Friday, August 30, 2013

Believe in Your Kids

You are a parent.  You love your children.  You want to protect them.  And in many ways you absolutely should.  There are many things and people out there that are dangerous, that can and will hurt them, and that they are not equipped to handle themselves.  This is why you tell your kids not to talk to strangers.  This is why, when they are little, you don't let them wander the streets alone.

But one of the best gifts you can give to your children is the gift of believing in them and allow them to believe in themselves.  And this is where things get tricky.  There is such a thing as trying to protect your children too much.  There is such a thing as treating them like they are helpless little victims at the hands of the big bad wolf (some other person, or some difficult situation), and you have to do what you can to "fix" it for them all the time.

The problem is that when you treat your child like they are a helpless victim they will believe they are a helpless victim and likely carry it for the rest of their lives.  To treat your child in this way shows, as much as you love them, that you don't really believe in them.  You don't believe in their potential.  You don't believe in their ability to surmount obstacles, face themselves in the midst of the difficulties of life and grow and learn and get back up.  You show them that you believe their legs are too weak to handle life.  You coddle them, and in so doing you cripple them.

You might say, "That is ridiculous!  What an offensive thing to suggest!  Of course I believe in my child.  They are wonderful and I love them."  I'm certain that you do, but step back and consider the message sent your actions toward them.  Are you a helicopter parent, hovering worriedly and endlessly, looking to rescue them from any difficulty that comes their way, refusing to allow them to grow into their own potential and sense of self-respect and personal responsibility?  And do you excuse it as "just being a parent?"  Time to take a step back.  Maybe the issue is that you don't really believe in yourself, and you are projecting it onto them.

To believe in your child means to allow them to test their own limits and strengths and weaknesses for themselves in a situation that is realistically not impossible for them.  They will fail, and they will learn.  They will fall, but they will learn to get back up.  They will be rejected.  But they will grow.  It means you see and believe in their potential even when they do not, even when they are screaming for mommy to rescue them, and you allow them to face their fears and taste success for themselves.

See, when you overprotect them, not only are you conveying to them that you don't believe in a potential they cannot see, you are robbing them of their own success.  You are robbing them of the sense of accomplishment, the experience of their own flourishing potential, when there is a success they have worked hard to obtain, an obstacle they have worked hard to surmount.  You rob them of what it means to believe in themselves.

Protect them when it comes to situations that can put them into actual danger.  Help and protect them when it comes to situations that are truly far beyond their ability to handle.  But otherwise, as they get older be an advocate and partner with them, not a control freak.  Show them you believe in them by allowing them to taste life for themselves and find their own legs.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Forgiving

When we are hurt, we are so quick to take things personally.  We can't believe they would do that to us, put us through all that pain.  And the more we focus on that, the worse we feel.  This is because one of the most critical elements of forgiveness is the ability to stand back, outside of the wound, and see things are they really are.  This is what Jesus did when he hung bleeding and dying on the cross and uttered those echoing words, "Forgive them, Father.  For they know not what they do."

Jesus' words are real and they are timeless.  It was not a minimization of the sin done to him.  We get nowhere by dismissing our feelings about the wrong.  But it was an acknowledgement that, on some level, mankind is dysfunctionally crazy.  We are mad.  We don't really even know what we are doing.  We are like mad dogs, chewing through just about anything to get the food we crave.  We are led around by our desires and by the brokenness of our experiences in this sinful world.  We are complicit, for sure, but on another level we are clueless, unaware, even deranged animals.

And truly... most people, if you really look at it, are not trying to personally attack you and ruin your life.  Most of the time, they are just very confused individuals who don't really know what they want or what they are doing in life.  They are chasing after phantoms and fantasies of a heaven on earth.  They are chasing after idols that they think will make life all better... something all of us do to some degree.  They aren't so much thinking about how to hurt you as they are just thinking about themselves.

And so to forgive someone you must come to the place where you can see them as people outside of yourself.  You can look at them outside of the situation and realize, "Hey, they are confused and clueless.  It is sad what happened, and it hurts badly.  But they probably don't really don't even know what they are doing.  They are just one more screwed up person in this world, like the rest of us, and I will only torture myself the more I try to make this all about me."

