Defensiveness is not a strategy

Years ago I had the grand privilege of teaching high schoolers each Sunday morning. Man, are they smart. And funny. And irreverent. And loaded with potential. If you do not have the privilege of really digging in and spending quantity (quantity - not quality) time with this group, it may be tough to appreciate the depth of their curiosity and their capacity to ferret out BS when they see it.

I had this one kid whose attendance was sporadic, and when he was there he was not exactly dialed in. This made me curious. Mostly he looked hung over on Sundays and there were some rumors about his extracurricular activities and the possibility that he might be a bad influence on the other kids in the group.

One day while buying groceries and junk food for my kids, his dad approached me about his son’s “religious education” and chastised me for his son’s sporadic attendance and his lack of bible knowledge (as evidenced by his inability to quote scripture verses from memory). This, according to him, was a reflection of my poor teaching and my lack of commitment.

So here is the thing about this story. This dad did not go to church. At. All. At the time I was super mad. But after I paused to prepare and really thought the story through, I felt an increased responsibility to this young man. I redoubled my efforts. I did NOT ask the kid to memorize scriptures but I did a few small things to increase his awareness that we teachers saw him. Cared about him. And without saying a word to anyone else about the encounter with the dad - who I would not have even recognized except for the fact that his kid was with him (yes, he said all this in front of his son) - we upped our game.

This was super hard. I wanted to “out” the dad for being a deadbeat. I wanted to whine and complain about all my weekly efforts and this dad’s absence from the life of his kid and I wanted to shout from the rooftops, “HOW DARE HE!!” But the problem with this approach was that it would not have been helpful to the kid, and that was my priority. That was in-line with my core value of loving kids as an expression of bearing God’s image. He already had one fun house mirror of a father image, did he need me tarnishing it further? No.

I do not know where this young man is today. I do know he made his way, eventually, to seminary. This is no guarantee that he has pursued a life of faith but I am pretty sure it required continued exposure to God’s word. I know that he has had a profound influence on my life. He is the kid that opened my eyes to all the ways we judge others and make assumptions about them. He made me realize I could do more - not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

It’s okay to learn even from people who don’t have it all together and even those who stir your anger. It’s okay to find inspiration in rumors of failure or in the face of criticism. How might God be getting your attention today through weird means and mean people?

Changing habits means telling the truth

Have you ever tracked every single morsel you put in your mouth on one of those tracking apps? I have. It’s eye opening. My nutritionist does not recommend this as a daily practice. She wants me to live my life and learn to use my eyes to see what I am eating and learn how to fuel my body wisely.

I continue to learn. But because of my propensity to not pay attention to details, my forgetfulness, my outright denial about some of my habits…that app can serve as helpful accountability. So long as I tell the truth.

There it is.

The fly in the ointment.

Tell the truth. Particularly - tell MYSELF the truth.

So here we go with a question for today: Just how seriously do you take your faith journey? If you had an app on your phone that could measure such things, how are you doing?

And I am really curious about this: What criteria would you use to assess your spirituality? What actions, thoughts, feelings and core values reveal the seriousness with which you take your relationship with your Higher Power?

“[He] said to me as I was walking by, ‘God takes this more seriously than you do.’ “

~ By the Book (view the video here)

Building trust is a long process

We have a mechanic whom we trust. If he says our car needs a major repair we thank him for finding the problem. We do not get second or third opinions - although I do not think he would be particularly offended if we did seek outside input. We do not waffle about whether or not to take his advice. We do not curse our misfortune at his hands or blame him for finding a problem. Why? Because we trust him.

Why do we trust him? Because we have built a solid relationship over the years that has made trust possible. He has never let us down, although there was that one time he forgot to tighten a new tire fully and that resulted in an interesting ride back to the shop. Did we stop going to him because he made a mistake? No. He immediately acknowledged his error and made amends. Our long history gave us context to chalk it up to a fluke and we did not allow it to overly influence our capacity to trust him.

Trust is built over the long haul. This is true in all relationships, including our faith in God. But today

does not have to bear the weight of total trust building. Today is a step not the entire journey. But it does require taking a step. We have to keep a steady pace, we need to keep actively engaging in our faith journey. We have to allow for confusions and even doubts. We have to “turn” and keep “turning”, one day at a time (as the Third Step points out so clearly when it asks us to turn our live and will over to the care of God).

God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

~Ephesians 4:15-16, The Message

Are you actively pursuing spiritual maturity? Is there anything you need to change in order to continue your faith journey?

Seeing what condition my condition was in

My husband grew increasingly frustrated with my insistence that his favorite shirt was black, not blue. The more I questioned his choice, the more impatient he grew. He decided to end the insanity. We were on vacation with our extended family and he, in all his certainty, decided to poll the assembly about the shirt color. He received twelve votes for black, zero for navy blue. He trusted these people. There was no history of arguments about who is right and who is wrong on the subject. He did not think I had tried to rig the jury because I had no advance knowledge of his plan to ask for feedback from the peanut gallery.

