Looking Back

no-looking-back1We’ve all heard that hindsight is 20/20.  Choices and actions, once played out, dispense wisdom that would have proven useful at the time!  Even things planned with great care and thought can turn into major disasters when we leave some “minor” or “impossible” factor out of our thought process.

Case in point – the Titanic. In 1907 the White Star Line was watching their fleet begin to age, they began to plan for their next ships.  They wanted the new ships to be larger, faster, and more luxurious for their passengers. After a year of planning, the ship’s designs were approved.  After that, it was almost 4 years before the Titanic was ready to make her maiden journey across the Atlantic Ocean.  Deemed “unsinkable”, she was a testament to man’s ability to create wondrous things.

So much planning and work went into getting the Titanic from being an idea, to putting it on paper, and finally getting her into the water.  The result?  1500 people died.  In hindsight, a few things could have been done a little differently:

  • The number of lifeboats should not have been reduced
  • The crew should have been better trained in evacuation procedures as some of the boats were launched barely half full
  • Warnings about ice in the area were ignored
  • The ship ran at full-steam even though visual conditions were poor

1,500 people died in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, but if these things had been carried out, who knows how many might have lived?  Even if the iceberg had still been struck, any of those four things would likely have reduced the loss of life.

It’s easy to sit back and play Monday morning quarterback – especially with the mistakes that other people make, but how often do we sit down and do it with ourselves? It’s not fun to drag up our own mess and pick through it to find things we should have done better.  It brings feelings of guilt or shame, and none of us want that.  If we’re really lucky we might get that occasional treat and blame someone else though! Dig a little deeper and we will always see that the blame we put on others will most often still lead to a missed opportunity to make a better decision.

I don’t want to go through my life pretending that my mistakes didn’t happen, and I certainly don’t want to be one of those people that refuses to learn from them. It has been said that experience is the best teacher, but I can say that somebody else’s experience can be just as good if we are paying attention – and it hurts a lot less.

Relentless Living is taking the time to look into your past, see the things that you did, and pull the lessons from them.  Leave the guilt, the blame, and the shame in the past, but bring out the wisdom from the experience and use it for the things you currently face, store it away for the things you will face in the future.  Make right what needs to be made right and then get back to living!

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do with this blog lately.  How often do I post?  How often should I post? Is anyone really interested in what I post?  How long should a post be? (I know I have given some long ones lately – sorry about that…)  I decided that I want to start doing something differently.

My new goal is to write something small once or twice a week that is a reflection on a mistake made, or a lesson learned.  I want to take the time to ask myself the questions, “What would I do differently if I could go back and do it over again?” or “What do I wish someone had told me about that before I messed up?”  It should be fun.  Then I will try for one post a week that is more like what I have been doing.

I don’t want to say that the tragedy of the Titanic was a good thing, but it did change how the shipping industry did things after that.  Lessons were learned, and behaviors changed.  That is what I am hoping to do here.  I want to change for the better, and I want that for anyone reading this too.  More importantly, God wants it for us!  That is why He sent His Son to die for us and gives us the Holy Spirit to reside in us.  He wants to help us sort through our decisions, both good and bad, and grow.

So, I hope to see you back here in a day or two!

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Hands and Heart – Part 1

The Hand In Your HeartAt the end of my arms are these things called hands.  They are “handy” to say the least. (OK, that was bad, but if you know me, you know I like a good pun, and I really like a bad one!) Hands can be used to do anything from brain surgery to automotive repair to plunging a toilet.  They can wage war, build buildings, and comfort the sick.  Some are big, some small, but all of them have one thing in common – they are servants of the heart and mind and will reflect the attitude of the person that owns them.

I have been thinking a lot about hands lately, and how they can be a reflection of the heart.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that God made the human heart about the size of your hand when closed in a fist.  How we hold our hands can be a picture of the heart.  Take a minute and think about how your heart feels and put your hands in that position.  Are they closed in a fist? Open?  Are they trembling?  Limp? Are they clenched in anger or fear?

