How to Be Miserable

 “Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trust in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (Common English Bible)


            The other day I came across a piece written by Earl Nightingale that he titled, How to Be Miserable. He provided remarkable clarity about some of the things I have been wrestling with recently, clarity about self-inflicted misery. Nightingale writes, “The first step to real, professional-type, solid, unremitting misery is to get all wrapped up in yourself and your problems – real or imagined. Become a kind of island, surrounded on every side by yourself. By turning all of your thoughts inward upon yourself, naturally you cannot spend much or any time thinking about others and other things. And so, finally, the outside world – the real world – will disappear into a kind of Hitchcock-type fog.”[i]


            Nightingale continues with a stinging observation that the type of person who chooses misery, who turns inward upon himself or herself doesn’t have much in the wisdom department. Otherwise, they simply wouldn’t do it. With the absence of wisdom, they turn inward and discover that there is not much there. There is a kind of vacuum, and they have to embellish perceived, or real, hurts and slights from others or invent things entirely. Negative – and harmful – behavior is then directed outward toward those who have caused them harm. This behavior may simply be for punishment, to cause pain equal to what they are experiencing, or to manipulate others to meet some relational expectation.


            Where Nightingale provides an unpleasant portrait of a miserable person, the apostle Paul provides divine knowledge – or wisdom – for fleeing from misery: love others, particularly when that love is difficult. Paul beautifully expresses the very nature of love by its positive attributes – “love is patient, love is kind.” Paul provides additional wisdom by sharing what love isn’t and doesn’t do – “it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints.” What Paul provides is a different portrait from Nightingale, a portrait of a person who actively participates in the unity and well being of relationships with another.


            It is widely embraced that the Christian faith is less to do with right beliefs and more to do with right behavior. A person may have a grasp of the Holy Scriptures that is unparalleled, able to articulate a particular theological position with uncommon clarity and yet remain untouched by God’s transforming power – the transformation that deepens love for God and love for others. Such a faith is a lazy faith because it requires no effort. Love requires effort. Love demands that we struggle against an impulse to turn inward and compile a record of complaints against another. Such love “puts up with all things, trust in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.” It is a love that knows no misery.



[i]Earl Nightingale, “How to Be Miserable,” Your Success Starts Here: Purpose and Personal Initiative (Shippensburg, PA: Sound Wisdom, 2019) 104.


Where Joy is Found


“Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness.”

James 1:19, 20.  (Common English Bible)


            Sydney Harris shares an occasion when he was walking with a friend home from the office. On the way, his friend stopped at a newsstand to purchase the evening paper. Completing the transaction, Harris’ friend thanked the vendor politely. The vendor didn’t even acknowledge. “A sullen fellow, isn’t he?” Harris commented. “Oh, he’s that way every night,” shrugged his friend.  “Then why do you continue being so polite to him?” Sydney Harris asked. “Why not?” inquired his friend. “Why should I let him decide how I’m going to act?” Notice that the operative word is “act.” His friend acts toward people. Many of us react toward them.[i]


            This is the guidance James provides – “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry.” In addition to conforming to the format of a letter, James belongs to the literary genre of Wisdom literature. Such literature was widespread throughout the Middle East during the 1st century CE. Advancing understanding of wise instructions for life in general, sacred Wisdom literature communicates to readers how to live happily as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Various values and actions consistent with discipleship are examined and urged as faithful expressions of fidelity to God. Here, James implores Christians to “act” toward one another rather than “react.”


            James knows who he is. He is a disciple of Jesus Christ. This knowledge provides James with an understanding of the behavior that is now expected of him – the understanding that refuses to return anger with anger, incivility with incivility. Each one of us has natural impulses, internal responses to the behavior of others. Yet, failure to harness those impulses, when they would be hurtful to another, is to surrender our command of our conduct. That is slavery to impulses, which make of us mere responders to others. That is when our discipleship stumbles – those occasions when we pour out invective after it has been poured out over us.


            Throughout the teachings of Jesus we are enjoined to return good for evil, to turn the other cheek when the hand of another strikes us. That requires uncommon strength, uncommon control of sinful impulses to defend our honor. That requires that we “act” as Jesus demonstrates in his own life and ministry, rather than “respond” as Peter did with the sword the night Jesus was arrested in the garden. Nobody is unhappier than the one who has surrendered command of his or her inner impulses and strikes back when injured – physically or emotionally. Yet, God’s righteousness expands when we return anger with love. That is were joy is found.




[i]Earl Nightingale, “Be an Actor, Not a Reactor,” Transformational Living: Positivity, Mindset, and Persistence (Shippensburg, PA: Sound Wisdom, 2019) 37.


Maintaining Calm in the Tumult


“Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together to remain faithful to the gospel. That way, you won’t be afraid of anything your enemies do.”

