Posts Tagged ‘correct


Blessed Reassurance

“OOO! Teacher! I know! Call on ME!”

Oh, how I loved it. How it used to stir my soul. 

There we were, sitting in our neat rows in Mrs. Olds’ fifth grade classroom. She had just posed a question to the entire class… on which topic I am not sure… and I KNEW THE ANSWER!!

My hand shot up. And from my vantage point toward the back in the row by the door I could see that NO ONE ELSE was raising their hand.

Gazing around, her eyes finally landed on me. “Yes, Rusty?” she ventured. [You see back then, someone had the brainwave that the best way to shorten the name “Russell” was to make it “Rusty”. But please don’t tell anyone.]

I took a deep breath, confidently spoke the answer, and – wonder of wonders – I was RIGHT! The reward for my perspicacity was the prize I most coveted in the world; the smiling approval of my teacher.

Yes, I was pleased by the release of pheromones as the Right Answer materialized in my brain. I also loved that I had the confidence to vocalize that answer in front of a room full of my peers. But the form of compensation that mattered the most to me back in the fifth grade was APPROVAL. And ideally, approval from a person with AUTHORITY. 

I wish I could tell you I have changed dramatically in the 60 or so ensuing years.

But I can’t truthfully say that. Sadly, approval is still a tremendously salient “coin of the realm” for me even as an old guy. 

  • I seek Joan’s approval.
  • I seek my sons’ approval.
  • I seek approval from the members of our Wednesday night Community Group.
  • I seek approval from my server at the restaurant, the Target cashier, my cul-de-sac neighbors, and complete strangers I meet on the street.  
  • Back in the day, I sought approval from my bosses.
  • I sought approval from every congregation I ever served and the District Superintendents I answered to.
  • Heck, I am sure I am seeking YOUR approval even now as I choose the words I write.

And frankly, all this approval seeking is exhausting. It is exhausting because I require every word, every thought, and every action to pass through two distinct and different assembly line/inspection processes before they can manifest themselves in the world.

What is RIGHT in this moment?


What will gain APPROVAL? From… whoever.

At first, this “disease to please” doesn’t sound like a terrible affliction, does it? A person bent on gaining approval will usually be careful, conscientious, and compassionate in their relationships with others. 

 That much is true. But here is the real pathology that lies behind perpetual people pleasing: it leaves the pleaser with no agenda of his/her own. No vision. No ideal other than the ideals of whomever the pleaser is plotting to please.

And as long as the pleaser’s eyes are fixed on hitting targets in THIS world, success will be a hit or miss kind of thing. But if we turn our eyes to Jesus for a moment, we will learn two things.

First, we will hear him remind us that this dogged pursuit of approval probably falls under the heading of “laying up treasures on earth,” which Jesus once said was a really bad idea. (See Matthew 6:19, NRSV). The problem, he says, is spoilage. A little later in that same sermon, he tries to help us set our sights on a higher, nobler target when he says, “But seek first [God’s] kingdom and [God’s] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33, NRSV). 

The second piece of sound guidance we receive from my man JC is the guidance that reminds us that we already have all the approval we will ever need. In fact, we had it AT OUR BIRTH! And we received it from the Highest Authority possible! 

Once again, we listen to the words from the Sermon on the Mount, where we hear, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. [Or – apropos of this blog post; “… or who will approve of you.”] 

Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? [Ed. – “Or your worth as a person more than your co-workers’ approval?”]

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-27, NRSV). 

I sure hope someone out there today is helped by this reminder. But if not, it was still worthwhile because those were all assurances I needed to hear again myself.

Abundant blessings;


A Bad Case of the Neat Freaks

Lincoln Logs toy by K’Nex

“But you’re doing it ALL WRONG!” I yelled at my younger brother… my face turning red, my eyeballs bulging, and little jets of steam curling out of my nostrils.

The subject was Lincoln Logs. The project was trying to build a fort from which our plastic army men could defend themselves against all hostile attackers. His assignment – which I THOUGHT was simple enough to understand – was to build the eastern wall. You know, the one where the army guys would stand on the walkway and shoot over the top.

But instead of using the LONG pieces with four notches in them, he was using the really short pieces with only TWO notches.

It never occurred to me that I might not have explained the assignment clearly enough to him. As far as I was concerned, he was apparently just being intentionally difficult and annoying – like younger brothers always seem to be.

That scene took place at least sixty years ago. My faulty memory might have blurred some of the details of the event itself, but not its essence. What I mean by that is; the Russell of today bears a shockingly (and depressingly) close resemblance to the Russell of 1962 when it comes to keeping track of and compulsively following The Rules

“Things must be done correctly. Rules must be followed. Crumbs must be swept off the counter, suitcases must be packed properly, and Lincoln Log forts must be built the right way,” he says. 

“Otherwise, there will be chaos, confusion, death, and destruction.” 

You’re doing it ALL WRONG!” is not an uncommon phrase for 11-year-olds. But wouldn’t you think it would have disappeared completely from the conversations of most 70-year-olds?

I am sorry to report that this is not at all the case. At least when the 70-year-old we are talking about is me.

Those who follow this blog closely will notice this is not the first time I have opined on this subject. It even came up earlier this year. For some reason, the topic of compulsive rule-following seems to occupy a lot of my brain space. 

Why is that do you suppose? Is it because I suspect there is something more sinister and pathological lurking there below the surface? Is it because I fear I am infected with a more deadly disease than simply a bad case of the Neat Freaks?

What is really going on – in my instant, skin-deep analysis – is that I am trying to pull some version of The Ol’ Switcheroo… that is, I am spending time and energy endlessly campaigning about the rightness of countless miniscule items like the alignment of forks and drinking glasses in order to avoid frying those much larger and more consequential fish… fish like racial justice, systemic poverty, hopelessness, homelessness, addiction, and cruelty.

I mean, there is right. And then there is RIGHT.

Fork aligning and T-shirt folding I can do. 

Righting the wrongs of systemic racism? Waaaaay out of my league.

Mother Teresa was not one to let folks like me off the hook quite so easily. Rather than letting us wring our hands about the impossibility of single-handedly healing the ills of the world, she challenged each of us to, “Do small things with great love.”

Even though she has been through the formal canonization process and all, Teresa might have plagiarized Jesus just a little bit on this one. During one of his famous sermons on the importance of faith, Jesus told his disciples, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20, NRSV).

Correct napkin-folding, furniture arrangement, driving etiquette, and pet care are not entirely UNIMPORTANT pursuits. “Neatness is as neatness does,” as somebody’s mama (not mine) once said. 

But we should not persuade ourselves that getting these things right exempts us from our Christian call to make sure we get that OTHER stuff right, too.

Abundant blessings;

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