The Other Side Of The Wall

We can never, never, fully experience everything another person in this world experiences. It doesn’t matter if you’re the same age, race, gender, nationality, social class….you can never experience everything because you are a different person than they are. Different family history, family structure, personality, talents, etc.

But, you can experience the same feelings. In the last post I wrote about watching loved ones getting ready to hit the wall. I wrote that it’s like watching them in slow motion as they are about to hit rock bottom, and there’s nothing you can do. And it’s extremely hard to watch. However, there is a gift that comes from going through pain. Actually, I believe there are a few gifts that come from going through the pain of anything including hitting the wall. One of those is being able to experience the emotions and feelings going through that painful experience. God created us. He created us in His image. He has feelings and emotions. It is clear in scripture that God experiences anger. His wrath is an expression of that. He has compassion. We see that in a few places, such as growing a plant to shade Jonah from the sun, even though Jonah is living in his own dysfunction. He delights in (or is joyful over ) us. Spend a few minutes reading and you will find many more examples of God and His emotions.

One of the gifts I believe we have through pain is being able to relate to those who are feeling the same emotions we did. If you’ve ever hit the wall, rock bottom, a crisis of limitations, you know how painful it is to watch others head down that road. A similar road, perhaps, you have been down before. It is painful to watch, to receive the rejection at times, from their dismissal of your warning. It’s hard to see people you love go through something that may, may, have been avoided.

God has us go through painful times to learn many lessons. Those lessons are usually about either Him or us. Coming out on the other side, we have a better understanding of who we are, who He is, and who we are in Him. And, those same emotions we felt during that crisis, during that pain, enable us to relate to others. They enable us to come alongside others who are going through similar crises.

Those times are not moments for “I told you so; I tried to warn you but you wouldn’t listen.” No, no shame. Those times are for sitting with the person hurting, confused, lost, in the fog, defeated…broken. Sitting with them. Listening. And empathizing with them. Meeting them in the emotions. That, that sitting, that is a gift. Jesus does that with us when we come to Him in those same times. When we are confused, lost, sitting in the forest unclear where to go next.

Paul sat in a time of confusion, instantly blinded and thrust into full dependence on the people he tried to kill, thrust into total dependence on the Body of Christ. God listened to Moses in those moments as well, allowing him to feel, to speak to God openly. That is a gift. To be that deeply engaged with someone and connect on that level, is something that is beautiful, priceless, holy. And being able to connect on that level with the Creator, the Builder of the universe and time, it’s a gift worth accepting and acting upon.

Will you sit in that with Him? Allow yourself to be open and honest with Him? Will you sit with someone who has hit the bottom? Will you use your gift-your experience to be Jesus to someone else? There is great healing and power in that act.

be blessed today

The Sin Of This Modern Era and What We Can Do About It

Ed Stetzer tweeted in June, “In the last 5 days: 700 refugees drowned off Greece, 9000 babies were aborted in U.S., and 68 were shot in Chicago…and a gorilla dominated the news.”

There is this subtle sin that has crept in the world and grown in power the past several years. Sadly, the Church has not been immune to it. What is it? The subtle deadly sin of disengagement.

Why are we so disengaged?

Let’s look at what has happened in recent history. In the last ten years the Iphone, Ipad and cloud computing have taken the world by storm. We are more connected in more ways than any, ANY other generation in the world…. ever. We are more interconnected as a human race than we ever have been before. But the world has changed in other ways as well. More fighting, more wars, more tension, more offense, more distraction and more taking sides. I wish I could say this was only outside the Church, but you and I both know it is happening in every religion, every country and in every nation. And yes, that includes those who are following Jesus.

I’m thankful and grateful for modern technology. I am. I can send videos to my friends back home in the States in milliseconds. I can communicate, in real time, with anyone I want no matter where they are in the world with an internet connection. I have files stored in a server thousands of miles away from where I live. I can listen to any music I want, watch any movies or shows I want, and keep track of how many minutes of sleep I get a day. I can publish a book, on my own, and have it sent worldwide in a few hours. It’s unbelievable.

And it’s distracting. Simultaneously, we are the most engaged and the most disengaged generation in history. We are the most engaged- engaged with knowledge that is. But, completely disengaged with reality. Disengaged with life, people, living human beings. Disengagement, it seems, is the sin of this modern era.

