A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Tag: anger (page 1 of 2)

Suffering–and the People We Become

We lounged in the lamp lit half-dark: my husband and I, and our college friend. We’ve been friends for about two decades now, which makes us feel impossibly old. We still easily bend over in outright laughter over hilarious references to our college days and their mishaps. Now, though, we have things like minivans and tax returns, and my friend and I swap tips on how cast iron is really the best way to cook fish, or omelets, she says.

But years aren’t the only thing under the bridge. That night, I marveled sadly how out of our six parents, we wouldn’t have guessed we’d have lost two of them by this point. My husband and I have moved to Africa, caught malaria, gotten robbed, etc. My friend has dealt with multiple nightmarish diagnoses of those she loves.

Somehow, my friend is the same friend who earlier that day had swung her legs with me over a camel. We’d both ridden in our skirts, half-shrieking and yes, giggling over the top of a camel saddle (who knew they made those? Who knew, when we met each other, that someday we’d be dangling over a camel in Africa?). Somehow, we are still the same goofy coeds.

But we’re also changed. We sat in my living room internally leaner somehow (certainly not externally, after four kids each!). We are quietly wiser, more realistic, and likely with more life questions those we flung out in college like a pitching machine.

There are aspects of the pain we’ve endured that are simply indelible. The three of us will die with them; they have marked us.

I admit to wondering, sometimes, if I will crawl into old age feeling worn. Perhaps I’ll be wizened and shriveled from the sheer expanse and depth of pain I’ve seen here in Africa. And from the stories yet to unspool in front of me.

I don’t think so. I trust God will continue to make hope blossom before my eyes, as He always had.

Still: Because of pain, we are different.

Another friend of mine laughs about the division of her life into “before” and “after” a challenging child came into their home. “I used to be so fun!” she grins lopsidedly. One study of parents who bear disabled children, too, supports that these parents experience a shift in identity.[1]

My own pain, as you know, has pressed into me lately. I wonder about things like bitterness; like dreams diverted. Recently I’ve been mulling over Tim Keller’s important work, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. He notes French activist and philosopher Simone Weil’s essay on some of the ways affliction changes us:

  • Isolation
  • “Implosion”—self-absorption as we seek to stop the pain
  • Hopelessness/condemnation. Weil writes, “Affliction hardens and discourages us because, like a red hot iron it stamps the soul to its very depth with the scorn, disgust, even the self-hatred and sense of guilt and defilement that crime logically should produce but actually does not.”
  • Anger, directed at various objects
  • Temptation. Keller notes, “We become complicit with the affliction, comfortable with ours discomfort, content with our discontent…It can make you feel noble, and the self-pity can be sweet and addicting.”[2]

These, at various times, are me.

But Keller also relays the story of a man confined by ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), who communicates using a computer reading his eye movements. The man remarks that the sweetness of his life with God as a result of his illness he wouldn’t trade for more years.[3]

So as much as pain does transform us while we’re walking through it—Keller also outlines the beauty it creates, though it’s different in each of us. Suffering:

  • Transforms our attitude toward ourselves, humbling us and removing unrealistic self-regard and pride
  • Will profoundly change our relationship to the good things in our lives—things that have become too important. We rearrange priorities, investing more of our hope and meaning in God, family, and others.
  • Can strengthen our relationship to God as nothing else can—and fortify our relationships with other people
  • Makes us far more useful in compassion toward other people.
  • Makes us more resilient, wiser, and more realistic about life…or harden us.[4]

This, I hope, is who I am becoming.

Of course, Keller reminds, suffering cannot be seen just as a way to improve ourselves. That’s a form of masochism, as if we’re only virtuous when we’re in pain. (Stupid as it is, I struggle with this comfort by martyrdom.) This is also not some attempt to suggest that our character justifies whatever happens. (Keller imagines parents who’ve lost their child: “What kind of God would sacrifice an innocent little girl to teach us ‘spiritual lessons’?!”) In this gymnasium of character, I remind myself that I can’t lose sight of a compassionate God; a God who suffers with me. Who suffered Himself.

How suffering changes us, it seems, is in large part our choice.

Who will suffering make us?

 

 

[1][1] As cited in Keller, Timothy. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York: Penguin Books (2013). Kindle edtion.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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Guest Post: Are We Raising Spiritually Entitled Kids?

Grief is a chisel.

As you know now,  my family and I are moving back from Africa, i.e. place I have felt technicolor, I-heart-my-life alive for the last five years. Though I believe God is showing us it’s time to move back for now, and though it’s also been a place where our family has encountered profound suffering, it’s been far more of a place of deep satisfaction. All of us are struggling with returning. We’ve been so stinkin’ happy in this place. For me, serving in my sweet spot has throbbed with purpose and meaning.

Ugly truth: My hide has been, off and on, a little chapped. I don’t completely understand why God’s doing this. And after all we have endured here, truth is still percolating into my heart that, hey, God can put me wherever He wants me.

Truth: Even (especially?) in work that serves God, I can get pretty…entitled. Sometimes I think I can even be in danger of passing that on to my kids. There’s a thin line, I think, between our kids trusting in God’s good character, His working everything out for our good, waiting expectantly for God to work on our behalf…and us feeling entitled to His tangible reward here on this planet, when we want it, as we want it.

Is there a chance we’re raising spiritually entitled kids?

I’m posting on this today at weareTHATfamily.com. Hope it encourages you.

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I’d rather be whining: Complaining vs. Healthy, Honest Expression

I toppled into it this morning without a clue. Actually, it was before that: The electricity had snapped off sometime in the middle of the night, my husband and I groaning as the fan’s blades slowed and quieted, leaving a stuffy heat beneath our mosquito net that I knew would make it challenging for him to sleep well.

