NO Shame on Me!

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Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered by shame.  Psalm 34:5

Ever think about the role that shame has played in your life? No, probably not.  It’s not a topic that we like to spend time on.  But it is there, trust me, it is there.  And it is probably playing a bigger role than you may realize. Shame, and its cousin, fear of shame, are powerful forces often directing what we do or don’t do and the way we do it.  It is an important thing to think about because a life driven by shame is never a life driven by love.

In considering this topic I was able to quickly come up with a list of 45 things that cause us to feel shame.  My list is by no means exhaustive and I will spare you the entire thing, but here’s a sample -

We feel shame when:

  • we fail
  • we are rejected
  • we don’t fit in. are different
  • we can’t do what others can
  • we are left alone, not pursued, not chosen
  • we can’t make someone happy
  • we don’t know the right answer
  • we hear “no”
  • our body doesn’t look or perform up to expectations
  • we are betrayed
  • we are abused
  • someone is angry or disappointed with us
  • we are criticized or judged
  • we are laughed at
  • we are weak

Now, when these kinds of things happen to us we may be more aware of feeling hurt, angry or fearful, but underneath those feelings there really is shame.  And shame is really, really painful to feel so we default to other emotions as we seek to keep the shame at a distance.

It is so important to tune into the shame. Why? Because that shame is attached to something even more deadly that must be exposed.  That shame is attached to a lie.  That lie has power.  Undetected, that lie will control us.  Our lives will be driven by lies and shame-management, not truth and certainly not love.

We can see this happening all through out the scriptures. Before the fall of man Genesis tells us that Adam and Eve were naked and felt no shame.  But after their disobedience immediately their eyes were opened and they saw that they were naked.  Instantly they kicked in to shame-management mode, sewing a few fig leaves together and hiding in the garden.  Later, when confronted by God, Adam employed a new shame-management strategy by blame shifting, pointing the finger at his wife.  Cain killed Abel.  Saul tried to kill David.  Hannah became depressed. Rachel became demanding. Leah compared and competed with her sister, David plotted the death of Uriah, Martha put tasks ahead of relationship, Peter lied, Judas committed suicide – all were engaged in shame-management.

So, what is the lie that is attached to the shame that drives this kind of behavior? The lie is deep and goes to the heart of who we are.  It is not a lie about what we do or have, but it is a lie about our identity.  The lie says we are worthless, a failure, not good enough, too much, unloveable, undesirable.  The lie says we have to change that or at least hide it if we are to have any hope of gaining the love and respect that we crave in this life.  And, oh yes, the lie says that we need that love and respect from other people.  If it doesn’t come, it only proves that we are what the lie says.

These lies breed shame and fear of shame.  The more these lies go undetected, the more easily we fall prey to reacting and living out of our lies.  Our “shame buttons” grow big and life events like those listed above hit them hard and can spin us into shame-management mode in a heart beat.  We end up reacting in ways that we may later regret and only add to our spiraling down into an emotional vortex fueled by lies.

So, what does your shame-management mode look like?  Sometimes we just try harder to get it right, win approval and please others while continuing to beat ourselves up for our failures.  Sometimes it can look like some form of withdrawal.  We go passive, avoid, don’t try, hold back or hide, stay under the radar.  We don’t offer what we have for fear of failure.  Other times we power-up.  Get angry, make others pay.  Shame them for shaming us. We compete to win at any cost. We make others fear us.

Clearly, whatever our shame-management strategies look like, they are not consistent with the life we are called to live, the life of love.  And any attempt to change the strategy without rooting out the lie will be at best short-lived.  To live a life of love we must embrace the truth.

