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Posts tagged ‘self-centeredness’

If Someone is Angry at Your Boundaries, it’s Their Problem, Not Yours

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

When you establish a new boundary with someone else, the most common form of resistance one gets is anger. People who get angry at others for setting boundaries have a character problem. Self-centered, they think the world exists for them and their comfort. They see others as extensions of themselves.

When they hear the word “no,” they have the same reaction a two-year-old has when deprived of something: “Bad Mommy!” They feel as though the one who deprives them of their wishes is “bad,” and they become angry. They are not righteously angry at a real offense. Nothing has been done “to them” at all. Someone will not do something “for them.” Their wish is being frustrated, and they get angry because they have not learned to delay gratification or to respect others’ freedom.

The angry person has a character problem. If you reinforce this character problem, it will return tomorrow and the next day in other situations. It is not the situation that’s making the person angry, but the feeling that they are entitled to things from others. They want to control others and, as a result, they have no control over themselves. So, when they lose their wished-for control over someone, they “lose it.” They get angry. Here are six steps to consider when someone responds with anger:

1. Realize that the person who is angry at you for setting boundaries is the one with the problem. If you do not realize this, you may think you have a problem. Maintaining your boundaries is good for other people; it will help them learn what their families of origin did not teach them: to respect other people.

2. View anger realistically. Anger is only a feeling inside the other person. It cannot jump across the room and hurt you. It cannot “get inside” you unless you allow it. Staying separate from another’s anger is vitally important. Let the anger be in the other person. He will have to feel his anger to get better. If you either rescue him from it, or take it on yourself, the angry person will not get better and you will be in bondage.

3. Do not let anger be a cue for you to do something. People without boundaries respond automatically to the anger of others. They rescue, seek approval, or get angry themselves. There is great power in inactivity. Do not let an out-of-control person be the cue for you to change your course. Just allow him to be angry and decide for yourself what you need to do.

4. Make sure you have your support system in place. If you are going to set some limits with a person who has controlled you with anger, talk to the people in your support system first and make a plan. Know what you will say. Anticipate what the angry person will say, and plan your reaction. You may even want to role-play the situation with your group. Then, make sure your support group will be available to you right after the confrontation. Perhaps some members of your support group can go with you. But certainly you will need them afterward to keep you from crumbling under the pressure.

5. Do not allow the angry person to get you angry. Keep a loving stance while “speaking the truth in love.” When we get caught up in the “eye for eye” mentality of the law, or the “returning evil for evil” mentality of the world, we will be in bondage. If we have boundaries, we will be separate enough to love.

6. Be prepared to use physical distance and other limits that enforce consequences. One woman’s life was changed when she realized that she could say, “I will not allow myself to be yelled at. I will go into the other room until you decide you can talk about this without attacking me. When you can do that, I will talk to you.”

These serious steps do not need to be taken with anger. You can empathize lovingly and stay in the conversation, without giving in or being controlled. “I understand that you are upset that I will not do that for you. I am sorry you feel that way. How can I help?” Just remember that when you empathize, changing your no will not help. Offer other options.

If you keep your boundaries, those who are angry at you will have to learn self-control for the first time, instead of “other control,” which has been destructive to them anyway. When they no longer have control over you, they will find a different way to relate. But, as long as they can control you with their anger, they will not change.

Sometimes, the hard truth is that they will not talk to you anymore, or they will leave the relationship if they can no longer control you. This is a true risk, and when people choose their own ways, you let them go.

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An Open Letter to Someone Having an Affair

SOURCE:  Adapted from articles by Brad Hambrick/Biblical Counseling Coalition

BCC Staff: In  blogs for [4/11/16 and 4/13/16], we have an opportunity to read an imaginary response to a person who is involved in adultery and yet struggles with what choices to make about both intimate relationships. With his usual sensitivity and tactic, Brad Hambrick gently challenges the adulterer to consider the realities of being stuck between a marital “rock” and adulterous “hard place.”

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Friend,

I appreciate you taking the time to read this letter. I can only imagine that it is hard for you to believe that anyone can understand what you’re going through. You are making some of the hardest decisions of your life in the name of love, and no matter what you do, people you love are going to be hurt deeply. That would leave most people feeling both trapped and highly defensive.

To make matters worse, those who knew you and your spouse as mutual friends or have a Christian background overwhelmingly take the position that you should end your affair and pursue your marriage. They make it sound “easy” and “obvious,” which only supports your belief that no one understands.

