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?

Uncertainty is not the worst-case scenario

Uncertainty is not a worst-case scenario. Living in pain for a life unnecessarily might be.

Now, of course, life is not pain-free. There is not a version of life without pain, without conflict, or without hardship. In fact one of the most important things we can do as people of faith is learn to face pain, conflict, and hardship head-on. It is vital that we learn to live with some level of pain, to work through conflict, and to tolerate hardship. Otherwise we are fooling ourselves.

The kind of pain I’m describing is the kind that is unnecessary and avoidable. Should we make a change, it would not exist. Making that change, though, may give rise to some other problem or pain. That is the uncertainty piece.

Embracing uncertainty is difficult, but it can be an act of hope. It suggests that we’re willing to tolerate some pain, some discomfort, for a time in order to ensure a future where we are better suited to reflect God’s image because we’re not bogged down by pain. We have pain, but we are not bogged down. There’s a difference between having some pain or discomfort and being bogged down by it such that our ability to live as the kind of people we hope to be is compromised.

I am not suggesting you go out and end every relationship that causes you pain. I am suggesting that you consider whether a relationship or situation is /defined/ by the pain it causes. If so, it may be worth considering uncertainty.

Hope and acceptance

Many of us get to a certain point in life where we’ve become so accustomed to the way things are that we fear change, even though change brings with it the possibility that things will be better. The status quo, or the familiar, offers us comfort because it’s a known entity. We know what we’re up against day-in and day-out even if what we’re up against robs us of our joy and our ability to thrive. It can be, ultimately, an act of faith to abandon the familiar in order to create the possibility of a more joyful, more free life of thriving.

I get it, though, even if the familiar isn’t particularly pleasant it often offers us benefits. If your child has a use disorder, it can ease our anxiety to be able to put eyes on them whenever we want by allowing them to live at home. It can be comforting and secure to go to work everyday and receive a steady paycheck even if the work environment is negative. My point is, even things that are negative experiences on the aggregate generally offer some benefits. So, when we make a choice to change those things we’re leaving behind not just the “familiar negatives,” which we tolerate because they’re familiar, but also the benefits, though they may be small. This is a challenge. A big challenge.

All that said, though, making a change will offer new positives, even as it offers new negatives. The question is whether these changes open up the possibility of living out of our new way of seeing. You certainly don’t need to change what is familiar just for the sake of changing it, but it may be a good idea if it supports our ability to love as God loves at the same time as it decreases our pain. Changes also bring the pain of loss, and this, too, can keep us stuck.

Acceptance is about embracing the truth that the familiar may be quite harmful for us. Hope is trusting that changing what is harmful is ultimately for our benefit, even though it brings with it a great deal of uncertainty.

Uncertainty is not a worst-case scenario. Living in pain for a lifetime unnecessarily might be.

Is "acceptance" really just giving up?

Acceptance is about living in reality. It’s an acknowledgment that things change and we must adapt to those changes. In my mind, it’s not about giving up so much as it is learning to operate within the confines that life throws at us. But, sometimes acceptance is about giving up. It’s about giving up when we’re holding onto a fantasy that is either destructive (to self or others) or otherwise impeding our ability to live out of our certain way of seeing.

For instance, if you’ve lived the past 20 years in a toxic relationship that has robbed you of your dignity and your ability to thrive, it may be time to “give up” on that relationship. If it were me, though, I wouldn’t consider this giving up. I would consider it an act of hope. It’s an act of hope because it’s trusting that there is a better alternative for you, even if it’s not your ideal. In romantic relationships, again, for instance, we often hesitate to let go even when they’re particularly harmful because we fear the alternative of being alone. Being temporarily alone, though, may have unforeseen benefits. You may not have to walk on eggshells. You may not have someone regularly scream at you, or hit you. You may not have to suffer any number of indignities. And, you open the door to the possibility of meeting someone who values you, respects you, and uplifts you.

