Posts Tagged relationships

Watch What Happens

I wise mentor once said to me, “If you want to know what people really want, watch what happens.” Words are fine, actually more than fine. I love words. I make a living putting words on the page in a particular order to get a particular message out. But when it comes to character, watching what happens will tell you more about a person than their words.

Watching what you do will also tell you what you really want, no matter what you insisted upon verbally. I can tell you I’m over your slight when you stood me up at the movie theater. It’s OK. All is forgiven. But if you call me again and get the cold shoulder, you’ll know what I really think.

Words can be used as a subterfuge, to disguise our real desires and inclinations. Words can be true and direct, or they can misguide. But it’s much harder to cover up with our actions. Our actions display what we really want.

This is true even of larger issues.  People have ended relationships–marriages, jobs, business associations, sports teams, etc.–not by stating openly that they want out. Rather, they acted out until someone else–a spouse, boss, coach, etc.–ended the relationship for them. This gives the one who wanted out the advantage of being “out” without taking responsibility. They can say, “He left me!” “They fired me!” “The coach threw me off the team!” But it’s what they truly wanted all along.

The tricky part is, sometimes we act out what we really want, yet we are so adept at self-deception that we don’t realize what we’re doing. We can complain about happened–and mean it. We can feel the pain of loss and the grief of separation–and it’s real. But something down deep really wanted the outcome we got.

As my wise mentor said, “If you want to know what people really want, watch what happens.”



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Lessons from the Dead

Over the years as a pastor, hospital chaplain and hospice chaplain, I’ve had the privilege of sitting at many deathbeds listening to, and praying with, the dying. It’s the great moment of transition, the final days, hours, minutes, seconds of our life in the “here and now.”

A Single Theme

And what happens? For those who are able to engage, who don’t die suddenly, but who have the time to focus on what matters to them the most, a single theme emerges. First, let’s describe what this theme is not.

I’ve never heard anyone say, “Bring me my art collection.” “Show me a photo of my former corner office.” “Let’s talk about my BMW M5.” You get the idea. I’ve never heard anyone talk about stuff.

What Remains

Instead, if the person who is dying can speak or communicate, they want one thing: God and people. Relationships. They want to be with the ones they love. They want to hold hands, look into loving eyes, share words both tender and ordinary. Many want to mend fences that seemed irreparable before. They want love.

This is the time when all the inconsequential stuff of life, the temporary and soon forgotten, is pushed to the side, and only the vital and exceedingly important remains. That’s what people overwhelmingly gravitate to in the dying process. And, exceedingly important can be a quiet moment of silence, with a gentle touch, a loving presence. A quiet word, “I love you.” “Remember when we laughed so hard . . . ” kind of stories. You know, the really valuable things of life.


And then I wonder, why do I let things I won’t care about soon enough (sooner than I think, no doubt) give me so much grief? Why am I as easily distracted as a kitten who darts after every moving object?

I find that I want to focus more on what matters most. If it’s what the dying are talking about, then maybe that’s where the majority of my attention should be now. Why wait? Why let the jibber-jabber of life get more attention that it deserves?

I’m trying to learn the lessons the dying are inadvertently teaching.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks for reading.


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