Tag Archives: healing

Addictive Thinking Errors: Miracle Thinking

miracle1
This is a rewrite of a column I wrote that was published in the mountaineer in July of this year.

“If I could just move to Florida, then I’ll be happy.” These words were spoken by a young man I was working with in a rehab program. He was a drug addict, had a list of convictions longer than my arm, his family life was a disaster, he was financially destitute, his education and job skills were non-existent; but he firmly believed that a geographical relocation was going to solve all of his personal woes. In reality, moving would change nothing. You simply cannot run far enough away to escape yourself. He was his own problem. His drug addiction was destroying his life. However, the work needed to deal with the problems he had accumulated was far more daunting than simply moving. This is an example of miracle thinking. Miracle thinking is essentially when a person comes to believe that their problems will be solved by accomplishing a simple, often unrelated task.

Miracle thinking comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but the common factor is that it generally doesn’t directly address or solve the presenting problem. It’s an easy option. I have spoken to people who believe that if they can just find Mr. or Mrs. Right then they’ll be content, or if they could just change jobs they’d be happy, or if they could get a new spouse they’d stop drinking. The specific form of the miracle can vary, but it usually involves externalizing blame for problems/feelings and a way out of the situation that is often unrelated and easier than dealing with the real problem. In reality, a single, depressed person who enters a new relationship may experience a flush of enjoyment, but will ultimately wind up depressed again. An alcoholic who moves to a new community will just find a new place and people to drink with.

Miracle thinking is a thinking error that is not confined to problems like chemical dependance. People use miracle thinking in relation to debt, marital difficulties, depression, weight problems, anger issues, and all sorts of other issues.

UnknownFiguring out if your solution to a problem is miracle thinking is difficult, and usually requires an outside opinion to help assess the thought. Outside feedback should come from a person who will be forward and honest enough to explain whether or not a planned solution is realistic or likely to pan out. In addition, the individual ought to have a history of making healthy choices. This sort of evaluation is especially important if an individual is dealing with an issue that is particularly difficult or if you recognize a pattern of drastic solutions that simply don’t work out.

The difficulty in self assessing thinking errors, like miracle thinking, is due largely to denial and clouded thinking that is typical among addicts. Self assessment is best accomplished by asking exactly how the solution will resolve the issue at hand. If the explanation is not likely to pan out as true, if evidence from past situations suggests that the solution is viable, or if it will not logically produce any real change; then it is likely miracle thinking. Its important to understand that miracle thinking isn’t a result of a person being crazy or broken. Instead, it comes about when a person’s thinking is clouded by strong emotions, stress, exhaustion, or mental protections of an addiction.

Regardless of whether or not miracle thinking is an issue, the practice of consulting with others for advice when dealing with major issues is a wise practice.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dad’s Rest Day: 5 Basic Rest Realities

935835_10151451295271599_1447668726_nIt’s Sunday afternoon. My wife and daughter are at a baby shower. My son is taking his standard, extremely long, post-church nap. My standard Sunday afternoon counseling appointments all cancelled for the day. No family, no work, no honey-do projects. I don’t have anything I HAVE to do. I am in the strange position of having no seriously pressing obligations, apart from some writing I’d like to get done, which I could reasonably do tomorrow. Because of the odd demands of being a small town, small church pastor I work most days. When I am not working, I am being a dad or a husband. I am not complaining about these things. I love them. The real trick is that I don’t often take time to rest because I am so busy being busy.
Rest is a need that is built in to all of us. We need to stop and breath periodically. It’s so important that God requires that we rest in the 10 Commandments. We are literally commanded to take time to rest and spend with God. Rest is important because it gives time for our souls to recharge. We need to discharge our stress and be replenished by God in order to continue to be sharp. I often talk to folks who struggle with keeping their spiritual fervor active and vital in their lives. In every incidence of this struggle, the folks in question don’t take time to rest and be intimate with God. Really problematic is the sad reality that, in many cases, we have forgotten how to rest and recharge, instead choosing to always zone out and escape. Over the years, I have learned a few things about rest, largely because I don’t slow down all that much.

