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Biff and Mable came to our home. After Biff entered and while I wasn’t looking, he turned one of my lampshades cockeyed. Biff knew I would eventually notice and readjust the crooked shade.
A few moments later, I was talking to Biff and noticed the lampshade over his right shoulder. I excused myself and went to straighten it. I resumed our conversation. Biff laughed. I asked him why he was smiling, and he said that he tilted the shade on purpose. We both laughed.
I notice things. That is how God wired me. I have always observed things. That is what I do. God made me observant, literal, and detailed. It is a blessing and a curse. I don’t necessarily struggle with this gift of observation and don’t make a big deal out of it. It’s just the way that I am.
This type of personality could get on my friend’s nerves, but my closest friends are humble servants, which makes my quirk a non-issue. Biff and a few others have enjoyed making fun of me through the years. We all have our quirks.
My son is like me. He has his quirks too. Not so long ago I asked him to go upstairs and retrieve something from my bedroom. He bounded up the stairs, and by the time he got to the upper landing, he had forgotten why he was there. That is my son. He is absolutely adorable, honest, sincere, and seems to find no greater joy than to serve people.
But he can be absent-minded. His short-term memory needs sharpening. I love him dearly and believe he will make a special lady incredibly happy some day.
But he tends to lose his sense of awareness from time to time. It is not intentional. It is part of his personality. I’m more concerned with his character-related issues than his personal limitations.
And there is my adorable wife. It is well-known within my small circle of friends how my wife “cannot tell time.” I say to them that she lives on “island time.” There is a reason we call her “Saint Lucia.” We also have labeled her “The Rocket.” It is our way of poking fun at her.
If she goes into a store to buy an item, it could take 30-minutes. Though she is nearly “omnicompetent” and could run a small country, she can also lose focus when it comes to time management.
In all three of the illustrations, there are no sin issues involved. My son is not willfully forgetting things so he can irritate me. My wife is not premeditating how she can tempt me to anger by losing track of time. I do not measure and straighten every item in our home just to see who I can annoy.
You now have a small slice of our personalities. You would not characterize us this way, but it is how we are on occasion. We all have at least “one thread that hangs out of our garments” that reminds us how we’re imperfect.
Can we adjust some of our personality peculiarities? Of course, we can. Anyone can change, and there are some things we can do to serve each other in the change process.
At some point, we have to understand how our personalities are going to be what they are. That is how God made us. There is a difference between different personalities and sin. I’m not talking about condoning wrong thinking and behaving, but about embracing and leveraging our uniqueness.
Where we get into trouble regarding personality differences is when we try to change people to think like and be like us. For example, I could arrogantly believe what comes naturally to me should be easy for everyone.
Why can’t my family walk into my living room and notice which lamp shades are 16mm off? You’d have to be pretty ignorant not to see what I see, right?
I guess you could say you have better things to do than keep track of lampshade tilts in my home. I would say you are right.
When I first married Lucia, I thought we could get more done if she was like me. Later, I saw the foolishness of that kind of thinking. I praise God that my wife is not like me.
God made her a particular way, and it has been His kindness to me to help me see and appreciate those differences. I now understand what a hardship our life would have been like if she was a “Ricky clone.” God knows that I don’t want her like me. If anything, I want to be more like her.
The following are some helpful pointers that will serve you as you grow in your relationships with imperfect people. These thoughts are a collaborative work that Lucia and I came up with and, by the grace of God, try to model in our home.
#1 – Release Imperfect Friends To Be Free – God made your friends a certain way. Part of every Christian’s job is to help each other to mature into the different vessels that God is shaping them to be. To pick on, degrade, criticize, condemn, or discourage your friend, will impede the grace of God in your relationship.
If you are harsh or unkind, your friend will never be able to realize all that God has prepared for him to be. There is a unique relationship between a married couple or parents and children or Christian friends. All Christians are part of the body of Christ.
No man is an island of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” – Meditation 17
The Lord is forming Christ in your spouse, your children, and your friends. It is your job to cooperate with God by serving your friends in their ongoing progressive sanctification.
#2 – Don’t Be Surprised When Imperfect Friends Sin – It is essential to have a robust view of the doctrine of sin when building relationally with others. If you don’t, you will be surprised when they sin. You should never be surprised when a person sins. Sinning is one of the things we often do.
The most apparent implication of the gospel is that people sin, which is why Christ died. Remember? If we did not sin, all the planning and orchestrating by God to bring His Son to earth to die on a Roman cross for sinners would be lunacy.
