Tag Archives: christian victorious living

When Self-Pity Becomes Toxic

I must admit that, in the course of my life, I have had more than my fair share of pity parties. Life has not always been easy, and people have not always been kind. I could say that nearly everyone in my life has let me down at one time or the other. Clearly, I have had plenty of good reasons to feel sorry for myself, and on many occasions I have done just that. In fact, I spent several years doing it so much that I slipped in and out of depression on a regular basis. I even became suicidal a few times, but thankfully God intervened in my life, and I found a way to escape the negative thoughts and feelings that consumed me. Jesus said the truth will set you free, and that is what happened. I realized that my feelings were contrary to truths in his Word, and I had to choose to allow those truths to transform my mind. It was a choice plain and simple.

As a counselor, I run across people who refuse to ever make the choice to believe God over their feelings. Among my own personal acquaintances there are those who seem to believe that their situations are not included in God’s promises, because they continue to wallow in misery. By nature, I am an encourager, but I’ve learned that people like this cannot be encouraged. It makes no sense, but it seems as though they enjoy being miserable. And if that were not enough, they also seem to love dragging everyone else into their wretched state. They like to blame others for their misery, and try to make them responsible for improving their lot in life. In fact, over my years of working with victims of domestic violence, I’ve found that most abusers are consumed with self-pity. They manage to use it to control their victims. The problem is you can never please someone like this. Nothing you do is ever enough.

In scripture we see an example of this harmful attitude in John 5:1-15. When Jesus asked the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda if he wanted to be well, he simply blamed others that he wasn’t. After Jesus healed him, he reported him the religious officials rather than thanking him. In the end, Jesus warned him to “stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” When I read this story, I am amazed that this man received such a great miracle, and yet did not show an ounce of gratitude.

At the heart of those ruled by destructive self-pity, you will usually find ingratitude. Their eyes are so focused on self that they become blind to the blessings they do have, and their lack of gratitude is like poison. It spews to everyone around them as they use their misery to try to control those who love them. They want people to feel sorry for them and bend over backwards to make them happy, but it’s nearly impossible to help someone who has decided that their pain is greater than God’s provision. They would much rather drag you into their misery than to allow you to help them out of it.

Recently, God sent two new friends into my life. If anyone has a right to self-pity these ladies do, but both have refused it, and I admire them so much. In 2013, my friend Terri passed out while standing in her kitchen, and woke up paralyzed from the neck down. As anyone would in this situation, she has struggled with depression, but she has chosen not to give in to feelings of despair. Recently, she wrote on her blog that a friend challenged her to find something to be grateful for each day, and she did. Although Terri might have good reason to feel sorry for herself, she refuses to give in to self-pity. As a result, she has become an inspiration to many people. I so admire that.

God sent another amazing woman into my life back in April. Two years ago, her estranged husband stormed into her parents’ house, shot and killed them both in front of her children, then beat and shot her—leaving her for dead. She was in a coma for a week, but after that God miraculously touched her body and raised her up. Although Latonya grieves the loss of her parents, she is the picture of gratitude. She shares God’s love and blessings with others powerfully, and the hashtag she uses on most of her social media posts is #gratefulheart. How amazing is that?

Both Latonya and Terri are victors, because they have made a choice to be grateful rather than self-centered. Their lives are making a positive impact on the world, because of that choice. The people I know who choose self-pity on a regular basis do the exact opposite. They are takers rather than givers. Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive, and to be blessed in biblical terms means to be happy. These ladies bring joy to my heart. They encourage me, and enrich my life.

There is only one difference between my new friends and my friends who wallow in self-pity. It’s simply a matter of the choices they have made. We can choose to allow misery to rule us, or we can choose to be grateful for the blessings we have. Ephesians 1:3 tells us that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing, and Romans 8:37 says that as his children we are more than conquerors. Scripture is filled with God’s good intentions towards his children. We just need to choose to believe what he says about us. It’s not always easy to do that, but with determination anyone can move from defeated to victorious, and become a blessing rather than toxic.

Something New

It seems that God is doing something new in my life lately, and I have found myself at a loss as how to proceed. Even though I am not a very structured person, I still find myself wanting to do things the way I’ve been doing them for such a long time. Change is difficult for us. Even the most flexible of us create our own traditions, and breaking out of them is HARD. This passage from Mark seemed to be exactly what I needed to read today.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” Mark 2:21-22

Jesus came and challenged everything the religious leaders valued. He questioned their way of doing things, and even their interpretation of the law. They constantly criticized him for violating the Sabbath, but he pointed them to the heart of the Law, rather than the letter of it (see Mk. 2:23-28). As Believers, I am sure most of us see ourselves as far more spiritually savvy than the Pharisees and Scribes, but I’m not so sure we are. We get used to our traditions, and begin to see treat them as though they are the very oracles of God.

