Saturday, April 28, 2012


I am getting tired of unpleasant surprises in my life. We all get them, those telephone calls that inform us that something went wrong at work, someone is melting down emotionally, a loved one is admitted to the hospital, etc. Some days you don’t want to answer the phone or check your electronic devices.

I have to constantly remind myself that the way I deal with these life issues is a good measure of my level of emotional and spiritual maturity. And I must admit that some days I have the maturity level of a pre-school child. I want to cover myself with a blanket and pretend that the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Then I remember that I’m getting senior citizen discounts at the local hardware store and I own a business, and I am on staff at my church.

Does dealing with these issues get easier the older we get?  Perhaps yes, and perhaps no.

We do build up some confidence as we face stuff and have a successful outcome – or least learn that we can handle the pain. Part of our success is realizing that we do not have to do all of it alone. God is with us and so are others if we build relationships and let them get close to us.

Where it doesn’t get easier is where the loss is unique or carries more significance. It isn’t easier to lose a parent just because you have already lost one. It may be harder. And it may be harder to lose a job at 50 years old than it was at 25. It also may be more difficult when a chronic problem that you thought was finally solved reappears.

And for me what is worst is when multiple situations pile up one on top of another, like having two family members in the hospital at the same time (been there, done that) or your finances are in trouble and the car breaks down. And then you catch the flu.  

What I find most helpful is learning to quiet my anxious inner voice. I do this by allowing myself a few minutes to pray and collect my strength. In a crises situation this might be taking place while I am in motion, driving somewhere to meet the situation. Sometimes the only time I can do this is after the fact while in “decompression mode”.

If you are like me you prefer pleasure over pain and easy over difficult (other than an interesting challenge once in a while). But life isn’t always like that and perhaps my first step toward maturity is accepting reality (breaking denial). Sometimes I have to tell myself:  “Yes, David, you really do have to deal with this.”

It is my confidence in God, more than my confidence in myself that gives me the most strength. It is not my nature to trust, but when I finally realize my powerlessness, it is in trusting that I find my only hope. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Running Red Lights

Over the years I have run several (at least) red lights. I can honestly say never intentionally (I am a rule follower by nature), but still I have been at risk --  for financial consequences and worse yet, for accidents.

My first ticket was for pushing the limit on a yellow light at age 16. The officer called it a red light violation, while I argued that it was a yellow light save. I lost. (The concept of grace is generally more alive in churches than in the traffic courts.) Probably if I was really honest with myself, I secretly knew that I had crossed a line I shouldn’t have – a limit line that was clearly marked.  

When we get caught for violations at first we might feel victimized, but in truth (after having calmed down) we can admit that the intent of the imposed boundaries are there to  protect us and others. What if running that yellow (OK red) light had resulted in an accident? I could have been hurt or hurt others.

It is the same with moral, relational, financial and physical limits.

This is not a diatribe against risk – reasonable risk in many areas of life is healthy and necessary – it is about knowingly crossing into danger zones hoping not to have to pay a price.

Affairs, gambling, drinking and driving, binging and purging, raging, overspending, lying, cheating, stealing, violence and on and on are all clear boundaries violations. Each time I step over the line I put myself and/or others at risk.

Unfortunately many people have grown up without a clear understanding of where the lines should be drawn. It still amazes me that so many students don’t believe that cheating in school is wrong – or that sex outside of marriage is a moral violation. But it’s even sadder when we are clear about these things and choose to ignore our own values.

Fortunately there are also those yellow lights. They serve as warnings that we have not yet reached the point of no return. They tell us that putting on the brakes is probably a good decision. Our conscience is our yellow light. When we spend time in the Word we are clarifying and strengthening our yellow lights. When we associate with people with good values we are building up our storehouse of wisdom. The prophet Isaiah warns us to listen to the wisdom of others and not rely on our own.

Isaiah 50:11 (NLT)
But watch out, you who live in your own light and warm yourselves by your own fires.
This is the reward you will receive from me: You will soon fall down in great torment.

We cannot avoid all pain in life – it will happen because we live in a broken world. But we do have a certain amount of control over some of our pain – the kind we create by intentionally running red lights. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Am I in a Relationship With a Passive Controller?

When we think about controlling people, we usually think about active controllers – those people who impose their will on others aggressively. They are easy to spot because they pursue us with their needs and wants. We don’t have to go looking for them.

But there are also passive controllers.

Passive controllers are much more subtle. It’s not what they do, but rather what they don’t do that ends up controlling you. They use tools like silence or guilt to control. They ignore doing things that need to be done, and wait until you step up and do them. Their “patience’ can be exasperating.

We have a saying; “The most passive person wins.” What we mean is passive control is often more powerful than active control. If you are upset about something and I do not respond, you will likely get more upset. If I still do not respond you may likely get even more upset. You are losing control of your emotions, but I have lost nothing. I smugly point out your lack of self control, while I point out how “reasonable” I am being. I am in complete control.   

What can you do when you encounter a passive controller?

Detach emotionally – become more passive than they are – at least about matters concerning them.
For example: If you need a response from your spouse about attending an event, but they keep putting you off about a decision – decide to attend alone, if you want to go. Make plans without them.

Another example: If you have a family member that always seems to make you late by dragging their feet when getting ready to go somewhere, then when it’s time to leave, just leave – and leave them behind.

Will they be upset? Yes. Will they learn to be more respectful of you? Hopefully.

You will need to learn to manage your own uncomfortable feelings as you resist the control. It is possible that you will feel resentful that you have to set up boundaries.  But it is also likely that you have felt resentful when you have given in to unreasonable behavior from others in the past. When you set up healthy boundaries at least you will feel good about yourself.

The goal is not to be mean or inflexible in our resistance to the passive control, but rather to learn to both respect others as well as respect ourselves.  

Think about your own behavior. Are you a passive controller? Do you live with one? How is this affecting your life, or your relationships?     

Saturday, April 7, 2012

My Sacrifice

As we are right in the middle of a Resurrection weekend I was thinking of what might be somewhat equivalent in our relational lives to what Christ has done for our spiritual lives.

Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice out of love for us, but what might be an ultimate relationship sacrifice?  


What a powerful word. Letting go of hurts simply because we can is a sacrifice. Everything inside of me rebels against this concept when I am in pain over a real or perceived offense. And many offenses are not only real, but severe and overwhelming.

I think the hardest times to forgive are when the hurt is ongoing or when the person who has hurt us is not fully acknowledging the offense. This puts us in a tough place. Why would we even want to choose forgiveness in these situations? Why would we want to make this kind of sacrifice?

Primarily, unforgiveness hurts me. It festers inside me like an unhealed wound. It leaks poison and makes me sick. My resentments keep me from feeling at peace.

Secondly, it hurts my relationships. Holding on to offenses may cause me to withhold love, respect or kindness from relationships that I value. Even if the other person is unrepentant I can choose to forgive because it opens the door to restoration. And sometimes that will lead to a softening in the other person that might lead to repentance.

Thirdly, God requires it. To whom much is given, much is required. Do you feel you have been given much? Matthew 6:15, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, is a powerful admonition:

“But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

I do want to point out a few things, though. Forgiving is not forgetting – it is letting go. Forgiving is not accepting the offender’s behavior as okay – maybe far from it. And forgiving does not require us to move towards reconciliation – especially when it would be unhealthy to do so and open us up to ongoing damage. Some people are just plain unsafe.

I like to say I am taking someone “off my hook” and putting them on God’s – and let Him deal with the person. In doing so I am free.

This Easter weekend perhaps you can examine your relationships and determine if there are places where you need to make the sacrifice of forgiveness.   

Ephesians 4:32. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.