We live in a world that more often than not lends itself toward constant comparisons. We compare everything under the sun. Our marriages, kids, jobs, churches, clothes, cars, names, yes! You name it. We compare it. Anything and everything can fall victim to the comparison game that is perpetually in motion in our minds.
Comparison trap is more like it.
The first problem with comparison is that it inevitably leads to a perpetual lack of contentment or satisfaction with your lot in life. This kind of satisfaction or contentment referenced here isn’t about compromising or settling or not having goals. No indeed! All of those things are important. But our expectations (of ourselves and others) shouldn’t be tied to comparisons. They should rather be born out of truth, sincerity, and authenticity. I am talking about expectations and goals that are achievable because they aren’t contingent upon how many likes you get on your instagram post. They are achievable because they aren’t contingent upon replicating someone else’s (perceived) success. Rather they are expectations and goals based on what we want to accomplish in order to make our homes, our communities, and our world a better place, and our life, a better life. For instance, if all of your life you dreamed about becoming a baker, that is wholly different from wanting to become a baker simply because your next door neighbor is a baker and he seems to have it a lot better than you do….better cars, spouse, kids, a greener yard. You get the picture.
The second problem of comparison is that we inevitably teach it to our children. In this year 2018 our kids are already inundated with a plethora of electronics and social networking options. Most of them spell trouble. They really don’t need disgruntled and malcontented adults aggravating that situation. Is social networking fun, productive, and a terrific tool for communication? Yes, to all of those things. But what we must know as parents, what we must understand is this: Most social networking sites spell trouble for our kids. We must teach our kids to be masters of their social networking habits, not the other way around. Comparisons are part and parcel of social networking. Today our young citizens, our children, are navigating dicey, emotional, distressful and confusing social scenarios that I didn’t even dream about when I was a kid. Because all of our communication was done in person with the occasional exception of a land line telephone call. The comparison trap was alive and well in those days too. But today’s penchant for comparison is ginormous. The onslaught of media choices and social networking sites has offered the comparison game a robust revival, a new catalyst for wreaking havoc in people’s lives and in their relationships.
So what happens as a result of the comparison trap?
This. It’s an irony really. Rather than achieving more, we achieve less. Because comparison dictates our pursuits. Rarely do we pursue what is best for us, for our kids, for others around us, when we are so focused on “keeping up with the Jones” So, we achieve less and less, while we continue to want more and more.
And this. Our relationships decline. In dire circumstance, they may collapse. Our work relationships, personal, marital, parenting, and peers. They are all vulnerable. Because as we constantly pine away for what we see as the optimum life or job or marriage partner or daughter or son-well, the one right in front of us is starving for our attention.
I think Paul the Apostle said it best in 2 Corinthians 10:12. “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”
It is time to take stock of what we have. What do we have in the warehouse of our lives that needs to be inventoried? What good things, rare and beautiful treasures, are right under our noses just begging for examination? Take them down from the shelf, dust them off, and remember. How can we shift our focus from what we are missing to what we have? How would this change the way we see ourselves, our spouse, our children, or our jobs? And how will it move us from discontent to joy? I think the answer is critical in propelling us forward on a positive course toward joy and success.
I read a twitter from some dude who slammed Texans with this retort: “There are a lot of Christians in Texas, so any of you want to explain your god doing this?” That seems like sort of a na-na, na-na, boo–boo kind of thing to say to people who are already deeply hurting. Well, while you’re at it twitter boy, “Did God cause the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the Bubonic Plague, the Suffrage of Women, The Depression, the POW camps? Where was He in the civil rights crisis, the Oklahoma tornadoes, or the Oklahoma City bombing? The presence of God is not manifested by the absence of suffering. NO more than our faith is dependent upon an easy life. Indeed, just the opposite.
Time for a bible lesson. If you insist on demanding a response from “Christians,” regarding God’s part in causing something like Hurricane Harvey, well then you deserve a scriptural answer. According to Hebrews 12:1, faith is defined as “Assurance about what we do not see…..By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” In other words, our faith is not validated by what we know, rather, it is demonstrated and embedded in our souls based on what we don’t fully know and understand. That may sound reckless to an unbeliever. However, when your own personal experience testifies to the presence and involvement of your Creator in ways you can catalogue, then you realize and know that the promise of Jesus is not “I will be with you only in the absence of pain,” but rather, “I will be with you always…” (Matthew 28:20). Suddenly, the decision to profess a faith-based on the “assurance of what we do not see,” doesn’t seem so crazy after all. Suddenly the belief that-“God is with us in Hurricane Harvey even though He didn’t stop it from coming,”-is an easier concept to grasp. And in the process, it moves us forward, not backward. Here, I will defer to the answer given by three Jewish teenagers to their captor, King Nebuchadnezzar in 585 BC: “ If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3)
Why oh why is there so much suffering in this world? This naturally troubles Jesus followers, how much more so can we expect that it will challenge those who don’t follow Jesus, like our Twitter friend for instance? This is a very difficult, age-old question, albeit with a very simple answer: This isn’t heaven people. It is the same earth we read about in Genesis 3 when God told man “because of this, (this=Man’s first sin) you shall……” and God went on to name a litany of trials that would now befall man and woman, which we could sum up here in one word: “suffer.” “Because of this, you shall suffer.” In that singular Genesis 3 moment we were all cast into a world of sickness and despair, one that required grace upon grace in order to be saved from that suffering. And if you care to read scripture even more, the bible is chock full of stories about the suffering of man, God’s beloved people no less, and God’s role and/or HIs responses to that suffering. So natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey aren’t new to this earth and neither is suffering. Furthermore they’re certainly not new to God.
