Posts made in July, 2012

Sometimes A+B=Crap

Posted by on Jul 6, 2012 in Faith, Mental Health | 0 comments

Sometimes A+B=Crap

I am not good at math. Never have been. Something about formulas and concrete answers and exact outcomes just confuses the heck out of me. I am much more comfortable with abstract thinking, shades of gray, and metaphors.

Maybe it’s my failure to fully comprehend math that leaves me frustrated with formulas… not just true mathematical formulas, but also formulaic thinking that tries to define things that I think really have no definition. At the same time that I’m frustrated, I also find myself craving formulas, exact parameters that make life more sensible and easy to navigate. I think this is human nature, that as much as we reject rules and formulas, at the same time we crave them for the sense of order and control they provide.

Take, for example, the following experiences…

At work: Oftentimes, a friend or acquaintance sends me a quick text or e mail asking for my input about a mental health issue, usually a concern with their child. I know it must seem like I can message back a quick and tidy answer since I work in this field, but unfortunately, there is no formula a + b = mental health that I can apply to a person or problem that will instantly cure it. Yes, there are principles and theories that guide the work, but there is no specific formula. Every person is different. It is harder than using a one-size-fits-all approach, but the work requires significant time and energy getting to know and understand each individual person and finding meaning in their unique background and experiences to understand how to help on an individual basis.

At home: If you have had a baby, then you know the entire world has an opinion on how you should be raising your precious child. There are so many books and approaches that reduce parenting to a formula. With my first baby, I found this to be especially true on the topic of infant sleep, a + b = sleep. All of the formulas that I read or heard about went against what felt right to me, so I didn’t use one. Husband and I used the most non-formula approach to baby sleep that I imagine the world has ever known. It was harder than using a one-size-fits-all approach because we had to pray and discern and adapt to find what felt like it best suited the unique needs of our babies and our family (we approached sleep with each one slightly differently), but in the end we found what was right for us. And both of our children go to bed easily in their own beds at night and sleep through the entire night, even though the formulas said it would not be possible.

At church: I find that sometimes even good church teaching gets twisted into the idea that there is a formula we can activate to make God perform on our behalf, and that if we have done a nice job of this, our lives will look just right… “If you do this, God will do that”… a + b = easy living, yes please, Amen! This is tricky, because there is some truth to this equation… there absolutely are principles and promises that you can count on in God. The problem is with the formula. Many times, the part of the equation between receiving the promise and seeing the end result of it involves a lot of stuff that just doesn’t seem to make good, simple sense. The truth is, you can do everything in your power to live a good, Godly life, and still have hardships and difficulties factored into the equation. God does not fit into the box of our human understanding. He tells us, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways… As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). It is harder than using a one-size-fits-all approach, but following and trusting God requires effort to hear His voice for you, confirm it through His Word, and then trust that it may look nothing like what you imagined.

The point I’m making is that in each of these instances, really in any area of life, the formulas oversimplify a much more complex and individual process. They provide an easy way out that only scratches the surface of everything that may be there. The examples I gave from work and home are really just observations, silly things in a way, but the issue of applying a formula to life in God I think is much more significant.

Here’s the problem with putting God into that kind of formula. It breeds pride in those who are prospering and condemnation in those who are struggling. It can give people who are blessed by the world’s standards a sense that their success is a result of their own piety and righteousness. It tends to leave those who are hurting or facing adversity feeling that they have been marginalized and ostracized by the church, and perhaps even God as well. We’ve again applied human understanding and formulas to the mystery that is the way of God. We forget that blessing, favor, and gifts from God don’t always fit the human definition of money, titles, and things.

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” ~ Galatians 5:22-23 (The Message Bible).

I personally have felt the sting of well meaning people implying, sometimes stating directly, that some difficulty I was experiencing was the result of my failure to pray or perform correctly. What these people were saying is that I didn’t follow their formula. To them I say, respectfully but emphatically, you are wrong, about me and about the way my God of grace works. To anyone else who has felt this same sting, I encourage you to seek God’s answers and grace to understand the difficulties you have endured – He will not give you a formula, but He will give you direction, truth, conviction, understanding, and comfort.

“Naturally, we are inclined to be so mathematical and calculating that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing…Certainty is the mark of the common-sense life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness; it should rather be an expression of breathless expectation.” ~ Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Difficult Questions: Forgiveness

Posted by on Jul 5, 2012 in Faith, Mental Health | 0 comments

Difficult Questions: Forgiveness

You may have heard me mention that Husband and I have faced years of difficult and kind of bizarre trials. I use the word bizarre because many of these trials have been unexpected, unanticipated events that no one else we know has gone through or really seems to understand. Honestly, I’m still trying to understand most of them myself, not sure I ever really will.

