Anger with God is as old as time. It dates all the way back to Cain and the first human family. (Gen 4:3-7)… From the reading, the indication is that Cain was seeking to come to God on Cain's terms and Abel came to God on God's terms. Abel brought a lamb from his flock and Cain brought the less desirable, picked over fruit of the ground, the work of his hands. God's terms were that they should bring the most pristine, very best of their labors as an offering. "...And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but he did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. (Gen 4:4-5) If you have ever responded to suffering and tragedy by raging at God, you’re not alone. Abraham, who was angry at God for His apparent readiness to destroy the innocent people of Sodom, along with those who were guilty, exclaimed these questions to God; "...Would you also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen 18:23-25)
People tend to become angry with God when they see Him as personally responsible for negative events and when they interpret His intentions as being cruel. Some people see God as ultimately being the One who is responsible when things go wrong. Feelings of abandonment, betrayal or mistreatment, by the hand of God, are common themes in which anger, towards The Maker, is a rudimentary response as written about by Dr. D. W. Ekstrand, adjunct professor of Christian Studies, Theology, and Divinity at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. Dr. Ekstrand goes on to note, "people who become angry toward God need to be reassured they are not alone. Religion and spirituality are like any other part of life, which can be challenging as well as rewarding, and anger with God is just one of those struggles." "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O Lord my God; enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; Lest my enemy say, I have prevailed against him; Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved." (Psalm 13:1-4) Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, author and president of CLAL–The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership expounds, "anger at God and faith and positive feelings about God are entirely compatible. The notion that belief in God demands calm acceptance of everything that comes our way is simply absurd. Anger at God, dissatisfaction with the state of the world, or the shape of our lives, is not only compatible with faith, it is an act of faith." "I will say to God my Rock, why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with a breaking of my bones, my enemies reproach me while they say to me all day long, where is your God?" (Psalm 42:9-10)
Pat McCloskey, Catholic priest for nearly 40 years, Franciscan Editor of St. Anthony Messenger magazine, the author of three of its monthly columns and editor of four other St. Anthony Messenger Press publications pointedly states, "admit your anger toward God if that’s what you feel." Every human emotion has an important function for people. We can decide not to face an emotion but we cannot stop an emotion from surfacing. We need to see our feelings as being one thing and our behavior, in response to those feelings, as being quite another thing. Feeling angry with God is not bad in and of itself. Once an individual admits feeling angry toward God, he becomes free to see the many ways in which he can express that anger. A person who feels angry with God has several options available to him. He can turn his back on God, he can curse the next person who tells him not to be angry with God, or he can express that anger honestly in prayer and come to terms with it and God.
Many Christians would say "don’t question God or ever get angry with God.” However, that poses the question, is a relationship between two people which is so weak, that it cannot withstand any quarrel or disappointment, worth maintaining? What kind of God is so fragile that a person cannot admit his honest feelings of disappointment, shame, unworthiness, or even anger, to his Lord Jesus Christ? Admitting our anger with God does not destroy faith, rather, it forces us to clarify what we really believe and why. By choosing to deal with our feelings, rather than pretend that they don’t exist, the door is open to experience a more adult faith, ushering in a greater understanding and appreciation of the present moment and of God’s divine providence. People who pray honestly, in anger, have the ability to grow from an adolescent faith into a mature faith which embodies a more transparent, honest, substantially richer and deeply satisfying relationship with God. Moreover, these are the people who are most ready to understand and assist others who are bandaging up life’s physical and/or emotional traumas. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ." (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
When a person experiences emotions of anger, frustration, or helplessness deep in his soul, it's imperative to release those toxic feelings to the Lord. "I cry out to the Lord with my voice; With my voice to the Lord I make my supplication. I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare before Him my trouble." (Psalm 142:1-2) A man is to take his innermost issues of heart to God and hold nothing back from his divine heavenly Father. God promises that He will satiate the weary soul and replenish every languishing and sorrowful person (Jeremiah 31:25). “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:2-3) Being angry at God doesn't make a person a bad Christian, it intrinsically makes the person human. Anger is a part of human nature and it's how we respond to our anger that makes all the difference. So in considering the scope of the Bible’s teaching on this subject, it's only reasonable to deduce that it is perfectly acceptable to bring all our cares and disappointments to God, including, but not limited to, matters that move us to frustration and/or anger. Conversely, however, we cannot conclude that it is appropriate to approach God in a spirit of complaint or anger levied toward Him. It is never proper to accuse God of wrongdoing. "Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it." (Job 38:2,40:2)
God always has our good in mind, growing our faith, making us more like Christ, and fulfilling His plan for our lives. Furthermore, He guarantees that His purposes will ultimately be accomplished in each of His children. "Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:30-31) God is immanent in the lives of His people. "For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." (Isaiah 57:15) God dwells in his children as His holy place or temple. "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are." (1 Corinthians 3:16)
When we see our difficulties through the truth of God’s word we begin to see our problems in a different light. Just because we come to Christ for salvation from sin does not mitigate a life with problems. "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33). God enables us to have peace within our hearts, minds and souls in spite of the suffering we go through and the storms that rage around us. "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7)
So, as a good Christian, complain, yell, get angry with God, all the while, trusting in Him and yielding your bitterness and pain to Him so your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can bestow on your heart His peace and strength and gracious love to carry you and protect you through any difficult situation life and Satan launch at your mind, heart, or soul. "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)
Ever messed something up bad. I’m talking really bad; colossally bad; professional grade bad. You didn’t start out to do it, but that is what happened. I know and so does this unnamed lady. Maybe you, like us, are on the road back. Recovering toward something or someone. Maybe there are folks who don’t want you to ever forget just how bad you messed up. Here is a story for all of us.
Our friend hears through the grapevine that Jesus is having dinner at a Pharisee’s home. Though uninvited, she decides to go. Luke points out that she had lived a sinful life in that town. Notice the word HAD. I believe that she wasn’t the same person she once was. Maybe she had heard Jesus speak. Perhaps it was John the Baptist that had reached her. We don’t know who or how; what we do know is that she HAD been that way and now evidently wasn’t. And she decides to go see Jesus. Maybe she wanted to ask some questions; perhaps she simply wanted to thank Him in person for this life changing experience. Either way, she went to the party.
You know it must have caused a bit of a stir when she walked in. Wives pulled their husbands close, maybe even going as far as to put themselves between her and them. Servants wondered at why she had been invited. Maybe they just assumed, knowing her past, that she was there “accompanying” one of the guests. She walks in outwardly confident, strong but cringing with each glare thrown her way. She knew what she had been. “Why can’t they see that I’m different?” were her thoughts. Suddenly the last of the crowd parts, and there she is face to face with Jesus. In her mind, the room grows silent; she’s rehearsed what she wants to say but thoughts and words leave her. She is in the presence of the One who made the incredible change in her life. And the water works start. People always tell me about the questions they are going to ask Jesus when they see Him in heaven. I just smile and go along but I’m thinking to myself “No you aren’t!” We are all going to be just like our friend.
She begins weeping, but I’m betting we would say “sobbing” today. She’s making a spectacle of herself, and yet she seems unaware… or maybe she doesn’t care. “These folks have made their mind up about me already,” she thinks, “this is between me and my Savior!” The tears run off her face and are making puddles on the floor and the feet of the One she is standing over. Suddenly she sees that the tears are mixing with the dirt on Jesus’ feet. In a flash she sees an opportunity to give back in some small way by cleaning His feet. This wasn’t her plan. She wasn’t prepared, but she saw an opportunity to show thanks. So she knelt and began using her hair to dry the tears and clean off the dirt. Now, the house was packed that evening; couldn’t someone bring her a towel? Why was everyone just staring? Luke says that the thought running through the host’s mind, “If this man were a prophet, He would know what kind of a woman she is.” The same thought was running through everyone’s mind. Not what kind of woman she was; but is. It’s a sad fact that many can’t differentiate between what you were, and who you are. They had labeled her a sinner and that was to be forever her role. Only she and Jesus knew the real score. After drying His feet she then brought out the ultra-expensive perfume she had brought. Now in her old life, this would have been used to enhance the experience the gentleman had paid for. To some there it smelt alluring; to others it probably had a familiar scent; but to her it represented her past and it stank. She had probably thought to bring it to Jesus as a gift that He could sell and provide for His ministry. Maybe she thought to anoint Him with it as a sign of Him becoming King of her heart. But as she stared at His feet, those wonderful feet that had brought the good news to her and changed her life, she broke the jar and poured the perfume onto His feet. The tears were now those of joy. She had been able to do something to publically thank Him. She, like many of us, had gone from being forgiven to being useful. That is what we all want to be, useful to ourselves and others. And she unknowingly handed Jesus a perfect teaching opportunity.
