Archive for March, 2013

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It Wasn’t Worth It

March 31, 2013

Recently, I was playing golf on one of the more challenging courses in our area. My partner hit his ball over the water (almost) and it skipped off the surface into the weeds under a foot bridge. From my angle, I could see much more accurately where it came to rest, so I offered to go under and get it. His words to me were prophetic, something I wish I had known.

He said, “Don’t bother Mike…it’s not worth it”.

foot bridgeIgnoring him, I hiked down to the level where I saw the ball settle. Carefully, I plucked it out of the little mud hole it was in. My partner had been skeptical I could get it out, so I was excited to show off my retriever skills. In my haste, I forgot something.

I was under a bridge.

I stood up quickly to tell him I had the ball in the palm of my hand and the top of my head thunked into the bottom of the bridge support; the METAL bridge support. It hardly had any give to it, which is something I can’t say for the top of my head.

As I yelped with pain, I took a step backward and my right leg went entirely into the water.  My golf shoe sunk into the mud quickly and it took all my personal finesse to get my leg out with the shoe still hanging on the end of it. So now I am wet on one side of my body, aching on the top of my head and dizzy from the concussion. I staggered up the incline toward the cart path. My partner came over and asked me what caused my yelping and groaning. When I told him the short, sad story he repeated his earlier comment:

“It wasn’t worth it Mike.”

I ended up with four days of concussion symptoms and on top of it all, I had to buy the world’s most expensive sports socks in the clubhouse. After the fog cleared, I had time to ponder my escapade and something occurred to me. We could use that prophetic statement a lot in life.

We tend to wander through life with very little thought given to how a small action or attitude can affect the rest of our lives. But if you look at the major events of your life, most of them are predicated on a number of very small, seemingly insignificant, decisions.

Proverbs 14:12 capsulizes the essential idea of this:

“There is a way that appears to be right,
    but in the end it leads to death.”

It takes me all of thirty seconds to think of dozens of examples of this. A couple has an extra-marital affair, sharing a few hours of sexual pleasure and, in the end, this tryst can ruin their marriages, livelihood and can even end in death. An hour in a Las Vegas casino may seem like a short period of time, but it can empty out even a substantial bank account. A casual decision to shoplift, a spontaneous lie, an angry outburst in traffic, a rash investment, a one-night stand, a day of playing hooky, a resentment coddled for one day too long; all of these can produce wickedly harmful results, even though they take almost no time to indulge.

What is the antidote to these fast mistakes?

It is healthy to wake up in the morning and say, “I need to be careful out there. Not everything is worth doing.”

It is even healthier to wake up and decide, “I am going to consult God before making decisions today.”

It is healthiest to wake up in the morning and invite God to fill us to overflowing and then to allow His presence to guide all our steps.

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God Can Help you With Money

March 29, 2013

A Helping HandWe now come to the two most popular posts in the past 10 years on this blog. This one (#2) was posted just last year , but already it has been viewed over 15,000 times. The truth is this: Knowing God will change your finances.

In a nutshell: He doesn’t help us with our finances, if by “help”, you mean that God will swoop down and rescue you from financial disaster. God wants to be our partner in everything in life, and that would not be a partnership at all.

However, God does give huge support in our financial endeavors. In the lifestyle we call “following God”, we recognize that everything we do in this world can be a partnership with God. With regards to money,  I can see at least eight ways God can give us long-term support with our finances:

1. Wisdom: There are thousands of traps out there ready to waste our money, steal our money and cause us to lose our money through negligence. Twice in the past five years, people have come to me with incredible investment opportunities. Both times, the risk seemed low and the rewards considerable. Both times, God sent people to me who gave me advice on why I should not go with either investment. Each of these investments went through bizarre disasters, and I would have lost most of what I owned if I had gone with either of them.

2. Defeating the Waste of Self-Absorption: We often think that we don’t have enough money. That is sometimes true (especially of those who live in third-world poverty). For the most part, we have enough money, we just have too many wants. God helps us with our money by showing us how much we are spending on ourselves: Our comforts, our habits, our pleasure and our fears. We are self-absorbed and this costs us a lot of money. Think of the person who spends $100,000 on a sports car and then wonders why God didn’t answer his prayer for more financial success.