A number of the trials we’ve endured have been the result of being wronged by other people, something that I realize is common and inevitable in life – but a few of those times it felt bizarre and unexpected to us because it was at the hands of people we loved and trusted, people we served, people we helped. Wow, that hurts. And when the hurt and betrayal is executed by people you love, trust, and/or depend upon, it is so tempting to erect impenetrable walls that guard your heart from vulnerability to another person so that you never have to experience such a horrific wound again.

The problem is that building these walls with bricks of bitterness, unforgiveness, self preservation, and defensiveness really does nothing to vindicate the hurt or prevent it from happening again, it only forces the builder into a miserable inner shell. Believe me, I know. I’ve lived a lot of my life behind these walls, and a lot of life without walls of bitterness and offense to protect me… I can tell you there was no difference between a walled existence and an open existence in terms of people doing crappy things to me, but there was an unbelievable difference in the quality of my life and condition of my heart when I chose to forgive and move on, no walls.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” ~Lewis B. Smedes

So the question is, “How do we forgive the unforgivable?”

I find forgiveness to be a process, the first step of which is simply purposing in my heart by speaking aloud to myself and God, “I choose on purpose to forgive this person.” Then this is where it gets messy, because purposing to forgive does not erase all of the damage that was done and the emotion that bubbled up as a result. I think trying to shove those very real feelings down and gloss over them as though that is what forgiveness demands is the very act that makes forgiveness impossible. I think the feelings have to come out to go away. Wrestling through the intensity of the hurt, the anger, the desire to retaliate (not with the offender initially, just internally and with God), but all while keeping in mind that you’ve purposed to forgive, the end goal is forgiveness, and that the point is to let the emotions out so that they can be let go is all part of the process.

“When we forgive evil, we do not excuse it, we do not tolerate it, we do not smother it. We look the evil full in the face, call it what it is, let its horror shock and stun and enrage us, and only then do we forgive it.” ~Lewis B. Smedes

Often I think we know we’re supposed to forgive but either don’t know how or find it impossible. Forgiveness, in a way, goes against our human nature to protect and preserve ourselves. If we recognize that the power to forgive is not always within ourselves and keep taking our hurt and desire to forgive to God, He can supply the power to do the seemingly impossible within us. Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom shares the following story:

“It was a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,’ he said. ‘To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!’

His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.”

The story says that she then took his hand and the most incredible thing happened.

“From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.” ~The Hiding Place

Sometimes forgiveness results in a restored relationship, but sometimes it can not. Either way, forgiveness does not equal forgetting, it does not make the event as though it never happened… instead, true forgiveness leaves us able to recall events without a rush of intense emotion, in a state that we could see the person who committed the wrong with no desire left to retaliate in hurt and anger.

“Forgiveness does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we can not forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.” ~Lewis B. Smedes

Difficult Questions: Suffering

Posted by on Jul 3, 2012 in Faith, Mental Health | 2 comments

Difficult Questions: Suffering

Over the past week I’ve found myself heavy-hearted from hearing one sad story after another. Some of these stories belong to my friends, some to people I’ve never met, but all have in common that they’ve happened to good, loving, giving people. Some of these stories are especially striking to me because they involve people encountering devastation in the midst of doing over-the-top amazing things to better the world and humanity.These stories have left me wrestling, once again, with the question of how such terrible things can happen to wonderful people.

One of my prayer times looked something like this:

Question : “God, why does it seem like the people pursuing the most loving, self-sacrificing, God-inspired things are suffering the most?”

Answer: “It’s because the world views suffering differently than I do.”

I can’t stop mulling over that answer and learning all that I can about what it means. Here are some things I’ve read in the process that I have found especially moving and encouraging…

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” ~C.S. Lewis

“We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.” ~Winston Churchill

“…the value of suffering does not lie in the pain of it…but in what the sufferer makes of it…It is in sorrow that we discover the things which really matter; in sorrow that we discover ourselves.” ~Mary Craig

“I thank God for my handicaps, for through them I have found myself, my work, and my God.” ~Helen Keller

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ~Khalil Gibran

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” ~Helen Keller

“To fly, we have to have resistance.” ~Maya Lin

“If I (the Shepherd) carried you to the top (of the High Places, without all the struggles you are going through) you would never develop hinds’ feet for yourself”…” ~Hannah Hurnard

