The Terror of Being Yourself

10873388_10152907288147910_4720149628553749294_o“Its awful to have to be yourself.” ~Florida Scott-Maxwell

In my work as a therapist and speaker, I’m often helping people to realize their “blessing”, the ways in which God has uniquely created them. Like many others who do this work, I’ve discovered many are reluctant–even resistant to accepting this truth much less working to uncover what it means for them. If this is a message you are communicating to people of any age, it might be helpful to consider some of their reasons for resisting. Here are a few I’ve encountered:

I risk being let downagain.  If I believe you (and/or God) and it turns out to not be true, I set myself up for a fall, for disappointment, and I’m already plenty disappointed enough. People have let me down before, promised me things they couldn’t or even just wouldn’t deliver. Why are you any different? Why is God any different? As one person told me “If I expect to be disappointed, I’m less disappointed. I know that sounds bad, but its true.”

How much uniqueness is acceptable? As one teen told me, “I know people who are uniquely gay, and it seems to me that its not OK in many Church circles to be unique in that way. So, is it only OK to be unique in certain, Church approved ways?”

Past experience causes me to doubt you.  As one young adult told me reflecting on her teen years, “I tried it—And it didn’t work. People didn’t accept me. They hated me, rejected me and ignored me. Just because I wasn’t like them, I guess.”

I’m afraid of what being myself might mean. What will I have to live up to? Will I have to do something with my life that won’t make me happy? A teen relative of mine told me recently “You guys, speakers, teachers are always telling us ‘You have so much potential! Why are you wasting your potential when you could do so much with your life?’ But, when they say that I’m thinking “yeah, OK, but what if, I try and I don’t live up to my potential? I’ll be disappointed in myself. And what if I reach my potential and I cannot sustain it? If this happens I’ll let people down, including myself. And I’ve been let down before and I never, want to do that to someone else!”

I’m not convinced its worth the effort.  An adult once told me. “I respect you for being honest with me Roy, about how hard it is to discover and then live out one’s blessing or uniqueness. Because I have tried, and its a lot of work. And while I’m not there yet, what If I when I get there and upon discovering my gifts and talents, feel like it wasn’t really worth the effort and time I put in? I know you probably shouldn’t look at these things in terms of a Cost-Benefit analysis, but that’s what I do.”

I’m afraid of being lonely.  A very wise, young teen once told me “If there is something about me that sets me apart from every other person, honestly, I have to ask: what will I it be like to live that? It seems like a really lonely place….And I’m lonely enough already.”

If our message is important, and I believe it is, we must always ask “What might keep people from believing, trusting me and then living out this message?” This is only a partial list.  I’m sure you can add to it. And I’d love to hear from you. What other reasons do people have for resisting believing they are “blessed”, gifted, unique and special? Leave a comment or email me at

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“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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Of Course You Can Change Other People, But…

IMG_4028“You cannot change others, only yourself.” This self help dictum is so widely accepted, to challenge its validity, feels tantamount to heresy. Well, this won’t be the first time I’m called one of those.

Of course you can change other people.

Ask anyone who has ever been abused or bullied if they really believe that you cannot change other people and be changed by them.

At 40 years old I can still list names of the kids who “reminded” me everyday in school that I was fat and poor. I can also list the names of people in my late teens and early twenties who individually helped heal those wounds. They each changed me.

Each time my wife looks at me and touches my shame filled body, she changes me-the way I see myself, the way I feel about myself. Each time my boys smile at me and wrestle with me they change my identity, very gradually, from seeing myself as “fatherless”, to seeing myself as “father.” Of course I play a significant role in this, but so do they. And that unhelpful self-help cliche overemphasizes one to the detriment of the other.

Of course we can change other people.

The impetus of this saying is to redirect the focus of those who need others to change. When we need others to change or need to be the one who changes others we are not being motivated by the good of the other but by our ego. It is normal to appreciate the influence you have in the lives of others.

For Reflection:

How do I influence others?
How do others influence me?



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Being the Change You Wish to See

What am I willing to change in myself today so that peace is possible?10501797_10154457890780554_4681176850094917048_n

If Im not willing to be a more peaceful husband, dad, friend, driver, school uniform shopper then I cannot demand that same peace from others regardless of the violence of their actions. Road rage in Louisiana is not murdering children in Iraq, but our inability to see how they are connected will prolong and produce even more violence-in ourselves and others.

The truth is, its a lot easier to want “the world” to change than to change ourselves. But when we change, everything around us will change.

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What Teens Want You to Know but Don’t Tell You–Live Session


In 20 years of working with young people as a youth minister, campus minister and today as a counselor, I have spent many hours listening to young people. I knew they were telling me things they were not telling their parents and often thought:  “If’ parents could hear what I’m hearing from their teen, this could transform their relationships with their children.”  In this 75 minute live recording you’ll laugh alot and learn:

  • What young people really want-the answer will shock you.
  • The best time to talk with teens and young people.
  • SURPRISE! Why you may be doing a better job than you thought.
  • How to value and focus on influence rather than control.
  • Why kids respond to your questions with “fine” and “dunno” and skills effective therapists use to get  them to open up and keep them talking.
  • How to differentiate your issues from your teen’s issues.
  • How to recreate the “village” that no longer exists.
  • The difference between appropriate logical consequences and shame based relational consequences
  • How to talk about hot topic issues like, music, friends and how they dress.
  • Special communication tools that get boys (and husbands!) to open up and keep talking about significant issues
  • and much more!

Cost $12 (digital download)

Buy Now

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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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