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From one of my favorite books … C. Plantinga’s, Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be–A Breviary of Sin:
“None of our lives is an accident.
We have been called into existence, expected, awaited, equipped, and assigned.
We have been called to undertake the stewardship of a good creation, to create sturdy and buoyant families that pulse with the glad give-and-take of the generations.
By the sins of attack, we vandalize shalom.
By the sins of flight we abandon it.
We ‘hate the light and do not come to the light’ (John 3:20).
Don’t forget the resolve of God.
God wants shalom and will pay any price to get it back.
Human sin is stubborn but not as stubborn as the grace of God and not half so persistent, not half so ready to suffer to win its way.”
Banking on the resolve of God–
“When hope fades, cynicism is often waiting in the wings. And this is indeed one of the great challenges of our time. Skepticism (there is nothing good and I know it) and cynicism (I can’t trust anybody or anything and I know this) seem reasonable choices. But is this a necessary outcome or orientation for us? I think not …
The Scriptures open up for us a view of the world that is very different. There is a God. This God is the creator, and He is personal, loving, willful, and particular. We see that despite being a good creation, a disruption and disorder has occurred and the drama of redemption unfolds. But the central character here is God! It is what God does, whom God appoints, and what God decides that makes the difference. Now please don’t go rushing to theological dictionaries or well-entrenched beliefs to determine “whose” side I’m on in terms of God’s purpose and human will. I’ll tell you. I believe in both.
I have seen too much, experienced too much, read too much, and pondered too much to believe that my choices are determined, socially conditioned, or illusory. I believe they are real. However, I have also seen too much, experienced too much, read too much, and pondered too much to believe that they are, as Lewis would say, “the whole show.”
History is not a fatalist’s game. Humans do act, and often with serious and sad outcomes. The good news is that we are not alone! Writing to the Romans, the apostle Paul reminded them that hope is real because it is anchored in one who is able to carry it, sustain it, and fulfill it (Romans 8:24-25; 28-30). History is moving to an end, and the Bible offers a good end.
Thus, the difference between optimism (short term and easily overcome) and hope (eternal and anchored) is where they are rooted. One leans on human effort; the other rests in God and God’s promises.” (excerpted from a 2009 RZIM’ “Slice of Infinity”)
Thinking about New Year’s Resolutions? Please do NOT read this article by Ed Welch: Self-Control – The Battle Against “One More”
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, then you know that I am a huge Ed Welch fan. I think he is one of the most important and wise contemporary authors of our day. I have recommended at my events and personally sold thousands of his books. So why would I encourage you not to read this article by him if you are thinking about making New Year’s resolutions?
The answer is simple: it is too accurate. Too Scriptural. Too insightful. Too spot-on re: why the vast number of us make resolutions, but then fail to change:
- Our reckless indulgences, excesses, and greed all reveal hearts of wrong worship (idolatry). Regardless of our confessional theology (what we claim to believe), our practical theology (how we actually live) is clear: We want what we want when we want it.
- We like sin. C’mon, friends! This is an easy one. If we didn’t enjoy our excesses (at least at first), we wouldn’t do our excesses. But oh! There is some enticing, ensorcelling pleasure associated with the disordered affections we are trying to order/tame. If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t need our little “resolutions”! We would just wake up one morning (usually a Monday for most of us, right?) and change.
- The more we indulge, the less pleasure we experience. God loves us too much to allow us to be satisfied with anything or anyone other than himself! And so he graciously allows us to descend into misery, pain, and even disgust and crippling shame regarding our sin—so that we might repent (remember truth!), believe (epignosis, not just gnosis), and change (change is the norm for the Believer). Our misery is is a sign of God’s covenant-keeping care!
- Our Three Enemies (Satan, the World, our Flesh) love to keep us in bondage. Our problem may have physical characteristics—especially those of us who struggle with overindulgence in mind-altering substances such as alcohol and/or drugs. But even so, our primary problem is spiritual.
And that, my friends, is why I do not want you to read Ed Welch’s article. Or Kris Lundgaard’s book (The Enemy Within: Straight Talk about the Power and Defeat of Sin). Or C. Plantinga’s breviary on sin, Owen’s Mortification of Sin. And for goodness’ sake, don’t listen to Keller on Sin as Slavery.
If you do, you may find yourself tracking right through my new retreat on disordered affections (which is based on a study I have held repeatedly at my local church because I need it so badly!):
Week 1: Admitting how out of control (depressed, anxious, desperate, belligerent) we feel and wanting to change (on one level), but not really wanting to change (because we want to “protect our private cache” of sin). Feeling so stuck and so discouraged by our failures in the past (self-reproach, confession, resolution, failure—REPEAT!), that we really don’t really believe it’s even possible to change. So we keep sinning in order to relieve the distress caused by our sinning. We are caught. Trapped. In bondage.
