Taking Ownership of OUR PROBLEM . . . .

It is such a little thing, I am not sure how many people even notice it when they walk into my office: “Tears Welcome Here.” Three simple words, cross-stitched and framed on my desk, greet every Client who walks into the Counseling Room.  TEARS . . . when you get right down to it, tears are at the heart the business of Counseling–tears of regret, tears in suffering, but also (and perhaps especially) tears of frustration–when God is silent and we ask, “Where is He . . . why doesn’t He answer my prayers?”

In this post, I will introduce a simple tool I refer to as, the Heartstring Illustration.*  It is a model that helps identify a problem we all have: that tendency to doubt God’s faithfulness rather than examining our own hearts.   There are times when God is silent because He chooses to be silent (after all, He is God!) and there is nothing to do except wait for further direction.  However, all too easily, we tend to blame God when there is a “disconnect” between us, rather than looking within ourselves. It is for that reason that we go to the Scriptures early and often in the Counseling Room, to gain insight into God’s perspective on OUR PROBLEM.  James 4:1-4 is especially helpful:

“What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
You desire but do not have, so you kill.
You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.
You do not have because you do not ask God.
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives,
that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world
means enmity against God?
Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world
becomes an enemy of God.”  

Heart Strings-2

Like it or not, there is something refreshing about God’s ability to cut to the heart of OUR PROBLEM: a willingness to believe the worst of God rather than taking an honest look at ourselves.  Knowing full well our situation, Jesus clues us in on a more appropriate response to OUR PROBLEM as described in the parable of the prodigal son:

“When he came to his senses, he said,
‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare,
and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father . . . . ”
Luke 15:17-20

Little did the son know that, from the time he left to squander his inheritance, his father had watched and prayed for his safe return.  God does the same for you and me.  He watches and waits for us to “come to our senses” in repentance and faith.  The Heartstring Illustration is a useful tool that helps us turn to God for the help we need to identify OUR PROBLEM.  It is a simple means of gaining clarity when life appears chaotic.

I was first introduced to the Heartstring Illustration when working in a counseling office located above our local Pregnancy Help Center.  (I share this story because it is the simplest way to illustrate the value of the model.)  When a woman who was abortion-minded came to the Center, one of the Counselors would sit down with her to talk about her situation.  Looking at the triangle, on the bottom right they put the Client’s name; to the left of the triangle they wrote, Unwanted Pregnancy.  Then they asked the question: “Who or what is influencing your decision about your baby?”  Whatever answer that was given–pressure from boyfriend or parents, fear, money, etc–was written at the top of the triangle.  The Counselor then talked about how we will all be held accountable by God for our decisions; that we cannot shift the blame to others or to our circumstances,  Also, the Counselor explained that anything listed at the top of the triangle other than God–is an idol.  The Counselor then asked, “Who or what do you think should be at the top as you make this decision?”  To the best of my knowledge, every woman knew the answer: GOD.

The format is the same when we use it in the Counseling Room–only I draw it out on a white board. We talk about how dangerous it is to put our family and other concerns as our primary motivation (making them idols) rather than God.  Many times we refer to Psalm 139:24,25  as we seek God’s help in restoring Him to His rightful place in their hearts:

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

I have also been helped personally using the model, when I have been tempted to blame Him for my troubles or sense a distance in our relationship.

“Search my heart God . . . clean house as You see fit . . .
so I can serve You with a glad heart.”  

The good news is that when we pray such honest prayers, owning OUR PROBLEM,
He proves Himself faithful every single time.
It is then, that we gladly welcome tears . . . TEARS OF JOY in the Lord
who speaks and works in the hearts and minds of all who seek Him.
Struggling? Confused?
Go to Him NOW–He is worthy of your trust!

All to His Glory!

* For twenty-plus years I referred to this model as, The Triangle Illustration–doesn’t exactly stir the heart, does it?!  As my son Luke was helping me put together the illustration for this post, I mentioned my frustration at not having a better title.  Luke (a puppeteer) suggested, heartstrings.  I thought about it and BAM!  It was a great fit, communicating the idea that, indeed, we need to be more aware of who or what is tugging at our hearts.  Thanks, Luke!