“Simon, I have something to tell you,” Jesus starts off. No doubt Simon thought he was about to be thanked for his generosity. Maybe He would speak about the wonderful home and time He was having. But Jesus begins with a story: Two men owe; one a large sum; the other not so much. Neither had the ability to pay, and both debts were forgiven. And the question was, “which would love the banker more?” Jesus was a master story teller. The first man was seriously in debt, he hadn’t started out that way, but that’s where he was. The second’s debt was more reasonable. But, Jesus said that NEITHER could repay their debt. Think about that. Sin is basically the equivalent of a student loan. Pay on it all you can but it’s never going away! Whether it is crushingly huge or seemingly manageable we can’t repay or repair the debt owed. Now, we who have screwed up royally understand this. We can easily see that there is no way we could ever overcome all the mistakes. But what about the folks whose life has not been so messed up? Those that grew up in church and never left those teachings? They understand that they have faults but compared to us, they seem quite lily white. And yet neither of us can ever repay the sin debt. Simon concludes rightly that the one with the most debt will love the one who forgave more. There is no doubt in my mind that all of God’s children love Him. That being said, there is a direct and proportional relationship between the intensity of the love we have and the depth of grace given.
Jesus then drops the hammer on everyone present that evening. “Do you see this woman?” Not “Do you see this prostitute (or ex-prostitute)?” No labels were used, only her gender. He then goes on to use her as an example, a good example, of love and deeds. Jesus points out all the slights the host had shown Jesus and the unadulterated love the woman had. He sums it up with, “I tell you, her many sins are forgiven!” Jesus knows about each sin and (I believe) emphatically told everyone all of them ARE forgiven. Not will be or might be but now and forever more are forgiven. He ends it with “For she loved much.” She, like me, knows how deep the grace pool is and having been shown that depth of love had to try in the best way she knew to return it.
Sensing that the crowd was struggling with the fact that Jesus could forgive sins He adds at the end, “Your faith has saved you”. Faith in the One who can save; Faith in the promise of debt forgiveness; Faith that life can be recovered. That each of us can also undergo the transformation from useless to forgiven and eventually to useful.
I’ve seen this transformation in not only my life but in many others as well. If you are having trouble believing that the grace pool is deep enough for you or that recovery is even possible from the life you’re living, let me urge you to pick up the phone and call Step Seven. We know, we care, we are here to help the next person.
Matthew 19: 16 – 29 (Mark 10:17 – 30 and Luke 18: 18 – 30)
All three of the gospels place the story right after Jesus blesses the little children. It’s a scene that always elicits warm, cuddly images in the mind. In each He speaks about how the “Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these”. Evidently the young man was around when it was said because that is what he asks about first. “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” he asks. Notice that he didn’t ask what things but thing, singular. He probably thought it’s better to start the bidding off low than to come in too high. Heaven, just like everything else in his life had to be boiled down to a transaction. Resources required verses the reward expected. The transactional life is devoid of meaning, sacrifice and true love. The transactional life is all about the promotion, care and furtherance of self. A life where everything encountered is boiled down to a transaction. Jesus tells our friend to simply follow the commandments. And he replies “which ones?” Again the transactional life is all about expending the least amount for the greatest gain. We need specificity here.
Jesus replies with five and leaves five out. If you have taken an active listening class you know that what’s not said is often more important than what is. The ones omitted were the four that deal with our relationship with God and one glaring omission from those that deal with our earthly relationships. “Do not covet”. Did Jesus forget it or did He intentionally leave it out? I believe it was the latter. Jesus knew which one this young man struggled with. He, like many of us struggle with coveting. The desire to possess items or at least like items we see others have. We call it “keeping up with the Jones’” and this young man was the original Jones. He probably had possessions many envied, but even at this young age, our friend could see it wasn’t enough. Coveting, like all addictions lead us to only want more. It places our wants, our desires above those of God for our lives. “All these I have kept since my youth” the young man says. He then adds “What more do I lack?”
The transactional life indeed lacks much. Warm, loving, enduring relationships simply have no value compared to the amount of effort it takes. As a result, relationships (both earthly and with God) tend to be shallow. This man lacked depth and, yet Jesus didn’t try to teach him directly. No Jesus offered him an act, a thing that would guarantee his trip to Heaven. “Go sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor”. Now was Jesus espousing wealth sharing program? No, He was showing this man the real reason that he felt lacking. The things were worth more than the relationship with God. And when a thing (or things) are worth more than God it’s an idol. Even if the idol is me. When my desire to acquire possessions exceeds my desire to draw closer to God, I AM THE IDOL!!!
The man lowered his head and then turned and walked away. Everyone watched him make his decision and leave. The thing’s had won. The young man couldn’t conceive of a life without his possessions, even eternal life. Think about that for a minute and ask yourself is this me? Do I have something or things that I value more than my relationship with God? If God said to you today to do the above, would you? Could you turn your back on everything you have acquired in this world simply to prove your love of God? There are many things that I would easily get rid of. There are several things that I would begrudgingly let go of. And then there my treasured items. Most have sentimental value, mementos of folks who have passed. Leaving me wiser and better for their time spent in my life; it is these items that might make me turn and leave as well. And yet my most prized possession is God’s word which He left for me. In it I can read that this world is not my permanent home. That I too will pass on. What will I leave to my children, possessions or the knowledge that His Word is to be most prized.
Peter, James, John, and Jesus are returning from an incredible time of prayer up a mountainside. As they walk back into the village, they see a crowd gathered. The angry gestures from familiar figures show that the rest of the disciples and some Pharisees are arguing. And you know Jesus (the man) had to be torqued. “I can’t leave them alone for a second!” “Why can’t I enjoy this experience for just one more minute.”
The source of the argument stems from a father’s request for the Disciples to drive out a demon that has his son. The father describes all the symptoms and ends with that the Disciples tried, but could not help. Earlier in Mark, Jesus sent out the 12 with authority to cast out demons and spread the good news. And yet now their best efforts came up short. And the argument that ensued was whether Jesus had any authority. It’s an argument I have with myself way too often. Especially when the path isn’t easy or my way doesn’t seem to be working. Jesus rebukes the crowd (and me) “Unbelieving generation!” “How long must I put up with you!”. And then He removes all doubt by demanding “Bring the boy to Me!” And therein lies my problem. When I start down the unbelieving trail it is most often because I’ve quit bringing things or people to Jesus and have started trying to fix them myself.
Mark points out that when the spirit saw Jesus it put on a show. Jesus seems unimpressed by the mastery of the spirit over the young man. He casually asks the father how long has this been going on. The father’s reply makes me tear up every time. “Since childhood”. All the dreams this Dad had as he bounced his newborn son on his knee have long since melted away with the tears he has cried. The near-death experiences he has had to witness. You know the Dad has tried everything, exhausted all avenues to get help. He’s been defeated more times than he can even count by this point but he is still trying because he loves his son. Kind of like our Father, who keeps trying to bring us back to Him. It’s no wonder his response ends with,” IF You can do anything, take pity on us and help.” If You can… How many times have those words or that thought ran through my mind. And Jesus lets Dad have it as well “If I can?!?” “ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE!” The Dad immediately says “I do believe; help me (Jesus) with my unbelief!” Believing, yet unbelieving at the same time. I get it. I know his struggle. I know I should believe; I try to believe; I say I believe and yet there is always that unbelief part. Now this whole time the demon has been putting on a show.
Jesus addresses the demon and tells him to leave and NEVER enter him again. Think about that for a second. When God says never He means NEVER. He cannot change His mind. And He calls the spirit a deaf and mute spirit. If you look back the Dad says he is a mute but missed that his son was deaf as well. I’m sure Dad was floored. Suddenly things made sense. No wonder he never came when I called, he couldn’t hear me! And folks the spirit of unbelief makes us spiritually mute and deaf. Because I won’t call or listen if I don’t believe. I’ll do it my way or the world’s way and the results will look about as pathetic as the spirit did leaving the boy.
