(Some) Elements of Acceptance

In these past few days we’ve discussed a few strategies that help us avoiding living as contemptuous people.  One is seeking out both a skilled therapist and a trusted spiritual advisor or mentor or whatever word you want to use.  This helps us deal with the source(s) of our contempt. The second thing we did was attempt to reframe how we perceive other people’s lives.  Contempt can be the product of comparing what we have to what other people have.  The reality is, we have no clue what other people have or do not have in their lives.  And so, comparisons are foolish, though we can’t help but do it, can we? It’s only natural, even though we know it isn’t particularly good for us.  

 

 

The third “strategy” (if you can call it that) I want to mention is acceptance.  What do I mean by acceptance? I personally think that acceptance is a rather expansive, multifaceted topic and I plan to take a few days to address just a few of the many ingredients that lead to acceptance.  I’m surely going to leave some things out. I’m going to give you my list in no particular order as I have no idea how to rate the importance of each of these aspects of acceptance. I’ll unpack these over the coming days so, if the sentences are not immediately clear, they soon will be (I think).  

 

 

Without further ado, here are my elements of acceptance:

 

 

  1. The willingness to live within the boundaries of life’s natural constraints

  2. The willingness to tolerate tragedy (in both a global and personal sense) without trying to pinpoint its source

  3. The willingness to resist idealizing alternative ways in which life “might” have gone

  4. The willingness to trust that, on the aggregate, God steers creation in a hopeful direction

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?

Shame is a Spiritual Antagonist

I don’t know how to keep shame from creeping into a room. Heck, I don’t even know how to keep shame from eating away at my heart.  But because I personally have struggled with shame so much I have learned a few techniques that help me manage it, even as I work and wait for healing.  Shame is going to make merry anytime we are trying to improve our conscious contact with God or become more decently human or love others or treat ourselves and others with respect.  Shame is a condition many of us need to heal from AND learn to manage as we recover. 

 

The aforementioned church staff was simply a family system of sorts that was experiencing a team shame attack.  Before we could take meaningful action we had some work to do. 

 

As I sat, listened and learned from their family fight, I identified the group at the precontemplation stage of change.  There was no meaningful contemplation happening; they were ill-equipped in their whipped up stage to determine a direction and they certainly were NOT ready to proceed with action steps.  In precontemplation, they were reacting to the crisis.  These guys and gals were saying, thinking, feeling and proposing action steps that were more related to how they individually and collectively handled stress than anything more substantive and meaningful - like following their core values!  This stuff happens to me all the time, so I could feel their pain.

 

I saw a glimmer of opportunity.  Perhaps I could provide some much-needed calm.  Of course, me being me, this would require divine intervention.  But isn’t this where our hope always lies?  In recovery, aren’t we always called to admit our powerlessness and unmanageable parts, come to believe that a power greater than us can restore us to sanity, and turn our will over to God’s care and control?  Under duress, these were not the primary thoughts of the group.  Maybe I could remind them that we had a God who was ready to help us.

 

So we looked at 1 Corinthians, and then I asked them a question:  what do you see here?  At first, all they saw was what their shame wanted them to see - sexual immorality was super bad and it got people banished.   Look, this is true.  But it is an incomplete version of the truth and does not get us to the heart of the issue.  When we read a passage like this we're being dumped into the end of a story, and we miss the process.  When we miss the process we overlook some important dynamics that lie beneath the story itself.  

 

We have lots of contemplating to do before we just jump on the banishment bandwagon.  Because the truth is, God has many tools dangling from his belt.  Banishment is not the only option.  Plus, it wasn’t the thing I was hoping they would notice. 

 

To be continued….

Shame and Spiritual Abuse

Last week I had a consulting gig at a church that had a recovery ministry blow up in grand fashion.  Lack of leadership accountability, no small doses of codependency and maybe, perhaps, possibly a tiny bit of grandiose thinking and arrogance on the part of the church team that swooped in to clean up the debacle was stymying the work of restoration.  And I haven’t even gotten to the part of what actually went down within the recovery ministry that caused the crash and burn!

