The Jar

 Have you ever felt like your emotions were out of control? Like the way you are feeling is incongruous with the situation. Something small happens and you get all bent out of shape about it. That happened to me in a huge way a few months ago. Something insignificant had happened, but I was really upset about it. I was feeling embarrassed about something I had done and I was beating myself up about it. At the same time that my emotional mind was out of control, my rational mind was engaged and asking why in the world, I was overreacting to the situation. The emotions I felt didn’t add up to the situation.

I know that when I am feeling something deeply, there’s more to it than just emotion. When I am feeling something irrational, I know there’s some real gold to be found in mining that. It is worth figuring out what is at the root of it all. The problem is that it is uncomfortable to even admit that I’m irrational. How can I be introspective when I feel stupid?

Russian Dolls

russian-dolls.gifAt a retreat I attended a few years ago, Gordon McDonald compared us to Russian dolls (you know the little dolls that you open up and there’s another one inside that looks just like the one you opened only smaller. He said that the outside doll is the one we show to people. So, when I meet you, the Jim that you see is my outside doll (Jim-1). If I get to know you better, I will show you (Jim-2), but I’m going to have to feel pretty darned safe in order to share Jim-3 with you. Jim-4 might have secrets about me that only my best friends will ever know. I expect to spend the rest of my life learning more about Jims-5, 6, 7… The key is that I don’t know everything there is to know about me. The reasons I behave irrationally is that on some level it isn’t irrational. Jim-13 may be crying out for attention. Maybe something happened to me when I was little that I don’t even remember… but it affects me. It is part of me. I want to find out and give Jim-13 what he needs.

Three Questions

I have begun asking myself a series of questions to find out what’s going on inside when I feel. The intensity of the feeling is more important than the feeling itself… at least at first. A feeling may be huge and debilitating, or it may be just a little flip in my gut. It can be a flush of embarrassment or a sudden defensiveness. When I recognize it, I am learning to ask these questions:

  1. What am I feeling?
  2. What do I believe that is causing this feeling?
  3. Is the belief true?

Feelings are caused by beliefs. I don’t mean something spiritual (necessarily). My beliefs are the way I truly see the world (like a map). For instance, I am feeling confident and comfortable sitting in my chair typing on this computer because I believe that the chair will hold me up and that the computer will work long enough to help me publish this blog. (I just felt a sense of mistrust in the computer which caused me to save my work.)

Once I know what the belief is, I need to know if it is true or not. Sometimes I believe things that just are not true. When that’s the case, the first step is to know the truth and allow it to replace the lie. Sometimes, my belief is true, and the feeling is valid. That is a good thing to know, when I feel confused.

Many times the belief that causes the feeling is unrelated to the situation at hand, which makes the puzzle that much harder to solve. That’s not fair though. If it wasn’t related, the situation would not have triggered it. Rather than say it is not related, it would be more accurate to say that the belief is related to the situation only in my heart. No one else would connect this belief from my past to this situation in the present, but I did. I know I did because I recognize the feeling and I recognize the belief. Just because it is only related in my heart does not make it false. Something is going on inside of me and it is worth the effort to get to the root.

An example of when I did it right… When I was a kid, I was a complete klutz when it came to sports. I didn’t like sports and sports didn’t like me. In PE class, when the team captains picked their team players I was always the one at the end that they both wanted to give to the other team. The one time I tryed out for little league I got taken out on the first cut (and I was glad). A few years ago, I started exercising regularly. One thing led to another and I began running. I started running with my friend, John fairly regularly about a year ago, but John was a much better runner than I. I apologized for slowing him down. John is the one who started my thinking around the three questions, and he asked what I was feeling and believing in the moment. I was feeling like the athletic failure from school because I thought I was impeding his goals. He assured me that the reason he was running with me was because he wanted just wanted to be with me. So the answer to question #3 was no. The belief was not true. After that, I felt better about running with him… and we are still running together… and I don’t slow him down (as much as I used to).

