God Isn’t Mad

When you think about what God looks like, what comes to mind? Is He sitting on a throne with a big, white beard cascading down from a stern chin? What is the expression on His face? This last question may be more important than anything else. When God looks at you, what does His expression tell you?

I’ve heard many people talk about how they’ve disappointed God. I once heard a preacher say “the best way to keep from getting disillusioned is to not be illusioned in the first place.” Now, I don’t know how emotionally healthy that is, but it got me thinking about disappointment.

The root of disappointment is unmet expectations. I become disappointed when I have an expectation that isn’t met. For example, I expected a job promotion that didn’t happen; therefore I am disappointed. Or I expected someone to do something and they didn’t do it, or I expected that they wouldn’t do something and they did. Because of that, I become disappointed.

So can God ever become disappointed with us?

Think about it for a minute. We believe God is all-knowing. He knows everything past, present, and future. He knows every detail of your life before you are born. You cannot surprise Him. No matter how bad of a choice you make, He already knew that you would be right where you are. He knew your successes and your failures.

Can you surprise God? No. He already knows.

Then can you disappoint Him? What expectation of you does He have that you won’t already fulfill? He may have ideals and principles we are called to in Scripture, but He isn’t surprised when we don’t fulfill them — He already knew we wouldn’t. It’s not that God doesn’t want better for us than our foolish choices; the question is whether or not we can disappoint Him. There will never be a time in our lives when God has an expectation of us that we won’t fulfill to the letter. That is the power of being all-knowing.

I had a young lady in my youth ministry years ago. She was new to walking with Jesus and was doing well. Then she went on a senior trip that changed her life forever. It was the classic party scene and she indulged it to its extreme. And then she had all the shame that comes with such a choice.

She didn’t return for a few weeks after that. When I saw her again, I asked where she had been and she reluctantly began to unfold for me what had transpired. There was so much shame in her voice because in her words, she had disappointed God so badly.

It was one of those moments when I felt the Holy Spirit take over. I am not smart enough for this kind of thinking. I asked her if she believed God knew everything. She said yes. And did God know she would do some good things and some bad things even before time began? She said yes.

If that is true, then He knew everything that had happened on that senior trip — in all of its shame making nuances. At the very same moment, He said, “I love you, without condition.”

Maybe today it is good for us to know God loves us — every piece, even the broken ones — more than we could ever imagine. That cannot change when we mess up. Even when we mess up really bad, we don’t disappoint God. He is 100% loving to us.

The trick for us is to love what God loves about us, as mush as He loves it. May you find your true, eternal worth.

The Right Conversation

So many people long for more in their lives.

Some simply settle. They resign themselves to believe things can’t be any better than they are because of any number of factors, and that’s all there is to it. I want more, but I can’t get it.

Some people aspire to more and actually take steps to become more of what they believe matters. Typically, this involves finding someone who is getting the results they want in their lives. Maybe that is being a better mom or dad. Maybe it is developing at work. Maybe it is shifting an organization. Maybe it is letting go of a past hurt or betrayal.

Whatever it is, many people try to find someone who has what they want for the purpose of finding out what they do. And then they do it. That is good. My wife and I have found many people over the years whom we have wanted to emulate in many facets — some in spiritual life or understanding of the Bible, some in how to be a better parent, and some in finances or leadership.

This is good. I think living models of what we want to become are critical for our success. But there is something here that can be deceptive and have the appearance of wisdom, but will ultimately miss the mark.

Let’s take fitness. Let’s say I want to be fit. I find a trainer or a friend who is a body builder and talk to them about what they do or what they think I should do. I mimic the actions, and the downside is that it has some success. This is called a behavioral model of transition.

But here is the critical piece: It isn’t sustainable to maintain this progress unless I also adopt the mindset driving the decisions my friend is making. What will inevitably happen is that I will stop or slip or not eat right or something, unless I understand the mindset that lets this person be successful at working out and eating right over the long haul.