I apologize to those of you who wanted an answer that was something much more apocalyptic in nature or for those of you who wished I would’ve just conceded and denounced God all together. But for those of you in that first camp, suffering has been aplenty every century that this earth has existed. We have already pointed that out. For those of you in that second camp, living life without God is not an option for me. While I am not certain that he is the author of all manner of suffering, (there are too many boneheads out there making poor choices to blame God for everything,) I can undoubtedly assure you, with the greatest of certainty, that he is the author of all good things. “ Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17
1 Peter 3:15 says …”Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” I believe the Genesis 3 story outlined here can truly be the beginning of the answer we give to anyone who asks us as Christians “Where was God in Harvey, or when your husband left you, or when your loved one died, or when you lost your child? Where was God when you lost your job, or when you were betrayed by your business partner?”
But neither is that the end of the story.
And it’s only part of the answer.
God’s presence and action is palpable in His people. For centuries, Jesus followers have been known for their uncanny way of unleashing God’s strength and His provision upon people as they themselves soak up God’s strength and provision. This is so very evident in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” God pours into us, and we pour out. This very truth has yet again been played out right before our eyes in Houston. As I type this, churches all over the Houston metropolitan area have literally deployed to every part of the city, boots on, and sleeves rolled up, knee-deep in flood water, loving on victims while water vacuuming their floors and tearing out drywall. We can’t spend too much time demanding answers from God about Hurricane Harvey. And why would we anyway? It has happened. And as long as we are on this Genesis 3 earth there will be suffering. The rest of the story is up to us. Will we “unleash” the love of God into our own homes, and into our communities with unrelenting fervor? Hopefully, we will, and in so doing, we can move people from a place of seeing God only as their accuser to a place of seeing God as their provider.
Haynes, a Rhodes College professor, highlights the segregation crisis of 1964-1965 in Protestant churches in the South by telling the story of the “Kneel-In” campaigns across the south, primarily composed of college age student protestors, particularly in Memphis and particularly at the Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, a suburban wealthy white church, that actually started in downtown Memphis but as it grew, the church moved to the suburbs. I love this book for many reasons. Kneel-Ins were similar to the “Sit-Ins” of those days that happened at cafes and diners to protest segregation. Kneel-Ins were non-violent prayerful protests of segregated churches. Haynes says “Unusual features of the SPC Kneel-Ins were its duration, the prominent role played by white students, the low profile maintained by the church’s ministers during the crisis and the church schism that resulted.” The schism being the split that inevitably resulted when the church FINALLY welcomed desegregation which resulted in the hardliners (the elders and their followers) that had stood staunch against integration, moved out to start a new church, “Independent Presbyterian Church” also of Memphis. Both churches are still in Memphis today. Both are desegregated now, and both have a very active role in the local area in fighting poverty and reaching out to marginalized citizens of their city. Both have made some sort of public and/or private apology to kneel-in participants who back in ’64-’65 were not allowed in their churches, first at SPC and then later at IPC once SPC became integrated. BUT the road to this repentance (and very well to their redemption) was paved with unbelievable racist acts and eventual imploding of its members. So many things to say, but I shan’t make this review itself-a book. For ONE thing, it’s amazing to me that ANY church can allow men (or women, but in this case-men) to control the church with an iron fist, putting their own personal agendas above everyone and everything even when their agenda is downright sinful. It is amazing to me that pulpit ministers can actually be hired by churches with the singular purpose of keeping them in a puppet role. In the case of SPC in the 60’s, the pulpit ministers had absolutely no influence or override ability with the “session elders,” the latter of whom wielded their racist beliefs with vehemence and an intensity that was incredibly awful. And furthermore that those pulpit minister would be so very cowardly and perhaps so in fear of losing their jobs that they would do nothing to stand up to the tyranny of their elder pharisees, who in their case, were just plain wrong! Many of these elders were successful business men in the area and had lots of money, and with that money came social and political power. They exploited that shamelessly to achieve their ends and agendas both inside and outside the church. Mostly the white students that participated in the Kneel-Ins attended Southwestern University, the majority of funds of which came from parishioners at SPC. Southwestern is now Rhodes College in Memphis. Those students were threatened, and nasty letters full of lies were mailed to their parents by SPC elders about their “clandestine” activity in the Kneel-Ins and their shamelessness in standing alongside black students. The black participants of the kneel-ins were mostly from Memphis and attended black churches in the area. Many of them were also college students but not at Southwestern since it had yet to become an integrated college. I think one of the main themes this book highlights are Christian Casualties. Casualties of churches. This was surely ONE of the ways we Christians and our churches produced casualties. There are many others. But surely this was a big one. When the church which espouses Jesus love and the gospel as the way to eternal life and the blueprint for truth and justice, but yet doesn’t allow blacks to enter their church, yes, absolutely, many kids and young people are going to make the decision to leave the church. And in many cases, that is exactly what happened here. And one has to wonder what has been the ripple effect of this racist climate of churches (in the 50’s and 60’s) over the course of a century? How many lives have been shaped, lost or derailed because people who