In my own case, I’ve been doing good things–even spiritual things, but I’ve come to realize that I may have been focusing on things that were not my calling. So now, I find it difficult to figure out how to order my time. Should I continue to do the good things, or should I jump out in faith? God is calling me to take some huge steps of faith, but continuing on the path of least resistance is so much easier. The problem is that it’s not so much more blessed. I know that until I am obedient, I will not be able to walk in his best for my life. So today I’m making a choice to throw out the old wine skins. I reject my own “old” way of doing things, and choose to embrace the “something new”to which he is calling me.

How about you? Have you held on to your old ways for too long? Are you willing to walk in the newness of life he calls us to live? I know it can be hard, but it is the only path to blessing. So out with the old! In with the new!

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert. Is. 43:19

BeginningIsNear

 

 

Feeling Frantic?

Do you ever feel frantic? I know I do, and I’ve learned it is a sure sign that rather than trusting God, I am seeking control. Basically, it boils down to idolatry. Idols are the things we run to for comfort so that we can keep things from getting out of hand.  Yet, from time to time, in spite of all we do, things do spin out of our control. As people of God, those times are wake up calls to help us realize only he is sovereign over everything, and our efforts are feeble. They are an illusion, because in reality, we have control over very little. The One who holds everything together could allow it to fall apart at any time, but because of his grace, he sustains us. He is good, so he can be trusted. And trusting him leads to joy (being blessed), while trusting in flesh (self and other shallow substitutes) leads to misery or being cursed. The choice is clear.

This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” Jer. 17:5-10

Jeremiah’s task as a young prophet was to proclaim God’s coming judgment against his people, because they had forsaken him and turned to idols. Yet, even in judgment, he was offering hope to those who would chose to trust him. It’s interesting to me that while much of Jeremiah’s warnings against the people are related to sins of commission and omission, this passage seems to get to the heart behind those sins. It’s all a matter of trust. The blatant sins were idolatry and failing to honor the Sabbath, but at the root of those sins was a lack of trust in God. As God’s people we are supposed to be different. The tendency of human flesh is to trust in self or others that we can see and touch. It it not in our nature to trust an unseen God. We want to be in control. We can control flesh, but we cannot control the unseen. It seems unnatural for flesh to trust in supernatural, but that is what God calls us to do, and if we don’t, there are consequences.

To be cursed means to be miserable, as opposed to being blessed or happy. Trusting him results in something else that is unseen—our roots are firmly established. They develop deep and tap into the fountains of living water. Being tapped into those streams of living water is the key to blessing. This is not based on activity, but trust. Trust stands still and waits. It does not feel the need for control, and it is never frantic. When we realize we have no control, and that the One who does have it is good, and wants the best for us, we can choose the blessing of trusting him.

Oh Lord, help us to trust you rather than frantically strive for control. We know you are good, and you can be trusted, but sometimes we are afraid anyway. Help us to be still and know you are God and that your love for us is everlasting. We can trust in One who loves us that much. So even though circumstances and things in this seen world try to move us, we will not be moved. We will be like trees planted by streams of living waters and have no need to fear. We choose to believe you. Amen

 

Living in Dread…

I often tell people that whatever we fear is what we serve, so that the object of our fear basically becomes our god. This morning a passage in Isaiah reminded me of that truth.

“Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have been false to me, and have neither remembered me nor pondered this in your hearts? Is it not because I have long been silent that you do not fear me?  I will expose your righteousness and your works, and they will not benefit you. When you cry out for help, let your collection [of idols] save you! The wind will carry all of them off, a mere breath will blow them away. But the man who makes me his refuge will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain.” (Is.57:11-13).

“Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have been false to me…” I’m not sure how much more clear that could be! At the heart of being unfaithful to God is usually a fear of something else (no matter what that something else is, I’d call it an idol). An idol is anything we meditate on, and spend our time trying to appease. For years, I did the dance of fear trying to keep an abusive husband happy so he wouldn’t lash out. I feared him much more than God, and the result was I served him rather than God. In fact, he became my god, because of the way I served him.

Another interesting thing about this passage is “I will expose your righteousness and your works…” Very often people do good works out of fear—they worry what people think and are trying to impress them rather than God. This fear of man is idolatry of the worst sort. It becomes works-based rather than love-based. God does not desire our feeble efforts; he desires our love. From that love, genuine works of righteousness will flow naturally. The ones born of fear of man are wood, hay, and stubble mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor. 3. These works may look wonderful to people, but they cannot stand before the Judge.

