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What about repeating (habitual?) patterns of sin and struggle? How do the Seven A’s of Confession and Four Promises of Forgiveness apply?
I recently had to make a “Seven A’s Confession” to a dear friend. Like all real confessions, it was embarrassing. I was frustrated with myself for blowing it. Again. I felt bad about hurting someone I care about. Talking it out for real took time and effort and emotion, three things that neither of us really had extra margin in this month. But she is a real friend and it was a real hurt, so (thank God!) we did the right thing, the loving thing, and had that uncomfortable—but ultimately GOOD—conversation. And I was, as always, amazed at how genuine and balming true forgiveness from a true friend can be. It really is like a breath of Heaven! A waft of that which is good, lovely, pure, other-worldly, best.
I did try to make it clear, however, that even as grateful as I was for her beautiful “Four Promises of Forgiveness”, and as much as I REALLY wanted to stand up from that conversation with a clean heart and no gap of hurt between us, I was also keenly aware that the way I had hurt her can sometimes be a bad pattern for me.
(It has to do with me not being as careful in my speech and tone with my dearest friends (and family!) especially when I am spent. Exhausted. Introvert-peopled-out-FRIED. And scared. That’s really GOT to become my RED FLAG of warning:
*** CAREFUL TARA!! CAREFUL TARA!! You are tired and peopled-out and SCARED. THIS IS WHEN YOU ARE MOST LIKELY TO NOT BE GENTLE AND LOVING IN TONE!! ***
Hmmmm. If only I could emblazon that somewhere in flashing lights in front of my eyes. Or, I suppose, if only I would grow up and learn to listen to that Still Small Voice of the Holy Spirit leading me in repentance and faith.)
In any case, even as I made confession and (gratefully!) received her forgiveness, I also expressed to her that I was aware that this can be a repeating pattern for me and THUS. I would make EVERY effort to never repeat this pattern towards her again. My heart’s desire, my fervent prayer was to never repeat this pattern with her (or anyone!) ever again. But if I did, I wanted her to know that bringing this incident up and talking with me about again would NOT violate the “Four Promises.” In fact, I was INVITING her to bring this incident up and talk with me about it again becauset hat is how seriously I take my confession. I am genuinely sorry and genuinely repentant—that means I want to change.
Plus, I truly don’t believe that bringing it up again would violate “The Four Promises” because, just as Judy Dabler and I explain in “Peacemaking Women”, I think the heart of “The Four Promises” can be described like this:
- I will not dwell on this incident.
- I will not bring this incident up again and use it against you.
- I will not talk to others about this incident.
- I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.
- I will not dwell on or ruminate on this incident. Instead, when I become aware that thoughts about this incident pop into my mind, I will take them captive and commit them to Christ.
- I will not use this incident against you to cause you hurt, shame, or fear. Instead, I will only bring this incident up when it is necessary for our healing and growth.
- I will not gossip to others about this incident. Instead, I will only bring it up to others when it is necessary to ask for their assistance for God’s glory and our good.
- I will not avoid you or neglect our relationship. Instead, I will pray, allow time, and faithfully labor toward our continued reconciliation and the true restoration of our relationship.
In this situation, just like in so many parenting situations, it is necessary to bring a past incident up for healing and growth because they are part of a pattern or habit and just bringing up the one, current, presenting issue won’t REALLY address the depth of the problem. That’s why I invited my friend to (be gentle please! but also be bold and) bring it up again if she needed to do so.
I should note that I had a similar situation like this years and years ago wherein someone confronted me about a habitual/pattern weakness/sin in my life and he used examples that he had “forgiven” me for. Ouch! I remember those conversations as being some of the most graceless, hopeless, burdensome conversations of my young life. I remember thinking:
- Why are you bringing this up again?! I thought you said I was FORGIVEN!?
- Will I NEVER get to grow in your eyes? Do I never get to CHANGE? Or will you forever view me through the lens of my failures / immaturities / weaknesses from two, five, and ten years ago?
- Wow! You sure don’t know what forgiveness means.
The thing is? I have a completely different view of that conversation now. I wouldn’t think those thoughts any longer. Instead, I would focus on how my confession / repentance was really very shallow and lacking. I would stop pointing a finger outward at him and point lots more fingers inward at myself—specifically, my truly awful habitual, repeated patterns that were hurting people. I would invite him to talk with me about these patterns and bring them up again because I would know that is the ONLY way I could possibly change. (Because I need Galatians 6 rescue! I need Matthew 18 help from my brothers and sisters in Christ!) And also? I would want him to know that I sincerely, truly repentant and whatever he needed to hear from me to help to communicate that and live in line with that confessed repentance? Well. Bring it on. I was the one confessing. He was the one forgiving. The burden was on ME to pay the price and do whatever it took to communicate sincerity, rebuild relationship and and trust, and help him to forgive me.
It’s a difficult thing to nuance, though, isn’t it? Especially with our children.
