Stardust. You Are Made of Stardust.

Stardust.

A poem in a word.

In March of this year, I met a few friends at a women’s conference in Joplin, Missouri, and while I was there, I had the great delight of meeting Elisabeth Cooper for the first time in person. She spoke at the conference that weekend, and she was stunning in every way.

After the Saturday night worship session, the leaders invited people to stay in the atmosphere, to linger in the space created for acknowledging God’s presence, and ask for a personal encounter for ourselves.

I stayed, grateful for the time. It is not easy to find quiet spaces in the clutch of life. These spaces and the sensitive souls who cultivate them are a tender gift.

I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes, asking God to encounter me, to speak to me, to give me living water, fuel in my spirit.

What I saw, you might call it a vision; to me, it is a mystery that I ponder in my heart.

I prayed, and I saw an image of myself as an unborn child, curled up in a fetal position, in a swirl of life, and, as in a movie, the viewpoint panned backwards, and I could see more of the picture. I saw Jesus, and I was inside of Him, as an infant rests inside its mother. I saw Him put His huge hand in mine and draw me from inside of Him in a great unfurling.

As He unfurled me from the infant’s swirl, I grew up in fast-forward, from an infant to a woman. I wore a simple white gown, and I saw Him swirling me in the air, and all my limbs were stretched out like I was flying. In the white robe, and all stretched out, I looked like a five-pointed star, and behind me, the swirl became a nebula set in the ring of the galaxy.

 

I hovered in His hand before the swirl of pink and purple and blue and white.

And I heard Him say, “Stardust . . . You are made of stardust.”

And sitting in that quiet church, I laughed out loud at the beauty of it.

A moment like that, hearing His voice in prayer, can carry me a long time.

And I am satisfied to let it be a secret thing from the secret place of the Most High, not something I ever need to share, something between the Lord and me, something personal to fuel my spirit in the face of all the challenges of life. Something to say to myself when the world would say otherwise, “Stardust, Amy, remember, you are made of stardust.”

And that’s what I expected this mystery to be, a secret between Him and me, kept and treasured up in my heart.

When I got home from the conference on Sunday, my family had missed me, but it was late. We went to bed and started the week on Monday morning, hitting the ground running as usual, and I didn’t have a chance to talk to my daughter about her weekend until later on Tuesday.

Lily is eighteen, and she is an artist. She sketches dozens of pieces in a week to practice her technique, and she asked me, “Hey, Mom, did I show you the drawing I did while you were gone?”

No, I didn’t think she had. I waited for her to find it in her sketchbook.

She handed it to me.

“Lily. What is this?”

I had to look again. “Did I tell you what I saw at the conference?”

Blank stare.

“No, mom, you didn’t tell me anything about it. I’ve hardly seen you since you got home.”

She had drawn a woman in a white dress, with blue and pink and purple all around her, floating in a swirl of stars. And an I.V. bag attached to her arm, filling her with stardust.

She had drawn what I had seen, and I had not told her about it. And as beautiful as it is, Lily and I had not talked about this idea before this day, that a human being is made of stardust.

We stared at the drawing. We looked up at each other. We laughed.

We remain in awe at the voice of God and at the way He speaks to us through this piece, and so many other ways.

Lily’s love language with God is stars, and she is learning how to hear His voice.

He is teaching her.

And He is teaching me.

***

Today I’m praying for a quiet space for you, out of the clutch of life. A space where you can encounter God in a meaningful way, a way that confirms your faith and amplifies His voice, a space filled with stardust.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19

The End of Narcissism: Matthew 18 Strategy.

This post is the end of a seven-part series on narcissism. Previous links can be found at the bottom of this post. 

Hope.

I’m wrapping up this year and my thoughts on narcissism with hope.

As I prayed through this series, I kept coming back to Matthew 18.

Following the Matthew 18 pattern requires a solid foundation in the group.

It’s a simple strategy. God’s ways usually are. Simple, but not always easy.

There is a plan here for dealing with issues that keep repeating. Matthew 18 is specific in that it is dealing with sin, but there is also an overriding tone of relational resolution and how it is to be borne out in this passage.

We need help with this process, in our own hearts and in the church.

First, go to your brother or sister by yourself, one-on-one, and bring your concerns. If they won’t listen, bring in a witness. If they still won’t listen, bring in a group. If they still won’t listen, they are showing that they do not value what the group values–they are making their own choice to remove themselves from intimate relationship in this context.

We need help with this process, in our own hearts and in the church.

Most people seem to have some hangups with these kinds of conversations, either seeing them as necessary but dreading them, or seeing them as cruel and wrong.

Many of us are convinced  that it is better to never say anything that rocks the boat in our relationships. We have been deceived into believing that being kind and being nice are the same.

But these kinds of conversations are part of kingdom relationships. That means there has to be a way to have them with love.

My mother always told me, “No one is perfect, but when you find someone who will work with you, they are worth the effort.”

The narcissist runs from the work of relationship because they equate it with rejection.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

When you find someone who will work with you, they are worth the effort. The narcissist, and in reality, many others, don’t realize that if a person is willing to come to them with these difficult things, it means they want more relationship, not less, and that they are worth all the awkward moments.

We have been deceived into believing that being kind and being nice are the same.

Doing the work of relationship is love, not hate. Mediation is not bullying. Accountability is not rejection.

My hope and my prayer is that our larger communities of church and family will see their role in helping to heal the narcissist as well as the wounds inflicted by the narcissistic personalities.

It makes sense that the narcissist cannot be dealt with alone. His oneness, his ultimate isolation, is his solace, but it is also his problem; he is his own world, and he simply moves along to other relationships when one gets too difficult or too real. His place in Godly community is part of his healing. We have to stand together in communities and families to let him know he is loved, but so is everyone else, and each one is worth fighting for.

I have seen so many narcissistic patterns that could have been quickly and effectively interrupted by a united front in a community or family if those involved had followed a Matthew 18 pattern.

But following that pattern requires a solid foundation in the group.

The narcissistic personality is a symptom of a group that is unwell–it is not simply an individual responsibility.

This is encouraging to me, because there are almost always healthy people in groups, families, communities, or churches who, when they realize their role, are willing and able to take the lead in pursuing health.

Like so many things, this issue will largely dissolve when leaders in communities see it for what it is and see their role in its healing.

I believe that true Christ-followers authentically want to do what’s right. We just need eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts that understand.

And grace to follow through.

Part 1:  Signs You Could Be in Relationship with a Narcissist

Part 2:  Recognizing the Four Variants of Narcissism

Part 3:  Detachment:  A Response to Narcissism

Part 4:  Circus, Narcissism, and Circling Mountains

Part 5:  Narcissism and Relationships. When Should I Detach?

Part 6:  Life After the Smear Campaign

***

Today I’m praying for a culture shift.

For our perceptions of relationship work to change and line up with scripture.

For courage to do the work even in the face of resistance.

For a sense of unity and a refusal to be divided among healthy groups. For an increase in wisdom and discernment as we resist drama and seek growth together.

For eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts that understand what is needed, and for the grace to follow through when we hear God’s voice.

For true love and healing to reign in our lives and in our communities.

In Jesus.

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Matthew 18:15-18.

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Matthew 13:16

Life After the Smear Campaign: Narcissism Pt 6

Part 6 of 7 in a series.

Narcissism likes to talk.

About itself, mostly, but, sometimes, about you.

Especially when you fail to live up to the fantasy-you that narcissism creates in its mind.

I have only been the victim of a full-blown smear campaign maybe once or twice, depending on how you define it, but I have had people lie about me a few times. I am always confounded by it, especially when it is people who tell me that they love me to my face. When I hear what has been said behind my back, I go through a basic set of responses every time, and I notice others have a similar pattern as well.

