“Just Be Yourself” is Not as Easy as it Sounds

Over lunch with a friend recently, I shared my nervousness about speaking at an upcoming event before a notoriously critical audience. He said, “Roy, don’t worry. Just be yourself.”

From Hugh MacLeod's Gapingvoid Blog

From Hugh MacLeod’s Gapingvoid Blog

At first that was comforting.  I thought “Of course, silly. Just be Roy.” As I drove away, it became less comforting. I found myself asking “What does that mean? What does it mean to ‘be myself’ Who is Roy”?

Upon reflecting, I realized that the word “just” is misleading. It implies that being one’s self is easy and simple. It is not. For most , it will be the most complex and difficult thing they ever do-and I suspect, is the work of a lifetime.

Being one’s self assumes one knows one’s self. At 40 years old, after almost twenty years of intentional inner work, I am still discovering who I am. I once thought that as I got older, I would achieve a greater simplicity of self knowledge. I am discovering the opposite to be true.

The more self aware I become the more I see myself as a very mixed bag. I’m realizing, painfully, that much of the good I’ve done in my life has been done largely for ego reasons, mixed motives at best.

The more I pray, the less I see myself as “all” of anything, which is incredibly difficult for me who’s nickname could be “All or Nothing.”

Within me is the Roy who feels called to simplicity of life and gave away everything he owned three times in his life alongside the Roy who asked for it all back twice and loves to own nice things.

There’s the encouraging, passionate, hopeful Roy next to the Roy who has battled bouts depression and despair his whole life.

There’s the Roy who wants to be humble, “hidden in Christ with God” who has never met a mic he didn’t like and loves the attention he receives when speaking in front of others.

There’s the Roy who longs to deeply listen to others but has trouble shutting up because he loves the sound of his own voice.

There’s the Roy who loves to pray in silence and solitude alongside the Roy who is frequently lonely and looks to others to distract, entertain and occupy him.

Would the real Roy please stand up?

On any given day I desperately wish any one of those selves would be the only, real one. As God would have it, the real Roy is all of those and many more–some I’d rather not share publicly, and others I’m still discovering.

As I sit with all of my inconsistent selves, I know that I sit with them before my consistent God who holds and loves all of me. And I suspect that the Roy who sits there is the realest Roy there is.

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What Your Teen Wants You to Know (Parents UNC Newman Center-Chapel Hill)

Below is the downloadable PDF presentation for parents who were at the workshop this morning at UNC Newman Center. Also below the presentation is the question bank I mentioned.


PARENTING Share copy

PETITFILS-Question Bank

Tips for Talking to Your Child


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“Wake Me Up When It Matters”: Effectively Calling Young People to Passionate Discipleship

See the link below for my second (Sunday) presentation at LA Congress along with “The List of Questions”Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 9.19.01 PM


PETITFILS-Question Bank

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The Question Behind the Question: What Young People are Really Asking about Matters of Faith and Life (LAREC 2014)

Click on the link below the picture to download Roy’s presentation from LA Congress 2014 Workshop 4-22 Saturday, March 15 at 10 AM.Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 12.31.08 PMLAREC 2014 Question Behind the Question

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Recreating the “Village” for Today’s Young People

It has always taken a “village” to raise young people and it always will. The needs of developing children are greater than any one family can provide. When I was growing up, we lived in the village–close to relatives and friends that were permitted to praise, cajole, counsel and love us. Today, because of numerous reasons, many youth are not growing up in a village. As I watch this generation of youth become more anxious by the day I’m confident that one contributing factor is the dwindling presence of meaningful adults in their lives.

When I counsel pre-teens and teens I ask them to hold up one hand  and point to each of five fingers naming a significant adult other than his parents he can go to for help if necessary. Most kids can’t name five people. I could have named at least ten when I was a teenager. As dysfunctional as my family was (and still is) I knew of at least ten adults a phone call away I could call for help–aunts, uncles, grandparents, coaches, cousins, clergy and family friends. Most teens don’t have this rich network of adult assets in their lives and don’t have the ego strength or skills to create one. That’s where we come in.

