I Want to Be in Control

From my 2012 Journal. I’ve had a recurring nightmare of being lost and unable to reach my destination. Perhaps my brain is trying to process my unresolved fear of searching for my next classroom in the maze of a two-story American high school after attending a small boarding school in Africa. Or the roots are in my preschool panic when I couldn’t find my dad in the tall grass while hunting guinea fowl together. There is something in all of us that wants to be in control of our lives, and we don’t like the feeling when we’re not.

I have no desire to be in charge of a PTA, a church, or a nation. I didn’t even like being in charge of my own kids when I was parenting. But I do want to be in charge of my own classroom as a teacher, over my own food choices, over my schedule, over my own body, and over my finances. I don’t like it when others violate my will.

So what do I do if I’m under someone else’s jurisdiction (a boss, a parent, a policeman, the law of the land)? I might respond negatively or positively according to whether or not I agree with them or whether the mandate is reasonable or not. If I’m serving a boss who is irritable, unpredictable, overbearing, or unkind, it takes effort and poise and grace and an abundance of God’s Spirit to submit to his or her authority.

But what if I serve under a person whom I highly respect and adore, who is gracious, kind and polite and loves me back? How would my attitude be different? You’d assume I would respond with ease but, sadly, I still fight to be in control.

I serve a perfect Master. What keeps me from responding well to Him when He gives me orders? It’s an on-going struggle for me to submit—until I face my fears of feeling lost or out of control—and that’s when God steps in and brings safety and comfort, just like my dad did when I cried out to him in the jungle grass.

Fighting Fires

From my 2016 Journal. I feel like I’ve been fighting fires for months—rows of houses are ablaze or burned to the ground, and I’m tired of holding the hose, climbing ladders, and rescuing people. I’m weary, and the fires keep spreading. I also see gleeful little gremlins throwing gasoline over the houses.

Lord, I need your help!

A strong wind blows the fire back on itself, and water from the sky douses the flames. But suddenly the scene shifts and my perspective changes. The water is actually coming from a watering can, and the blaze is no bigger than a campfire. I’m just a little ant, so everything looks enormous—unlike from God’s perspective. All my effort and fretting just made me tired.

And so I ask the Lord, “What is my role? Do You want me to hold fire hoses or stand back and watch you work?” I think of Moses who obediently went to Egypt, but it was God who did all the work once he arrived.

I’m tired before going to my next appointment.

“Just show up and obey My instructions,” He says. “And I’ll do the rest.”

That helps. I can rest in that thought.

What’s Your Grid?

From my 2012 Journal. Once I learn a perceived truth, I tend to filter all of life through that grid. For example, when I first learned about the benefits of homeopathic care, I shunned all allopathic doctors—until experience taught me that each has its merits for curing diseases.

One day I had a conversation with a gentleman who declared that the key to a child’s emotional health lies in his relationship with his father. This may be true in some or even in many instances, but not in all. It struck an emotional chord with him, however, and he began to take on some “shoulds.”

I’m currently reading When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert—a book on the subject of poverty and how not to hurt the poor in the midst of generous attempts to help. What strikes me is the matrix through which the authors view the subject—not that it’s wrong—but that all the verses and arguments are from one premise or topic. For example, the authors pose the question: Why were the Israelites sent into exile? “Idolatry” would be my immediate answer. But the authors concluded: because they didn’t properly care for the poor. Well . . . maybe . . . and that certainly could be part of the answer, but it’s not the only one (See Leviticus 26).

If I were writing a book about idolatry, I’d focus on that topic only and ignore the issue of caring for the poor. Or if I wrote a book on children or women or finances in the Bible, I’d examine all the Scriptures that pertain to just that topic. It’s normal to focus on one topic at a time—it’s all my brain can hold anyway—but I think I may develop tunnel vision in the process.

Grandma grid: My grandsons are the best!

Early in my ministry, TPM (Transformation Prayer Ministry) became my grid for all inner healing needs. While I was reading Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend, I started to view life through that filter. The founders of Temperament Analysis, Arno Profile System see every emotional solution through the grid of temperament needs.

