Some of you lovely readers have expressed concern about what seems like instruction—in last week’s newsletter—to stay in an abusive relationship. I had considered addressing this at that point, but it was a long article. So let me unpack that a little more here.
First of all, I will never tell someone to stay where they are being abused—physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, any other way. Please find a way to make yourself safe. From a spouse, partner, parent, child, co-worker, stranger, whoever. Whether or not you or they are a Christian.
If you have no other help, you can contact me be replying to this newsletter email and I will help you the best I can.
That said, hearing what I have to say may require some discernment from the Lord and maybe some humility.
As you too well know, some people are just negative. About everything. Nothing ever goes right, looks right, feels right, sounds right, on and on, and they have to point it all out.
Some people are stuck on power trips and some watch out for #1 always and only, at the expense of anyone who happens to be near. We have control freaks and passive-aggressive slugs and all manner of uncomfortable and soul-sucking actors in our lives.
The advice these days is to cut these people out. Walk away. We need to avoid those who neither defend us from our hurts nor support us in our choices, because they are obstructing our own flourishing in life.
The Bible contains warnings about the kinds of people we hang out with—lazy, angry, foolish, wicked (Proverbs 13:20 and 15:18; 2 Corinthians 6:14). Proverbs 4:23 reminds us to guard our hearts and Philippians 4:8 urges us to take care what we let wander around in our heads.
Yes, we can be and need to be mindful of the messages we allow our minds and spirits to absorb, because darkness and evil will distort our vision and sap our strength. The devil’s tactic is to tell half-truths in order to get us to focus on the wrong things and keep up from what’s important. The messages that pour into our space from people around us and from the world will kill our joy and keep us from trying to make a difference.
As Christians, what kind of life are we supposed to be striving for? We are to be about making a positive difference in our sphere, making the most of our gifts and skills to shine the light of God, right?
Here I go splitting hairs. Should the difference we make come from our own plans to do good works for the kingdom? Or from tasks done in obedience to Jesus as we submit to Him daily and come to understand how He wants us to die to self and bear His image? I believe that God gave us our skills and the desires of our hearts to accomplish certain things. I believe that He wants us to work these desires out for His glory. However, even these God-given plans need to be given back to Jesus so that we can walk in submitted, Spirit-led faith. Otherwise our focus is on our own good works toward our plans, which, unsubmitted, spring only from our flesh and have no eternal value.
If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. Mark 8:34-35
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5
What I’m getting at is this: What of God’s plans to to minister God’s grace, salvation, and restoration to those who are angry, depressed, fearful, bitter, self-consumed? Are these only God’s plans for me but not really mine?
To go a bit further, who are we ultimately to depend on for our encouragement and support? Those who tell us we’re doing well, doing the right things, who encourage us to listen to our heart and follow our gut? Listening to my heart and following my gut is comfortable and makes sense, but it also gets me into trouble, because my heart still cries out to take care of myself my way, my heart still wants its pain eased and troubles banished. The suggestions my broken heart make do not lead to dying to myself daily. They only make me safe and comfortable, therefore fairly useless to God’s purposes.
Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Colossians 3:1-4
Jesus Christ Himself is our life. How are you doing with that as a goal? How am I doing with that?
*urgent whisper to anyone who might know* What does that even mean!?
Just because I’m particularly convicted here doesn’t mean that I’m standing anywhere but front and center in this docket. Every time, when I get stressed out, sitting down to sort it through tells me that I’m fussed because I’m not getting my way. Someone is fouling up my stuff somehow, or not coming through with what I need to have my plans work out, and I don’t like it.
This serves to tell me how much I’m still all about me and how little I am about God. This serves to tell me I need to check my sources—my circumstances and the people around me? Or Jesus Christ Himself, and trusting obedience to Him?
Where was I going with all this? Oh yes—staying in a questionable relationship.
Here’s the thing. It’s a broken world. There’s God’s ideal, which may exist in rare and brief places in space and time on this plane. But for the most part, every ideal is less than ideal, thanks very much, Adam. So while there’s the ideal, what we all get—and what God gets—is the real. The real is a messy place where we’re complete in Christ but damaged in the mechanisms that connect that completeness with the life we’re living day by day.
I encourage you to ask God to help you discern—is it really an abusive situation you should leave?
Is some of the pain because you’re trying to get your OK-ness from something that God never designed for you to get your wholeness from, from something that cannot ever meet those needs? Are you looking to the wrong sources for your peace and security?
Please give God time to speak truth to your heart.
