How to be Complete

February 25, 2021


“You complete me…”

 

Chances are, you have heard of these three famous words which Tom Cruise uttered in the movie Jerry Maguire.

 

That’s why many people get married. We dream that our spouse – and later, our children – will satisfy our hearts. But we are rudely awakened when we discover that one can be married, have kids and still be lonely. It does not need to remain this way.

 

Loneliness springs from frustrated desire. We all yearn to relate to others in a special and intimate way. But our spouses and children are not robots. We cannot simply push a button and have them end our loneliness.

 

Notice how our problem depends on the decisions and actions of people over whom we really have no control.

 

One powerful way to break free from the loneliness trap is to focus on what we can do, not on what we want other people to do for us. Instead of demanding to be loved, we give love. Eventually, we will reap what we sow. By taking initiative to cherish and to serve our loved ones, we are cherished and served in return.

 

But what if one feels so “dried up” in loneliness that to be loving, rather than seeking to be loved, looms like an impossible task?

 

Have you seen a cup filling itself with water? Of course not. Someone has to pour water into it. Our hearts are just like that. We need someone to pour love into our thirsty, broken hearts. The good news is that there is someone who has an endless supply of love to give.

 

His name is Jesus. He invites us to give Him our aching hearts that He will fill with His love. Then, like an actual cup held underneath a raging waterfall, our hearts will overflow with His love which in turn will refresh the hearts of our spouse and children.

 

We need not journey in loneliness. We can count on Jesus to be by our side and, along the way, discover that He can do what Tom Cruise was looking for. He completes us.

 

​Photo credit from Desiring God

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Someone once told me, “Many people don’t work to succeed. Rather, they work not to fail.”

 

What he meant is that many employees play it safe. They are terrified of making mistakes and being criticized by their bosses. So they do the bare minimum in their jobs and keep their mouths shut. However, they stunt their professional growth and limit their career enhancement.

 

In contrast, “working to succeed” means taking initiative and delivering more than expected. They tackle their jobs with passion. They welcome new assignments as opportunities to stretch and flourish. When their boss gives them a “sermon,” they don’t take it personally. Rather they consider this as valuable feedback to learn the ropes and, more importantly, learn how to improve themselves.
What makes the difference between “working not to fail” versus “working to succeed”?

 

One basic reason is that the former is dominated by fear. Specifically, fear of failure.

Based on personal experience and those of others, I can tell you that working out of fear is a terrible way to live. It makes one dread to get up in the morning, sucks the gusto at the workplace and kills rapport with co-workers.

 

I think it is normal to be afraid of failing, especially if those blunders can cost the company lots of money and time. But there is a healthy fear which acknowledges the risk of failure and takes steps to minimize the risk. Beyond that is a pathological fear that paralyzes one from doing anything at all.

 

The antidote to fear of failure is thorough preparation. We do our homework, ask a lot of questions, clarify our objectives, double or triple check our data, and challenge our assumptions.

 

One more thing: most people neglect the valuable resource of seasoned and trustworthy mentors who can alert you of what mistakes to avoid. They will share things you won’t learn from books and guide you on how to maximize your chances of success.

 

Let’s face it: nobody really knows everything, let alone absorbing them all at once. It takes humility, curiosity, resourcefulness, initiative and, most of all, time to learn.

May you work out of courage and no longer with a twinge of fear.

Photo credit from Knowledge@Wharton

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Let’s face it. Criticism stings. When your boss or spouse tells you what you are doing wrong or where you need to improve, how you take feedback can enhance or hinder your progress.

 

Here are three major principles on how to make the best of criticisms.

Abandon your pride. We must first understand why we bristle at criticism. Pride is not necessarily evil. In this case, our aversion to criticism likely springs from the desire to see ourselves – or be seen as – the perfect person, one that makes no mistakes and basking in accolade. When we hear comments to the contrary, it bursts this bubble and we recoil.

 

The subtle evidence of pride is to feel deflated. People in this category harbor no resentment to the critic, but beat themselves up. They mope, “How could I be such a bonehead and make this mistake?” Paradoxically, while this sounds like humility, it is really wounded self-ego.

 

Adopt a learning attitude. To say that “we should let go of our pride” is easier said than done. The next key strategy is to adopt a learning attitude. Admit that we still have a lot to learn. Therefore, when we receive a negative evaluation, start by apologizing for your wrong. Then, listen and learn where you went wrong.

 

Some people don’t want to ask questions for fear that they will be seen as dum-dums or even incompetent. But the only stupid question is the one you should have asked but didn’t. Worse, if you give the impression of being a “know it all,” you will discourage others from helping and coaching you.