3. Rebuking the Devourer: In Malachi 3 God promises if the people of God will begin living on 90% of their income instead of 100% (tithing), he will “rebuke the devourer”. The Devourer is everything in our world that will destroy our possessions. Traffic accidents, household appliances exploding, unexpected medical bills; these are all examples of the Devourer at work. When we tithe we are recognizing a partnership with God. The person who stops living a self-absorbed life, who tithes in recognition of God’s partnership will find that things just don’t break down as often. The pastor of my church growing up lived on very little and gave much of his financial wealth away. He kept a car running until 250,000 miles. When he got a new car after almost 20 years, his old car died about a month later. The mechanic opened up the engine and found there were almost no piston rings left. It should not have run at all. But God kept it going…he rebuked the Car Devourer.

4. Simplifying our Needs: When you follow Christ, your priorities change. One thing many followers of God find is that they don’t want expensive things or too many things to complicate their lives. A simple follower of God is usually quite content to live simply. This will definitely change a person’s financial standing. John Wesley used to teach that a follower of God needed to work as hard as they can, live as simply as they can to give as much as they can to God’s Work.

5. Work Ethic: Those who follow God with a full dedication often work harder than the average person. For centuries, this has been called the “Protestant Work Ethic”. Hard work almost always impresses those for whom we work and it almost always produces higher returns on our money. Hard working salespeople make more sales. Harder working students get better jobs. The work ethic that comes from the Spirit of God will give a person more ability to produce money…and this will dramatically impact a person’s finances.

6. Sin is Expensive; Righteousness spends Differently: Which person will spend more money: The one who spends a week in Las Vegas, or the person who goes to Yellowstone Park? I am not saying everyone in Yellowstone is righteous, but is hard for me to believe that those who deliberately choose Vegas as a vacation spot are doing it in order to enjoy the Godly life. Let’s face it: Sin can be very costly. Look at addicts, adulterers, thieves, alcoholics, liars, swindlers and the like. Though they may all have moments where they make a lot of money fast, they usually lose it even faster. Most people who live Godly lives never waste their money on vices.

7. We Become God’s Channel: When we seek to use our money for God, he sees that we are good stewards of our money. God loves to use good stewards to get some major things done. If you continue to allow your life to be a channel of God’s work, expect he will give you enough money to get that work done. You will never out-give God.

8. Long-term View Always Pays Off: In the world of investing, it is said that those who invest with an eye to the long-term always do much better than those who invest in the short-term. Long term vision often keeps us from spending foolishly. No one has longer vision than God. The person who plants a tree often will not see that tree grow to its full height. But living in Sacramento, a city of Trees as it is known, I can thank God for the vision of people who planted so many of the downtown trees a century ago. The same is true of finances. The longer a vision you have for finances, the better you will handle it. For instance, if you waste five dollars now (money that could have been invested) it is like wasting $25 over the next 40 years. Keep the long view and understand that God may want us to be frugal to bless future generations and not just the here and now.

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Repost: Movies that Teach the Value of Hard Work

March 27, 2013

Continuing in our series on the ten most read posts on this blog, we come to #3. I love good movies and because I also love lists, I often put the two together. This list hit a nerve somewhere. It has been reprinted about a dozen times on other websites.

It is helpful at times to watch movies according to a theme or a value. In doing so, the mind can be directed subtly to consider and evaluate how a particular value can look when played out in life. Movies are visual parables, and as such direct the mind and value system much more strongly than almost any other media.

I believe that a culture based upon the value of work for its own sake is a strong and vibrant culture. Therefore, I look for movies that contain that value at least as an underpinning to its plot and characterizations. Here are some that I love to watch when I consider how hard work can be put into practice. As with all my lists, these are not in any particular order.