This isn’t only true in romantic relationships. It can be true of a family sharing a house with someone with a use disorder. It can be true in a working environment. It can be true of a friendship, or a family relationship. Whatever your circumstances are, consider whether or not you have the capacity to thrive. Consider whether or not you have the opportunity to live out of your certain way of seeing. If this isn’t possible, then it might be time to make difficult changes. Don’t make the mistake of calling this “giving up” or “quitting” though, that’s the kind of language people use to try to keep you trapped in a dehumanizing situation.

Call it hope.

Is it a limitation or a temporary obstacle?

Today I’m returning more explicitly to our conversation about limitations. One of the questions that came up during a recent message dealt with discerning when to view something as a limitation as opposed to an obstacle. How do we know when what we’re faced with is something we can transcend as opposed to something that must be accepted?

Well, my answer to that isn’t going to be particularly satisfying: context is king. I follow a guitar builder on Instagram whose hand got mangled in an industrial accident. It will never work the same way again. Is this a limitation or an obstacle?

Let’s start with this question: Can he overcome it? It depends on what we mean by overcome. His hand will never function identically to how it functioned prior to the accident. When I use “overcome” or “transcend” I tend to think of these terms as meaning that whatever got disrupted could be returned to its original state. In this case, he cannot overcome it according to that definition.

This does not mean he has to give up building guitars, though. In fact, he has not stopped. His process has changed. His speed is reduced. This means fewer guitars each year. It means he will make less money. But he doesn’t have to give up on his dream job of building guitars. As was true in our example earlier in the month, we could view this as a kind of overcoming, I suppose, but it’s the kind that requires acceptance and adaptation.

So, was his accident a limitation or an obstacle? Perhaps a little bit of both. Sometimes we must treat our limitations as obstacles in order to figure out how we can best adapt to them. This may even be a form of acceptance. This guitar builder figured out how to adapt such that even though his life greatly changed, the change was not the most hopeless version that it might have been. This is our key point. Acceptance is not about giving up, it’s about making sure that the outcome isn’t as hopeless as it otherwise might be. We do not need to choose between accepting and fighting. Accepting is a form of fighting, it’s just a kind that does not involve living in denial.

More on this tomorrow.

Silence, stillness, solitude

From yesterday: How does a person become brave, or strong, or whatever, such that they can withstand all of the junk life throws at them?

The first attempt to answer this question had to do with establishing a system of loving support and accountability.

The second has to do with finding the confidence to believe that you have a place in this world, that you belong, and that you are worthy of love and respect. This kind of confidence tells us that we have the right to ask those who we are in community with to uphold our dignity. It allows us to set boundaries when our dignity and sense of self are either challenged or at risk.

Where does this confidence come from?

Well, this may be similar to the kind of strength Paul describes in Philippians that comes from God. Again, we ask, how to find it, or access it? I hope others are willing to jump in with their opinions in the comment section because I do not have the perfect or most complete answer to that question, but I believe it starts with the willingness to spend time in silence, stillness, and solitude.

We need to give ourselves the gift of space from distraction, noise, and negativity to simply sit and reflect on our lives and see what rises to the surface. This does not always feel like a gift. If you’re not used to time alone, it can be highly uncomfortable. It feels like something that must be escaped. But, that’s a feeling to resist, and it’s one that is easily overcome with practice. It’s in (healthy) disengagement that we find God and can learn to relax with ourselves and draw comfort from knowing that we are placed here so we can thrive, not so that we can be destroyed. It’s this perspective that allows us the strength, the perspective, the wisdom, and the discernment to discover our true needs and what is “ours to do” in meeting them.

What else does it take to be brave in the face of adversity? Let us know your thoughts.

How to be brave

How does a person become brave, or strong, or whatever, such that they can withstand all of the junk life throws at them? Well, the simple answer based on the past few days is that this is the kind of strength God offers us through faith. I believe that, I really do. But sometimes we still need a little help learning how to access that strength, right?

The first piece is we need a firm grounding in several key relationships where people both allow us to be ourselves and offer us strict accountability when we are not abiding by our chosen “way of seeing.” (Remember, we talk about faith as a “certain way of being based on a certain way of seeing.”).

We need other people in our lives for God to work through. This isn’t to say that God exclusively works through other people, or that He could not just work on us individually, but it helps to offer him multiple opportunities to go to work in our lives. That is one important role others play.

