Shame and Shoulds

From my 2011 Journal. There are certain words, facial expressions, and people’s attitudes that shut me down. One of them is “You should or shouldn’t . . .” My instant response is to go on the defense: “Why should I?” or “Why shouldn’t I?” That self-protective defiant attitude covers timidity to be who I was created to be.

shameI may refuse to listen to your words because they heap shame on me, but I find it’s an uphill battle to sever the ties with them. I am determined to climb this mountain even if I have to do it alone, but the weariness of the battle gets to me.

Jesus says, “Level ground would have been easier, but mountain climbing shows what you’re made of and tests your endurance and strengthens your muscles and heart. Not a bad thing. Keep climbing!” And eventually I am able to see your words for what they are—your belief system, not mine.

I’m reading Unlocking Your Family Patterns by Cloud, Townsend, Carter, and Henslin. I identify with the chapter “Learning to Achieve Adulthood.” The premise is that as children, we always feel “one-down” to adults. Growing up means coming to the place in life where we feel “equal” or “even.” My own shoulds and shaming words or posture are my attempt to feel “one-up.”

Whether your words or mine, I can turn those “shoulds” to “coulds.”

  • I should be praying more = I could be praying more.
  • I should be more available = I could be more available.
  • I should clean my house today = I could clean house today (or not!).

I’m ready to get rid of these echoes in my mind and heart. No longer will I hide my true self to protect me from your words or deeds. I can graciously and lovingly place them back on you and stand firm in what God created me to be—free of shame and life-sucking rules.

What shame messages are you battling to erase?

 

Food—It Does a Body Good

I know someone who analyzes every bite that goes into her mouth. She obsesses over fat and sugar and red meat and raw vegetables. I wonder if she’ll live any longer or have a better quality of life as a result? I doubt it. She’s riddled with fears and physical and emotional pain.

I remember my mother commenting on the food fads in American each time we came home on furlough: one year it was sugar-free, then fat-free, and now it’s gluten-free. One year we were informed that we should eat potato skins to get the most nutrients, and the next time we were admonished to pitch them because of all the toxins. At one time egg yolks were verboten, and now it’s acceptable. Will someone please make up their mind!

My mother taught me to have moderation and balance in all things. It doesn’t mean I’m totally and perfectly moderate in my eating habits. I just don’t worry too much if I eat a piece of sugar occasionally or enjoy a steak now and then. God gave us food to enjoy, and as long as we don’t make food our god, I think we can relax and live with an eye to the eternal.

Describe your relationship with food.potatoes

Sing with Me

Singing

From my 2008 Journal. You know what I miss? The focus of music in some churches has shifted from the sound of the congregation’s voices blending in harmony under the leadership of a song leader or musician—to a group of performers on stage. Now I know they’re not called “performers” and I know that’s not their intention, but . . . I personally find it a little distracting to watch what’s happening on stage. Critiquing performance is my natural tendency instead of focusing inward and upward. I know that my focus needs to be on God, and I know that I can become distracted by any number of things—so sometimes I just have to shut my eyes during worship.

I also acknowledge that the temptation with singing old familiar hymns led by a choir director is to sing with the lips and not from the heart. I get that. I know it’s not what’s happening on the stage that counts, but what’s in my heart. But certain environments are just more conducive to worship for me than others. We recently visited a liturgical church where the organist, hidden out of sight, led the congregational singing. I could hear my own voice blending in harmony with the voices around me. I found the experience quite refreshing.

Okay, I’ve said my piece. Now let’s sing!

The People’s Choice Award

KingLike a child begging a parent for candy before dinner, I wonder if there are times when we beg too hard for what we want, and God gives it to us—but it’s not for our best. Better to examine our hearts, motives and emotions to discover why we’re begging for something. Better to ask, “according to God’s will” and from a heart of peace that is aligned with what God has predetermined is best for us or our loved one.

Once more, just before the public declaration of God’s choosing, the prophet Samuel warned the people of their folly in desiring a king (I Samuel 12). It’s like the Israelites begging for meat in the wilderness: God answered their prayers, but then they suffered the consequences.

So why did the people want a king? “To be like the other nations” it says in one place. But verse 12 gives us more insight:

But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me [Sam], “No, we want a king to rule over us”—even though the Lord your God was your king (NIV).