Second, it seems this way especially when looking at current political circus in the States, it’s clear that there is something darker going on. There is an underlying idea that the world is going to Hell, everything is falling apart, but we as Christians will be ok. The idea that we need to circle up the wagons, grab our guns and protect ourselves. And at the same time, held in tension, there’s this idea that we’ll be ok, so let those who don’t know Christ die knowing that their eternity is uncertain…as long as we’re ok.  It’s the, “I’m in, you’re not; I win, you lose. Sayonara,” mentality that for whatever reason the Church just can’t shake. I’m not saying that everyone in the Church believes this. But there are those who do, and no matter how small they may be in number, they seem to be the loudest.

How have others been engaged?

We have disengaged from the “least of these.”  If we’ve done it to the abandoned, forgotten ones in the world, we’ve done it to Christ, Matthew 25. But there are examples of engagement.

God reveals to us that we are to be active participants. Think of Esther in the Old Testament standing up for her people before the king. Think of four simple fishermen who were content doing just that the rest of their lives until someone showed them the Truth. Peter, Andrew James and John became active participants in the world and did not sit by and let it fall apart. In recent history we can think of so many more….Mother Teresa, Martin Luther, William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Lyman Stewart, Amy Charmichael and more.  These people did not say “Sayonara” to the world. They became actively engaged in being a part of its redemption history.

Taking an honest look at ourselves

Let’s look at the Church in a couple of areas. First is social justice. To be fair, we are considered aliens in the world. So, it is hard to look around and not allow the thankfulness of our salvation in Christ to turn into some sort of prideful sneer towards someone who does you wrong. It’s hard not to feel some sort of weird justification when something bad or hard happens to someone who was hurtful to you. We want justice but only in those things we deem important. When we look at social justice or fighting for justice to those oppressed innocently, it seems that the Church in many ways does this well. And I am so grateful for this.

But in other areas, we as the Church fall way short. Even now I hear from fellow believers in my home country, this attitude of “Well, that is unfortunate for you. You should work harder, be stronger, get over that, move on.” We fail to see that many things in life aren’t up to us. Many things aren’t something we can just get over or work harder at. They aren’t things we can immediately, from out of no where, become stronger in. Many of us are completely powerless to either situations or privileged people.

Go to any Alcoholics Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Over-Eaters Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery or any other recovery type of meeting and you will soon see people who are unable to just “get over it.” I honestly believe there is no difference between the ones who attend those meetings and everyone else except for one thing- the ones who attend those meetings know how helpless they are and how much they are in need of a Savior. The other group of people would probably have a hard time admitting that.

Second is the area of knowing versus doing. David Fitch in his book “The End of Evangelicalism?”   writes, “the ‘inerrant Bible’ allows us to believe we have the truth while at the same time remaining distant from actually engaging in it as a way of life. We assent unabashedly to the perfect book without it truly meaning anything. It acts as an “ideological fantasy” wherein we live in a projected world where we can believe we have the truth, but in real life have to make little or no changes to the way we live.”

I admit that I have given give into the selfish desire to become judgmental and disengaged at times as well. Knowing I have the Truth and no one else does gives me a sense of power and of judgment. It gives the idea that because I know the Truth, there’s no reason for me to change. Knowledge somehow gives us power and control…. we think. We are still grasping for control and think we can do a better job than He can. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be people burning out, falling from moral failure, blindly sticking with one political group, having more protests about what they are against rather than what they are for, among other things. But knowledge doesn’t cause us to become engaged.

And third, the area of spectators versus participants. In recovery groups there’s a level of grace towards one another that is unmatched to almost any other group of believers that I’ve ever been in. Why? Because those in recovery all understand that they are in the same sinking ship in this world. Citizens of the world or citizens of heaven, we were all born into this fallen place. It’s what we choose to do with this time while here that counts. Giving grace and living a life of honesty, vulnerability and forgiveness allows us to transcend the boundary between disengaged spectators and participators. Spectators watch the world fall apart like they’re watching a movie in a theater. Participators are the ones who are scratched, beaten and bloody because they decide jump in the pit and help those who need it.

What do we do now?

So, how do we stop this and start becoming engaged with the world?

