Growing up and as a young man, I always had to be the guy in the room with the joke.
Always. Whenever anyone said something, my brain would immediately look for a way to turn it into a tease.
Combined with not being very good at it, this resulted in years without a lot of friends. As I grew older, I got better at it. At the teasing part, that is, unfortunately, not the “just knock it off already” part that people were no doubt wishing I’d master.
And then…I would wonder why I wasn’t getting anywhere socially.
Clueless, I tell you.
Then, for some reason, one day I started asking myself, “What do my role models do to engender such trust with people?”
See, one of my few redeeming qualities is picking good role models. Sure, my role models can banter and joke, but they don’t jump to that as a first instinct. They listen. They ask questions. They seek to affirm you and what you’re thinking. Others feel safe around them. I feel safe around them. Safe with my heart, my thoughts, my fears. My truest self has no problem coming out around them.
This is the kind of person I’m working on becoming.
Slow progress, I know.
And teasing people – well, that’s diametrically opposed to that goal. I monitored myself around others who shared my habits and I realized – I don’t open up to them. I don’t consider them all that mature. I certainly am not about to discuss my problems, my struggles, or really even my day with them.
Some people balance banter with kindness. But not me. Not yet. So I realized that change was calling. It was time for my teasing sense of humor to climb its Golgotha and die horribly.
No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)
Building each other up.
Good grief, yes.
Our days are hard enough. We go to work, belly-crawl through the day without coffee, endure constant failure and pressure and boss-beratings, run ourselves ragged…what is the saying? That we hear ten negative comments for every positive?
Who wants to run into a chronic teaser at the end of all that?
If I can be an oasis of kindness and listening in the middle of all that, hot dog. That’s what I want. That’s what we all should want. Far better to be known for affirmation than for always being the funny guy.
So I pray to become that.
Yes, it requires the burden of constant self-surveillance. Tough noogies. I want to be someone different. To become someone who buries his need to be funny in the midst of a conversation and instead to be one who seeks the heart, and lifts it up, and listens to hear rather than prepare my response.
Don’t let me overstate my success. I’m still working on it. Old habits die hard, even on a cross.
But may they die anyway. And a new me rise from their tomb.