UnknownRest is more than shutting off:
 Rest isn’t just napping in the hammock, though that’s one of my favorite leisure activities. Rest includes, among other things, mindless detached time, investment in relationship for the purpose of refilling personally, time spent with God for the purpose of maintaining spiritual health and peace, and times of reflection and quiet. Each of these components has a place in rest, though for many the detachment of TV time has become the sole focus or rest.

Rest needs to be regular and intentional. If you are not naturally inclined to slow down and take it easy, it is necessary to be intentional about resting weekly. It’s no coincidence that the Bible directs us to take a Sabbath day of rest. If we run too long, we wear out. Once a week is an appropriate interval for resting, though down time on a daily basis is good if you can manage it.

Time with God is important! One of the major components of rest is time spent with God, praying, meditating, worshipping, or reading His word. This is important because we were designed to be in relationship with God. Maintaining intimate relationship with God is vital to maintaining our spiritual vitality. It’s a little like  tuning up a car. The car may continue to run if it’s not tuned up, but it won’t run right. We are similar. We may be able to maintain our spiritual lives without regular visits with God, but we won’t run as well. Eventually, a lack of regular maintenance will result in breakdowns.

It’s important for men to spend time with other men. It’s pretty common for men with careers and families to fall off from interaction with other guys. However, men challenge each other to excellence in ways that really doesn’t happen in other relationships. It’s worth noting that this time needs to be significant. Many men have only surface relationships with each other that never delve any deeper than opinions on sports or politics. Deeper personal connection is important. This is somewhat taboo in our culture where guys are encouraged to be unfeeling and as deep as most kiddie pools. The reality is that deeper personal connection leads to recharging and growth in ways that simply does not happen in other relationships.

Family time is important. Spending leisure time talking and playing with family is an important component of rest. Family relationships are central to a man’s life and occupy a center point in his relationship sphere. Spending time with family playing and enjoying the relationship is a big deal. This needs to take place as a whole family and also with spouses only, because the marital relationship ought to be the source of significant relief as well. This is a big deal because family relationships can often be a source of enormous stress due to obligations and responsibilities. Without leisure time, it’s easy to grow resentful of the personal toll that accompanies family obligations. Intentional rest together can fall to the wayside in this sort of environment.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why They Can’t Stop: How Addiction Works