 

Assume the best motives from your critic. Let’s imagine that you are driving your car in the expressway. Another driver suddenly cuts into your lane. You slam on the brakes and blare your horn. You fume and curse the other driver for being such a reckless idiot.

 

But suppose you discover that he is rushing a loved one to the emergency room of the nearest hospital. I bet your attitude will change.

This technique is called “reframing.” How you understand a situation has a bearing on your emotional response to that situation. The next time someone criticizes you, don’t see him as someone who is “out to get you.” Rather, choose to believe that the critic wants to develop you, whether professionally or personally.

 

So when you are criticized, don’t become a war freak or throw a pity-party. Thank the critic and find the kernel of truth in the feedback. Then, improve. This attitude clearly benefits everyone.

 

After all, the critic must have put up with you all this time, right?

Photo credit from Padraig.

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Two words: character counts.

This is a vital principle in choosing a mate. It is just as important, if not more, in the marriage.

We have to be a certain kind of person in order to make the marriage a joyful one. That character must be such that when trouble comes in a marriage—as it inevitably will—our natural response will be one of patience and forbearance, one that refuses to retaliate but is willing to listen. Otherwise, our carnal, selfish nature contaminates what would have been a blissful union.

 

There is no short-cut to character building. It takes time. Speaking for myself, my character was formed while going through much heartbreak before I met my darling wife Lucy. After tasting pain, I certainly don’t want to inflict it on others, let alone my wife. It also births a spirit of empathy and longsuffering.

 

Sadly, many people get married so young, their character didn’t even have a chance to form. Even more tragic, many people get married without knowing the Christ who wishes to imprint His gracious and holy character in their hearts.

 

Call it old-fashioned Bible morality, but it works. At times when I was tempted to be hurtful or selfish towards Lucy, I know that, one day, I will stand before God and explain my actions to Him. Marriage is a high task, a noble calling, and a grave stewardship. If God will ask you “What did you do with the spouse I had given you?”, what will you say?

 

I don’t know about you, I am more terrified of God’s searing displeasure than anything else. It checks the beast in me that would otherwise pounce to inflict pain on Lucy. Thus, I dare say an indispensable ingredient of that character is a healthy fear of God that keeps one from sinning against Him.

 

I am not sure what God’s reward will be for an excellent husband or wife. Will it be the words “Well done!”? A crown? Some wag would say, “A T-shirt that says ‘I Survived Marriage!’” But I do hope that God will honor me for being affectionate, faithful and understanding to my wife while on earth.

 

Now that’s character! Oh, Lord, may it be so!

​Photo credit from Brooke Cagle, Unsplash

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Fourth: embrace your true purpose.

Here’s a variation of a famous line. You’ve heard it to death: “with great power comes great responsibility.” Uncle Ben Parker should have gone deeper. With great identity comes great purpose.

In the previous posts, we have seen how John the Baptist had inoculated himself from the sinister virus of envy:

First, he acknowledged where his blessings came from (“a man can only receive what has been given him from heaven”).

Second, he accepted who he was not (“I am not the Christ…”).

Third, he based his identity on Christ (“…but I am sent ahead of Him”).

​What awesome humility! What amazing honor! His great identity was being the immediate forerunner of the Messiah. Sure, there were plenty of prophets who foretold His arrival. But it was John who got to see with his own eyes and baptized with his own hands Jesus Himself.

 

John concluded: “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). With that great identity came a great purpose: to be the magnifying lens by which multitudes can see how beautiful Jesus is. He relished his role of exalting Christ. It had the logical consequence of diminishing him. But for the Baptist, it was a happy side-effect. His joy was made complete (v. 29).

 

The world says “I have this, therefore I am that.” But in God’s economy, “I am this in Christ, therefore I have that.” Great identity means great purpose which brings great joy.

 

I realized that my envy sprang from harboring wrong identities and purposes. It is I who wanted to become greater: in wealth, in fame, in authority. In so doing, I had left Christ out of the equation, let alone making Him greater.

 

One day, a startling thought came to my mind: There is a purpose why I am in the Philippines, in the 21st century. Look for that purpose.

My “who?” is not to be that highly paid fellow or that bestselling writer. My purpose is not to elevate myself to corporate or literary stardom. My true self is being a proclaimer of Christ in my own generation. When I do just that, great joy awaits me more than that corner office or six-digit royalties.

 

I do not claim that envy has totally disappeared. I have to guard my heart and my self-talk. But I am learning a new way of life. Instead of whining, “That guy has my life!”, I now affirm, “Christ has my life.”

