time. Basically, God wired one of the main arteries supplying blood to her heart "wrong." After the surgery, Mom was hooked up to all kinds of freaky wires and tubes for days. When she came home, it hurt her to laugh or cough because her whole rib cage was sore, and she had to do physical therapy to get her heart strong again. But she has had no problems with her heart ever since then. The issue was identified and fixed.

Not all relationship issues require measures as extreme as "open heart surgery." If you catch the issue early enough, sometimes all you have to do is make a short apology. Sometimes there was a simple misunderstanding that can be easily cleared up with a little honest communication. But sometimes the communication required to mend a relationship is difficult. It can be messy, painful, and delicate. Recovery can require months of diligent effort. But it's ALWAYS worth it.

All relationships are built on communication. If you don't talk with someone, you don't get to know them. (Notice I said talking WITH, not talking AT. I used to just talk AT people. I'm still learning how to listen and let other people talk, too!) When communication suffers, the relationship suffers. And it takes a good deal of potentially unpleasant communication to restore and rebuild the relationship.

I'm not suggesting you attempt open heart surgery with a chainsaw. (Which would be my default.) Successful surgery requires caution, precision, and lots of wisdom. Unless you're careful, you can cause a lot more damage than repair.

But again, (please believe me) the benefits of a successful relationship "surgery" are always worth the risk and the mess and the pain.

Always.

I speak from personal experience here; in the last 5 or so years there have been a number of times that I've learned about an ongoing issue between me and a friend. In each of those cases, it was profoundly unpleasant to deal with the situation, but it was a relief to bring the issue out into the open, define it, and work towards resolving it. In the process, I grew and matured as a person and learned a LOT about my own faults and tendencies. And in most of those cases, my friendship with the other person blossomed and developed in an amazingly beautiful way that would not have been possible prior to "diagnosing" and "treating" the problem.

The more I get to know people, the more I have found that most of them are afraid of looking too deeply into their own hearts or those of others, and are even more afraid of others looking into their hearts. It's like they have an attic or a closet somewhere that hasn't been opened in years... it's all dark and dusty and who knows what's in there! Deadly afraid of what critters and skeletons might be lurking beneath the cobwebs, people keep the door to the closet sealed and don't let their friends anywhere near it.

So maybe there are lots of cobwebs and dust bunnies in your heart. Some mold and a colony of cockroaches, perhaps. (Ew, gross.) Maybe even a couple of skeletons.

OK. So what?

Everyone else's closet has weird, messy, scary stuff in it, too. I promise, you're not the only one. 

And guess what? I'm convinced that behind the skeletons, under all the dust and cobwebs, there's a beautiful sculpture or painting. Priceless, really. The work of a master artist. Hiding in the back of the closet underneath all the garbage, waiting for all of the junk to be pulled out and thrown away so that it can come to light.

But guess what? To uncover that gorgeous masterpiece, you have to open that mysterious closet and dig out all the skeletons and clean away all the dust. That's going to be a messy process. But if you bring a couple of friends along to help, it won't be quite so bad. And you'll discover a treasure that is more than worth the mess, if you're willing to get your hands dirty for a little while.

This is why I love talking to people. This is why I try to put spending time with people right near the top of my list of priorities. I want to help people discover the beautiful treasures hiding in the back of their closets.

For whatever reason, God made me so that I'm not afraid of other people's junk and the clutter. Those skeletons you're so ashamed and scared of? Yeah, they're dead. They happened, but they're not alive anymore. They can't do anything to you anymore. They're just dead bones, ready to be thrown out and buried as far away from you as the east is from the west.

Which, by the way, is exactly where Christ buried them when you gave Him the title to your house. He doesn't see the mess. He sees the masterpiece. And He'll help you air out your dingy little back closet and turn it into a showroom for His love and grace.

If, that is, you have the courage to open the door.

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