Furthermore, it leaves you feeling very alone and feeling as if your adultery partner is the only one who can sympathetically understand. Who do you talk to in order to get unbiased advice? Is there unbiased advice? After all, you’re going to choose one path and radically alter the lives of many people you love dearly. That’s likely why you’ve tried to live in two worlds until now.

Let’s start with this reality: you are going to choose. You are going to choose to pursue a life with your spouse (and children, if you have them) or your adultery partner (with your children, if you have them, passing between homes). Unless you delay until your spouse and/or adultery partner abandons you, you will make a choice between these two options.

More than mere choosing, you are going to choose not knowing the outcome. You do not know if your current marriage will get better (I suppose you had grievances about how it was before). You do not know if your spouse will be able to forgive you or will be willing to work on restoring the marriage.

But, your potential future with your adultery partner is equally uncertain, although it likely doesn’t feel that way now. To this point the affair has been a fantasy. In reality, you know less about what this relationship will be like than you knew about what your current marriage would be like when you were dating and engaged. An affair is a relationship built on deceit and artificially fueled by the passion/allegiance of a shared secret and not having to bear the weight of day-to-day life. The story line of “forbidden love” evaporates as soon as there are “shared responsibilities” and no “them” to keep “us” apart.

This begins to get at why you haven’t already chosen. If you are like most people in your situation, you are looking for the route by which no one gets hurt, or for those who get hurt, to get hurt the least. This is another fantasy. Sex forms a bond (I Cor. 6:16). When you sever either relationship, there will be pain. One or both relationships will die, and your choices will be the largest deciding factor in which one. This is not meant to be a guilt-statement, but a reality-statement to sober you to the situation you have created.

Please keep reading. I recognize these words are painful. But if they are true, which I doubt you can deny, they merit your attention. This is not a choice you want to make by accident. It is too important to too many people you care about to allow that to happen. If you love anyone in this scenario besides yourself, you will quit stringing everyone along.

You’ve probably come to this point many times in your own internal dialogue since your affair began. The dead end has likely been, “But what do I do? There doesn’t seem to be any good options.” Then life goes on, so you continued living a double life.

In this letter, I want to offer you a path forward. I do not pretend it will be easy. But, be honest; neither path is going to be easy, so that shouldn’t be a criterion.

  1. Choose. The longer you delay, the more angst you create for everyone and the more pain that will result when a choice is finally made. You do not honor or care for anyone well by delaying. It is the epitome of selfishness to make people you allegedly care about to wait. The fact that you’ve allowed things to go this long should cause you to humbly question how wise and loving your intentions have been about this affair.
  2. To honor God, choose your marriage. Your spouse is not the primary person you’ve offended with your unfaithfulness. To make this decision as if your happiness and pleasure is the primary concern reveals a decision-making process that will undermine either relationship. It is not hyper-spiritual to say that self-centeredness will destroy any relationship. It is common sense. I encourage you to reflect intently on Luke 9:23-24 as you consider this decision and the overall direction of your life. If you are a Christian, this is the life you chose. It is a good life with a faithful God, if you will return to him and trust him with your life and marriage.
  3. Be honest. Often, in a crisis, we believe a “step in the right direction” is a monumental step of faith. We want full credit for partial honesty. This is why too many marriages die the death of a thousand confessions. It’s not the infidelity that kills them, but the pattern of incremental-partial honesty. Don’t say “yes” to “Have you told me everything?” unless the answer is actually “yes.” More damaging than your infidelity is your post-infidelity dishonesty. You might ask, “How much detail is needed to be honest?” That is a fair question and here is guidance on the subject.
  4. End the affair definitively. The longer you vacillate, the more pain and turmoil you will create for everyone. There is nothing pleasant about this step. Rarely does it provide the emotional affirmation that often comes with making a right choice. But it is essential to restoring any emotional or relational sanity to your life. “Closure” in an adulterous relationship is a fiction that inevitably leads to relapse.
  5. Don’t do this alone. As your affair grew, you began to separate yourself from the people you previously considered to be trusted voices and examples of character. It is hard to be around people you respect when you are knowingly doing something dishonorable. Reconnect with these relationships. This will require a comparable level of honesty as you’ve given your spouse in point #3. But, unless you let these people in, then the only voice advocating for your walk with God, the restoration of your marriage, or providing you emotional support will be your hurt spouse.
  6. Have a process to guide you and your spouse in the recovery process. “What will we do after I open the Pandora’s Box of being honest about my affair?” Realize this box will be opened either voluntarily or involuntarily. This is the question that keeps many people in your situation silent. The False Love (for you) and True Betrayal (for your spouse) materials are meant to be complementing studies to guide couples in situations like yours. They can be studied with a pastor, trusted mentor couple, or counselor (see point #5).
  7. Don’t confuse marital restoration with marital enrichment. This is the most common mistake after a marital crisis and will result in comparing dating-phase-affair with recovery-phase-marriage. Doing the things you should have been doing all along (dating, listening, flowers, sex, etc…) will not resolve infidelity. Marriage restoration is taking a relationship that is broken and making it functional. That is the focus of the False Love and True Betrayal seminars. Marriage enrichment is taking a marriage that is functional and making it excellent. That is the focus of the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series; which would be a quality series to study when you complete the False Love and True Betrayal materials.