The FREEDOM of FORGIVENESS is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children (and they can give us too):
“Forgiving each other just as the Lord has forgiven you …” Colossians 3:13
The weightlessness of leaving a painful discipline and confession/forgiveness time with a (REAL!) fresh start and clear / clean / OPEN hearts toward one another? Running back onto the playground—the day not ruined? Recovering out of the grouchy, ungrateful response to a disappointing stocking stuffer—all of Christmas not ruined? Actually getting to experience a taste of the fresh breath of God in the forgiving, warm breath of a friend who doesn’t give up on us but who makes the time in a crushingly busy week to come to our home, sit on our Golden-Retriever-Fur-Covered-Floor, talk, listen, pray, and forgive? This is the ideal. This is the goal.
I just think that habitual patterns may require that loving, grace-filled breath to sometimes look a little different. And that the onus is on the confessor (not the forgiver) to invite that ongoing part of the reconciliation and restoration process.
‘Course, I could be wrong! I’d love to hear your thoughts if any of you’d like to share them. (You can always contact me directly if you still don’t feel comfortable de-lurking.)
Praying for grace and forgiveness for all of us today,
Super Easy Way to Get FIVE ADDITIONAL Entries into our Family’s Video/Book Giveaway AND the Chance to Win an Extra Resource Too!
So. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to possibly motivate you wonderful lurkers to help our family out with something pretty important … and I thought that MAYBE you’d like FIVE ADDITIONAL entries into our current “win free stuff” video/book giveaway AND the chance to win not just one but TWO resources.
Are you interested? Here are the specs:
1. My family and church leaders are strongly urging me to consider applying to seminary (not to be a pastor, but to be a better teacher re: doctrine / philosophy / theology / church history, etc.). Some possible funding sources have materialized and it seems like it might be a good time to start the process. Before we can move forward, however, I must have a handle on my schedule for 2014 and that means that it would be REALLY helpful if my women’s retreats and conferences could get scheduled ASAP (rather than the normal six to nine month time period that I often schedule events in).
2. I know lots of churches, women’s ministries, and PCA PresWICs are putting together budgets and schedules for 2014 and if you would just let someone in leadership/whoever plans such things know about the Speaking Page of my website (OK. And maybe put in a good word for me? ! ), I’d like to thank you with FIVE additional entries into our family’s current giveaway and if you win? You can choose TWO resources instead of just one.
3. That’s it. All you have to do is give me your word that you’ve blathered on to someone about this Christian chick speaker you know, Tara Barthel, and how she has some openings for 2014, and she’s really biblical and super funny while being touchingly relevant, blah blah blah (and how she has NO SET SPEAKER FEE so she’s a screamin’ deal too!), and you’re all set. I’ll add on FIVE ENTRIES in addition to any other entries you might already have (for sharing on social media, etc.) and if you win, you’ll get TWO resources.
(Here’s a link to the Speaker Page of My Website in case you just want to copy and paste it in an email to someone or Facebook/Twitter entry, etc: http://www.tarabarthel.com/speaking/ )
I’d really appreciate your help with this. We want to be wise stewards of the Lord’s resources and we’re really trying to figure out where we should be investing our time and prayerful service in 2014. One kind word to someone with influence from even just a handful of the 3,500 of you who have read this blog in the last couple of days and, well, you never know what doors might be opened.
Thanks so much, friends! I am deeply grateful.
Here are just a few verbatim feedbacks I’ve received from my events this past fall:
- “Thank you for sharing with us! I was blessed by the practicality of your message while yet being completely saturated with the gospel and grace.”
- “Very helpful! I wish I had this training 60 years ago.”
- “Thank you for sharing with us in such practical, personal ways. Thanks especially for turning us always toward God and His mercy and grace.”
- “Thank you! Doctrine made practical.”
- “I knew there was a lot more behind my conflict at work. Thank you for these tools!”
- “I learned a lot re: how to confront the deepest issues and to find Jesus sweeter.”
- “The material you have presented hits the Believer in her heart-of-hearts. You have called us to live with abandon and love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, and strength. Thank you! I will be applying your challenging material and passing it on to others.”
- “You have been such a blessing! So real! So down to earth practical.”
I usually share bits and pieces of my testimony whenever I speak at women’s retreats and conferences. (If you’re curious, you can hear my testimony, a Christmas keynote on “Peace at the Holidays,” and a bunch of other teachings for free on this “FREE AUDIO DOWNLOADS” page of my website.) And afterwards, I am almost always asked the same question:
How did you ever START to build a real relationship with your (mentally ill, addict/drunk) mother who (sometimes intentionally but more often than not inadvertently) treated you so neglectfully / abusively / just downright terribly for so many years?
I have thought and prayed for YEARS about a blog series on this topic because a three-minute response in a Q&A or a drive-by chat in a hallway after a session just never really gets there re: my mother’s and my real story. So I began this year to think hard about what it REALLY took to motivate me to move towards my mother in love and mercy, and I’ve tried to summarize a “big-picture” story arc with the three words that I also used in my 2013 PCA Women’s Leadership Conference and 2013 Peacemaker Conference keynotes:
- Duty – God made me.