called themselves “Christians” looked very much like sinners. It’s one thing to be a sinner and act like a sinner. But when you are a Christian and act hatefully and selfishly, you, more than the sinner, will lead people away from God. Haynes wrote with regard to SPC and other churches like them: “As it became clear that segregation could not be sustained in the institutions that shaped their lives Monday through Saturday, they were determined to make Sunday worship in the South the last segregated hour.” Different questions the book asks US-the reader: 1 “Do I have the courage to stand up to blatant wrongs being committed by people who are supposedly a messenger of God? 2 If I CAN’T change that situation, and if it is one that consumes my place of worship, therefore hampering greatly the witness of that church to the community and the world, do I have the courage to leave and go somewhere else? 3 If I were in that wealthy white church in the 60’s would I have been a participant of the Kneel-Ins along side my black brothers and sisters or would I have been hiding under the tall steeple of that church, huddling inside the warm sanctuary with “my people,” while the elders of my church stood arm in arm on the front steps-guarding the entrance to keep black people out? Where would I have stood? 4 What about today in my church? Are there people of color there? What am I doing to be a light for Jesus in order to bring people toward Jesus (including my children) as opposed to away from Jesus? Does my life now model one for others that makes them wonder who is the God that she serves? I want to know Him. Or does my life model for others one that says “I want no part of that woman’s christianity?” Read the book. Learn. Grow. Change.
When I was growing up, no one-and I mean not. one. person.- in our house ever said the two words “I’m sorry.” They also never said “I love you.” Not that growing up in my house was all bad. (Read my blog “What do we Owe them?”) It was just not conducive for learning how to be a gentle soul, soft-spoken, easy-going communicator in relationships. There was no pattern of such things for me to emulate. It was seemingly more conducive for teaching one how to be a bulldozer in those same relationships. Fast forward to me as an adult, and I still struggle with such niceties as “I’m sorry” and “I love you.” Although, I have come a long way, by the insurmountable grace of God, I still have epic fails. Alas, the bulldozer is still partially imbedded deep inside of me. Not that by any measure of the stick, I am blaming my grandparents or any other of my relatives with whom I spent all those formative years, for my own occasional absolute lack of couth or tact! No, I am definitely a big girl now and have thus formed in my personal beliefs a “whole harmless agreement,” if you will, for my past and for those who heartily influenced my growing up. At some point in your life, if positive change is to become permanent change, you have to release others from responsiblity for your actions and own them yourself. That is not to say that others are not culpable in the whole of how you turned out. Furthermore, I think self disclosure about your past and how you were raised is helpful in dialogue with people close to you in an effort to help them to understand you better. But still here I am on the other side of my life so to speak, many years and events between then and now, and yet sometimes I still find myself defaulting to old learned habits. Perhaps that is where they get the phrase “to bully.” Wikipedia (yeah I worked hard on this research project) defines a bulldozer as capable of “projects requiring highly mobile, powerful, and stable earth-moving equipment.” Just as a bulldozer is capable of distributing its weight over large parcels of land clearing forests and objects in its path, I find myself quite capable of using my mouth and my motives, my force of words and demeanor to distribute my weight, my influence, over large parcels of a person’s heart. Case in point, my daughter failed to do a very simple task for me that obviously I had hoped would be done by noon on this particular Sunday. She did not. It so happened that as we were preparing for worship in church on Sunday morning, she reminded me that she was going for groceries on the way home, and would need to borrow my credit card. I, still irrevocably irritated over her failure to do what I told her to do, stewed over this even as worship began. Then with impeccable timing, just as we were starting the second song, I whispered to her “Halle you know how you want me to give you my credit card for the grocery store, well I wanted you to deliver those donations this morning.” And with that, she promptly sat in her seat and started crying. Success! Land cleared. Parent of the year, not. But kudos for driving my point home while deconstructing her self-confidence at the same time, in mere seconds? Score! Except my other daughter and my husband were both looking at me with that “What did you say and why now?” quizzical and skeptical kind of look. Well, I powered down the engine on my dozer pretty quick at that point, and with the grace that God continually pours over my weary, stubborn soul, I started rethinking my actions. I couldn’t take them back, but I could exercise my learned skills of saying “I’m sorry.” Wikipedia also states “The bulldozer’s primary tools are the blade and the ripper.” These two features I adopted well along the journey from youth to adulthood. But along with that definition, it also states, “The bulldozer’s tracks give them excellent ground holding capability and mobility through very rough terrain.” Hmm that’s no so bad. I can see how useful that feature can be. There are good things about my bulldozing capabilities and undoubtedly, there are bad things. Fortunately, I have a God who knows that all that has shaped me is not all bad. He uses the better, greater characteristics to accomplish His purposes. If only when I do choose to express the negative aspects of my personality, I am quite capable of owning it and saying I am sorry, there is still hope for me and my relationships. That doesn’t mean that I “should go on sinning so that grace may abound.” (Romans 6:1-4) No just the opposite; it means rather, that in the light of God’s infinite mercy, I need to count myself among the blessed, so much so that I am willing to recognize my sin, my not-so-great-parts of my personality, and work to cultivate and implement the positive aspects of all that I am. Thankfully, my God is forgiving as is my family. 1 Peter 4:8 says “Love covers a multitude of sins.” This is one bulldozing girl who is grateful for that truth. Amen!
