A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Why I need people who are not my fans

megaphonesRecently I’ve had a number of people willing to speak into my life about a number of my, well, issues. (Those of you who know me may be hoping someone took the chance to tell me about that one in particular–whatever you’ve already glimpsed. In case you are wanting to sign up for this role in my life, I consider the positions filled. Perhaps with a waiting list.)

To be fair, I think everyone who’s been gracious enough to be honest with me would all tick the box of “fans”. Actually, you can tell, because they cared enough to say something. But they’re not snowed by my nice photos of me with African kids, stats of vicinity to malaria or days without water and power, or what I look like on paper.

Honestly, it’s been challenging, wavering there on the high wire between courage and defeat as I absorb the ways I’m hurting people, or irritating people, or just quite far from perfect. I wobble between gratitude that the trajectories of my blindspots may be abetted…and just wishing I could spend a few days at the beach, alone, parts of my body buried in the sand. Most specifically, my head.

Some days I feel like one of those wonky grocery carts: you know, the ones where usually only three wheels touch the ground, and the other alternates between spinning in mid-air, or requiring extra elbow grease as you plow past the frozen food aisle, or skidding your cart sideways. Things are just disconcertingly off.

But God’s simultaneously, kindly reminded me of the utter blindness sin bestows on us toward our own junk. It may be the thing that our spouse, or our kids, or our parents, or our friends could tell us in a heartbeat that we wrestle with. Or fail to. Yet we think we’ve got that pretty well under control. Or perhaps more aptly, think it doesn’t really affect people that much.


But we’ve all been left in a Christian’s wake—even Christians who love God’s Word, who walk in step with the Holy Spirit. The Bible’s pretty clear that, even with the Spirit, we need an entire Body of people to wrestle us toward holiness.

So I’ve started to thank God, despite my willful shopping cart, that He’s got people in my life who are close enough and courageous enough to be not “yes men”, but “no men.” People who love enough to call me out on my stuff, the stuff we all have. (A Tim Keller podcast convicted me that some reasons I don’t say something to someone ultimately boil down to the fact that I don’t care enough. I care more about my own comfort, approval, or a more fake version of our relationship.)

We all desperately need people knowledgeable and strong enough not to be taken in by our ruses, our manipulations, our skillful maneuvering, or the ways we fool ourselves. Or in my case, to be enamored by the fact that I am (enter ethereal music) a missionary (ooh! Ahh!), i.e. another sinner saved by grace who’s still lugging around her own junk God’s patiently redeeming.

To clarify, I think that accountability partners who ask questions like these and these are incredibly valuable—but I’m not really talking about just a friend, or someone we like talking with, or even someone who will ask hard questions. I’m talking about someone who’s got the gift of discernment, who’s wise enough (even if they’re younger, or less illustrious in their career) and strong enough—stronger than our personalities!—to gently confront about how we speak to our spouses, or build his or her sense of self-worth. Or handle our kids when we’re fried. Or behave at work. Or respond to criticism. Who are our “no men” (not to exclude “no women”. Or is it “no people”)? As we ascend in leadership or status, it becomes even more critical—because just as with our righteousness, gifting, and leadership, our sin’s effect is far more widespread and powerful.

As I struggle with my own teachability, my own desire to blame a person right back or become capsized by shame, a timely podcast helpfully reminded me that perfection is God’s—not mine. Naturally I want to duck and cover, just like Adam and Eve. This week I’ve camped out on Philippians 3: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things”–all things I cling to for my own sense of perfection–

and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. (vv.8-9)

I need my perfection, my sense of satisfaction and acceptance and being “enough”, to come from one place—and nowhere else.

(Please remind me of this when someone confronts me and I look as if I might suddenly be choking.)


Your turn: Looking back, what constructive criticism changed your life?

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  1. Love this, Janel. I am so thankful for my accountability partners AKA best girlfriends who are strong in the Lord, and strong enough to speak their minds to me! (even when it’s not what I want to hear, but what I need to hear!)

    • You’re right–“strong enough to speak their minds to me” is such a needed characteristic of true friends! Grateful with you that you have women like that cheering you on, Heather.

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