Stand and Deliver

Door to DoorStand-and-deliver

A Beautiful Mind

Gattaca

My Left Foot

The Pursuit of Happyness

Rudy

Secretariat

Finding Forrester

Homeless to Harvard

It’s a Wonderful Life

Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037

Chariots of Fire

Rocky

If I had to pick three that are the best of the bunch to watch today, here is what I would choose: 1) Door to Door: The true story of a man who became one of the most successful door-to-door salesmen while having Cerebral Palsy. 2) Gattaca: No matter what they tell you, there is a way to fulfill your dreams. Sometimes the obstacles are high, but hard work will find a way. 3) Homeless to Harvard: Few have overcome the obstacles this girl did…it will inspire you.

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Are Relevant Churches Really Relevant?

March 17, 2013

This is the fourth most popular post of the past ten years. It is part of our series where we reprint the top ten blog entries. Enjoy.

be-relevantSome friends have suggested I spend too much time on the Internet. It depends on what you mean by “too much time”. I have a counter on my computer that keeps track of every minute I’m online; it rarely goes over one hour a day. But I get a lot done with that hour. I have a newsreader that collects all my favorite blogs, newspapers and magazines and trims them down to headlines. Therefore, I sometimes read things very quickly without deep reflection. Occasionally, it takes days until I react and respond to what I’ve read. What I’m going to talk about next is a result of one of those situations. I cannot even find the original article this idea came from. (I am sure one of my readers will find it and help me out, so I’m not worried about plagiarism).

I want to talk about the word “Relevant”. In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya (of the Princess Bride): “I do not think that word means what you think it means”. And it is the collective brain trust of contemporary church leaders who may have misunderstood the meaning and direction of this word. This sometimes happens with words; normally it’s not that big a deal. For instance, people often get the words “irrespective” and “regardless” mixed up. People sometimes jumble their definitions and thereby combine them wrongly to make “irregardless”. Irrespective means to know something and then to have no respect for it. Regardless means that you choose not to regard an issue. They are close in meaning, but not exactly the same. For example, I certainly understand what goes into the mind of a man who commits adultery. But I have no respect for his actions. Irrespective of his actions, I take my own actions. But I cannot disregard his actions, especially if they happen to someone close to me. In the case of adultery, I cannot act “regardless”, even though I can act “irrespective”. You see, they don’t mean the same thing.

Relevant is close to another word “relative” and the similar adjective “relational”. Relevant means to stick to the issue at handRelative means to relate to something or someone else. Relevant has to do with issues, controversies, position statements, movements and ideas. Relative has to do with people, choices, culture, tastes and situations. A person who is arguing in a political debate and is asked about their position on war will be relevant if their answer has to do with war. If it has to do with political parties, economics or sports, they are probably not relevant to the issue at hand. A great synonym for “relevant” is “pertinent”. The question a person needs to ask when trying to decide if they’re being relevant is this one: Does my approach pertain to the issue at hand?

If someone wants to be relative or relate to others, they should adopt similar styles, dress, language, approach and attitudes. They must agree with those positions to be relative to the issues at hand. Here then, is the big difference between being Relevant and being Relational: A relevant approach addresses the key issues exactly, irrespective of whether they agree with the position of others. A Relational or Relative person seeks to identify as closely with the position and approach of others. So with these definitions in mind, let’s ask ourselves this question: Those churches who claim to be “relevant” to today’s culture, are they indeed that way or are they more “relative” to the dominant memes of our day?

I will be over-generalizing, but this is the only way to make this essay shorter than an entire book. I hear of churches constantly using the word relevant to refer to their public services. What do they usually mean by that? This video mocks the trend, but it is not really all that misguided. Here then are some ways that churches represent themselves as “relevant”:

  • Casual, weekend style clothing.
  • Modern styles of music, usually reflecting latest trends in style similar to what is played in Christian concerts.
  • Use of video, movies, television shows, commercials and trends to show commonality with audience
  • Expensive lighting, sound systems and printed material, often eclipsing other public non-profit organizations
  • Use of latest software and hardware for multimedia presentations
  • Sermon topics relate to the everyday life of listeners, especially in areas of raising children, marriage, finances and use of leisure time
  • Advertising material, including websites, brochures and radio/television ads are high quality and often produced by professional advertising agencies.

This, then is what most churches mean by Relevant. I contend that this is the absolute wrong use of the word and has reduced the concept to something much more shallow than it was intended to represent. I will share two reasons why I think we are using this word at the end of this article, but let’s see what this approach really is: Relational.