- Depravity – Compared to Jesus, I was just as big a wretch as she was. So who was I to judge her?
- Destiny – I knew I deserved Hell, but instead God gave me Himself in Heaven! And deep down. I really really didn’t want my mother to go to Hell.
(I don’t think my PCA keynote is available online, but you can listen/read the transcript for free of my Peacemaker Keynote here.)
I took a stab at the first subtopic, duty, in this post last month:
(Subtitled: How to Love Your Mother, Who Did the Very Best She Could, but Who, Like You, Has Many Weaknesses in Addition to Her Many Strengths and Who, Like You, Sometimes Turned to Not-the-Healthiest (Physically and Spiritually) Substances and Means to Deal with Her Suffering and Temptations and Fallenness, Including Self-Medicating with Scotch for Many Years and How to Love Your Mother Who Had Exactly the Same Amount of Neediness for the Savior as You, and How to Get Off of Your High Horse and Stop Judging Her and Instead See Yourself as Being More Like Her than Unlike Her So That You Can Enjoy the Best, Most Real, Most Intimate Relationship that Your Sin and Fallenness and Her Sin and Fallenness Will Possibly Allow)
If you want to begin at the beginning, you may want to click on over and read that post first. But I don’t think that’s 100% necessary or anything because today I’m jumping OUT of sequence to talk about subcategory 3: Destiny. Yes. Yes. Merry Christmas. I want to talk with you about HELL.
Some of you might not be all that happy with a blog post about torment and utter darkness (to use the words of the Westminster Confession) during this season of jolly and merry. But this morning I woke up remembering what it was like to have a hard heart that wasn’t interested AT ALL in moving towards someone who had habitually, repeatedly and routinely disdained, disrespected, attacked, abused, maligned, mistreated, criticized, judged … well, pretty much hated me even while CLAIMING to love me.
And that’s when it hit me: That’s the key. The linchpin, I think, for why I am so prone to be such a FRAUD scam-of-a-Christian in these difficult relationships when people treat me so wickedly and hurt me so deeply. Over and over again. The truth is, just like way back in 1985 when God saved my soul and (in response to this eternal kindness and love) all I wanted to do was stay as FAR AWAY AS POSSIBLE from my mother, there was really only ONE reason why:
I didn’t care one whit about her soul.
Oh. Sure. I prayed for her salvation and tried to pull her along to Luis Palau stadium events so she would “get saved” and then “get the heck as far away from me as possible” because all I REALLY wanted to do was to fulfill some sort of religious duty towards her, get her eternal fire insurance fully in place, and then RUN because my life was easier and more pleasant whenever I didn’t have to deal with all of her drama and neediness and lies; her financial mismanagement, unemployment, homelessness, hospitalizations, and creepy relationships; her sappy pathos-laden, overly-intimate, inappropriate-for-a-child words when she had some sort of nostalgic wave of “love,” and her ice-cold, bitter, jarringly-cutting, inappropriate-for-a-child words when she was riding the wave down into the cesspool of ugly, lashing-out, hatred. You know, HER. The truth was:
I cared about my mother’s soul in the ABSTRACT. But I didn’t care about her.
I did not genuinely love my mother (or have any interest in loving my mother) because all I cared about, deep down, for real, was ME. My happiness. My comfort. How I was spoken to. How I was treated. I don’t like being told over and over again what a terrible (person, Christian, daughter, mother, wife, sister, friend) I am. It gets really really old to be constantly compared to (my sister, “good little girls,” loving people, kind people, gentle and caring people who aren’t worldly and materialistic and who actually try to feed the hungry and clothe the poor) only to be found lacking because I am such a selfish, materialistic, worldly pig. Maybe I am! But then, it seems to me, what I really need is prayerful, loving, Galatians 6:1 rescue and Matthew 18 redemptive, relational rescue — not just a constant verbal onslaught listing over and over again all of the many ways I just don’t measure up.
It gets so old. It wears me down. I just want to run away and hide away and stop being a verbal punching bag for mean people who think they are the only NOT-mean people in the world. (Grrrr!) I’m hurt. I’m tired. And all I can think to myself is:
I don’t deserve this.
Ah. Therein lies the rub. The eternal rub that pierces even a tired, stony, self-centered heart like my own and begins to soften me towards the truths that really matter.
Do I deserve to be maltreated? No. Probably not. Definitely not like this.
It is unjust to be constantly on the receiving end of another person’s meanness—all the more so when it is a parent treating a child in this way.
It is not beautiful. It is not good. And we should definitely be prayerful and intentional about looking for ways to try to help people when they are caught in these habitual sins and destructive relational patterns.
But HOW we go about helping them matters. Our attitude matters.
And please listen! This is important. If we are not careful, we will treat THEM with the same gracelessness and disdain with which they treat US.
Isn’t that all of our temptation? Someone is so AWFUL to me, so I will be awful to her in response. He treats me TERRIBLY! (So watch me treat him terribly.) Or, if I’m feeling particularly godly, watch me just AVOID HIM and think mean thoughts about him but not say them, of course, because I wouldn’t want to be caught revealing the graceless jerk that I am.
