October 1, 2004
In Praise of
 People Who See
Us Dynamically

(They Are God's
Special Agents)
  
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For some time Iíd been struggling unsuccessfully to ride a two-wheel bicycle. Like every young child, I longed to break that barrier, but just couldn't do it. I kept repeating the same ritual--pedaling a few yards until the bike began to tilt, then putting out my foot to break the fall. My problem wasnít lack of ability but lack of confidence. A two-wheel bike has to be moving at more than a snailís pace to stay upright. But I was frightened to pedal fast enough to produce the necessary thrust, afraid I would wipe out severely.

Dad was convinced I would learn to balance and kept reassuring me. His confidence inspired me to keep trying. With his help, I was able to enjoy the fantasy of conquering the two-wheeler for brief periods. He would hold the seat of my bike and run alongside while I pedaled furiously. We would make good headway for a block or two, till he got winded. I was adamant about one thing, though: he must not take his hand off the seat. I kept reminding him again and again.

One day he decided to trust his own judgment. After ambling through several hilly blocks, we came to a long level stretch. I began pedaling hard and picked up a head of steam. The momentum felt great, and I turned my head to smile at Dad. Only then did I realize that he hadnít been holding on to the bike at all, but was standing with arms folded a block behind me, grinning from ear to ear. I had accomplished my first solo bike ride without knowing it!

My victory with the two-wheeler was possible for a single reason: my father believed in me more than I believed in myself. He kept encouraging me to try, then pulled his hand off the seat at just the right moment, so I would discover for myself that I could do it. He believed in me to the point that I succeeded.

It was one of those landmark childhood experiences that set the tone for my life. At so many important turning points, others--like my dad with the bike--have seen my potential better than I have. Their confidence, encouragement and wise counsel have inspired me to move forward. Itís humbling to realize how dependent Iíve been upon their help.

I suspect youíll say the same. When we think carefully over our life, we find that God has used people with high expectations of us to prod us forward at many critical times. Their help has been essential whenever weíve been able to reach a cherished goal or take a major step of faith.

The Substantial Impact of Othersí Expectations

How greatly we need the influence of people who see us dynamically. Like it or not, othersí expectations affect us, and affect dramatically.

Far too often the effect is negative. Those whom we look to for encouragement may have no vision for us at all. Or they may lock in to a wrong impression of us, or hold relentlessly to an old impression that no longer fits us--the familiarity problem that Jesus encountered when he returned to his boyhood town of Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6).

The effect of othersí static expectations can be stifling. A friend in her forties told me that her parents still think of her as sixteen. ďAnd when Iím with them, thatís exactly how I act,Ē she added. The default mode for each of us is to rise or fall to the expectations others have of us. Even Jesus, in taking on our humanness, allowed himself to be influenced by othersí expectations. Mark notes bluntly that when Jesus returned to Nazareth, ďHe could not do any miracles thereĒ (Mk 6:5 NIV).

Even when someone has high expectations of us, they may be based on that personís own ideals or ego needs and have nothing to do with our actual potential or Godís intentions for our life. How many parents push a child to succeed in some area foreign to his or her aspirations and gifts.

Yet God also brings into our life people with high expectations of us that are based on a good understanding of our potential. These people resonate with our personal dreams and have the grace and wisdom to help us accomplish them. They are the blessed souls who see us dynamically. Such individuals are incomparable gifts of God to us, peerless friends who help us realize his best.

Those who view us dynamically benefit us in three important ways. One is through their optimism. Weíre far more suggestible than we normally assume. Weíre affected greatly by the attitudes of those around us, and are especially prone to absorb othersí feelings about us. Someoneís confidence that we can succeed soothes our insecurities and helps us gain the courage we need to take bold steps.

Typically, too, those who see us dynamically are the ones best able to help us with their counsel. Those who see our potential better than we do often grasp most clearly the steps we need to take to realize our goals. Not all positive thinkers we encounter are wise counselors, to be sure. But those who are able to inspire us by both their optimism and their counsel provide us an immeasurable service.

In addition, those with high expectations of us often find creative ways to nudge us into taking challenging steps. From the parent who takes his hand off the bike at just the right moment, to the baseball coach who risks putting us fourth in the batting lineup, to the friend who sets us up on a blind date with the person who becomes our spouse--supportive people find inventive ways to help us grow and realize our dreams.

Facing Our Need for Supportive People

Most of us greatly underestimate our need for supportive people. We may assume that being Christian means we should look to God alone for help. The rugged individualism of our American culture, too, can drive us to think weíre more fully human if weíre able to solve our problems on our own, with as little assistance from others as possible.

There is no question that God often helps us directly, without any human aiding the effort. Yet Scripture never encourages us to presume upon this happening. God takes us through an interesting odyssey in the Christian life. On the one hand, he wants to teach us that he is all-sufficient to meet our needs. From time to time, he puts us through experiences to drive home the point that we can draw astounding help from him, and that we shouldnít lean unfairly on other people.

Yet he also wants us to understand that he has made us to be social creatures, and that he frequently uses others as his agents to provide us with encouragement, motivation, direction and support. As soon as we learn the first lesson, it seems, itís time to learn the second!