First is disbelief. That person said that? About me? No. That can’t be. I just talked to them, and they said loved me. I can’t believe they would say that about me. 

Second, acceptance. When you hear the same thing from several witnesses, you start to realize that what you couldn’t believe is probably true. Oh no. That’s the third person that told me that I can’t trust him because of the things he says . . .

Third, I would call this stage “self-witness.” When you remember other instances over time where they made similar cutting remarks to your face but then gaslighted you and told you that you misunderstood. Or times when you dismissed warnings that other people gave you about this person. Wait a minute. There were red flags that I ignored. This is all starting to make sense.

Fourth, grief. Once reality sinks in and you realize what you are dealing with, the smear campaign can be devastating. Backstabbing and slander are heartbreaking, and the injustice of it is an absolute sucker punch. Often with the narcissist, a person will feel like they have already gone the extra mile to show love, so the smear campaign adds insult to injury. I had no idea. In fact, I felt like I was loving this person well by staying in relationship with them for so long in spite of what they have put me through. How could they do this to me? How could they say these things? I thought this relationship was a safe place; I thought I could trust them.

Fifth, anger and fear of repercussions and a desire to rebut all the lies. Often this stage has so much emotion and reaction that it can affect the physical body with tension headaches, stomachaches, fatigue, and other stress related symptoms. At this point, we have a choice whether or not we are going to let this thing destroy us or whether or not we are going to trust God with our lives, our relationships, and our desire for justice. Oh, I’m calling that guy. I’m going to tell him what I think. I’m going to sue him for slander. I’m going to call all our friends and tell them not to listen to him because he is lying! I have witnesses! This is not going down like this, not if I can help it. Oh, no. I feel sick.

At this point, the road splits. Some people feel they need to get in the middle of the conversation, trying to deal with it directly, calling the person on lies and injury. They may take on the entire weight of the situation and begin to pursue justice, even in the court system.

Others will choose to stay silent, allowing the smear campaign to run its course, knowing that this is part of walking an ethical walk.

Either approach can be valid depending on how God shows you to react. He knows the big picture and how to respond and what will result in the best outcome for all involved.

When you stand for something, people are going to get offended and disagree with you at times. Most of those people will deal with their opinions and move on, but once in a while, someone will go on a rampage against you.

1 Peter 4:12 says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

 

It is crucial to remember that, even though it is one of the most challenging things you will deal with, it is pretty common for people to talk about people they don’t like in a negative way. And if you insist on righteousness in your life, there are going to be people who don’t like you and will talk about you.

It happened to Jesus all the time.

Scripture says we should not be surprised when it comes. 1 Peter 4:12 says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Whatever response you choose, whether to actively go after the lies or to stay silent, holding on to your peace can be the hardest part.

Obsessing over comments is one of the easiest ways to lose our peace.

When I obsess over the comments in the name of “processing,” something our culture encourages, I am much more likely to get physically sick or take my hurt and anger out on my family. When I ruminate on what was said and done, my sleep suffers, my mood suffers, my ability to enjoy my life suffers in every way. And my ability to connect with God on a deep level suffers.

We have to deal with things and admit that they are happening, but ruminating and over-processing are extremely damaging.

I once had so much stress over knowing that someone was lying about me that I lost my vision.

I was pushing a shopping cart and realized I couldn’t see. I was going to run into something if I did not take authority over it right then.

I rebuked the emotion. I repented of taking my eyes off God and putting them on this person. My vision immediately returned.

I realized that I had let that thing touch me.

You can’t let it touch you; you can’t afford to.

Give it to God, hold your peace, and move on. This is pure grit and pure grace. Do it. If you don’t know how or you really can’t take authority over your thoughts, get around people who do know, and learn how to stand your ground in the spirit.

I have a couple of things I do when I realize I am ruminating over someone else’s choices.

Immediately, the second I realize I am doing it, I repent. God, I repent of taking my eyes off of you and looking at this person.

Next, I rebuke the attitude and invite in His peace.

Then, I have some verses I say over and over in my mind or out loud to prevent the ruminating thoughts from creeping back in. I love this one for a good smear campaign:

God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Matthew 5:11 

It is simple but not easy. Most spiritual practices are, and they seem like they can’t work or might not be working at first.

But the things of God are the opposite of the things of the enemy. Sin pays up front, and then demands that you pay later. God’s ways ask for your initial investment of time and focus, and the payoff comes later. And it comes in disproportionate amounts. Say a few scriptures, have total peace? A small price to pay when you consider how anxiety and depression can rob us of our entire lives.

One last thing.

You need to know who you can trust.

As painful as it is, if someone is willing to lie about you, or even go and tell your secrets with a negative spin, you need to know that about that person. You need to know who loves you and who is for you.

And you need to know who is willing to listen to the lies and who is not. You need to know who is on your team.

When truth is revealed and you get past the pain, you realize that it is a gift to you.

God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Matthew 5:11 

 

Release your reputation. Lay even your reputation at the foot of the cross. Jesus’s reputation was destroyed by those who disagreed with Him. Rarely did he defend himself, and when He faced the greatest injustice at the cross, He stayed silent.

Almost every memorable person in history has been lied about. Almost every person you are interested in in current events has accusations about them somewhere in the news or on the internet.

Hold your peace.

Cultivate peace.

Stand for peace.

Forgive, bless, release, and see what God will do.

The lies and hubbub will die down over time. Things will get back to normal, and you will have information you need about the people in your life. Who can be trusted and who can’t. Who needs to be held close in your life and who needs to be held at something of a distance, whether it’s people who spread lies or people who willingly listen.

And just an aside for the listeners. Remember this old saying, “If they will do it with you they will do it to you.”

If people are talking to you and telling someone’s secrets, gossiping, or telling you things about someone else that paint that person in a bad light, they will talk about you or are currently talking about you to someone else. What comes out of the mouth comes from the fullness of the heart. You may feel “in the loop” because someone is telling you secrets, but it may come back to bite you. It has little to do with you and more to do with the character of the one speaking.

Wherever you find yourself in the drama of the smear campaign, you were made for more. He hears your prayers, and He is working even now in the situation. You may not always see it, but what He is doing behind the scenes is powerful and real.

God keeps showing me lately, a vision of Him scooping me up like a baby bird, my bones folded together like the unborn. It is protection and restoration and comfort, a shield from attacks, a shield from fear. He hides me, he hides you, from darkness in His marvelous light.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people to be his very own and to proclaim the wonderful deeds of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1Pet 2:9

***

Today I’m praying for anyone who has been the victim of a smear campaign.

I pray for your heart to be at peace. For God to send ministering spirits to your spirit, soul, and body. For you to keep your eyes off the gossip and the lies and keep your eyes on Jesus. 

I pray for wisdom in the things you participate in and the circles of influence you allow in your life.

For you to get over the shock of what is happening and understand that persecution is normal. For you to be confident in your expectation of tremendous blessing.

For you to walk forward in grit and grace, taking every thought captive and submitting it to Christ. For you to stand and stand firm on the promises and look neither to the right nor to the left.

I pray for those who lie and those who listen. For them to know who they are in Christ so that they can go higher. For all eyes to be opened and for relationships to be healed.

For your awareness of and for your refusal to allow this thing to touch you! For you to get double for your trouble! For you to walk through this fire and not be burned! For you to come out on the other side knowing in greater measure who your friends are, who you are in Christ, and who He is for you–your savior! Your deliverer! Your protector! Your justice! Your strength!

In Jesus! Amen!

Narcissism and Relationships: When Should I Detach?

Narcissism. Detachment.

What in the world is going on here? And how do I know when I should I detach in relationships?

Narcissism is so hard to deal with. Really, people are so hard to deal with a lot of the time, narcissism or not.