When church leaders model their dress after the manner people usually wear on the weekend, they are trying to help the average person feel more comfortable. There is no “issue” or “agenda” with this. There is no pertinent value a church seeks to communicate other than this: We are like you. We relate to you. You relate to us. We don’t think we’re better than you. (I do have a minor problem with this: We wouldn’t disdain a bank teller for wearing a tie, or a waiter, or people going out on the town…we allow for all of those to dress for the occasion. What we are saying to people in church is ‘this is not really a special occasion’). Sermon topics that relate to where people live every day are relational. They may also be relevant (ie. when they deal with particular issues that spring from daily life), but generally the approach is to have people know the preacher is aware of what issues accrue when his hearers live their daily life. The style of music is designed to relate to what people are listening to. Many churches now actually use songs written by secular music artists and then give the songs contemporary Christian meaning. This is rarely done to address particular issues, but more to show people that the church is not out of touch with what they listen to. The same can be said of the use of video, television and pop cultural references. All of it is packaged to tell this culture: “We’re one of You”.

That is not being Relevant: That is being Relational. And in the words of Jerry Seinfeld “not that there’s anything wrong with that”.  (You see, I can be relational as well).

I have occasionally joked that I have the secret formula for getting 10,000 people in church next Sunday: Just contract with Justin Bieber to be the special musical guest. It’s the church equivalent of “sweeps week” for the television networks. The idea behind these gimmicks is that if people keep coming, they will eventually fold into the congregation and learn more about God. I hesitated even writing this paragraph because someone is now looking up the phone number for Bieber’s agent.

Now let me tell you what “Relevant” looks like. If you always look and sound the same as everyone else, you are entirely unnecessary. That isn’t being relevant, it is being a parrot. Relevant means we look at the issue everyone is speaking of and realize what isn’t being said and then say it. When Martin Luther pounded his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg church door, he was addressing one of the most irritating issues of his day: That some priests were selling indulgences as a way to raise money, promising people a quick doorway into heaven if they purchased a large number of them. No one was standing in the way of this false teaching, except Luther. Everyone was copying what they heard from friends because it was safer that way and others liked them. I have to ask today if churches aren’t stuck in that same emotional rut. Like everyone else, we do want people to like us. We want them to hit “like” on Facebook. We want them to keep coming back to services week after week, even if all we’re doing is repackaging what 1000 others have said, perhaps better than us.

Relevant, on the other hand,  is when Jesus noticed that people were being cheated right in the middle of a prayer room and then, in a prophetic act, he upended the tables of the money-changers. Relevant is Jackie Pullinger pulling drug addicts off the streets of Hong Kong and getting them clean when the dominant society ignores them. Relevant is Erin Gruwell addressing drug wars and the deaths of her students with a radical plan to change their learning style. Relevant is Peggy Drake who worked to comfort AIDS sufferers in West Africa while most Christians were saying it was God’s judgment against homosexuals. Relevant is a preacher resigning from his wealthy church because they would not adopt a lifestyle of caring for the poor. Relevant is almost always counter-cultural, it addresses today’s news with timeless truths, it lives the way it believes and garners respect because it doesn’t try to bribe people into following its viewpoints.

How Relevant is your church?

Without a doubt, by fleshing out these definitions, you will realize that churches will fall into four categories:

  1. Not Relevant, not relational
  2. Relevant, but not relational
  3. Relational, but not relevant
  4. Both Relational and Relevant

Why then would churches choose to be relational and not particularly relevant? I think there are two reasons for this. First, being relational is much easier and does not cost us much. We all learned in elementary school that it went better for us if we adopted the latest trends and fashions and were friends with the most popular kids. Differing even a fraction from the dominant elementary school culture put us in the outcast group and we hated being relegated there. We still do. Pastors and church members don’t want to think their approach to living is all that much different than their neighbors. They want others to know they don’t indulge in the more extreme activities of secularism (like drug use and listening to Insane Clown Posse), but they are proud to be able to make a comment on the American Idol Final 8 or to express a preference for their favorite cocktail. It is easier to blend in.