 

As I sat around the table listening to the various perspectives represented - the church staff, the recovery ministry team, the church’s human resources department and its legal team, man, I just wanted a good cup of coffee and some headphones.  It was brutal.  Mostly the conversation focused on the religious beliefs of the congregation that they felt the recovery ministry leadership had disrespected.  They were mad.  While all this conversation swirled, the lead pastor, sitting on my left played on his ipad.  I was a bit envious and wished I too could pull up my solitaire game.  Sometimes it is hard to stay present for suffering.

 

As the contention gathered steam I felt like I had acquired an invisibility cloak and was stuck in the middle of a family drama.  Folks forgot that they were their to share their story with my team; they were too busy picking each other off with their verbal long rifles.  I opened up my bible and reminded myself of another time when a church had to deal with sexual immorality…

 

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

 

Let’s talk banishment.  To be continued….

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! 

Habits

I am a big fan of habits.  I habitually brush my teeth.  This is a good thing.  I have tons of habitual behaviors that I do without thinking; they keep my brain from overheating with exertion; habits can be our friend.

 

However, habits can also be our enemy.  I developed a habit of putting this really delicious, silky smooth and loaded with sugar creamer in my coffee.  Yum!  Once I developed the habit of having it, I did not enjoy coffee without it.  It was only when I was given information that inspired me to decrease my sugar intake that the lovely little treat that I so enjoyed became my enemy.  Because I was habituated to it, it had the power to knock my numbers out of alignment before I had even had breakfast, much less eaten three meals and a snack! 

 

Lately I’ve been re-evaluating my habits.  I’ve decided that I want to keep the ones that support my core values but relinquish some that are inconsistent with my values.  Coffee with a creamer that doesn’t fit my nutritional objectives has to go.  I will miss her.

 

When I began my journey of eating realignment, I needed education, accountability, support and incentives.  Habits don’t just disappear when we wish them gone!  I understand that we do better with change when we replace habits, plan for change, and develop a patience for taking steady next right steps toward our goal.  Grandiose thinking and change are not great partners. 

 

For today, consider what you would like to change in your world.  Tomorrow we will consider change and how it works.

 

What are you in the process of becoming?

In closing out the month, I'll ask the question again:  What are you preparing for?  What process are you engaging?  

We are all preparing for something all the time. The question is what are we preparing for?  Do we know what we are preparing for? When we don’t know we’re likely preparing for some outcome other than the one that we truly desire.  This is because desirable ends require attentive, dedicated, or conscious preparation (as opposed to unconscious preparation). 

If we overlook the profound spiritual power of process in our lives then we invite an unmanageable load of disappointment to fill our void.  This is because overlooking process means we are overlooking the only opportunity (or opportunities) we have to introduce meaning back into our lives once we've been crippled by circumstances outside of our control.  

Being process-oriented people means asking the question, Am I doing everything I can?  

If the answer is yes, then we begin a conversation on radical acceptance.  

If the answer is no, then consider introducing a more intentional process to your life.  Only then will we know what the possibilities are. 

Faith as Process

We become faithful people when we choose to enter in to God's process of shaping us into faithful people.  

When we say it this way, we're acknowledging that we're not in control of the outcome that God has in mind for us (individually or collectively).  We enter into the process of doing what we can to create space in our lives (and the community's life) for God to move in whatever ways in which he chooses to work.  

We may never know the ways in which God chooses to work.  All the more reason to dedicate ourselves to be in process and live in radical acceptance.  We are only able to control the process we dedicate ourselves to, never the end results.  That process creates space for God's movement.  And so the process is our goal.  It's all we can do.

The rest we leave to God.  And we learn to accept whatever that is.    God may have specific goals and ends in mind for us.  

That's his prerogative.  He's God.

