Certainty scares me a little.
Let’s start off by admitting that. I can’t talk about honesty until I admit that people who are absolutely certain about their work life, personal relationships, and non-essential elements of their faith make me nervous. Like I don’t know if I’d trust them to go to a timeshare presentation and not buy a condo.
- You don’t own that company but you know for a fact you are going to be doing that until you retired? … Really?
- You don’t think your spouse would ever leave you for any reason? … Really?
- You are absolutely certain about a pre-tribulational rapture of believers? … Really?
I’m much more comfortable with people who add conditional statements to soften their certainty a bit. “The way things are going, I can see doing this for the rest of my career” sounds much more honest. I’ve met too many 50-somethings who thought they were going to do something forever then wake up one day and realize they hate it and need to quit or show up to their office one day to be greeted by an HR professional and a box.
3 Types of People Who Are Certain
- Fast-talking 20-somethings. Yeah, I know you went to college. Oh, cool… you went to graduate school or seminary? Wow.
- The unintelligent. Come on. We’ve all met the person at the bar who is absolutely certain Nick Saban is the best coach in the history of college football or that America was ruined by Bill Clinton’s ____ policy.
- The Salesmen. Often times these are intelligent people. But somewhere along the line they got hooked on the high of sales. And it doesn’t matter what they are selling, cars or stock or religion or real estate. They sweat certainty. Certainty is their currency.
Those 3 types are tied together with one thing… they are talkers. Sure, we all talk. But some people are talkers.
If you’ve spent any amount of time with a talker you know that often times talkers aren’t talking to you. You are just there. They are talking it out.
Dishonesty vs. Self-Convincing
Let me illustrate this with an example from my own life.
Our last couple of years in Romeo were difficult. I wasn’t dishonest or dispassionate in my output. But I was also not being honest with myself. I was doing things in an unhealthy, unsustainable way and convincing myself that it was just for a season and that I’d get past it. I was convinced, with absolutely certainty, that if we could just get the church past the hump things would get easier again.
I knew I wasn’t the dad or husband I wanted to be. I knew I wasn’t the pastor I wanted to be. I knew I wasn’t the me I could be. But I just kept convincing myself that we’d get past it and that everything would be OK.
But my ministry there had long since stopped being fun. Everyone could see that except me.
I share that to point out this. Even if you are in a mode of self-convincing that doesn’t automatically mean that everything you are doing is somehow bad or that you’re being dishonest. The day-to-day things I was doing were good and right and true. I wasn’t lying, as in saying things which I knew weren’t true. I just wasn’t being honest with myself.
See, I was lying my way to honesty.
Just Keep Talking it Out
I meet folks in the youth ministry world all the time who are full of certainty. Usually, they aren’t unintelligent… so they fall into either the first or last category of people who are full of certainty… young or selling something.
When I read a blog post entitled something like: “6 Easy Steps to Leading Small Groups” I automatically think, “That person is either really young or selling something.” I mean, anyone who has ever lead a small group knows that the one thing it isn’t is easy. But it’s most likely that a person writing posts like that is just trying to convince themselves that leading a small group is easy. (Or that they are linking to a book/workshop/seminar/cult gathering) My hope is that they keep writing and serving and figuring it out… because I know too many folks filled with certainty who left youth ministry when certainty was back-filled with doubt or when they found out that they could better care for their family selling insurance than a $8 book on Amazon.
My advice to both of them is the same: Just keep talking it out.
Seriously. When people are selling something they believe in they think that if they just keep trying to convince you that what they are selling is great that you’ll buy it. But if they just keep talking they will start to listen to themselves eventually, and that leads to honesty. (Unless they are unintelligent.)
When people are young and certain they also need to keep talking. The more I’ve taught on things I was trained to be certain the more I’ve had to wrestle with what I’m uncertain about. I remember trying to teach Revelation as a sequential narrative and watched how things I’d been taught as certainties crumbled beneath the weight of the thinly glued together logic. It’s not that I don’t believe in the stuff John wrote about any less, I’m just filled with a more healthy uncertainty because I spent months talking it out.
Space for Listening & Silence
The last thing I’ll share about lying your way to honesty is the role of listening & silence.
Within the weekly grind of working at a church I never had room for either practice. I listened enough to discern what I needed to say. When a student would come into my office to talk I had a tendency to want to get them into my on-ramps, navigating their spiritual journey into pre-determined pathways that I’d seen work before. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to listen or wasn’t equipped to listen. It’s that I was too busy to listen. Sadly, I can remember cutting people off — issuing some advice — and sending them off because I had to get to my next meeting.
When you have to teach 2-3 times per week 49-50 weeks per year there really isn’t a place for silence. Silence is different than listening. Silence is just not talking.
The space for listening, for me, really came when I stopped working as a full-time pastor. Since 2008 I’ve largely been silent at church. I teach occasionally but not 2-3 times per week like I used to. When I go to meetings or even to a training I’m not in charge… so even if I’m the trainer I’m not talking way more than I am talking. As I’ve shared before… when I lead a small group of high school guys my self-talk mantra is “Shut up. Stop talking. Listen.”
It’s not that I don’t have something I could say… it’s that I’ve learned the power and necessity of listening & silence. I’ve learned that it’s more honest (for me) to wish I’d said more than regret saying too much.
No one has ever said of a person, “I wish they had listened less.”
But each day millions look at someone they love and think, “I wish they’d shut up.”