10 years ago I would tell you that my heart and hands were pretty hard and closed.  I didn’t really intend it to be that way, but my default was usually a fist.   A fist has its benefits:

  1. I could hold things tightly. – I didn’t want to lose the things that I had.  There were things that I had worked very hard to get, and at time I felt that I was having them taken from me.  That made me very fearful, and I would hang on with all I had to keep those things close.
  2. I could keep things away from me. – Ask anyone in law enforcement, and they will tell you that in some circumstances the way a person stands will tell you what they might be willing to do, and a closed fist is a sign to be very cautious.  I would let people be around me, but I know that I didn’t attract many either.   That “closed fist” aura was around me, and I was fine with that.
  3. I could fight at any time. – It doesn’t take long to make a fist, but I was already set to go.  I was willing to wade into a war at a moment’s notice.  If I felt the threat it was go time.  If I saw a cause I wanted in on, it was time to throw down.  It didn’t need to even be my problem, I was willing to make it my problem.  I wasn’t physically fighting, but my heart was a closed fist and ready to go to defend anything.

Slide3As time went on I began to see that this closed fist mentality also had some real problems too.  I had an opportunity to join a men’s group about 5 years ago, and as a result I learned that I had some changes to make.  Our leader saw some things in me that needed change, and as we reflected on them together, he helped me see some of the negatives of a closed fist way of living:

  1. I was pretty much alone. – Like I said, I did a good job of keeping things and people away from me.  I knew I had people that could hang out with me, but I didn’t really have anyone who knew me well.  I lived a life where I didn’t trust people or want them to get inside a certain level of friendship because it could cost me something.  They might want to get into my hand and take something from me.  I couldn’t let that happen.  It was “better” to be alone.
  2. I had alienated people. – My words, actions, and selfishness had driven some people away from me.  I needed to be heard, understood, and most importantly, I needed to be right.  To that end I would escalate simple differences in opinion to the point of pushing good people out of my life.
  3. I was unable to give. – My hands were so tightly closed around what I perceived to be mine that I was not able to even comprehend what it was like to have a generous heart.  I saw people enjoy giving gifts, or helping others and I just could not understand how they could do that.
  4. I was barely able to receive. – Make a fist and then have someone throw you an apple. Try to catch it with that hand.  I was so clamped down on life that I know I let opportunities pass me by because I was more concerned with what was in my hand than what better things might have been available.

I’m a child of God, and when God has a child that He wants to speak to, He will send gentle reminders from time to time in order to bring them around.  Looking back, I can see a lot of them that He sent my way, but I missed them at the time.  When a person is a closed fist, they tend to miss a lot of things – did you catch the apple?  Eventually, God may decide it is time to put His hands into the process.

When my kids were little, they would sometimes grab things that they were trying to shove into their mouths.  We would tell them to stop and try to take it from them, but they would squeeze their little fist as tightly as they could to hold onto that prized morsel of indeterminate and probably unsanitary nature. We would grab their little hands and pry their fingers apart to take it away.

God’s hands are bigger than mine.  Almost 5 years ago He used His big hands to pull my fist of a heart open.  My heart that was determined to do things my own way needed to be pried open as only God could have done it.  I lost my job, and that was the beginning of the release of a lot of things.  I lost my income, and in a lot of ways, I lost my identity.  I lost some pride, but that was a good thing!

I’m glad I no longer had a fist in my heart.  It was finally open, but I can tell you that it was broken.  I was dislocated in a lot of areas, and that was difficult to get past.  God had broken my closed-fisted heart in order to get me to see what I was and my need for Him to be in control.

Looking back, I am glad He did.  It set me on a journey, and that journey has brought me where I am today.  It led me to an understanding that the call of my life is to be Relentless in my pursuit of what God may have for me.  I can tell you today, that it is becoming clear.  God is making some changes in my life and that of my family as well.  We are very excited to see how things will play out as we continue to see His leading in our lives.  I look forward to telling  you more about it next week!

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Digging In The Past – Part 1

image“Be careful digging in the past. You’ll find yourself face to face with things that will force you to make a choice. You will either have to cover it up again or deal with what you find.”

I would like to say that the quote above was from some wise, well-known, smart guy who has been afforded the respect of many who heed his words and wait expectantly for his next nugget of wisdom to help them guide their lives. Alas, the words are my own, and they are not said with the encouragement that they should being to my life, but as a warning to myself that the past is a place where it is not always sunny. As the old saying goes, “Here, there be monsters.”

