In my time as a maturing delinquent, I’ve caused my fair share of property damage.
My brother was becoming an Eagle scout and I was at an age where I was too proud to tell him I really wanted to be a part of his ceremony because loving your brother isn’t cool yet when you’re 14. Thrown into a fit of rage (read as “extreme pouting”), I marched over to the wall with the light switches for our upstairs living room, and delivered a roundhouse kick to the drywall that Bruce Lee could be proud of. Now, I’ve been self-aware of my lanky build nearly since birth, so I expected this to be an empty but satisfying display of emotion that my adolescent pride wouldn’t allow to be expressed healthily. So imagine the emotional cocktail of surprise, terror, and testosterone-driven pride that washed over me when I found that that kick had put a sizable dent into the wall.
I did what any self-preserving teenager would: I ignored it. And it totally worked for a day and a half until I was watching TV one afternoon, and I watched in peripherals as my father came up the stairs and stood to analyze that spot on the wall. “Do you know anything about this?” I denied that I knew anything about it. Unfortunately, he continued the line of questioning to my mother and brother, each also saying they had no idea where it came from, and suddenly I had 6 eyes boring into my own, staring into my soul.
I was grounded from comics for two months, a legitimately crippling blow that caused me to miss issues in Marvel’s Civil War story, as well as Free Comic Book Day, the best holiday of the year, second only to Flag Day.
I tell you this story because people are particularly bad at owning up to things, myself included. We’re always taught that the things we do have consequences, and that’s often followed up with the explanation that “consequences aren’t always bad,” though nearly all evidence is to the contrary. So we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to weasel our way out of those consequences, whatever they may be.
I don’t like piggy-backing directly off lessons and things that I’ve received over the course of the week, but I feel that this one bears a particular measure of necessity. On Wednesday during chapel, Randy Harris gave us a talk about that could best be summarized in the phrase “Own it,” in which he urged us not to make excuses and to look at our priorities, be transparent about our actions, motivations, and to firmly face whatever consequences that brings.
And it was staggering how negative the response was. Can you guess why?
Now, granted, the delivery may have had some things that would make, in the words of Mary Poppins, “the medicine go down” a little smoother. He began by discussing the millennial generation which is always a topic of debate and contention. Just this week my brother posted a comic on facebook about the millennial generation and how society’s portraying us, and I think it’s true that we (as did any and every generation before us) get dealt a sort of crap hand by the “real world” looking in at us.
Be that as it may, that couldn’t be further from Randy’s point. Because every generation’s experienced that problem, and every generation experiences the problem of not wanting to take responsibility when we screw up.
This next story’s about cuddling.
My girlfriend and I cuddle fairly often. If there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s being obnoxious to my girlfriend’s mom (who takes it like a champ), but if there’s another thing we’re good at, it’s cuddling. So we were cuddling over Christmas break, enjoying a lazy afternoon together, when I committed the cardinal sin of cuddling. I fell asleep.
Now, I’ll only accept a certain measure of blame for this because I am an exceptional sleeper. I can sleep in nearly any given situation, excepting, of course, any scenario involving lava because if there’s one natural phenomenon we, as a people, are still largely unfamiliar with, it’s lava and I am not going to let that ignorance get the better of me. Watch yourselves around lava. Anyway, I’m also a very vivid dreamer, and in the roughly 45 seconds to a minute of sleep that I found in this moment, I’d already begun dreaming that Mackenzie and I were in a Payless Shoe Store. And Mackenzie and I were talking when I was falling asleep, and when it came for me to respond, I said what would have been reasonable to say in the dream scenario: “Look at all the boots.”
This obviously took Mackenzie off guard, drawing a “What?” out of her, to which I had to think quickly so that she wouldn’t know I’d dozed off. The bright, quick-thinking lad that I am, I quickly recovered: “You know… Like, it’s winter now. Girls are gonna be wearing boots. It’s Ugg season. Uggs and Starbucks, man.” Years from now, I’ll be remembered as a great wordsmith of my generation.
But I think this story reflects more of the heart of what Randy was getting at. I didn’t want Mackenzie to know that I’d fallen asleep, because that could be taken to mean that I didn’t think the time I was spending with her was important. And past that, if that’s the conclusion she drew, that would reflect especially poorly on me. And maybe that’s what we’re defending more when we avoid responsibility.
Maybe this is a matter of pride.
The example Randy used is texting when you’re with other people. He said it’s basically like saying “Spending time with you is less important to me than spending time responding to this person, and I don’t think you’re worth my full attention, so I’m going to text this person instead.” Caustically approached, sure, (part of the reason why people seemed not to react well) but isn’t that more than appropriate? The fact is, it strikes at our hearts, so it strikes at the heart of pride. We don’t want to look someone in the face and tell them something that will make them think we’re a bad person, so we don’t say it, we just imply it.
But what if we did take that opportunity to say it out loud, realize what we were saying, what we were doing, and repent? Because to combat pride, we have to know humility, and there are few more humbling things (to me at least) than realizing that you are neglecting another person for your own sake. If humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less, this is the ultimate in red flags.
It’s hard to say you’re wrong and to change your behavior. But it’s something we’re called to do. In the Sermon on the Mount, we’re told that if we’re planning to go to the temple, but remember that there’s beef between us and someone we know, to leave and be reconciled first. And Philippians makes one of the clearest, yet most challenging calls to humility through being in one mind with one another in the form of lifting others above ourselves.
What unity comes from denying responsibility? We can be unified in making excuses, but I think you know that’s not the sort of unity God has in mind for his kingdom.
Maybe it starts with looking at what you’re really saying to people and deciding if you’re right or wrong. And then you have to trust that if you go out on a limb and admit it, they’ll forgive you and love you just the same because they know you’d do the same for them.
Then we can go back to the temple and give our gift together.