Later after the crowds left and they were alone, the disciples asked, “why couldn’t we drive it out?” Jesus responds with “This kind can only come out by prayer and fasting.” Now was Jesus referring to some special kind of demon; or was He referring to their unbelief. If you read the earlier account you will notice that Jesus didn’t instruct His disciples to fast or pray before driving out demons. So, I don’t think this was some kind of special demon. I believe Jesus was giving the secret for unbelief. Regular prayer and fasting to draw and stay close to God. By constantly communicating with God, we stay in His presence (and out of our own). And, after all, what is fasting but denying yourself something to get closer to God. Like denying my ability to “help” out and instead letting Him be in charge. I’m encouraged to up my prayer time and increase fasting and be able to lessen the number of times I have to say, “Help my unbelief”!
John 5:1 – 11
I’m pretty sure the guy didn’t even know what day it was or that he cared to know. See, all days feel the same when you’re stuck and brother he was stuck. Paralyzed for 38 years, the man was carried each morning out to the pool by some caring soul. But they couldn’t spend all day waiting with him. Because today might not be the day that the waters stirred. But they did leave him as close as possible in hopes he could craw the last few feet. Day after year after decade, this was his life. After the morning pleasantries had passed, he was then left alone with his thoughts. He needed an edge, a champion, a hero that would simply scoop him up and run him into the waters as soon as they began to stir. Legend had it that the first one in received their needed healing. Legend also stated that there was no discernable pattern for the stirring. It could occur today, maybe next week, might be a month or even a year from now. Legend said to just keep watching and beat everyone else in and poof you’re healed. Legends, stories passed down, repeated so many times that they take on the ring of truth even though they aren’t. And we all have these in our lives. Stories that we’ve been told and maybe even told ourselves that simply aren’t true. Yet we believe them as if they are. A careful look through historical records (and the Israelites kept great records) shows not a single person had ever been healed in this manner at the pool. Then one day a shadow came over the man.
Looking up he saw Jesus, unable to seek him out, Jesus came to him. The question Jesus asked is strange “Do you want to get well?” Surely it took our friend by surprise. Thoughts like “Surely you see me here poised for the slightest movement of the water”. “What more can I do to show my desire?” I love the question: it wasn’t do you want to BE well but do you want to GET well. The difference is passive verses active participation. I would love to BE in shape and yet without effort on my part, I will never GET in shape. Jesus asks him are you ready to participate in your healing or do you still want to lay there in misery.
I meet a lot of folks new in recovery. Too many want to BE sober and yet are unwilling to GET sober. They love the concept and can see the benefits of the lifestyle but are unwilling to put in the necessary work to obtain and maintain the lifestyle. It’s a question I believe Jesus asks all of us at one point or another. Do we want to simply BE a certain way or do we want to GET there.
Notice that the man doesn’t answer the question instead, he presents the problem as he sees it. “I have no one to help me!” “I’ve tried my hardest to no avail, every time someone else gets in before me.” I firmly believe that the man is hoping that Jesus will tell him that He will wait and help when the time comes. It comes down to how in my own life I have asked Jesus to do something for me, not through me. I too often want the easy pill or way or legend as does this man. That Jesus will participate in the legend with me. But Jesus isn’t in to legends, myths or lies. Jesus IS the truth!
Bending down, Jesus looks the man in the eye and commands him “Rise, take your mat and walk!” Rise, action required by the man. An action he hadn’t performed in almost 4 decades. The man has a choice, wait for the legend or obey the Truth. Our friend responds to the truth and immediately three miracles occur as the man obeys. Muscle strength, balance and gait were all immediately available. Verse 9 states that “At once he picked up his mat (stooped without falling over) and walked (strength and gait).
Have you ever wondered why Jesus specified that our friend was to pick up his mat? Was Jesus worried about public sanitation? Did He want the man to have it just in case the miracle didn’t “stick”? I believe Jesus told him to rise off the mat that had so defined his life and then reach down and proudly walk with it through town. Did it elicit comment yes, but it also gave his testimony validity. I wear the scars of my past proudly for they give my testimony of Jesus validity. This story always forces me to look at my own life. What areas of my life am I wasting away, waiting for Jesus to come do it for me instead of through me? What areas am I believing in a legend instead of the Truth? And when/where do I try to hide my past when it gives credence to my testimony of His work in my life.
Matthew remembers it well. Jesus had just finished the Sermon on the Mount and was headed into Capernaum. Probably not a long walk but an eventful one all the same. Along that dusty trail sat a man living out a death sentence. This story is recounted in three of the Gospels (Matthew 8, Mark 1, Luke 5), none of them give details about this man except that he was a leper. It was the untreatable condition and thought by most to be a judgement from God on a person. It starts off as a small, harmless looking, rash and slowly spreads over the entire body. Causing open running sores, nerve damage, muscle loss and ultimately death. This was the man’s future; the only possible outcome. But he had heard stories about Jesus.
Read the tail end of Matthew Chapter 4 (verses 23 – 25). Jesus was going all over the region healing everyone and anyone brought to Him. He must be asking himself: “Why doesn’t He come to me?”. “Doesn’t He know the condition I’m in?” “Maybe it is a curse from God.” Perhaps that’s why he phrased the question the way he did. And then the man hears that Jesus is close by, teaching on a nearby mount. Capernaum is surely His next stop and he readies himself to have an audience with Jesus.
Matthew says the encounter happened “suddenly” (NLT) and it must have seemed that way to him and the others. But both Jesus and the man knew well ahead of time that it was going to happen. Matthew makes note that the leper approached Jesus. The law required that the man move well off the path when someone approached. It also specified the warning that must be shouted for all to hear “unclean!, unclean!” Yet the man did neither. He wasn’t letting Jesus pass him by so he hobbled up to him, oozing sores, atrophying muscles and knelt or as some versions say “fell” at Jesus feet. And then comes the question. “If you are willing, you can make me well”
Notice that the question isn’t can Jesus heal; it is “are you willing to”. The man had heard of His ability to heal and believed it to be true and therefore the only question he had for Jesus is not can you help but are you willing to? It’s a common question. I work a lot with addicts and alcoholics. Earthly knowledge is that addiction is an incurable disease. It may have started off small, even hamrless, but for many it grew into a life eating issue that slowly consumed them. And secular reasoning is that this disease is incurable and the best you can do is abstain and go sit in a meeting at least once a day with others who have this disease and complain. This man was living an eerily similar life. He was tired of hanging around with other lepers all day waiting for the inevitable so he asked what so many others have. And his question is one I’ve heard literally 100 times in my seven years. I cannot think of one time that I was asked “Can God heal me?” No every time it has been “Do you think He’s willing to heal me?” The crowd following stopped; the disciples stopped and every eye went to Jesus because we’ve all had the question run through our minds as well. And everyone breathlessly waits for the answer.
Verse 3 is forever etched into my brain and I hope it takes such a place in yours too, “He stretched out His hand and touched him”. God reaching down to comfort a man; being moved with compassion for someone like him; God being love.
Everyone else must have sucked in their breath. Touching a leper made you unclean. Jesus then says “I AM willing!!!” The Bible gives us many I AM statements like I AM the God who heals, I AM the God who saves and now we can add to them I AM the God that is willing. And poof the leprosy is no more. One minute he was incurable, the next he is healed! Can you imagine the relief that flooded him when he first felt “normal” again? It’s a feeling that some of us do know. Because like him, we too have gone from incurable to healed in the blink of an eye. But before we get too far along we need to address Jesus. Did you notice that there was no problem because He made the unclean, clean. And He’ll do it for you and I like He did for this man. Jesus then tells him to “go and show himself to the Priests; bring the correct sacrifice and be a testimony for them”. Jesus immediately puts him to work as an ambassador of His healing power. My Jesus will do the same for you as well. You need no fancy degree or official title to be a testimony. You already have all you need, your story. The story of when Jesus reached out to you.
It is probably apparent by now that I’m not a fan of the “addiction is a disease” concept. If it wasn’t before, let me tell you, I am not! I offer my life as a testimony that what man said was incurable; God healed! When I asked “Are you willing?” My God replied I AM willing! And my life has not been the same since. How could it? God made unclean Thom, clean and I must go and be a testimony for Him. Think I’m a fluke? I can introduce you to hundreds of others who asked and received the same answer. Yes, my God can. Yes, my God heals. And yes, my God is willing!
