New Strategies for Future Challenges

We are all hot messes. It is hard to examine ourselves. This may not be your first rodeo with recovery and Step Four. That’s okay - you are not alone. I have a friend who was working, by all accounts, a decent program. Her mother died unexpectedly in a car accident. On the day of her mother’s funeral, she had a slip up and drank at her mother’s memorial service. She feels like a failure.

Of course she does. But what we are learning in recovery is that our feelings are not always fact. Her friends empathize with how lousy she feels AND they remind her that she did not lose all her clean time because she had one slip. She feels a lot of shame - and we can all relate to that! But using on this particularly difficult day without a support network around her to navigate the funeral and after party? That does not make her a failure. And it does not negate her recovery efforts. It does, however, make her vulnerable if she doesn’t jump right back on the recovery train.

Perhaps you are not a person in recovery from Substance Use Disorder. Maybe you cannot relate to her struggles. Take a few breaths and re-evaluate your situation. How many times have you promised yourself ‘A’ only to live ‘B’. Maybe your blood work indicates you are headed on a direct path toward diabetes and you know that you MUST change your way of eating. After your son’s birthday bash. After the holidays. Or your marriage is kind of a mess and you know you SHOULD go get some help, but who to go to? And it’s expensive! And time consuming!! So there we have it - we are all far more alike than different.

Early recovery and initial efforts to change feel bad and are hard to sustain. It is easy to think that this means life is bad. It’s hard work but helpful to remember that this bad feeling may be just a blip on the road to an otherwise abundant life. A slip that is rapidly followed up by a return to recovery or new ways of living can help a person and their support team figure out how to tweak their program for more effectiveness. In the case above, my friend has decided that she will no longer attend high stress, heavy drinking family functions without a recovery buddy. She will go early and leave early. She has new strategies for future challenges, even those that are not as traumatic as her mom’s funeral.

We need to "find our way back home"

If turning our life and will over to the care and control of God “fixed stuff” we wouldn’t need a Fourth Step. We would also see a statistical difference in divorce rates, fewer problems with Substance Use Disorder in Christian families, and a host of other problems people face daily. Folks who are faithful believers should, in theory, have fewer problems than those who do not profess a faith in God. But we do not see statistical differences. Faithful people struggle with the same issues at approximately the same rate as folks who spend Sundays cutting grass and watching sports on television.

In trying to explain this, a few gurus and experts have resorted to blame. They talk about how people at church are struggling because they do not pray right, they have never really accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, they have unconfessed sin, etc. etc. etc. But, what if it is actually more complicated than that? What if blame is not the answer?

Maybe our humanity lends itself to control issues, forgetfulness of our divine image-bearing capacity, and confusion about what it means to turn our life over. This is certainly true for the men and women we read about in the scriptures. Why wouldn’t it also be true for us? Look at Hebrews 11, the Hall of Fame of God’s righteous people. They are, every one of them, a cast of characters with spotty resumes and plenty of bad behaving.

Maybe there are those among us who simply have been selfish and self-seeking and need a good strong kick in the spiritual pants. However, this has not been my experience with people. I find that most people do not ruthlessly and wantonly try to screw up their lives by making poor choices. Underneath every story that appears to be about callous indifference to others is usually a wounded animal fighting to survive. Often this wounded soul has been traumatized in some way. There is much here to be both merciful and gracious about.

Wounded or not, when we do screw up our lives, behave ruthlessly, wantonly disregard the needs and wants of others, lie, cheat and steal...we need to change all that. We need to figure out how to turn around and find our way back home. Home base for humans includes the capacity to behave with empathy and compassion, to regard others’ needs and wants as well as our own, to know and live by the truth, to live honorably. To love well. In a few studies we will start that process.

Accurately assessing ourselves creates peace

There is absolutely, hands down, no better way to make peace with myself and others than to take stock of myself and see, really see, who I am and how my personhood impacts those around me. This is an essential part of a fresh start.

Imagine you are transferring the ownership of your life to God in the same way you would transfer ownership of a business. One of the first things you would do in negotiating to sell a business would be to take an inventory to discover the damaged or out-of-date goods that are no longer salable.