Here is my definition of detachment and when I exercise that detachment in relationships:

Detachment, to me, means that I try to keep a part of my mind separate from emotion and interactions, not out of any kind of coldness, but as an exercise of wisdom, to help me stay in prayer and in conversation with God as I am interacting with people, so that I can be aware of what is happening in my relationships in real time and make healthy decisions in the moment.

And, when do I exercise detachment? Always. Or at least I try.

The last few posts here at Lady the Fearless discussed narcissism, variants of narcissism, and the response of detachment.

In the post Detachment is Not a Dirty WordI gave my breakdown of the word “detachment” using Webster’s dictionary definition as a foundation:

One of Webster’s definitions for the word detachment is the state of being objective. 
Being objective means using sound judgement,
being impartial in the assessment of a situation and facts.
Those are good things.
Objectivity is wisdom.
Detachment is not coldness or abandonment. Detachment is wisdom.
So, for the purposes of this blog, the word detachment refers to a wise impartiality in the assessment of relationships.

Detachment is wisdom.

When is it not a good idea to apply a wise impartiality to relationships?
Never.
So. When is it a good idea to apply a wise impartiality to our relationships?
Always.
To be clear, detachment does not mean withholding love. It does not mean turning away or shutting people out of our lives. Creating emotional or physical space or distance in relationships is more accurately defined as drawing boundaries. 
Boundaries can be hallmarks of healthy relationships, and they can be an expression of detachment, but drawing boundaries and exercising detachment are two different things.
An example of a boundary might be saying no to a party invitation when we know we need rest, or not picking up a phone call when we know we need some down time. However, a person could say yes to both of those things while still exercising detachment.
Detachment refers to our ability to observe the state of our relationships objectively without being overwhelmed or blinded by emotion. So we could enjoy socializing at a party or chatting on the phone while still operating in a state of detachment.
I can go to a party while keeping a part of my mind and my heart out of all the action; I can talk on the phone while being aware of my own emotions and the dynamics of the conversation.
Detachment helps me see what I am doing and why I am doing it, and what the other person is experiencing and why they are experiencing it.
In other words, practicing detachment suggests that I care about understanding an experience as much as I care about having an experience.
Detachment says that I want to be mature in my encounters and learn how to be a better person and a better participant in relationships by practicing awareness. Detachment helps me to be aware of patterns and triggers and reactions in my interactions with others.

Detachment helps me see what I am doing and why I am doing it.

Detachment actually helps me be more connected, not less, to people in a healthy way.
As Dr. David Benner says, “The real goal of detachment is engagement. We detach so we can reorder our attachments, and, then, aligned and cooperating with the inflow of Grace into our deepest self, we can allow love to pass through us to touch and heal others in the world.”
When I first encountered the idea of detachment, I found it interesting, but also frustrating. I am naturally a very emotionally driven person, probably like most people, and even though I wanted to be more aware of my interactions as they were happening, I didn’t know how.

Three Tips on Practicing Detachment

These are my three top tips on practicing detachment in relationships:
1. The first step for me was just knowing that I wanted to be more aware. The simple act of wanting it helped me remember to pay attention and pray for greater awareness and wisdom as I encountered people throughout my day.
2. Next, I talked to people who seemed to understand this concept better than I did. I had a great Christian counselor who explained it very simply. “Until you feel like you are making healthier decisions and your relationships are healthier, keep it simple:  Never do anything with anyone unless you have one hundred percent peace of Christ.”

3. And, again, just this simple act of asking myself if I had the peace of Christ in a situation helped keep me from going into old patterns or default modes. And still today, mentally checking in with God and assessing the state of my spirit in the middle of meetings, phone calls, lunches, conversations, etc, momentarily pulls me out of my emotion and plugs me in to the heart of God. Asking myself, “Now, right now, in this moment–do I have the peace of Christ or not, and why?” It is a way to abide in Christ even as I am out and about in the world, a way to be in the world but not of it. Checking out of my own emotion and into His presence keeps me from mindlessly repeating patterns–it breaks into the unconscious and causes me to see circumstances in a new light.

Detachment is a crucial skill in dealing with narcissists or any person who is difficult for us, because it keeps us from getting dragged into unconscious patterns or destructive dramas.

Detachment is even important in dealing with people who are easy for us–it helps us keep from making idols out of our loved ones or falling into co-depency or enmeshment.

I’m praying for all of us to learn detachment, how to be in the world, but not of it, how to be consciously checked in to the heart of God.

***

What are some things you do to help you detach in healthy ways from passive emotion or mindless interactions? Please share in the comments! I’m still growing in this, and we can all learn from each other!

And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:7

 

Circus, Narcissism, and Circling Mountains

Hello, my friends! Hope you are having a great summer!

I’ve been away from my desk for the last couple of months, and I have missed being here at Lady the Fearless–but–wow, what a couple of months.

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that my friend Kimberly and I started a circus.

She Said Circus. A celebration of Kingdom arts and all the unexpected moves of the Holy Spirit.

So many great testimonies from that weekend.

Such a deposit of joy and creativity.

We saw physical and emotional healing at the Circus. We saw salvation. We saw artists released into their callings, and we saw so much joy. I think the thing we heard the most from almost everyone that came was, “I have never felt so alive! I feel so alive! For the first time in years, I feel ALIVE!”

You can find more information about the She Said Circus here.

We are planning on doing it again soon–hope you can join us! So far, we feel like it is a women’s event, but we may open it up to men at a later date.

When the Circus came to town, I was in the middle of a blog series on narcissism.

Next week, I’ll pick that series back up with the detachment post I’ve been promising!

For now, I want to say about narcissism that it is a spectrum disorder, like many mental disorders. That means that there is a spectrum of affected behaviors. And honestly, with this particular one, most of us fall somewhere on that spectrum and have tendencies to one or another expression of narcissism.

That means that it is important while we are looking at others and wondering, “Are they, or aren’t they?” that we also look at ourselves honestly and ask God, “Lord, where can I grow in this area? Where do I need to be healed so that I am not participating in the same stuff?”

It is the reasoning behind the biblical concept of “dying to self.”

Dying to ourself doesn’t mean denying ourselves every good expression of God, but it does mean accepting the fact that the flesh is selfish. And that means even our own flesh can be selfish. Even mine. Even yours. In other words, this is not a thing that only applies to “everyone else.”

We need to get healed of those things that cause the worst expressions of selfishness in our lives. We need to get healed of the things that cause us to act out in self-protective and self-preserving ways at the expense of others without us being aware of what we are doing.

In my experience with narcissistic behavior, that is generally the case.

I truly believe that many people are not aware of the ways that they hurt us, and they really don’t do most of it on purpose. It’s simply that they are so concerned with their own needs, they legitimately don’t see where their “need” encroaches on someone else. On yours, or on mine.

Think about the times you have really lost your temper. Were you intentionally focusing on bringing hurt to another person? Or were you actually just exhausted? Afraid of something? Really hurt about something else that had happened that day?

We have all done this.

We have all hurt someone else when we were focused on our own pain.

The scary thing about doing this, and particularly about allowing it to become a behavior pattern, is that people can lose touch with reality. Depending on the severity of triggers and of certain fears in relationship with you, reality can become displaced by the wounding and confusion in their minds.

For example, you may want to have a conversation with someone about how a certain issue in your relationship could be improved, but all they hear is attack, attack, attack. Many of these people have severe childhood trauma associated with abusive parental punishment or abandonment.

So, your simple, “Hey, can we talk about this?” may translate in their minds to “YOU ARE WRONG, AND YOU ARE ABOUT TO BE SEVERELY PUNISHED.”

Dealing with issues can be a trigger for them to the point that they confuse you in their mind with abusive people from the past. They may react with unreasonable fear or disproportionate emotion. They may attack you physically or verbally. They may lie about you, saying that you actually did the abusive things that they were afraid you would do or that others have done to them.