This post is going to be the first of a couple that will take us on a journey through my spiritual journey from a small, country church to where I find myself today. I am not sure how detailed it will get as I have some boundaries in writing it that will put some constraints on what I share. The goal is to speak truth in love by sharing a journey. It is not about slinging mud.

Let me start by saying that one of the fundamental issues I will be discussing in this series of posts is the topic of spiritual abuse. I had never heard of the concept until a couple of years ago, and it really made me think about years gone by, and I had to deal with some stuff that it brought up. Spiritual abuse is basically defined as using religion to force people to do things by pouring out guilt and shame and creating a performance-based value of a person through the twisting of Scripture to meet the desires of the abuser.

Many people would call that a cult, and they would be right. The problem is that in many churches it is something that happens behind the scenes every day. It is covered up with words that are good and necessary in the life of a believer, but the meanings have been twisted subtly. It might not be a big deal if you look at the little individual differences, but it can be like radiation poisoning. It builds up in the body until you finally get sick. Once you get sick, it is hard to get better. Very hard.

So, here we go. My testimony. A testimony is just my story. Warts and all. This is not about other people, but about where I was and where I am now. If I offend someone, I apologize in advance, but please know that I am not trying to hurt, just hoping that in telling my story someone else might be able to helped or encouraged to know they were not alone.

I was born into a Christian family and from the start I was in church. Most of my earliest memories of church are of doing a task or saying some words and then I would get a treat. I liked treats, and was smart enough to realize that the more good things I did and said, the more treats I got. I liked it! I heard a lot of Bible stories and since I like stories I thought church was great.

When I was four years old I got a burn on my arm. It wasn’t anything significant, but I remember that it hurt a lot. (I was four!) That following Sunday our lesson was about Hell. As the teacher talked about eternal fire and suffering, you can bet she had my attention! By the end of the class when she asked if anyone wanted Jesus to come into their hearts to save them from an eternal fire, I jumped at the opportunity. I remember a lot of people being very happy for me, but not much else.

Over the next five years I grew up in church and attended a church school. We were there every time the doors were open, and I continued to learn a lot about the Bible – especially the parts that focused on obedience. We had a pastor at that time that I remember very fondly for his smile, his love of laughter and fun, and for his booming voice when he sang or preached. I was very sad when he moved on to a new church.

Up to this time in my life I do not believe that I had experienced any real spiritual abuse. My obedience to God was stressed heavily in church and school, but I have no memories of guilt, shame, or manipulation coming from my church, school, or spiritual leaders in my life. I have a lot of respect for the people that had been at work in my life up to that point, and I appreciate the groundwork they did of putting a healthy even if a little heavy focus on obedience to God while still telling me about the love that God has for us. That would soon change.

I have been praying about it, and I have decided not to go into a lot of detail regarding the next 7 years. There are stories that are not mine to tell.
Over the next seven years church and school changed for me and a lot of other people too. I am not going to say that it was no fun at all, but it became intense, and by the end of that time, the times of fun were fewer and farther apart.
Here are a few things that I remember:

1. The law was still alive and well. – While I was a Christian and secure in my Salvation, there was an unhealthy focus on works. I heard so often how my best was worthless in God’s eyes. I heard that in order to please God I had to always do what was right,and that every time something went wrong in my life it was because God was punishing me for a sin that I had not confessed.

2. Grace was a gift given at salvation. – God’s grace was a wonderful gift, and it allowed us to have eternal life.

3. The pastor’s words were equal to Scripture. – you were never allowed to question what he said, even for clarification. There were times I asked questions about how he had presented things from a passage of Scripture, and I was told that I should just trust him. After all, he was the pastor. Obedience to him was the same as obedience to God.

4. I was as good as what they could see. – This was what led to some serious struggles in my personal character. It created a culture of deception in the youth in our church and school. We knew we could never be as good as we were told we needed to be, so we gave up trying! Instead a second life was born. A chameleon ability was brought out that allowed me to fit in with who I needed to fit in with when it was needed. If they liked what they saw then I was not given my portion of shame.

By the time I was 16 I still knew I was a Christian, but I didn’t know why anymore. I knew what I believed, and I didn’t get involved with any of the “really bad stuff”, but I was not living the way God wanted me to, nor was I sure that it would do any good anyway. I said I knew Him, but we were pretty much strangers to each other.

(To be continued…)
In HIS Grip,
Tom