I often hear someone say, “when I get to heaven I’m asking Jesus about…” And I always think “no… no you won’t”. Every person who met an Angel in the Bible fell to their knees and that’s from meeting a creature who was in the presence of God. If second hand glory does that, you won’t be able to speak in first hand presence! The gospels record numerous times Jesus spoke with large crowds, measuring in the thousands. But the gospels also share several incidents when Jesus spent time alone with someone, one on one. I am especially drawn to those incidents. Just imagine Jesus, knowing full well the limited time He had on earth and choosing to spend some with a single person.
John 4 – The Samaritan Woman - “Who is right?”
John 4:4 records “Now He HAD to go through Samaria”. Although the most direct route between Judea and Galilee, it was through an area considered unclean by the Jews. Their reason for declaring it thus was because of those who lived there. Blood relatives who followed a similar yet different religion made them unclean in the eyes of good Jewish people. I’m sure the Disciples tried to talk Jesus out of going. Surely the longer, more traditional way would be best. But Jesus insisted that He HAD to go; evidently without acceptable explanation. So off they went. Arriving at about the halfway point just before noon the Disciples went into town to purchase lunch. Jesus decided to wait at the well. The Disciples no doubt passed her on their way in. A single lady coming out of town along the only path between it and the well, they must have passed each other. And yet neither spoke, neither acknowledged the other. Then she comes to the well where sits Jesus. The lady didn’t notice anything remarkable about him. She only saw the exterior which was clearly Jewish and then comes his question. “Can I have some water?” Seems simple enough on the surface but the feud and bitterness in this relative dispute has been simmering for years. So instead of kindness she senses weakness and pounces. But Jesus doesn’t return the anger no he offers her “living water”. Her interest in this new substance may be completely worldly but Jesus uses it to reveal just exactly who He is. “Go get your husband.” Those words must have stung. She knows the score. Her lifestyle was tolerated by neither religion. The shame of her past came rushing in. “He won’t know” she thinks and tells Him “I don’t have one”. Then Jesus reveals Himself by telling her what the real truth is. Without judgement or condemnation, Jesus simply states the facts as they are in her life to date. And folks, sometimes facts hurt but they weren’t said accusingly. Jesus told her ALL about herself and then kept on talking with her. It’s at this point that I believe she knows who He is but she hedges her bet by saying that He is a prophet. Now comes her question. Alone with Jesus she asks “which of us is doing it right?” Jews say this mountain and these laws, we say differently. Surely there is only one right answer so which of us got it right. And Jesus replies “neither”. See it doesn’t matter which building style or set of rules you adhere to. If there is no spiritual connection; then you are doing it wrong. End of statement. God wants us to worship in spirit and truth not location and style. I am so glad that I have the ability to freely enter into a close personal relationship with my God. Free of any regulations or man-made restraints. I can simply come as I am and be loved, corrected and encouraged to keep moving forward.
Now both Jewish and Samaritan texts proclaimed that the Messiah was coming. Their interpretation of those scriptures was that He would come and tell the other side that they were doing it wrong and settle things once and for all. Jesus ends His time with her by fully revealing that He is the Messiah. And off she runs to the town. The Disciples return and their question was why Jesus even bothered speaking to one of “them” at all. Out of the village comes the entire town stirred up by the lady’s testimony. “He knew everything about me” and spoke to me anyway. They beg Jesus to stay and a two day revival broke out in a little backwoods town, along a dusty road in Samaria.
Why did God choose this town? I haven’t a clue. Why did Jesus choose her? I believe He knew the impact her, the town hussy’s, testimony would have on the rest. I mean if He would want HER then He’ll surely be OK with ME right? Was Jesus trying to mend the relationship between the Jews and Samaritans? Maybe but probably not. What comes out clear in reading the story is that God desires a close intimate relationship with each of us. Don’t get me wrong, I love church and small groups but I treasure my one on one time with God even more. For it’s in those quiet places that I can be completely transparent and know that I’m loved. Let me urge you to spend some one on one time with Jesus today. Time spent alone with God is never wasted.
Pledge and Prayer – Start your day off right.
Every school day started the same. The bell would ring announcing the start of another day. Shortly after that the PA system would crackle to life and the Principal would ask everyone to stand and face the flag. Then a student would lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance. The Principal would then ask everyone to bow their heads for a moment of prayer. After a bit, the Principal would encourage us to have a “Bulldog” day! Faithfully we started every day this way regardless of whether it was an easy day or one of “those” days. I might be looking at a substitute or multiple tests it didn’t matter, everyday started the same.
For the longest time I forgot this critical piece of my day. I would jump out of bed, having milked the snooze button for all it was worth. I would rush headlong into my day without a pledge; without a prayer. And life became all too quickly unmanageable. Overcome by all the “things” I thought I had to accomplish I was constantly frustrated by my life. It seemed I was always tired but never accomplishing anything of note. I simply dropped into bed exhausted each night but unable to sleep with all the undone things running through my head. Soon it was pills and later them and a “nightcap” to go down; energy drinks and coffee to get up. None of which helped me accomplish more and, in fact, led to life becoming even more unmanageable. Then it all came undone.
Shortly after I became sober, a mentor shared with me this secret and it brought me back to Langham Elementary. Start your day off with prayer and an affirmation. Desperate to not repeat my former life, I gave it a try and the results have been nothing short of miraculous!
I changed up my affirmations until I met Kirk Samuels. Kirk has an incredible pornography recovery ministry and part of his program is having each man recite the below each morning. I haven’t changed affirmations since. Check out the rest of his stuff at www.freeindeed36.com Save and print the below, placing it on the bathroom mirror or fridge. Say them out loud each morning. It helps frame the mind just as the Pledge so long ago did.
Always start your day off with prayer. No matter whether it is an easy or hard day, start it off the same. Have a morning quiet time that includes prayer. Ask for guidance and wisdom for the day ahead. It always reminds me of my prayers back in school “OK Lord we both know I suck at math but help me remember what I studied last night”. Being mindful of God’s presence helps frame your mind around all the “things” that need to get done. I am always amazed at how He works through those tasks, removing the extraneous and adding more meaningful ones. This time of prayer helps me focus on God which helps take the focus off me. It needn’t take long, just a few minutes each day will go a long way toward keeping you in the right frame of mind. Print off the affirmations and plan a time for prayer for the next seven days and see if it doesn’t provide peace and clarity.
My plan was to write the final installment on my series of things you learned in grade school and need to be doing today. But I can’t. See I’m from a little town in East Texas called Nederland. It’s situated between the cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur, about 90 miles east of Houston. Growing up we would have one field trip a year to Houston, normally to visit the space center or perhaps the zoo. My family went to Astroworld during the summers and occasionally to the galleria at Christmas time to see all the beautiful holiday displays. I obtained my undergraduate degree in Beaumont and met my wife there. We were married in Houston near where her parents lived at the time. Beaumont and Houston have a special place in my heart. It’s home to me.
My wife and I took our granddaughters camping this weekend with a group from church. It was the perfect Colorado weekend to do it. Sunny skies, temps in the mid 80’s and those gorgeous sunsets with a cool evening to follow. And there we were glued to our phones as Harvey seemingly came from nowhere and grew into this monster. The in- laws along with most of Chandell’s family now live in Corpus Christi. They had the foresight to leave prior to land fall and were spared damage to their homes. Then the storm began a painfully slow meander up the coast in Texas. Familiar landmarks flooded filled my Facebook feed. Friends gave updates on their and their parent’s homes. Homes I used to play at, ate at, spent the night at.
In the midst of all the updates has been the constant request for prayer. Let me ask that you all stop right now and pray for all those along the Texas and Louisiana coast. Don’t just do a quick “help them Lord” and go about your business. PRAY!! It’s not the least you can do, it’s all that we can do. The Salvation Army is collecting funds, and please donate toward their efforts which will be needed in the coming days. But right now what those folks need is constant prayer. God promised King Solomon in II Chronicles 7:14 that “if my people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray….” Don’t get me wrong the National Guard, Salvation Army, Cajun Navy and the like are helping but we as God’s children need to quit believing that “we got this” and humble ourselves to the point of asking for Divine assistance. And then we need to pray. Maybe like never before. Pray without ceasing for those who are affected.
If my life has taught me anything, it has been that God can work ALL things out for our good, if I place my trust in Him. I had royally screwed up my life; but once I turned to Him, He made everything not just good but exceedingly abundantly good!