Oh. Oh. Oh. Who will rescue us from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ. We do not have to remain stuck in this terrible pattern of cruel judgment and merciless, arrogant pride. We don’t have to treat people as they treat us. We can repent! We can turn away from SELF and turn towards the One Who knows what it is like to be maltreated by people close to Him. To be spoken to in unjust, wicked, mean ways by people who should have not only loved and protected Him, they should have WORSHIPED Him.
You see … Jesus is the Only Person Who didn’t deserve the shameful and painful death of the Cross—yet He endured it. Jesus is the Only Person Who didn’t deserve to be separated from the Father—yet He endured it. Whatever the injustice in our lives? It doesn’t come close to the injustice that Jesus suffered and it doesn’t come close to the justice that we deserve: Hell.
And this is how we repent. It’s how I began to repent and move towards my mother in mercy when I was a teenager. It’s how I (try to) repent and move with mercy towards people who currently are hurting me. I think about Hell. I think about how much I deserve Hell. I think about how much I don’t want anyone to go to Hell—especially not the people hurting me. (Because the truth is, they are only hurting me SO MUCH because I ACTUALLY CARE about them. If I didn’t care about them, it wouldn’t hurt so much.)
And then I think about Jesus. The Second Person of the Trinity. Eternal. Uncreated. Perfect in Glory. Great. Good. Being mocked and spat upon. Cold and thirsty. Neglected, betrayed, and abandoned by those who should have loved Him best. Including me.
He could have called down legions of angels to (rightfully) defend Him. (How often have I created conversations in my own mind wherein I—wrongly—defend myself and “WIN” the argument.) But He answered not.
He didn’t deserve the accusations. (All accusations against me, even graceless ones, usually have multiple elements of truth. Blech! My heart!) He bore them all. For you. For me.
There is no suffering in this life that He cannot understand—and He has experienced suffering that I will never experience.
This leads me to worship Him. To adore Him. To fall down and kiss His feet and wash His feet with my hair.
Forgiven so much! Who am I to gracelessly refuse to forgive others?
May God help us all.
With love from your friend who is smack-dab right in the battle with you yet again—
In a few days, it will be one year since my mother passed away. In general, I’m in a very happy and relaxed state this Advent and it is a sweet Christmas season for our young family. (Ella is the only person I have ever met who genuinely lights up with deep joy at Christmas decorations in the MALL because she just loves the red and green and sparkles and FUN so much. Her enthusiasm is definitely infectious and we’re all pretty jolly around here. In general.)
But every once in awhile, especially in the early morning (like now) when I used to talk with my mom pretty much every day, I cry and cry and can’t stop (like now). Warm tears against cold cheeks. The ache of missing my dear friend. The strange, exposed loneliness of being “the grownup” because now, somehow, I’m supposed to be the mother even though I still feel like a child in so many ways.
Not all the time, but sometimes, I think about the last few weeks and days and hours of her life. I am grateful for the thousands of dollars my sister and her Fred spent flying me back and forth to Michigan so that I could be there, helping, grieving, just being present. Were it not for their generosity, our family could have swung ONE trip back for me to say goodbye, but that would have been it. Instead? I was there for the major doctor discussions as we shockingly learned of her rapid heart failure—25% functioning, 8% functioning … not enough oxygen going to her brain. This is the end.
That’s what happened, I am sure, to precipitate her call to me in early December of last year—the last time I heard her voice; the last words she ever spoke to me. Her brain was undoubtedly oxygen-deprived. She was “not herself” as it were.
But I didn’t know that in the first few minutes of our call. I didn’t know that when my cell phone rang in Albertson’s and I (happily!) saw the “Mom Cell” i.d. pop up and I (even more happily!) heard her cheerful, NORMAL, wonderful ol’ lifetime of smoking crackly, gravely voice say:
It had been so long since I had heard our normal greeting. What a gift God gave me to hear it one more time! What a sweet grace. But then. Sadly. Everything got understandably bad. She began to talk in that warped, distant voice that I’m sure many of you know because you, too, have loved a dying person and/or a mentally ill person and you know when they are not in their right mind.
It’s scary—like a waking dream; terrifying when you are a child and it’s an adult, a parent, who is standing in front of you saying words, but their eyes are off and the tone is off and what they are saying doesn’t make any sense. It’s disorienting—like the worst parts of life in a fallen world, truly, not the way it’s supposed to be. Frightening. Dark. Disturbing.
It’s also incredibly, incredibly sad:
“Can you call your dad and have him come here to take me home?” My mother asked. “Please call dad.”
“Mom? Dad is dead. Are you talking about Charlie?” I asked. Not knowing, yet, that she really wasn’t there.
“Yes. Charlie. Of course. Charlie. Please call Charlie so that he can take me home,” Mom pleaded. ”I just can’t remember my address,” she continued in her confusion, “If you just tell me my address, I can go home.”
“Mom? You are home. This is your home now. You have to be in the hospital because you are very sick. I know it’s hard. I love you so much. But this is your home.” I choked out the words. I started crying in the mineral water section of Albertsons.
