Adversity: The Integrity Test

Adversity. No one wants it, but when we get it we gain so much. Sometimes that gain feels immediate. Other times it may seem decades before we realize it. I believe the latter was Joseph’s experience (for a refresher, read Genesis 37-50). However long it took him, here’s how he let us know his gain:

You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result-the survival of many people. (Genesis 50:20)

A mindset toward gain from adversity is found in Joseph’s statement. The mindset is vertical (about God), not horizontal (about man). Rather than looking at what man or circumstances have planned, he had learned to look at what God had planned. Easier said than done in the face of adversity, right?

I want to suggest that one preparation we can make before adversity knocks on the door is to make a commitment to integrity.

A commitment to integrity in the face of adversity will…

  • …guard against fear invasion (horizontal).
  • …ward off impulsive reaction (horizontal) giving foundation for calm decisions (vertical).
  • …raise the banner for complete transparency (vertical).
  • …remove selfish ambition (horizontal) to bring in a kingdom mindset (vertical).

Maybe you haven’t considered that integrity is what’s being tested in your adversity. There’s no way around the reality that adversity peels back the layers and shows everyone who we really are. How are you preparing for that revelation? How can you study for the integrity test?

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Missing God’s Gift (Something Misplaced?)

Yesterday a friend told me how different he is from who he was just 18 months ago. Earlier this week a group discussed how a coaching program has altered their life’s rhythms in just 7 weeks. These people were expressing how receiving a gift from God, such as leaving a successful corporate job to start all over or exiting the routine of life to enjoy Sabbath, has changed who they are. And they want more.

God’s gifts come to us in various formations. Sometimes they are clearly seen as coming straight from God. Other times, we are a little more challenged to determine if an opportunity or unforeseen blessing are indeed gifts from God. That is, unless we live from the viewpoint that God works at all times and through all things in our lives. Until we reach that viewpoint, it’s likely we will often miss God’s gifts.

Why don’t we automatically have this viewpoint? What keeps us from it? How can we move toward it? In talking with these people, I’d say they would say they had some things misplaced.

Misplaced Contentment-Yes, it’s possible to be so content that you miss noticing an offer from God. Our contentment can often lead us to settling, stubbornness, and even pride. So a God-given opportunity can appear unsettling, unnecessary, maybe even unworthy. Think rich, young ruler.

Misplaced Fear-In this case, fear of just about anything (loss of job/income, ability, identity, power/influence, health, security) or anyone (family, peers, leaders, employer, yourself) has been given higher rank than God. Think Moses’ initial bush response.

Misplaced Stewardship-Stewardship covers more in our lives than just finances. Stewarding your family, your talents, your choices, your time, your emotions, your mind, your body, for example. Think about most kings in the Old Testament.

Misplaced Allegiance-Satan is committed to leading us to misplace our allegiances. We can become more allegiant to so many earthly kingdoms that we miss God’s leading us toward his heavenly kingdom. Think about the Pharisees and Paul’s warnings about false teachers in the church.

Misplaced Commitment-Commitments lead to routines, obligations, and expectations-some short term, others long term. These can become idols causing us to be completely blind to something more aligned with God’s plans for us. Think Eli, Saul, or Martha.

We often miss God’s gifts to us because our misplacements lead us to consider way too many “what ifs.” So consider a few reverse thinking “what if” results when God’s gifts are missed:

  • What if you miss God’s gift because you ignore a burning bush?
  • What if you miss God’s gift because you run toward Joppa instead of Nineveh?
  • What if you miss God’s gift because you always look backward rather than forward?
  • What if you miss God’s gift because you follow the crowd and declare, “Crucify him!”
  • What if you miss God’s gift because your faith is so small that your reply to God’s offer is, “No thanks.”

The Gift of Balance: Marriage and Singleness (Part 2)

(This is part two of the fourth topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. At the end of this post are suggested resources on this topic.)

John: Besides making decisions together and balancing giving and getting, what other commitments are their between you and your spouse?