May this time of prayer be only the beginning; for there is much healing needed in our land. May God use this time of distress to shake His church onto their knees. May He show us that we need to remain humble; seeking Him all the time. May God begin the healing of our land with my prayers tonight for all my friends whose world has been turned upside down. I am lifting you up and am encouraging everyone who reads this to do the same. May this moment of tragedy become the start of a powerful revival and may it sweep our nation. Let’s come together at the Throne of the Most High God, only He has the power to heal.
Advancements, Milestones and Graduations – Celebrating Your Achievements
As I would start school each year, I always had the same thoughts running through my mind. “This is harder than last year! Why can’t I just be done already! And May seems forever away!” And yet the days turned into weeks, which led to months until finally we were at the last week of May. The last day of school always began with an assembly and each class would take turns standing while the others clapped as their advancement to the next grade was made official. As soon as the assembly was finished, it was celebration time. The PTA mothers fed us and we participated in a number of games until the school bell rang one last time and we were on vacation. Those of us who had maintained A’s and B’s all year got an extra special treat at the soda shop in town!
My fifth grade year started and drew to a close the same as the others. Only this time after the assembly, my class boarded buses to the middle school. As soon as we got off, the ninth graders got on and departed for the high school. I’m not sure who looked more frightened. We went on a tour of our new school and then sat through another assembly where we were welcomed and the Principal spoke about this milestone we had reached. We were on to bigger challenges and closer now to our ultimate goal. All too soon (it seems now) I was boarding the bus that had just brought over the new middle schoolers and toured the high school. Again the Principal spoke about this milestone I had just accomplished and what lay ahead as an official high schooler. The years there flew by as well and all of the sudden me and my best friends were planning our graduation party. And folks that party was 4,380 days in the making.
I talk with so many who feel their dreams are unattainable simply because of the time commitment. It’s like we forgot that it took us 12 years just to graduate from high school! Sure, most of the dreams they share are multiyear endeavors. But we’ve already proved that we can do that. We simply need to plan out our journey toward that goal with an eye toward setting aside time to celebrate our advancements toward it, the milestones as we reach them, and the final graduation party. Here are a couple of examples from my own life.
I’ve written before about my addictions. Shortly after I became sober, I decided to reward myself with a steak dinner for staying sober the entire week. I still continue this today. I watch for them to go on sale and cook it myself each week. The only thing that has changed is that now my daughter and granddaughters come over when they have a chance and eat with us. And she doesn’t know that the biggest reward is spending time with them (which would not have been possible had I continued) while we enjoy my advancement treat. When I hit five years, I bought myself a nice truck. My wife didn’t completely understand why I “needed” one but I knew that I had to celebrate the milestone. My wife and I are coming up on 30 years of marriage next year. It’s a big milestone! And we have always celebrated our decade anniversaries big! But that doesn’t mean that we wait 10 years to celebrate. No we mark each November that passes as anther advancement toward our next milestone. Now my examples don’t have a graduation point, maybe like yours (i.e. be a better spouse, parent), which is all the more reason to celebrate advancements and milestones along the way. We need not wait until we fully realize a goal to celebrate, make it part of the journey.
Have a dream but feel overwhelmed? Try this and see if it doesn’t help:
Every six weeks when I was growing up I would leave school with my report card in hand. Sometimes I would run the whole way home to show Mom and Dad. The Pharmacist in town had a soda shop in the store and any student could come by for a free treat if they had all A’s and B’s. Other times I slowly walked dreading the conversation that would take place that evening. Think you have outgrown the need to check your progress now? Think again, this is a vital skill we need now more than ever.
Actually the report card was just part of an ongoing feedback loop between the teacher and their students/parents. That feedback was necessary to ensure that you stayed on the path that would take you on to the next grade. Bomb a test and there was a note from the teacher to you. Bomb two or more and your parents needed to sign the test. Every three weeks progress reports came out that showed where you were cumulatively in regards to assignments, tests, and homework. As the semester ended your report cards to date were averaged to show progress for the year. There was no way that a student could approach that glorious day in May without knowing already whether they were being advanced or held back. And yet as adults we just go through life with few defined goals and those we do have, we never check our progress on. We must schedule regular checkups to make sure we are drawing closer to those goals and not further away.
I said above that sometimes life got the better of me and my grades were less than the threshold for a double scoop dipped cone. Same thing happens today. All too often the daily fires get in the way of completing actions toward my long term goals. Your goals will never materialize if you don’t have a regularly scheduled checkup. If left unchecked, your goals will in fact revert back to being day dream fodder. Here are a couple of tips to help you make this a part of your life today:
The necessity of recess.
I never really thought about this until I was well out of grade school. Every day we would get a PE period AND a recess, one in the morning and the other each afternoon like clockwork. What took me years to discover was that there was a science to these rest breaks. They always occurred in between those core subjects. Concentrate on math then take a 25 minute break. Another hour of science; take a lunch. Social studies and then recess time. Finish up with English and you’re headed for the bus. Those rest periods gave you the ability to relax, have fun and cleanse your mind for the next subject. I’m telling you it is brilliant and it should be part of your daily routine today.See if this typical day sounds familiar. You arrive at work having already had a full morning just getting there. You immediately launch into your day quickly and seemingly effortlessly grinding out the work that lies before you. Lunch time comes and you decide to be “smart” and eat while continuing to work. Before you know it your shift is done and you head home, taking some small project with you. As you pull up the drive you notice the flower beds need attention as does the lawn and that section of gutter along the side looks bad. All projects for the weekend you hope to get in around the kids sporting events. You’re through with dinner before you realize you didn’t listen to any of the talk during it. You were focused solely on the project you brought home for the evening. The kids play, the TV blares and you are oblivious to it all until the familiar voice of the nightly news anchor breaks through. You save your work and begin getting ready for bed. You’ll repeat this five times and then comes the weekend which is packed with projects, chores, events and church. All of the sudden it’s Sunday evening and you realize that in 12 hours you are about to repeat the above yet again. And I ask you where the recess was?
If you were nodding as you read the above consider this. I’m working toward a goal right now that my reward for achieving it is a new motorcycle. I know the make and model I want, even have three different colors picked out. Now it won’t be a brand new one because brand new Indian motorcycles are expensive! In looking around I’ve found several that fit my desires to a tee. One in particular is 10 years old and has less than 5,000 miles. Think about that for a second. The owner paid a hefty price for the bike and has ridden it less than 500 miles a year. They bought it and didn’t take a regularly scheduled recess.
Folks there is a hefty price to be paid for not taking a recess. Your stress level will only continue to rise until you take recess seriously. Your work-life balance will be forever out of whack until you make this change. Try the following for a week and if it doesn’t lower stress and bring balance then you’ve lost one of the 3,744 weeks you have on average to use on this earth.
Part 1: The therapeutic value of a big chief tablet and a number 2 pencil.
Our daughter is fond of saying, “adulting is hard”. I believe most of us would agree. It seems like school simply did not prepare us for life as an adult. Or did it; and we simply are neglecting to put those life skills imparted to us to good use today. I know when I walked across that graduation stage so many years ago I thought I would have little to no use for the knowledge I had just gained. To a large part that’s true. I love playing along when I catch a rerun of “Are you smarter than a fifth grader”. I’m sure I knew the answer to each question once upon a time, just don’t need it today. But what about the life skills those long ago subjects helped instill in us? Those I believe we desperately need today as we navigate the world of adulthood. Let these next few blog posts remind you of them and if you will bring them back I can promise you will lower your stress, better manage your anxiety and lighten your life.
Now I realize that I’m dating myself bringing up the big chief tablet. But it was the essential tool in my grade school classrooms. Everybody (in my day) had one along with the ever reliable number 2 pencil. You won’t find the tablets anymore so I’m guessing at some point we determined that they were politically insensitive. Yet my Granddaughters had as a requirement a bound notebook as part of their school supplies this year. So simply bring this forward to whatever you had that contained bound, blank, lined paper in it. Just seeing the image above was enough to transport me decades into the past. To Mrs. McElroy’s third grade homeroom class and the dreaded book report. As the date drew near to turn in said report, my mind was probably full of math problems, history lessons, etc. An amazing thing would happen though as I took out my tablet and sharpened my pencil, my mind began to clear. Those math problems, history lessons and the like were tabled for a later time. The big chief was open and my thoughts began to coalesce into the outline of the paper I wanted to present. Fast forward 40 something years and the same thing happens every time I take out a notepad and pen. My brain wants to not waste the paper or ink. Just the act of taking my notepad and pen in hand causes my brain to focus in on what is most important. I do this with clients all the time during a brainstorming session. Their thoughts may be all over the board but as soon as I take out a notepad and pen, the magic happens. Suddenly they are more focused on the task at hand. (I believe we were all scolded at one point about wasting paper!) Just having them see those two everyday items is enough to cause their brain to focus so as not to waste them.