Back to the original story… I was embarrassed over what I had done, but it didn’t make sense. Why was my stomach all in knots when nothing was wrong? What was I feeling? What was I believing? Were my beliefs true?

Did I say that the questions were easy to answer? They are not. It is hard to work through the feelings in the moment when we are feeling such intense emotions. However, in the midst of it all, I had a vision of a jar…

The Vision of the Jar

I saw a large clear glass jar, like the ones you might see in a restaurant kitchen. The jar was full of clear water. You could see straight through the jar and the water. At a glance, I thought that the water was clean, but on second look I noticed that there was a layer of sediment on the bottom of the jar. The sediment was all settled so it didn’t cloud the water at all. Then the jar got bumped ever so slightly. The silt and mud in the bottom stirred up a little and caused the water to become cloudy. After a while, the cloudiness settled and the water was clear again. Another time, the jar got shaken a bit and the stuff was all stirred up in the water causing it to be so murky I could not see through it at all. As the jar remained still, the sediment began to settle once again to the bottom of the jar until it was clear again.

The jar of water is me. When the water is clear, things are going well. Nothing is bothering me and I am not bothering anyone else (as far as I know or care). To look at me, you might think I have it all together. You might say that Jim-1 is polished up for showing off. I am feeling good and looking good. The world is right because I feel right.

The problem is the sediment. The sediment is the junk in my life; the hurts I have received, the names I have been called, the times I have been disappointed the embarrassing moments, the times I tried and failed, the times I didn’t even try, the broken promises… It is also the hurts I have given, the names I have called others, the disappointments I caused, the promises I have broken. The sediment lays there just under the surface where neither of us can see it. Then something happens to stir it up. Maybe it is a small bump of the jar like a glaring look or being the butt of a joke. Rather than address it, I hold my chin up and try to be very still emotionally until eventually, the as the feeling goes away, the water becomes clear. Ahhh now I can continue with life. Everything is fine. Except it isn’t.

Life is full of bumps to mess up my jar by stirring things up. The key seems to be in understanding that the sediment is there and not ignoring it. The sediment is part of who I am. When I stop ignoring it, I can better understand who I am; where my feelings, thoughts and behaviors come from. When I understand me better, I can handle life much better. Not by ignoring the junk in my life, but by understanding it.

Here’s the rub… I can truly only examine my sediment while it is stirred up. Once it is settled, I cannot see it. I can talk about it abstractly, but it is on real in the moment. In the moment, I can feel it. It is ugly. Only when I believe that there is great value in understanding the sediment, will I welcome the shaking and stirring of the jar. Even then, it is a love-hate relationship. I don’t want to see the sediment. I don’t want to feel it, but I truly want to understand who I am, so I am learning to be comfortable with the discomfort.

Each time I have gone through the process of examining the sediment, I feel like I have grown more. The things that I do not know about me block me from being the person God wants me to be. Who does God want me to be? Me! The hurts, habits and hang-ups in my life prevent me from being me.

I was so glad to learn that I don’t have to go through the examination process alone. As I learn more about my sediment, I have discovered that God meets me there. In fact Psalm 139:23-24 addresses it this way:

Search me, O 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 want to be searched and known. I want to be led in the way everlasting. Shake me, God. Stir my heart.

What Happened to Questions?

My son in law, Mark told me recently about a conversation that he had with a buddy who is not a follower of Christ. They were discussing spiritual ideas and his friend posed a hard question. The question isn’t important, but his answer was very important. He answered his friend with these words, “I don’t know.” Mark’s friend was surprised and impressed. He told Mark that he was one of the few (maybe the only) Christians who had ever admitted to him that they didn’t have an answer to a hard question. He felt like Mark was honest and humble. My guess is that he gained quite a few trust points with his friend and rightly so.While I applaud Mark, I ask myself why this is a noteworthy story. Isn’t honesty one of the virtues that Christians hold dear? Rather than just fix it though, I believe we need to examine the roots of this behavior. We could try to merely change our behavior, but I think we would do well to remember what Stephen Covey had to say about our ability to change. He says that if we want to make small changes, we should address our behaviors. If we want to make huge, quantum changes, we should address our paradigms. Paradigms are the way we see the world, the maps we hold in our minds that tell us why people do what they do. Sometimes these maps are just plain wrong. (Read Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to learn more).