This just in. We don’t always have to experience things first hand. Talk about a time saver. Not to mention a better view in life’s rear view mirror. We have role models in our lives, both good and bad that have already done the hard work for us. It’s true! Some we know personally, and some we just see on TV or social networking. This could eliminate a LOT of time and trouble for us. They are everywhere and in every industry, country, city, school, religious circle, and home. The bad news is, that sometimes, we, or our children, are in the path of a bad role model and take a direct hit. But the good news is that role modeling-BOTH the awful and the awesome-can be enormously valuable teachers for all of us. If only we will let them.
If you’re a parent, you can readily see that absent fathers (either by divorce or by choice) cause havoc. It’s not a secret. Watch the news. Talk to school teachers. Get to know your neighbors. It’s amazing to me how many thousands upon thousands of crime sprees are committed by those from broken homes; how many victims of sexual assault and abuse have grown up without a father (and/or a mother.) Yet, we never ever talk about this on the news or very seldom when trying to find solutions. It’s forbidden. Well, after all, it could mean we are demoralizing single parents. Which of course is ridiculous. They should be reinforced not abandoned. Bolstered not broken. But just that one variable in their child’s life, puts them at risk for rocky relationships, poor grades and low self-confidence. So if your child’s father is absent, what can you do about that? Can you find someone else to fill the void in her life? It’s perhaps a tall order I know. But can you? Can you look to other families who have successfully negotiated this difficult terrain with their kids, and find out what they did that worked well? And if you’re the absent father, can you start engaging with your child now before it’s too late?
Maybe you’re a college student. There are a lot of role models in your life right now, including fellow students. What do their lives teach you? Have you seen poor judgement and co-dependency result in reckless behavior that in turn, results in pain and heartache? It’s a great time to learn a lesson. Moving out, on your own away from the protective swath of parents, and a comfortable routine, is difficult enough. Recklessness in your new social circles and a need to party until the cows come home, could make you vulnerable and an easy target for some dirty rotten scoundrel co-ed who only wants to exploit you. It’s a ripple effect. This is about prevention. We aren’t exonerating the dirty rotten scoundrel of his or her responsibility for their criminal actions. We are just watching, learning, and then thinking before acting. It’s a natural part of caring for yourself and your friends.
Maybe you are in a season with your marriage or your kids and you have experienced or witnessed your share of bad marriages and poor parenting, but also the opposite, positive (not perfect) parenting and thriving (not perfect) marriages. Then why are you still sitting on your duff and not engaging those who have gone before you? You’ve got questions. They’ve got answers. You’re wondering how to negotiate this argument over finances or your teenager’s rebellion. You’re wondering how to overcome infidelity, addiction, or potty training. Ask someone for Pete’s sake.
Violent crimes, high school graduation rates, addiction, assault, broken relationships are all issues that we are dealing with in our communities that need attention, but so is the familial foundations of our children. Family harmony, or the lack thereof, directly correlates to how much pain and heartache will manifest itself in the lives of our children and in their behavior. But talking about this is practically taboo in politics, community policy discussions, and education reform. Even though we all agree on this one point: that children of broken homes and broken relationships are often marginalized in our society. And we also know that this is often generational.
So here’s what we can do. We can take individual responsibility to watch, listen and learn. And we can and should come along beside those who feel alone and are hurting for help. Newsflash: literally millions of others have gone ahead us on the same road that we are currently traveling. The absolute best resource we have available to us as we navigate the stuff of our own lives is the stuff that’s already happened to someone else. Let all of us: single, widowed, married, divorced, parent, child, spouse, ALL of us, take our heads out of the proverbial sand, and enlist the help of a mentor or accountability partner, or prayer partner, or a role model. And when you bear witness to your own relationship casualties, go to the heart of the problem; own your part; stop the cycle. Recalling an old favorite movie of mine, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” we are compelled to take cues from all kinds of role models and from each another as we make decisions about what is right and what is wrong. Just pay attention and learn.
