Scarcity over Celebration

Brene Brown has written about the concept “foreboding joy.” It seems to me that what she describes as foreboding joy is that feeling we get when we are afraid to be too happy because it might jinx our good news. When my daughter was pregnant I had a very hard time believing that she was actually pregnant. As her girth expanded, I came to accept this as possible good news but I struggled to feel joy - because what if? What if something went wrong?

Christian is two now and I celebrate both his and Norah’s, our granddaughter’s, existence every single day. But in the dark of night, after a long day, when I am feeling vulnerable and discouraged that thousands of people will get in fights over a free piece of cheesecake but cannot be bothered to call 911 when their neighbor is being attacked - on those days, I start to sense an attack of foreboding joy. If left it its own devices, foreboding joy can steal our present day moments of real joy. I use various coping strategies to stave off foreboding joy - most of the time these skills are effective. They also make it more likely that I will be able to do what it takes to change what is needed in order to improve both my conscious contact with God and my capacity to bear his image. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Find a way to get in touch with gratitude daily. Just do it.

2. Add rituals that are calming after hectic days of showing up for commitments - exercise as a transition from work to home, journal, Exam prayer, meditation, yoga, sleep with a fuzzy weighted blanket, keep your bedroom dark and cold, play board games rather than zoning out in front of the tv (no scary movies if you do turn on the tube), read good books (not thrillers).

3. Eat nutritionally so you won’t be as tempted to stress eat at night; avoid caffeine.

4. To avoid getting agitated before bedtime, cut off technology a couple hours before sleeping. Emails that arrive at night are almost always problems.

5. Find ways to take breaks during the day so that you aren’t so exhausted that you cannot rest at night. When I get called to the hospital for an emergency it can be stressful and often brings sad and bad news. I ALWAYS treat myself with something after I am finished at the hospital. I may go walk through the aisles at Barnes & Noble. I may go to my favorite barista and order a delicious decaf treat. I do something to balance the sorrow out and take a pause, even if the break is small.

6. Work play into your day.

7. Plan to start your day with doing something that takes care of you first, before you start caring for others. Drink your coffee out of a beautiful mug; put your breakfast on a pretty plate; have a quiet time; do a yoga stretch; get your walk in, etc. The goal is to be able to say, if your day goes to hell in a handbasket, “Hey, the day didn’t go as planned BUT I sure enjoyed _______ before all hell broke loose.” Some days, this is enough.

Change is about hanging in and being consistent; it is easier to do that when you are enjoying yourself.

...you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.

~ 1 Thessalonians 1:9 NIV

Perfection and Failure

I remember the year that I decided my New Year’s resolution would be something wild and crazy - commit to healthy eating. No sugar. A lot of lettuce and sprouts. We spent New Year’s Eve at the beach with our friends and headed home mid-day on January 1st. Pete, who had no such delusions regarding his eating habits, had a two pound bag of M&M’s sitting between us in the front console. Mindlessly, I munched away. Then I remembered - Oh, no! My New Year’s resolution is RUINED!! I guess there is no hope for change.

I probably ate 20 M&M’s - which was enough to convince me that the year was blown. This kind of all-or-nothing thinking is the hallmark of perfectionism. It is destructive. It is a set up. It serves as a simple and extremely effective strategy for not actually having to DO, COMMIT, CHANGE.

Should we just give up? Heck no! We can work at improving. We can give up on the lie that we are what we do - especially if other people notice and praise us for our excellence. Healthy efforts to change are NOT about performance or perfecting. What is it about?

1. Evaluate self without tying it to what other people think.

2. Ask the question: How can I make progress toward my goal?

Scott told a story in a recent message about an experiment where folks were given the instruction to figure out how to get everything on the table mounted to the wall (candles/matches/box of thumb tacks). One group was told that time was not a factor; take as much time as you needed. The second group was instructed to go as fast as they could in order to win a prize. Which group was quicker? Group one.

Performance pressures decrease our abilities. Stress reduces our dexterity, our creativity, our ability to perform. Perfectionism is not helpful for becoming more successful. Good enough is an attitude that creates more success. The pressure to be the best inevitably reduces our chances of being #1.

Perfectionism is the enemy of transformation. It’s a tiny god that demands feeding but gives nothing in return but shame and guilt. How can we encourage self-compassion and a commitment to growth? One way is to find a way to encourage empathy even as we join together in daring to dream that we can be and do better at bearing the image of God.

What is distracting you?

Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

~ Romans 1:23

Take a pause and journal or make a list or consult with your sponsor or spiritual director. Ask for feedback. Give yourself time to really think about this:

In what ways are you chasing after free cheesecake?