“OK. Goodbye.” And she hung up.
Those were the last words my mother ever said to me.
I immediately called her best friend, who was also the nurse manager in charge of my mother’s hospital wing and room (what a grace!) and she told me that she had JUST been in her room and she was not agitated at all. But that of course she would go immediately and check on her and try to calm her down/help her.
And that was that. That was all I could do. I was thousands of miles away. I had already said my goodbyes to her the previous month when she was still present mentally. I had already told her hundreds of times over decades of life how much I appreciated her and enjoyed her and admired her; how grateful I was for her forgiveness and friendship and care. I didn’t have to rush to cram in token words before she passed. I was not overwhelmed by regret for harboring bitterness or (even worse!) blatant apathy rather than moving towards her in mercy because God had moved toward me in mercy.
No. Hearing her voice for what I guessed in that moment might be the last time (and it ended up being the last time), I was rightfully sad. It was worthy of grief and I grieved. I grieved the loss of my mother and my friend. I grieved for my sister and my stepfather and my mother’s best friends. I grieved that Ella would never really know my mother and that my mother would never really know Ella because Ella would have cracked her up.
I grieved and cried and I longed for redemption. I longed for Heaven. Just like my mother, I longed for Home.
Thankfully, I have every hope and assurance that one day I will get to go home and then, there will be no more tears. Will my mother be there? I don’t know. I think maybe, yes, she will be there. There were surely not a lot of what some Christians would call “evidences of regeneration” — my mother never became a church-goer — but having had hours and hours of conversations with her over the years, I know that she was a genuine seeker and that she could articulate the Christian gospel (the true Christian gospel of God saving his children by grace alone by faith alone through Christ alone, not some sort of sham religiosity of rule-following that some people claim is Christianity). I know this for sure because that was the SECOND-to-last conversation I ever had with my mother. The day (in November of 2012) that I held her in my arms for the last time and played my last game of Scrabble with her, I also asked her:
“Mom? If you will indulge me, I’d like to talk with you one more time about Jesus. Would that be OK?”
“Yes. Absolutely. Of course you would want to, Tara,” my mother graciously replied.
“I know we’ve talked about this a lot over the years and I appreciate you understanding that I only want to talk about it again because I want to be sure that I’ve done everything I can to clearly articulate the claims of Christ with you with the hope that you might put all of your faith in him and be saved.”
“I know. And I’m happy to say that Christianity says I am a sinner and God is perfect and the only way for me to be right with God is through Jesus—God bridges the gap to me through the perfection of Jesus and his dying on the cross for my sins,” mom continued, “So if I believe in Jesus, that’s how I am made right with God.”
Pretty good summary of the Christian gospel for a non-church-goer, eh? I think so. And I continued to pray, until her last breath, that even if it were a thief-on-the-cross-experience, my mother would transfer the weight of all of her hope onto Christ and be saved. Maybe she was! I hope dearly she was. And then? Those words I typed above will NOT be the last words my mother ever said to me. No way! They will only be the last words in this life. Ah! I do pray that is the case.
Either way, I know that God is good and His ways are best. And here is all my hope:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3, ESV)
Amen and amen!
And much grace to those of you who are likewise grieving on this beautiful December day.
I hope that I can live like this man. We don’t call them The Greatest Generation for nothin’ …
(Oh! And for the first time in my life, I actually watched the little ad that I could have skipped AND I BOUGHT (well, my sister bought) the item advertised: Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine. It seemed like a perfect fit for my daughters who are SO into math, science, design, and engineering these days. I’ve been looking and looking for things to inspire and delight them in these spatial, “hard-science”, quantitative areas that I am so particularly weak in.)
Oh no! My broken blog software has blocked all of your comments … PLEASE try again! Double entries if you try TODAY!
I’m SO sorry—I just learned that my blog software has been blocking all of your comments. Yeek! No wonder we’ve had even LESS comments than normal these days.
Would you PRETTY PLEASE try one more time to Enter our Family’s Current WIN FREE STUFF GIVEAWAY by clicking through and leaving a comment on this post? I would be ever so grateful.
If you enter today (Saturday, November 30, 2013)—OR if you try and let me know if you’ve been foiled again. (Grrrrr.) I’ll give you TWO entries to (hopefully) make up for the inconvenience that my broken software has caused you.
Free Peacemaking Materials (or Resources by Ed Welch, Elyse Fitzpatrick, David Platt, Tim Elmore and more!)
Happy Saturday-After-Thanksgiving to my blog readers in the United States! I hope your holidays were super fun and NOT filled with relational strife.