Having faith is a pretty common term among we humans. But do we really know and appreciate what it means, and how does it interact with facts? We could say that Science is fact, and for instance, believing in Jesus is faith. Or you could say “I am going to the shop today to drop my car off,” is fact. And “One of my teenagers is going to pick me up and give me a ride home,” is faith. Speaking of that, I know factually that I have three daughters. I don’t know with a 100% certainty that they’re going to be “Okay” in every sense of that word 5 years from now, 10 years from now or even 15 years from now. That is where faith takes over. Recently two of my daughters and I had the privilege of spending several days on the island of Crete, Greece. On one of those days, we traveled to the Balos Lagoon-a must see on our Crete bucket list. However, the journey to that beautiful place was fraught with peril. Initially we drove along a nice asphalt highway, then exited on to a smaller but still easily navigable road through a couple of villages. Eventually we moved to a little more bumpy surface, still not clenching our teeth in fear, which brought us to the gate where we paid a national park fee to continue to the Lagoon. Oh but our drive had only just begun. Up to this point, I felt the road trip was easily traversed. But soon we found we were negotiating a very difficult road that would have been better traveled in an “off-road” vehicle not our little rental Fiat Diablo. Now it was white knuckled driving, wondering if we made the right decision to venture forward off the “main” roads. The first part of our trip to the Lagoon was cushioned with facts. The last of our drive to the lagoon was negotiated only by faith. Faith that we would not blow a tire on this mountain range of sharp pointy white rock; faith that we would not go tumbling over the side of the mountain several hundred feet down-a sheer drop to the rocky shores of the Mediterranean; faith that we would arrive successfully at our destination and in one piece. It is interesting and worth noting that we traveled up to go to a Lagoon that is obviously down at sea level. Once we finished that treacherous drive and finally parked, we found we had to hike down in order to access the Lagoon. I loved the analogy that this life experience offered me when thinking about faith and facts. We only have so many facts at our disposal on any given day. Science, for all its magnitude and wealth of research behind it, only knows so much. It simply doesn’t know everything. So it is with our lives. At some point in the smallest of things and in the biggest of things, one’s faith must take over. And when supported by robust amounts of courage, can-do spirit and for me, a strong measure of trust in Jesus, it will take you far past the “facts only” boundary lines. Moreover, if we limit ourselves with only the facts, we will live in fear of the unknown, and quite possibly be unwilling to do what it is that needs to be done. Unable to discover what is yet to be discovered, or to solve equations that are yet to be solved. Faith allows us to stretch ourselves. Indeed facts are true but they are not all the truth that there is. Example: The fact is I’m shy; I’m quiet; I’m introverted but faith is: I’m going to ask that girl out she might say yes and change my life forever. The fact is I have lost someone I love very much. And it was senseless and tragic. Faith is: there is still purpose in my life, and I can still find true joy. The fact is I have fears about taking on a mentoring relationship. I don’t know everything there is to know that is helpful in mentoring someone. Faith is: I don’t have to know everything or how everything is going to turn out before I get involved. Especially when I need to be involved. Therein lies the difference between your facts (important) and your faith (critical.) Facts and Faith do not intersect on life’s road. Rather they meet at the T. At some point your facts end where your faith begins. When we hit the T in the road, faith will take over as long as we don’t turn around and go back the way we came. The irony is this: faith allows the scientist to pursue the facts-to learn more! The best researcher is the one who knows he or she does not have all the answers. Otherwise what would be the point of researching? And so it is, the most mature among us recognizes that facts only get us so far. It doesn’t get you to glory. There are thousands of athletes, business people, pastors, leaders who at some point in their lives were told “based on the facts, I don’t think you will succeed at this.” Thankfully the likes of Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Abe Lincoln, JK Rowling, and others had faith that gave them vision and powered them forward beyond the facts. It is true for any of us, whether we are a parent, a CEO, a pastor, a pilot, an engineer, a teacher, a friend, or a spouse-if we want to unleash the power inside of us, we have to understand that faith is real. It is truly a paradox, believing in something that we cannot see or perhaps feel or touch. On that road to the Balos Lagoon, the facts would have only gotten us to the pay gate. But faith took us on to glory. And we never once regretted that journey.
I am blessed with a lot of awesome friends. Sure they are awesome because I know they’ll be there for me in a pinch night or day. And they are awesome because they like me, I like them, and we have fun together. But those aren’t the only things that make them awesome friends. They are also awesome friends because they tell me the ugly truth. They are also awesome friends because they don’t drop me like a bad habit when I tell them the ugly truth. They are awesome because when we happen to disagree on something, I can rest assured knowing that our history together is not null and void. It counts for something. We have credibility with each other. Emotional deposits have been made such that an occasional withdrawal doesn’t derail the entire relationship.