It’s hard to watch a loved one self destruct, to watch them repeatedly engage in behaviors that are clearly destroying them. Addiction is perplexing to watch from the outside because the addict time and again acts in ways that are obviously destructive to everyone else who is watching, but for some reason the addict just won’t stop. It can be particularly difficult to understand why they are unable to overcome the problem behavior because tremendous pain and a sense of betrayal are often inflicted when a loved one doesn’t stop getting drunk or high. That pain makes dealing with the problem even more difficult because it tends to make careful consideration difficult. It’s hard to think through a situation that you just want to be over because it is destroying the family, because, as an addict, they cannot stop on their own power. It seems obvious that the addict just needs to stop, but the situation is seldom as simple as that. One of the first steps to coming to grips with the situation is understanding the mechanism of addiction and why the addict engages in self-destructive behavior.
In the early 20th century, Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov’s famous experiment demonstrated the principle of classical conditioning. He did this by ringing a bell every time he fed a group of dogs. The dogs would salivate in response to the bell as they anticipated their meal. After thoroughly establishing the pattern, Pavlov began to ring the bell without providing food. The dogs salivated anyaddictionway, which demonstrates that their brains learned to associate the ringing of bells with eating even when there was no food present. Human brains have the same tendency. We learn to associate stimuli with certain feelings or having needs met. As the behavior is learned, they develop ingrained patterns, which become become compulsive. Understanding classical conditioning is an important first step to grasping how addiction works in human beings.
A person doesn’t become an addict by simply gambling too much or getting drunk frequently. Addiction takes place when the stimulus response mechanism in the brain gets out of control and begins to dominate the addict’s life. This often happens to people who lack healthy coping skills. Because they don’t have the ability to deal with stressful situations, they turn to escapes as a way of dealing with stress. Perhaps they have an unpleasant home life, which they aren’t prepared to cope with properly. They do not want to feel bad, but don’t know how to feel better through healthy means. Instead, they turn to alcohol, drugs, pornography, or some other means of escaping the situation. As time goes on, their brains begin to connect unpleasant situations with intoxication and feeling better. Every time something bad happens, they “use” (engage in addiction). As the pattern becomes increasingly ingrained, the individual becomes like Pavlov’s dogs. The bell rings (unpleasant situation happens) and the dog salivates (they respond by using in order to feel better). This pattern of stimulus response reaches the point of being compulsive as the addict gets deeper into their addiction. They literally lose control and cannot restrain their behavior. I have spoken to many addicts who genuinely want tcycle.001o quit, but when they get into certain situations their stimulus-response takes over and they become like passengers in their own bodies, watching passively as they act out their learned behavior. This is because the mechanism of addiction happens in the “old brain”, where things like fight or flight take place. This is the portion of the brain that takes over when thought isn’t the best response to a situation, like with fight or flight responses. It has the ability to take over the body and force the person to behave in predetermined ways. This is the same sort of thing that soldiers train to achieve. When combat happens, thinking turns off and the training kicks in. Addicts are similar, except that their training has been unhealthy and is now destructive.
What makes this addictive pattern really problematic is that as the addict avoids dealing with negative experiences, their brains store up all of the garbage they haven’t processed through. Whenever they sober up, the old feelings begin to find their way back to the front of their feelings/thinking. This makes the addict miserable, so they respond like Pavlov’s dog responds to the ringing bell, by getting intoxicated. Addicts that have advanced in their sickness,are often miserable all the time. Withdrawal also perpetuates the situation. When the body becomes dependent on a chemical, detoxification can be unpleasant, which prompts the stimulus-response cycle to kick in. What’s worse is that even if they begin to deal with their pain and get healthy, the portion of the brain that looks for the enjoyment of intoxication begins to manufacture misery in order to get back to intoxication. This happens in the form of inexplicable depression or anxiety, which is often an overreaction to really minor issues.
Another major component of addiction that makes recovery difficult involves thinking. As an addiction becomes ingrained, the addict’s thinking patterns develop mechanisms to protect the addictive behavior. The most prominent of these thinking tendencies is denial. Denial is when an individual cannot see how bad things are getting. An addict in denial can lose major relationships, have trouble with the law, become physically ill, and never blame it on their using. Most often, problems are either blamed on others or minimized so they’re perceived as not a big deal. Otherwise, problems are just ignored or worked around. An individual in denial cannot recognize the seriousness of their situation, because denial is a mental block preventing them from seeing how bad things are. It exists to keep the addict using. There are other thinking patterns that protect the addiction, but denial is by far the most serious and the most difficult to overcome. An addict in denial can have their whole life in flames and not be able to see that it is caused by their using. It is what allows an addict to destroy themselves without seeking help.
Diagnosing addiction requires the presence of three or more of the following criteria:
  • Developing a tolerance, which results in the addict using more or stronger substances in order to get the same effect. For an alcoholic, this is drinking stronger alcohol -or more of it- in order to get drunk. For a porn addict, this is using porn or looking at harder porn in order to achieve the same effect that less would achieve.
  • Withdrawal symptoms are experienced when the drug is not available. Withdrawal can be physical illness, headaches, shaking, sweats, or other physiological changes. It can also be psychological with the addict becoming irritable, depressed, anxious, or restless.
  • Continued use, despite harm that comes from using. Harm can be financial, damaged relationships, health problems, etc. An addict who loses his loved ones, home, and employment will continue to use even though his addiction is destroying his life.
  • Using the drug in larger amounts or for longer periods than they intended. An addict loses control once they start using. They generally have no idea how much or for how long using episodes will last. A pornography addict will set out to look for only a few minutes, only to look up and discover that they have been looking at porn for hours or more.
  • Attempts to control use that have failed. As the behavior gets out of control, an addict may decide that they need to cut back. Attempts may have limited success, but ultimately fail because they are not truly in control of their behavior.
  • Significant time spent thinking about using or seeking the drug takes place when an addict spends huge amounts of time seeking their drug or thinking about nothing else.
  • Reduced involvement in family, work, or social obligations happens because these activities get in the way of using behaviors. They may avoid family because they do not want to be condemned for using or because they do not wish to share. They experience difficulty fulfilling work obligations because they cannot stop their using behavior.
Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Marriage and the Art of Automobile Maintenance