The truth is that if we are “in Christ” we a have a new identity. (2 Cor. 5:17)  We are chosen, made holy and dearly loved. (Eph.1:4,5) Our lives have purpose, value and meaning regardless of what we have, look like or can do. (Eph. 2:10)  Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not our failures, not the rejections of men, not our inability to do it all right and make everyone happy. (Romans 8:38-39)

Of course, our Savior, Jesus, can empathize with us when we face those shaming moments.  Can you imagine a more shame-filled experience than going to the cross as he did? Betrayed by a friend, abandoned by other friends, lied about, publicly mocked and beaten, stripped naked, humiliated.  Yet, Hebrews tells us that Jesus “despised the shame”. What that means is more than he hated it.  It means he disregarded it.  It had no power over him. He did not go into shame-management mode, but was driven by love to meet our need.  He could do this because he knew who he was.  He believed the truth and lived it out.

Because Jesus believed the truth and lived it out he made it possible for us to do the same.  In this life we are guaranteed that painful moments where we will feel unloved and disrespected will come, but we too can endure those moments, disregarding the shame.  It need not have any power over us or how we respond. The lies may come knocking at the door, bringing their company of shame, but we need not let them in.  With the aid of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ Spirit, we can hang onto the truth of our new identity, significance and security in Christ and live out a loving, beautiful and radiant life.

Pushing Through the Pain

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“God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out.  He’s treating you as dear children.  This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children.  Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves.  Would you prefer and irresponsible God?…God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best.”

Hebrews 12:4-11

So, I thought it would be a good idea to start going to the gym.  You know, lose a few pounds, try to keep my middle-aged back forty from becoming the back sixty.  Work on turning my chicken wing biceps that flap in the breeze into actual muscle.  Tighten things up that are currently loose; shore up parts that have long since taken on the texture of of jello and cottage cheese.  I thought it would be a good idea.

You see,  one of the perks of this particular gym is a “free” hour with a professional trainer.

Yea, sure.  I’m a sucker for “free”.  Let’s do it.

Eight-o’clock Wednesday morning I met with Dane, a seemingly nice young man, relatively the age of my own son.  I assumed he would put me on a treadmill, have me do a few weight machines.  Start this aging body at an easy pace and work up to things, right?

Wrong.

For an hour Dane had me lifting and lunging, stretching, pulling, pushing, bending, twisting, jumping and squatting. About thirty minutes in Dane didn’t seem quite so nice anymore. Apparently he had mistaken me for someone who actually wanted to get in shape. (Never mind that this is what I had told him prior to this session.)

The following day I realized that the term “free” in this case was relative only to money as I was paying dearly for the hour of training. In my mind Dane had grown horns and a pointy tail. Surely he had been trying to kill me.  Muscles used for everyday activities like moving from standing to sitting or vice versa and walking up and down stairs were now screaming that I was a total idiot for trusting him. Others parts of my anatomy that had obviously not been heard from in years joined the cacophony letting me know that they were quite content to be flabby, soft and loose.  After all, the status quo wasn’t that bad was it?

Wednesday I met with a trainer with the intention of improving my physical shape. Thursday my flesh was in rebellion, throwing out plenty of seemingly justified reasons to drop out.  After all, the cost in terms of pain and work was more than I thought I should or could pay.

I don’t know about you, but I find that my spiritual “flesh” has a similar reaction to spiritual training.

I want to get in good spiritual shape. I want to grow, exhibit more love, more peace, more patience.  So, trainer Jesus says, “Okay, let’s do it.”  Then he brings to me people who try my patience and are irritating and asks me to love them.  He allows difficult and confusing circumstances to come my way and asks me to trust him. He permits unkindness and injustice to touch me and tells me to forgive.  He doesn’t take away the pain, but keeps on pushing, pushing me beyond what seems kind or reasonable.

My “flesh” rebels.  Jesus doesn’t feel like a friend.  He’s starting to look like trainer Dane.

And then the Spirit whispers through the Word:

“My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines the child he embraces he also corrects.”

Hebrews 12 (The Message)

Jesus reminds me that in the moment no training seems pleasant.  It feels more like punishment, but in the end it results in the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

You see God’s grace is free.  Salvation, acceptance and love is free.  But spiritual maturity takes training, work and pain. Trouble is, I want it to be free and easy, just like I want to be physically fit, but I don’t want it to cost me ache and struggle and sweat.