In Step Four we call it a “moral” inventory because we compile a list of traits and behaviors that have transgressed our highest moral values. We also inventory our “good” traits and the behaviors that represent them. In our life’s moral inventory the defects or dysfunctional behaviors might include some that once worked; some dysfunctional behaviors may have saved our lives as children, but they are now out-of-date, self- defeating, and cause us a great deal of trouble when we use them as adults.

- Keith Miller, A Hunger for Healing

Another person in recovery talked about his own Step 4 inventory when he said, “The inventory is the first thing I do in conscious partnership with God. And that’s why prayer is so important in the process. It is not something I’m going to figure out when I’m preoccupied with and deconstruct it and analyze it...all those things I’ve tried to do [on my own] and came out disastrously wrong.”

An inventory is how we STEP UP. But we can only do so when we have leaned into this sure-footed understanding that God is not out to get us. Tomorrow, we will look more closely at the process itself.

The benefit of making decisions slowly

Some situations are mine to own and respond to! What if I am the lead dog? What if the decisions needed rest at my feet? If I am highly invested, I need to slow down and listen up.

1. Who do I need to learn from? Listen to? Consider? Have I really gathered all the data?

1. Get curious, without trying to sway or influence others.

2. How can I contribute?

1. Do I have a super power I can bring to the table? If so, have I been invited to use it?

If not, STEP BACK. If yes, the final question.

3. What can I responsibly contribute to the situation without any regard for the outcome?

If we are too focused on the outcome, then we will have a very tough time detaching from our feelings, thoughts, preferences, and habitual ways of acting while under stress. When we can practice objectivity and live life without attachment to a particular outcome, we are well-positioned to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

The STEP BACK is an important boundaries tool. But the STEP UP is all about character. What happens when we realize that we’ve messed up? Well folks, there are appropriate responses for that too.

Stay tuned!

What problems are yours to solve?

Yesterday we suggested that some problems are not ours to solve. We need to detach from the problem and its possible outcomes. Other times, another choice is appropriate. These questions may help you distinguish between the two:

1. What is my part in this matter?

1. Do I even have a right to claim investment in the outcome?

2. Is this even my business?

3. Am I staying within my boundary? Is this my problem?

If I decide that this is indeed my business, I am appropriately invested in the outcome because it is my business and I am NOT overstepping any boundaries if I take on the work of trying to be a part of the solution, then I move on to a different set of questions:

1. What is my part in this matter?

1. Who are the other stakeholders in this situation? Who is the primary stakeholder?

2. What part do I play in relation to the other stakeholders?

3. Am I a bit player? A lead dog? A co-laborer?

4. Am I over-invested in the outcome in light of my role?

5. Is my ego involved?

6. How do I fit in with the whole picture?

Suppose after all this self-reflection I discover that I am not the primary stakeholder in this scenario. Maybe I am just a bit player. But perhaps my thoughts and feelings are deeply invested in the problem. When that happens, I am becoming part of the problem. If I am over-invested based on my role, I need to practice the STEP BACK.

Bit players are valuable too. But they serve very different functions than a full-on team mate or a co-laborer. When my son played lacrosse, I was a bit player. I was a cheerleader in the stands. I washed the uniform and remembered where he left his shoulder pads as he frantically backed his game bag. I did not coach, or referee, or run out on the field and punch the guy who hit my kid so hard it jarred his teeth loose. I had after-game snacks. I knew to take him to the doctor to see if he had a concussion after a couple of particularly rough games.

Tomorrow, we wrestle with our part when our investment stake is higher. Today, ask yourself: have I confused my part in someone else’s problem?

Commit to the process, not the outcome

When faced with a stubborn problem with a high stakes outcome most of us freak out. We give up. We fight back. We freeze up and hope a miraculous solution will just reveal itself. We manipulate others. We berate ourselves. We get all whipped up. Turns out that there is one simple but totally counter-intuitive reaction that is far more effective than any of our machinations. WE LET GO OF THE OUTCOME. This doesn’t mean that we give up. Far from it. Here are some questions that I TRY to remember to wrestle with when I am deeply invested in a particular outcome:

What is my part in this matter?