A Faithful Process

Faithful living, in fact, is not particularly results oriented.  It has always been about the process of becoming.   God gradually transforms us more and more in his likeness as we dedicate ourselves to the spiritual disciplines that facilitate this process (acts of mercy and forgiveness, prayer, communion, worship, etc.).  There is not a one-to-one relationship here.  15 minutes of prayer does not make us 15% more holy.  I'm just saying that grounding ourselves in spiritual disciplines (or grounding ourselves in the process of becoming people who do spiritual disciplines) opens up the possibility of God's action in ways that might not otherwise exist.  

We might say, then, that being faithful people is, fundamentally, the choice to dedicate ourselves to the process of becoming faithful people.  I understand that is cyclical language- and I think it works.  We become faithful people when we choose to enter in to God's process of shaping us into faithful people.  

More on this tomorrow.

Process as Meaning-Making

From yesterday:  

Discovering meaning in (or for) our lives pushes back chaos, crisis, and the all-encompassing sense of unmanageability.

Meaning comes from things like:

* Connection to God
* Community
* Self-awareness
* Rituals or habits (from spiritual disciplines to exercise, we benefit from regularity)
* Work 

In each of these areas, we are all always works in process.  Yet, at the same time, if our process is not a dedicated one then we are unlikely to receive meaning from any item on this list.  

Dedicating ourselves to each of these processes is, in a way, the work of faith and recovery.  Granted, recovery has specific things in mind for each area.  The act of learning to own and dedicate ourselves to basic recovery principles provides us with the alternative vision for life that we need to step out of the insanity of managing things that we cannot control.  

When we step out of the insanity, and dedicate ourselves to this process, we open up the possibility of finding meaning where, previously, there was only chaos.  

The Lives of Others

From yesterday:  

We simply cannot live through someone else and so this version of life will never provide the meaning we crave.  We need an alternative.  We need something else to dedicate ourselves to that adds meaning back into our lives in the midst of all of the chaos.  

That meaning, I think, comes from a conscious, intentional dedication to process.

Discovering meaning in (or for) our lives pushes back chaos, crisis, and the all-encompassing sense of unmanageability.  "Meaning," as a concept, is not a thing we find when we know the right place to look.  It is the sum of various seemingly disparate life parts that we cobble together.  I am obviously not an expert at this and so I'm not prepared to unpack the exact ways in which someone finds meaning in life, but I will point to a few of these "life parts" that I know help.  

* Connection to God
* Community
* Self-awareness
* Rituals or habits (from spiritual disciplines to exercise, we benefit from regularity)
* Work 

Process falls under nearly any of these categories because, as I wrote earlier, we're all in process of becoming a person who can: connect with his or her creator, participate in community, examine self, maintain habits, and dedicate ourselves to whatever our work is.  

More tomorrow.

Is It worth It? Part II

For Part I Click Here.  It was posted on January 22.

You may commit yourself to your own recovery journey and still not see your loved one enter long-term recovery.  You may not receive that promotion.  You may not save your marriage.  

Does this mean it isn't worth it? 

It depends on whether or not we can see the value in dedicating ourselves to a process.  If we can detach (slightly) from our immediate circumstances and the anxiety of trying to fix a loved one (or whatever the case may be), we may recognize we have our own issues that need addressing.  When we over function for someone else, we tend to under function for ourselves.  In this way, we may see the value in entering recovery to reclaim what we have learned to overlook.  If we look at it that way, we may convince ourselves there is some other outcome worth pursuing.  It's a mental trick (a good one).

The larger question, though, is one of meaning.  Attempting to live someone else's life for them is always going to rob us of our sense of meaning and purpose because we will fail.  We simply cannot live through someone else and so this version of life will never provide the meaning we crave.  We need an alternative.  We need something else to dedicate ourselves to that adds meaning back into our lives in the midst of all of the chaos.  