Some time ago, my young adult daughter posted a comment on Facebook which was completely appropriate (in mom’s book of social networking etiquette). She simply stated an opinion on a hot topic in today’s culture as it relates to domestic abuse. Suddenly without any warning, a mutual friend of ours (much older adult woman) zeroed in for the kill. She shot back with several zingers one after the other seemingly in retribution of Shelby’s perfectly appropriate and compassionate (not merely passionate) post. Whether I agreed with my daughter’s views on the matter or not, her post was fine. In fact, it was pretty benign. Even so, Shelby’s post and my attempts to be peacemaker were met with undiluted wrath by this person who we thought was a really good friend. So our “friend,” UNfriended both of us on Facebook. Sure this happens a lot. I know that. But among acquaintances with whom you have no personal history, who the heck cares? On the other hand, when you find yourself unfriended by a person with whom you have a pretty strong relational history, it’s disturbing.
Social networking (and the internet) was non-existent when I was growing up. I was truly an adult in my 40s before it hit our world like a tornado. It’s a blessing and a curse. We have friends all over the world. What an awesome privilege it is to be able to keep up with their family adventures, jobs, kids, activities with just a few keyboard clicks. It’s completely impersonal. But as long as it is understood that it is truly completely impersonal, then no problem. When we make it personal, substituting electronic exchanges for real and necessary conversations, that is reckless. Unfortunately, social networking, especially (seemingly) with the 35 and under crowd, can have a hypnotic effect on them. Hours are spent surfing social networking rather than cultivating real relationships in person. And sadly, ridiculously, the number of likes they have on an Instagram post dictates their level of self confidence and what they believe about themselves. But another thing can happen too. People (such as our adult friend) can use social networks as a weapon. If you don’t say something I like, you’re off my friend list. This begs the question: “So if we come into your town, we shouldn’t call you for dinner? If you come into our town, will you not be staying with us? The once relationship we had with shared interests and shared experiences, those don’t matter anymore? Remember the time we kept your kiddos and loved on them so you could take care of important business? That’s now meaningless? The times we had a laugh together or a coffee with an enjoyable exchange of dialogue, that’s also meaningless?” I have to assume so. Because social networking has contributed to a pandora of shallow relationships. When you use social networking to mask your true feelings, OR when you blurt out your feelings about others unfiltered for everyone’s scrutiny, things that are none of their business, OR when you discard true friends like Saturday night’s leftovers because they posted ONE thing that irritated you-that’s shallow.
Most in ground pools have a water fill line. It’s rarely recommended to let your water levels run much below that fill line. It’s just not safe. And it’s also not fun. Do that, and your swimming pool suddenly becomes a wading pool. Our relationships are like that. If your relational efforts never rise above the the fill line of the relationship pool, you might just be a shallow relationship partner. If you shut down communication with a friend or a daughter or a son or a husband who really needs you, but you just don’t have time for that kind of investment, or if you hide behind the seemingly impenetrable wall of your social networking profiles, and fire off posts (good or bad) like bumper stickers on a car, then you might be a shallow partner in your relationships, not holding up your end of being the real deal. Also if your life is all about you and what you want, but rarely about what others want (your friend, your child, your spouse), then you might not be holding up your end in those relationships either.
In the bible, the book of Daniel chapter 3 tells a beautiful story of 3 teenage Jewish boys who dared take a stand with the King of Babylon in whom they were in servitude. They refused to bow down and worship his golden statute. Of course the king threatened to throw them into a fiery furnace, so that they might burn alive. Their response is incredible. “King Nebuchenzzer, We believe the our God can save us, but even if he does not, we will now bow down to your gods.” Wow! The measure of our faith is not in our responses to what God can do, but rather the true measure of our faith is in our responses to what God does not do!” These three young boys had their heads wrapped around that. They were anything but shallow. They were there for each other no matter the circumstances. They trusted in their past together to carry them through their future together. Whatever that may be. Their trust in God was equally not shallow. Had they only believe that God was omnipotent if he chose to save them from the fiery furnace, this would have been very shallow of them. Their faith would’ve been childish, without depth or maturity. But they believed in God and His power in every circumstance. They believed God was the God of the universe even if He did not choose to spare them from the King’s wrath.
Is someone you know and care for reaching out, but you are not reaching back? It may be on either a professional or personal level. Are you struggling to get the water level in your relationships up to the fill line? You better run the hose a little bit longer. Have you tossed a significant someone along the wayside of your life quicker than you can say “Jack Sprat,” simply because they voiced a different opinion from you? Do you put all of your interests and wants ahead of the people in your life who need you to prioritize their interests even if they are not yours? Have you long since scrapped the idea of a personal God, Creator, who cares for you because He wasn’t there to stop _______ from happening? (fill in the blank) Shallow. Shallow. Shallow. Give yourself a break and start forgiving where forgiveness can build a bridge for you to cross over from bitterness to joy. Give yourself a break and love your friends and family who admittedly don’t always have it together, but yet deserve a second chance, where your relationship history demands it. Depth is the opposite of shallow. How deeply are you rooted in your relationships with your true friends, your child or your spouse? Or are you only “wading” in water that is up to your ankles because you have neither the time or the inclination to do anything differently?
