More Than Meets the Eye

handicappedThat driver in front of you going what you deem as too slow, taking what you think is too long at stop signs, the one you zipped around at that 4-way stop while honking your horn… He’s a 15-year-old who just got his learning permit and is out practicing his driving.

That boss who seems overly sensitive and picky, who never seems satisfied with your work… She’s overwhelmed by her own mounting workload, plus the pressures of family to be at every little event are just wearing on her. She’s also not sleeping well.

That man who parked in a handicapped spot… Sure, he has a handicapped sticker, but he looks basically healthy except for being somewhat overweight… His asthma gets so bad so quickly sometimes that he needs to keep his car and medications as close by as possible just in case.

When someone snaps at you to get moving, when someone “ignores” you at the store, even when someone doesn’t return a text, instead of reacting and being offended or hurt, consider that…

There’s often more to a situation than meets the eye. There’s usually so much more you do not – and will never – know about a person and their situation.

What appears as reality is often either not accurate or only part of the story. After all, not only is there much we don’t know, but we’re pretty good at infusing our assumptions into another person’s life, aren’t we? On the reverse of that, we’re also pretty good at covering up reality and painting a pretty picture over the decay. Selfishness and insecurity seem to always so cloud our vision that we simply cannot see accurately.

Since we just don’t know so much information, what can we do? How can we positively interact with others when they just seem against us at times?

  • Give the benefit of the doubt. There’s likely a lot more going on than you know.
  • Assume the best you can, not the worst that usually comes automatically.
  • Pray for them. You may not know, but God does.

What’s more, how can we overcome our assumptions and selfishness and instead see the good? Since we never fully know a situation — nor should we always know since some things are simply none of our business — let’s purpose to let Philippians 4:8 direct how we think about and view others.

“Whatever is true… noble… right… pure… lovely… admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”

How does this verse and the three suggestions above change how you view others?

Patience is a Virtue

PatienceHeraclitus, a Greek philosopher who lived from 535-475BC, made the following connection between patience and character.

“Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character.”

This quote connects well with one of my personal life philosophies.

“Small steps taken gradually and consistently add up over time to make a huge difference.”

The role patience plays in solid character brings to mind the phrase “patience is a virtue.” This well-known saying comes from the poem “Piers Plowman” written somewhere between 1360-1387 by William Langland.

A virtue is “behavior showing high moral standards.” So this statement, written almost 1000 years ago, equates patience to being a way we can show the state of our morality, or as Heraclitus calls it, our “good character.”

Patience exists as one of the biggest struggles of my life, and I don’t believe I stand alone in this struggle. For these reasons, I want to take a few posts to look at what Scripture says about patience. We won’t get to every point made about patience in the Bible, but we’ll go far enough for immediate and far-reaching impact.

What is patience?

Two different Greek words are used in Scripture for patience.

Galatians 5:22 (the list of the fruit of the Spirit) uses the word “makrothumia” for patience. This word focuses on love for and patience with others.

Romans 5:3 (part of a discussion about peace and hope) uses the word “hupomone” for patience. This word connects patience with hope, such as what we have through our salvation.

Both of these perspectives on patience get at the idea of long-suffering, forbearance, long-tempered, perseverance, constancy and steadfastness (all words used in various Bible translations in place of the above Greek words). Also, both call upon the mind to hold back before expressing itself in action or passion.

Both “makrothumia” and “hupomone” involve using self-control to refrain from letting emotions and feelings direct actions. As a whole concept, patience in the Bible drives home the idea of making choices that reflect our “good character” and our “high moral standards” even when we feel like doing quite the opposite.

One aspect of patience that I find fascinating involves how different it looks from one person to the next. Observing both my husband and myself in our daily lives illustrates this fact quite well, but so does a simple trip to the grocery store. Some people just seem to have an inner disposition toward patience while struggle is obvious for the rest of us.

What’s also interesting is that even though patience comes more easily for some, every person has limits. Those limits exist because of our humanness. Boxer Mike Tyson captured the idea this way:

“Everyone has a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth.”