But in those quiet moments, when I am alone with trainer Jesus I find that I truly want something more than the easy life.  I want to know Him, walk with Him and bear the fruit of His righteousness in my life. Hearing “Well done” will be worth the struggle. I am encouraged to continue in the training He sends and to push through the temptation to quit.

You see Jesus isn’t just a trainer standing by me, urging me on.  He is the trainer IN me, giving me strength, enabling me to do what I didn’t think I could.  And that makes all the difference.

 

 

 

 

The Only Thing That Matters: Part 2 – Get the Log Out!

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I have a fair number of people in my life who are easy to love.  They are kind, considerate, humble and thoughtful.  They are trustworthy and honest.  I can count on them to care. However, aside from their example of loving well, these folks have not been the source of my biggest lessons in learning to love well.  Those lessons have come to me from those who have hurt, frustrated and annoyed me.  It is through rubbing shoulders with these people that my lack of love has most clearly been exposed.

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus is recorded as saying,

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven….If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than other?  Do not even pagans do that ?”  (Matt. 5:44-47)

How quick I can be to impatience, anger and harshness toward those who don’t come through for me or those who are impatient, angry or harsh toward me.  I can rationalize in a second an ungodly response and feel so justified in acting it out.  After all, look how I was treated!

But this is not the person I want to be.  No, I want to be like Jesus who when he was mistreated continued to love and to give, entrusting himself to the Father. He did not repay evil for evil or insult with insult, but with blessing. To this we are also called.

Matthew goes on to record some help from Jesus in this whole matter of loving others.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in  your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye, when all the time there is a log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly how to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:3-5)

Jesus says when offended the first order of business is not judgement, but self-examination.  Only a look in the mirror at my own tendency toward sinful self-centered living will humble me enough to help my brother.

For me that mirror has revealed three logs that I think are essential for us to remove so that we can be freed to love those who hurt or offend us.  The first is what I call “The Log of Coveting”.

To covet something is to have an inordinate or wrongful desire for something that you do not have.  We often desire things from others that in and of themselves are not bad. We desire love, acceptance, co-operation, communication, help, encouragement, time, thoughtfulness and a host of other positive things. So often however we can move beyond mere desire to demanding that others provide these things when and in the manner we want them. We wrongly believe that we NEED the things that we want. Our good desires become self-centered coveting.

Coveting always leads to demanding behavior toward others when they fail to give us what we want.  We can get angry and harsh or withdraw and seek to silently punish our offenders.  We can manipulate others into feeling guilty or shame them outright for their failure to love us well.  Our love is given on the condition that we are being loved as we want.

To love well I must repent from my coveting. I must keep my desires in their rightful place and not allow them to become demands on others.  Ultimately I must trust God to fulfill my desires as He see fit for me.  He alone really knows what I need and maybe my greatest NEED is to learn to love like Jesus.  This can only be done as I face disappointment and the frustration of my desires and learn to respond with grace, mercy and kindness.  With the Log of Coveting out of my eye I can see better how to love and serve my brother.

Next time we will examine the other two “logs” that get in the way of our loving well: The Log of Pride and The Log of Cowardice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Only Thing That Counts: Part 1

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“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.”  Galatians 5:6

Psychologist Erich Fromm has made the following observation:

“Almost everything else is considered to be more important than love:  success, prestige, money, power – all most all our energy is used for the learning of how to achieve these aims and almost none to learn the art of loving.”

The world has in recent years dumbed-down the whole concept of love to one simple mantra: be nice.  Smile. Don’t offend anyone.  Care about the cause-du-jour and you are considered to be a loving person.  As a result, I have believe that we have lost much of the meat of what it really means to live a life of love.  We have lost sight of the beauty, the wonder, the work, the commitment, the sacrifice, the passion, the courage and creativity of what it means to really love others well.