This is true with parenting. It is also true with leadership, friendship, marriage, and everything else we do. Mimicking others has some value initially, but we must understand and own the mindset driving the actions if we want it to be sustainable.

If we don’t grab the right mindset, then we won’t sustain the right results.

Taking Back My Power

“We are so convinced that how we think and feel about other people is caused by them, by what they have or haven’t done, by how inconsiderate they have been to us, or how judgmental and so on. … But this [isn’t] true. I see people the way I see them because of me.” (from The Outward Mindset by The Arbinger Institute)

I wish I could blame others (for everything except my successes — I want full credit for those). But anytime things don’t work out in my favor, it is never my fault. When I am stuck, I am stuck because I am powerless to make things different. My parents failed me, my spouse failed me, and maybe my closest friends and kids and coworkers and everyone around me let me down. That is why I am stuck and helpless to do anything but just sit and wish I was in a better spot in my life.

People live in this false reality all the time. Organizations — even “faith-based” ones — seem to be more influenced by hurt and misperception than the simple truth that when I look around my life and everyone else is the problem, I am the problem. I am not powerless to change that truth. In fact, I am the only one who can actually do anything about it. That is the good news.

The bad news is, I am the only one who can do anything about it. The double-edged sword of truth in my life is that how I choose to move through life is entirely dependent on my choice. Will I truly move through life with biblical, God-centered values and treat people in a way consistent with the Kingdom standards we are taught and modeled through the life of Jesus? Or will I let my brokenness drive how I react and respond to people and situations in life?

For many of us who call ourselves Jesus followers, we even begin to use the Bible as a weapon in these kinds of discussions. Traumatic damage can ensue.

I will offer some disjointed thoughts as I process this in my own life:

  • Maybe it’s time for us “sword of truth” carriers to fall on our own swords and let them penetrate our own hearts instead of slashing others with them.
  • Maybe my situation isn’t about the problems others — even bosses — create for me. Maybe its time to choose to enter into those situations correctly, regardless of the outcome.
  • I am far more powerful to do things than my brokenness would have me believe.
  • In order to realize that truth, I need people who refuse to allow me to settle for the lies sin tells me.

May you have the courage to act first. May you take back your personal ability to act and react correctly without concern for how anyone else deals with your situation. May you learn to see people as people, not as problems or objects. And may you let go of the lies the past tells you about the people around you.

Living in the Fantasy

This post is a merger of two sources: my good friend Mark Wilson, counselor extraordinaire, and Brené Brown’s research on shame.

We have all had hard experiences. Trauma is not always the same level of difficulty or complexity for every person, but it is a reality for all people. We were betrayed, wounded, let down, taken advantage of, manipulated, abused, hurt, and/or confused.

We often know what happened, but are left with trying to figure out why it happened. The human brain is a fascinating organ. We are physiologically wired to complete and resolve these difficult moments internally so that we can move forward. How we resolve these times in our lives, however, is truly dangerous.

A healthy way to resolve trauma is to be able to sit down with the one who wounded you and work it through with both perspectives on the table so that the truth of the situation can be revealed. And both sides should work hard to understand the other side before they fight to be heard. That is what healthy would look like. However, the reality that we live in is not typically all that healthy. We are living in various degrees of dysfunction. Some situations merit the label extreme dysfunction.

When we can’t sit down and hear and be heard in a traumatic situation, our brain still needs to resolve the issue. If we can’t resolve it, we will literally go insane. The other interesting twist here is that the brain has absolutely no need for the story that we create to resolve trauma to be accurate. It simply needs to fill in the gaps. And this is where we can start to have real problems.

In this memory bubble we have a mixture of truth (what we know and what actually happened) and fantasy (the story we tell in our head). There is no need for the fantasy part of our story to be true. It just needs to close the gaps on the questions we have about what happened to us.

Out of this mixture of truth and fantasy, we develop a belief about ourselves that we use to make decisions about who we are and how we are supposed to feel about ourselves. That leads to a whole new potential set of decisions that can be damaging to us secondarily because we are making self-destructive decisions based on the lies we decided to believe, based on the fantasy we created because of trauma that we didn’t understand.