That meaning, I think, comes from a conscious, intentional dedication to process.

Expanding our Focus: Part I

Every day (I think?) I have moments of anger, and moments of sadness.  Every day I'm confronted with various choices and possibilities.  Every day I encounter conflict of some kind.  Every day I encounter something that stirs up irritation and impatience.  

Each of these things has the capacity to throw me off kilter, out of balance, and away from my calling to live as a reflection of God.  I'm not blame-shifting here, I'm responsible for being thrown off kilter,  but there are also things that happen outside of my control that contribute to that possibility.  

I suspect the same is true for you.  

At home, there are trials and frustrations.  There is trauma.  There is grief.  There is resentment.  At work, we have employees that undermine our authority, or coworkers who don't respect us, or who try to make us look bad so that they can get ahead.  In our larger community, there are disappointments and petty arguments and factions.  Look, we just aren't always the best version of ourselves and that creates problems.  

We do not need to be in chaos or crisis in order to dedicate ourselves to the ongoing process of recovery.  If we're not dedicated to this process, then we may be dedicated to the process of complacency and backsliding.  And if we're dedicated to complacency then our home lives, work lives, community lives, and whatever other lives we may have are unlikely to get any better for us.  

We'll be living out of our most basic instincts.  And those rarely transform us into the best possible version of ourselves.  

So, as you read the remaining days, ask yourself what process you are currently dedicated to.  Be willing to question whether or not it is effective.  Be willing to consider that a greater level of intentionality may open up the possibilities you need to break the cycle you are currently in.  

On the other hand, if you're happy (and you know it), then clap your hands!  :-)

Results are not Guaranteed

When it comes to recovery, no result is guaranteed.  We can only suggest a path with the understanding that this path has the capacity to create opportunities.  It does not (and cannot) guarantee a certain solution.

We talk about dedicating ourselves to process because we cannot dedicate ourselves to results.  Results are out of our control, though some results may not be possible without a dedicated process.  In other words, a dedicated process may create the possibility of a specific, desired result without guaranteeing it.  

To be far simpler, we might say that there are good strategies and bad strategies.  Good strategies create space for possibilities.  Bad ones, well, make things worse.

Because of this, we must carry with us a sense of acceptance as we journey.  An ideal approach to our process may not create the ideal end.  If we dedicate ourselves to the process, though, hope, healing, and joy become possibilities when they otherwise would not be.   

The Means are the Ends

To say we’re a goal-oriented society is a massive understatement.  Goals are good, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inherently wrong with setting and working towards goals.  However, it is possible to become too goal-oriented.  Not only are we a goal-oriented society but we are an achievement-oriented society.  In fact, we’re more or less taught that goals are only goals if they have something to do with productivity and achievement.  They must be measurable or they are not goals.  Further, success and the appearance of success represent the highest form of status.  The ends justify the means, so the saying goes.  This is just another way of saying that the means don’t matter.  We’ve taken this to the extreme.  

It comes as no surprise then that families want to know, first and foremost, how do I get my loved one sober?  It’s an honest question, I get it, but it isn’t necessarily realistic.  In my role as a sort of “guide,” I can’t answer that question.  I can only answer the question, “Where do we begin?”  

Once we (as a society) mix our results-obsession with our increasingly short attention spans and decreasing patience for delayed gratification we end up with a large group of people who are overly attentive to the “ends” of things and rather neglectful about the means through which we arrive at them.  In other words, we pay attention to results and overlook the profound spiritual depth of process.

What do I mean when I say "process"?  

Check back tomorrow.

Learning to prepare for uncertainty

It seems to me that, in this day and age, in our culture, people only become willing to address problems when a particular problem builds to the level of “crisis.”  I do not know why this is the case, other than the obvious explanation of convenience.  It’s simply inconvenient to be proactive about something that isn’t yet a /big/ problem.  Because I do not know exactly why this happens I also cannot make recommendations about how one changes this habit but, in spite of that, I do want to argue the importance of learning to prepare.  