Tonya: The hard and fast commitment to the Lord is certainly there. But I also believe in the strong commitment to grace and forgiveness. You are going to hurt each other; it’s part of human nature. So a commitment to give each other grace and to forgive is very important as well.

John:  Does that get easier?

Tonya:  We’ve been married over 25 years. I do feel like we’ve found a certain rhythm. It’s interesting though, because it feels like we are coming back to the beginning-getting into emptynesting.  We spent the first five years without children, so we had a lot of time together to hangout and be spontaneous. Now we are getting back to that. Parenting for us had different stressors because we saw the world so differently. So now flexing that muscle is a little easier.

Mark: I wish I could say it’s gotten easier for us. I still resist the apology.  In fact, in some ways I’m more quick to give apologies to my kids than to my spouse.  I don’t know what that is. My wife is always so graceful and forgiving. You would think with all the mistakes I’ve made and the opportunities I’ve had to apologize that it would get easier, yet there is still that resistance like, “I don’t won’t to have to admit that I made a mistake, that I could be wrong in this situation.”  All those things are me, not really the relationship. Maybe that’s more rough edges that still need to be smoothed out. We both recognize the importance of it and offer it fairly freely to each other, but it’s the coming to ask for it part that still requires swallowing the pride and just apologize.

Tonya: I wouldn’t say that’s been an easier thing for either of us either, but it’s amazing how much better it feels when you do it. It’s so freeing but so hard to do. It’s true for a lot of people. It’s hard to humble ourselves. It’s probably even harder for those of us in helping professions. We are supposed to know better. For me it was, I mean come on, I’m the therapist.  I’m supposed to do everything right. That’s just not the case.  We’re all human.  We’re all going to have issues. My favorite saying has always been, “Everybody has issues and the one who says they don’t have issues is a liar and that’s one of their issues. “ Acknowledging that is not always easy.

John: I know when forgiveness is challenging for me-not to ask for it but to give it-what I’ve learned about myself revolves around my expectations. Number one, I have unmet expectations of that person. Number two, my expectations were mine, they weren’t theirs. A lot of times I made up the expectations; we never talked about it, and they didn’t live up to it. All of that right there is on me. And the more I can look at it, “This is more your fault than their fault. You’re going to need to work on your own perception of them and lower it,” there’s where the grace comes in. I have to work at looking at them the same way God does.  I can’t have a higher standard than he does.

My challenge has been more about giving the forgiveness than asking for it, for that reason, which is a very judgmental perception.  I grew up with that, so it’s innate in me. I’m very quick to judge, very quick to create unagreed-upon expectations. Those are my things I have to deal with, not theirs.  And I’ve learned I need to say that to them. “I created an expectation here that we didn’t talk about, and we didn’t agree upon.  I am sorry for doing that.” And for me, by the time you get to that stage, I’ve usually totally forgotten about the thing that I was irritated by. “I don’t even remember what we are upset about here.” The core issue is that our relationship is built on some shifting sand.

Tonya: Expectations are huge. I love that my husband’s first question when I brought this up to him was, “What do you mean by balance?” Our expectations may be different. I think we have to talk through our expectations. “What does vacation look like? What does time together look like?” Not clarifying that is a big issue and gets a lot of people.

Mark:  The antidote to that is just communication.  And not just communication like what’s on the to-do list, but deeper communication. Going deeper into other issues is critical and healthy, and will relieve some of the pressure of these unmet expectations.  Creating the dialogue where you can talk about it is how relationships grow.  It’s critical.

Tonya: Communication is the number one thing that couples come into counseling for.  They say, “We need to improve our communication,” which usually means, “We fight alot.” There’s that balance of understanding we are different and we communicate differently. I like to tell the story of me and my husband.  I have a lot of words and he has very few.  So when I would ask him questions, I had to learn to be quiet, bite my tongue, and sit for a long time because it would take him a while to formulate the words he wanted to share. I had to learn patience. He didn’t talk like my dad; my dad’s a talker.  My husband is not. So I had to learn to accept him for who he is and give him that room.

