Finding Our Battles

Have you ever fought the wrong battle?

This past summer, just before I graduated with two Master’s degrees, I was having trouble with my lawnmower. It sputtered out on me and would not work. So I peeked in the gas tank, saw some shimmery substance, and tried to start the mower again. It did not work.

Determined to fix the lawnmower without needing help (like I normally do with anything mechanical), I went to buy a new spark plug. Still nothing. So I bought a new air filter. (Technically, my dad bought them for me since he and my mom were here visiting for my graduation.) Still did not work.

I gave in. I asked my friend, Terry, for help. He came over. He looked in the gas tank. Bone dry.

I was fighting the wrong battle.

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Have you ever fought the wrong battle? Unfortunately, I can safely assume that if you are a Christian in America today, you have. We (apparently) love to fight and to argue. We are arguing about what people who sell duck calls say and where they speak. We are arguing about chicken sandwiches and craft supplies. We are arguing about non-discriminatory hiring practices. We are arguing about a movie’s interpretation of a story. We are arguing that entitled rich white men on one side of the aisle have a better view of what’s right for the country than the entitled rich white men on the other side of the aisle.

We are fighting and fighting and fighting.

But none of it is the right battle to be engaged in.

There are people in my immediate social circles who are hurting right now. Their pain is very real. They are confused. They are sad. They feel helpless or hopeless. They feel like they just want to crawl under a rock and weep. They wonder when the pain is going to stop. They wonder when things will finally start going their way.

They wonder when people who claim the name of “Christian” will actually pay any attention to them.

If we are going to fight, let’s fight for those the people of God have been called to fight for since the beginning:

Widows

Orphans

Foreigners

Poor

Let’s fight for the people Jesus fought for: women and children, socially outcast, poor, sick, and religious outsiders.

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Do you want to know the cure for fighting too much?

Stop fighting.

Quit arguing. Quit being defensive. Quit trying to prove that you are right.

Stop fighting and start listening.

Listen to what other people have to say. Listen without responding. Learn where they are coming from and why. Pay close attention and maybe you will find that you have more in common than you realize.

Stop fighting and start looking at the people in your neighborhood, at your church, at your work, or in your family.

Who are the ones who need something you have to offer? Give it to them. Provide blessings for those who go without. Provide a voice for those who think they have none.

Stop fighting and start loving.

Stop fighting and start serving.

At the very least, stop fighting the wrong battles.

Rick Warren: Churches Must Do More to Address Mental Illness

This goes right along with what I have been writing about the 12 Steps. There is so much more we must be doing as a church community to walk alongside those who suffer from mental illness of any kind.

TIME

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 60 million Americans experience a mental health condition every year – that’s one in four adults and one in ten children. People of every race, age, religion or economic status are affected. Whether we are aware of it or not, we all know someone who is living with some form of mental illness.

Mental illness is something we are intimately acquainted with as our youngest son, Matthew, struggled with a variety of mental illnesses from a young age. Even as a toddler there were signs that things were not right. At 7, he was diagnosed as clinically depressed which surprised us as we were unaware that children that young could be that depressed. As the years went by, he began to experience major depressive episodes as well as panic attacks, extreme mood swings, obsessions/compulsions, personality disorder, and heartbreaking problems in school…

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My Name Is Paul And I Am An Alcoholic, Step 3

One Thursday each month I will share a post on one of the 12 Steps. I have written about Steps 1 and 2 here and here. Recovery is an area of life that 12 Step groups have done amazing work with, yet many churches (and other community groups) struggle to know what to do. My hope is that this series will help those who are not in recovery learn more about their friends and family members who are in recovery. I welcome any feedback, questions, and concerns you may have!

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Step 3.

“Our whole trouble had been the misuse of willpower. We had tried to bombard our problems with it instead of attempting to bring it into agreement with God’s intention for us” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 40)

“So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 62)

Step 3 is when the recovering alcoholic comes face to face with how much willpower has destroyed his or her life. Bill Wilson uses the example of an actor who tries to do everything in a stage production: the set, directing, lighting, as well as the acting. What happens? The play falls apart and is an utter failure. This does not mean the alcoholic is a bad person; often he or she is a very good person.

But a good person who thinks everything must be done without help. Complete control is sought after: control of other people, control of surroundings, control of events and consequences. When that control cannot be attained, alcohol relieves the pain and quiets the noise. The life of an addict is a life of inflated ego.

In the quote above, Wilson states alcoholics bombard their problems with willpower. The more problems arise, the more the alcoholic tries to control. Living a life of addiction, especially an addiction that is not acknowledged, is quite exhausting. Alcoholics work really hard to maintain relationships, work, and drinking to their satisfaction. When difficulty arises, they work harder to maintain everything they want. Sobriety begins with an admission that all the willpower in the world is not enough (powerlessness) and there has to be a greater power out there somewhere (Higher Power).

Step 3 is when the alcoholic says, “I have had enough. I need help.”

And they turn to God.

In Step 2, the alcoholic acknowledges the existence of God. In Step 3, they decide to turn to God.

Last month, I discussed the use of the term Higher Power, so I will not rehash it here. But there are some things to remember when walking alongside an addict who is attempting Step 3.

First, quit playing God. Alcoholics Anonymous, referred to commonly as The Big Book, says the first thing an alcoholic must do is to quit playing God. This is not unique to alcoholics. Many people try to control every aspect of their lives. Many Christians fail to surrender their will and their lives to God. Instead of treating the alcoholic as if they are doing something only “their kind of people” need to do, acknowledge your own struggle to play God in your life.

