Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Silly Man

Part 5 in the "Men Behaving Badly" Series
Part 1Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Ask a majority of women what is the number one quality they look for in a man, and the answer is "Sense of Humor." Couple that with the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for," and you may be faced with a situation that is quite frustrating. It is true that women love a man who can make them laugh. Men are all too aware of this and willing to serve women in this way. However, a man who is one step shy of being a circus clown can be a huge turn off (at least for me).

I've seen plenty of guys use humor in ways that at the very least will frustrate a woman, and at most will cause her to grow incredibly angry. As with all the "Men Behaving Badly" postings, my hope is to help men understand how and why their behavior is appropriate, and to help men better serve women in these situations. So without further ado, here are the three main types of "silly men" that I personally find challenging to deal with:

1) Inability to Be Serious. I recently had an email discussion with a brother who claimed he "seriously" wanted to know about a particular facet of my life which he found to be rather unusual. I explained that in some ways, my choices in this area were akin to a personal conviction. The man then replied with a dozen jokes about what I had just shared. It seemed every other sentence in his response was followed by "LOL!!!!!" or an emoticon of a smiley beating the ground with his fists in a fit of laughter. Needless to say, I not only did not find his response funny, I found it insulting. I strongly believe that in this case, this man was trying to establish a connection with me, but he ended up putting a bigger wedge between us. Guys, when you use the word "seriously," women want to feel that it is safe to be vulnerable, open up, and tell you - seriously - what makes us tick. If you then turn around and laugh at us, make jokes, or insult something that is very important to us, you make yourself seem very similar to the boy who cried wolf. If you say you want to know something "seriously", and then you don't behave in a serious manner, chances are, we're not going to believe you the next time you use that word. And if we don't believe you are capable of being serious, you will never win our trust.

"Inability to be Serious" is the number one type on my list because it has some very harsh consequences when it comes to how a woman will perceive your leadership ability. Think about it - who in their right mind would want to submit to someone who constantly laughs at everything? As a single woman, constantly laughing or joking in every situation would not be an attractive quality in a husband. But a man who cannot be serious, in my opinion, is even worse in a pastoral role. If your only counseling skill is your sense of humor, I'm not going to feel safe coming to you with a problem.

Tip for Women: As usual, we don't want to make this a man-bashing post, so for women, I'd like to offer some insight on why men do this. I've come up with two reasons. The first is illustrated by the recent example with my friend. In this case, I suspect he was trying to establish a connection with me and it backfired. But more often than not, when a man constantly jokes about something that is important to you, it could be that he is misunderstanding your passion as pain. Men absolutely hate to see people they care about in pain. Men also have an insatiable need to "fix" problems. Therefore, if they see you in pain, the quick fix for this solution is to reverse that by making you laugh. If a man cracks jokes when you are being serious, try not to judge him (like I am tempted to do) but let him know that the joke is inappropriate. Do this gently as it may hurt his feelings. Remember, in his mind, he is honestly trying to help. Getting angry might make the problem worse, because he might interpret this simply as a failure to achieve his goal of making you feel better, and thus try harder! I've known guys who will just turn up the juice in these situations and joke even more. Use that knowledge to your advantage. Instead of getting angry, say: "It would be helpful if you could not joke about this." When you tell him exactly how he can help (as this is his main goal), he should be able to shift gears.

2. Uses Humor as a Defense Mechanism. I feel I can speak from authority on this one because the only safe emotion for men to show in my family is humor. Throughout my childhood, adolescence, and even today, it is very difficult for the men in my family to cry or show weakness. Perhaps this is why "Sense of Humor" is down much further on my personal list of admirable qualities in a man. I've seen one too many men use their sense of humor as a way to mask their true feelings, and it can be frustrating.