Second, most of us don’t think counter-cultural living is valid. We wrongly look with suspicion on anyone who swims upstream on issues –  especially Christian issues. Note how decidely Rob Bell was excommunicated by people for his book on Hell even though most people had not read it. I remember when Tony Campolo’s wife came forward to talk about the issues related to her pro-choice stance. Not only was she summarily rejected by evangelicals, so was her husband. Though I disagreed with her on some points, she needed to bring the issue to the forefront. It was a pertinent voice in a sea of “sound-alike” Christian voices.

There are churches today that are both Relevant and Relational. They are seldom large churches, but I suspect fifty years from now they will be the ones we think back on fondly as having the biggest impact on our culture both secular and Christian. So, the question is this: Do you really want to be Relevant or just call yourself that while simpering away in Relational?

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Christian House Bands and Smoke Machines

March 13, 2013

We’re counting down the ten top posts on this blog over the past ten years. This was from three years ago. It is my favorite rant.

smoke machineI was in a church recently and asked my wife why we couldn’t see the worship leader at the front. We both realized simultaneously that the “house band” was using a smoke machine! I half expected David Lee Roth or Jon Bon Jovi to come flying out through the haze to the center spot. And yes, there were several spotlights.

A few weeks later, a friend of mine was showing me through their newly renovated “worship facility” and he humbly told me they just spent $50,000 on stage lighting for the band. I choked on my bile…I did.

Then, I attended a local “worship” event two weeks ago where they had strobe lights, changing colors, sound effects and 12 speakers in the small church auditorium. The bass booster rivaled all the gang-banger cars in my neighborhood.

The final straw was an article in the local  newspaper quoting someone leaving an Easter Worship service at the local mega-church who said, “It was awesome. The band was really kickin”. I am trying to imagine God leaning back, listening to their songs and saying “Angel-dudes, come here…that band is really kickin’”

I am frustrated and feeling alone in this. My thoughts are all over the place these days with annoyance about church and music. I have wondered when the worship service got hijacked by CCM (Christian Contemporary Music). That was the actual thought that went through my mind. That is the same day I heard Michael Spencer (the Internet Monk) had passed away. In honor of this great writer and Christian, I went through some of his blog archives. I found this from 2002:

CCM is a commercial enterprise, owned largely by secular corporate interests, and certainly driven by the values of the entertainment industry more than those of the church. It is part of the entertainment culture, and only partially related to the culture of classic, orthodox Christian tradition. CCM has virtually no accountability to the larger Christian tradition, or even the Christian musical tradition. (A list of the “One Hundred Greatest Songs in Christian Music” shows no awareness of traditional gospel, country, Black gospel, Southern gospel or classical music. Odd, ignorant and sad.) As an industry, it has no accountability to the larger church and only rarely any accountability to the local church (with some refreshing exceptions.) It has no standards of doctrinal orthodox, and resists any notion that its lyrics may at times promote error and even heresy.

He is saying that what most churches call “worship” now is simply the decisive invasion of the Christian Music Industry into our church services. It is to the point now where so many new Christians have been taught this is the only way worship is done, to change it would cause a riot. When this is the only way “worship” is practiced in church, can you blame people for equating worship with CCM?

Worship is not about us. It is not about music.  It is not about feeling better when it’s over. It is telling God how much we think he is worth. (That’s what the word “worship” means….worth-ship) Now we don’t bother…instead, we tell the band how much they’re worth. Apparently, several hundred thousand dollars in equipment and technology. I often wonder who many people are clapping for at the end of “worship songs”.

This is what makes me mad. Worship is not a concert! Hear those words again: Worship is not a concert.

It is not even music. You can use music. You can do it at a concert. But you can do it on an airplane, in a tunnel, when all your children and possessions have been taken from you (remember Job) and you don’t have to have ANY MUSIC AT ALL!

You are going to hate me for saying this, but many, many churches don’t have worship services, they have well-constructed, highly entertaining concerts. That’s why they’re spending $18,000 on a projection system, $12,000 on a drum enclosure, $80,000 for a floor that looks and sounds like Starbucks, and Mackie mixers that make P Diddy drool (or whatever his name currently is). The churches that can’t afford this, or who would rather have a children’s pastor, are left behind as the crowds go to hear the next great concert church  that appeared overnight in a School gymnatorium.