I have a friend whose husband is in remission for cancer. It was, as cancer survivors and their families can attest, a devastating situation loaded with uncertainty for their future. Now, if he gets a cold, upset stomach or any number of even normal maladies, not surprisingly, it troubles my friend deeply. The cancer or the threat of its return is a back cloud hanging over her head threatening to erupt any given flu season. I have yet another friend who was abused as a child by persons in her life she should’ve been able to trust and love without reservation or fear of such atrocities. That was not the case. In the years to come, well into adulthood, it haunted her with shame and guilt, self-doubt and hopelessness. For so long, the abuse and it’s ensuing emotional damage was a foreboding presence in her life, a cloud of despair. It did not leave her side or her mind. I have a daughter whose struggle with anxiety nearly unravelled her as a small child. She was in perpetual fear of her dad and I dying and leaving her to care for her younger two sisters, a black cloud of fear that I could hardly allay with the false certainty that this would never happen. I have yet another adult friend whose black cloud of anxiety wakes up with her in the morning and beds down with her at night. The darkness persists for her into the morning, and it is that darkness, not the light of day which goes out in front of her each morning. Still another close friend of mine wakes up alone Every. Single. Morning. with two small children who wait expectantly for her to provide them with everything they need for life and sustenance. Having been left by her husband for another woman, she not only ponders, but laments each and every day, is she ever going to be a whole person again, loved and respected by others, and is she enough for her children? What is your black cloud? Chances are it has been suspended over your head since you were a small child when events befell you that should never ever have been a part of an innocent growing up. Or maybe it’s only been looming for a fraction of your life, spawned by a tragic loss, a debilitating disease, a horrible accident, or a grave betrayal. Yet the latter stretches out in front of you with no end in sight, a seemingly unsurpassable mountain of pain. Regardless of their origin, black clouds don’t discriminate among people. They can render the most educated and uneducated hopeless and forlorn. They can test the rich man’s faith as well as the poor man’s, leaving them both faithless. Our black clouds are relentless liars and pursue us at every angle, hindering us from the love, forgiveness, restoration, and healing that make us whole.
But how do you tell the difference between a black cloud and something in your life that just concerns you and needs addressed? That’s a great question and an important one. Because if we think our black cloud is a healthy level of concern, if we believe the black cloud is truly normal in every sense of the word, than that thing in our life has beaten us. It has indeed succeeded in plucking the fruit from our tree and rendering us joyless in our day-to-day living, and moreover, useless in helping and serving others. So what is the difference between the two? If we perceive the problem or concern to be insurmountable beyond a reasonable season of its existence, it may very well have taken up permanent residence in your life, your home, and your mind. The length of the season of that trial in your life certainly varies from person to person and from event to event. For instance, is it safe to say that 2 or 3 years into remission, a new season of hope is plausible? Or perhaps as you move well into adulthood, the events of your childhood, though not forgotten by any measure, yet a physical and a prolonged extraction from that place could certainly be a new Springtime in your life. If you have been divorced for five years or even perhaps 4, 3, or 2 but you still cannot see the light of a new chapter in your life, it could be that your trial, that awful event, is indeed a black cloud. I am not so arrogant as to suggest for you when you should be “over something,” not nearly. But I would love to encourage you. I would love to tell you that living a full, exciting fruitful life is still in your grasp.
So what can we do to get out from under that cloud, “the great sadness,” as it was so aptly named by author William Young in his book, “The Shack?” I think the first step we have to do is to acknowledge that your concerns about this event in your life, though absolutely valid, have moved stealthily out of the season to which they were assigned and have taken up residence in your heart and your mind. This is the first step necessary in toppling the cloud from its lofty position in our life. The psalmist says in Psalm 51 that “God loves a broken and contrite heart.” That is good news. The Psalmist, who was himself heavily burdened, seeks and receives that coveted restoration and healing in that same passage. The second step that may be necessary for you is seeking help. This may be professional help. We sought counseling with my daughter when she was in the 3rd grade to tackle her extreme separation anxiety and fear of loss because we needed both the help in identifying the source of her anxiety and help with how to help her. We still talk about that experience fondly and how it navigated us through that difficult stage. And along those same lines, cultivate close friends of your same gender. There’s a proverb in the bible that says “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.” When I couple that with another Proverb that says “A Friend Loves at all time” and “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother,” I feel like this 3rd solution to removing that black cloud is win-win. What would I do without my close advisors/friends? I don’t even want to think about it. Fourth, and finally take an inventory of your physical space around you! Is it a mess? I believe that our emotional and spiritual health is more connected to our life logistics and organization than we give it credit. Purging material possessions we don’t use, getting rid of piles of papers, and making our work spaces pleasant and conducive for being productive, goes a long way in contributing to our happiness and helping us regain a sense of self-control in our life, a trait that is so important when talking about that black cloud, the latter of which toys with our self-control and self-worth. Sure there are tons of other steps you can and should take to extinguish your cloud and banish it into the abyss of nothingness: exercise, serve others, volunteer, but these former four steps I feel are paramount in clearing the path to do the latter. Don’t get the cart before the horse.