Sometimes in my life I have been the recipient of hardship and not been able to withstand it. I was alone. Other times, the opposite. I was surrounded. Being brave doesn’t mean having more inner resolve, necessarily, though we often think that. It can mean having exterior resolve- we can borrow from the resolve of those who love us.

Endurance and thriving

Yesterday we established that part of experiencing joy, patience, and endurance, as people of faith, is consciously choosing the long-term perspective that God is actively at work to remove hardship. We learn to use this lens to remind ourselves that our hardships are part of a version of creation that is fading away (albeit slowly, too slowly). In this way, we find joy in anticipating the end of God’s work.

But what does that have to do with today? How might we thrive in the present?

First we should ask, what do we mean by thriving? Under what circumstances would you consider yourself to be thriving? Is thriving all about having desirable circumstances? I’d suggest not, because life will never offer totally desirable circumstances. Some things will be desirable, some things won’t be. This is just how life goes.

Thriving is not just about removing negative things from life, but being people who respond to negative events with courage, grace, and dignity. It is about being people who can speak back to the tragedy of life, instead of being people lose their identity in response to suffering, or who become defined by that suffering. What I mean is, it’s possible for life to smack us in the face without losing our sense of who we are. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. That is the essence of thriving. It is the essence of contentment and joy. When Paul says he can do all things through Christ, I believe this is what he means.

How do we become those kinds of people?

I’ll speak on that tomorrow.

Endurance and joy


From yesterday: Enduring gets a bad wrap. It sounds negative, as if to “endure” means to just barely make it. As if to imply that we can’t thrive, we can only survive. Today, we’re going to begin to move in the direction of discussing how endurance can be about thriving, but it’s going to require us taking some small steps first. Today is one small step in that direction, so do not be discouraged. Hang in there over the next few days.

We recently talked about the following verses about endurance and joy in both in the blogs and in the weekend messages, but let’s revisit them:


2 My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. 3 After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.

~ James 1:2-4, CEB

There’s a certain logic to this that we must walk through slowly and carefully in order to fully understand what is going on here. It is not saying that we should be happy about life’s difficulties. It’s suggesting that people of faith take on a bold, long-term perspective. That perspective reminds us that God is not yet done working. Because he’s not yet done working, there are going to be hardships. These hardships are reminders, ultimately, that God is not yet done working. Let’s phrase it positively: God is working to remove hardships, so that there will be no more tears. That may not make us happy, and it may not completely relieve our pain, but it is a reminder we hold onto that limits the damage.

Joy isn’t about masochistically enjoying hardship, it’s about damage limitation. It is about the long game. It’s about using our perspective, as people of faith, to remind ourselves that God is still at work, even amidst our trials, and part of his work is to create people who can endure such that we become whole, or complete. Joy is not about feeling happy about suffering. It’s about reminding ourselves that suffering does not get the final say.

More to come.

Faith and limitations redux

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

According to verses that lead up to this one, Paul is saying he is empowered, by Christ, to live in contentment regardless of his material circumstances. In other words, whether in wealth or poverty, Paul is capable of being content because Christ strengthens him to do so. In this way, we should hear these verses as saying something more like, “You can be content in the midst of your limitations because Christ offers you the kind of strength necessary to live with your limitations.”

Again, this isn’t really a popular message. People would likely be more interested in this post if I said that anything was possible with the appropriate amount and type of faith. That’s a fantasy- but it’s a tempting one because it suggests that it’s possible to go from powerless to powerful with faith. We can manipulate the world, our lives, our life circumstances, even God. Sadly, this is not the case. Even Paul does not think anything is possible, he thinks it’s possible to be strengthened by God, through Christ, to endure limitations.

In other words, this is really a message of acceptance more than it is a message of power or strength. Faith doesn’t give us more power. It gives us the power to endure.

Enduring gets a bad wrap. It sounds negative, as if to “endure” means to just barely make it. As if to imply that we can’t thrive, we can only survive. I do not think this is what enduring really is, and we’ll talk more about that tomorrow.