Philippians 1:27, 28a (Common English Bible)


Some years ago, a young man shared with me that years earlier he made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. However, in the time that followed, he never sought to grow in his relationship with Jesus. Now his life was moving through a crisis, and not moving through it very well. This brought uncommon insight for him. He said, “I never did anything with my faith so now my faith is not doing anything for me.”  Apparently, this young man reduced the Christian faith to right beliefs. He confessed before a church that Jesus Christ is his Lord. He believed in Jesus Christ and that was that. Nothing more required. What he was now learning – in the midst of a personal crisis – is that the Christian faith is not merely right beliefs. The Christian faith is something that we do, and optimally, in community with others.     


In his present tumult, what this man desired is calm. Some years ago, William George Jordan wrote, “Calmness is the rarest quality in human life. It is the poise of a great nature, in harmony with itself and its ideals. It is the moral atmosphere of a life self-reliant and self-controlled. Calmness is singleness of purpose, absolute confidence, and conscious power ready to be focused in an instant to meet any crisis.”[i] Simply, the person who is calm identifies a singleness of purpose and pursues that purpose with both a sturdy confidence and an intentional strength of resolve. This is precisely the point Paul makes in his letter to the Church in Philippi: “live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel.” That is our purpose. Further, Paul asks for a steady resolve toward this regardless of external circumstances – whether Paul comes to see them or is absent from them.


A familiar song during the Christmas season has this refrain, “I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me. I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” Initially, the response is a chest that swells with anticipation and joy. A loved one is coming home for Christmas! However, the chest deflates when the refrain continues, “if only in my dreams.” Notice here that joy, or its absence, is dependent on something from outside of the individual – something that is beyond the grasp of the individual to control. Will a loved one be home for Christmas or not? Paul is saying that joy and a life of obedience to Jesus Christ is not dependent upon some external circumstance; not dependent upon whether Paul comes to be with them or is absent from them. Calm is available either way once a mind is focused upon a great purpose.


These few sentences of Paul conclude with the promise that fear and uncertainty will not fill the heart if the mind is set upon the single purpose of living for Christ’s gospel. If we hand authority to external circumstances for our well-being, we confess our inferiority to them. We grant them the power to dominate us. It is then that worries of every measure stir us to unease, wear upon us, and eventually, we wear down to surrender. Calm dissipates. Paul announces it does not have to come to that. “Live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel.” Do that and the natural result is that you will not be afraid of anything your enemies do. Malice and slander, difficulties and hardships, disappointments and failures may assail you. Calmness will remain.



[i]Earl Nightingale, “Managing Your Inner World,” Transformational Living: Positivity, Mindset, and Persistence(Shippensburg, PA: Sound Wisdom, 2019) 39.


The Mark of Christian Character

From Doug Hood\’s upcoming book,

Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, Vol. 2

\”We love because God first loved us.\”

1 John 4:19

There is a delightful – and poignant – cartoon currently circulating on Facebook. Jesus is teaching his disciples on the side of a mountain. Jesus teaches, “Love one another.” The disciples begin to question Jesus. “What if people don’t agree with our interpretation of scripture? What do we do if someone doesn’t share our political ideology or agree with us on the important issues of the day?” Jesus continues, “Let me try again. Love one another.” Located in this cartoon is a powerful message for us all. Something has happened in our public discourse. Once, people could disagree politically, debate the pressing issues of the day, and then share a meal and laughter together. I miss that day, now largely gone. If you are honest, you miss it as well.
Recently, I sat in my office with someone who is both an elder of this church and a dear friend. He is a Republican and I am a Democrat. He has my highest admiration. Considerable wisdom and a kind and generous spirit mark his leadership on the church board. Occasionally we discuss with each other our differences in our political vision for our nation. The operative word here is, “discuss.” Civility, respect, and humility saturates our conversations. Both of us acknowledge that we could be wrong on any issue. Most importantly, we listen deeply to each other. We listen with anticipation that we may have our own thoughts made more expansive by a different viewpoint.
We also share a lament. We are sadden by how little kindness we now see among those who disagree. One political party vilifies another party. Democrats are Socialist and Republicans lack compassion. People fear expressing any opinion lest they become caught-up in verbal warfare. Worse, it is common today to question someone’s fidelity to the Christian faith if there is failure to think as we think. Again, we are a nation divided on itself. Hurtful rhetoric often becomes hate crimes. Imagine what has happened in our nation. Some believe that killing those who are different is a responsible course. Jesus continues, “Let me try again. Love one another.”
Perhaps, that is where we must begin. We begin by celebrating that, as Christians, what holds us together is our common confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. Bound together by faith in Jesus Christ, we recognize that none of us has grasped the whole truth. The Apostle Paul, speaking of faith in his first letter to the Corinthian Church, says that what we now understand is like looking in a dark mirror. We can see something, but not everything. Somethings remain out of focus. “Love one another,” teaches Jesus. That includes our enemies, those who persecute us, and those who disagree with us. Those are the words of Jesus. Obedience is the mark of Christian character.