Many years ago, when I was in college, I bought my first adult car for $500. As the old saying goes: A $500 car doesn’t go far. This proved true as it generally didn’t get far between breakdowns. Being a poor college kid, I was forced to learn the gentle art of automobile repair and maintenance. Surprisingly, I found that I really enjoyed fixing things. I love diagnosing a problem and replacing parts. However, over the years I have also discoveredabbey mechanic that I hate doing maintenance work. I will happily replace a water pump, but cringe at the thought of changing oil or doing a tuneup. It’s just easier to not do maintenance. The problem, of course, is that not doing maintenance results in frequent breakdowns, poor fuel economy, and shorter lifespan for the vehicle in general. The same is often true of many men. Solving a problem is more interesting to them than working to maintain things. Unfortunately, this tendency often translates into married life.

Before proceeding further, I’m going to acknowledge that this is a very guy-oriented illustration for understanding marriage, but this is intentional because this post is aimed at men. For many men, dating and courtship go hand in hand and ultimately deliver them to the altar with their new wife. This is a problem to be worked on, a goal to be achieved, or an objective to be reached. Unfortunately, this can represent the end of courtship. The job is completed and now its time to put the tools away. It is not unusual for men to take on new projects after marriage, like career advancement. Its not that he no longer loves or desires his wife. Instead, it is easy to see her as “won.” The relational tools that served him so well when trying to win a wife become increasingly less used. Romance, long conversations, and thoughtful gifts grow increasingly less frequent and sometimes cease altogether. As the years pass by, date nights and gifts of flowers are all too often replaced with nights on the couch watching television and gifts of vacuum cleaners or other practicalities. The trend often accelerates with the arrival of children, which gives both parents a new object of focus that demands their relational energy. The movement away from the courting stage often results in married couples that lack connection and eventually become glorified roommates. In addition, as the “pursuit” phase of the relationship fades, it becomes easier for men to fight without making up; after all, the spouse’s affections have already been won so there is no point in winning them again. There is no job to be done. The relationship still basically works. Why bother fixing it?

The problem with this is that it generally results in unhappiness in the marriage and frequently leads to divorce.  Though the solution sounds simple, it is easy for men to take it for granted. Men must learn to take on their end of the responsibility for regular maintenance of the relationship in the form of courting behaviors. Going on dates, buying romantic gifts, just talking for the sake of talking, and maintaining interests apart from child-rearing are a few suggestions, but anything that results in building up the relationship will do. This is sort of like changing the relationship spark plugs and air filter. It’s not challenging, but it needs to be done, particularly when kids enter the picture. Several years ago, my wife and I realized after our daughter’s first birthday that we had only gone out alone together twice in the previous year. Courtship and routine relationship work had fallen to the wayside. If it had been allowed to stay there, our relationship would eventually stall and leave us stranded with a bigger set of repairs to do. When couples find themselves in this predicament, they often simply opt to sell and find a newer model.

To be fair, this maintenance work is not the responsibility of only one partner. Both spouses ought to look for ways to entice and woo their mate. It is important that this task be taken on with the understanding that open communication about intentions is vital and that your spouse may not respond in the way you want them to. However, if your partner doesn’t simply conform to your relational preferences, it is necessary to recognize that courting is done in order to help build the relationship, not for your immediate gratification. Love is selfless, which means focusing on the other’s needs. Often, effort and time are needed before damage done through ongoing patterns of neglect are repaired. Sometimes, it is necessary for time to go by before courting patterns change the situation. It is also necessary to understand that patterns that develop in relationships over the course of years will not be undone in a matter of days. It may take time and regular intentional maintenance work before things run smoothly, but the payoff is worth it.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Learning About God from a Cranky Baby at 2 AM

It’s 2 AM and I am sitting up with a sick baby. I would much rather be sleeping, but my poor 15-month old has a cold and was fussing. So, I hopped out of bed, fed him, gave him medicine, and am now holding my son until he dozes off. I would rather be sleeping, but I find myself subject to a higher law. I love my boy more than Isick titus love sleep. Perhaps the biggest blessing I have experienced as a parent is the opportunity to see another human being in a similar light to how God sees humanity. As I sit with my cranky child, the verse that keeps running through my head is from Psalm 8.