But just in case there are some of you who might benefit from a little peacemaking help (or maybe you KNOW someone who might benefit from some peacemaking help), I thought I’d do a little Win Free Stuff Holiday Peacemaking Giveaway. Here are the specs:
1. Leave a comment on this blog post any time between now and midnight, Tuesday, December 10 (Mtn). I’ll let Random Number Generator pick a winner and then I’ll let the winner pick which one of my peacemaking resources he or she would like (single video series, either book, audio teachings) and I’ll send them to you at my cost. Or … if you already have those, I also have some other miscellaneous resources that you could choose from:
- Ed Welch: Shame Interrupted – How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection
- Elyse Fitzpatrick: Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety
- Ed Welch: When I Am Afraid – A Step by Step Guide Away from Fear and Anxiety
- Ken Sande: Resolving Everyday Conflict
- Tim Elmore: Generation iY – Our Last Chance to Save Their Future
- Robert D. Jones: Uprooting Anger – Biblical Help for a Common Problem
- Alex & Brett Harris: Do Hard Things
- David Platt: Radical – Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream
- Dannah Gresh: The One Year Mother Daughter Devo
2. If you mention this giveaway in a social media context (Facebook, Twitter, on your own website or blog), I will give you an extra entry for each mention.
3. Please be sure to check back on December 11 to see if you’ve won and make sure I have your contact information. (If I can’t reach you within 48 hours, I’ll pick a new winner.)
That’s pretty much it! The only other thing I can think to add is that, as always, there is NO risk of SPAM with this giveaway. I’m really just little ol’ Tara Barthel and this giveaway is really just going from our family to you.
Oh! And my last giveaway had only 20ish entries, so your chances of winning are SUPER high. Why not join in the fun?
With prayers for a more peaceful, grace-filled holiday season for us all—
Your sister in Christ,
If only I could give you the product advertised in this classic (a TOTAL favorite of mine!) video spoof:
Click here to learn how to get FIVE ADDITIONAL ENTRIES for this drawing and the chance to win TWO resources instead of just one.
I know that not all of you struggle with the habitual sins of gluttony and/or turning to food for emotional/spiritual comfort (idolatry). So if you’re one of those people who are just looking forward to the treats and pleasures of this holiday season without concerns over your spiritual and physical health, I say—Hooray! Great. Enjoy and see ya’ in January.
But for the rest of us? You know. The majority (I assume) of the 3,000 people who read my “It’s a Grace to be Fat” post? (By far, my most-read blog article; the latest in my two most-read blog topical series: Losing 100 Pounds and Disordered Affections.)
Those of us who have an ongoing love-hate relationship with the pleasures of eating and drinking because our affections are prone to be disordered regarding such things? Those of us who have a history of loving food and self too much and God too little? Oh man! The season of constant nibbling on constant treats can be particularly trying for us. And if you’re anything like me, you may be tempted to give yourself a “pass” on “the holidays.”
I’m really hoping that this blog post will encourage you (and me!) to not check out of faith’s fight against this particular sin during this particular time of year.
The main reason I care about this is because (just as I know you know!), this is a heart issue and your enjoyment of the Christian holiday of Thanksgiving will be sweeter if you are not indulging in attitudes and behaviors that you KNOW lead you AWAY from right worship of the Only One Who rightly deserves your love, devotion, focus, energy—worship. Ditto on the whole “celebrate the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity!” holiday. Seriously. It is possible to enjoy treats and sweets and fun and food without sinning. And your heart will be happier if you take even just one or two steps of faith and obedience, right worship and loving devotion to God not self as you interact with bowls filled with cookie dough and icing, plates loaded with turkey and stuffing, and stockings overflowing with chocolate covered toffees (my absolute favorite candy!).
Another reason I am really hoping that we will not give ourselves a complete and utter “pass” regarding food and the holidays is physical: “The holidays” are not just a few days. I plotted it out last week (when a good friend and I committed to a weekly check-in during “the holidays” because we both know our propensity to sin and foolishness regarding such things) and there are 42 days (!) of potential holiday “fun eating.” That’s a lot of days.
For those of us who can (mindlessly) chow down on thousands of calories in one sitting? Thousands and thousands of calories in one day? Yeah. We can do a LOT of real physical damage in 42 days. Not just weight gain (although that is a real possibility) … if we check out of our workout patterns, we will lose real progress in strength training and being flexible and thus, we will be less equipped to serve God and neighbor when we emerge on January 2 and decide to “try again.”
So please. (I’m speaking to myself here too!) Let’s not give ourselves a pass regarding faith and godliness; wisdom and discipline; spiritual faithfulness and spiritual adultery just “because it’s the holidays.” Let’s not “do what we’ve always done” and thus, lose all sorts of huge amounts of progress re: even this very personal, very vulnerable, area of our lives. Faith is often expressed by doing what doesn’t seem natural. What doesn’t come easily and comfortably.
Our standard does not have to be some sort of creepy stoicism and self-denial. We don’t have to draw attention to ourselves by being the ONLY one who passes on Uncle Ron and Aunt Judy’s (phenomenal! melt-in-your-mouth!) homemade pie this Thursday. I personally think eating chocolate right out of the stocking in the darkness of Christmas morning is one of life’s greatest happinesses and pleasures (as does Ella—but it totally grosses out Fred & Soph). Why would we ever think that our celebrations of the Source of our deepest happinesses and joys should be marked by missing out on these true pleasures? I don’t think that’s what “faith expressing itself in love” looks like.