This one should be obvious. While an inability to be serious may simply be a man's attempt to help you, using humor as a defense mechanism is a sign that the man cannot accept help in return. A man who uses humor as a defense mechanism is desperately trying to hide anything that he perceives might make him appear weak. By laughing off very serious or painful situations, he is trying to demonstrate that he is strong and does not need anyone's help. Usually men who do this are terrified to show their true emotions in front of a woman. But if you look carefully, men will more often do this to protect their image in front of other men. They often feel that in order to prove their manliness, they need to reject any displays of emotion that are typically perceived as "feminine," even if that means denying that it is a problem at all. Oftentimes, this denial comes in the form of humor. (If I can laugh about it, then it has no power over me.)

Tip for Women: In many cases, the only people men feel they can open up to is their women. So if your husband is acting this way, don't blow it by getting angry. If you become angry when he displays a "positive" emotion (humor), he will not want to share with you any emotion that he perceives to be negative, such as sadness, grief, or despair. Women can be supportive by reminding men that tears are not a female emotion, but a human emotion. Even Jesus wept!

3. The Competitive Comedian. I don't have this last one completely figured out, but I feel it does deserve mention. Sometimes men will use their sense of humor as a way to "one-up" a woman. If you make a witty remark, these men will immediately follow it with something even funnier. If you can top that, these men do not look very happy. I am not entirely sure why this occurs. I have been in situations where certain men (especially the "defense mechanism" guys) will almost feel threatened, as if someone else is stealing their spotlight when it comes to humor. I suppose for these men it is the only thing that gives them an identity in a group. Perhaps they grew up in a family where everyone had a label: Jack is the athlete, Bill has the brains, and Mike is the funny one. Your guess is as good as mine.

In other cases, if the man is interested in a particular woman, he will use humor as a way of being horribly mean to her. He will make fun of her appearance, her mannerisms, the things she's into - whatever he can think of. I've read a few secular articles that explain this one: this is a cry for attention. In many cases it works - when a man is mean to us, he has definitely captured our attention. Unfortunately, we are not drawn to him as a potential life partner. Instead, we're drawn to him in the same manner we would be to a huge pileup on the interstate, or two people who are arguing very loudly in a restaurant. We shake our heads and just think, "That's terrible." It's the same way with obnoxious and rude men. It gets our attention, but it is not attractive.

Tip for Women: I don't have much insight on this one, however I will say that since it is common for men to bond with other men through competition, a man who "one-ups" you with the jokes, or a man who uses humor to insult you may be trying to bond with you on some level. If this is the case, you can use the same strategy as you do with the "inability to be serious" guys. Instead of getting angry or telling him that he's being a rude, obnoxious jerk, use encouragement to direct him away from that behavior. For example, if he is nice to you, use that as an opportunity to smile and say, "Wow, I really like it when you say nice things to me." Or you might say, "The other day at the women's luncheon I mentioned some of the nice things you said to me last week, and they were so jealous!"

Another thing for women to remember is that we do have a tendency to be a bit oversensitive at times. Granted, there are some men who are downright annoying when they tease, but since men do bond with other men through banter, cut him some slack when he jokes with you. Ask yourself, "Am I overreacting?" Unless the teasing is inappropriate, laugh with him and move on.

In closing, I don't want to give the impression that a sense of humor is a bad thing. Far from it! It still remains at the top of the list in qualities that women look for in a man. This is largely because we admire a man who is able to laugh at himself. This is a sign of humility. It demonstrates that a man can have joy of the Lord in the midst of his shortcomings (as well as ours). And although it may not be obvious at first, laughing at oneself is an indicator that you are confident in who you are in Christ. This is a quality that is attractive in both men and women alike!

The bottom line: I would encourage men to use their sense of humor as an asset instead of allowing it to become a hindrance to their character. Many years ago, I read a secular book called Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun. This was required reading for a management class, and the one thing I remember most from this book was to never show your nice side up front, because if people think you're nice, they won't respect you as a leader. They will walk all over you. Instead, show that you have a head for business and a strong spine. Then once you gain their respect, you can be nice to them. I would say that a similar principle can be applied to the use of humor. I tend to respect a man who can be serious up front. Then when he shows his silly side later on, it comes as a pleasant surprise. But if a man is goofy from the start, I personally have a very hard time taking him seriously when he tries to switch gears. I can only speak for myself, but I have trouble seeing overly funny men as serious leaders.

