Posts Tagged ‘Change’

LIVING IN THE STORM

Posted: May 12, 2012 in Emotions, Life!, Work, Worry
Tags: , , ,

I haven’t written a blog post in some time so I decided to pick up the pen (actually laptop) again. The truth is, I have not had a clear enough head to put any thoughts together in an organized fashion, and that is a good description of my whole life right now.

In September of last year, I left the job I had and loved for 14 years.  I am fully convinced I was following God in this and I am still convinced today. What I seemed to forget is that following God will sometimes put you right in the middle of a storm!  Look at this passage from Matthew 14: Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray… Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves.  Do you get the picture here?  The disciples were doing exactly what Jesus had instructed them to do and it put them right in the middle of the storm.

I thought about just listing the frustrating events that have been my life over the past 7½ months since I moved back to Mississippi but every time I would start to write them, I would hear a little kid voice in the back of my head saying, “I think I hear the whambulance.”  Just so you know, for some time now I have been working on a manuscript for a new book titled: AM I CRAZY OR WHAT?  I suppose after the disclosure that I hear kid voices in my head one might conclude that I am giving away the ending of the book. But I digress.

While sitting alone in my blue Lazyboy, I got the idea to write down a list of the areas of my life that have been wounded, some dramatically, since last September. Then I wrote down another list of the fears I have in each one of those areas, fears of what might go wrong, fears of more pain. And then, finally, I wrote down a third list of what I really hope for in those areas in the future.

And it hit me: my list of fears on the one hand and my list of hopes on the other represent two different visions for my future coming out of what has been the most painful and challenging rip in that imaginary protective membrane surrounding my life that I have lived in for the past 14 years. There are two very different destinations for which I can set my internal compass at this point. I mean, I can’t stay where I am. That’s one of the realities of pain. It always drives us somewhere. The question for me is … where will I wind up?

Actually, I think that’s the question that faces every one of us when we suffer in this life. What are we going to do with the pain of divorce or injustice or physical infirmity; the death of a dream, a betrayal, the death of a loved one or any other loss. How are we going to grieve? How are we going to react to loss? (And the word “grief” is simply a way of describing our reaction to a loss).

Beginning with my next post, I am going to look at the topic of grief.  Please feel free to send me an email if you have a story of grief recovery or if you have a question about the grief process.

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I read this story recently:

In April of 1988 I came home to discover that my mother had left home. Most of her belongings were gone as well as the mobile concession trailer that my dad and a man named Lloyd had finished working on just that weekend. In a few hours my dad and I received a call from Lloyd’s wife. She was wondering where he was. It did not take long to figure out what had happened. In about 2 weeks we got a call from my mom. She and Lloyd were in the state of Washington. Since then I’ve only seen my mother about 5 times. Before my mother left we fought constantly and the fights were even more intense afterward. It wasn’t until 1992 that we started to get along again. We’ve had several shaky moments since then but for the most part we get along ok. The lack of closeness between me and my mother and the disintegrating relationship between my mom and dad created serious consequences for me. I’m still working on such things as what real intimacy is and how to develop it in my own marriage as well as how to communicate strong feelings without starting a fight. There is still distance between my mother and me that I’m not sure can be erased simply because she has missed such a large part of my life. I struggle with feelings of bitterness even though I’m trying to forgive her.

I see bitterness as a self-damaging result of unforgiveness.  Today I want to explore this and other relationship damaging, life blocking symptoms of a person who carries a load of unforgiveness.

a. Bitterness

Bitterness is so deceptive because it is perfectly legitimate to feel hurt and abandoned and betrayed. The problem lies in how we responsed to these emotions. It is our response to these emotions that get us into bitterness.

See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. Hebrews 12:15 NIV

Bitterness takes root in our heart and continues to grow into a huge tree. In Florida, we had an over abundance of what we affectionately called “stink weed.” It would completely overtake an azalea bush we had in our front yard.  It had to be pulled out but when you pull it out is when you understand where it gets its nickname.  It would stink to high heaven!  Bitterness is much like sink weed in that it makes our personality stink to everyone who comes into contact with us. It causes us much trouble and pain within ourselves. And because we have become embittered, we defile others with our negativity. Do you know anyone like that?