Their folly began with bending to the culture, followed by fear of the enemy, which led to stubbornness and rebellion against God.

What gives me hope is that even after God granted their request for a king, He still gave them a second chance to do right.

If you fear the Lord and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God—good! (v. 14). [But IF the opposite is true, watch out!]

Even when we sin and foolishly ask for something that’s not good for us, God can still redeem the situation—IF we repent.

Please Come to My Funeral

He passed away, to no one’s regret (II Chronicles 21:20 NIV).

This verse, to me, is one of the saddest statements in the Bible. Jehoram was a bad, bad king who killed all his brothers, put back all the idols that his father had removed, and forsook God. His punishment? His whole family gets wiped out, his possessions captured, and he dies a horrible death of an intestinal disease. And the sad end of his life? His people made no funeral fire in his honor, as they had for his predecessors (v. 19). No funeral memorial for him! Ouch!

What makes a man choose a good or godly heart? It’s more than just his parents’ example. Jehoram had a good father. But maybe he had an absent father. Perhaps something burned him as a child. Was he arrogant because he was the first-born and spoiled? Was he picked on by his brothers? Did his lustful appetites draw him into sin, and he followed after forbidden fruit? What need of his heart went unmet that he would deliberately close his eyes to the victories he witnessed in his father’s time?

Memorial services tend to focus on the positives of a person’s accomplishments or character. We say we don’t like to speak ill of the dead, but how awful to have lived so poorly that no one shows up at all!

rachel (white) berryI want to go to my grave with no unfinished business. I don’t even want to go through today with unfinished business of the heart. I’m so thankful for my godly heritage. I want to learn my lessons from my parents—follow their godly choices, reject any inconsistencies, love everyone—to the end. You all are invited to my funeral!

Whom do you want to come to your funeral?

So Fix It Already!

When you try to fix people, things only get broken. (Eric Swann, Believers’ Chapel)

From my 2011 journal. Two incidents happened this week that held a mirror up to my face, and I didn’t like what I saw. I like to be kind and gentle—but I can also be bossy and take charge and can step on people’s toes, albeit unintentionally. I tend to push my way in where I’m not invited. This week I butted in where I should not have. I stuck my nose in someone else’s business and got kindly and gently rebuffed.

It’s a tricky thing—when to step in and be helpful and when to keep my mouth shut. I like to solve problems and find solutions—if I know the answer. But if the person doesn’t need or want my help, then I can be a hindrance.

black-and-white-close-up-equipment-210881I see a problem. It needs fixing. Then fix it already! What is that inner drive? Is it temperament? Genetics? Wounding? This drive can accomplish good things, or it can be a catalyst for ill. The thing is, when I see it in myself, I try to fix it. When I see it in others, I want to fix it myself or encourage them to fix it. I wonder: Why would anyone want to continue to wallow in the mire when there’s an answer for their pain?

So how does it feel when things aren’t right and in their proper order? My brain likes things orderly. Words should be spelled correctly. Punctuation in its place. Pictures straight. No clutter on the table. Other people are wired to enjoy and thrive in clutter and mess and chaos. Why can’t I be more tolerant of other people’s messes?

The key? I am not the solution to everyone’s problems. Imagine that! We were taught in evangelism class to be aggressive, to push forward, to get people to make decisions and “draw the net.” Unfortunately, those tactics can actually cause more harm than good and can drive people away.

I want to be honey that attracts, not vinegar that sets people’s teeth on edge. I want to learn to be content with people’s messes, but not content with my own. I can only fix ME.

Later. So now that I’m tuned into it, I caught myself once again giving unsolicited advice. It was unappreciated and inappropriate. How do I break myself of this habit?

This second incident occurred when a visitor came to drop off his two girls at my Grade 5 Sunday school class. When I discovered that one of the children actually belonged in Grade 2, I ran after the parent to inform him of his mistake.

“But the sign said her class was here!” His tone was angry and insistent.

My first response? Fix it, of course! I wanted to prove he’d read the sign wrong. I wanted to walk him to the next wing and show him how to find his daughter’s classroom (but I couldn’t leave my 5th graders alone).