Do I even have a right to claim investment in the outcome?

Is this even my business?

Am I staying within my boundary? Is this my problem?

If any of these are answered “no”, then I need to bail on thinking, feeling and doing with regards to this issue. I need to practice the art of the STEP BACK.

If I decide that this is indeed my business, I am appropriately invested in the outcome because it is my business and I am NOT overstepping any boundaries if I take on the work of trying to be a part of the solution, then:

What is my part in this matter?

Who are the other stakeholders in this situation? Who is the primary stakeholder?

What part do I play in relation to the other stakeholders?

Am I a bit player? A lead dog? A co-laborer?

Am I over-invested in the outcome in light of my role?

Is my ego involved?

How do I fit in with the whole picture?

If I am over-invested based on my role, I need to practice the STEP BACK. If I am highly invested, I need to slow down and listen up.

Who do I need to learn from? Listen to? Consider? Have I really gathered all the data?

Get curious, without trying to sway or influence others.

How can I contribute?

Do I have a super power I can bring to the table? If so, have I been invited to use it?

If not, STEP BACK. If yes, the final question.

What can I responsibly contribute to the situation without any regard for the outcome?

If we are too focused on the outcome, then we will have a very tough time detaching from our feelings, thoughts, preferences, and habitual ways of acting while under stress. When we can practice objectivity and live life without attachment to a particular outcome, we are well-positioned to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Our actions can change our feelings

Behavior is defined as what we do. Our thoughts and feelings certainly impact our behavior but do not necessarily have to control it. We can establish recovery habits to slow our roll and pause to prepare so that we can learn strategies for evaluating both our thoughts and feelings. We can fact check them; consider other perspectives; get curious. Although we may struggle to apply these principles, I do not think they are particularly new or shocking. In fact, the scriptures have made this plain for all to see.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

~2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV

This is tough to actually accomplish. But lately I have been introduced to a different concept. I suspect it is tied to a saying that I have always had a hate/hate relationship with that goes like this: “Fake it ‘til you make it.” I am not a fan. I am disingenuous enough without choosing to fake stuff! However, like all pithy sayings, I am coming to believe there might just be a kernel of truth in the phrase.

Interestingly, we can also use our behavior to redirect our thoughts and feelings. It turns out, that behaving in a manner that is counter to our thoughts and feelings can actually realign our thoughts and feelings!

For decades I have had some thoughts and feelings about my physical capabilities. I believed that I had certain limits as to how high I could jump, how fast I could run, how heavy I could lift weights. When I began working with a personal trainer, she disavowed me of my self-imposed limitations. I didn’t give up my way of thinking and feeling without a fight. I whined and complained and practiced the fine art of non-compliance. But she just kept suggesting that I plug away and “Give it a try”. I have surpassed every self-imposed limitation and am now enjoying the experience of pushing my boundaries to find my capacity.

My behavior taught my thoughts and feelings to stand down. I could not have led with my thoughts or feelings and changed my behavior. How about you? What thoughts and feelings are holding you back? Maybe you need some good coaching to push you to try new behaviors that challenge these old assumptions.

P.S. I did not “fake” anything; I did, however, submit to a higher authority and reluctantly follow her lead. I did change my behavior in spite of my reluctance to believe that it would bear fruit. I did feel and think that this was crazy talk coming out of her mouth. But I was also willing to consider the possibility that I was wrong and she was wise.

Honest self-reflection helps us live with limitations

I bought a cool feelings chart for my grandchildren. Underneath pictures of children in various moods, the author included a feeling. The little boy with the tears flowing down his cheek is “sad”; the little girl flinging her arms and legs out in a leaping motion is “joy”. Soon I will start reviewing this with tiny Norah; Christian is already subjected to my “feelings” lessons each time he visits. In fact, it is often one of his first activity requests when he visits.