When Moses took on the leadership of Israel, he first had to learn the lesson of depending on God alone. God needed to wean him of an unhealthy dependence on Aaron as his personal spokesman.

But in time his needs changed radically. In Exodus 18 we find that Moses isnít depending enough upon other peopleís help. The Israelites are well into their journey through the desert, and Moses is booked to the teeth with responsibility. On a typical day he ďtook his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till eveningĒ (Ex 18:13).

Mosesí father-in-law, Jethro, then comes to visit. Shocked at how overextended Moses has become,  Jethro admonishes, ďWhat you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it aloneĒ (Ex 18:18). He urges Moses to share his responsibilities with other capable leaders, and suggests a process for doing so.

Moses follows Jethroís advice and delegates many tasks. The steps he took to divide up his responsibility probably added years to his life, and certainly increased the quality of his life and leadership in many ways.

From Mosesí experience in this passage we learn two lessons about our need for othersí help. One is the importance of letting others share our burdens and assist us with responsibility that is too much for us. The other is our need for the enlightenment God provides us through other people. Hereís what I find most striking about this incident: Moses communicated with God more directly and intimately than anyone else in the Old Testament (Ex 33:11, Deut 34:10). God often gave Moses explicit guidance; God revealed to him in exacting detail the directions for building a sanctuary in the desert, for instance. Yet God did not provide Moses any direct guidance about how to manage his time and priorities, nor did God instruct him to delegate responsibility. God left it to a trusted friend, Jethro, to offer this critical advice.

We learn, then, that vital insight and inspiration which we need may not come directly from God, but from supportive, dynamic-thinking people whom he inspires to help us. If we donít open ourselves to their help, weíre likely to live beneath our potential and fail to experience some of the most welcome provision God has for our needs.

Finding People Who See Us Dynamically

It comes as welcome news to realize how greatly we benefit from the influence of people who see us dynamically. We have nothing less than a channel of Godís grace available to us through them. Yet recognizing our need for them can also be unsettling, especially if we feel that our options for finding such people arenít good. And if family members were unaffirming to us as we were growing up, we may feel disadvantaged now as an adult, and fear that weíve lost a step in life.

Scripture, though, is full of examples of people from difficult family backgrounds who went on to live rich and fruitful lives. David, one of the most impressive personalities in the Bible, is an inspiring example. His father, Jesse, thought so little of him that, when Samuel came to interview his sons for the position of king, Jesse didnít even ask David to participate (1 Sam 16:1-13). Davidís oldest brother, Eliab, despised him, chiding David for thinking he could battle Goliath (1 Sam 17:28). Davidís other brothers were probably unsupportive of him as well. Yet God used all of this adversity to toughen up David for super-human tasks.

A major reason David was able to overcome the challenges of a difficult upbringing so successfully is because he sought affirming relationships outside of his family. His friendship with Jonathan is a prime example.

Each of us has among our own circle of acquaintances and potential contacts far more opportunities for dynamic, supportive relationships than we normally imagine. Fortunately there are many steps we can take to find these individuals. Here are some suggestions:

Begin with prayer. Our need for people who see us dynamically is so close to the heart of Godís concern for our life that itís clearly an appropriate topic for prayer. Pray regularly that God will bring you into contact with those who believe strongly in you, and who inspire you to achieve Godís best for your life. Mention this concern daily in your devotional time, and from time to time give some extended attention to praying about it.

If your need for affirming relationships is significant, take an afternoon, a day or longer for a personal retreat to express your need to God. Be sure to thank him for the supportive people he has provided you in the past. Ask him, also, to help you understand any changes you can make that will help you to find affirming relationships in the future. Then move ahead in light of the insights youíve gained.

Take inventory of your relationships. Carefully think over your friendships, family contacts and other acquaintances. Is there someone you know who by instinct thinks positively about you, gives you good counsel and inspires you to meet challenges? Is this person open to a closer friendship? If so, you may want to give more time to nurturing your friendship with this person and to drawing on his or her strength. Give priority in your time with people to those who see you dynamically.

By the same token, if some of your acquaintances are outrightly unaffirming and belittle your dreams, avoid contact with them as much as possible. Take control of your social life, and maximize the time spent with those who encourage you.

Teachers and coaches. Iím often fascinated at the bond that can develop with a teacher or coach, especially when weíre being trained in a talent weíre eager to develop. A teacher will sometimes see a studentís potential far better than the student does. Then, by optimism and skillful instruction, the teacher inspires the student to heights he or she never thought possible. So often the side-effect is that the student also gains greater confidence about life.

A dynamic bond can sometimes develop very quickly with a teacher whom weíve never previously met. It happened on the first night for my son Ben, when he was in sixth grade, with a most unlikely candidate. We had signed up Ben for drum lessons with a retired jazz drummer, Johnny Smith, who was highly recommended by a family friend. I didnít know until we arrived at his tiny home in Kensington, Maryland, however, that Smith was 74, partially hearing-impaired, and had several disabled, arthritic fingers. My heart sank when I saw his ďstudioĒ--a cramped basement room with several inexpensive drum pads, a few home-made wooden cymbals and an ancient hi-fi system with (as it turned out) distorted speakers. This canít possibly work, I thought.