What is impatience?

Impatience, according to the Dictionary of Bible Themes, is “a refusal to wait for people or developments, frequently displaying a lack of faith.” Biblical examples of impatience include Esau, Moses, Israel & Saul.

Personally, I describe my history with patience as “consistently inconsistent.” Sounds better than saying I’m often impatient, don’t you think? However it’s said, my impatience shows up consistently when…

    • I lack control over a person or situation.
    • I’m uncomfortable or worn out physically or mentally.
    • My expectations go unmet.
    • I make false assumptions.
    • I fail to forgive someone.
    • I’m hungry.
    • I’ve neglected the other fruit (Galatians 5:5).

Even though patience exists as one of my greatest struggles in life, it also lives as one of my greatest victories. When I realize the progress made in uncountable small steps, I fully understand just how much protracted effort developing a patient character requires.

At the same time, I’m painfully aware of how inadequate I am at becoming consistently patient. On my own, I’m sporadic at best. While I’ve learned that patience comes gradually, I’ve also learned I need a lot of help in cultivating it. In the next post, we’ll look at what that help — really, a partnership — looks like.

DISCUSSION: What does your story of patience look like?

Consumed With “Shoulds”

mercy not sacrificeAll to often, I become easily consumed with thoughts of what I “should” do to truly be a good wife, mother, friend, writer, church member, daughter, Christian, etc. Those ideas are usually based on what others say, think and do and how I appear in comparison. Of course, this comes all filtered through my own perceptions and assumptions. And this line of thinking always leads to internal defeat as I realize my desire to promote self and feel good about where I fall in the lineup.

In this way of thinking, activity becomes the focus. The more activity, the better. But I always end up feeling restless and unsettled. Never arrived. Never content. Why?

When my heart’s focus lies with appearances, with going through the motions of “shoulds,” I’ve filled my life with activity (with busyness) that appears meaningful but really exists as quite the opposite. Seems a lot like a focus on the rule following of the Pharisees, doesn’t it?

Filling our lives with the activity of sacrifice (busyness) provides ample distraction from addressing the true condition of the heart. Being busy (offering sacrifices)results in appearing accomplished but fails to consider the state of our intentions and motivations.

Inward Faith Before Outward Expression

Jesus used the phrase “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:12-13 & 12:7) knowing the generational familiarity it held for his listeners. The Life Application Study Bible says it this way:

God does not take pleasure in our outward expression if our inward faith is missing.”

Old Testament connections to this are many… 1 Samuel 15:22-23, Psalm 40:6-8, Psalm 51:16-19, Jeremiah 7:21-23, Hosea 6:6, & Micah 6:6-8. All get at this tenant point of Scripture… our heart attitude toward God comes first, then we can make acceptable sacrifices.

These Scripture represent the truth of what God asks of each of us. He doesn’t first ask for busyness (sacrificial activity) but for a sincere faith and devotion to him. He asks for loyalty and obedience. He asks that we are fair, just, humble and merciful. Only then is anything we do — our activity & our busyness — pleasing to him.

Isaiah 1:11-17 gives a succinct path for learning to live out this pattern of being over doing.

Respect. Follow. Love. Serve. Obey.

Of course, God exists as the object of these action steps. He exists as the focus of our activity. And as we seek to live this pattern, we find that the busyness of the world falls away. The “shoulds” disappear from our radar, and we move into the rhythm he meant for us to follow.

No longer do we focus on offering sacrifices — keeping ourselves busy with going and doing — but we instead find ourselves living in a way that naturally loves and serves. Only then do we live driven by our heart’s inward faith instead of trying to create the perception of an inward reality that we think makes us acceptable.

DISCUSSION: How does the truth “obedience over sacrifice” become a reality in the life of a believer?