These steps may seem daunting, and they are challenging. But I believe they represent what it means to honor God in your situation. As you’ve wrestled with the question of, “What do I do now?” I believe you will come to see that they do represent God’s best for you and your family; as such, they are for your good and not just your moral obligation.

As you come to the end of this letter, I would ask you to do two things. First, sincerely pray. Don’t just reflect in your mind and see what feels best, but have a conversation with God about what he would have you do. Ask God, “What would honor You most in my situation?” Second, call a friend. Quit waiting and talk with someone who has the best interest of you and your marriage at heart. Isolation will result in continued procrastination. Don’t leave yourself the option of waiting.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I pray you will follow its counsel and walk in integrity and faith. Yes, the road ahead is hard, but any alternative road without the blessing and favor of God is harder.

Brad

 

“DOG or CAT” Relationship With God?

SOURCE:  Jan Johnson

Dog & Cat Theology

“Dog and cat theology” sounds like this:

The master feeds his dog and pets her, and the dog gazes up into the master’s eyes and wags her tail and thinks, He must be God! 

But when the master feeds his cat and pets her, the cat gazes up into the master’s eyes, arches her back and thinks, I must be God.

Dog theology: gratefulness to God whom we know exists, on whom we depend on all day long, in whose companionship we thrive.

Cat theology: self-absorption and forgetfulness of God who longs to be with us, provide for us and even partner with us in showing love to others. (That forgetfulness has been called “practical atheism,” meaning that in the practicalities of the day, God doesn’t really exist for that person.)

Dog theology is living in reality; cat theology is living in an unrealistic bubble of me, myself, and I, which is not reality, only an imagined one. Reality, you wonder? Gratefulness puts us in touch with reality, meaning that everything we have, we have received, beginning with oxygen to breathe. After that, it’s all gravy. The good things that occur all day long come from an attentive God who delights in loving us. The consequences throughout our day come from our own mistakes or others’ mistakes, and we have to “bear with” them.

I confess I live in cat theology part of my day. My thoughts center around me–getting my work done, making sure I have all the things I need to do it, being glad I am recognized for accomplishments and resentful when I’m not. Yes, I manage to be kind and caring but everything comes back to me and how I feel about things. This automatic tendency to focus on self is normal for humans. In blunt terms, it’s self-absorption.

I want to move to living more in dog theology—content under the watching eye of the Master. As I live out of the different reality of the Kingdom of God, I can focus my attention on how God might be using me in this moment and find joy in partnering with God, even if no one notices what I’m doing. In fact, I forget to notice that I haven’t been noticed.

As I recognize that God is God (as my daughter’s dog Max knows she is god), I can be constantly thankful for all kinds of things: that I figured out how to make my phone do that tricky thing I hoped it could do; that my husband and I figured out a way to make our favorite oddball sheets fit our bed; that God uses people in our Celebrate Recovery group to say exactly what I need to hear; that even though a fire raged in our hills last week, it was quickly extinguished and now creates an oddly beautiful blackened hillside contrasting with the verdant shrubs and sandstone of this valley.

In dog theology, I get that God is really God, and that all of life is a gift from God. As for the parts I find difficult, God walks with me and so I still have reasons to be grateful, to be mindful of God’s companionship. In dog theology, I set aside by pathological self-obsession because I realize I really do count! I am healed because I have an experience of being adequately loved by the Creator of the universe.