John: So how has communication grown from when your first were married to now, twenty years later?

Tonya: In order to communicate well you have to make time.  The idea you can have quality relationship without quantity is just false.  You have to make time.  This comes back to how you balance time in your marriage.  I like the work of Joyce and Cliff Penner.  They talk a lot about the intimacy in a marriage.  They say that you need to have some eye-to-eye contact every day, whether that is hugging, embracing, even if it is just for a few minutes together.  They are also committed to praying together. So they focus on spiritual, emotional, and physical contact every day. They talk also about weekly time as a couple. I tell the couples I’m working with to find at least two to three hours a week that is just them.  Then that talk about once a quarter getting away together for a full day, then they talk about once a year going on a vacation just the two of you.  All those things are super important.  Time together helps build that communication.

Mark:  I asked my wife for her thoughts on this topic last night, and she came back to a couple of things that have been present with us.  The first is being intentional, which is exactly what you’re saying.  That’s a word that we use all the time, sometimes as a reminder, sometimes as an encourager. The other thing she said was more comical.  She said, “Remember when our kids were toddlers, and we couldn’t even communicate in complete sentences because of getting interrupted by screams, or something on the floor, or food flying across the table?  We couldn’t get a sentence out without being interrupted.”  That was difficult, but it comes back to being intentional to maintain the balance. Now the difficulty is it’s just different. As you progress through life together, the needs change.  Now we need to steal away together because our kids are older, they stay up later, and there’s not as many quiet places in the house that we can go.  It just changes, and you have to be able to dance with it.

Tonya: Those young years are some of the hardest and have the biggest strain on a marriage. I have vivid memories of my husband walking in the door from work, and all three of us being on the floor crying. Those were tough days. We also didn’t have the financial means to get away. But the intentionality was being there together. He came home, took over, gave me a break, and we were together in the kitchen with kids on our feet. Finding those moments in those years is possible.

Mark: The thought I have always used is maintaining a relationship is a lot like exercise. It doesn’t happen on its own.  If you don’t do it, you atrophy.  If you are doing it, you have to keep it up.  It’s not a one-and-done thing.

Tonya: I want to reemphasize the power of commitment. My parents were divorced multiple times along with other family members; that was my example. My husband comes from a family with no divorces.  So we made a commitment that divorce was not an option. Leaving was off the table.

John: Mark, when you compare this to exercise, I immediately think of goal setting.  So, I’m curious if goal setting is helpful, and how do you do it if it is.

Mark: That hasn’t been part of our equation. It is a little bit how we are wired.  For us it comes back to two things.  Number one, we were and are best friends. We had a long dating period and were able to develop a friendship that is just phenomenal. We’ve continued to maintain that friendship.  There is a natural desire and draw because of the depth of the friendship.  The other thing is going back to the commitment and intentionality of making this work.  We recognize that if we don’t there could be pretty tragic consequences, and we don’t want that.  We don’t want to let it get to the point that it’s on life support either; then it’s not benefiting either of us.

Tonya: I don’t know if it’s a goal or not, but we made the decision that we were going to be first. We were not only going to be able to say our priorities but walk our priorities. In the last five years, maybe we have some unwritten goals. We’ve talked about life after kids, things we’d like to do. Travel is a big things for both of us, so how do we set our finances up for that to happen. Neither of us relish the idea of retiring and setting around the house all day; that’ll never happen. My husband has some vision for mission work and different things, so those are goals to set up life that we haven’t necessarily sat down and written it out on paper.

Mark: One last thing about this topic I’d like to bring up is space for “me time.”  I’ve become more aware of this importance. It maybe more personality driven, but I definitely need time away from the kids and my spouse. It can take various forms in order for me to recharge, reset, unplug from some of the responsibilities. Recognizing and taking the opportunity helps maintain balance.

John: I’ve always maintained as a single person and in talking with other singles who may not be happy in their singles status, “If you can’t be happy in this status, I’m not so sure you’re going to be happy in a marital one. You better be able to figure out how to be happy in this state so you don’t bring stuff into a marriage that doesn’t need to be there.” 