Here are some grids for the topic of addiction.

  • The theologian calls it sin: stop doing it!
  • Solomon says it’s unwise: look at the consequences (Proverbs 23:29-35).
  • The counselor wants to know motive: why are you doing it?
  • The doctor suggests it’s a chemical imbalance: let’s help you detox.
  • The family says: you’re hurting me; you need help.
  • The addict says:  I’m not hurting anyone but myself and I’m fine.

Whose grid is correct? The study of psychology, boundaries, codependency, temperament, TPM, or any other system or method (including a set of doctrines)—these are not the authentic answers to human needs.

So here’s where I struggle. Because of my profession and training, my grid tends to be too narrow. The worst part of it is, I’m always thinking, “You could be fixed . . . if only you had the set of keys that I have in my possession. These keys could help unlock the doors on your pain—but either you don’t want to use them, or you don’t know that they exist.” Truthfully, however, my tools are plastic. Jesus is the Master Key; only He can unlock every door. Only God sees the whole picture all at once. He knows every answer, nuance, and issue.

A 2021 Update: I’ve since added HeartSync Ministries to my toolbox. But even this grid is imperfect. Only Jesus has the perfect toolbox.

What’s your grid?

When Helping Hurts

From my 2012 Journal. Here are my takeaway quotes and statements from a thought-provoking book entitled When Helping Hurts–How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . And Yourself. According to the authors, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, every human being is suffering from some kind of poverty:

  • a poverty of spiritual intimacy
  • a poverty of being
  • a poverty of community
  • a poverty of stewardship.

We don’t fit right because we were shaped for something else.

“Compassion fatigue” occurs when we become less willing to help—because the recipients of your help fail to improve.

We must differentiate between:

  • Relief (crisis from natural disaster)
  • Rehab (restoration to positive elements before crisis)
  • Development (process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved—both “helpers” and “the helped”—closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others, and creation.)

Don’t apply relief when development is needed!

Avoid paternalism—doing things for people that they can do for themselves.

We are not bringing Christ to poor communities. He has been active in these communities since the creation of the world, sustaining them by the power of His word (Heb. 1:3). Hence, a significant part of working in poor communities involves discovering and appreciating what God has been doing there for a long time!

Change begins when something triggers an individual or group to reflect upon their current situation and to think about a possible future situation that they would prefer.

Three common triggers:

  1. A recent crisis
  2. The burden of the status quo becoming so overwhelming that they want to pursue change
  3. The introduction of a new way of doing or seeing things that can improve their lives.

“Never waste a crisis!”

Has anyone else had experience with this topic? In what context?

My parents’ home in Zambuk, Nigeria, as it looks today

Judgmentalism

From my 2012 Journal. We tend to focus on different things at different seasons of our lives. For example, when our daughter Cindy took a course in human anatomy for her degree in sculpture, she couldn’t help but notice the shapes of different people’s noses, eyes, and hairlines. As a young mom now, I suspect she’s focusing more on toddler behavior.

Cynthia’s self-bust

I, on the other hand, learned to critique a speaker’s vocal quality and body language for my oral interpretation degree. Perhaps that’s what kicked into high gear last night when I attended an evening church service. I found myself distracted by what I observed on stage. The words to a song splashed onto the screen, the worship leaders stepped up to the front in unison, each dressed to perfection—except that I think one is too perfectI wonder what that rigidity looks like in her daily life? One dresses fashionably, I muse, but the fashion doesn’t suit her. Another is not petite enough. (What?! I just critiqued “the perfect one” as being too petite!) Arrggh! What’s wrong with my mind? I’m noticing the outward appearance, but inwardly, I’m critiquing: too perfect, too immodest, wounded, relaxed, etc.

I’m not God, and I can’t see into another person’s heart, so where do I come off having the right to judge and critique someone else’s inner soul? Yes, the externals give clues to the internals and, because of my counselor’s training, I’m getting better at noticing. But I don’t like the consequences. It’s distracting to my focus on worship. I’m not these people’s judge . . . or have I become one? When did I take on this role, and how do I stop it? It’s one thing to notice; it’s another to critique and then to judge.