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty!

Psalm 8:3–5

It’s important to understand that humanity is like one huge collection of sick and cranky children. We are infected with an inclination to rebel against out Creator. At the core of our beings, we are sick, broken, and often hurting as a result. God loves us so immensely that He sent His only begotten Son to take our punishment for us on the cross. We are forgiven because He suffered our deserved punishment. Through this forgiveness, we are adopted as sons of God. Even after being forgiven God, still brings us through the slow process of spiritual healing, though we often fight Him every step of the way. God does this out of the boundless and perfect love of an eternal Father toward his creation. The parental love we witness and experience is a shadow of His perfect love. It is a blessing to experience and understand the Father’s perspective, even if it’s only a pale shadow.

I would suggest that this is a perspective that all creatures are capable of understanding at least in part. All people have parents. Through our relationships with them, we experience the same shadow of His love for us. Even if we do not have a good relationship with our parents, we experience a deep need and yearning for parental affection. This need is built in, and through, our thirst we can understand the magnitude of God’s love for us.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fighting in the Fellowship

In the closing chapter of his letter to the Philippians, Paul takes the time to address a brewing church fight. Throughout the letter, he seems to touch on the problems that were slowly boiling in the church, while addressing other matters ranging from his experience in prison to dealing with persecution. In the closingfighting remarks of his letter, the apostle bluntly asks for Euodia and Syntyche to live in harmony. Apparently, these women had some sort of interpersonal conflict that had been ongoing and created enough trouble that Paul addresses it directly in his letter. It is important to note that Paul isn’t correcting some evil behavior one or the other is engaging in. Rather, it seems that they just couldn’t seem to get along with each other. Though it seems frivolous, this is an issue that stands at the heart of the most church fights I have encountered in my career. Seldom do modern believers come into conflict with each other over theological matters. Rather, the modern church often fights over issues of personal preference and interpersonal conflict. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes fights are over weighty theological issues, though at times theological issues act as a smokescreen to cover more petty reasons for church schism and disharmony in the body. The same holds true of many other relationships believers find themselves participating in.

Paul’s address of the conflict between the two women is no isolated request. It is part of a larger trend in his work, urging believers to seek harmony and unity, even encouraging grace over theological differences in non-essential matters. This is an issue of significant importance to Paul. So much so that he doesn’t simply give an isolated instruction. Instead, he follows up the direction that they learn to live in harmony by offering a handful of practical suggestions. These suggestions include the use of a mediator of sorts, prayer, etc. One particularly interesting direction is found in Philippians 4:8 “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” This is not just a direction to think positively. It is an instruction regarding the sorts of things we focus on. Most of us have encountered people who just rub them the wrong way. Irritation and friction are common whenever people are expected to interact with eachSermon Link other. One foolproof way to make it worse is to spend time ruminating over perceived wrongs and slights. This time spent replaying or just thinking about things that have been said or done by others often results in more anger and irritation. It’s a little like adding fuel to a fire to keep it alive. In my time as a minister, I have talked to countless people who have kept a resentment alive for years by simply spending time thinking through past wrongs. I have never met anyone who was happier or better off for spending time and energy keeping a resentment hot. Instead, it usually results in bitterness and further disharmony. Paul’s direction to focus on whatever is honorable, good, etc. involves building our thought life around things that will produce good fruit and move us toward the sort of righteousness that God intended us to exude and the kind of harmonious relationship he desires for his children. The practice of training our thoughts on praiseworthy matters is a mental discipline that can quickly contribute to ending fights in our marriages, families, churches, and community. It is easier to forgive, overlook, and get along with someone if you don’t spend huge amounts of mental and emotional energy keeping the fires of animosity burning hot. Grace is easier to offer if we keep no record of wrongs.  This is not an instant occurrence in our lives.It is much harder to forgive a wound we keep fresh by picking at the scab.There is a natural tendency in people to remember wrongs and develop resentments. Keeping our thought life focused on honorable and good things takes effort and intentionality. It needs to be worked at every day. Further, in a believer’s life it is accomplished through the intervention of the Spirit, in response to prayer. As we grow spiritually, we learn to forgive and focus on those things that Paul listed. Conversely, if we fail to discipline our thought lives, we will not mature spiritually. Resentments will always hinder intimacy with God.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Responding to Folks Who Mistreat You

