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The Middle

It's the end of one year and the beginning of a new one. In our lives, on our TVs, in our conversations, on our social media, right now, we’re talking about beginnings and endings a lot. We do this every year at this time- we look forward and anticipate, and we look back and reflect. 

But there’s a part that’s necessary for beginnings and endings to have any meaning and context: The Middle. No one ever talks about the middle. What’s the middle?

The middle is when you’ve invested, you’ve given, you’ve risked, but you don’t see any return yet.

The middle is when you’ve embraced the grief, but don’t see any joy yet.

The middle is when you’ve committed to living differently, but you don’t see any change yet.

The middle is when you’ve closed the door on the last thing, but you don’t see the next thing yet.

The middle is when you’re going through the motions, but you don’t feel anything different yet.

The middle is when you’ve faced the truth, but don’t see any purpose yet.

All the stories we hear (and love) emphasize the breathless starts and triumphant endings. They don’t talk much about the middle, where your output is greater than the results, when faith is greater than sight. Here’s what’s true about the middle.

You’ll probably hit a wall in the middle. 

You’ll probably want to quit somewhere in the middle. 

It’ll seem more like failure than success in the middle.

It won’t feel worth it in the middle- it’ll feel like a waste.

The pain is just too great in the middle.

You’ll want to give up on love and settle for numbness in the middle- God, the people in your life, your calling, yourself.

The thing you want more than anything in your life right now probably has a middle associated with it.

Some of you are at the end of a year, and you want to close to the door on something to “end” it. It seems so much more viable and attractive than keeping at what you’re currently keeping at. But you’re not actually at the end, you’re in the middle.

Some of you see the new year ahead, and want to embrace the rush of a “new” thing while leaving an old thing behind. But really, the only reason it feels like it will be better is because it’s new, not because it’s much different. And once you’re through the rush of the new beginning, you’ll be right back where you are now- the middle.

In both cases, the biggest lie you could embrace at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 is that you need to create an ending, or start a new beginning because you feel stuck. Maybe you’re not stuck, maybe you’re just in the middle.

New beginnings have no lasting value unless you get through the middle. In my role as a pastor, one of the most recurrent personal tragedies I see in people’s lives is that they live beginning to middle, beginning to middle, beginning to middle, and bail out when the middle gets tough and begins to challenge them. This is literally the most common thing I come across in my conversations with people. People do it with their careers, their relationships, their finances, their community circles, their faith. (And to be honest, I’m tempted very often to do the exact same thing.)

The worthwhile ending at the finish line is nothing unless you push through the middle. We all like the idea of the ending- success, achievement, fulfillment, heaven, however you want to define it. But it’s the middle develops within us the character necessary to live fully and wisely and thankfully in the ending.

I actually think that the big gap between "starting" and seeing the “ending” that is success or purpose or meaning is THE thing that develops the character within that's necessary to properly interpret and steward those things when they come. Otherwise, it ends up being self-serving, or worse, consuming. The middle develops within us the character necessary to live fully and wisely in the end. Whenever we short-circuit this, we miss this critical part.

In the Bible, there’s a famous section in the book of 1 Corinthians that’s read at nearly every Christian wedding. It talks about love. But at the end, it takes a weird left turn:

"For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

I believe that the writer, the Apostle Paul, is basically saying “you’re in the middle. You don’t see it all yet. It’s dim, cloudy, murky, unclear. But there’s a day coming where it will be clear. In the meantime, here’s how you must live in the middle."

Hope is holding onto the promise of the ending- that you don’t see it, don’t feel it, haven’t realized it yet. Faith is hope with feet- it’s when you transform hope from a sentiment or platitude into a discipline. It’s sticking with it when it feels like there’s no reason to. Love is how you approach all of this, the language this all speaks- with God, with others, with yourself.

Many of us will make New Year’s resolutions. Most of them are about beginnings and endings. Some of those things are necessary and important. But maybe the most important thing you can resolve to do is to stick with the middle.

Posted by Michael Hoddy with

Insecure.

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Today, I’m writing about something that hits very close to home for me: insecurity. As a learner, leader, pastor, and participant in the human journey, I’ve struggled with profound insecurity for most of my life, and only in about the past decade have I embarked on a very intentional journey away from it.

So I write not as a expert who has mastered it, but as a fellow traveler engaged in the daily struggle. I believe I’ve made some progress along the way, but I also know how far I have left to go. But I also observe daily the damaging effects of it in the lives of others around me.

