Worst-case Scenarios

Hope is not believing that everything will work out in the end.  That is wishful thinking.  Things do not always work out well.  It’s false advertising to insist that someone in deep suffering should just perk up because God is going to work everything out.  

According to whose expectations?  That’s the rub.  And that is why we cannot say that all things work out in the end.  I know, you want me to consider the passage that says - We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.  

~ Romans 8:28 CEB

But that presumes the conditions mentioned in the quote!  And just because things work together for good does not mean it will work out alright for the every individual.  What we know is that God is alive and well and at work among us.  And that his work is good.  But that doesn’t mean that every situation will be a big win for each of us.

When faced with calamity, we have choices. Some good; others problematic.  Let’s consider some options:

1.  We can ignore the problem and hope it resolves itself.  This works sometimes, but it is a risky gamble.  I once worked in an office where one of the employees would jam the printer and then skulk away without fixing the problem.  People of course caught on.  Soon various office mates were swiping the print cartridge and leaving clues for the rest of the team to find it - but the evil doer was never let in on the secret.  He wasted untold hours waiting for the machine to magically become operational.  No lessons were ever learned about copy machine etiquette that I can recall.
2. We can acknowledge the problem, face it head on, and figure out what to do next.  We approach the problem as often as needed and try a variety of strategies.  We look at problems as an experiment that needs resolving, not an impossibility that we need to fight, flee or freeze over.
3. We can blame others for the problem.  This might make us feel momentarily better but it also makes it harder for us to resolve the issue because everyone is so busy defending their honor that they allow the problem to flourish.

There are a host of other options - but which of these sounds like it most fits the skills associated with resiliency?  Obvious, right?  Option 2.  What problem do you need to face head on but are delaying making a move?  What is blocking you?  What support might you need to ask for?

The Problem with Crisis Management

When we have not practiced the skills of resiliency (see this article for a refresher on the concept) our perspective may need a major shift if we are going to get unstuck from the self-defeating patterns of fragility.  This is more than just a psychological construct; it is also biblical.  More on this later, but for now, let me say this:  I believe that the faithful foundations of belief lived out on a daily basis look remarkably like resilience!  With that in mind, let’s compare and contrast at-risk lifestyle perspectives that spring from unhealthy family systems versus the way resilient people operate in the world.

In unhealthy family systems, we are made to think we should know more than we do.  “I am surprised you did not know that!”  “How could you be so stupid?”  “Everyone knows…” are examples of too high expectations with too low parental nurture and guidance.

A healthier perspective - which is appropriate for our entire lives - includes the humble reality that no one knows everything!  There is always more to learn.  This does not make us stupid or “less than” - it’s called the human condition.  Out of this perspective we can become curious, inquisitive, have a sense of humor about our limitations, expect to make mistakes, on and on and on.  

In sick family systems making a mistake can have dire consequences.  In reasonably healthy families everyone makes mistakes, even the grown-ups.  No big deal.  This allows us to learn at an early age to take risks, helps us figure out how to assess risks and provides us with a better attitude when failures inevitably pop up.  

In stressed out families, successes are either overly emphasized or ignored.  In a shaming family, good is never good enough.  In a family desperate for a win, maybe the family hero gets TOO much attention for the good they do and TOO much blame for their inevitable and completely appropriate mistakes.  Healthy families celebrate large and small victories but without communicating that these victories are what holds the family together.  

In summary - stressed out families are in such a crisis mode that they are not thoughtful about their responses to one another.  Healthy families are thinking strategically; applying their core values consistently; feeling each event as it comes, not in a manic or depressed reaction to all the situations that surround that event.

Crisis management is not a good daily practice.  Can you see ways that crisis management has not been helpful in your life?  What changes could you make to give yourself wriggle room for a less chaotic life?

Chaos to Clarity

Continued from previous days…


Once I focused on my pastor friend’s concerns (and not my own), I inquired about his insights into 1 Timothy (the passage that had him all hot and bothered in previous conversations).  He had none. This is understandable. During times of severe duress we shouldn’t expect insights. When we are stressed out, our body is preparing to fight, flee or freeze. It’s not usually our best time for theological discussions.  



“Do you remember the verse you quoted me the other day?  The one from 1 Timothy?” I asked.


“Yeah, of course, me and my shame.  I used to love those verses to guide me as a leader in good standing when faced with a problem with one of the other leaders in my congregation.  Now that I fear I am THAT GUY who cannot manage his family, these verses no longer feel so cut and dried. Standing on the other side of these words, I’m angry.  I feel judged. And that makes me feel guilty for the way I judged others. But mostly, I just feel like a failure who has disappointed God. Now I have to decide what to do about it.  Quit my job? Come clean with my daughter’s situation? She doesn’t want anyone knowing her business. But I’ve used other situations just like this one to force a deacon to resign his position.  What a mess!”


“Ok, well, before we get to that, can we go back to 1 Timothy?”  I asked. He agreed. Instead of turning to the “instruction manual for leadership” (his words not mine), I went back to the verses I quoted earlier this week:  This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ - and I’m the biggest sinner of all.  But this is why I was shown mercy, so that Christ Jesus could show his endless patience to me first of all. So I’m an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life.”  1 Timothy 1:15-16 CEB


We read it and he fell silent.  


“Look, I do not know what to tell you about how you manage your church.  I do have some thoughts about your daughter, if you ever want to hear about that.  But what I do know is this - Paul probably had a particular context for writing what he said in reference to leaders.  This was a letter to a particular person. And, it’s not the only thing Paul said. Just look at the verses we’re reading!  Jesus shows endless patience. He took the biggest sinner of all (according to Paul), Paul, and taught him that Jesus came to save sinners and show mercy.  I do not know what to make of your church policies, who am I to say? But I believe that if your policies do not align with endless patience and mercy, well, you might want to re-evaluate.”


He replied, “You think this would make a good sermon?”


“For me or you?  For me, yes. For you, heck no.  These are my thoughts, not yours.  You were perfectly ok with removing people from positions in the church if their kid got busted.  You cannot go preaching a sermon until you wrestle with what you really believe and why you believe it.  You cannot all of a sudden change the policy of your church just because it no longer suits you. What about this?  What if you just decide for now that it’s time to rethink the way you folks are handling families that hurt in your church?  Right after I get you the resources to get your kid into treatment! OK? Let’s do the critical things first!”


“Ok, what should I do for her?”  


Tomorrow, we pray.  Because we all have family situations that are painful.  And we often fail to make choices that account for patience, mercy, and right action when said action is inconvenient.