In the early days of photography, everyone looks grumpy. There are several reasons for this. First, it took awhile for the negative to capture the image, so the people had to sit still for a long time. So they assumed a natural pose and waited for the photographer to tell them they were done. Also, these were hard working people. They were busy fighting the Civil War (Which, incidentally, wasn’t so civil), there were economic issues, a country to build, and a whole lot of other things going on that didn’t necessarily inspire a lot of joy. Finally, at that point in the history of photography, people didn’t realize how grumpy they looked. It never occurred to them to fake a smile by saying “Cheese!”
Around the same time, this guy Maslow came up with a theory which he called the Hierarchy of Needs. According to Maslow, people focused on safety, food, shelter, and other basic needs before they ever considered seeking something called Self Actualization. In fact, up until the last couple of generations, most people hadn’t the foggiest notion of what it meant to be actualized – let alone to do it themselves. They were too busy trying to provide food and shelter for their families.
Somewhere around the late 1950s and 1960s we began to hear about people who wanted to “find themselves.“ Their parents scratched their heads and wondered what that meant. Meanwhile their kids ran off, grew their hair long, and explored the world through love, sex, and rock’n roll. They were seeking peace and love. It wasn’t long before a new genre of books was born. No longer did one need a personal spiritual or psychological guru, they could now buy a self-help book and discover self actualization – without becoming a hippy.
It was about ten years ago when I noticed that some people expected everything to be fun. Whether it was a three-week vacation in Alaska, or a quick trip down to the store, people seemed to ask: “Did you have fun?”
I wondered, “Why does it have to be fun?“
As a matter of fact, for the most part, my Alaska vacation was “fun.” But more than anything, it was relaxing, spiritually refreshing, insightful, and my soul was re-created. There were “fun” moments. There were “fun” times. I laughed, I cried, I danced, I slept, I even howled with wolves. But “fun” isn’t the first adjective I would use to describe that trip – and it isn’t the reason I went back the next year.
While I’m on this rant, why does a jaunt into the store, and maybe a couple of other errands have to be, um… “fun?” Why can’t it just be about the errands? Do I really have to be self-actualized while I’m buying milk, children’s ibuprofen, and getting the oil changed? Is there never a time when I can just be – does everything have to be about me finding my inner peace?
Which brings me to my current state of seeking self-actualization.
As my regular readers know, this past couple of years have been, um… hard. After pouring my heart and soul into my Church for the past 10+ years, they unceremoniously dumped me. It wasn’t for any moral issues. I kept my political views to myself. I worked long, hard hours – and did extra things like my hardworking Dad taught me. Sure, I made mistakes – but nothing irreversible. I was trying to do the right things, but ultimately I found myself unemployed. This made me grumpy.
Actually, I think I was grumpy before that – but I got more grumpy after being fired.
Here’s what I’ve learned about grumpiness:
- People don’t want me to be grumpy. They will do everything in their power to slay the grumpiness. They will offer entertainment, recreational drugs, diversions, TV, codependency, or any other distraction to stop the grumpiness in others.
- People don’t respect grumpy people. Despite the Great American work ethic and rampant workalohism, people want you to look like you’re enjoying every minute, of every activity, everyday. 70% of the population is either taking prescribed antidepressants, or are self-medicating in some other way, but damn you if you look unhappy.
- If you’re grumpy, you must be doing something wrong. Apparently, you are not self-actualized if you’re grumpy. It doesn’t matter if God is taking you through a wilderness experience, you’re tasked with a seemingly impossible mission, or are experiencing a painful disease (physical, social, emotional, or psychological) – apparently, you are broken if you are grumpy.
- No pain, no gain. It’s a funny thing to say – but you better do your pain thing in private. We don’t want to hear about it. We really don’t care about your personal gain. Just don’t bring us down with your struggles.
- You can be grumpy when you’re alone. In your car, tossing and turning in your bed at night, sitting in your office trying to finish that project – but don’t you dare be grumpy when you’re with us.