First, spend time in reflection asking that the Spirit reveal to you areas in which you have been disengaged. If you think you haven’t been, that’s a good sign that you probably have. Then as those areas come to mind, seek forgiveness. This is not a one time reflection, but an ongoing one.

Second, for those who have lived a life of engagement listed earlier, and the countless others, it came down to a decision. A decision to become active. Willing to face the pain and suffering around them and become “one” with those in the midst of it. They went against the trends of the culture they were in. Becoming engaged with the world is starting to see faces, eyes, of those suffering. Not just read headlines.

Third, it begins with looking around your world and finding the suffering that is around you. Looking up from your phone, laptop and tablet, and seeing the world for what it really is. Not the digital world we have become too comfortable living in.

Fourth, becoming engaged starts with being honest with your own emotions and acknowledging the feelings of those around you. Just like Christ did. The women at the well, the oppression of the merchants in the temple, the lame man unable to get to angelic pool to become healed just to name a few. He empathized by being honest with what He had gone through in order to engage with those in pain around Him. He wept.

By becoming engaged with the world and not just informed about it, we are living out that second commandment of loving our neighbor like our self; and, almost on divine accident, the first like it, loving our Lord our God with all of our heart, all of our soul and all of our mind. May we be known as the generation that engaged the world for Christ.

be blessed today

 

 

 

Photo Credit: http://www.kickvick.com/21st-century-photos/

Do You Have The Courage For Empathy?

There have been several times where I’ve had no words. There are some people who might find that hard to believe about me (I tend to talk a lot), but it’s true. At times I have been known to hustle-try to make myself look better in others eyes by providing some sort of “wisdom” or “advice.” But what it amounted to was me simply floating, fading, smoke filled words to build my ego, or at least save face.

There’s been a series of ads run in the U.S. from a help line for those who are dealing with family members struggling with substance abuse. The commercials usually have two people chatting, one obviously upset about something and the other simply there. The person struggling reveals that their child has a drug problem and then the other person doesn’t know what to say. Or perhaps worse, says something very similar to what I mentioned I do above. The commercials premise is great, helping people help their family members by giving them tools and resources.  But, it seems to be lumping two  very important things together that should never be linked.  Empathy and Sympathy.

I used to hand out sympathy left and right to people. To me, sympathy was pity. Sympathy can also mean having compassion, but often times to show someone sympathy is to show them pity. To say that they are lesser than, weaker than, worse off than myself or yourself, that’s pity. Knowing that I love Jesus and Jesus loves me, I walked around with some sort of arrogant pride in the love Christ has for me, and therefore had pity on other people. Perhaps it was simply my Western, White, American mind that had pity on those who had less than me. Perhaps that is why I still struggle with it. Perhaps, but that’s for another post.

To have pity on someone, only, is to simply put yourself above them. To have pity, only, is to feel bad because they feel bad. That isn’t compassion, that is co-dependency. Jesus showed compassion to others around Him. He wept because He was so overcome with compassion. Even God showed compassion on Jonah in the midst of Jonah’s judgemental pity on Ninevah, by letting a giant weed grow to provide Jonah shade from the hot sun. Jobs friends, on the other hand, had nothing to offer. They didn’t really seem to listen to Job. They simply handed out their advice and in the end, said it was all Jobs’ fault. Not only was this not true, it also wasn’t compassion. It was pity.

Having empathy is something a bit different. Empathy is trying to relate to another person, tying to see what is going on from their perspective, trying to have an idea of what they are going through. I wrote about my daughter last week, grieving saying goodbye to her school and friends she may never see again. I had compassion because she was really hurting. And I also had empathy because I have had to say goodbye to people I knew, not knowing if I would ever see them again. I had to be real, honest and vulnerable with myself in my emotions in saying goodbye to those I knew and loved in order for me to relate and have compassion for my daughter. And I had to dig deep into myself to find the same feeling that she was having.

My sister in law passed away unexpectedly three years ago. Iris was in the middle of grief and mourning. So was I. But, understandably so, Iris’ grief was far deeper than mine. This was her older sister. She shared a room with her growing up. She learned from her, watched her, and spent most of her life with her up until she met me. I had lost all four of my grandparents years ago, and that was a time of grieving for me. But I was young, and both of my siblings are still alive. So, I didn’t know how to relate or even understand what Iris was going through.I hadn’t had that experience. So, what was the only option? Sympathy?

