Saturday, June 25, 2016

Steadiness Amongst Difficult People

We all most likely have someone for whom we do something nice, most likely more than once, or even for many years, and it brings no response. 

And we may have someone with whom we are attempting to break down walls with, oftentimes a close relative, so that when we are with that someone we go out of our way to be exceptionally kind: we focus the conversation on them; ask questions about their life; show an interest in who they are and affirm their best qualities verbally. And after several interactions with us being on our best behavior in order to strengthen the relationship, nothing in the relationship with that person changes: it is no deeper, no richer and no more rewarding than if we had said nothing at all.

What to do? How to react? How to go forward?

For many of us, the temptation to respond in revenge, the cold shoulder, criticism, victim mentality and any other number of self-soothing patterns is very real. 

It can feel surprisingly good to lambast a person who—no matter how hard we try to reach out to in good fellowship—can’t seem to reciprocate. However, that satiated feeling of having gotten even is usually short lived. And the reason is, if we are a child of God, He won’t let us be comfortable with a response that is obedient to self and not Him.

I know as well as anyone that people can drive us crazy. There are people—friends and family even—who make us feel invisible, inconsequential and short of measuring up. 

For many years, when it came to interacting with a certain person, I felt that I was solely the problem. Especially in a situation where the person I was attempting to build a stronger relationship with acted totally uninterested, but at the same time was abundant in their praise and close connection with a mutual relative. It was my take-away that I will never be in the “in” crowd with this person due to some personal failing or character trait.

Over time, I realized that I was allowing this person to drive me crazy. And then I realized that, as a Christian, I have a choice: I don’t have to let anyone drive me crazy.

That’s when it dawned on me to remember who I belong to and who it is I am called to listen to: my Triune God of Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. 

This is essential for two reasons: one, so that I do not commit the self-indulgent sins I listed earlier. My goal is to keep my heart pure, in spite of the reactions and responses of those around me.

Second, remembering who I belong to is essential so that I do not blame myself for something that is emanating from another person and not me. Certainly we hold ourselves accountable before God when we review past and present interactions with the person we are trying to make inroads with. God will show us where we may have sinned against this person. If so, we make it right with God and ask Him to set us straight going forward.

Only God can map out the ground rules for further interaction with this person. 

God is the one who tells us who we are in Christ, so that the other person’s estimation of us does not hold sway. And if their estimation does not hold sway, we can much more steadfastly keep our emotions and mental attitude firmly grounded in Christ. And when we are firmly grounded in Christ, we will obey Christ: we will maintain an attitude of love towards any person because Christ first loved us (even when we were living in deep darkness and ignorance, often hurting those around us just as we are now being hurt).

This love for the other is not focused on the other, it is focused on Christ: received from Christ for the other. This love is mustered up out of a deep need for and desire to follow Christ in every relationship because of our deep and loving relationship with Him.

Christ is the fount of our not lashing out, not falling into the silent treatment, not conducting ourselves in a passive-aggressive manner in hopes of indirectly swiping back at another. Christ says to turn to His love and He will pour it out on the other through us. 

And with this love will come Jesus’ compassion; the compassion that brings the discernment that “they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

It is that compassion that can show us that, due to ignorance, a need to be needed, control issues, lack of a good marriage or childhood, and any number of inner inadequacies and spiritual voids, people will act very badly toward one another. Sometimes they won’t even know they are doing it.

Viewing the situation from this perspective can go a long way in snuffing out our indignation. But if not, if our passions threaten us, we turn to God, pick up His guiding Word, go to the Psalms, pray for the nemesis (and that we would be forgiving) and let maturity in Christ take root and stabilize us in our moment of hair-pulling as well as going forward. 

The point is to truly crave a clean heart and right spirit before God. When that replaces all fleshly drives, we will hear joy and gladness and our broken bones will rejoice. We will indeed be sustained with a willing Spirit to please God alone (Psalm 51). Only then will we be free of the prison of other people’s hold on us.

Copyright Barb Harwood

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence
And do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:10-12

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” Romans 12:1-3

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Romans 12:14

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:17-21

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Myth of "Just the Way We Are"

Quote of the day: 

"The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word 'love', and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. 'Thou has created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created' (Revelation 4:11). We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest 'well pleased'. To ask that God's love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled, by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable. We cannot even wish, in our better moments, that He could reconcile Himself to our present impurities..."

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The End of Expectations

I was walking with a friend the other day, and we were talking about how we don’t really learn anything until we go through it. I said,
“You don’t know what you don’t know until you know it.”

Coming to the understanding of things—to realizations about oneself, others and relationships—can be painful. It pops the balloons of imagination and splinters expectations. But that is a good thing, because what we imagine, or expect life to be like, or people to be like, or babies and children to be like, or a new job or house to be like, is usually a self-centered perspective.

When we get married, we may imagine how our husbands will be, but it will be our imagination, often not based on reality or past experience with the man who was our boyfriend before he became our husband.

Boyfriend to husband and girlfriend to wife is just a title change: the person is still the same. Yet we allow ourselves to fall into this weird twilight zone of believing that a status change constitutes a personality or character change as well. And it all comes as a result of how we perceive it will be, and not based on how it has been or currently is.

In this process of what is often known as wishful thinking, we tend to forget that we will undergo a title change as well. Do we give any regard at all to the fact that we are going from girlfriend to wife, or boyfriend to husband? Do we consider what that means? Or do our expectations only include how our future husband or wife will be: how he or she will now act, respond, communicate and contribute now that he or she is our spouse?

This is something I feel is not talked about when couples date. They may daydream together about how they’ll raise their kids, or the trips they’ll take together, or where they’ll live. But they often don’t share what their perception of their fianc√© as a spouse is.

They often don’t share things such as,
 “When we’re married, you’ll take care of the lawn and I’ll take care of all the car repairs.”
They often don’t say,
“Once we’re married, I’ll cook on the days you work late, and you can cook on the weekends.”
They often neglect to posit their assumption that,
"When we're married, you'll always be able to read my mind."

Even if couples live together before marriage, they often think that the act of simply going through a marriage ceremony is going to change everything bad in their relationship, or make up for whatever is lacking.

And when that doesn’t happen, couples are overwhelmed by the fact that their expectations are not being met.

Couples drowning in disillusionment—and the stress that follows—have three rather dismal options: close themselves off from their spouse and hunker down for a life of walking on egg shells; constant bickering and nit-picking, or jumping ship.

Or they can grab a rather hopeful and joyful life buoy: honest and open communication with hearts and minds humbly grounded in reality. They can look at each other and their situation and actually talk to one another, instead of communicating only with the voices in their own individual heads.

Putting all expectations away, they can each share with the other what they are struggling with and what they would like to see changed. Having each been affirmably heard, they can come to agreements and compromises that will allow them to go forward in confidence that the marriage can and truly will grow in strength, love and respect.

But it means turning off the “me” spigot and jumping into the pool of “we,” humbly realizing that our spouse has just as much value and need to be loved and respected as we do.

We are not in a marriage for our own benefit and wellbeing. Each of us is placed in marriage for the glory of God first, and for the other person second. And when God is indeed glorified in the daily life of the marriage, the other person is as well. 

copyright Barb Harwood

“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of like mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfish or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2: 1-7