Tonya: Figuring out what “me time” looks like is key.  I remember asking my husband, “Is there a night a week I can go away and do something that I would like to do?” And the same for him. That was important and gave us something to look forward to.

John: That relates to something I wanted to bring out from a singleness versus couple basis. I believe single people have to come to terms with living life outside of the expectations they believe others have of them to be like. I had to really work on it, and probably didn’t find the balance until about ten years ago, my late thirties. I finally stopped saying yes to things out of the mindset that an invitation to something meant I had to do it. Just because I may come across to some people as an extrovert doesn’t mean I am one and therefore must be one or continuously function as one. That took me a while, and I’m going to guess it probably takes single people longer than married couples. They don’t have to deal with this challenge under their roof.  I can do what I want at home and don’t have to figure this out with my spouse. A couple is forced into figuring this out. A single person is going to be much more balanced if they just own who they are and not try to live in the mindset, “Everybody expects me to do this, so I must need to do this.”

Tonya: It comes back to that expectation thing again. So we all have to get to that place of living for an audience of one.  How do we put God first?  We’re all constantly learning and growing in that area.  You’re right, I think it is more of a challenge for a single person.  My husband who is an introvert and has to have time away, I can notice when he’s getting frazzled.  I can say, “It seems you need a little break here.” We can see that in each other.  A single person has to monitor that on your own.  Of course, the Holy Spirit can speak to you and help you be okay with the possibility of someone being mad at you for not meeting their expectations.

 

Suggested Resources:

Mark’s

Tonya’s

 

 

The Gift of Balance: Marriage and Singleness (Part 1)

(This is part one of the fourth topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. This entry will be the first half of the conversation continuing tomorrow with the second half.)

Mark: When you think of maintaining balance in a marriage, the initial thing that may come to mind is relationship.

John: It seems there are two things to consider. One, what do you individually have to do to bring balance to the relationship.  Second, how does the couple work together to keep balance in check.

Tonya: One of the things that I remember probably halfway through my marriage was a moment when I felt God spoke to me to tell me that as a couple you don’t complete each other; you compliment each other. God completes us. He’s the lover of our soul. We can’t find that in our spouse.  But we can compliment each other, help each other grow.  So I remember that moment when he made it clear to me that when I walk closer with him and stay intimate with him, I actually don’t need as much from my husband. I still want closeness and intimacy, but when I’m close with the Lord I’m not trying to get things from my husband that he can’t give me anyway.

John: That reminds me of the triangle/pyramid illustration for marriage you’ve probably both seen where the two in the marriage are at the bottom on either end and God is at the top.  The more the two work toward God the closer you are together.

Mark: I just literally drew that on my notes.

John:  As simple as that is, it seems to be an easy tool to evaluate where I am working toward God as a person and also how we are working together toward him.

Tonya:  That speaks to singles also.  If God is first and the lover of our souls, then it brings peace to those who maybe are in transition and not wanting to be single that they are still whole and complete.  They don’t need a spouse to complete them.

I remember my dad used to use the picture of a coffee cup to illustrate it.  The cup is full of the Lord, and everything else is on the rim.  So if it falls off, it’s not that it won’t be painful, like if you lose your spouse or kids, but you can survive if your cup is full of the Lord. That’s always stuck with me-keeping the cup full with God first.

Mark: In order to have a healthy marriage, you really have to see yourself as healthy and whole first and not seeing all your needs met in the other person but in God. There is nuance and tension between relationship and companionship. It’s foundational to not look at the other person as meeting all your needs, or you’re going to be disappointed.

Tonya:  Because no person is capable of that.

John:  In light of being a married person, what’s different that you have to keep in check in your relationship with God?