They don’t have worship leaders, they have cheerleaders who lead us to believe it is a sin not to clap, to have a bad day, to not know the words to the 200th new song we’ve learned this year and who can make the last syllable of every ballad contain 18 modulated  notes. I am one of those who test pastors for their theological knowledge and so many “worship pastors” haven’t much of a clue about theology.

It is time to eliminate the professional musicians and American Idol audition cast from the front of our churches and let a few people who have mad and deep love for God be up there. People who appreciate that silence is worship too. That bringing an offering or submitting attitudes of greed to our Father is worship. It is time for a few songs we sang 20 years ago to be sung again: Perhaps for two Sundays in a row. Perhaps have a time where people talk to God and listen for his voice…oh, it would have to be quiet enough for that.

I yearn for the day when no one says “that was an awesome time of worship” after the ringing in the ears stops – and people say nothing because they are speechless and repentant in the presence of a Holy God.

And those who do have a love for technology: Get over it. Technology is certainly a valid tool, but when it becomes an end in itself, it is a curse and a distraction. I have ADD…I can’t watch the screen where new lyrics are flashing and concentrate when the stage has already changed colors five times while I’m doing it. Just as preachers and teachers need to learn not to use PowerPoint/EasyWorship so strangely (really? Do we need a Dancing Jesus in the corner of the screen?), so we need to say “less is more” when technology meets worship.

I think it is time to return to the simplicity of the Psalms, where there were both songs of praise and songs of lament. There are songs of triumph and songs of repentance. There are songs of adoration and songs where we deal with the reality of enemies.

And please, please, please, can we not sing a song 11 times through. In fact, can we stop singing occasionally and just be in awe in his presence.

I wrote all of the above and here is my pedigree: I love rock music. I listen to CCM. I go to concerts. I was one of the first pastors anywhere to bring drums into church. But leave the concert in the concert hall. And you can have all your new songs. Give me Jesus…and one or two new songs. And silence.

And anyone who says this is a discussion about hymns vs. choruses is going to be shut in the drum enclosure down the street.

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Appreciating (Again) Extraverts and Introverts

March 12, 2013

This week, we are featuring the top ten most viewed blog entries on this site. This is #6 on the list with over 10,000 hits.

introvert-vs-extrovertIn the years I have spent studying personality traits and how they fit into human interaction, I am most fascinated by Introversion and Extraversion. A proper understanding of these traits is essential to appreciating those who live with us and around us…and perhaps gain a foothold on our own personality and preferences.

The two terms were coined by the Psychoanalyst Carl Jung. The words mean “To take the world outside and absorb it within ourselves”(Introvert) and “To take our inner world and extend it outside ourselves” (Extravert).  There are people who are given to searching and seeking for ‘something’ within themselves and others who seek for ‘something’ outside of themselves. I say ‘something’ because it is never clear what we are seeking or extending. In fact, what we are extending or seeking for may be different for each person. It may be satisfaction, joy, excitement, answers, questions, or energy.

There is an interesting story in the Bible which I have pondered for a long time. A woman who had been bleeding for twelve years came to a public meeting where Jesus was healing people. In Jewish law, a woman was not allowed to touch someone when she was bleeding (menstruating or otherwise). We can only assume this woman had gynocological problems that would not stop. Therefore, she could not touch or be touched by anyone during those twelve years. That is an eternity to be cut off from others, especially if you have any extraversion in you. So she comes up behind Jesus and touches the corner of his clothing. Power goes out of him and heals her. He senses that power is leaving his being and asks who touched him. She cringes at that question and tries to hide. Finally she admits it was her and he declares her healed and clean, thus paving the way for her to enter regular societal interactions again.

Her act of touching him secretly is not uncommon for introverts. They desire to attain their needs without touching other people too deeply. Touching other people requires an introvert to exert a lot of energy. We are told in the same story that Jesus knew that power had gone out of him. It is possible for people to draw things from us, especially if they are introverts. In real life, introverts are always watching out for those who would try to do this to them, and they are sometimes guilty of taking energy from others.