This is a loving group of people and the subsequent ribbing he received was good-natured and he was an excellent sport. Later that evening, he acknowledged that I had been right about the shirt. He explained that his eyes saw it a certain way, and he could not, “un-see it”.

Can you relate? How often has someone confronted you about your using and called it a problem? All the while, using for you seems like a solution.

In my husband’s situation, once he realized he had a problem, he asked for help. We agreed that in the future I would be given the privilege of providing feedback should he happen to choose clothes that did not match. I silently decided to do so as respectfully as possible. I could empathize with the struggle to change one’s mind about a belief that had been held so tightly all his life.

Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.

Don’t let anyone under pressure to give in to evil say, “God is trying to trip me up.” God is impervious to evil, and puts evil in no one’s way. The temptation to give in to evil comes from us and only us. We have no one to blame but the leering, seducing flare-up of our own lust. Lust gets pregnant, and has a baby: sin! Sin grows up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer.

So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.

~ James 1:12-18, The Message

One of my favorite things about recovery and faithful living is that both journeys offer the opportunity to develop the capacity for humility. My husband had to learn it in this small, seemingly insignificant example of colorblindness. But profound sacred truths are often hidden in the small and mundane moments of life. These moments CAN change our experience of life - in a beautiful, sacred way.

Combat spiritual blindness with accountability

My husband is colorblind; so is my son. The difference between the two is that, while my son recognizes this deficiency, my husband refused to admit his limitation for quite awhile. My husband wanted to believe that a particular favorite shirt is navy blue. It is not. It is black. No amount of his understanding it to be blue will make it blue. The shirt is black. Sometimes he happens to wear something that looks fine with the black shirt - other times he looks like he got dressed in a dark room with his eyes closed. My son, on the other hand, allows his wife to pick out his clothes. And he looks fine, all the time.

We all suffer with a side-order of blindness. It causes us to believe things that are not true and not believe a bunch of stuff that is absolutely true. When we are in this position, life spirals out of control in confusing ways. These false beliefs and denials that we hold as truth cause us to take actions that do not produce the results we want.

The ONLY way I know to change this dynamic is by making a decision that requires our own certainty to stand down AND choose to trust God.

Over-spiritualizing creates big problems

In my work people often ask me, “How do people get sober?” They are skeptical, curious, hopeless, angry, afraid.

Some even come looking for actual answers. Their question sounds more like, “HOW DO people get sober?” These people want answers. They want action steps. They want solutions.

All the different ways people show up with these questions are fine - no judgment here. But the attitude that they bring into my office impacts my answer because frankly, there are many, many ways to get sober.

One way it does not work is to super spiritual-ize the journey. I learned this years ago when a spouse came in and wanted to know how to fix his wife. He brought his Bible (this NEVER happens) and the following passage:

It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.

~ Ephesians 1:11-12 The Message

Then he raged. He spoke of his wife’s issues and her stubborn resistance to treatment. He talked about their place of esteem in the Christian community and how God did NOT want them living “like this”.

“What do you mean exactly by ‘like this’?” I asked. He went on to list all the ways he felt his wife was a disappointment. He felt cheated. He wished for a wife who loved the Lord and submitted to her husband’s authority.

Three days later he was arrested for assault and battery of his wife. A week later she was in treatment. Ten years out she works with abuse and trauma survivors; he is in and out of jail for a nasty habit of trying to beat his subsequent wives into submission with the same fervor he used on his first wife.

I believe in the message of Ephesians 1; I worry when we try to use it to control other people’s decisions. I do not believe that Ephesians 1 is talking about designs for us that give no regard to who we are and how we want to live. This is more of a divine tango than an order to march in lockstep with God. God is relational and intimate. He does NOT beat us into submission. He is not codependent. Dr. Dale Ryan often speaks of God’s patience with us. He talks about how God is not concerned that his work in our lives will extend into the next life. Our cooperation requires that we are honest about ourselves and not hide behind false spirituality. A person who beats their spouse may be spouting the words but they are not living the life. A person struggling with a Substance Use Disorder who admits their problem and seeks help is daring to hope.

Who are you? Are you admitting your stuff or pointing the finger at others?

Spiritual Blind Spots

In recovery I discovered that there were lots of things about God that people had conveniently forgotten to teach me OR I had failed to hear. It could easily be the latter. My parents were not spiritual people; my grandparents were the only religious influence I had growing up - and it is a lot to ask the church to cram all knowledge a kid needs about God into summer visits. But it was enough. It made me hungry for more.

As an adult, I worked a heavy duty spiritual program. Over the course of years of study I realized that many of my beliefs were off-target. I received the highlight reel of faith in bits and pieces. But much like families of origin - it is really hard to recognize that our families and our faith experiences often leave big gaps in knowledge, much less wisdom. We have a difficult time knowing what we do not know.

This is why it is important to talk through what we have been told, what we perhaps interpreted as truth that we just got confused, and how these beliefs are messing with our abundant living.

Have you ever laid out your beliefs and examined them for accuracy? Have you ever considered that if life and faith are not being wrestled with and confronted and then lived out in real time - maybe it is time to step up our commitment to our spirituality?