Tonya: I’ve been writing a series on preventing leadership exhaustion and just recently wrote on marriage. To be married and have children, it does take more focus and energy, so it’s a little harder. When I was single and just met my husband, I was on top of the world spiritually and had no interest in dating. But when you fall in love, it becomes more challenging to make sure you’re still nurturing your time with the Lord.  You have to work at that a little bit more. You have to work at finding that balance for your time alone as well as your time together. You have to learn how to grow and encourage each other together.

My husband and I are as different as night and day, literally. The way he walks out his faith is very different than me. So how do you do that together? Finding that can be a challenge.

Mark:  I agree. From a different angle, there is an opportunity in a marriage to more deeply grasp what is means to love unconditionally. In this work you’re talking about, there are many opportunities to love this other person. By love I mean way beyond the emotion and feeling.  It’s the service, sacrifice, and action of unconditionally loving this companion.  Sometimes it’s easier than others, but it’s always front and center. You get this tangible opportunity to love this person in the way that Jesus loves us. I’m not sure that is about balance as much as it the difference between being single and being married and the opportunity it presents in what it means to love someone.

Tonya: Sacrificially.

John: Tonya, referring back to your “everything on your plate” exercise you talked about last week, the plate just looks different. There’s more on the plate-another person, kids come along-your plate is just different. There’s more on it, so the balance is keeping a healthy relationship with God based on what’s currently on my plate.

Tonya:  One of the things I’ve done since then has to do with a bull’s eye.  God is in the center, then your spouse, then your children, then your friendships, and then your ministry.  When I would teach pastors I would ask, “How do you do ministry starting with God and moving through your marriage, and then also back in?” The idea is that you don’t just make your own decisions.  They have to go through God, your spouse, your children.  It has to be right for your family first, then out through your ministry. But that’s for all of us in all the things that we do.

When I asked my husband about this, one of the things he said was that we make decisions together. So we make big decisions together-work decisions, moving decisions.  They take time and money, and impact everybody. So many of the leaders I work with have trouble grasping the impact of their decisions on their whole family. So this idea of using the bull’s eye was a different way to help them see it.

Mark: That’s an excellent point of being on the same page. Tonya, you and your husband are different.  My wife and I are very similar, so it’s fairly natural for us to be together on a decision and think the same way. That comes very easy.  For others who have differing personalities, it may be harder but it’s not less important.

Tonya: For sure, and I would not have any clue in how to just flow in a situation like that because we totally see the world through completely different lenses.  But you are right, so one of the things it comes back to is commitment. We made a commitment that means something; we meant it. When decisions have been harder, we’ve come back to our commitment to our vows, to taking the time to work it out. A lot of couples fall apart in those moments. “You don’t see it my way.”  They start to fall apart because they don’t have that strong commitment.

Mark: The picture coming to my mind is the balance between giving and getting in a relationship.  A commitment from both sides makes that easier. It’s harder to do when you feel like you’re the only one fighting. If both people work to be about giving first before getting, it’s like the oil that just makes the machine work better. The machine may break down at times, but the oil provides the lubrication when the friction comes when you are doing life together. Staying focused on the giving part first makes it more likely you’ll get the things you need out of the relationship as well.

Tonya: That’s right. When you are focused on giving and giving, your spouse will most of the time turn around and give back. You’ll get what you want when your heart is to give.  It’s that upside down thing we talked about before.  God’s kingdom is not the way the world’s kingdom is.

Closing the Gap

Nehemiah is a rich book. One great example of the story is how Nehemiah and his community managed themselves and others as they completed a massive project. As with any project, there is a starting point and a vision of what the finished work looks like. This gap between the start and the finish is where life happens.

Some of us have a tendency to expect the completion of our vision sooner than is logical. Sometimes this tendency leads us to go beyond ignoring logic and simply not having the patience to wait through the logical. It’s as if we are always asking God for miracles.

Does God still perform miracles? Sure. But many of the situations we want to experience change, where we envision the completion of a “project,” aren’t “lion’s den” moments. For example, changing the culture of an organization doesn’t happen in 24 hours, overcoming a cocaine addiction most likely takes months or years, and reshaping a dysfunctional family can be the work of an entire generation.