But do you know what we COULD do? Just brainstorming here. But maybe these ideas will spur you on to your own, faith-filled, deeply joyous attitudes and actions …
- Maybe we could identify the one or two food items that absolutely tempt us to creepy, unpleasant overindulgence—you know, the kind where even we feel grossed-out and unhappy after we have over-indulged because we know the pleasure has lost all of its pleasure because it’s turned the corner into an enslaving, ruling lust—and we could push back against this temptation. Maybe it’s complete abstinence. Maybe it’s “No More Than One Coke a Day” moderation. Whatever it is, it’s intentional. It’s mindful of the truth that our temptations are sneaky; Satan is real; and nothing in the marketing of this season is going to encourage us on towards self-denial and spiritual health. So we’re going to have to engage if we are going to try to turn away from the rut of our patterns in this regard.
- If we are so inclined, we could ask a friend to pray for us and we could pray for them. We could commit to (daily? weekly?) accountability / “reporting in”—possibly tied to an actual “weigh in.” This might be too legalistic! But it also might be just what we need to counterbalance our propensity to say, “I’m doing great!” while our pants become tight and we quietly move up a size in our closets that have three or more sizes in them.
- Some of us are prone to mindlessly eating “just because it’s there.” Maybe we could stop. (And drink a glass of water.) Or … others of us like to hide away in the living room by camping out at the candy dish because the relational tension in the dining room has become too high and we just need an emotional break/an escape? Yeah. Eating sugar may FEEL like a peacemaking response because we get a temporary “fix” or feeling comforted. But it doesn’t actually do anything redemptive for any lasting amount of time. So maybe, instead, we could pray. Or take a walk. Or call a friend.
- For some of us? We need to keep exercising. For all of us? We are called to keep up our spiritual disciplines too (even while traveling! this is hard!).
- We might want to give ourselves a little help with portion control by measuring out our snacks into bowls or onto plates so that if we CHOOSE to eat six servings of Bugles and an entire package of M&M’s, we are at least aware we are doing so. (This is very hard to be aware of when we are eating out of seemingly bottomless bowls.)
- We could enjoy. Really enjoy. Enjoy in a God-honoring context and a God-honoring way. Enjoy in a way that leaves “no residual guilt, exhaustion, or unrest” (to use David Powlison’s description of an “innocent pleasure”).
This is my prayer for you and this is my prayer for me, especially as we navigate the spiritual and physical minefield of eating during the holidays.
God bless you and help you if this is an area of struggle for you like it is for me.
In case it helps to motivate you to make your own visual reminder, this is the calendar portion of what I plotted out last week. I’ve left off the quotes and headlines and photos and commitments that also fill this sheet to help to encourage me and spur me on each day because, well, that’s too personal to share on a blog. But I encourage you to consider making something like this and then filling it in with all sorts of quotes and headlines and photos and commitments to help you to make wise, God-honoring decisions. We are all prone to forget. We all benefit from reminders, especially reminders that are tangible and practical and really helpful.
I was almost knocked over this morning by a wave of extreme vulnerability.
When I thought about December 20, 1993 (the day Fred “formally” pursued a romantic relationship with me—at an Illini basketball game at Assembly Hall, aided by the pep band cranking out, “Hey Baby, I Wanna Know if You’ll Be My Girl!”) … rather than my normal happiness (December 20th is usually an incredibly romantic date for me), I felt shame:
- Why did Fred pursue me 20 years ago? Doesn’t he regret it? I bet his friends and family members were counseling him against a relationship with someone as messed up as me. There were so many beautiful, smart, godly, together women from happy, godly homes who would have loved to marry him. I wonder if he wishes someone much better than me was the mother of his children?
- What was I doing in a top tier law school anyway? I had no idea what I was doing there. I didn’t even really understand what it was lawyers did. I had absolutely no educational background that prepared me for the study or practice of law. Why was I there? I didn’t belong there. I didn’t fit in with all of those smart, together people.
Then I thought about all of the people in my life who are suffering deeply this morning. Intense physical suffering. Spiritual suffering. Relational suffering. I thought about my feeble efforts to help them—by just being present. Praying. Talking a lot / conflict coaching. Being completely silent and just weeping. Sharing substantive help. Doing “nothing” but just distracting and laughing. And again, I felt shame:
- What is WRONG with you, Tara? Don’t you KNOW that (she/he) just needs (a friend who is silent and present/more tangible, practical help and counsel)? Why can’t you ever figure this relational stuff out? You talk (too much/too little). You (give away too many resources/don’t give away enough).
- You are a bad friend and the people you think love you are only tolerating you. You don’t really have a place that you belong. You’d better pull back and just try to not offend people too much. There is no place for the real you.
Sad, isn’t it? And just a little melodramatic, to be sure. But I don’t think I’m the only one who has these waves of not-good-enough-ness, especially at the holidays.