So why do I do it? I think to myself, This person needs fixing! Yikes! What an ugly thought! That’s God’s job, not mine.

What if I focused on creativity and beauty instead of flaws? What if I celebrated our differences and our choices instead of our motives? Celebrated the colors on stage. Observed the style of clothing from a designer’s eye, appreciating the variety of shapes and sizes and textures rather than as a critique of a person’s character. I need to separate the physical from the internal.

So when does assessment turn into judgmentalism? Or pride? Or contempt? Or pity? Or concern? Or compassion? Have I created a standard in my mind for right and wrong that is different from God’s standard? God’s measuring stick is absolute (don’t lie, hate, lust, covet). My standard is a moving target based on cultural norms, a person’s age, historical time periods, etc.

And so I begin by stating an observation regarding externals:

  • She’s large-boned / He’s shorter than average
  • She wears high necklines / she has a plunging neckline
  • She has 4 visible tattoos / he has none
  • She wears tight-fitting jeans / he wears saggy pants
  • He has shoulder-length hair / she has short, spiky hair

It becomes an assessment when I draw plausible conclusions based on past experience or training. The assessment is not wrong IF I acknowledge that it is an educated guess:  it could be that . . . I wonder if . . . most people like this are. . . . But concluding (without knowledge) what’s in a person’s heart is presumptuous. For example:

  • She’s too skinny / plump because she’s on weight-gaining drugs, she was abused as a child, she has no self-discipline, she has a food disorder, etc.
  • She shows cleavage because she wants to attract men’s attention, she has a “wardrobe malfunction,” she grew up in an Africa village where it’s culturally acceptable, etc.
  • She has tattoos because she wants to fit in with her peers, because she wants to permanently remember an event, because she’s rebelling against parental restrictions, etc.
  • And so on and so forth.

This exercise of the mind morphs into sinful pride (The Elder Brother syndrome) when I begin to compare myself to another person and indulge in feelings of superiority:  I would never do that. . . I’m better than he/she. How sick is that!

I think about Zacchaeus the tax collector. How would I have judged him I wonder . . . a short, fat, greedy, mean, traitorous man? But Jesus sees into his repentant, hurting heart and begins a love relationship with him.

Visual: I see mobs of people milling around. Some are blind, others are crippled, and many are wearing arms in slings. Others hide behind facial masks, believing they’re safer that way; but their restricted vision prevents them from seeing the truth. They’re all dressed in filthy rags, covering painful sores. A pitiful lot.

And then I watch as a drop of Living Water falls gently onto one person. Like a drop of soap in a dishpan with oil, the ripples spread out and a path of clean is created. And more drops fall, and the people turn their faces skyward. Blinded eyes see, slings fall off, and crippled legs are straightened. But some are frightened by the foreign matter, and they run from the moisture . . . because water and dirt create mud streaks on their face, and they feel self-conscious.

And so I begin to let go of my judgmentalism. I now see their fear instead of their sin; their timidity instead of their stubbornness.

The rain is gentle and soothing and inviting. I allow myself to be bathed in it, cleansed, forgiven. I sense the sweet wooing of the Savior. And now instead of judgment, I feel sorrow for those who struggle, for I am one of them.

Suddenly the focus of my prayers change. I don’t pray for the person to have a change of heart; I pray for God’s mercy to let a drop of His Spirit fall on him/her. I appeal to God to pour out His love and woo the stubborn, judgmental heart—starting with mine.

Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart (I Samuel 16:7).

Should You Flee or Stay?

The shrewd man saw trouble and took cover; the simple kept going and paid the penalty (Proverbs 22:3).

From my 2012 Journal. I’ve often thought about how the Psalmist David fled from King Saul; but the 3 young captives Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stayed put and refused to bow before an idol at the king’s mandate. Corrie ten Boom hid Jews in Holland during Hitler’s regime, while others refused to harbor fugitives. What’s the right thing to do? Flee from harm’s way or stand your ground and take the consequences? What about Mary and Joseph? God could have simply put a miraculous, sword-proof shield around the holy family or made them invisible to the soldiers’ eyes. But God chose to remove them from the situation. He told them to flee to Egypt.