That’s reality. Some questions we should ask ourselves are, “Am I committed to closing the gap? Am I willing to see this through rather than expecting God to do what He intends me to do?” We know where we are and can probably envision where we want to be, but are we committed to the work and time to close the gap.

That’s doable. It actually may be even more life transforming than an instantaneous miracle.

So here are some questions to challenge ourselves when beginning a project, committing to closing a gap of any nature:

  • Where am I and where do I want to be?
  • What’s the real challenge I want to overcome?
  • What does God desire for this situation?
  • What steps are needed to start overcoming?
  • How long am I willing to work on closing the gap?
  • Who should I recruit to walk with me through this gap-closing season?
  • How will I celebrate when the gap is closed?

Laying It Down…AGAIN

Just because you make one statement or decision of commitment doesn’t put you in autopilot for the rest of your life. You aren’t clear of ever having to restate or redecide you will follow through. For example, Brad Johnson wrote about this in his book on forgiveness. When Jesus said we should forgive 7×70, he was talking about more than just the surrendering of the spirit. He was also talking about understanding follow through is a process that might take a while. It’s very much understanding the discipline of daily carrying your cross.

  • Like a runner who has to continuously set the alarm clock for dark thirty
  • Or the husband who has to choose to listen attentively rather than hold the hand up because it’s 3rd and long
  • Or the nursing student who might have to try one last time to pass anatomy to move forward in the program

Laying it down the first time probably was a big deal. Maturing to the place where you know laying it down is an ongoing journey is a whole different level of big deal.

Chris Tomlin’s “Lay It Down” speaks into this subject very well:

With this heart open wide

From the depths from the heights

I will bring a sacrifice

With these hands lifted high

Hear my song, hear my cry

I will bring a sacrifice
I lay me down I’m not my own

I belong to you alone

Lay me down, lay me down

Hand on my heart this much is true

There’s no life apart from you

Lay me down, lay me down
Letting go of my pride

Giving up all my rights

Take this life and let it shine


It will be my joy to say Your will Your way always

Could Spelling Save American Families?

Watching the 89th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, you saw more than just jaw-dropping spelling. Here are some of the adjectives used by the commentators describing the co-winners and their families:

  • Focused
  • Loving
  • Supportive
  • Committed
  • Trusting
  • Grateful
  • Respectful
  • Confident
  • Hardworking 

Throughout the broadcast, the cameras caught the mom’s and dad’s and sibling’s, even one grandmother’s, every emotion. The most prominent vibe was love. And for the third year in a row, co-winners were crowned. Yet, there was no sign of disappointment or bitterness. One father actually lifted up the other winner in victory-a heartfelt, celebratory, understanding gesture for what it took to achieve this accomplishment.

Maybe spelling itself won’t save struggling families, but couldn’t a family living this list of adjectives have hope?

Thank you to all the contestant’s families for showing America a model worth following. Congratulations!

3 Character Traits My Mother Modeled 

My mother was widowed at the age of 43. She lost her husband to a cancer battle that lasted less than a year. In roughly 18 months, she went from being a pastor’s wife with four children living in Northeast Alabama to being a single mother whose oldest daughter was going off to college, who still had three children at home between the ages of 11 and 16, and relocating to Southeast Georgia to start a new job. I don’t remember ever hearing my mother complain or show bitterness toward God. In fact, she modeled many character traits that illustrated faith and reflected resilience.

Dedication

  • She doggedly determined to finish the job that she and her husband started in developing their children into followers of God.

Commitment

  • I don’t recall her ever missing work. What I do recall is her bringing home work in order to get things done, to be a committed and reliable employee.

Discipline

  • Regularly I heard my mother praying or observed her reading her Bible through her slightly opened bedroom door. She not only led us in family devotions, she was disciplined to prioritize her own spiritual disciplines.

I call my mother blessed. I thank her for modeling faithfulness and giving her children a rich spiritual heritage for which her husband would praise her (Proverbs 31:28).