“No Wallet, One Shoe, So Grateful . . . . “

When I woke up this morning, it was the first time in ten days that I felt no pain in my head.  In fact, I only remembered my accident after glancing at my reflection in the bathroom mirror–though improving after passing so many days . . . oh my, what a shiner!  This week has been full of lessons about gratitude, humility and the difference they make in how we navigate our lives:

LESSON ONE:  Last Monday, while visiting my daughter and her family, I took a bit of a tumble.  Okay . . . truthfully, it was more like a crash and burn on concrete . . . SPLAT.  I counted it a blessing that I could pick myself up and made my way up the stairs–nothing broken except maybe my pride.  I kept an ice pack on my head and laid low for several hours, but was grateful to enjoy a good finish to our visit.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I Thessalonians 5:16-18

LESSON TWO:  On Tuesday, I was no worse from my “tumble/crash” so was grateful to fly home with my husband.  As we traveled I saw several reports in the news about a study done by the Pew Research Center’s findings titled, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape.”  According to the report, while Christianity still dominates the American religious identity at 70 percent, “dramatic shifts” have taken place as “people move out the doors of denominations, shedding spiritual connections along the way.”  (USA Today)  I watched an interview featuring a thirty-something year old man, who was “raised in the church” but who “had no need” of “religion.”  None of this was a surprise to me, in fact, it confirmed what I have witnessed in my own community.  What caught my attention though, was the countenance of the young man who was interviewed–I saw a joylessness (a spiritual deadness) that weighed heavy on my heart.

Reflecting on the report, I shuddered as I wondered about the correlation between such spiritual deadness and the horrific violence being reported around the world.  It was then that I remembered the words of the Apostle Paul, who wrote in his final letter to his young friend Timothy:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive,
disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving,
slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous,
rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—
having a form of godliness but denying its power.
Have nothing to do with such people.

 II Timothy 3:1-5

How are Christians to respond to such a world?  We are called to love others when given the opportunity, as Christ has loved us, in grateful humility–

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless,
Christ died for the ungodly . . . .
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

(Romans 5:6, 8b)

LESSON THREE: Wednesday morning, we woke up to the news of a deadly train derailment that occurred the previous evening.  Eight people were killed and hundreds injured.  The reports were grim, however, one bright spot stood out to me.  It was a tweet from one of the survivors at the scene,

“No wallet, one shoe, so grateful . . . . “

“No wallet, one shoe, so grateful….”  

As I processed the words of the tweet, I was surprised when I realized that tears were welling up in my eyes–what was that about?  It struck me that sometimes it takes our being stripped of everything we hold dear–truly humbled--that brings us to the point where we are grateful for the gift of our lives.  But here’s the proverbial “rub”:

What is the focus of such gratitude?

Is our gratitude simply for life itself?

Or, is our gratitude extended to the Giver of life?
Is there a difference?
Absolutely!  

Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines gratitude as, “Having a due sense of benefits received; kindly disposed toward one from whom a favor has been received; willing to acknowledge and repay, or give thanks for . . . a grateful heart.”

The problem is:

♦  When there is no appreciation of favor having been extended to us by a merciful God, we end up serving ourselves (or others) as we fulfill what has become popularly known as our, “bucket list”.  

♦  With that, the benefits of gratitude and humility before a Holy God are totally lost on a world that is self-focused rather than esteeming God as Creator.

So what is our call?

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a Kingdom that cannot be shaken,
and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship,
with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”  
Hebrews 12:29,29
(ESV)

LESSON FOUR: Remember that “tumble/crash” experienced on Monday?  On Thursday morning, I was shocked to see a dark purple “shiner” around my right eye when I looked in the mirror.  (Remember, I hit my head, not my eye!)  Also, the shooting pains in my head were increasing, growing from those sparklers used to celebrate special holidays to an ice pick.  Pride started to creep in when I thought about the Clients I had promised to see that day–should I cancel?  I remembered the Thessalonians 5 passage that encouraged me on Monday, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances . . . .”  With that, I started to put my makeup on extra thick–hoping they would not notice.