Of course, we might expect this to be true of the secular world. But I wonder if we in the church are doing much better? It has been my observation as a Christian counselor over the last 25 plus years that our concerns about love are often more centered on how others are failing to love us as we think they should rather than on how well we are personally loving others.  What we call “love” often has the hidden agenda of getting others to respond as we desire.  When it fails to achieve that end, we feel somewhat justified in responding in a way that is equal to the way we have been treated. We do unto others as they have done unto us, not as we would have them do unto us. If I am honest, I have to say that I too have fallen into this trap more than I wish were the case.

If it is really true that the ONLY thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love, then this lack of love really reveals a deep lack of faith. If our faith matters to us, then the quality of our love for others must matter just as much.  In fact, I believe it is only with a great depth of faith that we will be enabled to love others, especially when they fail to love us well. When my love needs are met by faith in Jesus, I am freed to love and to give.  No longer do I need to try to squeeze the love I need from a broken and bone-dry world.

Our pastor recently shared this definition of love written by one of his seminary professors, Carl Hock, now gone to glory:

“We may define love as the voluntary giving of oneself for the benefit of another person so that the will of God can be fulfilled in that person’s life.”

This is the kind of love that Christ gave. Willingly.  While we were yet sinners.  He laid down his life for us to show us what love is.  He calls us to this kind of life.  Daily.  He calls us to a life that matters and makes an impact for eternity. So far from simply being nice, this kind of life is a life of willingness to suffer the failure and potential rejection of others while still thinking of their good. It is a life that requires hard thought and prayer and practice, the courage to try and fail and try again.

My next few posts will be dedicated to thinking about how we can move forward in  this quest of learning to love as Jesus did and does.  We will be examining some things that get in the way and look at what will help us to see clearly how to love even those who are failing to love us as we would like.  After all, our faith expressing itself in love counts more than success, prestige, money or power.  It is the only thing that counts for eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rolling With the Punches of Life

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“If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also…Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Luke 6:29,31

It had been one of those days.  The first strike was a negative and unexpectedly harsh reaction to a thought I had offered.  Ouch.  A few hours later another punch came from a different source.  This one in the form of a disappointing decision that will impact me and a few others, simply announced with no explanation or opportunity for dialogue.  Double ouch.

When my face is stinging from the “punches” of life I face a challenge.  My flesh says, no shouts, “Pull in!  Shut down!  Guard your heart. Keep your distance from those who can hurt you.  Make your safety your top priority.  Lick your wounds and for goodness sake, don’t hope for too much from people. They will fail you, turn on you and let you down when you least expect it!”

I must strain to hear the whispers of the Spirit who leads me down a different path – a path I don’t usually feel like going down in the moment.  He gently coaxes me along saying, “Forgive, let it go. Don’t shut down, but find a way to stay engaged. Be kind, be gentle, tenderhearted, longsuffering.  Reach out. Be strong in a way that would most serve them right now. If you really needed these people to be different, I would have given it.  What you need is Me and what I choose to provide for you. I will provide what you need to honor them and Me in this situation.”

To be honest, at times I don’t want to handle things well, I just want to be angry or protect myself. I want to react in ways that are all about me.  But God is faithful and He just won’t let me get away with this, at least not for very long.  He continues to pursue me until I give in.  He knows what I most need and what I need is to put to death my fleshly responses and live according to His Spirit.  When I give its some thought, down deep, this is what I really want most too.

It is by this Spirit that I find the power to respond in love when I experience the punches of life. This is no easy thing and I certainly don’t do it perfectly, but those moments when I have tapped into His power and been enabled to stay engaged with those who hurt or disappoint me or been enabled to give to those from whom I would rather run have been moments of quiet joy.  In the end, I am grateful that the Spirit doesn’t leave me alone, but keeps drawing me to Himself and to do His will even through the punches of life.