He died for sinners. It stands to reason that sinners will sin. If your first instinct is to get mad, upset, frustrated, disappointed, and critical when a person sins, you have not made it to first base in your understanding of the gospel or your relationships.
My particular point here is dealing with sin, though the point of the chapter is about non-sin related issues. I’m primarily writing about how different personalities can tempt us to sin, not how actual sins affect us.
For some people, there are indiscernible lines between what is sin and what is personality. Regardless, it is essential to understand how wrong responses to sin aren’t helpful, as well as a bad response to a person’s personality.
#3 – Be an Encourager Not a Discourager – If you are more apt to get bent out of shape when a person does not do it the way you think they ought to do it, you will more than likely create a culture of fear in your relationships.
Once you create a culture of fear in your relationships, it will be tough to make it right. It will make folks guarded, insecure, and second-guess themselves. They will decrease, and you will increase in their minds (John 3:30). If you are a person with a critical spirit, you will exasperate your friends.
Whenever a person breathes a sigh of relief when you are gone, it is not a good relationship. I had a relationship like this. Whenever I was around this man, it was like being “Muhammed Ali’s verbal punching bag.” If my day did not include this person, it was a good day for me.
I had to psyche myself up just be around him. In time, I became a completely different person. Years later, my close friends who knew me have said I’m nothing like that now. I’m free today.
While I’m not putting all of the dysfunction of the relationship solely in this person’s lap, I have felt released from prison since the relationship dissolved.
My heart aches for many people, especially spouses, who cannot biblically walk away like I did from what must feel like a life sentence.
#4 – Discern the Situation – There have been few things in our marriage that have been worth getting into an argument. Though neither one of us have kept a record of wrongs, I think we both agree the majority of our disagreements have been battles over preferences.
Rarely do we argue over things God would deem important enough to discuss at a sinful level of intensity, though we have been known to spiritualize our arguments to gain an advantage.
One of our more common statements is, “Really? I mean, really…does it matter?” There are few things that matter. When my wife is late or making me late, I am more concerned with my reputation than whatever it is she may be doing.
If my kids are not making the right grade or performing according to my preferences, I can be tempted to overthink about how it reflects on me. If I am not careful and regularly repenting, it becomes more about how others perceive me than what is necessary to God in any given situation.
I can quickly lose track of God’s perspective as my “discernment meter” shuts down because I have made a mountain out of a molehill. I do this in my most self-centered moments.
#5 – Be Humble and Confess Your Sins – Every person who is reading this has messed up in some way. The only way you can fix what you have messed up is by humbly confessing your sin and seeking forgiveness from the ones you have hurt.
If you do not do this, there is no possible way of rectifying the situation. The hard part of this chapter is how it speaks to two of our most potent and core sin issues: (1) Self-righteousness; (2) Self-sufficiency.
The self-righteous person has a “greater than” attitude, which is why he is aware of other people’s mistakes. If he is a Christian, he will spiritualize his “awareness” to justify his sinful actions. But his immoral acts are a real clue that shows his motives to be wrong.
Whenever I sin to make my case, my case has holes in it. If I continue to press to make my case, I will dig a deeper hole, and the people I am trying to convince will relationally distance themselves from me.
#6 – Live and Change Within the Community – I had a friend who tried to get rid of a particular sin issue, and after he experienced a season of success, he was going to confess it to his wife. It didn’t work. He lived a cyclic life, and his marriage rode the roller coaster with him.
He finally decided to come clean. I appealed to him for nearly a year to share his more profound struggles with his wife. He did. They are on the road to mending the broken things in their marriage. He is doing this in a community.
I’m well aware most of the people who interact with our ministry do not have the kind of community that can serve them in their struggles. It is a blight on the local church. One of the reasons our ministry exists is because of a breakdown in some of our local churches.
It is not unusual for a person to come to me asking that their church not know anything about their situation. I will honor their request most of the time, though it saddens me how the relationship between them and their local body is divided and secretive.
A healthy body has a healthy immune system, which is analogous to the body of Christ. Paul wrote mostly for local churches. He exhorted church people to do effective “one another-ing.”
#7 – Remember the Gospel At All Times – Some people say, “Rick, you are Johnny One-Note.” I guess I am unashamedly Johnny One-Note. The gospel not only defines my starting point, but it sets my trajectory, as well as my ending point. For me, all of life is about the gospel.
If our life is not about the gospel, our life is a waste and will tragically miss the point of it all. While there are many implications of the gospel, there is one significant implication you need to get from this chapter: you are a bigger sinner than any person you know.
If this one truth rivets your soul, it will radically alter all of your relationships.
Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).