Friday, November 26, 2010

Really Nice People

I was talking to a really nice person this week and it started me thinking about another one of those great paradoxes of life. I know I’ve talked about “niceness” before, but usually in a negative light. I’ve described the “cult of niceness,” as some have called the Victorian age. Equally I’ve mentioned the façade of niceness that exist in many evangelical circles. But this time, I’m referring to real niceness, or so it seems.

In my old paradigm of spiritual life, I (like many Christians) believed that before I became a Christian, I had many not-so-nice traits. I attended many workshops a few decades ago on “developing your personal testimony.” In those workshops, we would go mining for those bad things which had plagued our non-Christian self. Sometimes we were encouraged (implied) to embellish them, in the spirit of a Mike Warnke, to highlight the contrast. Then, in our post-meeting-Jesus self, we would focus on how nice we’ve become.

But now I realize this line of demarcation is not so crisp and doesn’t not come down precisely where we would like to imagine. It seems to come down between people who have been born (or raised) nice, and those who were/are not.

I wish I were nice. But, I often get frustrated . . . more so than the average Christian, or so I think. I’m not downplaying what I mean. I don’t yell, scream or say hateful words to people. But things like plumbing problems frustrate me and I don’t hesitate to say I’m frustrated. It’s been a few years, but I’ve been known to scream and pound a leaky pipe with a hammer to vent that frustration. I would have done the same before I became a Christian. Maybe my threshold of “loosing it” is higher now . . . maybe a little higher.

I was describing my frustration this week to this nice person. It has been a rough five days and just got worse as I was typing this (just got word that my father-in-law is gravely ill. I will come back to that as I gather my thoughts but I will first finish this thought).

Earlier in the week, I left for work with the temps around 33 and a little drizzle. I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t watched TV where I could have heard a weather report. To make a long story short, the drizzle quickly turned to snow and I got snowed-in over on the mainland at my office for two days. Denise likewise got snowed-in at her job at the hospital on our island for the same 48 hours. During this time, the temps plummeted to 8 degrees (in a place that it rare is below 28 degrees) and set a new all time record.

When I was finally able to climb my way back up our little island mountain in my studded four wheel drive, I found our poor pets in panic (our neighbors had let them out once during the span). I had dog poop in the house, which I expected. What I didn’t expect is that our guest cabin’s pipes were all frozen and broken.

I didn’t expect it because they froze and ruptured a couple of years ago when we had a desperate friend gradually extend her “4-week” summer stay into a 20-month one. The cabin was never meant for winter use. After the pipes ruptured on her, I literally laid on my back in a 14 inch crawl space, in 30 degree mud, no light but my headlamp, for seven nights as I completely replaced the plumbing. I also carefully wrapped the pipes in electric heat tape and insulation, so that would never happen again. But now it has.

What really frustrated me was the dumb thing that the electric tape had become unplugged. I have no idea how. Maybe I did it. I don’t know. But now all that work seems ruined.

But this post is not really about that unfortunate incident . . . it is about the frustration I feel in those situations, and more so, how nice people seemed immune to. I’m only sharing about a difficult week to illustrate a much bigger picture.

The nice person was with me and I showed them the pipes. I simply said how frustrating the situation was. I showed emotion but didn’t raise my voice. Inside I wanted to kick the pipes as hard as I could. The friend was appalled. They could not relate how an inanimate object would ever upset me, even if it meant a huge amount of hard work and money to repair. In this season of being thankful, they pointed out how wonderful my life is right now. Four of my five children are home. I have plenty of food, cars that run and I live in a place which I’ve dreamt of living in for a long time. I really am thankful but I still get frustrated even with my abundance of blessings. Hey, many people in the world don’t have a roof over their heads and here I am being frustrated by my empty “guest cabin.”

This is how this posting is different from my previous ones. I think this friend was sincere. They really couldn’t relate. They almost never feel mad, frustrated, depressed or anxious (by their own confession and my observations). Yes they are a Christian, but I think they would be the same if they were a Buddhist or even an atheist.

The paradox is that the story doesn’t follow the narrative. “I was so bad . . . then I met Jesus . . . now I am so good.”

One of the things that shook my evangelical faith so deeply a couple of decades (besides the most godly man I had ever known, also turning out to be the most cruel) was my own failings. I had covered them over with Jesus Bondo for a long time. But the Bondo cracked. I knew in my heart that I wanted this missionary boss to die a painful death for what he had done to me and my family. What happened to the good, post-Christian Mike?

I know of several people whom have visited this blog and have likewise concluded that I’m not a nice person. I’m cynical, cruel and seem to always look at the dark side (I don’t see myself like that at all). The nice people, sincerely, only see the positive side of things and are never cynical. They only share praises for other people . . . including evangelicals.

But for now, I need to quickly change my focus, help my wife get an emergency flight to Minnesota and support her with all my strength.


pennyyak said...

"I wish I were nice."

You know you made me laugh. I've never seen anything on your blog that would me think you weren't a nice person, but maybe our definitions are different.

Sorry about the family illness. Worry, frantic plans, and then often - waiting. Long waiting. It's very stressful, I know from my own family experiences. Strength and peace to you, and your wife.

Anna A said...

I share your frustration about "nice people".

I'm having a similar problem at work. The powers that be want me to be nice, which means completely controlling my emotions, even if I am upset about my technician not calling in sick until almost 3 hours after due to start. (I felt like an anxious parent, wanting to both know that everything is alright and wanting to do some serious damage when that is verified.) Of course, when she called in, I was under control and very sympathetic.

It, too, includes not being mad at machines and techs who fix them. Like finding out it isn't working, 30 minutes after he left from fixing it. ARG

I hope that things are going better with you and yours