Copyright 2013  Lisa L. Heim, MA

If you are in the Grand Rapids/Rockford, Michigan area, please consider joining us on Oct. 1 for The Path class at Blythefield Hills Baptist Church 9:30AM or 7PM.  To register go to: www.bhbconline.org/women 

 

Miley, Madonna and Me: What The Three of Us Have In Common

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“Why spend your money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” Isaiah 55:2

Much ado has been made of Miley Cyrus’ recent appearance on a music video awards show. I did not personally see the show.  However, based on all the facebook posts, blogs and TV commentator remarks that I have seen and heard, the former Hannah Montana star has traded in her Disney image for a new and shocking, sexually provocative persona.

Some have categorized Miley’s performance as a desperate grab for attention resulting from over-indulgent and permissive parenting.  While this may be true, I have no information about how she has been parented.  I actually see something deeper going on here, something to which I can relate.

So what could this middle-aged pastor’s wife, mother and bible teacher possibly have in common with this young, pop music video star?  In a word (or two), hunger and thirst.

I believe that Miley and I are, down deep, asking the same questions.  “Am I lovable?  Does anybody want me?  Am I special and valuable?  What can I do and who do I have to be to be loved, wanted and special?”  We hunger and thirst and strive to gain the answers to these questions that we long to hear.

Miley’s counterpart from my generation, Madonna, put it this way in an interview,

“I have an iron will and all of my will has always been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy…I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being and then I get to another stage and think I’m mediocre and uninteresting…again and again.  My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre.  And that’s always pushing me, pushing me.  Because even though I’ve become somebody, I still have to prove that I’m somebody.  My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.”

You see, as women I think we are all asking these same questions and are longing to hear “Yes! You are loved, you are special and valuable!”  And so we too are driven in many ways to seek the answer we long to hear.  We take whatever “assets” we  have – our bodies, talents, gifts, abilities and skills and present them to our world hoping to hear the answer that will satisfy our deepest hunger and thirst.

My way of doing this may look a lot more moral and “Christian” than Miley or Madonna, but I still do it.  I try to find a way to perform that will draw the affection, attention or approval that I crave.  But, I have come to see that when I do so I am “spending money on what is not bread and my labor on what does not satisfy.”  I am trying to get the needs of my soul met apart from God.

While I do not condone the behavior of Miley or Madonna, I do see them with compassion. They are sheep without a shepherd.  They are desperately seeking to get their needs met by a world that will always demand more and more and never satisfy.

Yes, Miley, Madonna and I have something in common.  The big difference between us is not that I am morally superior.  I am not.  The difference is I have been rescued from this futility by the Good Shepherd who has claimed me as His own.  He is the one who quenches my thirst and fills my hunger – not because I have been good enough, and performed well enough, but because He is good.

My prayer is that someday Miley and Madonna will also come to know the God who cries out to his people in Isaiah 55:1-2.

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.  Why spend your money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.”

 

 

Book Review: Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman

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Recently I did an impromptu poll of my facebook friends asking what they saw as the biggest issues of insecurity for women.  The vast majority said something like, “feeling like I’m not enough, not good enough, not pretty enough, not doing enough.”

I too resonate with these feelings.  As the consummate “good girl”  I spent a vast portion of my life seeking to please and perform, fearing the exposure of my inadequacy and the rejection that would bring. My life was characterized more by striving than by rest, hiding more than vulnerability, self-protection more than love, shame more than joy.

In her book Grace for the Good Girl, Emily Freeman wisely and brilliantly connects with the hearts of good girls like me.  Speaking from her own journey out of the pressure of being good into the grace of a deeper walk with Jesus, Freeman gently leads us to face the truth about ourselves and into finding the rest for which we so deeply long.

