It’s a difficult job to be a person who warns of danger.
Paul Revere made his famous ride in Boston shouting “The British are coming.” And people responded to that warning so well Americans like me still remember the story today. So, Paul’s story breaks the mold – he’s the outlier.
However, we know stories of countless others who did not find such receptive audiences. They warned of dangers, yet were ignored. Tragedies happened and their stories were largely forgotten. You’ve probably never heard these names but you know the tragic moments.
Cyril Evans was the telegraph operator aboard the SS Californian. He noticed icebergs in the Atlantic Ocean and attempted to warn other ships including the Titanic. But the operators on the Titanic never passed the message up the chain to the bridge or the captain. And an unforgettable, yet avoidable tragedy occurred.
Katsuhiko Ishibashi was a well-respected professor and seismologist. In the early 2000s, he began warning Japan of the danger the country’s many nuclear power plants would be in if a large earthquake occurred. But his warnings were ignored and other engineers and leaders trusted the current precautions. On March 11, 2011, a large off-shore quake and ensuing tsunami led to the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Diiachi Nuclear Power Plant.
In the 1980s, Roger Boisjoly worked as an engineer at Morton Thiokol, the company which supplied solid rocket boosters to NASA. These boosters were used throughout the space shuttle program. In 1985, Boisjoly warned his company of great danger facing NASA astronauts. He believed the joints used to seal the sections of the solid rocket boosters could fail if they became too cold before launch. On January 28, 1986, the weather dropped below freezing and engineers like Boisjoly begged for a delay in the launch of the space shuttle. However, NASA went forward with the launch of the space shuttle Challenger. The nation watched as Christa McAuliffe and the rest of the crew lost their lives as the Challenger exploded within a short period of liftoff. The final investigation revealed the booster o-ring failed, leading to series of explosions just as Boisjoly feared.
What Dangers Am I Warning About Today?
Now, I don’t believe the dangers I want to warn you about today rise to the level of an invading army, a leaking nuclear reactor or an unsafe spacecraft.
But, these dangers are serious and could cause great harm to your soul. These dangers may not be unique to our present moment in human history but current dynamics make these dangers especially difficult to navigate. Our present moment makes us especially vulnerable.
Locating Your Identity in Your Performance
I was talking with a friend last week who was struggling with a performance that didn’t meet his expectations. He didn’t feel like he did on that day as well as he is capable of. I didn’t want my friend to avoid learning from his experience, but I did encourage him to check the connection between his identity and his performance. I reminded him that his identity is not defined by his performance.
When we locate our identity in our performance, we’re only as good as our last at-bat. This is so dangerous as a rise in success will send us soaring and a decline or failure will crush us. As many of us have learned, success isn’t always a result of what we did, while failure isn’t always a result of our mistakes. In a world where far too many of us define who we are by what we do, we’re in danger of a layoff, economy shift, injury, or an unforeseen crisis shattering our sense of self.
The greatest danger of defining who we are by what we do may come when we’re done doing whatever we’ve done. With nothing left to do, we will sit there and wonder, “Am I okay? Am I loved?”
Allowing Other People’s Opinions to Define Your Worth
I believe it’s never been more tempting to give other people’s opinions weight they don’t deserve. If we’re on social media, we give other people a platform to share their opinions with us, whether we like it or not, whether their opinion is informed or not.
For me personally, I will face this danger as soon as I publish this article. I’ll have an opportunity to know if anyone shares this post on social media. I’ll know if people I’ve never met read it. Anyone can say anything about it. Due to analytics software, I can look at the number of emails opened, comments made, unsubscribes and new subscriber. All of this data can convince me that what I’ve done (and based on the first danger, who I am) is worthy or unworthy today.
Before you ignore this danger because you’re not a writer or content creator online, stop for a second and think back on your actions.
Have you ever checked your favorite social media platform looking for that little number next to notifications? When you saw there was a number there (whether it was 1 or 20), you clicked it to see what someone had done or said. Maybe you were a little excited or even anxious. In your brain at that moment, you got a little dopamine hit – a little payoff for the action you took, the post you made. And you became a little more susceptible to allowing other people’s opinions to define your worth.
Pursuing Happiness as the Primary Indicator of Your Well-Being
Have you ever met someone who said these words, “I just want to be happy”? Whether we’ve said it or someone we know has said it, happiness is a more than a big deal to humans living today. Happiness is everything. And yet, we are in danger when we pursue happiness as the primary indicator of our well-being.
We look for a relationship with someone who makes us feel happy and complete, a job which makes us constantly happy and fulfilled, a home we’re happy to come back to each evening. We even search for friends who help us find happiness where it’s lacking.
Here’s the problem with happiness, though. Happiness is largely circumstantial and often outside of our control. The root of the word happiness is “hap”, which means chance or luck. Happiness is based on luck or chance, a dangerous thing to make the determining factor of us feeling okay.