What is also interesting is that she immediately feared that she was in trouble when Jesus asked who had touched him. This had much to do with her years of being an outcast, but it also shows us something about introverts and their motivation levels. Hans Eysenck, one of the world’s most famous experts on Personality proposed that Introverts are more motivated by the possibility of punishment and extraverts by the possibility of rewards. The woman who touched his garment came forward because she was convinced that to do otherwise would bring a punishment.

I was speaking with a friend the other day who asked me if there is any such thing as an absolute Introvert or Extravert. That would be impossible to answer of course, because when you think you have identified the absolute standard for either, someone will always come along who is even more extreme. All of us are somewhere between the two extremes. Even though extraverts commonly recharge their emotional energy by being around people, most extraverts will also come to a point where they are “peopled” out. The emotional crash for an overstimulated Extravert can be dramatic. In the same way, introverts can come to a season in life where they are understimulated by being too isolated. They often will develop deep sense of boredom and restlessness and this can lead them into expecting too much of the few people they have allowed into their lives.

Intriguingly, of all the characteristics of personality, this dualism of extravert/introvert tends to change the most as we get older. Younger introverts will often develop a need for people as they get older. In the same way, extraverts will often find themselves developing habits of retreating from the world occasionally as their age increases. If you visit a nursing home, you will find it very difficult to identify some of the introverts and extraverts. I believe that many people over sixty are “X-types” when it comes to this measurement of personality. (Note: An “x” type is defined by Myers-Briggs proponents as a person whose personality is more toward the middle on a personality trait dualism such as Introvert/Extravert).

I remember visiting an elderly client one time who shared a room with an older gentleman. He told me his roommate conplained constantly about how much he missed his family. But once they would come for a one-hour visit, he would immediately nap afterwards and tell his roommate how tired he was. The extravert part of him wanted their company, and the introverted expression of himself was wiped out by the reality of their presence.

Aren’t people funny?

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Solution to False Beliefs in Marriage

March 11, 2013

This is a re-print of a series of two articles on false beliefs in marriage. They rank #8 on the most viewed articles on this blog.

Jenny dragged Lawrence into my office. They had been married for 14 months and I was dismayed they were already having marriage problems. Granted, Jenny had been married twice before and Lawrence once, but they had changed a lot since their previous marriages; and I was sure all the premarital counseling we had done would preempt future crises. Of course, I was wrong.

Jenny had grown up with a father who was physically violent and cruel. Twice, he broke her arm and once gave her a skull fracture. She left home at seventeen and never regretted it. She became quite successful as a flight attendant and married a pilot. After ten years of marriage, he also became violent and at one point hit her so hard he knocked her unconscious. She eventually divorced him and remained single for several years. When she did marry again, it was to a very gentle, kind man (her words). After five years of marriage, however, he also became abusive. She immediately filed for divorce and moved. She ended up in our fellowship of Christians where she met Lawrence. He was also a gentle man, something I could readily affirm. By his own account, he had never hit anyone in his life. He abhorred violence and he came across to Jenny as loving and stable.

But here is why she brought him into my office. She had begun noticing a change in attitude over the previous few months. She couldn’t quite identify what had changed, but she was frantically worried he would hurt her. I can imagine  you reading this thinking “I can see why she would think that. Every man in her life had done this”. But I suspected something deeper and more sinister was afoot. I asked Jenny to leave my office and asked Lawrence to stay. I looked him square in the eye and said, “Lawrence, do you ever feel like hitting Jenny?” He looked everywhere else but in my eyes. As he studied his feet, I asked the question again.

“Mike, I have never hit anyone in my life” he said.

“I know Lawrence. You’ve told me. Answer my question”

“Sometimes, I have this overwhelming urge to hit her. I don’t know where it’s coming from, but it worries me.”

I brought Jenny back in the room and immediately asked Lawrence to tell her what he had admitted to me. Reluctantly, he faced up to her and admitted the truth about his thoughts. She exploded and ran out of my office. What happened in the next hour was one of the greatest revelations I have ever received in 30 years of counseling. But before I get to the rest of her story, I want to build a framework for the solution we found.