But please hear me ask this as well, because it matters if the answer is YES. Is staying truly keeping you from being healthy toward yourself and toward others with whom you must deal? Is the magnitude of the distress greater than you can bear, deeper than the supply of good and peace that you have with God right now?
I’d encourage you to spend some time in prayer and thought about that person, about the nature of that relationship you’d prefer to get away from. Ask God if you need to keep your distance for a while and work on finding your safety and fullness in Him, or if you really do have what it takes to stay and be Jesus to them.
Ask God to show you how try to get your inner wherewithal from others, and contrast it with how you should be finding it in Him. If you really want to know, I believe God will reveal this to you.
If you’re truly not safe, take care of yourself. But take care God-ward, not toward what the world tells you is good and necessary. Even in self care, we have the choice of which direction to set our hearts.
John and I are in a season of having shut someone out. It doesn’t mean that we don’t love this couple and don’t want fellowship with them. It does mean that right now, they are oblivious to the destruction they shovel out with gusto. The hurt that was being dealt out was wreaking havoc on the two of us and we need to sort ourselves out with God before we can cope well with those two individuals. We blocked their phone numbers and don’t reach out.
It’s not God’s ideal, but He knows that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14). He knows what change has to happen on both sides, not just ours, and He knows whether repair can ever be made. He can also do the work of bringing us back in contact if and when it’s time. We’re as at peace about this as we can be and content to leave this on the table.
That said, there’s another strained relationship from which I have not been free to walk away. It’s like sandpaper on my soul. Sometimes it gets to the point that I don’t cope well with the other important things in my life. The change I make is to get away from the stressor for a while so I can dial back in to God and fill myself up with Him.
For me, it comes down to whether I have in myself the wherewithal to exist over time in the same space as this negative, bitter, and possibly abusive person. Do I have it within myself to stay and minister peace and presence and gracious attention to someone who is actually incapable of seeing how they are contributing to their own unhappiness? I’ve received the strength and grace and courage I need from Jesus Christ. I don’t need that person’s approval and positive vibes to feel good about myself—my relationship with Jesus takes care of that. I’m full of His goodness, so I do have what it takes to forgive, not take it personally, and try to be a vessel of that same goodness to others.
Sharing that goodness to others is what sheds the light of Christ into broken hearts. If I don’t stay and share, how will they see and find rescue from their deep misery? It will take time—repeated presence and grace. The same exposure over time that I received from Christ.
And so I stay.
At this point in my walk with Christ, I think my accountability level is that of less activity of self-protection and self-serving, much more of finding my center always in Jesus and moving toward those who need Him.
It’s not easy. But it’s doable. His burden is definitely lighter than the one I make for myself.
Grace to you.
Toward the promise,
P.S. I realize I’ve left out the Comment Now button from the last number of issues—oversight on my part and not lack of interest in conversation. Thanks to you who have continued to get in touch other ways.
Regarding the 2022 planner I warned you I would not be creating this year: the change to the new planner has not been traumatic at all. [Yes, I switched to a different planner mid-year and the world didn’t fall apart…I wasn’t sure if such a thing could be done without upsetting the rotation of the planets. Apparently the planets don’t care. I need to relax a bit, don’t I?]
If you still want one like mine, this link will take you to the Moleskine planner I patterned mine on. I’ve also seen it at both Target and Barnes & Noble recently.
Through the Bible in a Year Reading Plan and Challenge
According to Jewish tradition, as part of his efforts to restore true worship to the land of Israel following the exile, Ezra instituted the public reading of 5 of the shorter Old Testament writings to correspond with certain Festivals of the Hebrew traditions. These five books are Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther. Lamentations is read on the anniversary of the besieging and plundering of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. It is a structured poem written by Jeremiah reflecting on this God-sanctioned laying waste.
The book makes quite clear that this fall was judgment from God that the people brought upon themselves. At the same time, this short tome contains some of the most precious and timeless promises of God that we can carry in our hearts.
Sunday, November 14 Catch up and reflect
Monday, November 15 Lamentations 1-2, Hebrews 7
Tuesday, November 16 Lamentations 3-5, Hebrews 8
Wednesday, November 17 Ezekiel 1-3, Hebrews 9
Thursday, November 18 Ezekiel 4-6, Hebrews 10
Friday, November 19 Ezekiel 7-9, Hebrews 11
Saturday, November 20 Ezekiel 10-14, Hebrews 12
Question for this week’s reading: What does God’s discipline mean about those who receive it?
Here’s the link to last week’s issue Greater love and all that jazz.
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