Yet Smithís buoyant spirit had won Ben over by the end of the first session. On Thursday nights for the next five years, Smith worked magic with Ben. He not only taught him countless invaluable techniques but, most important, constantly assured him convincingly that he could master the drums. Smith also praised each small step Ben made forward. Smithís approach was so effective that Ben had developed a near-professional drumming skill by the time he reached high school. Last year he graduated from college with a music education degree; his major instrument, of course, was percussion.

While many teachers helped Ben along the way, none had greater influence than Johnny Smith. (Smith, now 88, continues to teach, and so remarkably that The Washington Post recently paid tribute to him with a major feature.*)

The impact of a good teacher can be enjoyed at any age. At 63, my mom took a course in painting at a local womenís club. Her teacher, Mariano Eckart, a highly respected Dominican artist, recognized a latent talent and encouraged her to take painting seriously. For many years she studied under this devoted instructor, who inspired her on with his confidence. In time, she won a number of awards in womenís club competitions for landscape painting. Yet she had never painted artistically at all before taking this course.

I donít mean to imply that anyone can count on becoming the next Buddy Rich or Grandma Moses just by sitting under the right teacher. Each of us, though, does have areas of potential that are far more capable of blossoming under a good teacher than we imagine. If you have a skill that youíre eager to develop, pray earnestly, ask around, and see if you can find a gifted teacher who will work with you. Then take the risk--sign up with him or her for a course or private lessons. Give the teaching process a fair chance; in some cases the effect is thoroughly life-changing.

The healing help of counselors. Professional counselors are trained to see people dynamically, and so many are inclined temperamentally to do so. Counselors can help us in a variety of ways--from clarifying our thinking about decisions, to helping us gain better communication skills, to helping us work through deep-rooted emotional conflicts. The stigma once attached to being counseled is largely gone today; others, in fact, are likely to respect you for seeking a counselorís assistance.

And, fortunately, Christian counselors are now widely available. It is far easier to find a counselor who respects your spiritual values than it was a short time ago. Counselors differ greatly in their approaches, and you may find more rapport with one than another; feel free to interview several in finding one who is right for you.

But if you believe you would benefit from professional counseling, donít hesitate to seek such help. The counseling process can provide an exceptional opportunity to experience the redemptive effect of someoneís seeing your life with positive vision. If you have the need, take advantage of the best counseling available to you, and enjoy the benefits!

The benefits of an active social life. Any steps we take to become more active socially--from taking a course at a local college; to joining a dramatics group, orchestra or athletic team; to volunteering with a community organization or mission--increase our chances of meeting affirming people. There are vast differences in the supportive spirit present in different social settings, and in the opportunity they offer for forging friendships. It can take some research and experimenting to find the situations that work best for us.

We may find that a certain group of people by nature is unsupportive, or that weíve been stigmatized unfairly in it. Yet people may treat us radically differently in another social setting--even a similar group in the same community. The change in social climate we experience simply by changing groups can be as extreme as moving from one country to another.

Itís a simple principle, but one with profound implications: the more active we are socially, the greater our prospects for meeting supportive people and forming affirming relationships.

The golden opportunities within Christian fellowship. Some of the most affirming people on this planet are Christians who have been deeply influenced by Christís love. Believers with a grace-centered perspective on the Christian life are often extraordinary encouragers. I rarely visit a church or fellowship group where I donít encounter some of these notable people. And some Christian communities, because of the focus of their teaching and ministry, tend to attract them.

Our primary reason for joining a church or Christian group should be to grow in Christ, to be sure. Yet itís also important to be looking to the Christian community as a source for supportive relationships. Most of us have within the region where we live many excellent opportunities for Christian fellowship--including churches, fellowship groups, Bible studies, small groups, classes, campus organizations, and special events. Usually these options include many we havenít yet discovered. Over time, we will likely find that the Christian community provides us with the best setting for forging relationships with people who see us dynamically.

See others dynamically. Finally, in looking for supportive relationships, itís hard to overemphasize the importance of ďdoing unto others.Ē If weíre eager to find those who are affirming and forward-looking with us, one of the most important steps we can take is to act similarly toward others. Encouragers attract encouragers. Fortunately, there is much we can do to improve our social skills and sharpen our ability to be a positive force in othersí lives.*

Here we donít have to look beyond Jesus for the most helpful role model possible. One of his most endearing qualities during his earthly ministry was his uncanny ability to see people dynamically. To Peter, John and others who had known only a fishermanís existence, for instance, he presented a broader vision: ďCome, follow me, and I will make you fishers of menĒ (Mk 1:17). His absolute confidence that they could do something more with their lives fired them up so strongly that they went on to change the world--and we continue to feel their the impact of  their influence in our own lives today.

May Jesusí example inspire us, as we seek to encourage others as we wish to be encouraged ourselves. And may we take heart as we look for supportive relationships, that in this area--as in all others--his hand in our life is not shortened.
       

 

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