I have had my share of black clouds hanging over me. The deaths of my parents; April 19, 1995; and others. When I moved to Houston from Germany, I felt like my heart was imploding. I readily admit this event may seem docile compared to the others in my life I mentioned or compared to your troubled situation. But nevertheless that move seemed to thwart my plans. Spiritually, physically and emotionally. That cloud of discontent and unhappiness taunted me and sadly informed a lot of my decisions. Truly that cloud was afforded way to much opportunity for input in my life and my relationships. I came to the conclusion (by implementing the four steps I mentioned earlier) that enough was enough. The lie is this: this event in my life defines who I am and there’s not a thing I can do about it. The truth is this: I could not stop the event, nor the black cloud from making its unwelcome entry into my life. But rather than let it reign in my life, I will allow the experience to shape me into a better person. I am compelled to live in the light-a light emitted with brand new lenses of who I was, who I am, and what God has yet for me to be.
How do you spend the majority of your time and your money? Do you believe the statement, “How you spend most of your time, and where you spend most of your money says the most about who you are as a person?” Why or why not? Okay, you can answer those on your own. But here’s a starter for you. The majority of my free time (free time from work paid or unpaid-however you define your “free” time) is spent_____________________. (fill in the blank) The majority of my money (after rent, mortgage and household utilities) is spent_______________________.(fill in the blank) I realize that some of you will struggle with the money question, because beyond monthly living expenses, you actually have no idea where the money goes, other than it goes. True for many of us at some chapter of our lives. If that’s you, then this message is well intended. You can’t possibly be putting your money to work for you, your family, or towards other worthy contributions, wisely if you have no idea where your money is going beyond monthly fixed expenses. Furthermore, if we apply a brutally honest examination of how we spend our free time, many will discover that we have exchanged reading a book for watching television. We have exchanged playing a board game (or outside activity) with our kids for social networking. We may discover that less and less time has been committed to the kitchen on either week days or weekends, and that more and more time has been spent in the drive-through. How we spend our time and money will certainly impact our relationships and our health. We can’t devote all of our free time to our hobbies, for instance, at the expense of our marriage. On the other hand, if we spend all of our time at work, at the expense of either hobby or marriage, that isn’t good either. Social networking isn’t the same as a real cup of coffee face to face with a real friend. You can’t exercise if you’re sitting on the couch. You can’t learn a language, start a bible study, go to the gym, work on your finances, At. All. UNLESS…You decide you are going to do so. How we budget our time effectively is different for all of us. Some of us may need to move our rear ends off the couch. Some of us may need to plant ourselves there once in a while. The inability to rest can be just as bad a habit and hard on your relationships as lethargy. The singular way to find a valid, useful and credible solution to poor time and money expenditures, is to evaluate your own personal tendencies with a very introspective approach and answer those two questions we have already talked about. How do you spend the majority of your free time and free money? There’s an old saying “Majority Wins.” When I was a kid, my sisters and our cousins spent a ton of time together. We would often “vote” on a game or activity. With hands all raised in the air, inevitably one of us “winners” would yell triumphantly, “Majority Wins.” Sadly, the losers knew it was true. Maybe that’s applicable to us as adults in answering these difficult questions. Bottom line, we can hope that we are doing what we need to do most of the time (NO one gets it right ALL the time people!) We can even believe that we are generous and compassionate, and that people like to be around us (and/or our children). We can allege that we are healthy and mindful of our good health habits. We can wish, assert, even say out loud many many things about ourselves and our priorities. But I will submit to you that “Majority Wins.” Whatever we are spending time and money on, IT wins. To be sure, SomeTHING. or SomeONE loses. It may be your relationships, your peace of mind, your job, or your dog, but, in the end, “Majority Wins.” We cannot simply hope and wish that our time and our money will tell the story about us that we want told. We have to take practical measures. Evaluate (Your time and budgets) Elevate (Family, marriage, your job, your friends, specific events, specific activites-WHATever in your life is crying out to be elevated) Erase (Negative behavioral patterns, poor spending decisions; time wasters-Ouch!) and then finally, Execute (Implement that budget; Add family night back into your week. Eat dinner around the table. Have that difficult conversation with a colleague. Make time for coffee with a friend; Get counseling; WHATever needs to be done, put IT in place, make a plan. Then Execute!) Change your “Majority” (if necessary) to reflect the love you want to give, the good you want to do, the people you want to spend time with, the goals you want to fulfill, and the life you want to live.