Healthy Relationships During the Holidays and Beyond

Relationships 1Holiday Relationships

Relationships lie at the heart of holiday activity. For Christians, that first and foremost means an individual’s relationship with Christ. But we cannot escape that Scripture also advocates for a right relationship with other Christians. We are to encourage and build up the body of Christ. We are also to set an example of love for unbelievers to see.

The holidays seem to amplify the state of relationships; unfortunately, that includes making bad ones worse and often causing good ones to struggle. So much strain comes from already struggling finances, unmet expectations and inevitable disappointments.

As with physical and spiritual health, relationships can survive and even thrive during the holidays if deliberately considered rather than reacted to and given band-aid fixes.

Healthy Relationships

Consider the following advice as you work toward healthy relationships through the holidays and beyond.

  1. Be committed to caring. A focus on building bridges and not walls in our relationships, especially during the holidays, leads us to show concern for others and to focus on what blesses them.
  2. Cultivate respect. In the spirit of 1 Corinthians, the onus lies with the more mature spiritually and involves choosing relationships over ego.
  3. Develop & live out family convictions. State convictions and then allowed them to shape traditions.
  4. Be flexible. Flexibility is required to maintain relationships as life changes. Purpose to adapt, and refuse to hold tight to tradition for fear of change.
  5. Don’t let assumptions kill relationships. Make a point to respectfully express feelings, and don’t take for granted that others know how you feel. Say it both verbally and physically (hugs and smiles).
  6. Share responsibilities. Ask what you can do to help but also ask for help too.
  7. Engage people and be fully where you are. Put down the technology and make eye contact. Make sure your loved ones know you don’t prefer your electronics over them.
  8. Don’t allow expectations to kill relationship. Be realistic and have fair expectations of others. Don’t set them up for failure.

Depression and family contention hit their height for many during the holidays. Most likely, these two realities are closely related to the loneliness and disconnect so many feel this time of year.

Fortunately, a deliberate choice by individual Christians can make a huge impact for health and wholeness, healing and mending. As Proverbs 3:5-6 says, rely on the Lord to guide you toward healthy relationships during the holidays and beyond.

Relationships 2

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Pursuing Unity

Be at peaceWhile studying unity, see “Struggling for Unity” for details on that effort, I could not escape the role of individual responsibility for the creation, growth and continual existence of unity. I did not necessarily like (in my flesh) what I found either because it requires significant change on my part both in action and in mindset.

Paul addressed unity a lot within the early church, and the issue remains a constant struggle still today for most (all?) churches. While there are numerous Scriptures throughout the Old and New Testaments touting the importance and even the absolute necessity of unity, one portion in particular strikes me as a sort of mantra for unity. Ephesians 3 provides the motivation for unity (because we’re called, saved & equipped with God’s power), and Ephesians 4 gets into the details of what unity in the body looks like. I encourage you to read all of both chapters now, but at the very least meditate on these key phrases from Ephesians 4 while considering your individual role in creating and maintaining unity.

“Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowances for each others faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace.”

“One body… one Spirit… on glorious future… one Lord… one faith… one baptism… one God and Father…”

“… hold to the truth in love…”

“Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

“…throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life…”

“So put away all falsehood and ‘tell your neighbor the truth’ because we belong to each other.”

“…be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

With those verses in mind, consider the following statements as you contemplate your own role in the unity of the body. These statements simply reflect my personal agenda for positively impacting the unity of my family and my church.

For the sake of building unity in the groups of which I am a part, I commit to…

  1. Preferring others by not insisting and arguing for my own way, wants & desires.
  2. Allowing others to make mistakes without receiving criticism from me and to instead offer encouragement and sometimes instruction.
  3. Refusing to assume because I know that assumptions (always? often? usually?) lead to foolish behavior.
  4. Avoid operating on misinformation while at the same time realizing that some things are simply none of my business.
  5. Treating others with respect even when I don’t agree with them.
  6. Focusing on facts over feelings.
  7. Realizing there is often more than one right way to accomplish a goal.
  8. Accepting people where they are and encouraging them to always be growing.
  9. Making sure I’m always growing spiritually since no one is responsible for my growth but me.
  10. Refusing to give up on unity by continually praying for and working toward peace with others regardless of their efforts.