What distracts you from living with more intention?

How can you find the peace that comes when our resolutions align with our core values and intentions for life?

I remember a conversation I had many years ago with a young woman who was having a devil of a time stringing sobriety days together. She was extremely frustrated with her family’s reaction to her relapses. She felt they had turned cold toward her. They no longer were willing to “share in her suffering” after a relapse. They were done talking about it and they were unwilling to act as if she was sustaining long term recovery. They stopped counting on her; they stopped expressing sorrow when she didn’t show up for a family event. She was livid. She felt this showed a lack of Christian love. She felt they were not working a solid recovery program. She talked about all her experience in treatment, and waxed eloquent about what everyone around her was doing to ruin her recovery experience.

She had no clue how foolish her words sounded. Although she had access to a strong recovery support network, she exchanged that opportunity (privilege really) for the chance to blame others.

Are there any exchanges that you are making? At what cost?

Resolutions can be bigger than our insecurities

My musings continued (so this won’t make sense if you didn’t read yesterday’s blog):

Apologizing in advance for presuming to add content to anything Brene` Brown has to say, I would add this to her quote (with all due respect): [the courage to be vulnerable]...is also about showing up when absolutely nothing is offered you. No free cheesecake. No warm fuzzies. No personal benefit at all.

Aren’t most of our resolutions a structured way to address our own insecurities, weaknesses, and anxieties? Lose weight. Find a loving relationship. Change careers. Hike the Himalayas. Get botox. Deadlift 300 pounds.

Are those really things we need to be RESOLUTE about?

So what is worth being RESOLUTE for? It depends on our core values I suppose. But what I hope we will all consider is that thousands of people RESOLUTELY went out for a piece of free cheesecake who may or may not be RESOLUTE about loving like God loves.

I closed my impromptu note with a prayer. Because if anything is true, it is this: we are desperately in need of prayer, transformation, and a commitment to something bigger than a free piece of cheesecake.

This is my prayer for you...May we show ourselves more compassion and more respect than has been our habit, daring to believe that we are destined to show up for others, sacrifice for something more profound than a carb-laden sweet treat. May we begin to practice standing up under the pressure of inconvenience over indulgence - because we know we are better than pettiness and selfish indulgence. May be do something nice for someone else even as it costs us something we are not quite sure we can afford to give. May we show more compassion to ourselves by being more compassionate than we knew we could muster. May we live with more courage and conviction than we knew we possessed. May we choose daily to live with more conscious intention than the Cheesecake Factory story gives us much reason to hope for on the part of humanity...and let’s be honest, in ourselves. May we dare to believe that together, we can do hard things. Inconvenient things. Things that are not our preference. Amen

Make 2019 the year we that act on our good intentions. Do hard things. We are image bearers. We can do better.

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. 

Shooting Stars and Other God Things

In October I saw a shooting star.  It was awesome.  We were in Texas on a retreat at this place we go called Laity Lodge that is freakishly perfect and beautiful.  And dark, really dark, at night.  The view of the stars is amazing and every time we visit I make Pete stare at the heavens for a long time at least one night while we are there. 

 

And I wonder about what in the heck Abraham must have been thinking when God said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you think you can count them.” He continued, “This is how many children you will have.”  (Genesis 15:5 CEB) And then Sarah was barren.  How do any of us make sense of that?

 

Russ Ramsey says in his book Behold the Lamb of God that every story God tells is filled with glory – and of course, how can I argue with this?  It’s true!!!  But it is also chock full of strange things and mundane acts that continue to highlight the reality that we both bear the very image of God while simultaneously demonstrating our willingness to litter and call each other naughty names.

 

This is key information.  The volunteer ballot bearer, the well-heeled woman in her finery, the two dudes practically coming to blows over the best selection for Commissioner of Revenues for our county and even cowardly me who did not step in and defend a decent woman…we are all both fully human – in both the best and worst sense of that word.

 

This absolutely MUST impact my choices.  I must find grace for the mistakes made – even my own… I must find a way to love who God loves and support what God supports. I need to ask the kind of questions that guide me toward the light.


What does the Lord require? ]

With what should I approach the Lord and bow down before God on high? Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings, with year-old calves?

~ Micah 6:6, CEB

 

It isn’t about what we want to do or need to do or should do or shouldn’t.  There is no one-size fits all response. But there are responses to be made. This God who invites us to look up and admire his handiwork is the same God who encourages us to be transformed through his mercy.  I want that life. 

 

….to be continued