What You Can Do

In the absence of a natural “village” we must help youth create a healthy diversified support network of caring, safe adults. Some possibilities include:

  • encouraging your child to talk to one or two of his teachers he or she likes.
  • emailing  a specific teacher, counselor, coach or minister to request that they informally check in on your child.
  • asking an adult relative to take your child out to lunch or for coffee.
  • Making sure they are involved in at least one extra-curricular activity at school (or in some cases out of school)

Even when no “formal” counseling takes place, something even more important occurs. The child senses, albeit unconsciously, they are cared about. Although not able to articulate it, they sense they are part of a “village” that cares about them enough to check in on them and invest time in them.

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We Grow at the Rate of Pain

I heard it said once “We grow at the rate of pain.” I figure this to be true.  Up until I was 35, I needed to succeed in order to know and trust that I was capable and



For me it was marrying a phenomenal woman, developing and running a nationally recognized high school ministry program, writing and publishing a book, being sought out and paid to speak, earning my masters degree, having children and feeling like a competent father, and now having a thriving private practice.

Looking back, I can see that at about 34 years old, I began not needing those successes as much. Sure, they felt great, and still do when they come along, but gradually, they became less and less significant for me. Today, while I like to succeed, I don’t need it.  I’ve learned through life experiences and some amazing people that God has placed in my life, that I am lovable, valid and competent. In fact, many of the things I wanted to accomplish in my life no longer interest me because I know that if I wanted to, I could accomplish them.

Today, I learn mostly through pain. I learn and grow mostly when things don’t go my way. Today I learn more about myself when I have to confess to my wife that I lied to her about something trivial, or upon finishing a story admitting that I exaggerated it for effect because I was afraid the truth wouldn’t be quite as interesting. I learn when she holds me accountable for being in a bad mood when I get home and for losing my temper with my boys. I learn when friends remind me that “work”, even though it is ministry “work”, is not as important as the people, the relationships in my life. I grow when a mentor asks me when the last time I prayed was and I’m ashamed of the answer. I grow when I get an email from a person in the audience at a speaking engagement that challenges me on how I said something that offended them and invites me to consider another way of saying it. I grow when people

remind me that I’m not obese anymore and the “fat guy” humor isn’t funny, and to them never was because they always saw it as a way of masking my bodily shame. I grow when I have to openly admit in meetings that I, unlike everyone else in the room, am not understanding something, when it would be easier to pretend I do to avoid anyone thinking I’m not intelligent. I grow when, after fifteen years of therapy, I find myself slipping back into unhealthy patterns of eating, thinking, feeling and behaving, and call my therapist to set up an appointment. I grow when I sit in the chair and find myself still working through childhood/adolescent issues that I’ve been talking about for more than a decade, yet they seem to be reappearing again with different meaning. I grow when I fight everything in me that wants to flee from those unpleasant memories and feelings and consciously remember the memories, feel the feelings, cry the tears and pay the person that “helps” me to feel that pain. And then ask if we can do it again in two weeks. Sigh…

And my boys are still very young. They’re not even close to teens yet. That’s more than a decade of pain that awaits me!

I share this because pain without meaning is misery. And to be perfectly honest, while many have told me to “offer it up” for the holy souls or starving kids in China I never could wrap my head around that concept. I know it works for some, and believe God truly honors that, but it doesn’t work for me. What works for me is to see a connection between the pain I experience in my life and me growing in my capacity to love th

ose I don’t like or even hate, in my ability to be patient with my family when I’m tired or moody, in my ability to be more present to each person I’m with, in my becoming less reactive, more generous, more thoughtful and less self absorbed. These are the ways I grow through pain. In this way, the pain in my life can be suffering that is redemptive.