“When we submit what and where we are to God, our rule or dominion increases” (The Divine Conspiracy). Today I submit each thing I’m going to do—how I enter into my writing project and my Jazzercise class, my treatment of my husband, kids, friends, co-workers as well as strangers who email me. That means I ask God for help with these things and I look to God for opportunities to bless people.

Jesus is my Master, and I’m glad to be along for the ride.

Handling Conflict – The End Result: My Will or Thy Will?

SOURCE: Adapted from an article by Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

Conflict – such a powerful word … it conjures up many different feelings and tapes in our heads, doesn’t it?

[In the below] scripture, Paul exhorts believers to agree with one another, to love each other, and to work together with one mind and purpose. The attitude and action plan Paul proposes is in opposition to the message about conflict I picked up at home and what was expressed and modeled in the culture as I grew up.

Jesus’ last instructions, moments before he ascended to heaven leave no doubt about what the church is to be doing: “And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

If we are to be effective witnesses as Christians, we need to work together with one mind and purpose – the mind of Christ. Our witness can be hurt … and even destroyed … if we are consumed by pride and self-centeredness as evidenced by bickering, gossip, stinginess, revenge, lack of forgiveness, and other habits that only lead to strife and division. We need to set aside personality conflicts, social differences, cliquishness, and everything else that divides us and keeps us from accomplishing the purposes God has for us and for those to whom we minister on His behalf.

Conflict is obviously more complex than this. I could never provide an all-inclusive analysis and strategy for handling conflict in one page. The key principle that determines and steers the whole conflict management process is adopting an attitude that says “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” not “my kingdom come, my will be done.” The former builds a rock solid foundation to continue the conflict management process; the latter forms a shaky and treacherous foundation of sand that promises harm and catastrophe for all involved. The type of foundation you choose steers the process to a fleshly demise or a God-glorifying, life-growing experience.

Many excuses allow us to cringe and avoid working through conflict with another person. Don’t fall into the laziness trap. We all have an addiction to or a need for comfort in the face of difficult but important decisions. In the end, avoiding the conflict will be more harmful to you than the temporary uneasiness you’ll feel while trying to address and solve the conflict. Just think of your reality this way: all of your rewarding relationships took big steps forward when you were able to navigate conflicts with those other people. The collaboration, trust, forgiveness, and identification of a shared goal were monumental rewards that began in that conflict.

Today, think of an area in your life in which you are experiencing division with a sister or brother in Christ. Are you putting Christ in the center? My kingdom or Thy kingdom? What are you choosing and why? Your greatest need should be to please God and honor Him, not ease your own discomfort, guilt, or ego. Specifically acknowledge an incident or situation in which you have failed the relationship. Prayerfully examine how pride might be playing a role in the division. Addressing conflict with a rock solid foundation is your decision, so choose well.

My Father and my Lord, Please forgive me for sometimes allowing pride or other wrongful attitudes to lead to division with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Help me to do my part to walk in unity so that I am an effective witness for Jesus, accomplishing what You have called me to do. Help me build courage to withstand the pain, hurt, or anger I sometimes feel in conflicts. I know You can provide more to me in that pain than in the “comfortable” times when I avoid conflict. Help me see conflict ahead of time so I can respond well and address it early if possible to avoid hurting others. I pray this and all prayers in the name of Your perfect witness, Jesus Christ; – AMEN!

The Truth

Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. 

Philippians 2:2

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 

James 1:2-4

I want more and I WANT IT NOW!

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

When is Enough, Enough?

Walking through the store recently, I heard a young girl (about nine years old) whining loudly. She was following her mom with big crocodile tears flowing down her face. “Mom, I want it. Why won’t you buy it? Mom, pleeeease!”

As the mom ignored the youngster, her pleas escalated. Now sobbing, her daughter howled, “Mom, I want it. I WANT IT NOW.”

The mother valiantly tried not to lose her temper. Finally she turned to her daughter and said in a very firm voice, “Stop it. You are not getting it. You did not behave.”

My heart sank. Although this mother may have been correct in not rewarding her daughter’s misbehavior with a special treat from the store, she missed a larger opportunity to teach her child an important truth.