What would have happened if David had stood his ground and confronted Saul instead of running? Or if the Jews hadn’t gone into hiding? Or if Shad, Mesh, and Abed had fled the country?

When the Israelites were besieged by the Babylonian army, God instructed them not to resist—just surrender and go into captivity. Instead, the leaders and the people fought back, tried to escape, and hid—and many lost their lives as a result. Later, God told the remnant to do the opposite: stay put and not flee to Egypt. The key, I think, is obedience to the Spirit of God who knows what’s best.

I can’t say I’ve ever been in this situation, so it’s hard to predict what I might do. But I think about it. Have you ever experienced this dilemma? How did you choose and why?

If you refrain from rescuing those taken off to death—those condemned to slaughter—If you say, “we knew nothing of it,” surely he who fathoms hearts will discern [the truth]. He who watches over your life will know it. And he will pay each man as he deserves (Proverbs 24:11).

Choices, Consequences, and Character

From my  2012 Journal. A study of two men (II Kings 5)

Jordan River today

The story: A little girl is taken captive from Israel and placed in the service of a lady whose respected husband Naaman is a commander of the Syrian army. One day Naaman is diagnosed with leprosy and the servant girl tells her mistress that healing is possible back in her home country. By a circuitous route, Naaman winds up at the prophet Elisha’s doorstep. Elisha sends his servant Gehazi out the door to instruct Naaman to dip 7 times in the Jordan River. Naaman is ticked off (the dialogue is quite comical) and stomps away. But in the end, he obeys and gets healed.

Next, Naaman returns to Elisha’s house to reward him for this healing gift, but Elisha refuses to accept anything, and Naaman drives away in his chariot. The servant Gehazi, meanwhile, runs after Naaman, tells a fib, and walks away with some loot and hides it in his house. For this indiscretion, God inflicts leprosy on him. Talk about irony!

Naaman’s issue? Pride. He believed that God could heal him, but he expected God to perform in a certain way. When God didn’t meet his expectations, he got angry, but he eventually humbled himself. He made the right choice in the end.

Gehazi’s issue? Greed. But his one indiscretion left his life in ruins. (I wonder if he attempted a 7-dip trick in the Jordan to get rid of HIS leprosy!?)

So here’s a foreigner who gets a gift from God and an Israelite who gets punished. Why?

Lesson:  It’s really about what’s in the heart. Actions matter—we live with the consequences of our decisions. But if we guard our hearts, we suffer fewer consequences for poor choices.

Lesson:  It’s not who you’re living close to that determines your character. Naaman lived in a position of power under an ungodly, idol-worshipping king. Gehazi lived in a position of servitude to a godly prophet.

On Wasting Time

From my 2012 Journal. I think I have a skewed attitude toward time. My dad was extremely punctual—which was a little comical to watch in the context of a remote African village in the 50s where time was ordered around the seasons of harvest or full moons. Our lives growing up were regimented and predictable—breakfast and dinner at 6 o’clock sharp. Lunch at noon. Family devotions before breakfast and after dinner—without fail. Work hard in between. (I identified with the hymn, “Work for the Night Is Coming.”) And don’t get me started on the regimen of boarding school bells and sirens . . . !

But I loved it! I actually thrive on routine and schedules. There was a long season in my life when, no kidding, I planned and regimented every minute of my day. As a result, I was extremely efficient and productive. It did not leave room, however, for relationship-building. Marriage and children knocked me off that routine, and I slowly began to adapt to fluidity in my schedule. But I still don’t like wasting time.

We have a clock in every room of our house, and I even wear a timepiece on my wrist to make sure I keep to specified deadlines. I’m a task-oriented person. If I don’t have a running list of goals to accomplish, I feel at loose ends, unproductive, lazy . . . like I’m wasting time. Vacations for personal pleasure and decadence feel wasteful of . . . time.