Because of a broken personality, you get caught in a crossfire of a false reality.

But in their mind, it is real.

I have such tremendous compassion for the pain that they are going through. At the same time, this situation clearly is impossible to deal with, especially one-on-one.

If the person you are trying to communicate with confuses you with past abusers or assumes that you will behave in the same way as past abusers in their mind, you will get nowhere with them in a one-on-one scenario.

Prayer is always the most powerful, and, sometimes, the only thing we can do. Learning detachment, bringing in witnesses, even using legal counsel may be needed at some point. I’ll get to that in later posts.

But for the purpose of this post, for now, it is up to us to hold ourselves to the same scrutiny. Psychology statistics suggest that relatively few people are true, full-blown narcissists. However, because narcissism is a spectrum of mild to extreme (even criminal) selfishness, most of us can relate, at least somewhat, to the challenges a full-blown narcissist might face. Rather than only looking outward and analyzing everyone else, the healthy thing to do is balance that relationship evaluation with personal evaluation.  With God’s help, I am the only person I have any power to change.

We can take the time we are waiting to see change in our friends and family to ask ourselves honestly, and ask God, and even some trusted friends, “What about me? I know what my family member/my spouse/my friend/my co-worker does, but what about me? Do I ever do this? Do I ever exhibit any degree of these behaviors myself?”

If we are being honest, most of us are going to say “yes” to these questions in at least some areas, under certain conditions. 

While we wait on our loved ones to get healed and change, we can take some of that time to work on ourselves. To let God have His healing way in us.

Rather than feeling condemnation, failure, hopelessness, bitterness, rage, or any number of negative shameful responses, God wants to use our vulnerability to grow us into the person He dreamed of when He built the foundations of the earth.

He will help us become the best version of ourselves if we submit to His processes.

There is a saying in some circles, “Going around the same mountain.” It means something like, “Dealing with the same issue over and over and never getting past it.” I don’t want to go around and around the same mountain all my life. Even if it hurts a little to see my faults, I want to face them, give them to God, and let Him move me past them in His time.

When I do this, I will certainly be faced with a new mountain, and I may go around it a few times.

But I don’t want to get stuck there.

I don’t want any of us to get stuck. Anywhere.

I’m praying for our mountains. That we overtake them rather than running mindlessly around them for the rest of our lives, wondering why we never seem to advance.

I’m praying for breakthrough. For healing and victory. For seeing the substance of things hoped for, manifest faith and love in our lives.

For complete and total healing, for the death of the flesh, that the new man can rise up.

Can rise up, and run.

***

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Heb 11:1

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Jas 5:16

Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Rom 6:6-7

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Heb 12:1

Detachment: A Response to Narcissism.

Detachment.
It’s not a dirty word.
But it sounds like one to some people. When they hear the word detachment, they think of coldness or abandonment.
And while detachment may sometimes involve physically walking away from a situation, it actually has more to do with the way we allow our emotions to be engaged by someone else’s behavior and choices.

Detachment is not a dirty word.

One of Webster’s definitions for the word detachment is
the state of being objective.
Being objective means using sound judgement, being impartial in the assessment of a situation and facts.
Those are good things.
Objectivity is wisdom.
Detachment is not coldness or abandonment. Detachment is wisdom.

If I hadn’t learned to detach emotionally from abusive personalities, I would never have done the things I needed to do–protect my kids, nurture my marriage, invest in my own physical health.

Detachment is wisdom.

 

I would not enjoy anything about life. Nothing.

I would be constantly questioning myself. I would feel tremendous unwarranted shame. I would be filled with latent rage and anxiety. I would be physically sick.

I would feel dead inside.

And I would have let those people do it to me, and in my permission, I would have been complicit.

If I had not detached emotionally from their issues, if I had not said, “You can do that if you want to, but I’m not going there. I’ll be over here. I’ll always be here. I’ll always love you. But I am not going down that road with you. Your choice,” if I had not said no, I would have been saying yes to the lies, the cruelty, the insanity, the neglect–all the abuse.

Detachment says, “I’m not going to be your partner in crazy. I’m not going to participate. I’m not cooperating with your efforts to hurt us both. I’m going to do the opposite. I’m going to detach so that I don’t pour fuel on your fire, into your vehicle of madness. And not only that, I’m going to detach so that you get to see detachment modeled. Calm in the face of circumstance, I’m going to model it for you.”

And even more importantly, detachment says, “I’m not going to respond in kind to emotion or manipulation. I’m not going to put a spell on you by employing my gifts to anesthetize you. In fact, I’m going to do the opposite. I’m going to put a hold on the flow of my gifts so that I don’t stand in as a substitute for what you really need—JESUS. I’m going to unplug so that you can encounter the Lord and receive ministry from Him.”

If I had not detached, I would have been saying “yes” to the abuse.

 

Detachment lets people know that we are not their god, and we will not play God for them in any way.

When I had kids, I saw the things people did and had done in a different light. The kids needed to be protected—spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Detachment says, “I’m not going to be your partner in crazy.”

 

It made me see that I should have been protected too.

But because I was not protected, I realized that, as an adult, I had work to do.

I had to learn to become a protector of any seed of God, or anything God was trying to birth in me or around me. The kids, yes, but also the things in me that had never been given their day. I had destiny in me. I could feel it. But I didn’t lead with it, I didn’t know how to carry it.

So destiny got stuffed and apologized for until it came out in explosions of frustration in every direction, toward my children, toward my husband, toward myself, physical sickness, rage.

Detachment became a path out of the mess and into order. Detachment made a space for the things God wanted to do in and around me.

Detachment says, “I’m not going to play God for you.”

 

In Mark, Jesus corrects the Pharisees when they try to take everything the people have and leave them nothing to take care of their families. It is not right to drain someone and leave them empty when they have a territory to protect and provide for, even if we say it is for God.

Some people really want to work on themselves and change. They are reachable. They are teachable. They are the people that teachers call “little sponges.” They soak up everything you say and they apply it. These people can be needy and tiresome and hard to deal with—but you will see fruit. They are worth every bit of effort and time you pour into them. Your time with them is fruitful. The fruit is evidence that they are receiving you and that the time you’re spending with them is not wasted.

But not everyone responds to you in this way. Not everyone receives you. And even scripture tells us that this is their choice.

There are other kinds of relationships in our lives. There are people that want to bring you the same drama every day and use your energy to get them through the next half hour and never change anything—no matter how much time you spend praying, and listening, and offering advice and help and money, and on and on, and nothing ever changes—this is not fruitful.

There is an element of witchcraft involved in the drama of the people who bring that drama and never change.

There is no good fruit here.

Where there is never any fruit, I heard the Holy Spirit say one time, “The repetitive fruitless cycle is evidence that they are not receiving you.”

Where they don’t receive you, where they don’t receive the message of wisdom and true love and the soundness of the gospel, shake the dust off your feet and leave that house or that town.

I work hard and sacrifice every day to build what I’m building. My home is peaceful. It’s the first thing almost everyone says when they come in. That’s not by accident. My kids are well adjusted and on a good path. My marriage is happy and friendly and joyful and alive. We have our challenges, but I am doing things I’m meant to do, things I feel called to do.

If I let fruitless drama distract me from these things, I am trashing the calling on my life. I’m robbing my family of the things that they should get from me first. And it is not someone else’s fault if I let drama distract me; it is mine.

Loving people doesn’t mean doing whatever they want you to do, especially when it contradicts the thing God has asked you to do.

If I allow fruitless drama to bring distraction, I am trashing the calling on my life.

 

Eyes on One Thing. That’s all I have time for. Run with me, and I’ll run with you all day. Throw distractions at my feet, and I will detach so fast you won’t even see the vapor.