Recovering alcoholics need relationships. For many addicts, the closest relationships they have been in are with other people who participate in the same addictions. In recovery, the addict is trying to stop playing God while at the same time breaking away from the community they have already formed.

When non-alcoholics are willing to come alongside those in recovery and say, “I need to stop playing God in my life, too. How can we help each other?” you will be surprised at the impact that has.

Second, be open to pray. Step 3 is a spiritual step. It is a step that involves turning to God. It is a new birth; a renewal. And, as Wilson wrote in the Big Book, it is “desirable to take this spiritual step with an understanding person….” (p. 63). Recovering addicts who are Christians often feel alienated and isolated from the rest of their Christian community. AA is all about creating community—and that is great.

But the church needs to be better at maintaining and even increasing community with people who are in the process of recovery. Being willing to pray with and listen to a person at the beginning stages of sobriety will help let the recovering alcoholic know their Christian family has not deserted them.

I will end this post with the prayer commonly referred to in AA as the Third Step Prayer:

“God, I offer myself to Thee—to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of Life. May I do Thy will always!”

Open Letter of Apology From Adults to Teenagers

Dear teenagers,

On behalf of adults everywhere, I want to apologize.

We have made your lives too busy. We remember our high school experience and the experiences of all of our friends and family members. And we want you to live all of it. We want you to be involved in sports, theater, afterschool programs, volunteer projects, church groups, and get certified in CPR. We have pushed and pushed and pushed until your schedules are way too full. We have made you feel like failures when you cannot keep up. We have encouraged you to choose activities over your spiritual life. We think your commitment to your sports team is more important than your commitment to your spiritual development.

We have made you so busy, you are not sleeping well and you are not eating well. We encourage you to eat quickly so you microwave a dinner or grab a value meal from a fast food restaurant. If you eat at all. You are tired and unhealthy and we push you even harder. We are pushing too hard and we are sorry.

We are also sorry that we have cared more about test scores and college admission than we have about education. We have grown up and become teachers and administrators. We have looked for more bottom line results to show that we are doing an effective job. We have been emphasizing the importance of getting high scores on achievement tests, SATs, and ACTs. We have failed to realize how stressed out you are about taking these tests.

We are in the position of voting people in, campaigning for what is important, and being involved in your education. We have become lazy and done little more than complain. And as we have stood by you have been falling deeper and deeper into your anxiety. We are sorry.

We are sorry that we have underestimated you. You are intelligent, caring, and passionate for justice in the world. But we treat you like you are little more than wound up balls of hormones. Yes, you are struggling with temptation and yes, you are struggling with physical, mental, and emotional development. But you also know that you want people to be treated fairly. You want people to be treated with respect and equality.

You may face the temptation to look at pornography, but deep down you know how terrible it is for people, especially women, to be degraded that way. And you feel you cannot talk to us about it because we have hidden all of our struggles from you. We pretend we have it all together and we hold you to such unimaginably high expectations that we have left no space for you to feel like you can ask for help.

You have been fighting and fighting and fighting to do the right things, but we have not supported you the way we should have. Now, you are self-harming, using drugs, and being medicated for anxiety or depression in astronomical numbers.

And it is our fault.

We are sorry. We want to start listening. We want to start helping. So please keep talking. Please talk to us even when it seems like we aren’t listening. Because we probably aren’t. But we need to. So talk to us until we listen.

Tell us how tired you are. Tell us how committed you are to fighting for justice. Tell us how much you thirst for knowledge. Tell us how much you want to explore and question spirituality.

Tell us what we need to hear.

Tell us until we listen.

Because listening is the best way we can show you we are sorry.

Signed,

Adults

Phelps, Hate, and Love

There are some articles, pictures, opinion pieces, etc., that I will not pass on because I do not want to give more focus to the topic. There are some people that I think we need to talk about less, not more. There are some institutions that I think need less coverage. There are some events that I think may be treated more effectively with silence than with yelling.

One of these institutions and people are in the news again this week. And I almost do not want to say anything.

Almost.

Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church do not represent Christianity. They represent their warped view of religion which in reality includes nothing that represents Jesus. They have spewed hatred and ignorance for years. What they do bothers me and how much attention people give to what they do bothers me.

I feel sorrow for all the people the Westboro Church has hurt. For all the insults, all the degradation, all the hatred—I feel sorry. I wish I could take away the pain. I wish I could more than just say, “Don’t listen to them. Jesus loves you.”

Now, Fred Phelps is nearing death. His death brings me no joy. In fact, it fills me with even more sorrow. Sorrow at the fact that he may never have understood what Jesus’ love really means.

And I feel sorrow at all the mixed emotions others must be feeling. His death resolves nothing. Even if (as I hope) the Westboro Church fades away into nothingness, that would resolve nothing.

No amount of revenge, no amount of “they got what’s coming to them,” no amount of hatred can take away the pain that has been caused. Only love can do that.

Dr. King said it best, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

So I must remember the Fred Phelps is a child of God. Just like Mother Theresa. Just like Hitler and bin Laden. Just like St. Patrick.

Just like me.

I would love to see healing come as a result of this man’s death. Healing for his family. Healing for his followers. Especially healing for those he hurt.

Maybe that healing begins with love.

Maybe that healing begins with forgiveness.

Someday, the hatred must stop. How great a lesson it would be if those who have been hurt can take the lead in showing love and forgiveness. I don’t know if I would be able to do it.

But every time someone says, “I forgive you,” evil dies a little bit more.