Recently Christian used “confused” in context to describe his feeling. Later in the day he used “frustrated” without throwing a fit for emphasis. When Norah yawns or rubs her eyes, her parents have taught her the sign for “sleepy” (which is adorable). Norah might not be ready for Meme’s feelings chart, but thanks to wise parenting she is already learning how to name her feelings.

The rest of us? Not necessarily great at naming our feelings. And when we do, we often forget how fleeting they are. After Igor completed his fifth step, his big feelings about Boris slipped away, shed without any conscious choosing on Igor’s part.

Feelings are trying to get our attention but they are not designed to make our decisions. Igor’s big feelings ultimately served to drive him to some needed self-reflection. Soon he had other issues to address that were far more his responsibility than beleaguered Boris.

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy…

~Psalm 30:11, NIV

God does not use magic wands to do his work. He does, however, provide us with inspired ways of seeing and the tools necessary for us to join him in his work - healing the world, one soul at a time.

Today, what would it look like for you to participate in your own healing? Not to avoid anything, but to identify and address your limitations that are being revealed as you notice and tend to your emotions.

Hold your reactions accountable

I am an admirer of Byron Katie’s work. She has a method of self-inquiry that involves asking the question, “Is it true?” Her system helps the inquirer test their thoughts and feelings for veracity. Obviously, the theory is that our thoughts and feelings are NOT always true.

She wrote a children’s book called “Tiger, Tiger, is it true?” and my grandson loves it. In the story, Tiger Tiger wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. He hops out of bed, lands on a toy truck and goes flying. He decides in that moment that he is going to have a lousy day and the day does not disappoint. Several events happen that support his theory. Fortunately, his friend Turtle introduces him to the Byron Katie system and by story’s end Tiger Tiger has learned to turn his thoughts around. The book illustrates some important points about our thought life, including:

Just because I think it does not mean it is true. Thoughts come and go.

A while back Pete and I had to replace our sewer line. It was a big, expensive, and inconvenient project. It messed up our beautiful lawn and threatened to damage a newly installed sprinkler system. Pete and I were kind of bummed until we chose to take our lemons and make lemonade - a phrase I usually find cliched and annoying until I actually use it. We had points about to expire for a free room with Marriott. They had a room available at their location down in the Shockoe Bottom so we locked that stinky house and headed downtown. We dined at a lovely restaurant sitting on the patio in perfect weather. (How many days do we get that in RVA?) We walked in the city. We had access to a functioning bathroom. We both worked intentionally to turn our thoughts around about the mess at home; the effort was worth it.

No one could have done this work for us. We are responsible for checking our thoughts for accuracy, choosing from a myriad of equally true but different perspectives that will result in changed ways of thinking and even feeling. Our choices resulted in a perfect night out and the very fine team of a local company that repairs sewer lines had our home back to mostly normal by nightfall.

Our thoughts are not always our best work, but when we know that, we can pause to prepare and make different thoughts our highest priority (so long as we are not living in a fantasy world).

Pro tip: The kind of work we need to do changes over time

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

Igor’s third revelation:

“I cannot go an hour without thinking about Boris and his stupid decisions.” Perhaps the most difficult realization for Igor to come to grips with was how addictively he was living - without actually using.

This was extremely upsetting and resulted in a need for extra support for a time as he grieved the illusion of his own sobriety. He found a counselor. He started going to our Family Education meetings. He switched out one AA meeting a week for an Al-Anon meeting. He complained that he felt ashamed and even embarrassed by his need for support. But Igor did what recovery had taught him - he humbly asked for and received the particular kind of help he needed at this time in his recovery journey.

Today, Igor is appropriately aware of how close he came to losing his way because of his complacency. Is this an issue for you? Are you resting on the laurels of previous work to give you what you need for today?

Tomorrow we give Igor and Boris a break from our obsessive inventory-taking of their lives.

Problems in one relationship can create problems in another

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

Igor’s second revelation:

“I resent Boris for MAKING me feel this way.” Igor resented Boris for “making him worry”. It took a while but eventually Igor recognized that he, Igor, was solely responsible for what he chose to think about and how his thoughts impacted his emotions.