I believe insecurity is perhaps the number one destroyer of potentially good relationships and the biggest threat to true greatness- reaching the God-given potential that I believe has been placed inside each of us uniquely.

In the name of self-protection, insecurity has an uncanny way of sabotaging the good things in life that are actually the true hopes and dreams of many insecure people. It also chases away good but challenging things that have been brought into our lives to stretch, strengthen, and grow us.

What is insecurity? Insecurity is when you believe that your value and worth as a human being is determined by a marketplace of humanity. It's a marketplace because it becomes all about relative value- how well you sell yourself, and how well others do the same. It's when you believe you are not valuable because you ARE, you're only valuable in relation to your performance, the perception of that performance by others, and the performance of those around you.

Insecurity comes from many places – some of it is inherent to our specific personalities, and some due to circumstances and relationships that we derived our behavioral patterns from, especially in our formative years as children. But the important thing is that regardless of where it came from, there’s only one person can own it now and begin to do something about-YOU.

I write as a Christian and a pastor. One of the great problems in churches is that we Christians rarely do the hard work of getting to the root of our insecurities. Instead, we paper them over with spirituality. But that doesn’t make them go away.

If you are an insecure person, and then you become a Christian, It’s incredibly likely you’ll be an insecure Christian person. Jesus may have saved your soul, but that’s just the start of the journey. It's the hard work of discipleship – walking with Jesus and others in transparent, vulnerable community over time- that really gets at the root of these deep patterns. And sometimes, it also takes the skills of a competent counselor to help you surface and navigate through the deepest roots.

This is a complex subject that I am only scratching the surface of, but here are some telltale signs that you might be insecure:

  1. Do you look to your positions or roles as a big source of your identity? Are having titles and having your responsibilities protected by an organizational chart or rigidly defined position very important to you?
  1. When someone else succeeds in an area of your life you have assigned emotional value to – gets the gig, gets a promotion, wins, receives attention– do you feel like you are somehow diminished and find it very difficult to truly celebrate for them and with them?
  1. Do you find yourself very threatened by other people who do the same things you do well? Do you constantly critique and analyze their work, looking for signs of deficiency or weakness?
  1.  When someone who's ahead of you in some area of life stumbles and falls, is there a small part of you that enjoys it?
  1. Are you constantly maneuvering in your relationships with other people – subtly advancing yourself, diminishing others, building alliances with and against others– in an effort to secure your sense of personal well-being?
  1. Is your outlook on life and your feelings about yourself highly dependent on receiving affirmation or acceptance in specific ways from specific people?
  1. When you fail or fall short at something, do you feel an urgent impulse to find some external circumstance, person, or reason to deflect the blame to so that it feels less like your fault?
  1. When someone offers you any kind of feedback or criticism about your behavior or performance, do you get highly defensive and put the walls up? As a second part of this – are you tempted to identify that person's own shortcomings or failures to even the score, even if this is just an internal conversation in your mind?

 One of the loudest and most frequent messages of insecurity is "I must control and manipulate my environment and especially the people in it – to be OK. If I cannot, then I am not."

Many people try to first address insecurity by doing this, and when they can’t, they remove themselves from that environment. They can look into their past and see a long list of people they used to be friends with, churches they used to be part of, groups that they used to be in, places they used to work. Now, don't get me wrong – sometimes there are unhealthy situations and people that you need to build boundaries with. But these are usually the exception, not the norm.

If this is a recurring pattern in your life, you need to face a hard truth: It's probably not all them, it's probably you. You're the one common denominator in all of those situations. If any of the above sounds like your life, you might just be insecure. Relax, it's normal. Many people are. I am! But what you do next about it what makes all the difference.

Living this way is exhausting and destructive to your soul. The only real cure to this never-ending treadmill is to own it and then to seek help in addressing the root causes and developing new patterns of living the can help you live into a different, healthier, brighter future.

As a Christian, I believe that your value and identity is set once and for all by God. But truly living out of that reality is quite a journey for most people, especially in a culture which loudly communicates over and over again "your value is based on your last performance, how well you keep up appearances, and how much you put out."

Today could be the first day for you on a new journey away from insecurity. I can promise you it will be a hard struggle, and it will take a long time. But it will also be one of the most valuable things you ever do.

(Image by Joie De Cleve)

Posted by Michael Hoddy with

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