In the next post I’ll talk about the ways I discern  what God is showing me about detachment, when detachment is needed, and the different ways you can detach in different situations.

For now, I hope this post gives a new look at a healthy approach to dealing with narcissism and any abusive relationship.

Detachment is not a dirty word.

In fact, it is a tangible and fruitful expression of wisdom and a way to stay focused on the calling God has placed on your life.

***

Father, I pray for anyone in an abusive relationship to have eyes to see clearly what is happening. I pray for their ability to emotionally detach from the situation, to see it with Your eyes. Your ways are not our ways, and sometimes, the things You say are loving and unloving don’t make sense to human minds. Give us True Love for people and True Wisdom. Give us actions that actually do good rather than simply feeling good, actions that manifest Kingdom love versus some earthly imitation.

Help us know when to detach emotionally, those places where we can’t let our guard down because there is more going on than meets the eye. Help us feel Your release on detachment, to know it’s not cruel or mean to distance ourselves from a person so that we can both be closer to You, so that we hear Your voice louder than we hear each other.

And we pray for all the hurting people in our lives. We confess our tendencies to try to play God for people and want to fix it all. I pray that You show us how to get out of the way and let them encounter You directly, how to let them feel conviction that leads to change, how to let them feel Your love without us always having to be the conduit.

Let Your will be done and Your Kingdom come, in us and in all our relationships, as it is in Heaven. In Jesus’ name, amen.

You say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)—then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that. Mk 7:11-13

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Mt 10:14

Recognizing the 4 Variants of Narcissism

Last week, I wrote a post about narcissism.

I have known a lot of narcissists in my life.

Recently, a friend of mine who has a degree in psychology reminded me of the four variants of narcissism. I had read them before, but because most of the narcissists I know fall into one category, “The Diva/Queen/Little King,” I sometimes forget about the variants. However, I have known someone in every category.

Most personality disorders fall on a spectrum, or a way of measuring something along a continuum. The variants described in this post are points on the continuum, not isolated events or types. And, all of us fall somewhere on the narcissistic continuum–it’s the nature of the flesh to cater to itself.

In some cases, the mental health approach is getting away from specifying behaviors and variants in order to emphasize the idea of a sliding spectrum from vulnerable (The Streetchild) to grandiose (The Devil.) This approach avoids labeling someone with an identity that they can never shake, either in their mind or in ours, and there is value in not taking on a negative label.

But there is also value in understanding the problems that you are dealing with, either in yourself or in a relationship with someone else. Learning the variants has helped me understand people in my life. When I read a description and recognize it, it helps me know how to move forward in those situations. “I’m not crazy. This thing is real. Ok. Now what.”

At the root of most narcissistic behavior is a terrible fear that the person is unlovable, a fear that they will be abandoned or rejected, and, because they view all relationships through this lens, they think they have to demand anything they will ever get in relationship. Their need to control people and protect themselves from criticism stems from this fear.

There are probably as many variations on narcissism as there are people on the planet, but there are four main ones that some professionals recognize as common patterns. I’m giving them my own names today, but you will find similar definitions if you research under these terms for Borderline Personality Disorder:  Waif, hermit, queen, and witch. (BPD and NPD are slightly different. Some people consider them to be degrees of the same problem. Others see them as completely different disorders. I see them as different expressions of the same root. I believe the DSM-V expresses the difference in terms of behaviors in personal relationships–the Borderline–versus interactions with everyone in their community–the Narcissist.)

Knowing the variants can make sense out of seemingly senseless behaviors and help you understand why you feel so frustrated with certain people at times. It’s important to remember that we all fall somewhere on the spectrum of narcissism, so just because you may recognize a behavior here or there, it doesn’t mean you or someone else is a certified narcissist. It simply means we are all human and battle some degree of self-absorption and fear. A person would have to embody nearly every symptom, combined with other markers that can be found in the DSM-V, to be truly diagnosed as a narcissist.

So, I am not a psychologist, but these are my observations combined with things I have learned over the years.

Four Common Variants of Narcissism

 

  1. The Streetchild. This variant is usually more introverted, on the vulnerable end of the narcissist spectrum. They use vulnerability, neediness, and weakness to control others, rather than being completely overt dominators. They are  hypersensistive, hypermodest, and easily offended or wounded. They are extremely self-critical and insecure. They get attention mostly by sharing their problems or needs–health, relationships, etc. They are not grandiose in the sense of having a huge personality, usually being more shy or shrinking personalities, but in the sense of having a huge focus on and fascination with negativity and evil and how terribly hurt they are by that evil. They are energy drains, only wanting to talk about problems–how they have been mistreated, all the bad things in the world, how they can’t get ahead in life, etc–and no matter how many times you offer suggestions or solutions, they will never implement them, and you will be guaranteed to have the same conversation over and over again. They try to drag you down with them, not relating to your strengths, but having an eerie ability to hone in on the smallest weakness or insecurity. They will question you about things that you enjoy or feel are going along ok in your life. “Really?” they will ask, “Really? Are you really happy there? Are you really feeling ok? Do you really feel good about that thing you’re wearing or that thing you did?” If you aren’t aware of what they are doing, you may feel weakened around them and begin to question yourself and your choices, when, just a moment earlier, you felt strong and were perfectly happy.
  2. The Loner. This variant is also more introverted but somewhat higher functioning than the Streetchild because the negativity is projected on to others rather than  themselves. They tend to obsessively withdraw and show reclusive behavior when they aren’t forced to interact. They may choose careers where they don’t have to be around people. They will find excuses to avoid all social interactions. Their pets are often not socialized; their homes are not welcoming. This is not by accident–they do these things purposefully, if not always consciously. They set their lives up to be left alone. They channel their fear of relationships by behaving as though they don’t want them at all. It’s easier that way. They are better, cleaner, more responsible, etc, than everyone else, and they don’t want to be contaminated by associating with the unwashed masses. They may secretly feel rejected, not realizing that they set up their world to have no friends. They fear rejection, so they reject everyone else before they have a chance to be rejected themselves–therefore, they reap rejection and don’t always know why.
  3. The Diva or Little King. This variant is the most common that I have experienced. This one is the grandiose, the flashy, the magnetically attractive personality. This type makes everyone around them feel special–at first. They are masters at winning someone over, no matter who they are. They are highly social extroverts and master networkers. This one is probably the most socially successful of the variants in Western culture. They behave like “stars.” Until. Someone disagrees with them or draws a boundary? Insanely unreasonable tantrums, insults, fits, accusations, lies, gaslighting, demands, and other forms of emotional abuse erupt out of them as they protest what they see as rejection. They want to be worshipped. Anything less in relationship is terrifying to them. They will share their successes, but they don’t care about yours. And while anything that goes right is because of them, anything that goes wrong is because of you or someone else. They don’t know how to calmly do the work of healthy relationship–to respect boundaries, to trust, or to compromise. “My way–or my way at any cost” is their motto.
  4. The Devil. This variant is at the ultimate far end of the grandiose narcissistic spectrum. This person takes all the difficulties of the Diva and ramps them up to eleven. There is less charm, less concern with winning people over or networking, and more overt control. If you’ve seen the movie Bernie, Ms. Nugent would fall into this category. Also in Agatha Christie’s novel, Appointment with Death, Mrs. Boynton could represent this variant. For whatever reason, this person has enough social currency- family respect, money, fame, governmental power, etc–that they don’t have to be charming to get what they want, and they actually prefer being disagreeable. They like being nasty and watching people cater to them because of the power they wield. They are master mental manipulators. Crushing other people’s personalities, joy, and egos by manipulation is a hobby to them. It’s entertaining, and it is a rewarding proof to them that they hold the power in the relationship. It is the ultimate exertion of keeping others weak and dependent on them so that they will never leave them. And no matter how horrible they behave to those that they control, they will expect complete devotion from them. If anyone tries to correct them or hold them accountable, they will either fly into a classic narcissistic rage, or they will suddenly switch off all power and play the victim: “How could you talk to me like that? You know I’m old/sensitive/sick/have no friends/etc?” How they respond to criticism usually depends on who is watching. They will never take any responsibility for the mental prisons they create. “If you feel imprisoned, leave! The way you feel is all your fault,” according to this personality.