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Loving Oneself

Screen Shot 2012-09-05 at 7.59.01 AMFor many years counselors and spiritual directors have told me “You need to love yourself, Roy.” No doubt, you’ve heard it too. It’s often accompanied by the phrase “You can’t love others until you love yourself.” This by the way, is a widely accepted psycho-spiritual dictum that is not true (there are others…I’ll save them for another post). I know people, and for years I could count myself among them, who do not “love themselves” yet make choices to love others, some even heroically. It is more correct to say, the more you’re able to love and accept yourself, the better, you will love others.

I’ve always wondered how that happens. How, exactly, does one love themselves? There’s no manual for it. For years prayed, meditated and tried excruciatingly hard to “love myself” to no avail. I’ve concluded that self love and acceptance is not an intellectual, cerebral endeavor. We do not come to love and accept ourselves in a vacuum. An old African proverb says “We become who we are through other people.” It follows then, that we also must come to self love through other people. When you meet someone who truly loves themselves, you’ve met someone who has been looked at and gazed upon lovingly by people in their lives they considered to be significant. You’ve met someone who has been loved by others well enough and long enough to trust that there was something lovable, special and unique in them.

Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, once said,

“In each one of us there is such a deep wound, such an urgent cry to be held, appreciated and seen as unique and valuable. The heart of each one is broken and bleeding…. An experience of being loved and accepted in community, which has become a safe place for us, allows us gradually to accept ourselves as we are, with our wounds and all the monsters. We are broken, but we are loved.”

Who are the people (or perhaps the one person) in your life that have “seen” you?

Who are the people in your life who have ignored the mountain of evidence you’ve compiled to prove you are unloveable?

Think about them. Think about what they’ve meant for you. Call them. Write them. Visit them. If necessary ask them again what they saw…see in you. Then beg God for the grace to trust what you hear. Beg God for the grace to see yourself as they see you…as God sees you.



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When You Feel Like a Horrible Parent…

A few weeks ago I brought my boys to get a hair cut despite their Samsonite pleadings to spare them such inhumane torture and emasculation.  As we waited, a 7 year old boy, receiving a hair cut was jerking about, and screaming on his mothers lap as she tried to control him. I remember the look on his mom’s face: sad, embarrassed and powerless.

Others around me communicated their disapproval to the mom and staff nonverbally with eye rolling, huffs, puffs, shaking heads and folding of arms. To their credit it was not your “typical day at the salon.” As most 7 year olds have adjusted to the haircut experience, I was certain the child had developmental delays. I looked directly at the mom, smiled and said loud enough for everyone to hear “It’s OK, he’s just afraid he’ll walk out of here looking like me (bald)! She laughed as she fought back tears of relief that someone noticed and eased her shame.

Not every parent has a special needs child. But we’ve all experienced parental shame—times when we feel like a horrible parent. This feeling is deflating and disempowering—buying into it leads us to feel helpless and resigned. This is not good for the parent or the child. When you feel discouraged as a parent, remember:

“Parent” is not synonymous with “Perfect”. Of course you’re going to make mistakes, even some biggies. No one expects you to be perfect (except you)—even your child. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and course correct.

No one has it all together. Not even the experts. Every family has “issues.” Looks can be deceiving. Just because people don’t talk about their parenting foibles doesn’t mean they aren’t happening. They are. To everyone. Trust me.

Good Parents raise Good Kids Who Still Make Poor Choices. One of the great mysteries of Christianity is God’s audacity to give us a free will. That doesn’t start at adulthood—it is in us from the beginning. Young people make decisions for a variety of reasons many of which have little or nothing to do with you.

When Kids Feel Your Love for Them, They are Resilient to a Multitude of Parenting Mistakes. When young people know we love them, through spending time with them, involvement in their interests, setting healthy boundaries, keeping tabs on their whereabouts, specific verbal affirmation of who they are and are becoming in addition to their accomplishments, they aren’t ruined by a bad incident once in a while.

Doing something your parents did, which you vowed never to do, does not mean your child’s experience of that is like yours was. Just because your dad worked a lot and you felt cheated by not having enough time with him, does not mean that your hectic work schedule will contribute to your child feeling cheated. How do you spend your time not at work?