The result of this revelation gave Igor the opportunity to practice a bit more self-discipline in his thought life. When he started fretting over Boris, he learned how to actually hold up his hand in a “STOP” motion and say, “This is not mine to think, feel or do.” He did a great job, with assistance, coming up with a few alternative things he could do immediately following his self-command to STOP.

Number One on the list was phoning friends and asking how they were doing (without bringing up Boris). This had the immediate effect of having more friend interactions. People had gotten rather tired of hearing about Boris and were “stepping back” from Igor to avoid having to listen to any rants.

When we are behaving in a compulsive manner, obsessing over almost anything, we often fail to notice how our compulsivity begins to wear down our friends and family members. They get tired of watching us run on a hamster wheel.

Today, pause. Consider how an unhealthy relationship in one area of your life might be messing up the good and decent relationships you have in other areas. Is it worth the risk to unproductively obsess over a broken relationship at the expense of the people who love you and want to spend time with you?

We can't afford to obsess over another person's behavior

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

Initially Igor was resistant to working on himself; but he self-corrected. He grabbed a Fourth Step workbook and began his study. (Editor’s note, the 4th step reads: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves). All of us were shocked to discover that Igor was experiencing a ton of pro-addiction thoughts. Man was he glad that he had paused to prepare. We were relieved as well. What if Igor had not paused to prepare? Who knows what dead end roads his distorted thinking might have led him down!

Here are some things we talked about when Igor returned with his Fourth Step list and completed his Fifth Step by sharing his list.

“I have thoughts that are not under my control; I cannot stop thinking about _____.” (I am a victim; there is nothing I can do.)

When Igor began observing his thoughts, he was frightened to realize how much time he was spending obsessively thinking about Boris. He reported that it reminded him of how he obsessed over using all those years ago when his own life was in a shambles. Igor was relieved to be reminded of the fact that even in full-blown relapse, pro-addiction thoughts do not have absolute sway over our thought life. If that were the case, absolutely zero people would ever get sober. People do change. They actually can “change their mind” - but it starts with realizing their mind needs to change!

Tune in tomorrow for Igor’s second revelation.

If you're angry, take stock of your shortcomings

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

One afternoon Igor showed up at NSC to vent about his friend Boris. He was mad. He said a lot of things, most of which I am sure he regretted upon reflection. We suggested that Igor do a fourth step inventory on his relationship with Boris. (Editor’s note, the 4th step reads: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.)

He was not pleased with this suggestion. “Why should I have to do an inventory? I’m not the one with the problem.”

Our response, “Well, you are the one who is here complaining about a problem named Boris. He evidently is a problem for you.”

Is an inventory really necessary? Yes, it is necessary and here is why. It helps us learn how to think clearly, increase resilience and build our coping skills. Our brains are compromised under stress and that negatively impacts the way we think, how we process our emotions and how we control and evaluate our behaviors.

Igor needs to remember his own limitations, and not be so distracted by the limitations of Boris. It isn’t enough to just know that we all have maladaptive coping skills, we need to SEE exactly what our coping skills look like and the effect they have on our quality of life and the life of those we love.

Boris needs help but Boris is not currently asking for it. Igor, however, has an opportunity to improve his own life if he recognizes that his critical spirit is a warning sign that he has work that he can do in his own life.

Do you have any red flag warning signs (critical of others, distracted and not doing your recovery work, irritable, restless, discontent) that indicate you need to get back to work on your own recovery from what ails you?

Friendship: A Safe Space to be Real

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

One of the things I love about our community is the gift of having folks in recovery. People are grateful; people do not gossip; people are usually patient but when they are not, they self-correct quickly. I think most of them learned these skills at AA, NA or other mutual aid groups.

No one expects easy fixes or permanent solutions. People believe that life is hard. Many of us know that life is a challenge and spending time thinking about what we do or do not deserve is unproductive rumination. Nevertheless, with all this gifted-ness we still struggle to use our recovery tools when times are too good or too hard. This too is real life.

The story of Igor and Boris is a cautionary community tale. It points out the need to play a zone defense as opposed to man-to-man. When we find ourselves in a position of feeling critical and judgmental - sometimes it is time to ride the bench and take a breather.

