CONTRADICTIONS

Image result for cartoon character scratching headThere has been a question that has haunted me for the past eight months, “Why do people disappoint me?” “Why am I hurt by the words and actions of others?” I have come to the conclusion that disappointment and hurt are the result of my expectations of others. Am I wrong to have expectations of others?

As a former counselor, my clients had an expectation that I would keep their confidences. Nearly every session I informed them that everything they said was confidential with the exceptions of voiced desire to harm themselves or others, confession of juvenile abuse or molestation or elder abuse, or if the courts demanded disclosure (which is extremely rare). I held that trust inviolate. Whether in the role of pastor or counselor, to me the pastoral/mental health/substance abuse counseling office was as sacrosanct as the confessional. Once I was asked to disclose to appropriate staff and faculty the content of my counseling with college students if said counseling revealed violation of school rules or codes. I strongly objected and flatly refused to do it. And I never did. In whatever setting, clients have the right to expect that their counselors will keep their confidences.

Other types of businesses and relationships have their own set of ethical and moral expectations to which we expect adherence. The same is true of my Christian walk. If I tell you that I am a practicing disciple of Jesus Christ and if you tell me the same, it comes with an implied set of spiritual, moral, and behavioral standards. When my attitudes, actions, and words contradict my profession of faith, I should expect you to be disappointed in me. And, if you fall short, you should expect me to be disappointed in you. These I call – contradictions.

Contradictions come from a variety of sources. There is/are . . .

  • Accidental and unaware contradictions. Inevitably it happens that you and I will say one thing at one time and another thing at another time and not even be conscious of your or my contradiction.
  • Rethought positions. A sincerely held position at one point in time may not last the microscope of learning and revelation. St. Augustine of Hippo lived long enough to write, “Retractions.” A work from his mature years of life that “retracted” some of his ideas recorded earlier in his youth. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, revised his journals and other writings with margin notations that expressed his current understanding. Oh, that we all would live long enough and have such a sense of responsibility to truth and accuracy to do the same to our proclamations, speeches, and writings.
  • Immature thinking on a subject. It is the evolution of thought where what was spoken at the beginning of your understanding changes with the maturing of your study. As a first time and very young pastor, I used my college class notes to lead a Wednesday night Bible study on the book of Revelation. While preparing for and teaching each lesson, I became aware that I was disagreeing with what I had learned and was now teaching. I finished the series, but never used those notes again. Over the years, my thinking on the subject has matured and is far from what I taught and began to question over 35 years ago.
  • Blind spots. These are areas that are unknown to us and unintentional. The Johari relationship window has four panes: 1) known to us and others, 2) known to us, but not others, 3) known to others, but unknown to us, and 4) neither known to us nor others. The third pane is my meaning here. It represents places in our lives that need to be confessed and corrected. They may be clear to others, but as of yet unclear to us.
  • Blatant contradictions. It is when you say or do something that you know contradicts your belief system. About three dozen years ago I was a passenger in the car of a minister who was throwing trash out onto the side of the road. The next day his sermon was about our responsibility to God’s creation. In my eyes, he spoke without much credibility on the subject.

It is this last category that causes me the most irritation. Because of my personal failures there have been some in the Christian community who have turned their backs on me. It hurts when I send a letter seeking reconciliation that gets no reply or one that is very formal. I feel anger rise when I confess and beg forgiveness for my sins, faults, and failings to another only to hear them become sanctimonious and “holier-than-thou.” One person spent our entire conversation without taking any responsibility for his/her actions, instead s/he justified them.  When I see the names and faces of people within the Christian community who have blocked me on Facebook, ignored my friend requests, or made it impossible for me to send them a friend request, I feel pain.