In a previous blog post, I noted several beliefs that could ruin a marriage. All of our emotions and actions stem from things we believe. Therefore, when emotions and behavior are ruining a relationship, you can be sure that some kind of warped belief system is at the root. Root beliefs (also known as “core beliefs”) are not thrust upon us. We always choose what we will believe. There are some behavioral psychologists who teach the inevitability of some beliefs. For instance, they may claim that all abuse victims grow up with a belief that power has been taken away from them. That certainly is true of many people, but not even most abuse victims feel the loss of personal control. There are abuse victims who feel guilty; others feel fear; still others focus on shame. As we grow (especially between the ages of 5–10), we are presented with thousands of choices about what we will believe about life, other people and ourselves. Any number of these beliefs may doggedly hang on into adulthood, severely affecting our relationships and marriages.

What is the solution? There are four steps to any process of solving the problems caused by false beliefs. These steps may take anywhere from a few minutes to a few weeks to enact, but there is no way to bypass any of them.

1. Acknowledge that your emotional reactions and negative behavior are always the result of something you believe. Too often, we want to maintain our emotions are simple reactions to simple causes. But many times, our reactions do not line up with the force of our reality. We often react too strongly to minor causes, or, in some cases, react weakly to major causes. We then try to blame our behavior on our partner. What we do with this is take responsibility away from our own belief system. For instance, I know a woman who, when she learned of her husband’s affair, went out and had a one-night stand. Then she came home and told him about it. When we were in counseling, she steadfastly held to the position that her actions were justified. Months later, we came to the conclusion her actions were based on a belief that she needed to take revenge when people hurt her or they would continue to hurt her.

2. Identify the belief at the source of the action or emotion. How do you do that? If you recall the incidents leading up to your behavior, ask yourself what you were feeling. As you focus on the feeling, note what thoughts go through your mind. In those thoughts you will identify some beliefs. Those beliefs, in their basic form, are what you need to focus on next. The woman who had the one-night stand had anger. But with the anger was a sense of fear. As she followed the fear in her mind, she had a thought that if she let her husband get away with his behavior, he would keep doing things to her like that. Her belief was that only revenge will stop the pain.

3. Follow the Belief to its Source. We do not usually come to false beliefs as adults. Generally, they have lodged themselves somewhere in our childhood memories. As you focus on the belief and the emotions surrounding that belief,recall a time when you felt and thought the same way as a child. It shouldn’t take too long if you’re being honest. When a memory comes (even if it isn’t all that clear how it connects with the present) walk through it again. Note the things you were feeling and believing in that memory.

4. Ask God to come and show you the truth in the memory. When we allow a false belief to take root in our souls, we cannot destroy it by outthinking it. We must get external input to help us make a decision. Our one-night-stand woman followed her belief back to a time when her brother bullied her constantly. After one time, he pulled her hair so hard she fell down and chipped a tooth. That night, she got a tennis racket and went into his room while he was sleeping and started to beat on him. All she remembers is that he never bullied her again. From that day on, she vowed she would never allow another person to hurt her without paying them back. As she walked through this memory, she invited God to speak truth. God showed her that revenge is not going to work. He showed her that her brother and her were never really close after that. God pointed out that she traded revenge for reconciliation and she was doing that in her marriage also. She chose to let go of the revenge belief and it helped to put her relationship back together with her husband.

As I worked in counseling with Jenny, I also explained that our inner beliefs do have an effect on our deepest relationships. Her personal belief was all men will hurt her. She lived this out in such a way that it affected the men around her. Don’t get me wrong; the men in her life who had hurt her were completely to blame for their actions. But she also had to come to grips with the reality that her belief made their actions easier. She and I walked through the four steps mentioned above and she heard from God that not all men will hurt her –  and she forgave her dad and the other men for what they had done. Since that time, Lawrence has reported absolutely no recurrence of the inner prompting to hit her. And from that day, her fear of being hurt has vanished.

This can apply to any false belief. Though it won’t change your partner all the time, it will change you; and if you are changed, then that will change the core nature of the relationship.

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