Another way to know if you have a pattern of unforgiveness toward someone is that you may tend to have:

b. Shallow Relationships

This one is not only related to unforgiveness but people that have patterns of unforgiveness rarely have deep relationships because deep relationships require conflict. Did you realize that? You are not in a deep relationship with anyone with whom you have not had a major conflict. Conflict and deep relationships go hand in hand.  People who have a pattern of unforgiveness tend to avoid conflict because it plays back the tapes of the past that are so fresh because forgiveness hasn’t taken place. So let me just ask you, are you struggling with unforgiveness? Is there some bitterness in your life? Are there many people who really know who you are? Or do you tend to stay pretty shallow with people?

Is there someone you need to forgive?  I’m not going to tell you it is easy but I am going to tell you it is do-able and necessary if you want to find joy and fulfillment in life.

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REVIEW

The goals of relational King of the Hill are:

  • To take charge of other people, and to take charge of them without their permission.
  • To order the world around you the way you want it, with little regard for the feelings of the other people in your life.
  • To seize and maintain the upper hand in relational interactions.
  • To maintain your position by pushing others away when they challenge your territory.

In other words, you come to the point where you are convinced that your way of doing things – including relationships – is superior to everyone else’s; that there isn’t a whole lot left for you to learn on the subject; and even if there was, it doesn’t really matter because you are strong enough to make everyone around you submit to your way.

HOW TO CHANGE

If we are ever going to quit playing the King of the Hill game we must ask God to help us lose our pride and self-sufficiency and to humble us. We must admit the truth about ourselves, that we are masters of the game, and then turn from it. This is the foundation of change.

Once that attitude is established, there are some things we can start to do differently.

1. Become a student of people and relationships.

2. Get to the point where these three phrases fall freely from our lips:

  • “I was wrong.”
  • “Please forgive me.”
  • “I love you.”

Why are these phrases so important? They are words of humility and dependence – exactly the opposite of the pride and self-sufficiency.

3. Use your ears more than you use your mouth.

This takes the focus off of self and puts it onto others.

4. Give the lead position to others whenever possible.

Learn that you won’t die if you aren’t the king.

5. Start relying on God more than self-effort.

Remember that the reason we play the game is because we feel insufficient, and so we overcompensate to make up for it. This root must be destroyed in us.

After Nebuchadnezzar had his sanity restored, his life was more characterized by these behaviors than by King of the Hill behaviors. And you know what happened? Buried there towards the end of the passage is this little phrase …

The hope and promise for all of us who will give up the game. Is that we will attract others instead of driving them away. It won’t happen overnight, but with God’s help, it will happen.

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BIG TIME PLAYERS

Ok, be honest – do you see any of the tendencies in the previous post in yourself? Have other people ever pointed out things like this to you about how you relate to them and others? (By the way, they aren’t your enemies when they do that. They’re actually doing you a favor.) And here is the tough question: when you consider the relational struggles in your life, how strong is the need to cover your insecurities with pride and self-sufficiency. Could it be that this is what is pushing people away and not that they are just being mean to you?

If you answer yes to any of those questions, I’ve got good news and bad news for you. The good news is that there is hope. You can change. The bad news is that it won’t happen overnight. There is no magic or prayer that will transform you immediately. It’s a difficult process of breaking you and remaking you that God will bring about in your life if you will let him.

There was a king in biblical times named Nebuchadnezzar who eventually became ruler over the entire Middle East. He had a serious King of the Hill complex. He had such a bad case that he built statues of himself and ordered the people to bow down to them and worship.

But, along the way, God got involved in his life and began to change him. It began with a strange dream he had and a prophecy that God would break him of his pride.

Twelve months later, [Nebuchadnezzar] was taking a walk on the flat roof of the royal palace in Babylon. As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Just look at this great city of Babylon! I, by my own mighty power, have built this beautiful city as my royal residence and as an expression of my royal splendor.’

