Growing up and as a young man, I always had to be the guy in the room with the joke.
Whenever anyone said something, my malformed brain would immediately look for a way to turn it and tease the person a little.
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. For many years into my adult life, it would often remain my reflex in a conversation.
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 redeeming quality of mine is picking good role models. Foremost among them are my pastors. Most pastors get their congregants opening up to them by default simply because they’re the pastor and they’re perceived as “the conduit to God around here” of a sort. But my pastors are trusted. Sure, they can banter and joke, but they don’t jump to that as a first instinct. They listen. They ask questions. They seek ways 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. Yes, sometimes that’s to both our detriment, but still…
This is the kind of person I want to be. Someone others trusted, would confide in if the opportunity arose.
And teasing people – well, that was pretty much diametrically opposed to that goal. I monitored myself around others who had the same habits I did, and I realized – I don’t open up to them. I don’t even consider them all that mature. I sure as heck am not about to discuss my problems, my struggles, or really even my day with them.
And this was all to say nothing, of course, of the times when my teasing accidentally crossed the boundaries and really hurt someone.
Some people had learned to 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 beratings from the boss, pressure from those depending on us, running ourselves ragged, busy, busy, busy…what is the saying? That we hear ten negative comments for every positive one?
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 in the room.
So I pray to become that.
Yes, it requires the burden of constant self-surveillance and analysis. Tough noogies. I want to be someone different. To become someone who buries his need to be funny in the midst of a conversation – not that there’s anything wrong with that if it’s your gift – and instead to be one who seeks the heart and lifts it up.
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, like that of Jesus, rise from their tomb.