This passage should be a wake up call to the people of God. The warning here is not based on actions, but on misplaced fear. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and when we are more worried about pleasing him than people or unpleasant circumstances, that is wisdom. Then we will be like the man who built his house upon the rock in in Matthew 7:24-25. No matter what life brings our way, we can overcome because we know the One we fear is in control and his love casts out sinful fear. We can stand firm knowing he is in charge. Sinful fear dreads losing control, and that is why the Israelites sacrificed to idols. They believed that appeasing them would make things run smoothly, and that if they didn’t sacrifice things would go badly. When we live in fear of man, we have a similar mentality. “If I can just…” everything will be ok. We’re trying to maintain control. Yet, the Lord calls us to leave the control in his hands. That is what the fear of the Lord does. It trusts in his goodness for the outcome, and we have nothing to dread.

Lord, help me never dread anything more than I desire to love and please you. Help me to avoid the trap of misplaced fear. Nothing on this earth is more powerful than you, so I need to reserve my fear for you alone. Yet, it is a different sort of fear than dread. It is honoring you above anything else, and resting in your control rather than trying to be in control. You are worthy of all honor and praise. Nothing on earth can ever cause me to be consumed with fear as long as I am consumed with you. Amen

The Trouble with Victims

I lived over twenty five years my life as a victim. From the time I was 14 until I was nearly 40 I was involved in an abusive relationship, and breaking free was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. During those tumultuous years, I lost nearly everything I owned and barely escaped with my life and my two girls. In the years that followed, I faced great financial loss, angry children, and continued threats on my life. I had nightmares, and found myself freaking out at things that had nothing to do with me. When I heard people around me complain about everyday struggles I wanted to laugh in their faces and say, “Are you kidding me?! That’s nothing!” I wanted the world to know that I had been wronged, and somehow come and make it right.

The odd thing is the more I complained, the less people wanted to listen. They seemed to alienate themselves from me, which made my situation even more miserable. I could have stayed in that pattern forever, but as I cried out to God I began to realize I would never be an overcomer until I dropped my victim mentality. I realized that people did not know how to handle the severity of my losses. I am sure it made them uncomfortable—perhaps even guilty that they had been blessed with an easier life. I realized that I needed to stop making my unfortunate past my identity, and made a decision to pour my complaints out to God rather than people. I chose to believe his promises towards me rather than my feelings. Although that decision did not immediately change my circumstances, it did make all the difference in the world. Today I am a victor rather than a victim, because I decided to believe him.

In the years since I transitioned from victim to victor, I have many opportunities to work with other victims. I have seen some apply themselves to the truths of God’s Word, and basically blossom before my very eyes. In those cases, it has truly been like watching butterflies come out of their cocoons. From all outward appearances their situations have seemed hopeless, but God has performed miracles for those who have learned to trust him. Trust like this involves a decision to believe God rather than emotions and past experience. I have never seen God disappoint those who have chosen to really trust him. The outcome has always been beautiful.

On the other hand, some of the women I have tried to help have refused to let go of that victim mentality. When I direct them to God’s promises, they give me a thousand reasons not to believe them. Their attitude reminds me of the man Jesus healed at the pool in Bethesda in John 5. Even though he stationed himself in the place where the angel stirred the water to be healed, he basically told Jesus it was impossible, because somebody always beat him to the water. He was full of bitterness and excuses. When Jesus healed him in spite of his negativity, he showed no joy, nor did he stop to thank Jesus. Instead, when the religious leaders rebuked him for carrying his pallet, he blamed Jesus. Jesus knew his heart and came to him later with a warning, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (5:14).  But he simply went out and reported Jesus to the leaders. Jesus set him free, but he chose to remain bitter.

That’s the problem with so many victims, they fail to see and appreciate God’s provision in their lives. Instead, they choose to remain bitter, and make excuses for hanging on to their anger. They basically cut themselves off from God’s blessings and blame everyone around them (even God) for their negative circumstances. I love to contrast the story of the man at the pool with the healing of the man born blind in John 9. When Jesus healed him his life was changed immediately. He became a believer, and was willing to profess his faith in spite of harsh opposition. As far as outward circumstances go, he probably fared worse than the man healed at the pool. Yet, he was filled with joy over what Jesus had done for him. Like King David (who spent years running for his life) he chose to praise God in the presence of his enemies rather than cling to bitterness.

The truth is that bad things happen in this world. Many of us end up at victims at some point, and it grieves God’s heart. We suffer unjustly and it isn’t fair, but God knows exactly how that feels (Heb. 4:15). Our God is a redeemer, and nothing is wasted when we know him. He can turn our mourning into dancing (Ps. 30:11), and use tribulation to mold us into the image of his son (Rom. 8:29). But in the midst of our troubles we must choose to trust him. We must choose to let go of the bitterness that poisons every relationship in our lives and keeps us in bondage (Heb. 12:15). The problem with victims is they are often not willing to make this choice. Instead, they hold tenaciously to their right to be miserable and angry, and unwittingly finish the job their enemies began.