Week 2: Deceived into believing that disobeying God and keeping God on the periphery of our lives will somehow bring us happiness and freedom, we develop a destructive tolerance to sin because the amount we needed yesterday just doesn’t satisfy today. We become liars. Bigtime justifiers. Defensively able to prove at any time why we don’t have a problem, even though our relationships and private lives are descending more and more into isolation, deception, and misery. Our experience of our relationship with God is practically non-existent. We are living as functional idolators and thus, we love the darkness.
Week 3: We admit that the problem is not the thing (the addictive substance); the problem is us … our hearts. When we are overindulging and giving into our wrong worship and greed, we are loving ourselves more than anything or anyone else in the world. What hope is there for us?! Chalmers calls it “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” Melissa Kruger beautifully describes it as contentment in a covetous world. But I love the language of Powlison the best: we need innocent pleasures.
Oh, friends! So many of us have forgotten what real pleasure tastes like. We are in terrible bondage to distraction because we have not learned how to face and address our pain—we live life just trying to dull our pain through things that leave a “residue, an oily stain; contain a quality of obsession, guilt, anxiety, and disappointment.” But we can change. We can learn how to feel our feelings again! We can grieve, wail, and mourn—and not be afraid that our weeping will have no end.
If we allow our hearts to split open and pour out, we will find at the deepest part of our loneliness and pain, not a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:14) … but instead, we will find Jesus. Our Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53), who knows our pain (and knows a pain we will never know!), cares deeply for us, and who makes a way for us to “with confidence draw near the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Our right worship of Jesus is the foundation for our turning away from our guilty, exhausting, stained “pleasures” and instead, discovering anew the innocent, real pleasures of life that truly comfort, nourish, and help us find rest for our souls.
Oh, man. This blog post is already wayyyyy too long, so I’ll just let you click through to week 4 and week 5 if you are so inclined. And I’ll begin to conclude by quoting my second favorite contemporary author (tied with Ed Welch, whom I obviously really DO hope you will read and read and read)—Kevin DeYoung—in his excellent book, The Hole in Our Holiness:
“Among conservative Christians there is sometimes the mistaken notion that if we are truly gospel-centered we won’t talk about rules or imperatives or moral exertion. We are so eager not to confuse indicatives (what God has done) and imperatives (what we should do) that we get leery of letting biblical commands lead uncomfortably to conviction of sin. We’re scared of words like diligence, effort and duty.”
“The reality is that holiness is plain hard work, and we’re often lazy. We like our sins, and dying to them is painful. Almost everything is easier than growing in godliness.”
How true! Growing in godliness is hard. But for the Christian, it is also guaranteed (Romans 8:29).
So get in the battle (Ephesians 6)! As you rest (Psalm 62:5). Make war to put to death (Colossians 3) that which has already been defeated (Romans 6). Work hard! But remember that it’s not you who works hard, but God (1 Corinthians 15:10).
And always, always, always, remember the true character, the true heart, the GLORY of the One True God (from Exodus 34:6-7):
God is “the Lord, the Lord; the compassionate and gracious God.
Slow to anger, God abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness.
God maintains love for thousands and forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin …”
We may tire of forgiving people, but God never tires of forgiving his covenant children. We may get sick of showing mercy to people who don’t deserve it (the very definition of mercy, right?), but God never tires of showing mercy.
I’ll give Ed Welch the last word, since I used his name in the title of this blog to emphasize the opposite of what I really hope (his works are excellent and among the few books that I re-read often!):
“Your struggle is a common one, but we have a God Who delights in showering an abundance of mercy on those who ask for mercy. Those who ask for mercy receive an abundance of mercy.”
So go ahead. Ask for mercy and help. Again. (And again and again.) Don’t be afraid! Your Heavenly Father loves you and he will never give up on you.
With so much love and so many prayers—
If you’re more of an auditory learner, so my zillion links contained in this post feel overwhelming (rather than encouraging), I hope you will disregard all 1,300 words of this too-long post and simply listen to this one sermon:
Yes, yes, yes! A thousands times, yes.
My most-requested retreat is currently my “Disordered Affections” retreat. You can learn more about it here:
Years ago (I often hold sensitive topics that involve other people for months or even years before writing publicly on them because I always want to guard confidentiality), I received what can only be described as an extremely critical email from a stranger. For whatever reason, she felt quite confident in not only her own abilities and insights, but also in the appropriateness of her sharing those insights with me.
This was not a conversation or even an invitation to a conversation—the was all one-directional:
“Tara. I have observed this about you and I’m going to tell you a whole bunch of things about you now—all things that are weaknesses about you.”