Perhaps the hardest bit of advice I ever received from a mentor was that I needed to pray more. Normally, being told that you need to pray shouldn’t be an overly difficult suggestion, but this was related to a couple of guys I was working with at the time, who were creating significant difficulty for me. They were making my work harder and undermining me with my supervisor. During the several months I was working with these two individuals, I spent hours every evening fuming and dreaded going to work in the morning. After several months of misery, I approached my mentor and asked him what I could do to deal prayerwith the problem. His response made me angry. He asked me how praying for them was going, also reminding me that Jesus directs his followers to pray for their enemies. I didn’t argue, because I knew I was stuck. This began a process of prayer that changed my life. It was hard to pray for the men in question, largely because I didn’t want to do it. The idea of praying for these guys who had made me miserable for months scalded me. It offended me through and through. Praying for my enemies, and as dramatic as it sounds, they were my enemies, was difficult at first. As time progressed, it became increasingly easier and I learned several important lessons. 

First, I learned that praying for folks that I disliked had a profound effect on me. I increasingly learned to love the folks who mistreated me. My resentments slowly ebbed away. I began to rejoice when God brought blessing into their lives. Ultimately, prayer accomplished something amazing in me, it changed my heart. Through prayer, I became more like Jesus, a gain that makes all of the discomfort more than worthwhile.

The second major lesson I learned happened in the months and years that followed. One of the guys I was praying for received a huge blessing in his life that resulted in his moving to another job. I celebrated an answer to prayer in the form of God blessing him and also in his departure. The other guy I was praying for changed slowly over time and eventually became a very different person. The changes God made in his heart were evident and a reason for celebration. Prayer changes things. In this case, it changed the guys I was praying for. This is important because God is capable of accomplishing great things in our world.

Sermon LinkA final lesson I learned from praying for my enemies happened years later, when I began praying for another fellow I found myself in conflict with. During my first sit down to pray for him, I was suddenly convicted of the various actions I had taken in response to the unpleasantness I was encountering. A simple question came to mind: Is he seeing Jesus in my responses? I will admit that I knew I hadn’t been turning the other cheek or walking the extra mile. I didn’t want to. I wanted to exact my pound of flesh. I began to employ Christ’s other teachings for dealing with my enemy and my relationship with the individual changed. In fact, within a short period I had become friends with him. The product of prayer in this case was conviction of my own sins. That conviction resulted in new action that resulted in a change in the situation. Through prayer, God brought to light my own failure to imitate Christ in my reactions to mistreatment. 

At the most basic level, the direction to pray for our enemies is one that is prominent in the teachings of Christ. This is the single best reason for doing it. I can testify as to the various benefits that have resulted from my prayer experiences, but the reason we ought to do it is because Jesus commands it. If He is Lord in our lives, we must do it. Fortunately, it is a teaching that, though counterintuitive, has some clear benefits to believers. 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fellowship Like a Punch in the Face

My first ministry job was as a youth pastor. When I started, the church had over 200 members and was growing. 9 years and 5 church fights later, we left a congregation of 20, swearing that we would never work in a church again. During my tenure, I had seen folks act poorly, gossip, mistreat each other (and me), and all manner of other unpleasantness. When I left the church, I took a job as a chaplain at a mental health facility for children with emotional disorders. It was volatile, frequently violent, and a breath of fresh air. I used to joke that evechurch fightn though the kids sometimes tried to punch you, at least they were attacking you out in the open and to your face. It took my wife and I years to decide to agree to take on ministry employment in a church again. There is a terrible truth about churches that has to be faced by anyone who is (or was) ever a part of one. The people who are meant to become like Jesus through their lives together in the church community, often bear little resemblance to Jesus or what He taught. Over the years, I have spoken with and visited with all sorts of folks who have shared tough stories, ones that I can relate to all too well. Folks were burned by people that were supposed to love and support them. It’s a tragedy that such experiences are so common. While talking with a friend earlier this afternoon, I realized how blessed I was to have been surrounded and supported by some awesome believers who helped my wife and I find rest and healing after a tumultuous time in our lives and relationship with God. The basic lessons and realizations we came to were powerful and important.