The Blessing of an Undivided Heart

Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Ps. 86:11

It’s interesting that David talks about an undivided heart in relation to fearing God. I believe this is because fear is one of the best tactics of the enemy to destroy our spiritual walk. I’ve always said that whatever we fear will control us—that is why is is so important to fear the Lord. For so long I lived in fear of a man, and as a result he became the god of my life. I knew God was there, and I prayed to him regularly, but my heart was very divided. My first thought when deciding on an action was usually how my husband would respond to it. If it was something I wanted to do, and didn’t think he would like it, I might do it anyway and hide it from him. Still, the bottom line was that my life revolved around him rather than God. My divided heart put God second by default. Unhealthy fear enslaved me. An undivided heart is one that is fully surrendered to the Lord, and fears him more than anything or anyone else.

For many years the phrase “fear of the Lord” was an enigma to me, but it really shouldn’t have been. The type of fear that ruled my life with my ex husband was basically one that filtered nearly every thought through his possible reation. I feared his wrath. Although I have been redeemed from God’s wrath, a healthy fear of him would basically do the same. I would be more concerned about pleasing God than anyone else (including myself).  It is not so much a dread-based fear, but a love-based one. My love for him should far outweigh my love for anything or anyone else, and when it does I will give him control over my life. My heart is undivided, because there is no question that God comes first in every decision I make. He is in control rather than fleeting circumstances or unpredictable people. The wonderful thing about fearing God first is that it leads to peace. He is unchanging and all-loving, which means when I place my life in his hands I don’t need to fear anything else. I am surrendered and he is in control, so whatever happens I can trust him for the outcome. That is the blessing of an undivided heart.

Prayer:

Lord, I pray that my heart will be always undivided — that nothing on this earth will be more important to me than you! You are worthy of my praise, worthy of my fear, and so very good. I can trust you completely. Human nature tends towards fearing circumstances and even people, but Lord I know what a trap that is. That is like building a house on the sand. When the storms of life come, “great is the destruction” of that house. Father I ask that my life will be built upon the rock, because I put you first in everything. “All other ground is sinking sand.” Amen

What Defines You?

As I look back on my life, I realize that the most trying times have turned into the biggest spiritual triumphs for me, but I believe I could still be living in defeat if I had made different choices. It would have been easy for me to take on a victim mentality and remain stuck. As I was reading the first chapter of Ruth today, I recognized that all-too-familiar victim dynamic in Naomi. She had been through a long set of tragic circumstances, and when she returned to her hometown she was so bitter people barely recognized her. When they called her Naomi (which means pleasantness), she corrected everyone and told them to call her Mara (which means bitterness). Naomi defined herself as a victim.

When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?” “Don’t call me Naomi, ” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning (Ruth 1:18-22).

Isn’t it interesting that Naomi wanted to be defined by her circumstances? Rather than choosing to cling to her faith in God as Job did when he lost everything (Job. 13:15), she chose to make tragedy her identity. Ruth had also suffered loss, but she chose to love God and love others. She took action and did not profess bitterness as Naomi did. I love the way this passage ends. Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem just as the barley harvest was beginning. Hopeless and bitter Naomi was too consumed with her pain to see that God was at work, but Ruth took action. She walked in the little provision afforded her by the law, and arrived just in time to do it.  As a result, God blessed her by sending her to the field of the very person who could change their circumstances—their kinsman redeemer.

Without Ruth, Naomi could have very likely perished in her bitterness. At the end of this story the women of Bethlehem said to Naomi, “Praise the Lord, who has not left you without a family redeemer. May his name become well known in Israel. He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. Indeed, your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, had given birth to him.” (Ru. 4:14-15) Boaz and Ruth’s child did become well known in Israel. Through his line would come both King David and our Messiah. Truly Ruth was better than seven sons, because she did not allow her circumstances to define her. She chose to follow God, and to love others. As a result, history was changed forever.

We all have tragedy and unpleasant circumstances at some point, but we also all have choices. We can choose to be defined by our circumstances, or we can look for God’s provision in the midst of it. We can choose to follow God and love others, or we can choose to be bitter and self-centered. Our choices will determine the outcome. God will make a way for those who refuse to allow calamity to define their lives. Our Lord always has redemptive purposes in mind for those who love him and are called by him (Rom. 8:28). Our job is to simply choose to believe and follow him daily. Those who belong to him are his heirs (Gal. 3:29). That is who we are, and that is how we are defined. Circumstances do not define us, unless we choose to let them. All things are possible to those who believe (Mk. 9:23). Will you choose to believe?