And then BAM! She let me have it.
How effective do you think this sort of out-of-the-blue negative assessment/criticism really was? Well. In my case, it wasn’t very effective at all. And that troubled me at first, because I really want to be a humble and teachable person. I KNOW I have huge blindspots and areas in need of growth, so I genuinely try to actively look for good/helpful parts of criticism, even graceless criticism. But there was so much of her tone and word choices that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight-up! Ah, adrenaline. Our fight or flight response. What a blessing when you need to RUN AWAY from a bear or KILL a bear (actually, you NEVER run from a bear, but that’s another post).
Adrenaline is great in life or death situations, but it sure can fritz out our theology and our love when we are in relational conflict / when we feel attacked. And I was definitely feeling attacked by her “observations” / “feedback” / call it what you want to try to soften it, but it was criticism, straight up. And I wondered why it wasn’t coming across as all that helpful to me. And then God gave me such a grace when Thom Ranier put this wonderful blog post up:
As I read Mr. Ranier’s list, I saw with beautiful clarity why this criticism was so ineffective. When describing someone who was an effective critic in his life, Mr. Ranier wrote:
1. He had no pattern of having a critical spirit. Some people are perpetually critical. Their negativity is known and often avoided. Such people have little credibility. Even if they have something worthy to say, it is often ignored because of their patterns in the past. That was not the case with this man. He was not known as a negative person. He did not speak or write in a critical way on an ongoing basis. Because of this pattern, I was inclined to listen to him.
2. He prayed before he criticized. In fact, this man prayed every day for two weeks before he ever approached me. He asked God to stop him if his mission was not meant to be. He did not take the moment lightly. To the contrary, he treated it with utmost seriousness.
3. He communicated concern without anger. This critic did not once raise his voice. His body language did not communicate anger. He was passionate in his position while maintaining his composure.
4. He avoided any ad hominem attacks. My critic wanted to be certain that I knew he was not attacking me personally. He affirmed me in many ways. He voiced respect for my character. But he did not waver in his expressed concern. Never once did I feel like I was under attack personally.
5. He asked for my perspective. Frankly, most of my critics through the years have not expressed any desire to hear my side of the story. They are so intent to communicate their position that they leave no room for me to speak. Such was not the case with this critic. He asked a surprising question early in the conversation: “Thom, why did you make this decision? I really want to hear your thoughts straight from you.”
6. He listened to me. Undoubtedly you’ve been in those conversations where the other person really does not indicate any desire to listen to you. Even while you are speaking, it is evident that he or she is formulating the next response rather than hearing your words. This critic not only asked for my perspective, he really listened as I spoke. The only time he interjected was to ask clarifying questions.
7. He was humble. One of the primary reasons we get defensive when we are criticized is the attitude of the critic. They often seem to have an all-knowing and condescending spirit. To the contrary, my critic was genuinely humble. He was not a know-it-all. He did not act like the smartest man in the room. Frankly his humility was humbling to me.
In my situation, this criticism was a real shock. It came from out of the blue. There was no pattern to our relationship because this person had no relationship with me. I don’t know if she prayed before contacting me—let’s assume charitably that she did. Great. But I sure did not experience the fruit of the Spirit (gentleness, kindness) in her interaction with me. She had her list. She told me her list without ever inviting me into any level of conversation or engagement. She did not listen to me. She did not even introduce herself to me. She just said, “I have these observations for you to ‘help’ you” (her word). Actually, I’d have to go back and re-read her email, but I think she may have even described her words as “loving help.” Interesting, eh?
To quote a friend:
“If you have to tell someone that what you are doing or saying is loving, it probably isn’t.”
Mr. Ranier’s last point (on humility) really described what I believe was the reason this woman’s criticism was so ineffective. There was just no evidence of humility in her words or tone. She communicated not “thoughts” or “ideas for consideration”—but “facts.” Her facts. Her observations that she was absolutely sure about and she felt no reservation telling me about. I find that amazing! Maybe she’s right and every single substantive observation she made is spot-on. But her certainty regarding her own judgments and the rightness of her telling me all of her judgments frighteningly reminded me of ME in my 20’s.
Oh! How many times did I spew words out without really thinking through how I was coming across? “Suggestions.” “Observations.” “Helps.” Oh man. How often I felt so confident in my assessments and the appropriateness of proclaiming my assessments. Without considering relationship! Without any sense of my own inadequacies (humility)! Every time I think about a conversation in my 20’s wherein I was explaining how people should do things more like me, I just cringe. I rightfully cringe.
It is an important thing we do when we sharpen one another and confront one another. We ought to do this. Real love requires us to do this.Buthow we do this matters.
