Forgiveness Is Light

What you believe about forgiveness will, ultimately, intimately, powerfully, impact how you see God. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If I believe God denies my sin, I won’t believe I need forgiveness.

 If I believe the sin in my life is allowed to be shoved deep into a hidden drawer and forgotten, I will fail to learn the lessons of my humanity in relation to God’s perfection.  I will deny God His heart’s desire to redeem the pain in those moments and offer incredible beauty from the ashes of my foolishness.

If I believe the work of reconciliation is less than a small-scale representation of God’s grace worked out in the details of our own lives, I will despise the work He does on a grander scale.

If I believe all these lies, eventually, I will conclude I don’t need to do anymore in my spiritual walk than to tell God I’m sorry, over and over, until the rote-ness of the words mean so little I don’t even bother to say them.

That’s why this is important.

Forgiveness is the roadmap to God.  It is His hand, extended in love and reaching down to us in our failure and broken nature, which He offers to lift us up.

Our moment to touch the Divine is found in repentance, walking away from our rights to hold the filth of both owned and unacknowledged sin and selfishness.  Like children crying out for Papa, all we need to do is reach UP to His waiting arms.

What we believe about forgiveness impacts our families, our friendships, even the way we speak to ourselves.  

It’s easy to throw stones at people who don’t act in the way you believe carries meaning.  Maybe you don’t like what they have to say.

“You don’t speak my love language” becomes a weapon thrown at each other to explain away the bitterness that fuels the feeling our needs aren’t being met.   This bitterness largely comes from being held to a standard where humility is necessary.  In those moments when it can become painfully obvious this does not come naturally to any of us we have the choice to listen or to harden our hearts.

If someone loves us enough to hold us accountable for our actions, the first reaction is to be uncomfortable.  Accountability touches the places we hide our weaknesses and shortcomings behind a childish repetition of excuses and justifications.

We want something or someone else to blame for the words we speak, the accusations we make, the pain we cause. We even resort to hiding behind a pseudo-apology that, somehow, puts the blame on someone else for putting us in the place to behave badly.  We desperately try to shift the weight to someone’s shoulders and that Someone is most definitely Not Me.

Walking according to a godly standard of behavior, and following the example of the Holy Spirit who works Perfectly in the area of redemption, I would urge you to use the following elements to your life and your relationships so you can find the Goodness of God in the middle of your painful circumstances.

Do:

  1. Assume you are capable of hurting others.  Understand no one involved will ever be faultless in the situation bringing division between two formerly close friends.
  2. Examine yourself honestly and be specific about how you failed either in the events leading up to the nuclear bomb or in the events after the explosion.
  3. Quickly forgive those who hurt you, knowing full well how much God has forgiven you.
  4. Be willing to reconcile but don’t deny your counterpart their opportunity to repent
  5. Refuse to make excuses for your sin. Repentance, ownership, and humility are critical to bringing peace.
  6. Daily offer to your Heavenly Father the hurt and confusion, the hunger for vindication and justice, and the temptation to withdraw your forgiveness as the one who wronged you continues, unrepentant, to defend their behavior.

Don’t:

  1. Believe that lie that forgiveness means you accept or condone someone’s poor behavior or choices
  2. Accept that you are heartless or lack compassion because you have chosen to hold your attacker to a standard of Godliness and accountability
  3. Feed the lie that the only one responsible for the current situation is the one who has chosen to withdraw from the unrepentant party.
  4. Quit praying for the person who hurt you.

And above all, live as children of the light in every kind of goodness, rightness, and truth.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Advertisements

Forgiveness Doesn’t Equal Reconciliation

Awkward hugs are, well, awkward.  Yet, not since hugging was invented can there be displays of affection more horrific than when two people, believing that one phrase can erase both pain and consequence,  find themselves caught in the eternity of seconds as they embrace.  They are living a lie.

What lie?

This one.  If  you “really forgive someone” you’ll instantly be right back at the corner of friendly and awesome.  Our guilty consciences play terrible games with broken hearts. What if we aren’t feeling it but believe the myth of an instant and automatic outflow of warmth, joy, and displayed friendliness because we verbalized three little words.

Admitting you said or thought “I forgive you” becomes the adult version of the Get Along Shirt where the person locked into it with you is the very one who knows the precise location of every bruise.