 

May He become greater … and I, smaller.

Photo credit from deviantart.com

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Third, base your identity on Christ.

In the last blog post, we learn that we must acknowledge who we are not. This acceptance will free us to blossom into who we really are.

So who in the world are we?

Look at the rest of John the Baptist’s answer, “You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him’” (John 3:28). He didn’t mind not being the Christ. He wasn’t envious when Jesus stole his limelight. He saw his unique role of heralding the Messiah to his generation. When he had accomplished his mission, he was filled with joy (3:29).

 

Get it? John based his identity, which in turn was based on his relationship with Christ. We see it at least two other times. He described himself as the voice in the wilderness (John 1:23), which is based on Scripture (Isaiah 40:3, to be exact). He also called himself as the friend of the bridegroom, the “bridegroom” being Christ. (The friend of the bridegroom is today what we would call the best man in a wedding.)

 

John didn’t suffer the sort of identity crisis that befalls someone when stripped of rank, possessions or relevance. He also didn’t latch his self-worth on just anybody who will inevitably fail him. He may lose everything he had, but as long as he had Christ, he was secure.

 

This is the pivotal principle of the whole series. The best antidote to envy is to have something that is so supreme, that even if someone else has more of the lesser things, be it rank, money, relationships, you are still at peace and full of joy. Something so supreme… or should I say, Someone. Someone who loves us utterly and has proven it at the Cross.

 

If I am not that person that I envy – a highly paid person or a blockbuster author – then who am I? My identity is what Scripture says it is and who is Christ to me. By faith, I am intricately linked to my Savior. I am a child of God. Someone else can have a better life (relatively speaking) but what of it? This comparison will not diminish my worth in the eyes of a heavenly Father.

 

When I realize anew the incredible privileges and blessings given me as God’s child, the allure of worldly status faded away. Why pine for mud pies when there is a lavish buffet in front of me? And with a great identity comes a great purpose. We will see that in the last installment of this series.

 

Photo credit from Till Lauer

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Second, accept who you are not.

John added, “You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ…” (3:28).

Now remember the Jews were chafing under the authority of the Romans. Thus, they were longing for the promised Messiah, whom they interpreted as a political savior. So when some firebrand popped up, the people would wonder, “Is this the Christ we have been waiting for?”

 

Not surprisingly, when multitudes flocked to John the Baptist – with his bold rhetoric and austere lifestyle – even the Jewish religious leaders quizzed him if he was that Christ. I would imagine how John would be tempted to say yes. Or at least give a sly nod. After all, why not? Why can’t he start the movement? Why can’t he get something out of his troubles?

 

Had John went down that path and the real Christ enters the stage, that would trigger the alarm bells of envy. But he resisted the press releases about him. He showed incredible level-headedness when he avowed, “I am not the Christ.” That’s why when, later, Jesus stole the spotlight from him, there was nothing within John to be threatened.

 

Part of overcoming envy is to be at peace with who you are not. I am not the celebrity author; I am not the highly paid hotshot. Definitely, I am not the center of my universe.

 

Notice I said, “be at peace with who you are not.” Envious people know that they are not the people they envy. They have no choice but to live with the reality. But it takes great courage to face the “what is not” and let go of the resentment. We reject the notion that the Fates have conspired against us, cheating us from what is justly ours.

 

But we have Someone far better. We are not under the machinations of Fate, but under the wise care of the Father. And in letting go of who we are not, we free ourselves to blossom into who we really are.

 

This brings us to the third lesson. Don’t miss it.

Photo credit from Forbes

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First, acknowledge where your blessings come from.

John told his disciples, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven” (John 3:27).

He knew that the crowds that flocked to him were not his in the first place. Rather, God had entrusted these people to him. If He wanted to transfer these people into the care of His Son, that was fine with John. In fact, the Baptist did not harbor any illusion that he was entitled to anything at all. He held what he had been given with an open hand.

 

I need to remember that everything comes from God. True, we work hard and smart. But our intelligence, skills, education, health, employment, success, even the ability to work comes from Him.

 

The mega-rich like Bill Gates or Donald Trump may think that they got their big bucks from their savvy. But even their ability to produce wealth is from God (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).

 

This leads to a corollary: It is God’s prerogative on how much wealth, fame or privilege will go to each person.

 

When I realized this, I have chosen to stop comparing myself with others. Remember that person half my age but earns double my salary? If God chooses to bless him that way, I really have no ground to gripe.

 

​Photo credit from getlevelhead.com

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