Oh, friends! Please be careful. May we all be careful (!) when we go to criticize another person. May we be prayerful and invite the person into genuine conversation and may we listen well. Before we proclaim, let us be careful lest we crush a bruised reed! Even as uncomfortable as the conversation may be, let us do everything we can to be SO clear that we are right there with them, in the muck and muddle of life. Yes, we are talking about something hard in their life right now—and that is hard, but appropriate. And next Tuesday, we will probably be talking about something hard in my life (and that will be likewise hard, but appropriate). We are in this together. Level ground. A team. Yes, there is judgment—an evaluation of something and a strong conviction that we need to talk about it. But no, there is no judgment—judgment that condemns you to a place of “other” and puts me above you in a place of “better than.”
With that, I’ll sign off with a genuine hope that we will all be encouraged to be careful and charitable whenever we feel the strong urge to “lovingly” criticize someone. Mr. Ranier’s list might be a helpful tool to review before we go.
Your friend in the battle,
Thinking about all of this reminded me of some notes I wrote years ago when was feeling overwhelmed by the chaos and mess of my home. I thought about developing it into an actual blog post, but never got around to it. Apparently it was a busy, chaotic time for me. 🙂 Here are the raw notes:
Look at your (desk / purse / office / home). What a mess! You have emails from 2002 in your Inbox? Did they even have email back then? These knives don’t go with these spatulas. Why are your kids’ toys all mixed in together with their socks? Don’t you know anything about being a GOOD STEWARD? God wants you to TAKE DOMINION. Make things perfect. Here. Check out this really helpful site (the “P” word!). You need this (book, system, iPhone app). It will change your world. Get this filing system. Schedule everything. Do it. Do better. Be better.
(What’s that you say? You’re actually a very organized person? But you’ve been taking care of a chronically ill child for years while trying to support your husband who is pouring himself out for his work and ministry; all while trying to help your other children process the suffering of their beloved sister and her slow, but seems-to-be imminent death? Maybe “getting THINGS done” has taken a backseat to, you know, life and love and suffering and death?)
Yes, we are to strive for excellence.
Those of us who struggle in relationships are to take steps to grow and change and mature.
Organizers? We get to serve and help others when they trust us and when they want us to help them with their chaos.
Idolatrous gluttony and sloth? Of course we are called to repent and change and grow.
But real life is complex.
Authors blow it.
Speakers are imperfect.
Pastors are human.
Mothers are human.
Life is messy.
We do our best and then we have to let it go–or else we’ll be eaten up with self-doubt and self-judgment and we’ll become graceless, critical people who go around pointing out the weaknesses in others. All the time. To fix them. To “help” them.
But where is the love?
Where is the relationship?
I am so tired, so very tired, of the “together people” — especially the mothers of young children who make it all look SOOOOO easy —giving me unsolicited observations on my failures and suggestions for my improvements. Is this what Christian love is really supposed to look like? Feel like? How do all of these lists for being a better Christian, a better wise, a better mother, acknowledge at all that I am a human being with frailties and wounds that are not easily known? Why do people feel so confident in judging my heart and my intentions by my outward appearance? What is it that keeps them from doing the hard work of getting to know me and learning about me in the context of the real me? The complex me. Why don’t they allow me the honor of knowing them—the real them?
Sometimes, I think people think I am a strong person and I can just take it. And some days I am and I can. But some days, I am lamenting a pain they do not know. I am battling depression they cannot see. My life of serving others does not readily show how lonely, desperately lonely, I really am.
Cut me and I bleed. Kick me and I hurt. You can tell me a hundred times not to take it personally, but by the time you’re telling someone not to take it personally, they probably already are.
[Re-post from 2012]
*** INITIAL POST FROM NOVEMBER 14 *** ASKING FOR PRAYERS FOR UPGRADES SO WE COULD BRING GIFTS ***
In exactly one week, my twelve year-old daughter and I will be flying on the first flight of our journey to Uganda. If all goes well, our routing will take us from Billings, Montana to Salt Lake City, Detroit, Amsterdam, Rwanda, and into Entebbe.
I am writing today to ask you to PLEASE consider praying for us to be upgraded on just ONE flight. Now. I fully recognize that I may sound like an entitled jerk and a terrible missionary to ask for such a thing. And maybe I am—but please allow me to at least try to convnince you that there is actually a righteous reason for my request …
No. We are not asking for an upgrade for the 11+ hour flight with the fancy lie-flat beds. Or the 8.5 hour flight that comes AFTER we have already been in airports and on airplanes for over 36 hours. Again. Nope. No way.