Try this out for yourself the next time you are having trouble focusing. Stop trying to mentally untangle the issue and instead take out a notepad and pen/pencil. I promise you it will work. Your mind will sort through everything with less effort on your part in order to allow you to write down the truly important things. I’m a huge fan of to do lists. Again the act of having to take out paper and pen makes me focus on what is it I really have to get done today. Now I know I will hear from someone about how their phone can voice record their notes and allow them to type out lists or thoughts. IT’S NOT THE SAME!! I too have those apps on my phone and use them from time to time when note taking is simply not possible. The therapy is not in the note itself as it is the sight, smell and feel of a notepad and pen. Sometimes you just got to rock it old school! Try this out for yourself. I’m telling you it was an invaluable tool imparted to us long ago that will ease your world today.
I absolutely love living in Colorado. I love the marked change of each season, the weather and the people here. But recently we have been in a rather strange weather pattern for summer. Cool temps and gloomy skies have replaced our normal sundrenched, warm (but not too hot) days and cool, pleasant evenings. It’s not that I am opposed to rain or the occasional cloudy day, just don’t like too many days in a row. I find it hard to motivate myself to get going on gloomy days. I know the seasons will soon change and there are many chores to get done now in order to be ready to celebrate fall. I also know all too well that waiting to the last minute won’t bring the success that I want to enjoy come fall. Couple this with my observations of late regarding that period of recovery right around the 30 day mark and you get this.Recovery in the beginning often takes on the look and feel of a new relationship. Everything is new and it’s exciting to explore all the possibilities this new relationship holds. Each moment is treasured while family and friends encourage the new relationship. In recovery circles this time is referred to as the “pink cloud”. Everything is starting to turn around; sobriety seems almost effortless just like those first few weeks of a relationship. But unfortunately, it can’t last. As much as we want the newness to stay, it must give way to gray, gloomy times. Yet through those times the relationship strengthens and grows far deeper than if it had been allowed to remain in the shallow honeymoon phase. I thank God every day that He brought me and my wife together and has held us together through 28 years of bright sunny and dark, gloomy days.
The pink cloud becomes gloomy and just as those new relationships can’t remain in the honeymoon phase forever; the real work to maintain recovery begins. Addicts are often overwhelmed by the realization that our lives were far more damaged than we had (during our use) estimated that it was. Expectations of a quick, effortless recovery lie shattered on the floor. What will you do? Will you run back to an old familiar (although thoroughly toxic) relationship? It sure seems easier than forging ahead in building a new one. Too many cut at that 30-day mark. Forsaking their new relationship with sobriety for their substance. Most think to themselves “I won’t get in too deep this time” which never happens.
There are many of us who weathered that time. Who felt the need to cut and run and yet stayed true. Who desired the ultimate benefits of sobriety above the temporary relief the substance brought. After trying numerous times, I began my last attempt knowing that day 30 was coming. What was I going to do to get beyond those gloomy days? I began by planning with an eye to weathering those days because I knew the sun would eventually return. If you have struggled getting beyond the 30-day mark, then try these two profoundly simple tweaks to your next recovery:
Recently I found myself in court with a client. As we walked in, those words were written on the wall behind the judge. His case was one of many that were to be decided today so I had the opportunity to reflect on those words as we waited.To show up implies that I am completely there (mind, soul and body). We occasionally take our granddaughters to a nearby park. I’m always disappointed with parents who are there physically but glued to their phones while their kids are running and playing and developing right before their downcast eyes. Those in the courtroom that day were completely present during their case. I’m sure the fact that some might not be leaving played a large part in their complete attention. As we waited, I thought about all the times I had been physically present but mentally far away. Why should it take a looming jail sentence to force us to be completely there wherever we find ourselves? I came away with a renewed commitment that I will be completely present at all times. No more checking out and being ok with simply blessing those in my life with merely my presence.
As the cases proceeded, I saw the wisdom in the second part of the statement. Others were there for similar crimes. They and their lawyers spoke eloquently about how they were truly repentant for their crime and that they were changed. The prosecutors would then present facts that showed that their words were not true. That their conduct from arrest till today was not in keeping with someone who had changed their behavior. The judge would hand down her decision. Sometimes leaning toward the harsher end of the scale based on the apparent disconnect between the words and actions. I thought about how many times are my words and actions not in alignment with each other. I left that courthouse that afternoon with a renewed commitment to change both until they complimented each other.
Eventually our case came up. The lawyer spoke, my client spoke and I got a chance to speak on his behalf as well. The change in his behavior over the last few months was apparent. His words and actions had finally met up. He spoke convincingly about this change and asked for the opportunity to continue to prove to the court this change. The judge thought and then rendered her decision. Unlike others, she leaned this time toward the minimum. My client’s family thanked both the lawyer and I profusely. Both of us pointed to the client as it was his efforts that made the outcome possible. He chose to embody Show Up; Be Honest and it worked out. I left the court that day with my renewed commitments and the assurance that if I put them into practice, everything will work out.
I attended a networking event not too long ago. The room was fairly full of small business owners hoping, as I was, to make a connection that might lead to a referral. As this wasn’t my first rodeo, I have a well-practiced response to the inevitable question “So, what do you do?” I respond with “I help make peoples dreams become their reality”. That usually gets their attention. Everyone’s got a dream that they aren’t living. I then tell them that I’m a life coach that specializes in small business owners and addiction recovery. Occasionally I’m asked why I’m drawn to these two vastly different crowds. And if time permits I explain how they truly aren’t that different. See both have control issues, struggle with some semblance of life balance, and both really want something but the obstacles ahead seem so daunting. That’s where I can help. Sometimes I’m asked who my ideal customer is for each. They assume that surely there must be two separate lists and are shocked when I tell them in either case that I want to come alongside those that are seeking, struggling and/or scared.
Seeking – I love sitting down with those who have an idea or concept for a business but that’s as far as they have taken it. They have a wonderful end state in mind where their product or service will greatly supplement their current earnings or even replace it. They are seeking guidance though on how to start. What’s first, when and where often come up as well. This morning someone woke up with a dream of life without substance use. They too have this incredible end state in mind, but are in need of guidance as to how to begin. Both have usually sought out information on the internet only to quickly become disheartened by the glut of useless info out there. And so they both sit with unfulfilled dreams. Both are in desperate need of someone who has walked that path before. Who can show them the pros and cons of those different paths and walk with them the path they choose. Seekers are, in my opinion, the best because they are the most eager to try something new, to dare to explore, to strike out on what promises to be a wild and wonderful adventure. Find someone to help you begin.
Struggling – I feel especially close to those that are struggling. I know all too well the frustration of trying to break through to the next level and nothing seems to be working. I’ve also experienced the thrill of the big breakthrough and the resulting struggle of maintaining the momentum. Small business owners know the above scenarios all too well. There are a number of folks who also woke up this morning struggling with substance use. They’ve tried numerous meetings or programs with little success. They are doggedly determined to keep pushing on but they, like the business owners, are losing a little more faith each time they try and fail. Sometimes I meet folks who have obtained sobriety but are now struggling with the wreckage their use caused. Both they and the business owners are fighting to maintain the momentum. If this is you please know that there is hope; it can be done; don’t give up! Maybe someone with fresh eyes can help.
Scared – The third type I feel drawn to is sometimes but not always found in the above categories. They know what needs to be done and they are scared to death to pull the trigger. Take the business owner who knows that they need to bring on a partner in order to grow. They struggle with not the need, but relinquishing some control. Now before you go looking down on them answer this: How many of you would be scared inviting what might be a stranger in to help you raise your child… Change is scary but fear can be and should be overcome. I occasionally am asked to visit someone in the hospital or jail that is in the throes of addiction. They can easily see the need to change but are scared to death of the change required. Their addiction has been going on long enough that every part of their life revolves around it. They know that this single change will reverberate through their entire existence and they are terrified to pull the trigger. Again I know both scenarios all too well. The military taught me how to overcome fear and then awarded me with a medal for simply putting it into practice. I gladly share my story of overcoming both in business and my own addiction recovery with everyone. Fears can be met; there is no need to live in fear of the change.