“If we are going to pursue the things of the Lord, we will often not understand what He is doing…As my friend always used to tell me, ‘Sometimes God crushes a petal to bring out its essence.’ Sometimes He offends our minds to reveal our hearts.” ~John Wimber

“Somehow we need to bring a sense of realism into the way we read familiar Scripture. Picture in your mind a bruised, lacerated, limping Apostle Paul addressing the church in Derbe, Lystra and Iconium just three or four days after being stoned to unconsciousness and apparent death, “encouraging” the believers to remain true to the faith, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) These believers themselves were only days or weeks old in the faith. Or imagine Peter and John, with their backs raw with welts from the cruel flogging they had received, “rejoicing” that they were worthy of the ‘shame’ attached to the name of Christ, as they burst back onto the streets defiantly and fearlessly to preach and teach. Such realism seems totally foreign to our pleasure loving Western Church scene. However, it would not seem out of place in southern Sudan or the Maluccas in Indonesia or in northern Nigeria or upper Eqypt.” ~A. David Macnaughtan

“What God really wants is for us to be ‘strong in the Lord’ (Ephesians 6:10). And becoming strong in the Lord almost always requires that God weaken us. For it’s when our weakness forces us to depend on His strength that we grow in our understanding of the gospel and learn to walk by faith. And usually our deepest, most precious encounters with God occur in the context of our weaknesses, not our strengths.” ~Jon Bloom

“Things which she had thought dark and terrible and which had made her tremble as she looked up from the Valley because they had seemed so alien to any part of the Realm of Love, were now seen to be but parts of a great and wonderful whole. They were so altered and modified that as she saw what they extended into, she wondered at having been so blind and stupid at having had such false ideas about them.

She began to understand quite clearly that truth cannot be understood from books alone or by any written works, but only by personal growth and development in understanding, and that things written even in the Book of Books can be astonishingly misunderstood while one still lives on the low levels of spiritual experience and on the wrong side of the grave on the mountains.

She perceived that no one who finds herself up on the slopes of the Kingdom of Love can possibly dogmatise about what is seen there, because it is only then that she comprehends how small a part of the glorious whole she sees. All she can do is to gasp with wonder, awe, and thanksgiving, and to long with all her heart to go higher and to see and understand more.” ~Hannah Hurnard, Hinds’ Feet on High Places

I could write pages of my own words about this idea as well and probably will at some point! I just loved reading these words of inspiration and encouragement from people who faced extraordinary obstacles yet saw extraordinary miracles come to pass in spite of them, or sometimes even as a result of them. On that note, if you are struggling with this question I would highly recommend the Hannah Hurnard book, Hinds’ Feet on High Places, it is an incredibly uplifting look at how sorrow and suffering help us on our journeys.

Difficult Questions

Posted by on Jul 2, 2012 in Faith, Mental Health | 0 comments

Difficult Questions

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Mommy, what’s that?”

“A bulldozer.”

“Mommy, why is the bulldozer on the road?”

“It looks like it’s driving to a construction site.”

“Mommy, what’s a construction site?”

“It’s a place where something is built.”

“Mommy, what does built mean?”

“It means to put things together to make something.”

“Okay, Mommy.”

~

“Mommy, may I have a yogurt?”

“Yes. I think you’ll like this new yogurt, it’s smooth.”

“Mommy, what’s smooth?”

“There’s nothing in it. It doesn’t have chunks of fruit.”

“Mommy, what’s chunks?”

“Pieces of things.”

“Mommy, what’s pieces of things?”

“I don’t know. Eat your yogurt.”

~

These are real conversations from my morning. These types of conversations comprise the bulk of what I talk about day in, day out. If you have attempted to speak to me lately and found me mostly incapable of talking like a normal adult, this would be the reason why.

Answering a constant string of questions can be exhausting, but I really love these converstaions with Bug. They are the way my almost 4 year old is learning about and making sense of the world around her. I love her curiosity and excitement about the newness of everything. I make a real effort to answer the questions completely and truthfully, to the best of my ability (sometimes they’re pretty hard) as evidenced in the first conversation above; but as you can see from the second, sometimes I just run out of answers.

Most of Bug’s questions at this point have real, concrete answers, but this morning I was reminded that there are so many questions in life that don’t have clear answers.  And that’s what I’m writing about this week, difficult questions and hard to find answers, mysteries that don’t seem to make much sense. More to come…

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