We hold beliefs in our core being that tell us what to expect. Then we operate out of those beliefs and when things don’t go the way we expect, we feel uncomfortable feelings. If I believe that my cup with a lid holds steaming hot Starbucks coffee and I take a sip, anything other than that a hot coffee taste is going to make me behave in potentially ugly ways… Most mornings at work, I get a cup of Starbucks bold coffee. I like it black without any sweeteners. After I finish the my coffee, I refill the cup with water and drink that over and over during the day. Not too long ago, I got distracted for a while before I finished my coffee. When I returned to my desk, I picked up the cup, for a sip. Because the cup now felt cool, my mind (my belief) said, “This is water.” But it was not. It was cold coffee. Yuck! A classic example of my beliefs not lining up with reality.

What if I find out that my beliefs about the world (that are more important than what is in my coffee cup) don’t line up with reality? Come on, let’s be real. I do not hold all truth. There is still so much I have to learn and unlearn.

When my four daughters were little girls, they all learned the way we did things and what we believed as a family. What were our values and what did we believe about God. One by one, they became teenagers and the questioned everything… and I mean everything. That caused three things in me:

First it caused me to realize that I had never given myself permission to ask some of these hard questions. I chose conformity so I could find acceptance.

Secondly, realizing that I didn’t have the answers they were looking for, I started looking for answers. Why do I believe what I believe? When Danae challenged me on how God decides who goes to heaven, I remember reading through the entire New Testament looking for anything to do with salvation. I used a pink highlighter so I could easily review and digest what I read. The first thing that struck me was that several times, people came to Jesus and asked him how to get eternal life. His answer was different every time. If he was looking for a simple, repeatable 1-2-3 answer, he could have done better… maybe he could have printed a tract with the answer … but I digress.

The third thing their questions did in me was cause me to feel embarrassed that I didn’t have the answers they were looking for. In my mind, a good dad would have the answers. Once I remember Erin asking me a question while we were watching TV and I felt annoyed towards her. When I realized that I felt annoyed, I asked myself why in the world I would feel annoyed with her. That was when the reality hit me that I was living from a paradigm that said I have to have answers to all of the questions. As goofy as it sounds, that was what was going on deep inside of me. Once I recognized that she didn’t expect me to have the answers, I was doing this to myself, I was on my way to freedom. The next time she asked, I felt that feeling of annoyed embarrassment (because the feeling is automatic), but I quickly reminded myself that I didn’t have to know the answer. I looked at her and said, “I don’t know,” and she was just fine with that.

On this side of teenage-hood (I am happy to say that there is life after teenagers), I am still asking questions. One answer seems to lead to ten new questions. It is a process of uncovering new things all the time. Frequently the new learning challenges my old ideas. That can be uncomfortable because old ideas are like a warm blanket in a cold house (that was for you, Melody). Exposing false beliefs feels like pulling back the warm, comfortable blanket. It feels cold. So why do it? Why not enjoy the warmth of the ideas that make me feel good about myself? Because I am lazy and I would rather create a world that makes me feel good about me whether it is true or not. Left to my own devices, I will create a world that works for me. I, me, mine… That is not what I believe Jesus had in mind. When he was here, he pushed against the people in authority who created rules and social orders for the purpose of making sure they (the rulers) were ok. He wants us to have an outward focus. It is truly not about me. It is about me in the sense that God has put unique gifts, talents and strengths in me (that I am only now beginning to recognize), but these gifts, talents and strengths are not for me. I Peter 4:10 says that they are to serve others.

