Thursday, January 21, 2016

To Vent or Not To Vent?

     Last week I found myself on the receiving end of quite a few one-sided conversations that ended with "Thanks for letting me vent." I have been hung up on that word "vent" ever since. Perhaps it's because I felt like I had no choice in the conversations. I couldn't get a word in edgewise to stop the person mid-vent. When they were finished they thanked me and walked away. I've since been wondering if it is really a good thing to vent.

     Most of us would say that when we vent we are releasing something that has built up inside of us to a trusted friend. In Christian circles it's commonly excused as "sharing".  I've come to the conclusion that we call it sharing to make ourselves feel better. If we vent because we need to release something that is built up inside of us, what is it that we are really releasing? Think about it for a minute. What usually builds up inside of us that causes us to want to vent? Isn't it usually frustration and anger? No one has ever said to me, "I just need to vent" and then went on to tell me how blessed they are by someone else, how thankful they are for how God is at work in their life, or how happy they are with their circumstances.

     What does venting accomplish anyway? I can tell you from experience that the person on the listening end gets to walk away with either a heavy heart or a bad attitude. The person doing the venting feels ten times lighter for all of ten seconds, until the next time something frustrates or angers them. The problem with venting is that it's a temporary release. Nothing truly get's accomplished. When we vent it's because we want to unload not because we want to change. When we vent it's because we are frustrated with the things we see wrong with others, not because we recognize our own short comings. When we vent, whether we realize it or not, there is an element of pride behind it. Venting almost always has an underlying subtle theme of I know better or I can do better.

     I have been asking God what the solution is to this. I understand the need to have someone you can trust, to share your frustrations with. The standard answer is to go to God. Of course we should always go to Him first, but sometimes we need an earthly friend to listen. So what do we do? Let's look at the word "sharing".

     When we think of the word "share" we  tend to think of it in a positive light. We share our hopes. We share the things we are excited about. We share encouraging words. We also share our struggles. I know sharing our struggles doesn't sound positive, but it is. When we share our struggles we offer someone else the opportunity to help us carry the load. We recognize our own weaknesses, and we acknowledge that we can't do it on our own. The same frustration and anger that leads us to vent can also lead us to share our struggles. It's all in the approach. I can confess my anger and frustration to a trusted friend and ask them to pray for God to change my heart. This is sharing. I am admitting that I am part of the problem and I need help. There is no pride in that, and I am not just using my friend as a place to let off steam. In turn, my friend can pray with me and check in on a regular basis to see if I am allowing God to change me. In essence, the difference between sharing and venting is heart motive.

    Sharing is motivated by a heart that recognizes its need to change as well as its need for help in doing so. Venting is motivated by a heart that sees everyone else as the problem and just wants to let off some steam to make itself feel better. I am sad to say that in my lifetime, I have done both.  As a Christ follower it shouldn't be that way. Jesus didn't vent.

     Jesus didn't vent...and He had every right to do so! Not only did Jesus have every right to vent, He would  never have run out of things to vent about! The Israelites, the pharisees, Judas, and the disciples were all vent-worthy material. He didn't. He could have but He didn't. He was faced with stubborn, prideful, and dense people that often betrayed Him....still is. Yet I can't find one instance in the Bible where He pulled someone aside in order to vent about someone else. Jesus didn't talk about people behind their backs...which is part of what venting is. I believe Jesus couldn't, because He is perfect love. "Love covers over a multitude of sins." 1 Peter 4:8. When love covers over a multitude of sins...there is nothing left to vent about.

   May the love that covers over a multitude of sins fill our hearts today and always... leaving us void of anything to vent about!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What Can I Say?

   I was reading an obituary and the words "He died unexpectedly" grabbed my attention in a way that they never have before. Sure, I knew what they meant...the person had no known serious illnesses that would cause anyone to think that they were going to die soon. Yet this one thought kept making its way to the forefront of my mind. Is death ever really unexpected?

     Death is one of the only guarantees we have in life. We will all how is it that we live as though it is unexpected? The obituary I was reading belonged to my neighbor. He died "unexpectedly" a little over a week ago. On Sunday, I attended his funeral. The place was so packed that it was standing room only! There were no shortage of people who had something to share about how this man had touched their lives. As I listened all I could think about was, did he know? Did he know that all of the little things he did for others were the very things that meant the most to them? Did he know how much he was loved? Did he know that they thought his jokes were funny? Did he know that the way he loved his wife challenged other men to be better husbands?

     Funerals provide an opportunity to share the things we most remember and appreciate about others. I gained a better sense of who the man was in the various roles he had in life, through the words of others. We often call that a person's legacy. Many times I've heard pastors use this type of example in a sermon. They ask what will your tombstone say or what will your legacy be?  I left the funeral thinking...what would I want people to say about me? What would I want them  to remember most?  That's the problem with funerals...they make you think and for me, thinking leads to questions! I think the real question is this: Why wait until someone dies to share what they mean to us?

     Think about it for a moment. The person isn't even there to be encouraged by what we are sharing. Why does it seem easier to share a specific remembrance of how that person touched our lives when they are dead, than it is to share it with them when they are living?  There could be many reasons for this. We get busy, we worry about not having the right words to express ourselves, or we get hung up on how we think they might respond. Perhaps it's as simple as just not thinking to express our thoughts out loud...but our words are a gift. You can't open a gift if you're dead. You can't be encouraged by the words of others when you're no longer able to hear them. You can't feel the love in the words once you're gone. Perhaps this is the real tragedy at funerals...not that someone is dead but that they may have died not knowing how their life touched the lives of others.

     Author Ann Voskamp once wrote that we should "Only speak words that make souls stronger." The words that were spoken at my neighbor's funeral surely would have made him stronger...if he had been able to hear them.  What if instead of asking ourselves what our legacy will be or what others will say about us when we die, we ask ourselves a different question?  We could ask: What soul strengthening words can I gift someone with today?

     My neighbor was only fifty four years old. Life is too short to leave soul strengthening words unsaid. I'm sure there were moments in his life when he needed to hear how much it meant to someone that he mowed their lawn without them asking, plowed their driveway for free, or that he was the best of listeners. We're only six days into this new year, and I find myself asking God to make it a year where I regularly ask: What can I say? What can I say to make souls they have the gift of knowing how loved they are and how much they matter while they are living?

   I don't want the gift of my soul strengthening words to be left unopened by the recipient, because I waited until their funeral to bring it. Do you?   This year, let's make it a point to let people know the impact they've had on us.