We live in a culture of “I want more” and believe “If I had more, I would be happier.” Even as adults we’ve bought into this lie. Who hasn’t said to themselves, “If only I had more ___________, then I’d be happy.”

If only you had more money, more time, a bigger house, a different spouse, a newer car, then you’d feel happier? Right? Not really. That kind of happiness only lasts for as long as it takes to start dreaming of the next thing you want.

This little girl in the shopping mall is growing up in a culture of entitlement where we not only want more, we think we NEED more and we deserve more. Every television commercial reminds us that we deserve more because we’re worth it.

Entitlement thinking enlarges the self as we become more and more self-centered and self-absorbed, but it diminishes the spirit and poisons the soul. Instead of feeling happy and grateful for what we have, we feel gypped and grumble and complain because we are not getting more of what we think we need and deserve. More isn’t better because more never satisfies. More just fuels our desire for more.

So how do we break free from the mindset of more? The apostle Paul tells us that if we want to grow we must retrain our mind to think in new ways. (Romans 12:2). We have to realize that the world’s way of thinking is not only incorrect, it leads to death.

Paul shares with us a secret that he learned that helped him reject the tyranny of more. He learned how to be content in every situation (Philippians 4:11).

We too can learn to be content, but it takes some discipline. Here are two practices you can begin and teach your children in order to learn contentment.

1.  Gratitude: The Bible says, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord (Psalm 92:1). Gratitude counters our entitlement mindset and helps us appreciate the things we do have. On the way home from the store, this mom could have invited her daughter to think of five things she is thankful for. As she turned her attention toward her blessings, her daughter’s grumbling attitude may have changed.

Even when it’s hard to see the good in a particular situation, God calls us to give thanks in all things (not necessarily for all things) (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Mom might have been tempted to grumble internally about her daughter’s misbehavior and immaturity, but retraining her own mind would have reminded her instead to give thanks. Although aggravating, that teachable moment was a gift from God to help her and her daughter see things in a new way. They don’t need more in order to be happy.

2.  Turn to Praise and Worship: When our entitlement mindset looms large, consciously turn your heart away from more and turn it toward God in praise. Praise thanks God for who he is and what he has given us. As we faithfully practice praising and thanking God, we learn to trust his character and his plan for our life even when we don’t understand or like it.

The apostle Paul learned these lessons while sitting in a prison cell. Often it is in the hardest places where we are most teachable. Today when you are tempted to grumble and complain or just want more, stop; tell yourself “enough already” and turn your heart and mind toward all that you have and all God has done. See what a difference this small shift makes in your mood.

Lord, Help Me Be Ordinary and Average

Ordinary is the New Cool

SOURCE:  Ed Welch

Most of us want to both fit in and stand out. We want to be included in the group, yet we would like to rise above the ordinary and make a unique contribution.

Well, times are changing. Those contradictory desires are passé. Cling to them at the expense of your reputation. Though we still want to be part of a larger group, ordinary is the new cool.

God delights in using average people…

Some people have smarts, money, status and just plain pizzazz; other people don’t. God calls and uses those who don’t, though he occasionally makes exceptions. The people who ate with Jesus were the marginalized, the misfits, the ones who had to work for everything they ever got and still couldn’t make it, the unattractive, and the ones who didn’t seem to be worth much, at least in the minds of the cultural elites. You wouldn’t think that such a group would be at the very center of a world-shaking movement that will last forever. Even ordinary people would stock their inner circle with the best and brightest if we were to rule the world.

But God is different.  He delights in using average people to advance his Kingdom.

Fishermen rather than Pharisees.
Shepherds rather than rich men.

And women!

In New Testament times the status of women was on par with children and slaves, who could contribute nothing of value to the empire.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things– and the things that are not– to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Cor. 1:26-29)

…but we still want status

So what do you boast in? What would you like to be able to boast in?

Me personally? Ugh. A sermon that keeps most people awake, decent evaluations from students, physical abilities with which I can beat my sons-in-law at some sports or physical games. The list could go on.

My own story can easily be told as, “One person’s futile quest to avoid the ordinary.” I wasn’t better looking than others, so I searched for above-average-ness in other areas. Swimming was one. It served fairly well in high school and college. Then I discovered there were people who were just plain faster than me, and more effort on my part wouldn’t change that. So I quit swimming in my junior year of college. That decision, I thought, wasn’t ordinary. Not too many people quit while they are having some success. The reason I gave people for quitting: “there are more important things in life” (said in a slightly condescending way). The real reason I quit: I knew there was fast competition and I didn’t want accept that I was an average swimmer.