Forgiveness isn’t a simple mind over matter issue for anyone. The greater the personal trespass on my soul, the more shattered and slivered I become, until, maintaining a focus on intentional forgiveness requires so much effort I often lack the ability to do more than remain very still and make feeble attempts, by sheer determination, to function as normally as possible.

Not all cracks and rifts are equal. Some heal quickly, with minimal scarring, while others will change everything about us.

Simple apologies, a word of forgiveness, alone or even together, will never offer enough substance to rebuild. To be candid, there are no clean breaks between people.  This type of damage is like two pieces of paper glued together then ripped violently apart.  Neither remains whole.  No one can honestly deny the shredding happened. Nobody looks good later.

Those prone to anger get angry and those prone to silence get stony-faced.  Those who weep do so and those who didn’t see it coming sit in stunned quiet for a very long time.yellow hydrant1

There is an abandoned golf course near where I live.  We walk on spongy ground where green plastic mesh shows through what remains of a fairway.  Left to the wild animals and elements, the emerald greens and pristine whites one would expect from the premier course it was intended to become are faded into winter’s dull grays and browns.   Ponds lie half-empty and algae filled while bridges have deteriorated into the skeleton of a place once filled with promise and hope.

An entire neighborhood sub-culture once planned around the idea of resort living in your own home has turned into a graveyard to ambition.

Agreements failed, water rights arguments waxed long and eloquent, until all that remains is only vaguely seen in the atrophied debris of a dream. Investments were lost.  Fortunes shattered.

Now only emptiness and graffiti covered outbuildings with broken windows remain.

Sometimes, friendships are like that.

We have a plan and declare, confidently, that this time we will be beautiful, magnificent.

You are my dream come true!

You complete me!!

Excitedly, we share life and live closely together until there is little more than distance that separates us.

Until… The sharp words, the brokenness, and the thorny places all contrive to drive us apart.  Blindly retreating to our separate corners, shaking off our initial surprise, the silence prompts us to start examining what remains of our dream.

Yet, even when apologies are made there is more we need.   Even if there is no apology and yet, stalwartly, we have walked through the motions of forgiveness in our hearts and minds, something is missing.

ruined course 1

Reconciliation.

This is different from forgiveness in that it requires an apology, the humbled acknowledgement of hurtful behavior and choices, from the offender and the offended must consent to let go of the very, righteous and justifiable right to remain angry.

We have to be willing to become compatible again. Taking the shambles of our friendship, our marriage, our parent/child relationship, and then commit to work shoulder-to-shoulder doing whatever is necessary to rebuild.

The choice to take part in reconciliation happens over and over.

It begins with being willing to recognize, honestly, when someone was wronged. Yet, beyond just seeing, it requires the offender to refuse to hold any personal right to defend their actions.  Even more dangerously, reconciliation forbids the wounded to indulge any vindictive desire to punish their attacker.

If I hurt you, even if I lacked intention, I was wrong.   If you hurt me, even if you fully intended to do so, it is not up to me to ensure you to feel the “full weight” of your actions.

We serve a Judge who sees all and metes out the right consequences in His own time.

I can’t tell you what reconciliation looks like for you and your offender.  There are too many variables.

But without the beauty of reconciliation and the hours, weeks, years even of work it will take from both of you to diligently pursue godliness, you will never, ever see the beauty of a friendship restored, stronger than before, shining with Grace and the worthwhile brilliance of redemption.

Forgiveness will not always lead to reconciliation.  Sometimes the friendship is over and best laid to rest. Yet, it is rarely NOT worth the brutally hard work to rebuild and see God restore the hearts of two people who had previously been at odds.

Reconciliation will always lean heavily on forgiveness. Just as we need oxygen to exist, forgiveness is the fuel driving us to reconcile and find grace, compassion, and kindness within the rubble.

But to say one hasn’t forgiven because there has been no reconciliation is a nasty lie intent on keeping you from seeing the freedom and joy God has for you when you forgive.