One author wrote, we who fail should “embrace the (Christian) community as a safe place to grow. Within holy community, we have a freedom to fall and get back up again. We shouldn’t leave when we fail!” That has not been my experience. Instead of a forgiving “embrace,” I found rejection. Instead of “safety,” hostility. Instead of a “place to grow,” a toxic and unhealthy environment. Instead of “freedom to fall and get back up again,” condemnation and ostracization. Ronald Reagan once said, “I did not leave the Democrat party, it left me.” I feel the same about many in my “family” of Christian friends, I did not leave my church family, they left me. Here I stand repentant with wounded arms reaching out for help, but many are they who pass by on the other side. (I thank God for those who did welcome me, allowed me to minister in the ways I could, and who demonstrated confidence in and acceptance of me.)

The author of the above statement is one who passed me by. Is this a blatant contradiction or a blind spot on his part? “Christian community could have given (a fallen person) an opportunity to flourish in faith and life,” he says. Does he think that statement includes me? Unfortunately, I have found it best to hide my failures from the Christian community and make them known to God and a very few confidants alone. The risk of rejection and condemnation is too great to disclose to the Church. This “haven of rest” for the redeemed Christian can become an anchorage of death for the fallen. Therefore, I stay silent. It robs me of an opportunity to share what God’s grace can do and has done, and it robs them of the joy in rejoicing with a lost son who has returned home.

I know the cause of my woundedness – expectations – yet the question goes beyond the cause. It is not enough to identify the why, I need to determine the next step. In my estimation, there are three possibilities. I can . . .

  • Shield myself from all pain. Although that sounds reasonable, pain actually serves a valuable purpose in our lives. If I ignore the pain, I risk greater injury, not less. If I harden myself to my feelings and emotions, I leave myself without empathy. Star Trek’s Spock is an example of this brand of Stoicism. He is presented as a praiseworthy character, but he is stunted in the department of relationships and pleasure. By suppressing the painful lows, he also loses the pleasant and exhilarating highs. My personal pain has taught me too much and afforded me too many opportunities to help others to give it up.
  • Become a cynic or skeptic. A cynic is one who distrusts the motives of others, and a skeptic is one who distrusts belief systems. The cynic questions whether you have God in your life, while the skeptic questions whether there is a God. If I cannot believe that people are who they represent themselves to be, then I must logically question the same in myself. As a Christian, it leaves me without assurance of my standing with God and without confidence that God can truly change you or me. It is only a small leap from there to question if God is really active in our world today or is He distant and uninvolved. Ultimately, it leads to questioning the very existence of God. I believe in redemption – the power of God to change people from the chains of sinfulness to appropriated and actual righteousness.
  • Choose to believe redeemed people are who they say they are. I choose to believe the grace of God can change people. I choose to pray for those who intentionally or unintentionally cause me pain. When I am hurt, disappointed, or disillusioned; I choose to believe in God. For I have found that God is always good, faithful, true, and trustworthy.

Will I be hurt again? Most definitely. I will be frustrated. I will be annoyed. I will be offended. But I choose to embrace all the negative risks that come with loving and believing in people.

Our LORD be with you.

An Open Letter to a Former Friend

Image result for shaking hands
An Open Letter to a Former Friend

Dear Former Friend,

 

 

My thoughts of you and our former acquaintance cause a smile to flash across my face as I recall happier times. When I came into an institution and culture that was foreign to me you were the first to give me a hand in navigating my new surroundings. You and your lovely wife were the first among our colleagues to invite my family and me into your home. We laughed as your daughter kissed my son, and when you corrected her she said, “But Daddy, you told me to love everybody.” It is a cherished memory.

On the nights you cut hair we engaged in ever deeper and open forms of communication and our friendship became more than professional. Our hearts were one as we sought to serve God fully and to seek His will for our lives and careers. We were one in the desire to guide our students to excellence in Christ, character, and academics. As more responsibility came our way we sought with unity to lead the institution we loved and served from the office(s) we held. During a difficult change in administrations, together we stayed by the stuff, supported the new administration, and protected our students from the struggle that threatened to divide as the incoming president sought to chart a different course for an institution mired in the traditions of the past. I saw the hurt in your eyes as some lashed out against your father, of which he was undeserving. You poured out your heart to God and I tried to be a compassionate listener with an understanding heart. We made it through and the beloved institution was and is better for it. I continue to be proud of the contribution I make to that great place through the work of my son.