If you have read this and thought “man Thom needs to speak with _________,” then pass along my contact info. My purpose in life is to not hoard all my life experiences but to share them. My passion is to come alongside those described above and help them grow.
All humans have, at the core of our being, a collection of values that guide our behaviors, actions and words. These values may have come from a variety of sources (society, church, family friends) but we have chosen a select few for a place of prominence to help guide our navigation of life. Now not all values carry the same weight. We also have an established hierarchy so that when faced with restrained resources (time, money, etc.) our core values or those that are highest in the pecking order get funded. All others line up in their respective place. For example while I value fun, I treasure providing for my family, eating and my home so the bike stays in the garage and off to work I go. All too many have never really considered their values, how they came to adopt them, what their rank order is and how they play their vital role in governing our behaviors and actions. What so many fail to realize is that anyone who cares to notice can easily see what those values are, their order and anticipate how you would react in a given circumstance. I love people watching, in short order I can tell a lot about a person’s values simply by watching their actions and interactions with life. For instance I can tell whether there is a cross or a kettle at the heart of you.Now you city folks read carefully for I’m about to learn you something!
ket·tle (kĕt′l) A metal pot, usually with a lid, for boiling or stewing.
Kettle folks have a special place they put every wound, every slight, every bad thing in their life. They open the lid and put it in and then begin to stew on it. They rarely smile (slows down the stewing) they rarely are thankful or grateful and are the quickest to point out the wrong (so as to have more for the kettle) in something or someone. Just like physical kettles, emotional kettles have a capacity or limit. On occasion kettle folks blow up and “spew the stew” on those around them often over a seemingly minute incident. Kettle folks are prone to fits of rage because the stew in the kettle is toxic and like eating something bad, it’s going to come out forcefully. They walk through life hating and often being hated. They telegraph to anyone who cares to notice that they store their wounds and hurts. Next time you are in Walmart smile at everyone you encounter. Kettles will not only fail to return the smile; they will look away from you. Go to a meeting room and, if it is large enough, there will be a kettle there. They may measure their sobriety in decades but they are so negative and bitter that you wonder to what end. Surely if they had continued their use, they would be dead by now and wouldn’t that be more desirable than what seems to be a miserable, meaningless existence. And the sad fact is there are kettles in every church of any size. They know the name Jesus but refuse to let him exchange their kettle for the cross.
The cross was a landmark event. On it, Jesus took all my sins on His shoulders and let them die with Him. All the times I had/have/will fail, He gladly bore. And three days later, upon leaving the grave, He sought out those who had run, hid and denied Him. Not to open the kettle and “spew the stew” but to let them know that He had risen, that the cross had accomplished its purpose, and there was now no need for kettles. Jesus could have opened the kettle and let them have it for their actions, surely He felt hurt, betrayed, wounded by their actions, but instead He let The Cross be at the core of Him. How can I do any less? Cross folks have the realization that not only am I forgiven but that I can and should forgive others. They are gracious and full of mercy instead of stewing. They are calm when kettles are filled with rage because they understand that the cross accomplished this for not only them but everyone else as well. They navigate life showcasing that the cross works, that it has transformed them and they telegraph this message to anyone who cares to look. By their actions they attest to the transformation in their life. Because He forgave me, I forgive you.
Now I need to let you know that I’m not there yet. I’m like many that have both. I don’t want the kettle but all too often I retain hurts for later stewing. I’m a work in progress; an exchange in process. What keeps me going is that Jesus promised His Cross is easy to bear the kettle I know from experience is heavy. I’m tired of dragging hurts around from people long gone and having it affect those currently in my life. I want and need The Cross. This begs the question… Which one are you? Which do people around you see? Because someone is always watching how you interact with others. Will they come away from that time of observation with “definitely cross” or “definitely kettle”.
Today we celebrate our independence. You may remember from your school days that on July 2, 1776 the Continental Congress met and voted to declare our independence. Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence which was unanimously approved two days later on July 4th. Perhaps at some point today you will reflect on those days in 1776. But have you ever stopped to consider why they chose July to embark on this great adventure? Did the founding fathers foresee the need to take a day off each summer? Did they desire to bridge the gap in holidays between Memorial Day and Labor Day? No! They simply decided that now was the time, today was as good a day as any to initiate a change. Surely some must have thought “why not wait till January 1; you know New Year, new us”. Others may have preferred to wait till after the growing season was done. “Let’s get the crops in and then we’ll address independence”. But they chose not to wait, to not postpone and instead begin immediately.
We should all take a note from our founding fathers. Now is the time to begin, today is the day to start. I meet many who have a goal or a dream but when pressed as to why they aren’t starting today; they begin with the excuses. “I can’t right now because…; Just let me….; I need to ____ first. Jesus encountered several who wanted to follow Him, just not now. In Luke 9:57 – 62 He refused all excuses and instead urged each to begin immediately. What did Jesus know that we don’t? That the time for excuses has past. We either do it now or let those dreams die away, crushed by the overwhelming mediocrity of of mere existence. I believe everyone is called to not merely exist but to thrive, live and truly enjoy each moment. And there is no better day than today to begin changing things toward that goal. All the excuses for not making your goals into reality are simply wasted effort that could have been put into making dreams happen. The time to stop procrastinating is now. Let’s begin that new adventure today. Let July 4, 2017 be the day you began your next adventure; don’t wait another day.
John Adams, one of the founders of our new nation, said, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward for evermore.”
Sobriety is a lifestyle change NOT a diet from your addiction.
We’ve all done it. Swim suit season is upon us so we try on last year’s suit and notice a budge or a roll. We decide right then and there to cut out the sweets, carbs, etc… We deny ourselves those treats hoping for a dramatic change. We are excited about the future us and charge into our week full of confidence that, with a little will power, we are going to rock the poolside this year. Then we get to work and someone brought donuts, someone else offers pizza for lunch. And you just sit there starving, longing for the things you can’t have. Every commercial that evening is about food, happy people eating delectable food with nary an once of fat on them. You cry out at the injustice of it all, why can they have all the food they want and I can’t have any! For a week this goes on and then you hop on the scale only to see this seemingly herculean effort has resulted in negligible results. At that moment your will power evaporates and you decide to cheat. Just a little decadent desert, something to reward all your efforts you say. Two tubs of Ben and Jerry’s and a supreme pizza later you’ve lost everything you’ve done so far. So you just give in and accept the fat.
Unfortunately people try the diet approach in sobriety all the time. “No need to change anything else, I’ll just quit____”. They start off with such high hopes only to fail because, while their heart was in the right place, their mind wasn’t. Sustainable weight loss and sustainable recovery require a life style change, not the mere avoidance of certain things. To be sure the new life style will involve the absence of things but the key is the introduction of healthy, equally satisfying things. The mindset should be not to give up things but to replace them with things that will lead me closer to my goal. People often feel overwhelmed with the loss of their substance. It was literally an integral part of their everyday life. It is similar to losing a loved one in a sense. That loss is so complete. There are two paths forward; think of nothing but the loss or forge a new life without them. You’ve probably seen both in those around you. The man who loses his spouse and remains broken hearted the remainder of his days. The lady that loses her spouse and goes forward to volunteer or devote her time in other worthwhile endeavors. Addicts have the same paths; look at the loss or look forward. Finding healthy, beneficial activities does not have to be a big obstacle. Simply find a recovery community in your area and participate in some of their activities. Phoenix Multisport is a fun, sober, physically active community that may be in your area. Step Seven is a faith based community and there are hundreds of others made up of recovering addicts that are banding together to celebrate life. If you are stuck on where to begin a search for a community near you give me a call.
Thought for the day: When my mindset is not “look at what all I can’t have or have lost” but “I am working toward a better me where I will be able to ____”. That mindset will produce results because it is set on a better future state. Look forward, seek new activities, broaden your reach!
Let’s face it; we have all failed at something. That is a “common to all” kind of experience as is the universal dislike of that feeling of having failed. How we deal with those failures will either set us up for future success or continued failure. All too often I see folks who take the more destructive path by not gleaning lessons from their failure and thus dooming themselves to future repeats. I believe all life experiences (good and bad) can be life lessons if we will seek them out and apply them.