What about you? How do you perceive overly funny men? Do you respect them, or are you less likely to take them seriously?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

No Good Thing Will He Withhold

When I was in high school, I was not yet born again, but I was desperately looking for meaning. Much of my alone time was spent trying to find the one true God (and praying that He actually existed). In my junior and senior years, I sacrificed many, many things that were very precious to me, because I wanted to show God that I desired Him more than all those things combined. I thought that doing this would be a good way to get His attention, and that perhaps as a result, He would consider revealing Himself to me.

One of the things I gave up was the French Horn. I was an extremely talented horn player. I played the horn from fifth grade all the way through my senior year of high school. Not only that, I was the section leader for all those years. I was good - but I am convinced that the main reason I was able to excel was not because I worked hard at it, or because I wanted admiration from my peers. I was good at it because deep down, I truly, truly loved the horn.


The French horn has the reputation of being the most difficult orchestral instrument to master. I don't know if that is true or not, but the instrument's reputation certainly helped to boost my own reputation. It's one thing to be good at an instrument. It's quite another to be good at an instrument that is rumored to be the hardest known to man. By the time I reached tenth grade, my "legend" had already begun. Still among the underclassmen, my band director made it clear to everyone that I was a force to be reckoned with, a person whom all should strive to emulate. By senior year, the attention I was getting upset me a great deal. I had to make some decisions as far as what I wanted to do with my life. Truly, I didn't know what that was. I did know that I loved the horn, but I did not want to live the rest of my life high on a pedestal. It made me feel guilty to take credit for that glory. I never asked to be talented. I knew that my talent came from somewhere outside myself, and due to the extreme measures I was taking not to anger this God that I was searching for, I knew I could not earn a living as a professional musician. To me, that was prostitution, and I wouldn't do it. (I went to college to study Theatre instead, which I also quit later on for similar reasons.)

In August, I put aside this blog for a while to concentrate more on what God wanted to say to me, rather than what I wanted to say to my readers. During this time, God revealed to me many latent sins which reside in my heart, but He also gave me a bizarre command: "You need to play again." I am always obedient to the voice of the Lord, but I do an awful lot of complaining about it. My immediate response was, "Father, you have got to be kidding me. I can't! Think of all the painful memories of what I used to be! Think of all the ugly, horrible, self-glorification that is involved with that! I can't do it. I just can't!" But He simply said, "Trust me."

So I rented a horn from a not-so-local music shop (I had to drive an hour and a half just to get one) and I started the work of getting back into shape. I felt like an idiot. Where the heck was I supposed to play? I didn't know anyone in the music community in Central Florida. Even if I was still in New York, it had been seventeen years since I was involved with the music community there. I was lost, and so I emailed my worship pastor for advice. All he wrote back was, "That is VERY interesting."

As it turns out, my church was planning on staging our first ever musical production for Christmas. The worship pastor was in search of musicians for the orchestra. With only 90 days to prepare, I was assigned the 2nd horn part. We had two rehearsals. TWO. I thought certainly this was going to be a nightmare, but miraculously on our first rehearsal, it all came back to me as if I never stopped playing. Last night was our closing performance, and all I can say is that it was glorious! One person after another approached me and said, "Wow, Jen! I didn't know you could play!" They were amazed. Years ago, this sort of attention would have made me uncomfortable, but this time, I was easily able to redirect the attention back where it belongs: "Yes, I haven't played in 17 years, but praise God, now I am going to play for Him!" I whispered a quick prayer of contrition, asking God to forgive me for thinking this was an idiotic thing for me to do, when my senior pastor approached me and said, "I absolutely love the French Horn. Maybe you can play on the worship team." I couldn't believe this was happening! Of course I want to play on the worship team. This is the whole reason I've been given this gift! It seems too good to be true, but I have once again fallen in love with this beautiful, beautiful instrument, and I don't feel one shred of guilt about it whatsoever.