It's impossible to prepare for all possible circumstances that may come our way.  It may even be impossible to prepare for circumstances that seem likely to come our way.  I do believe, though, that in some small, humble ways we can learn to view life itself as preparation for the unpredictable and the unknowable.  As we spend a few days talking about the importance of becoming process-oriented, I'd like us to begin to see preparation as a result in and of itself, rather than something we do only in order to achieve a result.  

Discovering our own need for help

Read yesterday’s post before today’s.  

Yesterday I began to tell the story of a frustrated couple from our Family Education Program who believed that they were not getting the information they needed in order to inspire their loved one to take treatment seriously.  

I heard in their voices frustration, disappointment, fear, anxiety, and, perhaps, isolation (they did not believe other people had the same difficulty they did).  All of these feelings and experiences are real and burdensome.  I feel for them.  

Mom and I meet with families every week to discuss how to be helpful to loved ones needing recovery.  We always pass on a few key things we’ve learned.  These keys look something like this:  You can’t necessarily make someone enter treatment, but there are some skills you can learn and practice that assist a person in discovering that treatment and recovery are good ideas worth pursuing.  The portion of the family that knows that recovery is necessary needs to pursue their own recovery because everyone involved needs healing, support, encouragement, and education and these factors combined create an environment where recovery is more possible than it might otherwise be.  

The frustrated family’s problem, I think, is the belief that there is a hidden key somewhere that will unlock a door that provides a solution.  They believe that there is some trick no one is telling them that will give them their desired goal, their desired end.  They are solutions-focused and not yet process-oriented.  

I say this not to judge them.  I do not believe it is their fault and I believe it is totally understandable.  I believe everyone who has this sort of problem begins roughly in this place.  But it has got me thinking about the difference between being solutions-oriented people verses process-oriented people (of course, we can probably mix both, it doesn’t have to be a choice).  

And so, I want to spend a few days writing about the nature of process.  

How do I make someone do something they need?

A speaker at a recent Family Education Program presented various options and approaches to treatment.  Each FEP meeting draws a diverse crowd of people in terms of the recovery spectrum and the recovery process.  Some of the attendees are in the midst of a substance use disorder.  Some have family members in the midst of a substance use disorder.  Some have family members in long-term recovery, some are in long-term recovery themselves.  

In this particular meeting, a mother and father raised their hands to ask how to get their loved one into treatment.  They have heard all the options before, but their loved one is stubbornly resistant.  They believe they know the options, and they now need to know how to capitalize on them.  They were frustrated, fed up.  I don’t know this for sure- but I would guess they felt their situation was unique and that their loved one was more stubbornly resistant than the average bear.  

Their predicament highlights perhaps the central problem family’s encounter once they discover a loved one needs help.  But, at the same time, the question also highlights a problem in terms of how they have been coached to approach recovery.  

What problem?  I’ll tell you tomorrow.

A prayer for your recovery journey

Do you have a favorite version of the Lord’s Prayer?  If not, Google it and find one.  Maybe use it today to guide your prayer time!  

 

 

Here’s one version I like:

 

Our Father in heaven,

Reveal who you are.

Set the world right;

Do what’s best—

   as above, so below.

Keep us alive with three square meals.

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.

Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.

You’re in charge!

You can do anything you want!

You’re ablaze in beauty!

   

Yes. Yes. Yes.  This is from Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” translation.  Sometimes I use this instead of my NIV or CEB translations that I have used for years.  It just helps to shake things up sometimes!

 

Reaching out for help: Part II

We are almost two weeks into a series of discussions intended to inspire us to make some changes.  Who could you reach out to and talk to about your own limitations and longings?  I have a friend who I’ve been talking to lately who kept telling me she was lonely but after some reflection we discovered that her root problem wasn’t so much loneliness as longing for more depth in the relationships she already had.

 

 

Find someone to share with today.