Read good books and blogs. Read old stuff as there is wisdom out there that is never dated. Read current blogs to stay abreast of youth culture trends, behaviors and interests. Audio books are a great source of information as well.  One book I’m reading now which I love is by Bill Doherty called Take Back Your Kids. Very counter cultural, well written and helpful. Another great book by Dr. Bob McCarty is  Raising Happy Holy Healthy Teenagers. 

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Why Millennials are Leaving the Church

In the last ten years I’ve been asked thousands of times, “Why are kids leaving the Church?”. In a recent CNN article entitled “Why Millennials are Leaving the Church” Rachel Evans, a millennial herself, offers a thoughtful answer to that question: (emphasis added)

“We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around.

We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.” 

Ironically, days later Pope Francis, speaking to young people at World Youth Day, said “It is not pastoral creativity or meetings or planning that ensure our fruitfulness, but our being faithful to Jesus.”


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Everyone Else’s Parents…


…let them have an iPhone.

…lets them drink.

…lets them stay out till ____.

…is letting them go to ___ party.

…lets them drive their own car.

…knows their kids smoke and don’t mind. …are so much cooler than you (guys).

…lets them keep their phone all night.

…do not read their kids’ text messages.

… (Fill in the blank) _____.

You’ve heard it all before and can no doubt add your own. Many parents believe this classic manipulative line by their (pre)teen. And to their credit, teens believe its true. That is their perception. But their perception does not have to be your reality.  Many parents make decisions which are often at odds with a cultural that is becoming more accessible, available and permissive.

Here are some facts and solid adolescent psychology/spirituality on which you can base your decisions:

  • Teens, especially pre-teens, do not have the ego strength to handle the frequency, intensity and quantity of interaction that smartphones afford them.
  • Teens do not always know whats best for them.
  • Most teens cannot resist returning communication to their friends regardless of the hour.
  • Unfettered access to technology, especially mobile technology is contributing to the fragmentation of the teen personality and soul. This looks like the following that is off the normal developmental spectrum, changing friend groups, depression, anxiety, obsessiveness with being liked, narcissistic tendencies and apathy.
  • Our personalities and souls integrate (become whole—mature) during down times, silent times and times of reflection. Most teens today have very little, if any time to reflect.
  • The obesity rates in America are skyrocketing while teens are becoming less active and many wonder if there’s any connection between the two…hmmm…when bored or have nothing to do, teens will opt for technology. Even youth who would normally prefer to be outdoors and be active will opt for texting, gaming, chatting and surfing if available to them.
  • The dangers your parents had to protect you from were more obvious than the dangers you must protect your child from and therefore it is likely that you are having to work harder, longer and smarter at parenting than your parent(s) did. Add to that, in general, there are twice as many kids being raised in single parent homes today than when your were a child and it becomes even more difficult.

A Few Words of Hope…

I work with pre(teens) every day, all day–and I often here those same teens who say the above to you, tell me:

“You know Mr. ‘Pedophile’, I’m glad my parents took my phone away…it gave me a chance to sleep. PLEASE don’t tell them I told you that.”

“My friends asked me once ‘Why won’t your parents let you come out with us?’ and I said “UHHH…. Because they LOVE me! Duh… Now I ain’t gonna tell my mom that, Roy, but I KNOW it.”

I do want a relationship with my parents. I do want to spend time with them. But we’re all so busy. I wish we could just get away and talk to each other…focus on each other and not what we do wrong.”

“…every night we sit at the table and my dad forces us to say one thing—and trust me its specific!-that we’re grateful for each day. It drives me f__’n crazy…but you know as I look back on it (today at 17) its now the thing in my day I look forward to the most. I can’t wait to do that with my kids.”

Your teen is not going to like you today for your vigilant parenting. But the price you pay today, being willing for them to not like you, will earn you their respect and continued love when they are adults. And it will help them to parent their children.

Trust your gut. Pray for your children. Pray for God’s grace in to sustain you in your parenting. I’m praying for you as well! (please do the same for me! My son wants to shoot the Holy Spirit so you know I’ve got my hands full!)

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