What I Learned From All This

So what is the moral of the story? I believe there are two. The first is never, never look back. I have been tempted during these past three months to dwell on what could have been if I had never stopped playing. Let me tell you, it is good that I stopped. I played for eight years with a few bad habits and my new teacher is helping me to correct them. Had I been playing for 25 years straight, I wouldn't be able to correct those habits as easily. As a result, I believe I am eventually going to be better at the French Horn than I ever was before!

Sometimes, we withhold good things from ourselves.The second moral, I believe, is found in Psalm 84:11: "For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly." I've often been told that if something is being withheld from you, it is for one of two possible reasons: either it isn't a good thing, or you're not walking uprightly. I have learned that there is a third possibility. Sometimes, we withhold good things from ourselves. God tells us that to obey is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). As born again believers, we do not have to give up any good thing in order to get God's attention. We already have it!

I can tell you that it feels so good than to be playing my horn again. Is there something in your life, a good thing, that you have given up when God has not asked you to? What good thing are you withholding from yourself? Seek the Lord and ask if perhaps your "sacrifice" is unnecessary. As long as you are obedient and walking uprightly, He will not withhold any good thing from you.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Anatomy of a Mid-Life Crisis

December. It seems every December I become a bit retrospective. I think I did a pretty good job last December of dissecting why I get this way every year. So it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that it's happening to me again. In fact, things have been going so good for me this year, that I almost didn't recognize what I have been feeling. I actually thought to myself, "Am I having a mid-life crisis?" Then I remembered that go through this every December. 

The first time I truly began to feel the pain of meaninglessness was December, 1989. As a precocious tenth grader, I was obsessed with the book, The Catcher in the Rye, and I began to write a narrative of my own thoughts in similar fashion. On the very first page of that journal I lamented the fact that I was fifteen, because I was "halfway to thirty." Even at that time, I understood that time is running out for everyone, including myself. Naturally, this was not a mid-life crisis at all. (If it were, I'd be dead by now, as I once mused at 18: "I can consider this year a mid-life crisis if I die at 36.") Rather, this is what I would call an existential crisis. In fact, a mid-life crisis is nothing more than an existential crisis in mid-life, but you can have one at any age!

In preparing for this post, I came across an interesting article which inspired me, and also inspired me to inspire you. Lawrence Yong gives us "Five Things To Keep in Mind Always". On the subject of time, he writes:

Why do we always picture ourselves living at the top half of the hourglass, where time is always slipping away?

Instead, why don’t we imagine ourselves in the bottom half of the hourglass?

There, every minute is followed by another minute that comes pouring in. Every hour’s followed by another hour and everyday is just the first of many days to come.
These sentiments uncover the exact science behind the so-called "mid-life crisis." A mid-life crisis, or any existential crisis, for that matter, is nothing more than discontentment over what God has given us. Instead of focusing on what we have, we are too busy focusing on what we do not have: we do not have our youth, we do not have our vibrant health and strength as we once did, and thus, we think we do not have our "whole life" ahead of us.

Yet if we look closely, we will see something odd about that last one. In fact, I think it is the very reason why Lawrence's post gripped me. Technically, it's true: we don't have our whole life ahead of us. Some of it is, in fact, behind us. But we still have so much of life ahead of us! As Lawrence indicated, we need to place ourselves in the bottom half of that hourglass, looking up. Did you get that last part? Looking up.

"We do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor 4:18).Some folks imagine when those grains of sand finally run out that there is nothing left. However those sands are simply the number of days that He has given to us to prepare for what's next. A mid-life crisis occurs when we focus on the sand, rather than what comes after the sand. In a sense, if we pictured ourselves on the bottom half, looking up, the sand is actually obstructing our view of God. As Christians, we should be trying to look beyond the sand so that we can see God at work through it all. We are told that one day, we will be able to see clearly (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The antidote to worrying that you may be wasting your life is simple: Don't. If you stop focusing on the life you could have had, you will have the clear vision to look ahead to see the life that you actually do have: the life God intended for you. So look up, my friends! We have all eternity ahead of us.

Related Articles:
Striking the Set
Romanticizing the Past
Age and Idolatry