I was taught the value of the “after action report” while serving in the Army. It is a critical look at every person’s actions during the preceding exercise. No detail was too small to overlook. We all took turns telling the good and bad; what worked, what didn’t. Some could be brutal as you had to take ownership for your decisions and actions. What kept being repeated was that we were not performing this exercise till we got it right. We are going through this exercise until we can’t get it wrong! Failures always gave us more to learn from as did the time(s) we got it right.
I use the term “autopsy” with my clients today but the spirit is the same. We dissect the failure to glean lessons. It is always frank, sometimes brutal, but incredibly necessary so as to not have a future repeat. Here are three simple steps to take the next time you encounter a failure:
Choose your higher power wisely.
The second most common mistake people make in recovery is to not choose a higher power. They do this despite its prominence in the steps and at recovery meetings of all flavors. It’s as if that first lie we ever told ourselves, “I got this” or “I’m in control,” just won’t die. Folks try and fail because if you truly had this, you wouldn’t need to recover in the first place. All that wreckage and disarray in your life when you first sober up is a direct result of the “I got this” mentality. “I’m in control” got you to rock bottom. To think that you and you alone can lead yourself out of that mess is only setting you up for failure. If you are struggling with finding and relying on a higher power then please consider these two steps:
Step 1: Get specific! Your higher power cannot be vague or undefined. Rarely do I meet someone with long-term sobriety whose higher power is “nature” or “God”. The vast majority of those who are in long-term recovery have a well-defined higher power. They know exactly who it is they are leaning on and into. They have done their due diligence in researching them and have become intimately familiar with how they can aid them in recovery. It’s not enough to say that “God” is your higher power if you have no concept of who/what He is or how He operates in your life. Dig in and read up on who/what it is because your success in recovery depends on it. Interview those in long-term recovery to get a starting point, but don’t just appropriate their thoughts. You must study it out for yourself, and personalize the relationship. Failure to do so will only mean that in your weakest moment, when you need it most, your higher power won’t be there for you. Not because it can’t, but because you didn’t take the time to develop the relationship.
Step 2: Incorporate your higher power into your lifestyle. You shouldn’t have to tell someone who is familiar with you who/what your higher power is. They should know based on your lifestyle. You can’t tell me your higher power is God and then not have a church you regularly attend or a Bible you regularly read. Your higher power must have time to regularly provide input into your life. Relapses start long before the first use. They invariably involve a series of steps where lifestyle changes made early in recovery are tossed aside. Any higher power worth their salt will call you to task when these changes start being discarded. The void will get filled by something and left to our own devices, that something will be a substance. If you have a higher power that isn’t present in your daily life, you don’t have a higher power. If I say my higher power is ____ and yet there is no evidence on it in my lifestyle, then I don’t really have a higher power. You can’t fake a higher power any more than you can fake long-term sobriety. The two are intricately entwined meaning you either have both or you have neither.
If you have a history of relapses, especially if 90 days, is about as long a term of sobriety as you can make then you need a higher power. You must have something greater than you to call upon in order to get over the hump. True and lasting sobriety is possible but unobtainable without a higher power at work in your life. Failure to spend the time and effort to learn and incorporate it into your life will result in relapse. At the same time, a well-defined higher power that is present in your lifestyle will result in lasting sobriety. The great news is that it’s not too late to start. If you could consider Jesus as your higher power then please contact either me or my friends at Step Seven. If you can’t, then find a similar recovery community and become involved with them. Either way get started today!
Over the years, I’ve met folks whose recovery looks more like a seemingly endless series of relapses than any meaningful sober time. Through coaching them, I’ve developed three cardinal rules for successful, long term sobriety. Break one and your chances of success drop dramatically. Successfully incorporate these, and your recovery becomes much more manageable. Here is rule number one:
You must be married to recovery, not date it. You’ve no doubt been to a wedding and heard phrases like “forsaking all others”, “till death do us part” and “for better or worse”. All those play a part in a successful marriage and a successful recovery. Many approach sobriety like a casual date. You know, “try it out and see where it goes, if it gets difficult I can just walk away.” Wrong answer and wrong thinking because unfortunately things get worse before they get better. As the detox finishes and you survey your life and all the wreckage, it is unfortunately only the tip. There are many things that won’t appear till a month or two down the road. When the going gets tough and the path seems incredibly steep, those that are dating sobriety cut and run back to the open arms of their substance. Those that are married to sobriety know they are building a new life together and that this will pass. Those folks go on to lasting, meaningful lives apart from substance use.
Sometimes people encounter negative consequences for their substance use (i.e. legal, family strife etc.). Those folks tend to treat recovery as a “rebound romance”. I’m mad at _________ it has caused _________ and so I’m hooking up with sobriety to show it. They almost always go right back once the heat is off. They never intended to be faithful to sobriety. That “forsaking all others” part plays a crucial role in a marriage and your recovery. You can’t keep old using buddies' numbers in your phone any more than you can keep old girlfriends' numbers.
The “till death do us part” gives a young couple the expectation for the length of their relationship. Most married couples know the divorce rate but they, at that moment, are committing to a lifetime together. That is their mindset, and it must be ours in recovery, as well. The fact is that I will never be able to drink again like I will never be able to date again. I’m married to sobriety and my wife... neither of which would be happy if I changed that arrangement. Another fact is that my life is incredibly more rich as a result of those two marriages. So, if you are having trouble with lasting recovery - quit dating it and put a ring on it!
I’m often asked about the tag line for Aim Point, “hit what you're aiming for”. I’m all about living life deliberately. To me, the tag line means live your life with forethought and purpose. I always want to be aiming for something bigger and better for my life. Aiming goes beyond merely hoping, it’s a deliberate act toward putting your efforts onto a target point. Unfortunately, too many folks I meet seem content with hoping to accomplish a goal without putting any effort into it. This will never work. I call these the “plinko” crowd.
Growing up we would always attend the local heritage festival each spring. The rides, food, and of course, the carnival games. You’ve no doubt seen them, brightly lit, loud music and of course the prizes proudly lined up just waiting to be won. While they may go by different names in your area, plinko and the duck shoot were always at ours.
Plinko is a game of chance involving a steeply slanted board with pegs jutting up from it. You pay your dollar and are given three disks. You then ascend the stairs to the top of the board. There is a cat walk that allows you to move across its length and the slope allows you to see the pegs that are placed, seemingly at random, between you at the top and the prize bins along the bottom. The bins always included a “grand prize” that paid like $1,000. There were other pay out amounts, as well as several “win another turn” bins. Also present were the “lose a turn” bins, located throughout the other options, at the bottom of the board. You would eye your prize and place your disk at what seemed to be the start of the optimal path and let it go. Counting the prize even as the disk careened downward interacting with the pegs in a seemingly random way until the disk finally entered a bin at the bottom... “lose a turn”! You’re perplexed and try another approach, only to experience the same result. With your last disk in hand you try yet another point on the board, all hope of the grand prize is now gone. Your only focus is one of the two “win another turn” bins. You leave a dollar lighter and not much wiser.
That’s why I was much more excited to try the duck shoot game. It’s a simple arrangement, there is an older BB gun affixed to the front counter. It’s loaded with 10 BB’s and in front of you is a series of ducks pulled along a track. Hit a duck, and it falls over scoring you a point. Get 10 points and a grand prize is yours. You walk up and hand over your dollar. The Carnie loads your weapon, and the ducks begin to march across. Your first shot is off, and the second only nicks the duck, causing it to wobble but not fall over. But you now have your aim point worked out. The next falls as do the following seven. Close, but no grand prize. As I walked to the end of the line, those waiting would ask, “How’s it shoot?” “Low and right,” would be my reply. “Aim high right along the beak, and pull as soon as the beak appears in the sight and they’ll go down.” Using my advice, there were several grand prizes handed out before my next turn. I would walk away with one large stuffed animal, as well.
Why did I give out advice and try to help others? Because there were plenty of prizes to go around. We should all get a prize... and if anyone can benefit from my experience, then let’s do it. That’s why I started Aim Point Coaching. There are plenty of prizes or goals for everyone. What is the worst that can happen, we all become better and reach for even more? But goals aren’t going to become reality by themselves. They aren’t going to be reached by simply tossing disks with minimal thought and effort. No, they are only reached by careful aim and deliberate action on your part.
Thom Straley - Thom is the Executive Director at Step Seven Ministries & is a certified life coach specializing in addiction recovery and small business growth as Aim Point Coaching. To learn more about Aim Point Coaching, visit Thom's website by clicking the link above!