Soul work is exhausting. Fortunately, it rests primarily in the hands of God. No one person is essential, although each of us has a place.

In what relationships have you acted as if you are essential personnel - the ONLY one who can help?

Criticism is not the same thing as accountability

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

How can Igor help Boris? Probably not by criticizing his every move.

It might help Boris if Igor had the skills to comfort Boris in the midst of his downward spiral without the need to throw stones. Should everyone simply ignore Boris’ antics and just give him warm fuzzy hugs? No. But if Igor has to choose between criticism and cuddling with no skill sets in between - choose the hug.

Fortunately, in a community we do not have to choose between two extremes. We can take a more nuanced approach. We can find the right people to support in the area of accountability; we can provide ways to comfort.

What are your skill sets? What part could you play in helping Boris? In helping Igor? How can you name your super powers and use them, without judging the limitations and weaknesses of others (and yourself)?

Anger is closely related to fear and anxiety

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

It might help Boris if Igor is less reactionary and emotionally invested in Boris’ choices. This is particularly hard to do. I cannot help but think about all the ways Igor might be triggered by Boris. Maybe Igor is afraid that if Boris cannot maintain a healthy lifestyle, he may suffer the same fate. Maybe he secretly depends on Boris for his own wellness; maybe he is afraid that his own support structure is crumbling.

When we are super frustrated, oftentimes we are even more afraid. Our anger may be a convenient and more distracting feeling than digging deep and realizing that we are using anger to power through our terror.

Can you think about a time when you were angry? What were you anxious about? What were you afraid would happen?

Friendships must react to our limitations

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

Igor survived his life crisis. He and Boris have told and retold this story of losing one life only to find a better one many times. People admire the work of both men and find this story encouraging. And it really is. However, the story continues.

It reminds me of various characters in the Bible. Do we judge the life of David based on the time he felled a giant with a humble shepherd’s slingshot or that time when kings go to war but King David stayed home and got a soldier’s wife knocked up? Do we evaluate King Solomon by his amazing request for wisdom from God at an early age or how towards the end of his life he lived a life of sexual debauchery?

Life is not a story; it is a storyline, with as many plot twists and turns as a great Agatha Christie thriller. This is why we cannot rest on our past stories of triumph or gloat when we have a rags-to-riches story of redemption.

In some ways, all of us can get stuck in our own version of reality. But life is not stagnant and our good and/or bad choices are not permanent. Today, Boris is in trouble. This flips the narrative. We may like a thrilling novel or exciting movie, but we prefer our own personal stories to stay predictable.

Boris doesn’t like to be needy; Igor does not want to be his friend’s help in times of trouble. Their relationship worked better the old way. But that is not reality.

In reality, Igor continues to make plenty of mis-steps. Not as obvious as Boris, perhaps, but equally devastating in a quieter, less public way. The stress is compounded now because Boris is also in trouble.

Igor is not able to see himself through the same critical lens he uses to study Boris - this is a problem. If Igor could realize that he too, like the rest of us, is a work in progress, he might realize that he has legitimate limitations himself. Maybe that is more “real” than simply blaming Boris for being fully human with limitations.

I am not advocating that Igor increase his self-criticism because I do not think criticism is helpful. But it is pretty painful to watch Igor be judgmental about his friend while ignoring his own limitations.

What if instead of evaluating everyone as winners or losers, we continually acknowledged that every single one of us has limitations? If we do this, then we can share our burdens more effectively. Those who have particular strengths match their super powers of sharing their strength with those who have particular limitations that especially need these skills. Simultaneously, someone else is bringing their strength and sharing it with the person who is using his or her super powers to help someone else. Confusing? I thought so. To restate - we share our super powers as a gift to others who are struggling and receive the superpowers of others as a gift to help us with our limitations. I believe this is often referred to as the circle of life. But Igor isn’t living in the circle; he’s shooting straight at the heart of Boris with is verbal darts of criticism.

What are your superpowers? What are your limitations?