When we shut off questions or pretend to have all the answers, we invite pride and idolatry into our lives. We lose credibility with people who are genuinely looking for truth. And we allow (or even cause) things to come between us and God. My prayer is from Psalm 139:23-24

Search me, O 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.

We’re ok and thankful for fire fighters

At the risk of sounding like Lucy when she returned from Narnia, we are ok. You can stop worrying.

We had our first fire of the season in the fireplace tonight. Unfortunately, the fire got up inside the chimney and flames and sparks were coming out of the chimney. It made me very nervous so I called 911 and told Jeanie and Melody to grab a few valuables and get out. By the time the 4 fire trucks arrived (a few minutes), the flames had died down and it appeared all was well. They checked things out and said everything was ok. Before they left, the gave me a commendation for calling them, thanks for giving them somthing to do and a brief lecture on servicing the fireplace once a year.

Whew! Thanks to God and the fire department.

Confessions of a Wonderer

Confessions

I was just thinking about going to lunch with my sweetie. We have been going out for Sunday lunch for so many years that it just feels like it would be sacreligeous to do otherwise. I was thinking of going to K&W cafeteria and imagining the crowd we would run into on a Sunday at lunchtime. I imagine a long line of folks “dressed for church” in their pretty dresses, maybe a hat or three, men in suits or at least ties. I confess that I generalize and prejudge these folks. I don’t want to, but I do. Who are they really? What have they given up in order to feel comfortable in their nice clothes? Do they still have dreams and passions, or have they given them up in order to just get along? I remember my grandparents telling my brother and me that God expects our best, so that’s why we dress up. I wonder… doesn’t he care more about our hearts than our clothes? Do we dress up to keep from upsetting Grandma? I am sure this says much more about me than it says about this crowd of people who I don’t even know… especially since I am imagining the whole thing.

Did you ever see the far side cartooon where the two ostriches are running along together. The one is looking at the other and thinking to itself, “Man I am sure glad I don’t look like that!” Of course what makes it so funny is that they are identical. I am the one ostrich looking at the other. I may not have a tie on, but I am no different.

I think what bothers me is that I see things about myself in them that scare me. How much have I given up my soul in order to conform to a way of life in order to get a form of community? I don’t dress up for church, but I “go” to church. Why? Am I looking for a place where I fit in? Am I going to “learn” more about God? Am I going to be part of the Body of Christ?

When I look at the dressed up folks in line, I answer the question for them (which is unfair, but easier than answering it for myself). I do want community. I want to be part of the Body of Christ. I want to continually discover and use my own unique spiritual gifts to minister to the body. That sounded more churchy than I meant it to. Here’s what I mean… I believe that God made me unique. He put a unique set of likes and dislikes in me. My values, my interests, my dreams, my fears, my passions are all rolled into me in a unique way. I don’t think that was an accident. It is who I am. The things that bother me, bother me because they bump against the things I value. Those are clues… everything is a clue to find out who I am… not some existential bellybutton contemplation kind of thing, but genuinely asking who I am and why I am here. I dont’ know if any theologians would agree with me, but I believe that these are all clues to the spiritual gifts in me that the Bible talks about.

Puzzle Pieces
Puzzle Pieces Finding my gifts, my strengths, my talents, my passion is a process of elimination. For me it is not trying something and deciding I’m not good at that. For me, it is a process of learning what lights me up inside. What fires up my spirit? What makes my heart do a flip? What pulls me out of a depression? I think it is a lifetime journey… like a jigsaw puzzle… sometimes I sort through a pile of pieces that don’t seem to be connected, other times one piece after another just falls into place.
Like this:

Friday mornings, I meet with a group of guys who I am on a journey with. When we meet, we “check in” with one another to see how we are doing, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I told them this past Friday that I was feeling depressed about my job. Without going into those details, I just don’t enjoy what I am doing at work right now. That afternoon, I met with my counsellor and told him about my checkin that morning, but then it occured to me that I wasn’t depressed anymore. After thinking about it, I realized that I had actually enjoyed my work that morning. I was working on understanding a technical problem and finding a solution to it. A puzzle piece snapped into place. Solving problems is something that I do well and something that lights me up.