So I threw my hat in with academics. The resulting sense of being special lasted about two months. Smarter people, I discovered, were everywhere. With my “above-average better-than-you list” depleted, I was feeling weak and useless, which is apparently a fine setting for being converted, which is what happened.

But it has taken a while to enjoy being weak and not too important.

Aim for the Ordinary

Here are ways to aim for ordinary. Most of them come from the apostle Paul.

Remember that everything you have has been given to you. You didn’t earn your life, breath or talents.

Allow emerging aches, pains and physical disabilities to remind you that you are, indeed, wasting away.

Enjoy being needy before God and others. You certainly cannot survive without God’s moment-to-moment care.

And you cannot survive without the other members of the body of Christ.

Approach the Lord with fear and reverence.

Identify yourself as the Lord’s slave, and delight in that.

Remember, when you aim to find anything in which to boast, or (as we say more often) anything in which to find your identity, you cannot also boast in Jesus. You can only do one or the other.

Ordinary is Not Mediocre

This, of course, is not an ode to mediocrity. Mediocrity arises out of indifference, and the Kingdom of Heaven has no room for indifference. And this is not an excuse for laziness. Indolence is a kind of self-indulgence, and that, too, has no place in the Kingdom. Instead, I am using ordinary and average as ways to say that status is ascribed to us by the Lord, not achieved. This leads to a lifestyle that doesn’t seek the praise of other people.

Life works like this. Everyone is ordinary. Yes, I know that we are made in God’s image, but that gives us no reason to take pride in ourselves. Those who have come to terms with their ordinariness are on a path of uniqueness and strength. They have learned to think less often about themselves. Get to know them and you have a sense that you are with greatness. Those who insist on personal reputation are brutish and small. Get to know them and you extend pity.

I too often straddle both groups.

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Edward T. Welch, M.Div., Ph.D., is a counselor and faculty member at CCEF and holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a neuro-psychology specialty from the University of Utah as well as a Master of Divinity degree from Biblical Theological Seminary.

We’re all prodigals: Isn’t it time to take the long road home?

Have you given in to temptation … again? Your heavenly Father eagerly awaits your return to Him.

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Penelope Stokes

Carey is running scared.

Four years ago she grew tired of Church Life, weary of a religious system that boxed her in and made her feel as if she never quite measured up. She couldn’t stand it any more, couldn’t bear up under the weight of condemnation pressing down on her. She rebelled.  And she ran.

That is, she tried to run.

She tried to leave her faith behind. She quit praying, substituted the Sunday paper for Sunday worship, left her Bible to gather dust on a forgotten shelf. But God, it seems, has not let go of Carey. She is haunted by the memory of her former closeness with the Lord. The deep longing for the intimacy she knew with Him at the beginning still exists. She tries to ignore it, but it just won’t go away.

God is drawing her back. I know, because she told me.

Runaway

Carey’s story makes me think of a morning long ago—nearly forty years—when I ran away from home. I was four, and old enough to know better. It wasn’t an act of rebellion or a desire to leave my parents forever; it was, rather, a choice for adventure.

The boy came along on his bike, invited me to ride with him, then pedaled off down the road, across the forbidden railroad tracks, through the forbidden woods, down to the forbidden creek. It was a glorious, heady, wonderful, time-arresting experience—until I realized that the sun was setting. My parents would be furious.

In my child-mind, I could see my father’s face and hear my mother’s voice. I would probably get the spanking of my life. So I did something really stupid—I stayed out even later.

It never occurred to me, at that moment, that plans for punishment had probably long since vanished from my parents’ minds. They only wanted me home, safe, back in their embrace and protection again.

Just as God wants Carey home.

The Lost Child

We are all prodigals, you and Carey and I, although some of us have forgotten our distant Prodigal roots and taken on the role of Elder Brother. We are all Lost Souls, broken and bewildered, in need of the saving embrace of a loving, waiting Father.

But when we have sinned (and sinned, and sinned again, even after promising to change), we sometimes forget, in our shame and despair, how much God longs for us simply to come home to Him.