Friendship should create space for healing

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

About ten years ago Igor was in a bad way. He had wrecked his credit, blown up his marriage and lost a job in a fit of temper. Igor doubled down on his losing ways and started drinking heavily. He had a car accident while impaired, totaled his vehicle and ended up with the appropriate legal consequences.

Boris, who had his own history with failure, took Igor in. Gave him a job. Required him to pay rent. Expected him to go to meetings and weekly counseling sessions. To Igor’s credit, he not only complied with Boris’ requests - he embraced them. It took a year, but Igor recovered his life. He eventually started his own business, bought a home and found a community where he could do life with and love others.

Boris stood by his friend in ways that supported healing. He did not exacerbate the problem; he encouraged Igor on his road back to wellness. This is labor intensive work. It required a village to brainstorm and look for solutions that inevitably included some tough conversations and plenty of hugs.

But none of this was convenient or easy. It is only thinking about this a decade later that the story sounds so wonderful - a real testimony to the promise and hope that is found when people love God and serve others.

The year itself was touch-and-go every step of the way. It was messy. There were conflicts, behind the scenes come-to-Jesus meetings. Conflict. Three steps forward and two steps backward - for all the parties involved.

Scott McBean recently delivered a weekend message and said this: “We all think we deserve better than we get.” Ouch.

Boris and Igor’s excellent adventure was only excellent if we talk about it using a highlight reel. The actual journey was a cliffhanger and the outcome was always uncertain. In fact, the story continues and the outcome is as uncertain today as it was a decade ago. This is life. This story does not make for particularly inspiring quips and quotes unless you are willing to live with half-truths.

Tomorrow, we are going to further unpack this idea that Boris and Igor and our community must wrestle with this mistaken notion that “we all deserve better than we get.”

For today, think about how your own EXPECTATIONS have led you astray. It might look like blaming, it might look like controlling behaviors, it might look like bouts of melancholy, it might look like over- or even under-achieving. How has your own feeling of entitlement hurt you and others?

Criticism does not belong in friendship

“You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress simultaneously.”

~ Sophia Bush - American actress, activist, director, and producer

Why are we so hard on ourselves and each other?

Has our criticism ever once born fruit?

Last week a friend of mine (let’s call him Igor) was sharing his frustration over the “antics” of another friend of ours (Boris). The “antics” are real. Our friend Boris is really spiraling out-of-control at breakneck speed.

The frustrated bystander, Igor, is livid. He simply CAN NOT understand why our friend Boris is being such a goof. In fact, Igor is SO IRRITATED that he has decided he is DONE. Finito. “I don’t have time for this s*&*.” Over it. Igor is packing up his memories and decades long friendship and MOVING ON.

I get it. Relationships change.

Here is what I do not understand.

My friend Igor is so critical of the actions of Boris. I mean ruthless in his assessment. I believe I could understand this criticism coming from a stranger or someone who is personally unfamiliar with the travails that Boris is undergoing. But Igor is a guy who can relate to Boris. This is what confuses me.

Does this help Boris? No. Does this help Igor? No.

What could help? I have some suggestions and we will unpack them in the coming days.

For today, ask yourself: what role has CRITICISM played in your own transformation? Has it ever effectively helped you or those you criticized? True enough, the right criticism paired with leverage can create short term compliance, but what has it accomplished in the long run?

Stay tuned. More thoughts to come!!

Our goal is to become fully human

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”[1]

~Theodore Roosevelt

What really counts, what really matters, what makes all the difference in life satisfaction is about what you decide to do with your one wild and precious life (Mary Oliver paraphrase). No matter how much others might disagree with your perspective, it is yours and no one can or should try to take ownership of your life from you.

My prayer is that we continue to encourage one another to enter the arena and fight for a life of purpose. Dare to believe that you can and are worth doing hard things so that you might enjoy a life of meaning. You are capable and uniquely qualified to bear the image of God. You are made, and it was a custom job, to show up in this world as a person of virtue. Fully human.

“If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.”

~Matthew 10:39, The Message


[1] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7-it-is-not-the-critic-who-counts-not-the-man