Does this sound narcissistic? I know that the world does not revolve around me. I want to be an active part in making the world a better place. I believe that the best I can be is to be who I am. That sounds dumb, but life consists of a series of decisions… one after another. Some will be more effective than others. Some will just get me in trouble. I want to be more and more effective, but at the same time, I want to live on the edge experiencing life to the full.

Aye, fight and you may die, run, and you’ll live… at least for a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!

–William Wallace in Braveheart

Sometimes I like being the dad

Yesterday was a treat for me. I got to do one of those really cool, fun dad things. My daughter, Melody had an interview for entry into the UNC Medical School! On the way down she practiced and I encouraged. On the way back, we just enjoyed one another’s company. Towards the end of the trip, we watched the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen. No joke, it must have lasted half an hour from start to dark. What a blessing.

Continue reading Sometimes I like being the dad

21 years ago

Last weekend, while Danae was visiting, we listened to an audio tape of her and Melody from 21 years ago. Imagine our surprise when we heard the clip below. Enjoy![youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r27f6B17jEw]

Life really is about the little things, isn’t it? Do something you’ll be glad to find in 21 years.

Painter Dave

I just have to brag on my friend, Dave. He’s known to the Cobra community as Painter Dave. I stopped by to see him last week as a customer was picking up their Cobra from his body shop. They buy them as kits and he makes the body shine. He sent me the this link to photos the customer took because they accidentally got me in the shots. What a beautiful job! Dave you are truly an artist. Click here.

The customer was bragging about the great work Dave does. I told them that they may have come because he does excellent work. I come because he is a great friend. Dave, I am so proud to know you and do life with you. I pray that your business prospers.

With friends like this

A quote from Jeff VanVonderen’s Good News for the Chemically Dependent

… human beings have three basic needs. First, we need to be convinced that we are loved and accepted, without strings. In order to get love and acceptance, we do not have to act or refrain from acting a certain way, perform, excel, be polite, or quote Bible verses… This love builds people because people, not behavior, are loved.

Second, we need to be convinced that we are capable, valuable, important, special, and worthy….biblical terms that communicate the same concepts: chosen, gifted, called for a purpose, given to one another.

Third, we need to be convinced that we are not alone. There are two aspects to this. We need to know that we are not the only ones who think, act, feel, and struggle as we do… We also must know that there are resources and support in times of need. We are not alone!

This book is written to those who are struggling with chemical dependencies or love someone who is. Reading it, I realize that this is about something even more pervasive that addiction. I have habits and hurts and hang-ups that I don’t want anyone to know about. I feel like I have to perform in order to be accepted. I sometimes feel like I don’t measure up and I do feel like I’m all alone.

I believe in the power of God and the power of godly friends who accept me as the broken, unlovable goofball that I am. I believe that I can make it through life because of the good news that He loves me in spite of me. He loves me! He wants to be my friend!

It is not about being correct, nor having all the answers. It is not about performance. It is about being vulnerable with a few good friends and admitting my screw ups. It is telling one of my friends what a mess I am and how I screwed up… only to find this in my email soon afterwards…

“Do you know that I admire you ? I DO.. You are after God’s own heart and that is a man I admire. You area also a great GREAT friend. I want to be around you, to know you more and have you rub off on me. Thanks for giving of yourself to growing this friendship. It continues to change my life and it’s outcome. Forever”

With friends like that, I’m going to make it! God help me to be a friend and brother like that.

A jimazing view of life