To help us remember, Jesus told a story (Lk. 15:11–32):

There was a man who had two sons. One, the elder, was an obedient, compliant boy who always did what Daddy told him to do. The younger, an impetuous and reckless type, demanded his half of the inheritance and roared off into the sunset on his Harley-Davidson, headed for the bright lights of the wicked city.

The tale is a familiar one, repeated countless times in different ways. It is the age-old story of God’s people wasting their spiritual inheritance in disobedience—the wild and visible life of immorality, or the hidden rebellion of spiritual pride.

But usually, whatever our sin of choice, we end up where the Prodigal landed. Having spent everything, and having no spiritual reserves against the famine in the land, we wind up in the pigsty—hungry, lonely, and despairing.

My days among the pigs will forever be burned into my memory. For years I led a double life. On the outside, I was a competent Christian leader, sought out for Bible teaching and counseling; on the inside, I was a lonely, love-starved child, splintered by doubt and guilt and self-reproach. I faced temptations that I could not resist, and every time I sinned, I fell further into the pit, increasingly convinced that God could not, or would not, forgive me this time. I bargained and bartered, promising God that I would never, ever do it again. But I always did.

Then, while floundering in the mire, I discovered a wonderful truth in Jesus’ story of the Lost Son. The Prodigal, even while he was still a prodigal, was always, always, a son. He belonged to his father, no matter what he had done, no matter how low he had sunk. That truth gave me hope, and the motivation to respond as the Prodigal did: “I will arise and go to my father.”

When the Prodigal started for home, he had no way of knowing what his father’s response would be. He prepared a pat little speech: “I am not worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”

But his father wasn’t interested in explanations; he didn’t even ask where the boy had been or what he had been up to. He didn’t demand an accounting of the inheritance. “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Lk. 15:20).

The Prodigal never got to give his speech; he had come home, and that was enough.

The Waiting Father

In the story that Jesus told, we see the depths of the son’s degradation and the infinite measure of the father’s love and acceptance. But we aren’t told what went through the boy’s mind as he made the long trek home. We aren’t told, but we can guess.

If he was anything like me, no doubt he felt the acid churning in his stomach as he plodded along the homeward road. He probably had envisioned himself returning in triumph, rich and famous, and the utter indignity of his condition shamed him.

I imagine him stopping at a roadside rest, trying to wash the stench of the pig- sty out of his clothes, hoping somehow to make himself a little more presentable. But it was a futile effort. He could still smell himself. There was no doubt that his fall would reek in his father’s nostrils.

Perhaps, more than once, he thought about turning back, trying again to make it on his own—this time, to make his father proud of him. But there was nothing to go back to, nothing but famine and despair and a lifetime of slopping hogs. At last he saw the clear light of reality: There was no place to go excepthome to his father.

And for all his preparation, I’m sure his mouth went dry when he saw his father in the distance. For heknew what he had done, and there was no getting around it.

I imagine that the Prodigal might have felt this way, because it is the way I feel when I have sinned and turned my back on God’s love. Ironically, I resist throwing myself upon the grace of God because I feel I don’t deserve it. I haven’t been good enough. I have repeatedly committed those chronic sins—the very behavior patterns I promised to change. I haven’t proved myself worthy.

And so, instead of running to my Father’s arms, I drag my feet—as the Prodigal might have done, as Carey is doing now—ashamed and humiliated, searching desperately for a way to clean myself up before I have to face Him. The trip home becomes, not a journey to a joyful reunion, but a long march toward a dreaded judgment.

But if I look at the Waiting Father, I see a different picture entirely. He doesn’t pace up and down, angry, waiting for my return so He can attack me with accusations. Every day He stands in the road, shading His eyes against the sun, watching for my familiar figure to come around the last turn.

And when at last He sees me, shuffling along reluctantly and muttering my memorized confession to myself, He runs, with His arms open wide, to sweep me up in an embrace of complete forgiveness and reconciliation. He doesn’t care what I look like; He takes no notice of the stain of sin and the stench of the pigs. The Lost One has come home, and that is enough.

God waits for you, Carey, with tears of love and welcome in His eyes, longing to see you round the corner and stumble up the road into His arms. He is ready to forgive you, clean you up, dress you in righteousness, and celebrate the long-awaited feast of reconciliation. Jesus Christ, the Son who sacrificed Himself for the forgiveness of your sins, has paid the ultimate price to bring you home.

Run to Him, Carey. Arise, and go to your Father. Run home. He is waiting. And He loves you.

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