Sunday, August 21, 2011

Drippingly Insincere

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 8.27.11

I remember when my boys were little, they’d come show me something they’d drawn or written and without really looking at it or them, I’d mumble, “Great job, sweetie!”  Well, that only worked for a little while.  They got old enough to realize that I was not being sincere in my appreciation of their accomplishment.  In fact, one of the boys was only in about 3rd grade when he figured out that most of his teachers’ “Awesome!” and “Great job!” didn’t carry much weight either.  He wanted to know why teachers always said stuff like that when everybody knew they didn’t mean it.  Ouch!  He got me on both counts.  But I did try to be more careful – both at school and at home.

The problem is, it really seems so harmless, doesn’t it, to tell a child that his (or her) scribbles are beautiful or that his “story” is great, right?  Is a compliment really a compliment if you don’t mean it, and/or if the compliment-ee didn’t really earn it?

David Brooks of The New York Times seems to believe that unearned compliments might be causing some misconceptions.
“‘We're an overconfident species,’ … Brooks calls it a ‘magnification of the self,’ and he believes this glut of self-esteem is especially rampant in the United States. To back up these claims, Brooks cites an array of statistics, studies, and observations:
“When pollsters ask people from around the world to rate themselves on different traits, Americans usually supply the most positive self-ratings.
“Although American students do not perform well on global math tests, they are among the world leaders in having self-confidence about their math abilities.
“Compared to college students from 30 years ago, today's college students are much more likely to agree with statements such as ‘I am easy to like.’
“94 percent of college professors believe they have above-average teaching skills.
“70 percent of high school students surveyed claim they have above-average leadership skills, and only 2 percent are below average.
“Brooks observes that a few decades ago it would have been unthinkable for a baseball player to celebrate himself in the batter's box after hitting a home run. Today it is routine.
“Similarly, pop singers wouldn't have composed songs about their own greatness; now those songs dominate the charts.
“The number of high school seniors who believed that they were ‘a very important person’: in the 1950s—12 percent; in the 1990s—80 percent.
“According to Brooks, American men are especially susceptible to the perils of overconfidence. Men unintentionally drown twice as often as women (because men have great faith in their swimming ability, especially after drinking).
“‘In short,’ Brooks concludes, ‘there's abundant evidence to suggest that we have shifted a bit from a culture that emphasized self-effacement—I'm not better than anybody else, but nobody is better than me—to a culture that emphasizes self-expansion.’”[1]
Honestly though, would you rather know the truth even if it wasn’t pretty?  Or would you prefer to hear a lie that made you feel better?
“Imagine picking your car up from the shop after a routine tune-up, and the technician says, ‘This car is in great shape. Clearly you have an automotive genius to take great care of your car.’ Later that day, your brakes don't work. You find out you were out of brake fluid. You could have died.
“You go back to the shop, and you say, ‘Why didn't you tell me?’ The technician replies, ‘Well, I didn't want you to feel bad. Plus, to be honest, I was afraid you might get upset with me. I want this to be a safe place where you feel loved and accepted,’ You'd be furious! You'd say, ‘I didn't come here for a little fantasy-based ego boost! When it comes to my car, I want the truth.’
“Or imagine going to the doctor's office for a check-up. The doctor says to you, ‘You are a magnificent physical specimen. You have the body of an Olympian. You are to be congratulated.’ Later that day while climbing the stairs, your heart gives out. You find out later your arteries were so clogged that you were, like, one jelly doughnut away from the grim reaper.
“You go back to the doctor and say, ‘Why didn't you tell me?’ The doctor says, ‘Well, I knew your body is in worse shape than the Pillsbury doughboy, but if I tell people stuff like that, they get offended. It's bad for business. They don't come back. I want this to be a safe place where you feel loved and accepted.’ You'd be furious! You'd say to the doctor, ‘When it comes to my body, I want the truth!’
“Obviously, when something matters to us, we do not want illusory comfort based on pain avoidance. We want truth.”[2]
And that’s all God wants too.  He wants our love and obedience, but only if we want to give it.  He doesn’t ask anybody to pretend.  In fact, He gets pretty angry with people who say one thing and do another.
“The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?” says the Lord. I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.  When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you,    this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings!  Your incense is detestable to me.  New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.  When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.     Your hands are full of blood!”  Isaiah 1:11-15
Wow!  Those are some really strong words!  And the meaning is clear: “Don’t even bother to put on a show for Me.  If you don’t mean it, I don’t want it.” 

Going through the motions is just not good enough!  Matthew West’s song says it perfectly:  
“'Cause I don't wanna go through the motions / I don't wanna go one more day / without Your all consuming passion inside of me / I don't wanna spend my whole life asking, / ‘What if I had given everything, / instead of going through the motions?’”[3]
I want my worship, my whole relationship with God to be sincere; no more going through the motions.  What about you?

[1] David Brooks, "The Modesty Manifesto," The New York Times (3-21-11)
[2] John Ortberg, "Loving Enough to Speak the Truth,"
[3] Jason Houser, Sam Mizell, Matthew West, “The Motions,” Something to Say, Cedar Sides; Songs for Lulu, Llc Word Music

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