We are praying for an upgrade on our shortest flight (BIL-SLC, around 1 hr) because if that clears, we get to take an extra 100 lbs of gifts to Uganda!! Peacemaking/Relational Wisdom resources, medical supplies, feminine care products, school supplies, and soccer balls for the 180+ children who are expected to attend the women’s conference (at which Sophie and I are speaking) with their mothers … and more!
The rules for our airline are that each passenger gets two 50-lb checked bags, so Sophie and I are planning to live out of our carryons and use our entire checked luggage allowance for gifts for Uganda. If we clear even ONE upgrade, our checked baggage allowance jumps to THREE. How great would that be?! An extra 100 lbs of gifts!
If you are so inclined, would you please join us in praying for this strange prayer request for an upgrade? Thanks to your astoundingly generous gifts, our dining room overfloweth with goodies that need to be packed in the next few days. It would help us so much to have that extra “wiggle room” and space of 100 lbs and two more boxes/bags. If the Lord wills!
Thank you thank you thank you!
Much, much love—
If you’d like to pray for other things related to our time serving in Uganda, here is a quick overview of our schedule:
- Monday, Nov 14: Depart at 5:50AM — arriving Entebbe Tuesday evening around 11:00PM + 3 hour drive to village
- Wed-Thur-Fri: Both Sophie and Tara meet with the women in their homes to visit, read the Bible, and pray together
- Saturday, Nov 19: Tara meets with the men of the community to discuss biblical peacemaking and other issues related to the women’s conference topics
- Sunday, Nov 20: Sophie and Tara teach at the women’s conference
- Monday, Nov 21: Sophie and Tara participate in a dedication service for the new Life and Peace Children’s Hospital
- Midnight, Monday — depart Entebbe, arriving Billings (Lord willing!) Tuesday evening, November 22
If you have no idea what any of this is talking about, you can read more about our trip on our GoFundMe pages:
God answered your prayers with a “YES!” and we were able to bring NINE suitcases and boxes stuffed with gifts for the village of Kibisi, Uganda. Thank you so, so very much!!
You can read all about our service project in Uganda on this page of my website, and you can even see photos and videos of the boxes and suitcases filled with gifts and being shared with the Ugandans here.
Thanks to YOU, the women leaders in Uganda are going to be able to DOUBLE the number of young ladies in their computer / tech classes. In just a few short weeks, we have already raised funds for the three most immediately at-risk girls TO GET TO STAY IN SCHOOL (!!) and we are prayerfully working hard to try to find the $30/month (or the $50/month) to keep the other at-risk elementary and secondary girls in school—safe and tucked away from their only other potential futures: the child-bride “marriages” to alcoholic, abusive, polygamous men who will abandon them and their children to destitution.
If you have a few spare moments and you would like to share your advice with us re: how we should apply for grants, private family foundation funding, NGOs, any honorable source of funding!!, we would be so grateful for your counsel. Or may you are ready to take the leap and fund a girl’s education at $30/month! Please just click on the “Getting Involved” tab or drop us a line: tara “at” tarabarthel “dot” “com.”
THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!! WE ARE ON OUR KNEES IN GRATITUDE AND WE LOVE YOU SO MUCH!!
Countless descriptions exist for personality types. Some of us are “high strung”; others are “low key.” We can be “linear,” “drivers,” or “random creatives,” etc. etc.
For those of us parenting pre-teens and teens we may even see some of them going in and out of these various personalities over and over again in the same day. Sometimes even in the same HOUR. (Some of you understand what I am saying there.)
Of course, as Christians, we never want to use our personality type as an excuse for lovelessness. (“I’m an introvert, so I don’t introduce myself to people at church on Sunday morning.” Uh. No no no. That’s not the way it works. We introverts just have to overcome our comfort zone and get on out there and say hello. It may FEEL like it will kill us, but it will not. And it is the right, appropriate, and loving thing to do.)
We also never want to take our propensities for granted and be slothful about using our gifts for God’s glory and love of neighbor. (“Oh! I’m super comfortable talking on a stage or writing/blogging, so I’m just going to give you my FIRST DRAFT off the top of my head thoughts.” Again. No no no. Excellence takes effort. Anything worth doing takes concerted effort. And you may not think that your audience can tell when you are “phoning it in, as it were,” but your real-life friends, your thoughtful readers, and especially your editor (!), are all keenly aware when you slap us with your “top of the head / no carefully edited blather.”
We know and you know that you can do better. So please hold the draft; give it a little time; put in a little review; and then bless us with your ready-for-public-consumption-insights. We are eager to read them!
On the flipside, I would now like to turn my attention to the super-duper-OVERLY-diligent people—especially pre-teens and teens, but let’s go ahead and stretch the application into adulthood too …
Let’s talk a bit about people of excellence who take their stewardship duties so seriously as they strive to do all things as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23), that all too often, they paralyze themselves into doing NOTHING because they take things WAY TOO FAR in the ol’ “Gotta Get This JUST RIGHT mindset.