If happiness is the primary indicator of your well-being, then how you’re doing is completely dependent on circumstances outside of your control. You cannot abide or endure in any state of health because you’re just waiting for the next coin flip or dice roll.
That’s a pretty tough place to be.
How to Avoid These Dangers and Thrive
If you find your experiences described in any of those three dangers, then I want you to know those dangers don’t have to be your destiny. You can go in a different direction. You can avoid the dangers and move towards solutions.
In calling them solutions, I don’t mean to say they’re easy, quick or simple. But I believe each of these three offers you a clear step towards hopeful, thriving living and away from danger and harm to your soul.
1. Allow what we do to emerge from who we are.
Instead of defining who you are by what you do, flip that script and allow what you do to emerge from who you are. As a follower of Jesus and a pastor, I constantly encourage those around me to define their identity by who God made them to be, His complete knowledge and unconditional love for them, and His purposes for their life.
Become well-acquainted with what the Scriptures say God says about you. Allow these realities to inform what you do. Align your core beliefs, passions, worldview, and sense of self to influence the way you work, treat people, respond to adversity, and serve the world. People can get to know who you are by what you do when the two are aligned and identity is informing actions.
This is one of the reasons why we are drawn to certain people. We have buzzwords for this magnetism – authenticity, real-deal, the truth. When someone is living a life where what they say and do is in complete alignment with who they are, we want to be around that person and a part of whatever they’re doing. And when we’re that kind of person, the same thing happens.
2. Live from the approval of God, not for the approval of others.
Instead of starting each day on a search for approval, we must begin daily from a place of approval. When we live from the approval of God, we won’t live for the approval of others. Approval isn’t something we have to search for; it can be the place we start from each morning.
Yes, we need to acknowledge the opinions of others. The feedback of those closest to us is imperative for developing greater self-awareness and identifying blind spots. But we cannot allow the opinions of others to replace the voice of God.
As a follower of Jesus, I have hope because I know that God knows everything about me – the good and the bad – and yet loves and accepts me unconditionally. Because of the grace I’ve found in Jesus, I can boldly acknowledge that I am more broken and sinful than I could possibly imagine, while also being more loved and known that I could ever comprehend.
This reality enables a shift in the way we relate to the opinions of others. We can now reject the temptation to let the applause of others send us soaring or allow their criticism to send us crashing. By de-fanging their approval and rejection, we can say thank you when they compliment us and we can learn from their criticisms.
3. Choose joy, not happiness, as our primary driver.
We live in a culture which has elevated happiness to the level of an idol. (Author Tim Keller defines an idol as something we look in order give us what only God can give us.) As a pastor, I’ve seen the Church’s response – an overcorrection against this hyper-elevation which shuns happiness. And that’s not helpful either.
Happiness is not unimportant, but it cannot be our ultimate goal. Joy should be our goal. Joy is actually within our reach while happiness is not within our control. In her book, Fight Back with Joy, Margaret Feinberg researched the over four hundred instances of the word joy in the Bible and filtered the research through her own battle with cancer. I love her comment on joy. Feinberg says, “joy is a wide spectrum of feelings, actions, and emotions.”
Sure, joy can be how we feel, but joy can also be an action we take when we don’t feel it. As Feinberg learned during her battle with cancer, joy is resilient and a weapon we can use to fight back against adversity. Have you ever noticed how the most joyful people are often those who’ve been through the most, not the least? Their joy is often defiant. This kind of joy does not deny reality – these people are facing reality head-on. Instead, their joy defies reality – it chooses to remember that they are fiercely loved. Defiant joy chooses to be grateful for all the past and present blessing. Living with this defiant joy enables us sees opportunities in the future to serve others and live with wonder.
In Fight Back with Joy, Feinberg wrote, “joy emanates out of the abiding sense of God’s fierce love for us.” This is where our second and third solutions connect. If we have an abiding sense that we are loved, even amidst adversity, we can sustain joy. And when that joy infects what we do, then others will discover hope, meaning, and connection through their interaction with us.
Being Light in the Face of The Darkness We Saw in Las Vegas
As I write this blog, the world is still recovering from the news of a horrific massacre in my hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada. 59 people were killed and over 500 were injured when a gunman opened fire from his hotel room into a sea of over twenty thousand concertgoers.
As we try to make sense of what drove this man to carry out this kind of evil, we’re reminded of the darkness which infects the human soul. We’re reminded that our world is not as it should be and the inability of science and technology to restore that kind of darkness, to bring light to that kind of darkness.
I’m praying you’ll sidestep the dangers which could send you down the path of cynicism, despair, and disappointment. To be a light in this dark world, we’ll need hope, courage, and joy.