My friend Jen and I were hiking on a local trail last weekend, which is currently configured into a one-way loop in an effort to help people socially distance while enjoying nature. The trail was crowded, and every five minutes of so, we had to step into the brush to let a mountain-biker go by.
After a half-dozen times of doing this, Jen and I began to think about solutions to this “problem.” Maybe they should open a different trail for mountain bikers, we suggested. Maybe they should have a designated time frame for mountain bikers, like early in the morning or late in the evening. Because it’s getting so crowded out here, it’s just not that restful or fun to be hiking.
And then, Jen suddenly caught herself. “You know what? Let’s reframe this. I’m glad so many people are out here enjoying the outdoors.”
Her comment was like a breath of fresh air and we took great pleasure in the rest of our excursion, stepping to the side every time we heard a bike bell and smiling at the bikers as they went by. Which, frankly, was not a lot to ask of us.
I’m grateful that whatever municipal entity in charge of the trail was not present, because odds are, I would have mentioned our suggestions to them right then and there. My kids can bear witness to the fact that I am likely to make my opinions heard to management promptly and regularly. They’re embarrassed by it, and occasionally they call me a name that has surfaced on the internet reserved for women who always want to “speak to the manager.” (If you ever want direct feedback about yourself, have some teenage daughters.)
I think of myself as a problem solver and critical thinker, and most of the women I run with are the same. These are great qualities for leaders, mothers, teachers, business managers. But I’m picking up on something in myself that needs some attention.
I’m recognizing that when I ask the question, “What would make this better?” what I’m often really asking is, “What would make this better for me?” And I simply am not the most important person in any scenario.
I’m also noticing that in our both our critical-thinking conversations and my inner dialogue, there’s always a nebulous “they” who we assume has just not thought things through. “They” exist in the home owner’s association, the coffee house we frequent, the grocery store, the Senate, even the church. But I realize, having been in a number of those leadership positions myself, that leaders spend a lot of time problem solving. What seems to me a simple thing “they” should have thought about probably has a lot of moving parts I haven’t even considered.
So, I’d like to speak to the manager about myself. Here’s what I want to say to him/her:
Manager, I crave righteousness, efficiency, and competence. But these good desires in me have gone bad. Despite all my love for humanity, on a one-on-one basis I can be demanding and critical. Places that bring this out in me: the drive-through line, the fabric cutting counter at Joann’s, the doctor’s office, a restaurant where they are slow to refill my water or bring my check.
Did you see me that time I used my words to decimate the poor teenage manager of Forever 21 who was rude to me? I was so ashamed of myself that I went back 30 minutes later to apologize, hiding behind the racks of impulse buys until I got to the front of the line, so she wouldn’t see me coming and run away. I thought this humbling experience would have cured me of my cranky behavior, but it continues to be a problem.
Manager, the new abnormal is giving me new things I want to control, like the Target employees who wear their masks with their noses hanging out. I want to defend the freedoms important to me but make others follow the rules I’ve deemed important. Please remind me that my perspective is not always right, and righting all small “wrongs” in the world is not part of my job description. Remind me also that nowhere in God’s word does it say that the goal of life in this broken world is to make everything run like a well-oiled machine.
Manager, please help me advocate for the oppressed and the disenfranchised, and remind me that I am a woman of great privilege. Do this, and I won’t be forced to write myself a bad Yelp review.
Since I actually have no manager, I’ve devised a set of guidelines to train myself. If you relate to my struggle, I recommend sharing it among your problem-solving friends, asking one another for accountability.
1. Witness for Christ by showing humility in all situations. Philippians 2:4-5 says
Don’t look out for only your own interests, but take an interest in others too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. — NLT
Jesus, who had every right to demand that people serve Him, instead chose to serve others. So instead of standing up for yourself, find intentional ways to lay down your rights. Last advent season I practiced this by letting one person who didn’t “deserve it” go ahead of me every day, either on the road or in line at a store.
2. Give whoever “they” are the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes that means doing research before you form an opinion about the person or entity in charge. Show up to the condo board meeting with questions rather than demands. Respect authority where you can, recognizing that being a leader – from a pastor to a mayor to a restaurant manager — is very difficult. Extend grace with your words toward them (especially on social media!).
3. Spend your energy on fighting for causes that matter to the Kingdom of God. It’s a God-given gift to crave righteousness, but all good gifts can go bad. Remember that when Jesus got angry, it was always on behalf of the poor and oppressed, never on His own behalf. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple for cheating people, never the hostess’s station at Cheesecake Factory because they lost His reservation. Channel your problem solving – even your outrage – to
loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free…share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter, [and] when you see the naked, to clothe them. — Isaiah 58:6-7
4. Rest in the ultimate authority of God. You know what is really a relief? Not being the one who has to solve the problem. In the midst of the first few weeks of the Covid-19 crisis, our pastor drew our attention to Psalm 119, asking us to trust God and lay down the constant struggle to form an opinion in this complex and frightening crisis:
My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore. — Psalm 131:1-3
I don’t always have to fix things. I don’t always have to understand. My hope is not in making this world a well-oiled machine. It is the Lord, the best Manager ever, making all things beautiful in His time.
Watch the Video
Written for Faith.Full by Amanda Anderson, author of All My Friends Have Issues.
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So, did Amanda’s words harpoon you as they did me? We don’t always have to fix things! We don’t have to complain. We can listen and lovingly give grace and space for imperfections, right? We can fight for what truly matters in the Kingdom of God and let the rest go! How about it? Come share your thoughts on living more graciously with others on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full