Translation: “Look at me, I’m King of the Hill!”

“While he was still speaking these words, a voice called down from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you! You are no longer ruler of this kingdom. You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.’

Translation: “There is another King higher up the hill than you!”

“That very same hour the prophecy was fulfilled, and Nebuchadnezzar was driven from human society. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven. He lived this way until his hair was as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails were like birds’ claws.

It took seven years to get to this point of total brokenness.

“After this time had passed, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven. My sanity returned, and I praised and worshiped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever. His rule is everlasting, and his kingdom is eternal. All the people of the earth are nothing compared to him. He has the power to do as he pleases among the angels of heaven and with those who live on earth. No one can stop him or challenge him, saying, ‘What do you mean by doing these things?’

“When my sanity returned to me, so did my honor and glory and kingdom. My advisers and officers sought me out, and I was reestablished as head of my kingdom, with even greater honor than before. “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble those who are proud.” Daniel 4:4-37 [NLT]

In my next post I want to give you five practical steps that you can take to end the game of King of the Hill in your relationships.

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God did not put you on earth just so you could be a self-centered clod.  In fact the Bible teaches that one day we will be evaluated on how we did in two areas: Did we learn to love God with all our heart?  And did we learn to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Life is not about achievements, it is not about accomplishments.  It is not about acquisition.  It is about relationships.  It’s why God put you on this planet.  Love is the main thing.

This year the 40 day spiritual renewal emphasis at Wahoo Church (the church that calls me pastor and probably a few other things from time to time) is love.  Our goal is for each of us to become great lovers.  We want to learn how to develop loving relationships.  Each week during this campaign I will post at least one article on the topic of love.

1. A great lover is committed to growth. 

You don’t become a great lover accidentally.  It is intentional.  You’re going to have to make a commitment to growth.  When Larke and I first got married I was the world’s worst gift giver in the history of mankind.  I would wait till the last minute, run out and find something girlish looking, purchase it home and give it to her… usually in the purchase bag!  While I am still not in the top percentile of gift givers, I did make a commitment to growth in this area of our relationship. 

I begin in the summer of each year praying that God would lead me to a special Christmas present for the woman who most think is a saint just for putting up with me on a daily basis.  I started listening to her and making notes when she says, “Oh, that is cute.”  If I am going to be able to wear the title, Dr. Love, it starts with a commitment to grow.

2.  A great lover has great role models.  

Now don’t get me wrong.  I love my dad and I treasure every lesson I learned from him in life (Even though I can’t use most of them in mixed company).  However, he did very little modeling when it came to this Christmas present issue.  He had a lady sales clerk at one of the department stores in our town be a personal shopper for him before personal shoppers were in vogue.  He would contact her about three weeks before Christmas and she would pick out a gift for my mom, wrap it and set it aside for my dad to pick up the week prior to Christmas.  He saw it when mom saw it.  Now as far as I know my mom was cool with this set up because the lady sales clerk did a good job.  This does not work in all situations. 

Some people see the love that goes into the thoughtful planning, shopping, and preparation of the gift for presentation just as important as the gift.  On one level, I see their point.  Now my dad was a great role model in work ethic and the fine art of a dry sense of humor but Christmas shopping, not so much. (Sorry for throwing you under the bus dad.)

Jesus is the model of perfection in relationships.  He was the Son of God.  He was perfect.  He was the only one who knew how to handle relationships perfectly.  As in all areas of life, he makes a great role model.

If we want become a great lover we would do well to listen to others like Jesus did, look at others like he did, give to others like he did and go to others like he did.   

Our theme Bible verse for the 40 Days of Love is 1 Corinthians 16:14 Everything you do must be done with love.”  One of the key words in this verse is the little word “do.”  There’s a difference between information and transformation.  If all you do is press the “Like” button on this article you are never going to become more loving.  You must move from your commitment to growth and observing your role model to actually practicing your love skills.  You must develop the habits of a great lover.  I will be exploring those skills and habits in future blog posts.