The first section of the book is dedicated to helping the good girl see how she hides behind masks of performance, a good reputation, a fake “fine”, acts of service, spiritual disciplines, strength and responsibility, her comfort zone and indifference. As good girls we know that we are saved and going to heaven by faith, but believe life here and now is all up to us and our ability to manage things. As we compare ourselves to others we feel both less-than resulting in shame and better-than resulting in pride. Yet we live lives of quiet, lonely desperation behind our masks, longing to be free from this pressure, but fear it cannot be.

Freeman then leads us into the truth of what it means to Receive, Remain, Respond and Remember the love of Christ and live out of our identity in Him.  She encourages us in knowing that we always have a choice to believe and act on the truth even when it doesn’t necessarily feel true.  As we choose to believe the truth we can step out from behind our masks, out of our comfort zone and be known because our failures have no power to define us. Only as we depend on the love of Jesus instead of our ability to do it right and please others will we find the freedom and joy that our hearts crave.

This recovering “good girl”  highly recommends Grace for the Good Girl to anyone like me who struggles with depending on her own ability to make like work.  I recommend it to any woman who feels down deep like she is “not enough, not good enough”.  This book will be a cup of cold water for your thirsty soul and will lead you to the Savior who is waiting to offer you His grace.

 

Pick Up Your Pea and Fly!

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Sometimes you see the most amazing things when you least expect them.

A while back my family and I were enjoying dinner on a warm summer evening out on our deck when we were suddenly joined by a normally unwelcome guest.  Likely attracted to the smell of our food, a bee flew in and landed on our table, determined to join the party.

Though usually we would have been seeking to bounce this intruder, this time we watched quietly as he crept toward a large pea that had rolled from my daughter’s plate and onto the table.  The tiny creature intently inspected the pea that had to have been at least equal to his body weight. Then, the amazing happened.

Obviously deciding that this pea was too great of a prize to pass up, the bee decided to pick it up and take it home!  Grasping the pea between his legs and revving up his wings he slowly became airborne. Wobbling a bit under the weight of his treasure, he hovered in place for a few seconds attempting to gain stability and then buzzed toward his hive.  Our jaws dropped as we watched the small green dot fly off and disappear in the distance.

Our family laughed as we imagined the scene back at the hive when the bee arrived with his catch.  “ Wow, did you see what Charlie just brought back?! What a bee!  He’s my hero!”  No doubt “Charlie” was exchanging high-fives with all the others bees and the queen had to be pretty impressed with his feat of strength and determination.

In fact, this little insect puts me to shame.  How many times has God placed something big in my path that looks overwhelming or impossible and I have turned away?  How many times have I focused on my inadequacies or the possibility of failure and held back from what God has called me to do? Fears make excuses so easy to come by.

Whether we are facing a trial, a difficult conversation, a major project, a new ministry opportunity, loving a difficult person, or just being faithful to the daily duties of life, the Lord has told us this:

“I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  John 15:5 (NIV)

And…

I CAN do everything through him who give me strength.”  Philippians 4:13 (NIV)

As we lean into Jesus, remembering his words and his promises we truly can do all that he asks of us.  We can have the confidence and courage of that little bee.  We can pick up our peas and fly!  And there will be a lot of high-fives when we get back to the hive.

copyright  2013  Lisa L. Heim, MA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Performance, Pressure and The Big Fat Lie

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Next week I will be attending my very first conference for women speakers and writers put on by Proverbs 31 ministries near Charlotte, NC.  While I am really excited about learning and growing through what this conference has to offer, to be honest I am also battling a nagging feeling of anxiety and pressure.

You see, I had the nerve to sign up for a speaker coaching group that requires each of the 12 members to give a five minute talk to the group for evaluation and feedback. Gulp!  While I have spoken before groups of women many times in the past it has never been clearly for the purpose of being evaluated.  What was I thinking?!

Nothing like the awareness of being evaluated ramps up the pressure for me.  Will they like me?  What if I don’t have good illustrations?  What if I don’t dress right?  What if I draw a blank in the middle of my talk and don’t have any idea what to say next?  What if? What if? What if?