When you focus on your wound, when you focus on what they have taken from you, and when you analyze and focus on how screwed up and bad the person is, you only poison yourself and unwittingly making the offender much bigger and more important than they actually are.  I know how it is.  In your hurt, you don't want to let them go, so you do focus on these things.  But it only keeps you in chains and detaches you from reality. 

Instead, come to peace with reality.  They are wrapped up in their own ways and own thoughts and, because of that, hurt you.  You could freak out and hurt them because of how angry and hurt you are, but you won't because you care about what is right and have maturity.  But they are just one of the whole screwed up human population.  As bad as they seem to you in your life, they are just a person... one screwed up person out of billions.  They aren't that special.  They aren't as big as you make them out to be in your pain.

What is better... to live as though this person is this big horrible monster who hurt you and humiliated you, making you feel so low, as they reject and betray you and replace you and carry on freely with their lives, always feeling like a loser and living as a prisoner to your desire to see them fail and be hated by others for what a bad person you know them to be (which may never ever happen)... or to not take it personally, to live as though this person is just one other person in this world who is a sinner and who is confused, whose path crossed yours and impacted your life with their sin and distortion about reality, and now you can send them, just one common person, off to live their life as you pick up the pieces of your own to find a fuller and less painful life?

So forgive them, for they know not what they do, and reclaim your life and future on God's earth.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

There's Something Wrong, and We Know it

Somewhere inside, we all know that there is something wrong with this world, and we don't really know why we know it.  We just do.  We know that this world is not how it should be.  Yet we live in a kind of denial about it.  How so?  We do not deny that there are things wrong -things in the world, things in our life at any given moment, things we see happen to a loved one- but we deny that it is part of a bigger whole, a world that is permanently broken, a world that is not how it should be and won't ever be.  This world will never be what it ought.  It will never be heaven on earth.  It will never satisfy. 

Somewhere, we know this, but we don't want to believe it.  We run from it.  We bury that part of us and seek to find, or create, heaven on earth.  We try to turn this world into what we think it ought to be.  This sounds harmless at first, and truly there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve the world.  The problem is that you have 8 billion people each with their own idea of heaven on earth, each with their own idea of what God and others should do to make it that way, each raging at God and others in their own special way because it isn't.  Each person has their own fantasy, though they have common themes, and they impose that fantasy upon the world around them, and they live out of the rage and disappointment that follows.

Why do this?  Because we do not want to live in reality.  We want to live in denial.  We would rather live behind a facade and dull that part of us that knows the world is broken because it means we don't have to face the ultimate pain and grief of knowing we will never have, for example, the person we love as it could and should be.  Instead we get, ironically, their facade... their empty front, while they also retreat from the part of them that painfully sees the world as it is.  And so it is madness.

God forbid we find the courage to face that part of us, and come out of our shells and learn to depend on someone who is worthy of our dependence.  Then, and only then, can we really come out and see that side of ourselves, the side we buried long ago when we discovered the world for what it really is.

What happens when we wake up and face this part of ourselves?  We find our real selves, and we find Jesus there.  He says, "It's about time.  I've been sitting here for ages waiting for you.  Now, come close to me, be with me, lean on me, and let's see what we can do to love this world as it is until the time when I return and make all things new.  Then you will be with me, and you will find more than just a taste of what you long for.  You will have more than your fill.  You will find the world that is how it ought to be, the age that is what we all long for, and I will be there with you to rejoice in you enjoying it.  It does not come by your own efforts and micromanagement of the people and situations around you.  It comes as a gift, a new creation.  I am preparing a place for you."


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Why Less is More

In personal disputes with others, I am learning that less is more.  Though I still have this compulsive tendency to want to answer and explain and refute every single point or every single accusation... in verbose detail... with charts and footnotes... something has been happening to me over the last year or two.  What happened?  I finally started listening to myself.