So. Yuck.

When I think about narcissism, or any personality disorder, I always stop and recognize that these people are hurting deep down, whether they acknowledge that pain or not.

They need prayer, healing, deliverance.

Sometimes we need to detach emotionally to be able to be healthy ourselves. Next week, I’ll talk more about detachment and the different forms it can take. For now, I pray for our friends and family, co-workers and other people in our communities who struggle with narcissism in some form.

This post is Part Two in a series. For Part One, click here. Part Three coming next week.

***

All the schemes of the enemy serve one purpose–to kill, steal, and destroy the abundant life that Christ died to give us.

No matter how difficult the situation, nothing is too hard for God. 

With your help, I can advance against a troop, with my God, I can scale any wall. Psalm 18:29

 

Signs You Could Be in Relationship with a Narcissist. Part 1.

In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a beautiful young man, and Echo was the nymph who fell in love with him.

Echo pursued Narcissus, calling after him, and Narcissus ran by a forest stream. As he passed the water, he glanced down and caught a glimpse of his reflection. Taken by what he saw, he knelt by the water and gazed into his own eyes, mesmerized by the sight of himself.

Narcissus stayed where he was, obsessed with the image in the water, talking to himself about himself, until he withered away into a tiny flower by the stream, ostensibly the flower we know today as Narcissus.

And we take our word narcissism from this story. But in reality, someone who cannot look away from their own reflection is usually more afraid that it will disappear, more afraid that the good thing they think they see is not real, than they are in love with themselves.

Narcissists create a narrative around their lives, and all the people in them, a story that presents the image they want to project. They will do everything in their power to control the image, the way that they are perceived, ultimately because they believe that they can only be loved if they are perfect.

Of course no one is perfect, so the image and the narrative are doomed to fail.

All of us have some characteristics of narcissism, being obsessed with ourselves or fearful of being seen as less than perfect, from time to time.

It’s ok. No one is perfect.

 

When we let these feelings lead us instead of trusting God to love us and work through us and be there for us, we become self-reliant. And self-reliance is not very reliable. We are finite beings playing an infinite game. Winning that game is purely dependent on who we look to as our champion. When we try to fill the role of champion for ourselves, we set ourselves up to fail. Only God is big enough to champion us, only God can cover all our shortcomings and work all things for our good.

The narcissist needs affirmation, reassurance that they are lovable. They create a persona that gets attention and rewards, so their personalities are often larger than life, charming and grandiose. When they focus their laser charm on you, it is hard to resist, especially if you have not encountered this personality before.

Winning your attention will become a marker of success for the narcissist. You have something the narcissist wants in his or her life, and you will be seen as part of their perfect narrative, until you are drawn into the story.

But once you are a part of their story, you become subject to the same love/hate relationship that the narcissist has with himself. He does see some good things about himself and blows them up in the public eye. But he becomes exhausted by maintaining an extreme image, so he explodes in private and indulges in self-medicating vices. When he comes face-to-face with his flaws, he is disgusted and hates himself. It is a vicious cycle, and once you are connected with him personally, you are in it with him.

Everything the narcissist does flows from a foundation of proving that he is lovable, which, in her mind, equals being perfect and brilliant and wonderful and successful all the time.  (i.e.:  Always right, never wrong, nothing is their fault, etc.)

Trusting God and knowing that He loves us just as we are, imperfections and all, is the ultimate antidote for narcissism.

 

This kind of pressure results in some desperate and destructive behaviours in relationships. I am not a psychologist, but I have known quite a few people with varying degrees of narcissism, and I’ve noticed some things that most of them have in common.

First, I’ll tell you a story of narcissism, then I’ll follow with a short list of signs that you could be in relationship with a narcissist.

A Story of Narcissism

One beautiful day, you meet a dashing new friend or love interest. The relationship starts out as the most exciting, interesting, and compelling relationship of your life. You didn’t know people like this existed outside of Hollywood. Charming, grand, hilarious, or on the other end, extremely gifted, but unusually broken and needy, either way, this personality is larger than life, and they need you. They want to date you, mother you, father you, hire you, or be mentored by you. They seem to be the person you’ve been waiting for. You feel extremely flattered to be included in their world.

However. After a few months of a whirlwind, the facade starts to break down. The exciting gentleman you are seeing doesn’t show up for a date. When you call to ask him about it, he explodes, screaming and yelling at you about something that happened two weeks ago, and he fights dirty, using personal insults and humiliating language. You have no idea what happened and feel completely devastated. He calls in a day or two and acts like nothing happened and mentions he is getting over a cold. The next day he sends you a dozen roses at work and comes by to take you to lunch at your favorite, very expensive, restaurant. The girls at your job can’t believe how lucky you are. You decide that he was just sick, and that this was a fluke. It won’t happen again.

A couple of weeks later, it happens again. And you are, again, devastated. This time, though, it’s bigger. Maybe he didn’t take the dog out for you at lunch like he promised, and you come home to a disaster, or he offered to take your car to be serviced, but you find out he never actually did it when your car breaks down by the side of he road, and you are stranded. Disasters begin to be commonplace with this person, because they cannot live up to all the promises they make. You don’t know this, but you are not the only one he is making promises to. He cannot be the grand and perfect person he thinks he needs to be to be loved, and so he fails in every relationship eventually.

You are still madly in love, who wouldn’t be? The things he said in the beginning were the things you had always hoped you would hear, needed to hear, but never had heard them in a relationship before. He meets needs you didn’t even know you had. He is the most exciting man in the world. And he needs you too. He says he does. And you can tell he needs you from some of the ridiculous things that go on in his life. But the craziness has got to stop. He’s worth working for, but you are going to have to deal with some of these issues.

You fix a nice dinner and invite him over. You start eating and tell him, “We need to talk.” He looks shocked and taken aback, but you have seen this face before and are starting to think it’s a bit of a con. “No. We really need to talk.” And before you can even get five words out, he stands up, furious, and throws his glass across the room and punches a hole in the wall, all the while screaming at you that this whole things is your fault because you are such a stupid idiot. Your dog should be put to sleep. etc. Oh, and getting stranded in your car by the side of the road? Never happened. You are lying to try to get your way and get money from him. He leaves.

You fall on the floor crying and have no idea what happened. “I just wanted to talk to you,” you cry as you look around the room at the broken glass and plaster.

Signs You Could Be in Relationship with a Narcissist

  1. Larger than life personality, either unusually dynamic, or unusually in need.
  2. The first 2-3 months are “perfect.”
  3. After those first months, huge problems begin to emerge. We ignore red flags or don’t see them at all because they don’t match up with who we thought the person was. We find excuses for certain behaviours and hope they won’t happen again.
  4. They happen again, and we decide to have a loving conversation and do the work of relationship with the person, establishing boundaries, improving communication, etc.
  5. When we confront, even gently, the narcissist cannot handle it. Their imperfection is out in the open, and it is terrifying to them. It is proof that they are not lovable, and even while you are saying you love them, they can’t seem to hear you. They go to extremes to defend themselves, including violent outbursts, lying, screaming, personal insults, abusive language, making up grandiose excuses, punching or breaking things, etc.
  6. And, every single problem, every single thing they do is somehow your fault. You made them do it.
  7. Because of the way they react when you ask about a situation, you begin to feel like the crazy one. Narcissists do something called “gaslighting,” like the man in the story saying the woman’s car never broke down. They will lie and say that you are the one lying. You begin to question yourself and the way you remember certain events and conversations.  In fact, they begin to project and accuse you of doing every single thing that they do. You feel like you are losing your grip on reality.