In the morning, I cooked pancakes and eggs by candlelight; by 9 AM the lack of electricity to the water pump at the bottom of our hill meant we were without water in the kitchen sink, too—after nearly a week of alternating lack of power and water. Grr. The kids had forgotten to plug in the “school” laptop last night, so mine was the option for homeschool, i.e. getting my own work done in the afternoon did not seem in the cards. I scrambled through phone calls before my phone battery died. The power company wasn’t picking up.

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Doubting the Dream Weaver

Ever buried a dream?

I suppose this precious concept of dreams is inlaid in most of us as Americans. We’re corn-fed on them from the time we can walk, or at least munch popcorn, mesmerized by the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio: The dream that you wish will come true!

From posters scotch-taped to the walls of the library, to credit card commercials, to career week in sixth grade―we’re in a love affair with doing what you’re made to do.

And why not? From the perspective of my work in Uganda—this level of self-actualization is a privilege; an unspeakable gift. What percentage of the world is physically able to not only seek out and understand how they’re made—and like they say, do what you love so you never work a day in your life?

But honestly? Lately—all these references to dreams make me viscerally cringe. Right now I kind of hate dreams. Or at least talking about them. Yours are fine; I’d love to talk about yours! Just not mine. Continue reading

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A Note for the Day You’re Feeling Powerless

I woke up the other day feeling—well. Feeling needlessly angry. (It wasn’t the first time, lately.)

I drilled down a bit in my surly little soul. Anger, I recall, is secondary; it stems from something: disappointment, fear, hurt, sadness. For me, there were slices of sadness—but also a big hunk of fear. More specifically, I felt powerless.

As I was scrawling thoughts for this post, I felt rather sheepish for even labeling that. The reasons I feel powerless are nothing like some of you reading this, huddling (or scramming) when an abusive spouse comes home. Or perhaps you’ve got a boss who makes you feel about an inch high, or even threatened—but you’ve gotta pay the rent. Or maybe you’re a person of color, feeling terrified and estranged after the last election. Or you have a dark diagnosis and a couple of small kids.

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The Nerve! Ideas to Hijack Your Relationship

hijack-relationshipEver find a relationship off-roading completely from what you longed for?

Yup.

Maybe, like me sometimes, you feel like the person isn’t listening or getting you, or isn’t open to alternate opinions. Of course my primal reaction is to just duck and cover. I’m completely willing to be kind and generous—but so much for an authentic relationship.

And that part’s my own fault.

But principles from my husband’s professional books are leaking into my perspective on relationships. They talk about hijacking your job, or “managing up”: It’s being proactive in the areas of your job you don’t like so much, so you can slowly take on more of the responsibilities you want, which the company also needs.

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Part II: 8 Strategies for Tackling Kid Drama (without Squashing Kids’ Emotions)

My husband and I have determined that our entire nuclear family struggles with self-control—so I post this week not from a place of mastery. I’m just writing from a family that is intentionally seeking strategies together so our reactions to emotions give love and life—rather than, you know, giving a wrecking ball. Make sure to offer your own ideas in the comments section!

Missed Part I? Get it here.

260H (1)5. Absolutely do NOT give in to manipulation, angry demands, or whining. Help them get to the core of what they want, and ask respectfully. It’s Psych 101: Giving in reinforces that their bad behavior works, like giving a bad dog a biscuit. Whining or disrespect means an immediate “no” to any request in our house, no matter how much I want to give what they’re asking for. Instead, I simply tell my kids they need to ask for what they want. Continue reading

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8 Strategies for Tackling Kid Drama (without Squashing Kids’ Emotions), Part I

My husband and I have determined that our entire nuclear family struggles with self-control—so I post today not from a place of mastery. I’m just writing from a family that is intentionally seeking strategies together so our reactions to emotions give love and life—rather than, you know, giving a wrecking ball. Make sure to offer your own ideas in the comments section!

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6 ways to pray for your kids (and yourself) when you actually want to tear your hair out (with FREE printable!)

6 ways to pray

  1. Be the Prince of Peace in my home. Be my Wonderful Counselor; be the Mighty God who controls my home. Let me love and parent as you do, Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6). Let my peace come from you rather than my circumstances.
  2. “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3)
  3. Lord, be the One who controls me—not my emotions. Help me keep in step with your Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Let me hear you.
  4. Let my anger be a constructive, precise tool of Your Kingdom—not a destructive tool of my own kingdom.
  5. Change my kids’ hearts and my own, not just our behavior. You’re the only One who can truly change us from the inside out (see Matthew 23:25; Psalm 51:10, Jeremiah 24:7). Make our hearts soft! Bring us true, life-giving sorrow that brings us to live differently (2 Corinthians 7:10).
  6. You are mighty to save me not simply out of this situation, but through it. You give us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:2). Help us honor you here!

PRINT IT FREE HERE!

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Freebie Friday! Free Printable Poster: Reminders for Handling Anger

So many of you resonated with my struggle with anger and the ideas I’d collected for this post, and this one on my need to seek forgiveness from my kids. In an effort to keep pressing in to the destruction I cause in my lack of control, I put together this “fridge art”-style poster of “angry” reminders–to hang up inside a cupboard, perhaps, or tape beside the bathroom mirror. (I hope to put mine where my kids can see it–so they can learn, too, but also hold me accountable.) Enjoy–and if you like it, please share it!

DOWNLOAD YOUR letter-sized FREE PRINTABLE POSTER HERE!

Find more freebies and printables on this page!

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