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Long ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was a youth pastor.  I have very fond memories of those day for the most part.  Some of those memories make me want to scratch my head and wonder how I survived to write about it!

One memory that came back to me this week while I was thinking about the topic of forgiveness was a retreat to a state park in north Mississippi.  It was a great week of community building with our small but growing youth group.  We had incredible worship music (led by your humble blogger) and great Bible teaching (led by my friend, Ronnie Estes).

Everything was going great until the afternoon swim time at the lake about the second day in.  We were playing a very competitive game of water volleyball when after a very athletic jump up and spike I came down and immediately thought a shark had bitten my leg off.  In reality I had landed on a rusty nail that went through my big toe and was protruding just south of my toenail.

Without thinking (which is how I often operate in crisis mode) I grabbed the head of that evil intruder and pulled it from my toe.  And you may be thinking, what the heck does that have to do with forgiveness?  Thank you for your concern and I am getting to that right now.

When we refuse to forgive, we are allowing a painful foreign object to continue to cause us pain.  Now, pulling that nail out of my toe was not a walk in the park but my first thought was not to hold a grudge against the state of Mississippi for allowing that nail to take up residence at the bottom of the lake.  My first thought was not to get even but to get relief.  Often we are hurting and we feel like if we forgive we are letting the offender off easy.  No, we are letting ourselves off.  Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves!

If I had left that nail in my toe just so I could prove to people that I had a reason to be hurting, before long I would have been dealing with infection.  Holding on to hurt by refusing to forgive will lead to the infection of bitterness.  And bitterness creeps into our character very quickly.

Let me encourage you to pull out that nail of hurt.  You say, “You don’t know what they did to me” and you are right but I do know what our sins did to Jesus on the cross… could it be worse than that?  If you need help, find someone to guide you through the process.  I would be happy to help.  You can contact me through my web site www.ready4lifecounseling.com.  Go to my contact page for phone or email contact information.

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Do you ever wake up in the morning and think, “Today is going to be different, only to realize that by lunch you have fallen back into those same old ways of relating to people and those same old bad habits.  You feel like there’s a tug of war going on inside of you.  You feel like your life could be summed up in one word – disappointment.  I have tried everything from prayer, to resolutions, to self-help tapes and even hypnosis.  But you end up frustrated because you can’t seem to stop making the same mistakes? 

Have you ever felt that way?  The truth is good intentions are never good enough to change us.  It takes more than just desire to change.  If desire was all you needed to change I’d wear size medium shirts and size 32 waist pants right now but it takes more than desire and it takes more than good intentions to change. 

We get stuck in a cycle that goes like this: Good intentions – Failure – Guilt – Good intentions – Failure – Guilt – Good intentions – Failure – Guilt … and round and round and round the Merry-Go-Round we go!  We can all relate when Paul talks about this in Romans 7:  “I don’t understand myself at all for I really want to do what is right but I don’t do it.  Instead I do the very things I hate.”  He says, “All the things I want to do I end up not doing and all the things I know are wrong I end up doing.  I’m a mess”

If you’ve ever felt that way then you are going to be very thankful you found this blog this week.  This week I am going to share with you a plan that will help you defeat those stubborn, persistent, lifelong temptations that keep dragging you down.  Those struggles that no matter how much you’ve tried to stop, no matter how much you’ve tried to change they just keep coming back and coming back.  And you’ve struggled with them all your life.

The Bible gives us the pathway to freedom but before we look at this five point plan I am going to ask you to prepare the ground of your heart to receive them.  Sometimes we get so used to the Merry-Go-Round that we would rather stay in the cycle than risk what is outside the carnival of pain and slavery.  So today’s assignment is to:

  1. Ask yourself if where you are is where you want to spend the rest of your life.  Most people won’t risk change unless the pain of the present is greater than the fear of change.
  2. Pray that God would empower you to act on what you learn.  The power for change comes from the same One who supplies the power for salvation… God.  You say yes and He says let’s go!
  3. If you know of someone who is trapped in the cycle mentioned above, direct them to this blog this week.  Friends who care share (Hey, that’s pretty good.  I may have to share that again!).

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