I recently did a Facebook video on this topic, and the response I had in terms of messages and comments, phone calls and texts, was overwhelming. Many of us have encountered this personality, or are in relationship with one currently. It’s good to know you aren’t losing your mind. But now what?

Most narcissists are in need of deep emotional healing. But to seek healing, you have to admit something is wrong in the first place. Admitting imperfection is terrifying to the narcissist, and they usually will not go  to therapy. If they do go, they will resist going deep, or they will use their charm and ability to reason to convince  the therapist that they are there because of you. If you go to therapy with a narcissist, go to a Christian counselor who understands this problem and can recognize it.

It’s good to know you aren’t losing your mind. But now what?

 

It is the most insecure people, often the ones who have been harmed in childhood, the ones whose identity has been stripped from them through trauma and abuse, the ones who have the most to prove and fear that not even God is for them all the time,  who have the greatest need to control their images.

I have seen a very few narcissists improve over time. The only ones I know who have shown any kind of marked change are those who found a deep relationship with God and allowed Him to reassure them and speak into their lives.

Trusting God and knowing that He loves us just as we are, imperfections and all, is the ultimate antidote for narcissism.

A truly confident man or woman is not obsessed with their own image. Confident people can look away from themselves without fearing that their image will disappear. Those who make God their confidence know that He holds them in the palm of His hand. They can look away from their image because He never does.

***

In the rest of this series, I will share a little more of my experience in relationship with narcissists, the variants of narcissism, and some possible approaches to resolving issues with the narcissist.

In the meantime, know that I’m praying for you and your loved ones to be set free of this stronghold. 

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

 

Winning at Life.

How I spend my free time lately:

Winning at life memes.

They crack me up.

Sarcasm is my favorite.

Humor always has an element of truth.

Last week I talked about the voice of the wailing woman. I talked about coping through the shaking of pain and trauma. And I said that I choose to see trials as opportunities.

Sometimes when I write, I just have to stop. I reach a certain word count, or I run out of time, and I just have to let the post stand alone.

When I went back and read it later, that part felt unfinished.

How is it possible to see a trial as an opportunity?

The first time I really started to understand this idea was a few years ago when I discovered Graham Cooke videos, and, one of them especially, I listened to over and over, Building the Right Mindset (From The Art of Thinking Brilliantly). It’s still on YouTube if you want to listen.

In that video, he talks about seeing things differently and about what it means to move in the opposite spirit.

I was astonished by his ability to turn a situation on its head, to take something seemingly negative and see God’s hand of blessing in it.

How is it possible to see a trial as an opportunity?

 

I wanted my mind to work like that.

It didn’t.

I listened to that same talk from him umpteen times. Yes, umpteen. That’s the official number.

I thought I could force my mind to work that way. Enough conscious effort, and I would be just like Graham Cooke.

Realizing you want a thing is the first step to having it. Making a conscious effort to get that thing is valuable. But conscious effort doesn’t get you there by itself.

It is the practice of pursuing that thing over time with God’s help that takes us where we want to go.

The “over time” part seems a problem for a lot of us. And the “practice” part. Also the “pursuing.” All of it really.

The things of God are simple but not easy.

I choose what I value and what I want to pursue. But even the simple act of making that choice is not easy. Choosing something common, like a flavor of ice cream, is still a little difficult for me. So many choices, and what mood am I in, and do I want something chocolate, or something fruity?

Counting the cost at the ice cream counter can slow me down. But counting the cost over things of the spirit can shut me down.

It’s a gritty choice. Like, I’m doing this. I want to win. I don’t want to be a statistic. I want to win, and He’s the only way I can win. I’m doing this Your way, God, show me how to win.

I know a lot of people who love God and read the Bible. A very very few of them press in to the point that they see God’s promises on this earth.

I started out my adulthood in a complete mess. I was wounded, traumatized, and hopeless. But I felt God near. I felt Him inviting me higher. I suffered from depression and the occasional suicidal thought. I didn’t know how to be married or how to deal with my anger as a parent. I felt thrown into life, unprepared.

But I was raised by people who said that the answer to everything was in God’s word. I started reading the Bible as a child. As an adult, it is the thing that has saved me, over and over.

The things of God are simple but not easy.

 

I pressed into scripture like it was a life raft, an oxygen tank, a blood transfusion. I read the word and copied it down like my life depended on it.

It did.

God’s word, and drawing near to Him and to people who knew Him, saved me. It gave me a better life. I don’t suffer from depression any longer. I don’t have suicidal thoughts. I have been married for twenty years, and I have a great relationship with my kids.

I don’t take credit for it except for one thing–whatever God showed me to do, I participated in. I said yes, wholeheartedlyGod is the one who heals us and does the work, but we have to agree with Him and invite Him to have His way. I give Him the glory, as the saying goes, but I think we need to be honest in the church about the importance of our own participation. Free will from a generous God means that we don’t just lie on the couch and wait for Him to fix everything, we have a part to play in what He wants to do in our lives. The more we agree, the more He has room to work.

So, back to trials and opportunity. Scripture promises us double for our trouble. It’s a promise. It says to rejoice when we encounter trials of many kinds. It’s a direct instruction.

I can read over those words and pass by on the way to something prettier, like, I am my Beloved’s, and He is mine.

Which is also true and valuable. I like it all. But I want to go deep, because I know that the errors and flaws within me are deep. They won’t get fixed if I skim over them every time.

The more we agree, the more He has room to work.

 

Or, I can stop at those challenging words. Rejoice when you face trials of many kinds.

I can stop there. And I can stay there. And I can press in.

If I don’t know how to press in, I just tell Him.

I want to understand this, Lord. I see people around me who understand this, and I’m going to pattern after them as much as I can. But You have to teach me and conform me to this from the inside out. I need supernatural transformation. I need You to reveal to me Your mystery. And I’m going to keep asking until I see it happen.

For me, that’s a little bit of what pressing in looks like.

Would love to hear from you, what does pressing in look like when you encounter something so counterintuitive in God’s word?

And I’m praying for all of us. To stand on the promises and press in like everything depends on it. To let Him show us how to win at life. For realz.

***

Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours. Isaiah 61:7

Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Gen 32:36

Shaken Like a Rag Doll, but Not Overcome.

This year has shaken me like a rag doll.

Like a rag doll with floppy arms, or like a cat in a dog’s mouth. Things happening too hard. Too fast.

And when the shaking comes, the world goes by in a blur as I am jerked back and forth by circumstance, by other people’s choices, by life.

I feel the whiplash. And a part of me wonders how much I can take.

We had another death in our family. We had a tragic thing happen to a friend. We had too much to tell. If I wrote it all down, you’d think I was lying.

Suffice it to say, I feel shaken.

Part of me wonders how much I can take.

 

How many times have I prayed it?

Shake everything that can be shaken. Shake. Shake. Shake. Shake me God, like potatoes in a net sack, shake me so the good stuff stays in and the dirt falls through the cracks.

I’ve prayed it. I’ve declared it.

I feel like I haven’t had a year like this, ever in my life, but the truth is, I may have. If I look back for trauma and loss, I’m sure I could find it. God isn’t the one who brought those things, but something is different. Instead of pushing through, I’ve engaged deeply with every personal event. It’s time.

It’s up to us how much we engage with our circumstance.

It’s time.

 

I have this thing I do–I don’t mean to, don’t even realize I’m doing it until later–where I skim. I skim over the top of what’s happening. I acknowledge it. I glance at it. I nod toward it, but I don’t engage. Instead of letting it shake me, I shake it off and move on.