Of course, they did notice . . . but God was faithful in blessing both Sessions.  However, towards the end of the second Session my head started to throb.  I called my doctor; he sent me to the Emergency Room where I was immediately humbled when told, “Anyone in their sixties who hits their head needs to have a CT-scan.”  I was also told, “The idea that being fifty or sixty is ‘the new forty’  is a lie–period.”  I was too miserable to argue.  Thankfully, they found no fractures or blood clots formed so I was released to go home.

Since then, I learned that the flight may have exacerbated my symptoms.  In any case, even though I did not hit my eye when I fell, I did enough damage in my head to cause the internal bleeding to move to the soft tissue around my eye.

So what have I learned about gratitude and humility from all of this?

  1. l am grateful for how the accident caused me to slow down enough these past ten days to begin thinking about their importance before God.
  2.  I guess it all boils down to the reminder in Lesson Three: “No Wallet, One Shoe, So Grateful . . . .”  If God is the focus of our gratitude, our response will keep Him at the center of what we think, say or do.

All to His Glory!

Humility: Key to Helping Relationships of the Cosmic Kind

 

In my last post, Listening Isn’t Everything, I wrote to encourage you to be more than “good listeners” when someone is hurting.  I challenged you as servants of Christ, to follow His example by asking soul-challenging questions that provide not only better understanding for you, but also that help the person in trouble to look at themselves and their circumstances more objectively–as God perceives them

In this post I write to offer a Scriptural perspective on the value of humility in helping relationships of the cosmic kind.  You may well be wondering what I mean when I refer to relationships of the cosmic kind Simply put, I am referring to when we enter into God’s presence through the miracle of prayer.  I think of my first prayer as a child, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep . . .” and the prayers of now–prayer that cries out to God for loved ones and prayers of thanksgiving for His love and mercy–all miracles that stretch across the cosmos to connect us with God Most High.

I love the picture painted in Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10 and 12 of caring human relationships that ultimately have the potential of becoming cosmic in nature:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up . . . .
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Initially, it is a very practical picture of the vast benefits gained through caring relationships“pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” However, the best (and by far the most interesting part) is reserved for the last nine words as it alludes to the entrance of the supernatural:  “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Suddenly, the heavens are opened up with the addition of that “third strand” and the scope of relationships is broadened to cosmic proportions as “we” becomes “three”–nothing short of miraculous!

It could be tempting to become cocky at the idea of having such a connection when it comes to helping others, but Jesus reminds us of our need for humility in Luke 6:42,

 “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’
when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye,
and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

I think about Jesus’ admonition every time a new Client comes to my office.  My inward prayer,  “God help me to see and hear this person with Your eyes and mind rather than my own . . . to communicate Your love and mercy.”  Every Client is given the opportunity to ask questions about me personally and professionally–they deserve to know who they are talking to.  I talk about my role as a Counselor, admitting from the outset that despite my twenty years of counseling experience, I do not have all the answers to their problems.  However, I then add that I do know the One who can and will bless them with His presence and His peace as we work together. 

Is there someone on your mind who needs help?  The pattern for helping that friend or family member is the same.  In humility:

  1. Rely on God prayerfully from the outset, to see and hear that person with His eyes . . . mind . . . love . . . mercy.
  2. Be willing to make yourself vulnerable; refuse any pretense about having the answers they may be looking for.
  3. Give testimony to the One who can and does bless us through the challenges we face–our God of Hope.

It is as you focus on your God of Hope in humility and in faith that you will see the beginnings of a relationship of the cosmic kind start to build.  It can be risky business when we offer ourselves to others, but I have learned to stay close to Him and marvel at His goodness no matter what happens–we do serve a God of miracles!

In my next post I will present a very practical tool that I have shared with many Clients and have also found personally helpful.

All to His Glory!