On any given day, our society is rife with a disastrously fake, shallow picture of perfectly beautiful people living perfectly beautiful lives in perfectly loving and harmonious relationships. We are constantly bombarded by ridiculous notions of really (hip / socially-active / godly / witty / good-at-friendships / perfect-romantic-relationships / perfect parenting-in-laws-extended family relationships / great at cooking and change management consulting and decorating and volunteer management / more involved with our children’s education / more content as a single person / more and better at whatever it is we feel our LACK in) people. But never more so than at the holidays.
Oh, come on! Look around. It all kicks into high gear this week. Your Thanksgiving meal is not going to be (beautiful / perfect / gourmand / simple / social-action-conscious-organic / patriotic / ministerial) enough. Time to get out your decorations? They are (not beautiful enough / so beautiful that they are selfish and materialistic and detract from the REAL meaning of Christmas). It’s (make cookies / take care of orphan time)! Are you ready? Ready to create happy memories while NOT encouraging selfish, materialistic tendencies? Ready to feel the weight of the LUXURIOUS life we have because we have CLEAN WATER to drink every day and we’re not afraid of imminent imprisonment or being sold into slavery? And then we have the audacity to buy lifesaver booklets to stuff in our children’s stockings (rather than curing one more orphan of a dreaded disease)?
How lonely are you in your singleness? How scared are you in your physical pain? Your financial vulnerability? Your spiritual doubts?
Take just one glance around you during this season of (intense spiritual confidence in God’s gracious work through the incarnation of Christ / happy-intact-marriages-families-friendships / millions of people who either seem to be WAY more wise and godly than you re: NOT spending money or just SPENDING money and enjoying it without guilt) and let yourself be quiet with the voices bombarding you inside your deepest fears … and maybe there are one or two of you who are more like me than unlike me in my (occasional) battle with (unnecessary and un-Christianly) feelings of what Judy Dabler and I describe in Peacemaking Women as ungdoly shame. (Because of course there is such a thing as godly shame—but unlike the emotional and spiritual cancer of ungodly shame, godly shame is redemptive, leads to repentance and salvation and leaves no regret—2 Cor. 7:10.)
If you are tempted at all to go down a path of being overly self-critical, overly self-condemning, discontent, given over to fears and doubt especially related not just to what you DO but who you ARE (your core identity; your truest, most vulnerable definition of self), I encourage you to camp out on a psalm that Fred recently read to me in our evening devotions:
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.
Here is our hope. Here is our confidence. Here is the only way I know that we can push back against any extreme feelings of vulnerability we may be struggling with: we calm and quiet our souls, like a weaned child with its mother, because our hope is in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.
Father and mother may reject us. We may blow it (again) with friends and need their forgiveness and grace (again). But relationships can be reconciled and we can learn how to love and be loved in this life. We can! All because we are loved with an eternal love that will last forever—into and throughout our REAL life in Heaven to come.
Think about it. Just for a moment as you start your busy Monday. Let your mind camp out here: on Heaven. That glorious place where every whiff of a scent of the safety and security of “Home” that marketers bombard us with at the holidays will be more than the scratch-n-sniff temporary experience of this life. When the best, most accepting, most honest, most loving, intentional, delight-filled, happy, safe, pleasurable relationship we have ever experienced in this life will be the NORM because we will see God as He is and we will view one another through unveiled faces; without all of the muck and mire of sin and self and life in this fallen world.
Isn’t that what we really long for this holiday season? And every season?
There is only one way to get there:
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore (!).
(Emphasis added. I’m preaching to myself here more than anything else.)
Today is going to be a great day. Fevered children. Suffering friends. Simple pleasures. Simple ministry opportunities. Hard work. Relaxed cuddles. Ups and downs and fears and confidences.
The Lord never changes. So I don’t have to feel vulnerable. And neither do you.
I’m praying for every one of you who will read this blog. May God bless you and keep you in Him!
With love from your friend,
In one of my most-read previous blog posts, I tackled a topic that I consider to be one of the most important topics in the church today: child sexual abuse …
After reading a link from Challies this morning (The Top Five Reasons Your Church Could Land in Court), I am only that much more convinced that this topic is extremely important and yet, shockingly and naively ignored by most Christians and most church leaders. (Thankfully, not my church leaders and my church administrator. But I know they have to fight tooth and nail, at great personal cost of time and effort, to protect the sheep in this regard.)
Where do you stand on this topic? Are you still closing your eyes and burying your head in the sand and saying, “That couldn’t possibly be true of my church”? Please. Click through. Read the stats.
After doing so, I am only that much more confident of the accuracy of what I wrote in my previous article:
“This is not a problem that is “out there” in some other church, in some other community. If you are closing your eyes to the real risk of child sexual abuse in the church, you are naive and foolish and not living up to your membership vows …”
Now that I’ve probably totally freaked you out, let me start my close with something even more awful. The words of a predator—and that is a correct term because child sexual abusers prey on churches. They do. And don’t look for a shaggy, disheveled, scary looking guy. Look at the most clean-cut, correct Bible-carrying, knows all the right words, super-duper-nice guy. Listen to how one abuser explained how he targeted his victims in the church …”