It happens when someone tells me something I can’t emotionally comprehend. Like the first time someone explains something I’ve never experienced, or when I hear about something really terrible far from home. A mass murder in another country, or sex trafficking with all the details.

Oh, God. No. I am taking care of kids right now. I can’t handle this. Shake it off. Smile at the kids. Let them distract me from this story. They are so cute. Aww, kids are so cute.

Somehow I can go from horrible mass murder to the kids are so cute in about a millisecond.

I think this is a good skill to have, a needed skill. We have to function. We have to cope. And every battle is not ours to fight.

But if we do it every single time, it’s not coping, it’s stuffing.

Somehow I can go from
‘horrible mass murder’
to ‘the kids are so cute’
in about a millisecond.

 

If I subvert every negative thing that comes my way every single time, I become a sunshine Mary, I become fake and false and plastic and brittle with the effort to never go there.

We get afraid of seeing what’s really happening to us, around us, in our lives, our country,  our world. We don’t want most of it to be true, first of all, and we don’t  trust our ability to face it if it is.

And that’s really okay, a lot of the time. We have to get up and do the day. Go to work. Clean house. Go to school. Pay bills. Be in relationship. And a lot of things fix themselves. Thank God, I’m not that necessary. Every single thing doesn’t require my attention.

But some things do. The things that happen in my house, they require my attention. The things that happen in my territory, whatever it is, they require my attention, even if it’s just to delegate or follow-up once in a while.

But even those things that require a light touch, they still require my  engagement. I have to be checked in. And that takes energy. It takes discipline.

The things that happen in my territory require my attention.

 

To stay checked out means we lie to ourselves so we can believe the horrible thing is not really happening, or so we can believe that we aren’t really needed.

Or it means that we harden our hearts against what God is asking us to do, against the fulfillment of our own destinies.

There is a scripture that says the man who does not discipline his son hates his son.

Sometimes I think about that verse.

I think about that verse when silence descends on this house full of rowdy kids. Suspicious silence. I would prefer to stay on the couch. It would be much easier to say, oh, how wonderful, they are being quiet. My precious little angels. What good children.

 

Photo by Mc Jefferson Agloro on Unsplash

 

But love doesn’t assume. Love engages.

The little angels might be reading books about gardens and Jesus, but they might also be stirring Legos in the toilet with butcher knives.

I don’t know what is happening if I don’t engage. And if I don’t engage, I could end up taking my little angel to the ER. Not to mention having to rip up my bathroom tile and pay a bajillion dollars to the plumber.

But if I engage, I can avoid all that with a quick intervention. A quick no, a quick restoration of order, a redirect.

I don’t know what is happening
if I don’t engage. 

 

It’s the same in my mind. In my soul.

There is a dividing line between soul and spirit. It’s something like bone, because the Bible likens it to the separation between joints and marrow. It’s a hard line.

I feel like I’m running into that line. Because even as my soul shakes, I feel a new strength in my spirit.

Shake everything that can be shaken, God.

I’ve been shaken.

But somewhere within me, there is a solid place, a still place, and it will not be moved.

I need to engage with what He is doing, and I need to let Him engage with me. I need to let God restore order in me, or show me a new strategy. I need His redirect.

Shake everything that can be shaken, God.

 

I need to look fully at the circumstances in my territory. They aren’t in someone else’s back yard. They aren’t someone else’s battles to fight. They are my own.

Because of what’s happened, I have grieved. And I find my normally cheery self at a loss. I don’t often have the urge to stand and scream at the top of my lungs, but I’m having that. A little bit, even right now. And when I’m driving especially, or cooking. I want to throw my head back and scrunch my eyes and scream like only a grieving woman can scream.

Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash

 

I understand the wailing woman.

In Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the wailing woman is associated with wisdom, and the ability to wail, with acquired skill.

We wail in this way, we weep, when our hearts are pierced. When we have learned to be brave and really look and see the truth of the thing that is looking full in our face, or when we have been stripped of anything that would keep us from it. We wail when we recognize the truth of tragedy and injustice. We wail when we let ourselves feel it all.

The wailing woman
is associated with wisdom,

and the ability to wail,
with acquired skill.

 

In the past, I skimmed. I rarely wailed. I might shed one little tear. I might even cry. But I have talked myself out of horrors.

Today, I wail. And I am shaken.

The dividing line between soul and spirit makes itself known, and I say, amen.

Let it be so in me.

Because I can feel something greater than all the things that are falling away. I feel His presence. When I am weak, He is strong. And He is not ethereal, but a hard line. He is tangible, and He is strengthening me in ways I have never felt before.

How I’m Learning to Engage:
3 Tips for Your Process

 

Engagement is not easy.

Here is what I’m doing these days that is carrying me through the shaking.

1) First, I recognize that urge to scream or cry or whatever. Instead of brushing it off or saying, “I don’t have time for that right now,” I acknowledge it. “Wow. I feel like screaming my head off.” I tell someone else. “I really feel like screaming.” Seeing it and sharing it is the opposite of stuffing the feeling. It allows it to be real. It gives it space and validity. It helps me know what to do next.

2) Second, I ask God, “Why am I reacting to this thing, in this way, in this moment?” Once I admit I am going through a trial, I choose to see it as an opportunity. Trials come with a promise in the Bible, a promise to develop perseverance and strength. It’s not so much the trials themselves, but it is the fact that I am ready to see them for what they are. The minute I recognize them as a trial, I am on the cusp of receiving a blessing. If I stuff it, I might miss it. But when I ask Him to show me the thing in me that is resisting, I give it to Him, and I ask for His blessing of strength and perseverance in its place. “I give You this trial like I give You everything else, God! You can have it! Don’t let it be wasted! Great–it’s a trial! I get strength! I get perseverance! I get endurance! I get tougher! I’m claiming my blessing for this time!”

3) Third, I press in. I lie down, and I close my eyes, and I see His love saturating me in spirit, soul, and body. I see Him as a tangible cloud of Love, and I see the mist from that cloud flowing into me and covering me in every way. “Saturate me in Your love, God! Soak me in Your love! I don’t want to be overwhelmed by anything but Your love! I don’t want to be overcome by anything but Your love! Keep it up! Go ahead! Shake me! Shake everything that can be shaken! I want it gone! And in the place of anything less than Your best for me, fill me up with Your perfect overpowering Love!”

We may be shaken, but we are not overcome. By anything but Love.

***

I pray for you as you walk through trials, especially trials of many kinds.

I pray you only skim where you need to. And I pray you engage where you need to engage.

I pray for a strength to rise up in you as you have never known.  Where you are weak, He is strong in You. He is the Lord your God who gives you strength. I pray if you feel like screaming you tell someone. And then you go out and you wail. Sit in your car, lock yourself in the closet, go out in a field, but I pray God shows you a safe place to let that sound come out. It is the sound of your wisdom, your bravery, your courage in the face of the demon. It is the sound of your honesty as you cry for justice and as you allow God to engage you in the process of your pain. I pray for you to have freedom to wail and empty yourself of all of it at His feet.

And I pray for an unspeakable, nonsensical joy in the face of circumstance. I pray that as you press into His love, you feel Him tangibly in your spirit, soul, and body. I pray you enter into a new level of living, all in. Engaged with life, no fear of pain, no fear of failing, no fear of revealing and examining your heart or your cares. No fear because of an encounter with Perfect Love that raises you above old mindsets and shows you new ways to engage. In Jesus.

Perfect love casts out all fear. 1 John 4:18a

Instead of your shame, you shall receive a double portion. Isaiah 61:7a

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:2-3.

Thus saith the Lord, Call ye the mourning (the wailing) women, and let them come; and send to the wise women, and let them utter their voice. Jer 9:17.

 

Goodbye, Fear. Hello, Love.