Sometimes this is described as “perfectionism.” The bible calls it “The Fear of Man” (Prov. 29:25). We can say we have “low self-esteem” or are bound by “peer pressure” such that we simply cannot imagine putting ANYTHING we do “out there” where people are going to crush it. Criticize it. Or even worse—just ignore it.
Oh, friends. The dark alley of obsessively-demanding, unrealistic, soul-crushing, adrenaline-induced and adrenaline-inducing, FEAR is the exact SNARE that Prov. 29:25 warns us about.
A few months ago, I tiptoed way too close to that snare. It wasn’t pleasant. Here’s what happened:
“Oh no! Oh no! Oh no! OH NO!” I whispered into my eleven year-old daughter’s ears as we had a brief break in the green room backstage of a formal piano recital for a Rhodes Scholar pianist, wherein my only job was to turn pages.
“Did you see my COMPLETE AND UTTER FAILURE during the Bach piece?!”
“Um, no, Mom,” Sophie replied. “I have no idea what you are talking about. Everything in the entire recital, but especially the Bach, went off without a hitch. It was lovely. Complex and relaxing. Steady and surprising. All of the things we both enjoy about Bach. So … to what are you referring?”
“OK. Well. Here’s the truth. I’m mortified to admit it, but … there was this terrible D.S. al Coda that wasn’t clearly marked and, even with all of the practice I did before the recital, under the stage lights, I didn’t see it until MEASURES before the page turn so I wasn’t PERFECTLY standing and 100% ready for a smooth turn like I always try to be.”
“Did you make the page turns OK?” Sophie asked.
“So if I’m understanding you correctly, Mom, what you’re saying is that you ALMOST had an error, but you DIDN’T because you made the page turn just fine. The musician played without a hitch. No one in the audience had any idea that anything was even at risk. The ‘utter, completely disastrous failure’ was avoided and the only person who even had an inkling of a possible problem was you. Is that right?”
Sophie’s compassionate, but spot-on look was all I needed to begin to laugh even at myself.
You see, when we equate a “near miss” with a “complete and utter fail of abject DISASTER,” we are pretty much guaranteeing a miserable life for ourselves and for the people around us.
Sometimes we really do blow it! And when that happens, we need to address it. But flooding our hearts (inner man) and bodies (outer man) with crushing adrenaline and soul-annihilating pain over something that MOST people didn’t even notice? Someting that didn’t even happen? That’s just wasted energy.
Let’s learn to be as kind to ourselves as we are to others! Please! Try to give yourself a break this day. Work had. Be diligent. But don’t allow the bondage of perfectionism enslave you, OK?
Life is far too complex. And you are far too precious!
I’ll close with an encouragement from 1 Thessalonians 5:
“Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and do work with your hands …
Be at peace among yourselves. Admonish the idle. Encourage the fainthearted.
Help the weak. Be patient with them all.
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely,
and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept
blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
(Excerpts from 1 Thess 5:12-24, ESV)
I was SO excited to learn from my friend, Deb W, that Amazon currently has a huge sale going for the e-version of my first book: Peacemaking Women: Biblical Hope for Resolving Conflict.
To see how the book lines up with the women’s DVD video series, please click here.
And of course I am still offering the foundational “Women and Grace” peacemaking women’s retreat, even as my new publications and retreats continue to roll out …
May God be glorified and his daughters encouraged!
(I don’t receive any revenue for you clicking on the link to Amazon. This is truly just a heads-up from a friend because I would love to bless you by getting you this book for the least possible cost. I hope it is a blessing to you! Sending my love!!)
From D.A. Carson’s book, Love in Hard Places (bold and italicized emphases mine):
Not all Christians face persecuting enemies, but all Christians face little enemies. We encounter people whose personality we intensely dislike—
– an obstreperous deacon or church leader
– a truly revolting relative
– an employee or employer who specializes in insensitivity, rudeness, and general arrogance
– people with whom you have differed on some point of principle who take all differences in a deeply personal way and who nurture bitterness for decades, stroking their own self-righteousness and offended egos as they go
– insecure little people who resent and try to tear down those who are even marginally more competent than they
– the many who lust for power and call it principle
– the arrogant who are convinced of their own brilliance and of the stupidity of everyone else
The list is easily enlarged. They are offensive, sometimes repulsive, especially when they belong to the same church.
It often seems safest to leave by different doors, to cross the street when you see them approaching, or to find eminently sound reasons not to invite them to any of your social gatherings. And if, heaven forbid, you accidentally bump into such an enemy, the best defense is a spectacularly English civility, coupled with a retreat as hasty as elementary decency permits. After all, isn’t ‘niceness’ what is demanded? . . .