This same emotion shoots me back to a memory when I used to work in a dime store where I was assigned, happily, to the fabric department. I was fresh off the mission field and had never worked retail before. I didn’t even know how to count out change in American money. One day a lady came in with a bag of material and dumped it angrily on the cutting table. She claimed it had been measured incorrectly. Well, my grandpa, who had owned a hardware store in Des Moines, Iowa, had taught me that “the customer is always right.” So, without re-measuring or checking it against the receipt, I pulled out the bolt of cloth and proceeded to cut another length as she specified and exchanged it.

That’s the day I learned the rule that when there’s a problem, you’re supposed to defer it to your supervisor. Oops! My boss was kind about it, but I knew I’d messed up.

So . . . what was I feeling when this lady stormed into my section of the store? I felt for her. How annoying to be sold the wrong length of cloth! I’d been there myself—trying to make a garment when I’m short of material. It’s like I could feel her dashing water all over me.  In my visual, I can see her tripping over a log or something and losing her pail of water. I feel bad for her. I’m more concerned that she’s okay than that I got wet. “Are you okay? Did you get hurt? Can I help you draw more water?” I ask. That’s how I respond. Fix the problem.

Psychologically, I know I’m not capable of taking another person’s emotions or pain for them. I can only feel what I feel. So . . . I mentally climb into this lady’s shoes and feel what it feels like to trip and lose my balance and lose all my water. But as I do that, I begin to laugh—amused at myself for not seeing the log in time.

For some reason that helps. Now in the memory, when the lady walks in with her material, I can say, “Oh how disappointing it must have felt to start a sewing project and become stymied.” And I can look at the Sunday school parent and say, “It must be annoying to find you’re in the wrong spot and you still have to drop off another child before you head to the worship service.” No more emotional response; no need to fix the situation. It is what it is. Just acknowledge it and move on.

Who are you trying to fix so that you can feel better?

Trial and Error

notebook 2From my 2010 Journal. In my counseling training, I heard one instructor say, “If something doesn’t work, try something else. Keep trying, keep working. Doing something is better than nothing, and it’s all good.”

I’m not sure how this fits theologically, but apparently even God practiced trial and error! Today I read Jeremiah 36 where God tells Jeremiah to write down all the words of doom, gloom, judgment, and disaster that He’d previously given him orally concerning the future of Israel, Judah, and the surrounding nations. And then these intriguing words:

Perhaps when the people of Judah hear about every disaster I plan to inflict on them, they will each turn from their wicked ways; then I will forgive their wickedness and their sin. (v. 3 NIV)

Perhaps? Maybe? God had tried out-loud preaching to get their attention. God had tried using metaphors. Now He’s going to try to reach the visual learners—those who need to see the words in writing. Try and try again.

It’s not the counselor’s fault if the client doesn’t find freedom or ends up in suicide. The client has a choice—always—to repent, to come out of hiding, to lay down bitterness, to lower walls of defense, to face the truth, to forgive and to accept forgiveness, to relinquish hate, to release pain. Each person has been given freewill to turn toward God and seek Him, to be healed of heart wounds and find peace—or not. But the counselor keeps on trying different methods to help the client discover what’s in his or her heart. God did!

What will it take for God to get through to my heart?

On Being Sick

From my 2010 Journal. I don’t like being sick. Period. Other than hypochondriacs, I guess nobody does. It’s debilitating, annoying, and restricting. I don’t get sick very often, but when I do, I want the world to know about it. On the other hand, I like to be left alone to my misery, not hovered and fussed over. But I do like for people to know that I hurt and where. Somehow it helps to verbalize it. Why is that I wonder?

Some people are very private about their health (we were all shocked to hear of a friend’s death recently because she had told no one about her cancer); others blab every detail whether you want to hear about it not. What makes the difference? Wounding? (They crave the attention and sympathy to prove their worth.) Temperament? (Melancholics are more prone to complain, I suspect, than Sanguines.) Vows? (I have a friend who grew up with a mom who constantly verbalized her aches and pains, and she determined to do the opposite. This friend is a most gracious and pleasant person to be around in spite of her debilitating disease and chronic pain.)

Saying the words aloud is like putting around me cardboard shields of protection. People can still get into my space if needed, but it gives me more privacy or space from intrusion. I suspect this is an introvert thing. I seek to protect my energy, whereas a Sanguine craves the attention because people energize them.