All those “what ifs” add up to a lot of anxiety and a big knot in my stomach. But wait a minute!  What is all this worry and anxiety telling me?  It is telling me that I have fallen prey  – once again- to a big fat lie.  The lie that I am prone to believe is that my worth is based on my performance.  If I do well, I am acceptable.  If I fail, I am worthy only of rejection and contempt.  Moreover, I believe the lie that I need the acceptance and approval of people to be secure.  It is all up to me to get what I need by my performance. No wonder I feel so much pressure!

I have the opportunity before me to push back against this diabolical lie and embrace the truth. I am God’s dearly loved child, secure in Christ. My acceptance and worth is not in my performance, but is a gift of His love for me. While I certainly desire the approval of people, my needs are met in Christ and I can let Him manage the opinions of others toward me rather than trying to be in control.  I can relax and just give what I can, knowing that he is more pleased by my trusting in Him for my needs than in how I perform.  No matter how things go, He loves me, He’s for me and He and I will grow closer through it all as I take the risk of trusting Him.

I know that I am not alone in the battle against this lie.  It is a common struggle in the lives of many women I know. Whether it is in how well we do our jobs, how we look, our parenting, our housekeeping, our serving or in our spiritual lives we feel the pressure to measure up to the expectations of others, but fear we won’t be able to pull it off.  We sometimes hold back from what God is calling us to do out of fear of failure or we do it under a lot of pressure and anxiety because we are trying to prove our worth through our performance.

My prayer is that we will all seek to embrace the truth of Romans 8:37-39

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In this truth we can rest secure.  As conquerors of The Big Fat Lie we can move ahead with confidence, not in our own abilities to pull it all off, but in the love of Christ for us. With our eyes on Jesus first and others second we can give what we have, no matter how imperfect,  knowing that He is pleased most by our trust in His love.

Conflicted About Conflict? 4 Steps and 10 Tips for Processing This Life Reality

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I grew up in a home where conflict was mostly avoided.  Though there wasn’t a lot of fighting, when it did occur it was ugly, scary and destructive.  We had no resources for processing it well and as a result I believe that left our relationships shallow, unsatisfying and eventually led to some very serious relational breakdown.

I’ve come to believe that all healthy relationships need at least some conflict in order to grow and develop true intimacy.  After all, if two people agree on everything ALL the time at least one of them can’t be trusted to be honest.  Through resolving conflict we learn to think about the needs of others as well as to express our own. Conflict can help us to discover things about ourselves and really can bring us closer to God and to others as we learn to handle it well.

With that in mind, I offer the following thoughts about dealing with conflict that I hope will be helpful to you as you encounter this reality in your life.

1. Consider the source of the conflict.

“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?  Don’t they come from your desires the battle within you?” (James 4:1)

The source is first and foremost internal (me) not external (them). So, the first thing I must deal with is me.  I must ask myself, “What is it that I want that I am not getting?” and “Why is getting that so important to me?”   Remember, the problem is usually not THE problem.  The surface issue, the thing I want, is usually representative of a deeper desire for love or respect.

2. Ask yourself: “How do I respond when I don’t get what I want?”

“You want something, but don’t get it. You kill (think anger) and covet (believe you need it and demand it) but you cannot have what you want.  You quarrel and fight.” (James 4:2)

It is OK to desire. Desire is good, often in regards to our surface desire, but always in regards to our deeper desires for love and respect. It is OK to be disappointed when our desires are not met by people.  It is legitimate to feel this disappointment that can range from mild sadness to deep grief depending on the situation.

It is NOT OK to demand. When we demand we have crossed over from a normal and legitimate desire to the wrong belief that I NEED what I want.  When I am angry that is usually a good clue that I am demanding something from a person or situation rather than trusting God for what is best.

3. Remember who meets your deepest needs for love and respect.

“You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:2-3)

God will always meet our deepest needs.  He may or may not give us what we desire depending on what is best for us. We must learn to trust God with what we desire.