In many instances, what is required is simply forbearance driven by love. No one puts it more forcefully than Paul:
‘Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Col. 3:12–14)
To bear with one another and to forgive grievances presupposes that relationships will not always be smooth. Most of the time, what is required is not the confrontation of Matthew 18, but forbearance, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, or patience. Christians are to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). . . .
That brings us to three reflections.
First, this loving of awkward people, first of all those within the household of faith but then also outsiders, is sometimes grounded not on God’s providential love (as in Matt. 5:43–47), but on a distinctively Christian appeal. . . . ‘Forgive as the Lord forgave you’—a frank appeal to the Christian’s experience of grace.
Second, in practical terms this love for ‘little enemies’ is sometimes (though certainly not always) more difficult than love for big enemies, for persecuting enemies. . . .
Third . . . there is a frankly evangelistic function to Christian love …
Preach it, Dr. Carson!
And here’s one more link that might prove helpful/encouraging for any of us who are facing some “difficult people” in our lives:
(I think this is my all-time favorite CCEF article. If I could staple it to my head—or better yet, inscribe it on my heart, I would!)
Our family has been profoundly blessed by Megan Hill’s book on prayer:
It was my joy to write a whole-hearted endorsement of this excellent book. If you would like biblical encouragement and motivation—as well as practical, real-life helps—for your prayer life, look no further! Megan’s book is a treasure.
So you can imagine, then, how honored I was to receive her (very supporitve) endorsement of my latest book: Redeeming Church Conflicts. I will copy the entire endorsement below, but first I just wanted to say a personal thank you to Megan.
Megan, you have encouraged me in our writer’s group, blessed me personally during my time serving your women at your recent retreat, and even now, though I am shaking-in-my-Keds as I stumble my way through your husband’s Reformed Theological Seminary course on “The Gospels,” I am being built up in my inner being and strengthened with power through God’s Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3). Plus, the footnotes in the readings alone are delightful!
You (and your family) have been and are a genuine encouragement to me, Megan. You pour courage into my heart. Thank you! Thanks so very much, Megan.
For the glory of the Lamb—
Your sister in Christ,
*************MEGAN HILL’S ENDORSEMENT OF “REDEEMING CHURCH CONFLICTS” *************
“To someone in the middle of a church conflict, the complex knot of spiritual and material issues, contributing factors, and personalities can appear impossible to understand, let alone untangle. As emotions rise and hope sinks, everyone in the church experiences distress, and, amid the confusion and hurt, a positive path forward often seems unclear.
In Redeeming Church Conflicts, experienced conciliators Tara Klena Barthel and David V. Edling offer a warm, biblical, and careful roadmap for navigating church crises. Through exposition and application, they bring the truth of God’s Word to direct suffering churches toward healing. Through practical case studies, they illuminate the way with specific examples.
Perhaps surprisingly for a book about sin and its fruits, these pages are also filled with hope.
Through the words of Barthel and Edling, church members and leaders will begin to see their conflicts as opportunities for growth, grace, and the glory of God. And whether your church is currently in the midst of strife or proactively seeking to avoid it in future, this book is an excellent guide.”
-Megan Hill, pastor’s wife, pastor’s daughter, writer, speaker, author of Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer in Our Homes, Communities, and Churches (Crossway, 2016)
Angry people are sometimes sinfully angry; and sometimes angry people are fearful people who have no idea how frightened (and frightening) they are.
Avoidance of duties may be sinful laziness and sloth, but sometimes it can be genuine exhaustion that comes from our trying (consciously or unconsciously) to stomp down and avoid deep grief and pain.
Some of us are sinfully proud and foolish re: receiving criticism; but some of us want to listen to criticism and want to be readily teachable and growing in wisdom, but the graceless criticism of today sometimes presses on a shaming memory with such ferocity that even we are shocked by how quickly and high we “jump” or “kick” emotionally in response.
Like the shock of having a deep bruise or fresh surgical sutures knocked into, sometimes a color. A scent. An image. A touch. One specific word may tip us into a valley of despair and darkness that has very, very little to do with our present circumstance. Sometimes, our seemingly out-of-proportion reactions are God’s gracious way of helping us to understand and address complex pain in our complex hearts (i.e., what the Bible describes as our mind, soul, or inner man).
For me, this week, I have had repeated opportunities to turn to the Lord with intimate cries for help, gratitude for his covenantal love, and increasing hope and assurance from his Word, because wow! Did I initially overreact to my daughter’s suffering tied to high fevers.