So . . . if I don’t say the words and tell people how I’m feeling, they don’t know to give me space. And my dear, extrovert husband—all he wants to do is pay even more attention to me when I’m miserable—because, of course, that’s what he wants when he’s ill!

sickHow do you respond when you’re sick or in pain and why?

Response to Grief

It intrigues me why some people grow bitter and some grow sweeter while facing a personal tragedy. What makes the difference?

rachel (white) berry

I Samuel 29 records the story of when David and his men return to their city of Ziglag and discover it has been destroyed and all their women and children taken into captivity.

Understandably, David was greatly distressed, and he wept “till there was no more strength in him.” BUT “David encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord His God.” And then he sought the Lord through Abiathar the priest and asked the Lord for direction.

The response of David’s men is in stark contrast. They experienced the same bitter grief, but they turned on David and wanted to stone him.

It reminds of when the children of Israel blamed Moses for their plight in the wilderness.

It reminds me of Americans who blame their President when they lose a son in war.

It reminds me of MKs (missionary kids) who blame their Mission for their boarding school experience.

In our grief, we tend to make illogical accusations and decisions. It’s much easier to blame others instead of taking responsibility for our own emotions and choices. Blame is a way to discharge pain. It wasn’t David’s fault for what happened to his followers’ wives. It wasn’t the President who shot the bullet. It wasn’t the Mission that cruelly punished the child.

Grief brings out what’s already in our hearts. Who are you blaming for your pain?

 

Syncretism

syn·cre·tism [ síngkrə tìzzəm ]   (n.) A combination of different beliefs: the combination of different systems of philosophical or religious belief or practice

Korazim Medusa Stone

Medusa stone in a synagogue in ancient Korazim, Israel

I can’t say I’ve ever heard preached from a pulpit the following Bible story found in Judges 17 and 18. And I certainly never heard it told in Sunday school! In brief, a lady curses when her money comes up missing. When her son Micah admits that he took it, she responds, “Blessed be you by the Lord”! Okay, so it’s not uncommon to curse when you’re disappointed, but to bless your son in God’s name when you find your son has deceived you!? Really? I suppose she was responding in relief that the money had been found. Maybe James had this lady in mind when he talked about “the double-minded man who is unstable in all his ways” and “out of the same mouth come blessings and curses” (James 1:8; 3:10)

Now if that’s not strange enough, Micah’s mom says she’d had plans for the money: “I had dedicated the silver to the Lord for my son to make idols.” This Israelite woman is just a little mixed up, confused, deceived, double-minded, guilty of syncretism.

A confused mom yields a confused son. Micah sets up idols in his own house and then makes his own son his priest—until a Levite man comes along and consents to be his own private priest. Micah then claims, “Now I know that the Lord will favor me, since I have a Levite to be my priest.”  (By Mosaic Law, only Levites were supposed to be priests.) What a mixture of beliefs: Seeking God’s favor through disobedience to His commands!

Later, the Danite tribe, en route to conquer some new territory, discover Micah’s stash:  a carved image, an ephod, a teraphim, and a molten image. They persuade the Levite priest to join them instead—which he’s glad to do.

Here’s another mixed-up character. The priest’s place of service should have been solely at the tabernacle at Shiloh.  He’s supposed to represent and worship the one true God, but in actuality he’s only lord over sticks and stones. And when given the opportunity, he gladly follows greed.

Note: Beware the lone wolf, the one without accountability. “In those days there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

Are there “servants of God” like this today? Yes, I think so. I was accosted by two Mormons yesterday—fully convinced they had the full truth. Just by reading the book of Mormon, they said, they had received blessings from God ten-fold. And wouldn’t I like to experience it too? And Jesus Christ figured prominently into their sentences. Mixed up? Joseph Smith vs. Jesus Christ. Hmmm.

As for the Danites, they set up those idols for themselves, led by  . . . guess who? Moses’ grandson Jonathan of all people! Can that be possible? A grandfather’s godliness does not guarantee piety for his children or grandchildren. We all have choices in life. Even with a most godly example, we can choose to follow a path of rebellion. Jon knew all the stories by heart, I’m sure. He’d heard them rehearsed around the dinner table, recounted, and reiterated. He knew the 10 Rules that his grandpa carried down Mt Sinai. How could he, dare he, fall so far from God’s path to follow after the enemy’s path?

Now you know why I pray daily for my grandchildren.