- No matter your work ethic, values, or personal/political beliefs – people will tolerate you, if you’re not grumpy. Be joyful, or at least have the facade of joy – and you will be liked by all. But show any grumpiness and you’re a dead man walking.
If anyone should understand grumpiness, it should be Christians. But here’s a great paradox: Christians go out of their way to put on a constant facade of joy. Despite the fact that the Bible is filled with grumpy God-followers, church people seem to think it is their duty to never show signs of angst. I wonder where this originated from?
I wonder how long it took Adam and Eve to regain their composure after leaving the Garden of Eden. Not only did they bring sin – and death – on all of humanity, but they were cursed with hard-work, sweat, and the pain of childbirth. They didn’t just leave, they were barred from ever returning. Then one of their sons killed the other. Was life always joyful for them?
Did the Children of Israel experience joy during their 400+ years of Egyptian captivity and slavery? Do you think they might have had a few grumpy moments? What about the Prince of Egypt, Moses? I wonder if his 40 years in the wilderness – tending sheep – were always joyful? Was David self actualized whiled holed up in Adullum’s Cave and hiding from Saul? Reading through the book of Ecclesiastes, it’s quite apparent that Solomon sought joy and pleasure his whole life – until he finally found contentment.
Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Hosea, Habakkuk, Ruth – the list goes on and on. These folks were on epic pilgrimages and lived lives of sorrow and discomfort. Some of their sorrow was brought on by themselves, some by the situations they found themselves in, but often, their sorrow was part of God’s plan. Jesus, himself, has been referred to as the Man of Sorrows.
In the 1800s, my great-grandparents left the relative safety and comfort of their lives to seek a better life in the West. They loaded up their belongings, at least what they had room for, and headed West in a covered wagon. What hardships did they endure during that epic journey? What dangers did they experience? Half of those that embarked on this journey died along the way. In fact, my great-grandparents came through the what is now Montana and Wyoming during their trip. As they came to the banks of the Little Bighorn River, they helped bury some of General Custer’s soldiers.
I can say with frankness, that we have been into the depths of Hell.”
When we arrived in Oregon, we were burned out after five years of church planting. We had a new son, who was just six weeks old. We were stressed, we were tired, we needed a break. We just left our closest friends and moved to the gray and dampness of Oregon. We had no close family nearby, no close friends, and we were in distress. It was a hard time – that got harder. Needless to say, I was grumpy.
Now, almost three years later, I can say with frankness, that we have been into the depths of Hell. As we begin to climb out, the demons reach up and seek to pull us back in. Our bodies and psyches are damaged. Our souls are wounded. We are barely representative of who we were.
I’ve spent the past year trying to survive the Winter of my discontent, trying to keep food on the table, a roof over our heads, and retool for a new career. Self-actualization has been the furthest thing from my mind. I’m a little farther down the scale in Dr. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. And I’m OK with that.
It would have been nice if our Church would have recognized that we are aren’t the enemy they envisioned us to be – that we are merely wounded warriors in need of recovery. It would have been nice if our employer had provided resources for our emotional and spiritual recovery – recognizing their investment would not go to waste, and that we were still valuable to the organization. It also would have been nice if those who were offended by my grumpiness had recognized, that like Job, I was having a hard time. This didn’t make me a bad person.
As we crawl out of Hell, I can tell you will assurance that I don’t want to stay in Hell. I can also tell you, from personal experience, that what doesn’t kill us will indeed make us stronger. I’m not quite to the point where I’m fully recovered – that will take awhile – but I definitely have learned a few things in the past five years.
I’m glad they fired me. I’m glad to be gone. I never again want to be a part of any organization that treats people so poorly.
Also, while I still have some serious bouts of grumpiness, I’m starting to experience scattered joy, with periods of contentment. I appreciate those who don’t take my grumpiness personally.