Sympathy as compassion, yes. But not pity. Her walking down this road was also the beginning of my journey of understanding what I was feeling and allowing myself to feel. Thankfully, I was able to lean into my support system of friends, coaches, spiritual directors and others. God began a work in me to become more in touch with my feelings, why I was feeling them and what they were. This also came about from starting down the road of recovery. Sitting in meetings, talking with people and hearing their stories allowed me to dig deep and find those same feelings from past experiences in my own life. What I learned was that simply listening to her, acknowledging what she was feeling and honestly saying I had no idea what to say, was the most empathetic response I could have given. And she was thankful for me sitting in the midst of the darkness with her.

But digging deep, just like loving, is a process that brings about pain. Empathizing with someone going through a hard situation means you are tapping into the same feelings you had after going through a painful situation. We don’t like pain, because, well, it’s pain. It hurts. But when we have the courage to dig deep, be vulnerable and honest with ourselves and tap into those feelings, the joy of building relationship comes through. Empathy and compassion build relationship. Sympathy in the form of pity drives wedges between people. It holds others at an arms distance because we are too afraid to dig deep into ourselves to find those same feelings.

Empathy does not only come in hard times, but also in joyful times. Empathizing with someone when they are joyful of a pregnancy, marriage or promotion can also happen even if we have never experienced those exact things. But again, it comes with digging deep and being honest with ourselves. And even those times of joy can come om pain.

Jesus empathized and showed compassion. Though He was the most courageous of all, my prayer is that we strive for the same courage of our Savior.

Be Courageous. Be honest. Dig deep.

be blessed

 

Photo Credit: http://weheartit.com/entry/13536737

High Horses and Humanity

I really hate acknowledging my flaws. It is laying myself out there to be vulnerable to other people who, in turn, can use those flaws against me.  But that is the risk of being vulnerable.

One of the things I find frustrating about myself is when I look at someone judgmentally, I expect that when it’s their turn to look at me, they will do so with a tad bit of grace  “Vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me, but the first thing I look for in you,” as Brene Brown wrote in her book Daring Greatly.I expect great things of others all the while never holding myself up to those same standards.

Sitting in my first ever large group recovery meeting, surrounded by people dealing with their own stuff was an interesting experience for me. People openly sharing about what they are struggling with, dealing with…the mess they are in. And yet, there wasn’t any judgement. As I started down my own journey of understanding my dysfunctions, hurts and habits, someone very wise told me that “it doesn’t matter what everyone else is dealing with- control, pride, alcohol, sex or drugs- everyone’s stuff weighs the same.”

When we begin to realize that their is no hierarchy as to who is more messed up than us or who has sinned more than us, we remove the judgement and start to replace it with grace. We see them (and maybe more importantly, ourselves) as human. Again, humanity is a high value of mine.

This goes along with something I recently read in Brene Brown’s latest book, Rising Strong, in which she puts it far more succinctly. She states that people, no matter what dysfunction or perceived health they are operating in, are simply living the best way they know how at the moment. Be it the politician spewing hatred about other religions or the religious fanatic who believes killing is the only way to “heaven;” the person who looks like they have the whole world at their fingertips but is dying inside to the other stealing a loaf of bread from the store because they haven’t had enough money to eat in weeks; they are only doing the best they know how. Without allowing the Spirit to examine our lives and walking through the pain to hand over lordship to Christ, we can never experience, nor expect, full healing. If we’ve never understood what it is that Christ has done for us and having courage to make amends for wrongs we’ve committed, we can never understand forgiveness. We cannot fully live in freedom.

If we are able to come to a place where we see other as doing the best we can, grace can come much easier. When we look at each other in grace suddenly we see them as human. We see ourselves as human. We are able to accept the grace God has given us. And we are much more able to show compassion. I am in no way implying that it will no longer be a struggle nor grace will always be the first response, but grace will more easily come if we stop and remember that they are human…just like we are.

Our perspective on our neighbors, family members, co-workers, other ethnicities and other cultures will begin to change as we see each other through the lens of grace. Grace brings freedom, love and empathy. Judgement brings bondage, worry, fear and hatred. My prayer for each of us is see others through a lens of grace more and more each day.

Do you have a story of how you’ve experienced judgement and grace? What was the outcome of each? May you be blessed as we grow in Christ.