Consider taking time to write your own plan for building, promoting and protecting unity. Ephesians 3 and 4 were used as guides for my own statements, but really the entire book of Ephesians provides tremendous help toward playing an active role in making sure unity thrives in your relationships. Other Scripture driving home the point include 1 Peter 3:8-9, Psalm 34 and Psalm 133. I encourage you to make unity a priority in your life and to “do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

DISCUSSION: What are you doing regularly to build and protect unity?

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How to… Deal with Being Misunderstood

When I was younger, I remember saying “It’s not my fault…” or “No one understands…” and feeling like no one wanted to hear my point of view and wouldn’t really understand it even if they did. Over the years, being misunderstood became a source of frustration that quickly grew into anger over other people’s failure to hear me out or to even care. I remember simply feeling like I had little value.

Recently, my accountability partner and I talked about how being misunderstood made her feel hurt too. Our discussion drove me to God’s Word and what it has to say about being misunderstood and how to handle it when it happens. Two main applications came from my time with God on this topic.

Understand the Role of Assumptions

We all make them. In fact, we can’t help but make them. They can be helpful, especially when focused on positive attributes and outcomes. But they can also be deadly and set us up for serious disappointment, especially considering the fact that our assumptions are so often dead wrong.  The story of David’s messengers and the sons of Ammon in 1 Chronicles 19 provides a poignant example of how wrong assumptions can lead to stupidity, embarrassment and even physical harm and death.

No easy solution exists for mitigating the role of assumptions except perhaps increased awareness and not allowing assumptions to serve as hard fact. Also, when possible, avoid any rash decisions and actions based solely on assumptions. Assumptions have a big impact on our Interpersonal Skills and even on our email communication, so mindfully considering their role is important.

Know What You Can Control

Simply put, we cannot control what other people do, say or think. Sure, we can influence and persuade, but ultimately others decide their own attitudes, actions and words. Romans 12:18 says “if possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Knowing what you can control and doing your part goes a long way in reducing feeling misunderstood. Not only that, but the hurt, frustration and anger that can accompany those feelings decreases as you do your part to live at peace with others.

With that in mind…

  1. Clear up misunderstandings when possible. This best happens through face-to-face communication. Simply talk it out. The story of the offensive altar in Joshua 22:10-34 provides a terrific example of how a serious misunderstanding resolved well through face-to-face communication.
  2. Cover misunderstandings if possible. Proverbs 17:9 talks about concealing a wrongdoing for the sake of seeking love, and that principle certainly applies to misunderstandings too.  Sometimes misunderstandings simply cannot be cleared up, and the choice of being right or having relationship must be made.
  3. Simply present the truth. Jesus was misunderstood probably more than any other person. But story after story reveals that Jesus presented the facts, didn’t argue, and let people make their own decisions. Sometimes, simply presenting the truth and then moving on can be the best way to avoid being hurt by misunderstanding. Doesn’t mean people will automatically understand and agree, but it allows you to do your part to “be at peace” with others.
  4. Realize the impact of established beliefs. Jesus constantly fought against this, and we see it best in his discussions with the Pharisees, though really His entire ministry dealt with this. They had established beliefs that blinded them to the Truth He offered. If we’re honest, this happens to us as well when we fail to acknowledge the existence of such beliefs, check their accuracy with scripture and/or pass them off as simply personal preference.
  5. Seek first to understand. For our parts, we can also avoid acting solely on assumptions absent of facts and based only on appearances or our preconceived notions of ill intent. In other words, we can do our best to understand others before making sure they understand us. Not only do we set an example of healthy interpersonal communication, but we also decrease our own mistakes birthed out of misunderstanding others.

Realizing the role of misunderstanding in my life has brought me healing and given me victory over a quick temper as well as strengthened relationships in general. How can managing misunderstanding change your life?

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