Remember going out before dawn and climbing the mountain behind our homes to settle into a good stand for deer hunting? Although I had hunted since a youth, it was your first time. You were in much better shape than me, but you waited patiently as this flatlander breathlessly toiled his way to the top. When you downed your first deer, oh the joy and celebration that encompassed our campus community. And I cannot help but remind you of the first time you shot your new rifle and the patch you wore beneath your eye for all to see you made a mistake.

You loved the basketball team from your alma mater and enjoyed your nearly annual brag as your team defeated mine in their yearly rivalry. You took great pleasure in inviting me over to watch the game and rub my nose in our defeats. One night, however, my team schooled yours and went on to victory. It was an upset and you told me you would not have invited me over if you had foreseen this as a possible outcome. I called you on the night your team lost in a controversial last second play that ended their drive to another NCAA championship. You cried.

When I began to descend into the darkness that has become my life for the past seventeen years, you were there. Before I was to pull the trigger on my pistol to kill myself, I called you. You came and talked the gun out of my hand. (Years later I found out the firing pen on that gun was broken. God is good.) That marked the day I emerged from my darkness. It lasted around three years.  After sinking into a second depressive episode, you supported me. On the night I thought I was having a stroke, which turned out to be a panic attack, you stayed with me until the ambulance arrived. When my son ran to you in a panic when he thought I was going to hurt someone, you came to settle me down.

We shared some great times, some sad times, and some difficult times, but for the past eight years we have not shared anything. The last time I reached out to you for help you did not come. It was a day in May in the Spring of 2008 and my wife had told me to leave. It was only a few days past my second hospitalization for my third severe depressive episode. My heart and my head have searched for a reason for our breach ever since.

Perhaps you no longer knew or liked the man I had become. I did not like him either. That man was angry and desperate. Angry because of all he had lost and desperate to hold on to what he had left of himself and his world. On that day he saw it all slipping away and was powerless to stop it. He was broken and alone. The year I spent in jail was God’s way of stopping me from further personal destruction. That angry and desperate man died in jail and a new man in Christ Jesus emerged. It is hard for others who know me now to imagine me as that old man and I pray by God’s grace they never meet him.

Maybe you had reached the end of your personal resources and no longer knew how to help a person with severe depression. That happened to me. While pastoring my last full time charge I was ill-equipped to help a young man of the congregation experiencing depression. I did not recognize it and did not know how to relate to or minister to him. In two short years I became like that young man. My ministry now is to reach out to other depressed people with hope and attempt to educate people in ministry about mental illness.

Possibly you felt compelled to take sides when my wife and I separated. That can be a very awkward position to be in. How can a person be loyal to one without being disloyal to the other? Is it even possible to be loyal to both? As I friend people on Facebook who knew both my ex-wife and me, I ask myself, “Was this person a friend to our family because of my ex-wife or because of me?” It is a dance I do not enjoy, but find necessary. It was on that premise I sent you a friend request. I am truly sorry for putting you in a position to choose between us. Some who I considered her friends have friended me, for which I am truly grateful.

I have considered the chance that I have offended you or your family personally. Honestly, I can think of nothing, but I welcome your input.

In the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus said, “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift,” (Matthew 5:23-24 NKJV) I am seeking a bridge over the chasm between us. Our friendship will never be as it was before, but can we choose to end our indifference toward one another, shake hands, and embrace in Christian harmony? I pray we can.

The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you,

PS

I was sorry to hear about the sudden death of your college classmate and friend, and the crisis of purpose it caused for you. However, I am pleased that it led your very competent and gifted hands to the position you now hold in a place I dearly love. May you achieve success in your mission for God.