We begin our Lenten sermon series about maintaining our integrity when we come into conflict with others. Integrity is one of those great out of fashion concepts. It’s a sense of wholeness where your interior life, your best aspirations and values are in cohesion with your exterior life, the things you do are in cohesion.
We’ll be examining the final days of Jesus’ life to see how Jesus maintained his integrity despite the massive pressures that weighed on him. The hope is that we will have a better appreciation of Jesus as we head into Easter and that we will find ways to apply Jesus’s example to our own real-life dilemmas.
Today our subject is being true to ourselves when doing so disappoints others. A few weeks ago, I quoted The Invitation, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. It’s about developing deeper, more authentic relationships. She talks about not being so much interested in what someone does for a living or where they went to school or how many achievements one has but to focus rather on what stirs the soul, how one deals with disappointment and setbacks. One line really struck me. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself.That hit a little close because that’s something I struggle with. I’m oriented toward the people-pleaser side of the spectrum and many times I’ve regretted what’s happened when I let the fear of disappointing someone keep me from following the path I desired.
Disappointing others is part of the human condition. You cannot make everybody happy all the time. Just ask Jesus.
When Jesus didn’t change the world as quickly and dramatically as John the Baptist imagined, he sent inquiries to Jesus, “Are you the one? Or shall we look for another?”
Jesus suffered the rebuke of Peter when Jesus told the disciples that despite everything they had ever been led to believe about the messiah, he wasn’t going to lead a military campaign to overthrow the Romans.
There are several accounts when people were coming to Jesus for healing and he just went away, often to pray and regroup. He didn’t heal everyone who came.
The most poignant scene where Jesus disappoints is from our scripture. Mary and Martha had summoned Jesus to heal their sick brother, Lazarus. But Jesus did not come right away. The sisters waited. Hours turned to days turned into weeks before Jesus finally showed up and when he finally arrives they let him have it. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” And in that moment, we see just how connected Jesus is with our condition. How hard that must have been for him to hear. He was following his path, doing what he needed but it had consequences that weren’t easy for others and it stung when they confronted him. “Jesus wept.”
We can disappoint others by poor attitudes, bad decisions, and ill behaviors. But I’m not talking about that kind of disappointment. I’m talking of disappointing people because:
- they were counting on you to do things they wanted you to do but they weren’t right for you.
- you didn’t live up to their expectations.
- you said no.
- you went in a different direction than they were expecting.
- you made a right but painful decision that they didn’t understand.
- you refused to be manipulated by them.
- you wouldn’t apologize for the 100th time or grovel.
- you didn’t make their emergency your emergency.
On one level, concern over disappointing others indicates that you care, which is a positive. I talked with a couple of psychologists from our church this week about the subject. One told me that people pleasing is embedded deep within us. We learn it from birth because our existence and getting affirmation depends on it. Then we can feed on it.
Have you ever had someone tell you, “I’m not mad at you. Just disappointed.” Just disappointed? “Just?” That’s worse. Having someone you respect tell you they are “disappointed” can just wipe you out. And we’d do anything not to repeat that feeling.
However, it is impossible to make everyone else happy, because everyone you encounter will have different expectations of you. Living your life constantly afraid of letting others down will block you from finding true path.
I know for us when we felt the call to come out to California, we knew how disappointed family and dear friends would be and we had to really weigh that against where we felt led. My daughter, a young adult said, “You’re just going to leave me here?” My mother-in-law said, “I feel the same as she does.” Just the thought the pained look that would come to their eyes when we explained it nearly kept us from considering it. I wonder if you can identify the times you’ve struggled with an action because you were afraid of how it would disappoint.
- I know people who burn out because they never say no and over-commit.
- I know people who consistently put their client’s demands first and they become strangers in their own homes.
- People who bow to someone else’s pressure about what they should be or do for a
- Might say I want to be a teacher or pursue their art but not make enough money. Might say I said at one point I’d be happy to be in the family business, but…
- People who spend lives pretending to be something they are not–hiding true feelings, way of living.
- People who are caring for kids–telling them no, setting boundaries. It’s hard. They can get walked all over.
- A parent overdue for a talk with elderly parent: try to weigh their needs and what is best for them against what you can reasonably do because you don’t want to deal with their feelings. They wind up getting miserable; resentful of how much weight they are carrying. And then they start taking it out on relatives who are not close by.
One person told me that she and her husband grew up in families where one of them learned that if you shared your real feelings somebody would blow up and the other learned that if you shared your real feelings somebody might leave. So they spent the first seven years of their marriage being really careful to avoid any conflict but to do that they weren’t really being authentic with each other. They didn’t trust the relationship was strong enough to handle saying, “I’m really mad at you. I think what you did was wrong. I am disappointed by your decision, your action.” 7 years of marriage without a fight but also seven years of never being as close as they could be. Because you are never going to get as intimate with someone as you could if you cannot be real.
So many times, we withdraw, act not in real ways, speak our truth, live our truth. And live out some lie, pretending to feel or be something we aren’t because we don’t want to disappoint. Can you be true to yourself even when you know it will disappoint someone else? Can you be true? What does it mean if the answer is no?
By actively avoiding disappointment (of or by others), we set ourselves up for failure and pain. And this makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to speak our truth, be ourselves and live with a real sense of authenticity and peace. If you are not living your truth, what would you call it?
What Can You Do? Take inventory of relationships. Am I afraid of being real? Why?
Ask, what can I do to be more honest? You’ll have to take risks. But most of your relationships are stronger than you think. If not you can strengthen it by beginning to speak, live your truth. Integrity is about matching your actions with your best values.
Take a look at your core values, your needs, your motivation and goals. What is most important to you. Jesus kept withdrawing to tend to his spirit so that he could be strong, clear. He could remember who he was and what he was all about. To have the clarity about that so that he could do things that would disappoint and not lose his way. Good thing you came to church today to do just that.
Consider your options and ask how each correlates to your loyalty to spirit and how it makes you feel.
I wanted to subtitle the sermon “How to Become a Better Disappointer.” You are going to disappoint others but how you do it is important. Jesus had a great deal of empathy for Mary’s pain and frustration. Jesus wept. He wasn’t indifferent, “That’s your problem, lady. Deal with it.” No, he could enter into the pain of it and be with her in that moment.
The psychologists I talked to emphasize the need for good basic communication skills. Making “I statements” instead of “you statements” that come across as accusations or excuses. If you don’t know what that is about then look at those skills on line. Some may even need some assertiveness training to learn how to stand up for themselves. The point is there are tools and resources out there to get better at this. Once you recognize you may have an issue with this, it’s on you to do something about it.
Remember you don’t have to go it alone. Confer with others. Feel the support of your faith, your church friends. I like the part of the scripture when Lazarus is raised he stumbles out of the tomb and Jesus says, “unbind him and set him free.” That’s what a community does. We help take off the things that bind our friends from fully living the life meant for them.
The point of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus wasn’t to show off or to make up for not coming earlier. The point was to show the power of Jesus to give us new life in the midst of this life. Mary said she believed in resurrection in the next life, Jesus was trying to show that it can come in this life.
So he went over to that tomb and called Lazarus to come forth. He stumbles out and Jesus says unbind him, set him free. Maybe your tomb, the stuff that binds you is your fear of disappointing others, or fear of taking risks, or not being real. Just as surely as Jesus called Lazarus to come forth, he calls you, that you might have new life.
Come forth and live. Life with integrity. Live your life. Live without fear. Come forth. Amen.