See, everyone has this "sixth sense" that picks up what is not said by people.  It reads body language.  It reads tone.  It senses emotion and tension.  It sees the big picture.  It isn't always 100% accurate, but it is pretty good.  This part of you contains your internal reactions.  These reactions are triggered for reasons, real reasons -maybe not always reasons that pertain to the current situation, but real reasons nonetheless.  And when you start to listen to this part of you, funny things start happening.

First of all, you pick up things that you wouldn't normally pick up.  You can pick up when, for example, someone really has no desire to listen to you.  You can also pick up when the person's accusations were thrown out there only to make you feel bad, manipulate you, and throw you off balance.  Therefore, if you listen, you can ascertain when to save your breath.  You can understand pretty quickly when it is not about facts, not about evidence, but about them getting you to do what they want.

Why play into the hands of someone who wants to throw you off, who wants to put you on the defensive, who wants you to feel like you need to answer all of their questions and give an account to all of their accusations?  Why play into this kind of game?  I can think of no good reason.

This doesn't mean you need to write them off.  That is up to you.  But you have the freedom to choose because you can transcend the game.  You can confront the game and say something like, "Whenever you are done, let me know," or you can choose to walk away, "No thanks.  I'm not doing this."  No explanation required.  Why spend 30 futile minutes trying to explain something they probably can't see to begin with?  That is just playing into the game, again.

Unfortunately, there is the downside to this.  People won't like you.  See, people who play these games (and we all do) are used to expecting others to go along with it in order to "make nice."  Most people aren't even aware of when they are being emotionally manipulative.  They aren't aware of their ploys because, to them, that is normal.  That is how they handle things like anger due to feeling rejected.  It is unconscious.  So, when you don't play into their game it will only incite their anger more.  They will accuse you more -they will especially accuse you of being uncaring (because, to them, people who care will play into the game... they always have).  They will play victim more.  They will guilt-trip you more.  You will definitely be a bad guy...  But you just saved yourself a whole lot of headaches, conserved some very useful energy, and resisted enabling someone's emotional head-trip.  You're welcome.


Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Humility vs. Being a Doormat - Part 2

It seems this topic is a popular one.  Many people search on Google to try and understand just what the difference is between being humble and being a doormat -if there is any.  In a previous post, I argued that there is indeed a difference, using Jesus as the prime example.  Below I offer three more thoughts on the subject.

First, part of the reason we may find this confusing is that I believe we tend to view humility as thinking lowly of oneself, the opposite of thinking too highly of oneself (probably because we lack good examples of humility).  But this is not the case.  Humility is not thinking lowly of oneself -it is just as easy to be self-preoccupied negatively, and it is utterly unhelpful to call that a virtue.  But it is obviously not thinking highly of oneself, either.  And it is definitely not some kind of middle-ground between the two.  Humility is thinking of oneself less.  It is, as Tim Keller calls it, "self-forgetfulness."

Humility is off the grid.  It doesn't play by the rules of the scale.  It is the denial of the scale.

Second, if you really look at it, humble actions and doormat actions are really not all that similar.  Again, perhaps part of the confusion arises because we picture humility as a meek little self-flagellating person who is always beating themselves for daring to act as though they were equal with others.  Christians are not immune to this.  In fact, I wonder to what degree the Christian traditions over the centuries have helped paint this very picture.

But that is not humility.  A humble person would do things a doormat never would.  A humble person would tell the uncomfortable truth to someone even if it might mean personal loss.  They don't use "the truth" as a power-play like some do, but they would find a way to speak it if they felt it was important for the other person.  A doormat never would.  In other words, a humble person is not afraid to rock the boat when it benefits other people -because they are not obsessed with making sure they never personally fall out of it.  But a doormat resists rocking the boat, and when their real feelings finally surface and explode, it is always followed by shame and self-condemnation for daring to think they are equal enough with others to get involved.

Third, the funny thing about humility is that you cannot really emulate it directly.  The moment you call humility a virtue and think you've pulled off "acting humbly", you will notice that you immediately are proud of how humble you are.  Or as Tim Keller puts it... humility is "shy... the minute you start talking about it, it goes away."

Humility is the result of something that happens to you which shifts your gaze away from you and outward toward others.