Banishment

Over the hours that this team sweated large and small stuff related to the recovery ministry woes they faced, they had to face a hard truth:  relationships are conditional.  Yes, yes, love is unconditional.  But healthy relationships have conditions.  This doesn’t sit well with our desires to be merciful and gracious.  Mainly I think because we have failed to fully develop our own deep and wide understanding of the concepts of grace and mercy.  But also because let’s face it - love is yummy.  Limits are sometimes challenging to accept. One afternoon we looked at two passages of scripture that dealt with banishment: 2 Samuel 14:14 and Deuteronomy 30:4.  We also hopped over to Jeremiah 29 and considered what God asked the Israelites to do while living as slaves in Babylon.  (Lest we forget, they were experiencing a GIANT timeout/banishment as a result of their own stubborn resistance to God.)  Here’s what we noticed:

 

  1.  No wonder Paul was ragging on the Corinthians!  They were proud of the "restoration" but missing the point of what restoration truly is.  Yes, God is ALWAYS finding ways for banished people to find their way back home.  Banishment isn’t intended to be punishment so much as it is a tool for restoration.  True restoration could not happen for the Corinthians without a "time out" to show the community that they were valuable enough to protect.  
  2. Banishment is sometimes necessary.  In this church's situation, they had to at least determine (see how they are progressing through the stages of change?!?) if it was the tool they needed to use in their particular situation.
  3. Even in the midst of suffering, God’s people are given a way to move through the suffering.  They accomplish this by keeping a rigorous eye on thriving.  Thriving is described in Jeremiah 29 as suffering AND continuing the work of building community.  Sometimes building community means protecting community.  

 

Part of our contemplation as a working team involved calming down and remembering our core values; next, we made a conscious choice to live by them.  This required us to practice making amends.  The guy who muttered the “too much estrogen” comment had to make amends not only to the female he poked, but he had to deal with the larger issue of gender bias.  The team then had to identify how their core values would change the way they were processing.  This took FOREVER!  They worked for several meetings just on how to have crucial conversations without decreasing safety in the room.  They had to learn about active listening.  Look, it’s possible to get really old and never acquire these skills.  But this team was willing and ready to learn.  This posture of humility helped them when the time came to analyze the failure of the staff person that caused all this mess to begin with.  Having had their own shortcomings exposed at times during this process, they were a gentler, kinder crew when they got back to tackling the original issue at hand. Are there skills that you lack that you need to go acquire before you can expect to see the fruits of your transformational labors?

What's our part?

Everyone has heard that there is sexual immorality among you.  This is a type of immorality that isn’t even heard of among the Gentiles - a man is having sex with his father’s wife!  And you’re proud of yourselves instead of being so upset that the one who did this thing is expelled from your community.  1 Corinthians 5:1-2

 

After much rumination and no small amount of people whipping out their seminary teachings, we finally got around to this:  and you’re proud of yourselves instead of being so upset that the one who did this thing is expelled from your community.

 

Here’s what we noticed:

  1. Paul was presuming that the sexual immorality was bad, but he was finding problems in places other than this guy’s bedroom.
  2. Paul is pointing out an attitude problem of those who weren't being appropriately discerning about protecting the community.  They were proud of themselves for keeping someone in the community who was putting the community at risk.  Yes, it's good to seek restoration wherever possible, but we also must be discerning about the well-being of the entire group.  
  3. Paul was inviting the Corinthian church (and we could invite the same of ourselves) to pause and contemplate. 

Here are some things we might contemplate when considering banishment:

  1. Are we more worried about our reputation or the restoration of one who needs restoring?
  2. Is our discussion centered around our core values?  Or are we driven by a fear to protect something - our ministry success?  What’s our motivation driving our thinking on this subject?
  3. What core values are we in danger of violating as we wrestle through this problem if we aren’t careful?
  4. How do we sort through and resolve our competing core values?  Which of our many core values are pertinent in this particular situation?
  5. What wounds/blind spots/prides/prejudices are in play in this room that need acknowledgement?

 

There were more noticings and contemplations, but this provides a general framework for the discussion.  These questions became so intriguing, so challenging, so engaging, that even the Senior Pastor tucked away his ipad and leaned forward into the discussion.  Here’s a wild and crazy idea I want to posit for your pondering:  It is possible, when we sidestep shame, to get very invigorated by the prospect of leaning into change and inviting God to transform us.  It’s exciting!  It’s in keeping with the humanity within us that bears the very image of God.  I’d invite you to consider that shame may be hindering your own enthusiasm for your own work of recovery. 

Sore (but still moving)

The next stage of change is action.  It’s the step we are tempted to jump to when we are feeling all inspired and sincere.  However, our adrenalin for change has a short attention span!  Pre-contemplation, contemplation, and determination are necessary intermediary steps.

 

It’s in those steps where we can settle down and figure out what action best fits our desire for change.  I did not start going to fit camp in order to improve my swimming skills.  We don’t swim in fit camp.  I don’t go to fit camp to become more zen-like, whatever that means.  I go to fit camp to gain strength, stamina and flexibility.  I chose fit camp after six months of illness left me weak and stiff.  I contemplated, researched, and determined before I showed up that first Wednesday morning to get whipped into shape.

 

Action is often the stage that we get most excited about until we actually have to practice it.  Frankly, I like the idea of being strong more than I like practicing my sumo deadlifts.  But this is what change involves - doing things that don’t come natural.  If they did, they probably wouldn’t be something we need to practice or gather a support system to encourage us.