Check your motives as you pray about what you want from the other person.  Are you able to let what you want be a desire that God can be in charge of giving you as He sees fit, or has it crossed the line to becoming a NEED that you are demanding that others (or God) do something about?

4. Since your NEEDS are met by God, you are able to respond to the other person regarding your desire with wisdom and grace.

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

As we trust God for our needs and submit to his control over our desires we are humble people.  He will grant us wisdom about how to respond to the situation.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)

This does not mean that the other person will then respond well.  They may not.  That is OK. You are not responsible for their response to the situation, you are only responsible for yourself.  If they do not respond as you had hoped, you may need to work through these 4 steps again.

Remember, it takes both sides humbling themselves for conflict to be completely resolved.  Therefore, resolving the conflict is not totally within your control.  You are only responsible for yourself and how you respond.

Additional tips for dealing with conflict:

1. Let your desires be known.  Other people can’t read your mind and don’t automatically know what you want. Take the risk to communicate your desires in a clear and respectful manner.

2. Choose wisely which disappointments to address with the person.  If the problem is truly getting in the way of having a good relationship with the individual, then talk about it, but every small thing does not have to be addressed. “Love covers a multitude of sins.” (I Peter 4:8)

3. When you do address problems own your own feelings and struggles. (example: ” I am feeling disappointed about…” or “I am struggling with…” vs. “You make me so angry when you…” or “You always….” or “You never….”)

4. Assume the best motive in the other person rather than the worst motive.  Sometimes people let us down not because they intend to, but because they are distracted with their own lives and maybe just are not thinking clearly and don’t see things from your perspective.     Sometimes we are just unaware of how what we do impacts others round us.

5. Recognize that your current disappointment may be clouded by past wounds. If in the past we have been wounded by others in ways that shaped our thinking about ourselves (i.e.    I don’t matter, I’m worthless, I’m not good enough) we may interpret that others do as affirming those negative feelings even though that is not their intent.  Dealing with those negative feelings about yourself can help take some of the sting out of present disappointments.

6. Forgiveness is crucial in any conflict resolution.  Often this a process that takes time, but we must be IN the process.  Remember, since my NEEDS are always met in Christ and his love for me, people can only touch my desires.  Since this is true, no person has the power to deprive me of what I really need by their failure, therefore, it is possible for me to forgive them.  I need to remember as well my need to be forgiven because I am also the source of disappointment at times.

7. When someone comes to you with their disappointment follow the advice in James 2:19, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”  The best thing to do when this happens is to listen and ask questions to get clarity on what the other person is trying to tell  you. (example: ” Can you tell me more about how that made you feel?”  “What were you hoping for in that situation?” “Help me understand why that was important to you?”)

8. When someone comes to you with their disappointment, DON’T quickly turn the tables on them and point out areas where they have disappointed you. That communicates that you don’t really care about what they are saying. Save your disappointments for another conversation unless you are invited to express them in the moment.

9. When someone comes to you with their disappointment, DON’T quickly apologize in order to end the conversation.  That simply communicates that you don’t want to talk about the situation.  DO take responsibility for what you can – your choices, feelings and behaviors – and be willing to ask for forgiveness where you can honestly see that you were wrong.  If you cannot see where you were wrong in the moment ask for some time to pray about the matter. Usually there is some way I could have said or done something better even if it is a very small thing that I can own.  If after prayer you are still unable to see any wrong in what you have done, you may have to be content with disagreement in the situation.  You can still show empathy for the other person’s feelings even if you would not change the way you did or said something.

10. Learn to accept that there will differences and disagreements in the way that you each see and do things simply because you are different people who are uniquely wired in your own way. (example: I am a detail person and my husband is not.) That is OK.  You are each allowed to have your own perspective on things and it is not necessary to make the other person see or do things your way.  But, by all means, try to understand the other person’s perspective even if you cannot agree with it.

Copyright 2013, Lisa L. Heim, MA, LPC