Let me help begin to unravel this in a practical way. We get wounded in some way and create a belief that we are less than what God says we are. We then make other hurtful decisions, like who we let take advantage of us and how. And now we have more reinforced false beliefs about ourselves because of those secondary bad decisions. This becomes a painful cycle of emotional pain — all rooted in a fantasy that we told ourselves to make sense out of why someone would hurt us to begin with.

Without sounding trite, I want to offer some thoughts about this and close with an invitation to healing.

It is not true that when you got hurt it was because you weren’t worth loving. It is not true that you are not important or that you don’t matter. It is not true that the world would be better without you. It is not true that you are a mistake. It is not true — none of it.

The truth is you are amazing, full of potential, and worthy of love. Why, then, did that person or those people hurt you? Because hurt people, hurt people. And unfortunately, passing pain from one person to another doesn’t require much effort.

If people “passing pain on” to others is ever going to stop, or at least lessen, it is going to have to do so because someone got real about the lies they were believing and learned to stop believing the lies. That way, pain gets absorbed, processed, and let go in a healthy way. That takes a community of healthy people who can journey with us in our pain so we can learn to stop letting it control us.

So maybe where we begin is to become determined not to pass the pain from our past onto other people. Maybe we should come to terms with the reality that we told ourselves some lies because of what someone else did, and we don’t have to be owned by those lies. We can be free. That freedom will be a better way to live than anything those lies can give us.

May you have the courage not to live in the fantasy.

When I Said “I Do” — I Didn’t Know What I Did

Twenty-four years of wedded bliss. This is the story of my marriage. At least, one version of it.

My wife is amazing. We both came to our marriage with wide-eyed idealism and lots of expectations about what marriage was and how it was going to play out. That isn’t all that uncommon, but the problem was while we both had our list of expectations, we didn’t really take the time to compare those lists or even accurately identify each of our expectations for ourselves. That became a major issue as we found where those expectations didn’t line up. We discovered we had way more places where our expectations weren’t just different, but WAY different, and we had very few places where we were on the same page.

I believed then and still believe today that God brought us together. The question I have asked Him a million times is, “What were You thinking?”

Opposites attract. That is a truism of life and especially in relationships. What I have discovered in my own marriage and through the years of marriage counseling I have done is that people fall in love with the parts of a person that are different than they are. If we are not careful, the very things we fell in love with can become the things we start to resent.

I thought when I said “I do,” I was in for a life of someone dropping their agenda on a dime to run to me and meet my needs with deep and abiding love, coming away with the joy and satisfaction that comes from knowing they helped me become everything I wanted. Somehow, even at 20 years old, I was stunned to learn that she had ideas and dreams and hopes and expectations, as well. Often what I wanted was not just different than her, but even in direct contradiction.

So, now what?

When I said “I do,” I meant “You do,” and therein lies a major problem.

When I said “I do,” I should have meant that I will dedicate my life to understanding who you are and how I can serve you and help you become a better version of your truest self.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7, ESV)

What was God thinking? Not that I presume to know the mind of God, but this might give me a perspective to help me stay the course: I think God always intended for the person we marry to be the opposite of us. I think perhaps the reason is because it forces us to lay our own agenda down in order to keep the relationship together.

Who would want to do that? Well, Jesus.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus who, being in very nature God, didn’t consider equality with God something to be clung to. But He made Himself nothing, taking on the very form of a servant. (Philippians 2:5–7)

He was God, and laid down His own comfort to become nothing important, so I could see how much I matter.

Husbands, love your wives the way Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)

Maybe her being opposite of me allows a better version of Jesus living in me. And maybe that is what marriage was designed for from the beginning. Being willing to lay my own life down for her is a particularly strong statement to her and to the world about who my God is. That is what my life is all about — telling the world who my God is.

May you live with your spouse in an understanding way. May you find the joy of a mutually sacrificial relationship. May you find a better and better version of Jesus living in you. And may you understand that true fulfillment comes from serving, not being served.