One of the major lessoverly_manly_manons I learned was from the Apostle Paul. While studying the second letter to Corinth, I realized that Paul had come to visit the church there and been humiliated and run out of town. A group of preachers, who were more concerned with making money than preaching the gospel, had made a fool of Paul in a debate. Paul then sent Titus to salvage his relationship with the church. He was eventually reconciled with them and the false teachers run off. The thing that’s worth observing here is that Paul was stabbed in the back, mocked, and mistreated by folks who were supposed to be his brothers in Christ. His response was stern, but loving. He did not back down off of the truth, but throughout the whole ordeal he pointed to Jesus as the truth. He did not want payback. He wanted the church to be reconciled. Ultimately, he was just following the example of Christ, who reinstated Peter after he denied even knowing Christ. The lesson to be learned here isn’t that we should jump back into the mess after walking away from those who abused us. Rather, it is a model of forgiveness and grace. It is very easy to fall into bitterness after we are hurt. It is easy to attack and judge. In the end, we need to forgive in order to heal. Nothing keeps a wound fresh more effectively than picking at it forever. I do not believe that Paul simply forget when individuals proved themselves to be untrustworthy. Rather, I’d suggest that he acted “as wise as a serpent and as innocent as a dove.” Love and grace need to rule our attitude and decisions, particularly when dealing with fellow believers. 

Another vital lesson I learned was that not every Christian is the same. In fact, not every member of any denomination, sect, or movement is the same. While one church handled us roughly, the next church we attended was supportive and loving. We watched our senior pastor being mistreated in one setting, but have experienced significant appreciation and support in our current ministry situation. It is easy to resort to this: all Christians are the same. Or to insert any of the following groups into that sentence: all pastors, all Presbyterians, all Baptists, all men, all elders, all Calvinists, etc. The truth is that it’s just not true. The people that brought hurt into your life are not the same people as all the other members of the larger group. It is easy to blame everyone for the actions of a few, and it can be quite comforting. It’s comforting to have someone to aim your anger at. It’s easy to transfer hurt feelings to everyone. However, as comforting as it is, aiming hurt at others doesn’t produce healing. It is a false comfort, like drinking salt water to quench your thirst. You can drink as much as you like, it’ll only make you thirstier. 

A final lesson I learned in the process of overcoming the hurt that I experienced was regarding the importance of moving on. For my wife and I, it was easy to get mired in remembering some of the particularly ugly behaviors we encountered. I personally spent a lot of time living in response to various actions and things that had been said to me. It’s easy to get stuck. I have met people who walked away from church for life over the actions of a few individuals. I have met those who abandoned their faith in response to un-Christlike Christians. I have met all sorts of people who have let the root of bitterness take hold in their souls and simply live to attack, bite, fight, and hurt because they have hurt that they cannot help but share. Getting stuck in a response to hurt inflicted upon you is simply allowing the people who hurt you to control your life. Whether it’s spending forever ignoring God or trying to take a pound of flesh from someone, anyone. Overcoming this sort of thing once it is entrenched in your life begins with a conscious effort to choose a different response to our past. This isn’t easy, but it is necessary in order to find healing and become whole again.

James’ epistle features a terrific line: 

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

James 1:19-20

As we evaluate our response to past ill treatment, it is important that we ask ourselves regularly if the anger we are carrying is bringing God glory. Are we loving the lost and our brothers in Christ? Are we acting in a way that draws others closer to Christ? Is our anger a product of resentment and bitterness? Do we love the least lovable people we encounter? If we find ourselves answering any of these questions in a way that indicates we are not glorifying God, even in the most painful parts of our lives, then we must heal and overcome. James offers an interesting bit of advice for accomplishing this. He calls us to pray for wisdom, which is applied knowledge. This is a difficult act of submission, but is necessary for spiritual growth to take place in the lives of those who have been broken by the careless acts of misguided believers. 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,