Yes, yes. Our family is currently dealing with the gunk of a bad virus, just like so many other families in our community. No, this is not “terrible suffering” like the “real suffering” of people in much-more-serious circumstances. But yes, this is “terrible suffering” and “real suffering” for our life circumstance, for this day, for this season. It’s exhausting to have high fevers day after day, night after night. It’s miserable to be sick and it’s miserable to be the mom who can’t protect her child from being sick.
But for me, Tara Barthel, this normal, not-too-dramatic, suffering-related-to-a-child-having-a-little-virus/bug has a layer of pain related to it that has absolutely nothing to do with 2016 and everything to do with specific memories from my childhood (in the 1970’s). Why does this matter? Because as soon as my husband and I recognized that I wasn’t just exhausted from being up all week with my sick child, I was also grieving anew a past suffering, we—Fred and I—could take a few extra steps to be sure we were not only ministering to our child, we were caring for me, too.
Thankfully, it only took us a few days into our daughter’s illness to recognize that her sleep disturbances were reminding me of some of my worst childhood night terrors, sleeptalking, sleep-moaning-and-crying-out-for-help-weeping, and sleep walking right out of my childhood home.
(I can still taste those nightmares from 35+ years ago! Adrenaline really does have such a searing effect on memories.)
Every time my daughter’s fever went into the 104 range this week, I wasn’t just trying to determine if the ice-pack on her forehead was sufficient or whether we should put her into a tepid bath, I was also vividly flashing back to the hard metal tubs with the clanging latches that were both the instruments of my torture and my rescue in the emergency rooms of my childhood.
(If you haven’t had bags of ice poured onto your 105+ degree’d body, it may be a little hard to understand the confusion and terror of being a five year-old shaking uncontrollably from being SO hot and SO cold at the exact same time—and wondering why the grownups in the room “weren’t helping.” They were, of course, helping. But it sure didn’t feel like it at the time.)
No, I wasn’t undone by these memories this week. They were mostly just revving in the background of my days and nights of typical maternal concern and care. But last night, Fred wisely urged me to tuck into the bed in our tiny basement (far away from our daughters’ room), entrust the every-two-hour-medicine schedule to him, and sleep. Cry if I needed to. Pray. Turn off the hypervigilance-momma-meter and just rest.
I am grateful that Fred was sensitive to not only the normal difficulties of this week, but also the deeper layers of pain related to my past experiences. I truly think that we would all be wise to try to remember that people’s actions and reactions may have elements that are tied to complex, past pain. To quote a passage for Peacemaking Women:
We often experience suffering on two different levels. The pain from the current situation may ‘tap into’ our past experiences …
When our experience of pain seems disproportional to the actual situation we are in, we need to look deep into our own hearts to see if a life-forming trauma might be surfacing in the current conflict. Sometimes we may even need help to do so because our pain may cloud our vision and make it difficult to see clearly. Grief and despair, while rooted in past hurts, can be reflected powerfully in current circumstances and present suffering.
Of course, even as we seek to gain wisdom and insight about our complex pain, our suffering never gives us an excuse to sin. God calls us to honor him regardless of our past or present circumstances. As David Powlison reminds us, ‘Knowledge of a person’s history may be important for many reasons (compassion, understanding, knowledge of characteristic temptations), but it never determines the heart’s inclinations.’
Amen & Amen!
What JOY there is in knowing that one day, in Glory, there will be no more tears and no more grief; no more sin and no more unbelief. No more pain! When we see the Lord with unveiled faces (2 Cor 3:18), we will be like him. Oh, how I long for that day!
But in this life, God has sanctified us (definitive sanctification) and he is sanctifying us (progressive sanctification). One aspect of our growth in grace is learning to lament — to grieve with hope. For complex, deep pain? This grieving may feel like the peeling of layers of an onion … in his perfect timing (which we often don’t understand at the time), God lovingly helps us to peel back the layers of our sorrow or grief so that we can experience an even deeper sense of His presence, goodness, wholeness, and Shalom.
One day, in Heaven, the “onion” of pain will be gone forever and completely because our suffering will be over. But in this life, we grow and change. This life is often a life of complex grief. Fear and faith. Risk and pain. Risk and love. “Not health, but healing; not being, but becoming” to use the language of Martin Luther.
Please know, friends, that I am praying for you great hope and great comfort as you grieve and lament the complex pain of your lives.
God really is always working together all things for his glory and our good. Even—nay, especially—the painful things. Oh, that we would have eyes to see and ears to hear! That we would “understand with our hearts, turn, and be healed” (Matthew 13:15) by the One True, Triune God.
Sending my love—
There is a wonderful book coming out on this very topic in just a few short weeks now: “A Heart Set Free – A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament”, by my dear friend, Christina Fox.