How about the word “busy”? What does that mean? If someone calls me on the phone and asks, “Are you busy?” I never know how to answer that. I’m always doing something—even if it’s resting:  I’m busy resting or reading or cleaning my house or praying with someone. I’m not sitting on the couch staring off into space, catatonic. A better question might be, “May I interrupt what you’re doing?”

So what does wasting time mean, exactly? Is use the opposite of waste? If I waste food, it means I don’t use it up. But what if I have an excessive amount of it? Do I share it? Freeze it? Or throw it in the garbage? How do I waste water? I suppose that depends on my region. If I live in an arid climate, the definition might be quite different if I lived in a rain forest. How about wasted opportunities? That’s a harder concept. Sometimes we’re limited by our resources or our emotional state or our internal drives.

When does “relaxing” morph into “wasting”? And where in all this discussion does balance come in?

Okay, I’m done with the rambling in my head. Anyone want to weigh in?

Do you want to get well?

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6 NIV).

From my 2012 Journal. The story of Jesus healing the disabled man at the Pool of Bethesda intrigues me. This place was a hotbed of sick folks. Did Jesus heal anyone else there that day, or did He single this man out? The Scripture doesn’t say if Jesus approached him first or if the man spoke first, but it says that Jesus SAW him there and LEARNED that he’d been in this condition for years.

Astonishingly, Jesus asks him, “Do you want to get well?” What if the man had said, “No”? How foolish we would have thought him. Of course he wanted to be well—that’s why he was at the healing pool in the first place. Yet, the question isn’t quite so odd as one might think. It’s human nature not to like change—even if it’s good for us. We do a lot of “choice” work in our ministry: Are you willing to let go of your anger? Are you willing to feel the pain? Are you willing to explore why you’re medicating with alcohol?

I don’t recall any record of Jesus asking anyone else this same question, Do you want to get well? Normally the hurting person initiates the request for healing (remember blind Bartimaeus?). A client is in my office because she’s made the choice to seek healing. I rarely approach a stranger and ask if she wants to get rid of her pain. Sometimes I’ve tested a person’s sincerity by asking, “If there was a way for you to get healed, would you want to know how?”

The crippled man’s answer is also astonishing. Instead of replying yes or no, he jumps to the defense. “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me” (v. 7). (Implied: Duh, of course I do, but I don’t know how.) The Healer is in his presence, but the paralytic is looking to another source for pain removal. (“And how’s that working for you?” we sometimes ask a client.)

People go to counselors and doctors and friends and give their excuses and complaints about feeling bad, when all along The Master Healer is waiting for them to turn to the Him–the only one who has the power to heal.

Do you want to get well? What’s your excuse for not pursuing the Healer?

How to Make a Good Decision

From my 2012 Journal. I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out, but once I did, following these protocols for making a decision has saved me a bucket load of embarrassment and regret.

  1. When faced with a double-bind, work through your feelings about each side individually, one at a time. Once you feel at peace no matter which side you choose, your solution will be much clearer to your rational mind. Emotions cloud your ability to choose wisely. (If you need help working through your feelings, give me a call!)

Example: If I choose Option A (accept a new job offer), I’ll feel some fear. If I choose Option B (stay with my present job), I’ll feel some regret.

  1. Want to know God’s will? Make no decision to move forward until you’re at peace about it first. Then you’ll be able to hear God’s voice more clearly.

Example: A classmate of mine in college felt great angst about his passion to become a missionary pilot. Somewhere he’d bought into the lie that God would never give him the desires of his heart; he was afraid that God was just testing him. It seemed obvious to me that it was God who had given him the passion in the first place, and I told him so, but I didn’t know then how to help him work through his emotions.

  1. Never confront someone, write a letter, or send an email or text while you’re triggered. You’ll say stupid things you’ll regret, and the cleanup from the mess you create will be harder and take longer. Always come to peace in your heart first, and then say what you have to say. (I’m speaking from experience here, folks.)

Example: I doubt if you need one. We’ve all done it!