 

I’ve learned from my instructor that meaningful change is more marathon than sprint.  She isn’t happy if I come in complaining of being so sore I can hardly move.  She prefers that we progress incrementally so that we don’t get sidetracked by injury or disheartened by discomfort.  I appreciate the way she thinks.

 

I’ve noticed that people who have managed to make long term meaningful changes in their lives often practice slow, steady, consistent steps toward their goal.  The folks that burst onto the scene like shining stars promising the moon to others often fail to launch.  Today, what is one small sustainable change step you can take? 

Eventually we have to DO something!

Over lunch during the holidays my adult children were discussing a philosopher’s perspective on options.  I was too busy chasing around a 15 month old to hear all the details but evidently there is a philosopher who has posited that limited choices are better for us than feeling like we can do anything we want just because we want it.  It seems too many options freeze us from actually acting on them AND they increase anxiety (Note from the editor:  We were discussing Jean-Paul Sartre- here's a fun Youtube video that talks about what we were talking about:  Click here to view).

 

Pro's and con's were bantered about but I think the philosopher was onto something.  At the pre-contemplation and contemplation stages of change the sky is kind of the limit.  Daydreaming is encouraged.  Pursue all options!  But once we move into the stage of determination, choices must be made in order to move forward into the action stage of change. 

 

A couple times a week I attend an hour long killer fit camp where my favorite instructor in all the world demands in a nice tone that I do things that I am pretty sure will kill me.  It turns out she is better at assessing my abilities than I am.  I’ve worked hard to be consistent in attendance, but I also have a life and that means I am not there 100% of the time. 

 

But if I am going to survive, even thrive, in my training - I have to *&%(^%$ show up!  My trainer, my training team...no one can do the one thing that I must do:  show up.  I do not have to show up with enthusiasm or happy thoughts.  I can show up sore and tired and cranky but show up I must.  I am blessed with an instructor who does not shame us when we show up 80% of the time because she understands how change works and shame is NEVER part of good change theory.

 

However, she has taught us that showing up consistently is kind of a requirement if we want the best of her.  In other words, as good as she is, she cannot give us her best if we are not showing up to receive what she has to offer.

 

Here’s what I’ve learned from watching people and listening to mentors:

Show up. When we work on a team our presence counts not only for ourselves but others. Some things are ours to do, when we don’t do what is ours to do it might mean that someone else doesn’t get to do their thing.

 

For today - show up.  Practicing showing up.  See what happens.

Navel Gazing

The second stage of change is contemplation.  We’re not ready to take action, but we are more serious about considering change.  When my husband and I first started talking about downsizing, it was more like daydreaming than developing a strategic plan.  But the daydreaming was a good beginning.

 

Thanks to our daughter, we had access to information that added substance to our conversations.  No longer were we talking about fantasy living...I want to live at the beach….he wants to live on a golf course…  Instead, we were moved into actual contemplation of change.

 

If we move, we actually have to go to the effort to move out of the house we’re in.  We talked about this with all our adult children, and our youngest responded, “Who will pack up all my childhood memories?”  Ouch.

 

In precontemplation, we don’t think about childhood memories or our neighbors who are our dear friends.  We don’t think about what it would mean to have new neighbors or leave the daily interaction born from over 30 years of proximity and deep, abiding friendship with our neighborhood.

 

In contemplation, we begin to ask questions.  We consider the answers.  Maybe we do a little research, not much really, just a bit.  We talk more about our issue than we actually think about it and we certainly don’t DO anything meaningful.

 

Is there anything you are contemplating changing in your own life?  If so, what could you do to either continue to contemplate OR make the decision that you are not ready to embark on any kind of change regarding this issue? 

 

If we know that about ourselves, maybe we free up space to feel and think and do something about an issue we are ready to tackle.  We eventually chose to renovate our home rather than move.  It was a great decision and we are very pleased.  But part of our contentment with our decision is because we took time to go through the stages of change with purpose and intention.  What do you want to get more intentional about?

Truthful Intentions

Whether I am thinking about change for myself or on behalf of others, it has become a helpful practice for me to identify what stage of change we are in.  My husband and I began talking about downsizing five years ago.  We were NOT ready for a change but we were willing to have a conversation about the what if’s.

 

This stage of change is called pre-contemplation.  Neither of us was particularly serious about downsizing, but it seemed that we were getting to an age where we should at least start the conversational ball rolling.  We daydreamed and discussed, argued and agreed over various pros and cons of making a move.

 

We didn’t actually DO anything. 

 

Our daughter is philosophically opposed to talking without doing so she began to send us links to homes with first floor masters.  Some communities provided all the outside maintenance and lawn care - for a monthly fee of course.  On Sunday afternoons we might go to an open house or sit around on our ipads looking at pictures on Zillow (which, fyi, everything looks better via picture than in person). 

 

Fortunately, our daughter recognized that we were not ready for change.  She did not grow frustrated with us over our lack of enthusiasm for putting our house on the market.  However, her father, my husband tired of our reindeer games and soon was unwilling to look at a picture, much less show up and traipse through an open house.

 

It’s super crucial for us to realize that when any of us are pre-contemplating, that’s all we’re up to - very little doing and no change is involved in this initial first step toward change.  It’s an essential step; this is how change starts!

 

Let’s make this personal.  Are there issues in your own life that you are contemplating - but not ready to address?  That’s ok!  It’s where you are!  But it might help your loved ones to be honest about where you are so that they can adjust their expectations accordingly.  And, if you love and serve folks who need to make changes but who teach you that they are early in the change process - good to know!  It SHOULD impact how you serve them.  For folks who at that first stage of change called pre-contemplation, a listening ear is a wonderful gift.  Someone driving them to distraction with action plans isn’t quite as helpful!