When there is no repentance from the one who broke your heart, you can only offer forgiveness. Reconciliation takes two.

reconciliation 

See the rest of the series:

The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Forgiveness

Denial Is Not Forgiveness

Forgiveness Remembers

reconciled

Forgiveness Remembers

Meeting a friend for coffee on one sunny afternoon, I was happily sitting at a table for two surrounded by people busy with their laptops, journals, and losing myself in thought while  conversations buzzed around me in a pleasant hum. I looked toward the front to see her at the counter ordering something decadent as I sipped carefully at a black Grande coffee.  Venti cup, add hot water, no room for cream.

In the middle of this quiet, peaceful moment, a pair of glass and steel double doors opened with a whoosh and in walked That Man.

Instantly, my blood boiled, my heart raced, and my fingers tightened dangerously around a paper cup of very hot coffee.   It took all I had not to stand up and make a scene.

I settled for the deadpan, “I’ve never met you before, you aren’t even interesting, and you mean less than a hairball to me” look.  It somehow seemed appropriate and really helped me not to feel powerless when forcefully reminded of the pain and injustice he represented to me, to my family, and to so many others in this community.

Surely that is what bitterness looks like, right?  How could someone who had forgiven remember a litany of situations?

The dull roar of a thousand sermons rings out that, “Love “… keeps no record of wrongs.” I Cor 13:5 (CJB)

Except, Paul was talking about courtrooms and lawsuits between believers. That, liebchen, that is a whole other kettle of fish.

If it were reasonable, or even POSSIBLE to expect someone to forget when they have been wounded, then there would be no need for a Wonderful Counselor, David would have had no reason to write Psalm 41, and Jesus wouldn’t have whipped money changers.

When all has been forgiven and laid to rest in the past/future, it should never, ever, EVAR be spoken of again.

But, that isn’t how we are made.

When life hurts we store everything about it somewhere deep inside.  Sometimes more clearly than delirious happiness.  Even when we lose the sharpness of a memorized statement, bruised feelings, aching hearts, and bitter tears will echo back through our mind’s eye.

life hurts2

Oh, yes, we remember.

Yet, there is a lie, this one, and it is a bitterly ugly thing:

“Forgiveness means I forget everything you did to hurt me”and this monstrosity keeps us held hostage to unexamined and unresolved, well, everything

And that, oh, THAT is an ugly thing.

Mindlessly standing over a steaming sink of dishes, hands covered in bubbles, heart shredded, I choked out a single statement over and over,

“Brian, they broke me.  How could they break me?”

I will never forget that moment, his pale face, and how powerless and trampled I felt.  It was as though I had been gutted.

Somehow, in spite of all the anguish, many of the faces involved in that moment of excruciating pain have become dear to me again.   We don’t think about that situation or those terrible months very often anymore. We have rebuilt.

There was forgiveness offered and received within weeks of that initial situation.  There has been forgiveness walked out for over 7 years.

But forgetting?  Could we turn hours into emptiness?  Could we force this situation to be simply disappeared from our collective consciousness?  Not possible.

Forgetting pain is not only impossible, I believe it is wrong.

To dismiss the pain endured, survived, or even caused, can carry the weight of losing a priceless opportunity to develop empathy.  Our emotional reservoir for compassion is quickly depleted without a focused, intentional, influx of healthy empathy.

There’s another reason forgetting is wrong.

By not only suppressing the harshness of our experience but abandoning it’s lessons, we lose the wisdom and discernment that can be ours through retrospect. God, who is often invisible to us in the present, becomes very tangible, very real, very present when we see Him from the windows of our future selves.

Practicing forgetfulness makes us lose sight of moments with a distinct potential to become cornerstones, foundations, and hedges of protection.

Building

Fundamentally?  If we are going to be naked here?

We don’t really forget.  We just refuse to look at this ugly thing. By denying it, and pressing it down, hiding it behind a stoic front, and waiting for it to abscess we are setting a timer for our own destruction.  Eventually, it will spill putrid bitterness and impotent rage onto everyone in our path and we will become the very thing we have dedicated ourselves to not becoming.

How can we be different?

Grace demands a higher price than the emptiness of avoidance when it has covered a broken spirit.  Grace demands that we remember and yet, still choose to love.

See, because I remember and yet have forgiven,when That Man crosses my path and I recoil from his unrepentant actions?  I still pray for God’s blessing, kindness, and love to be abundant in his life.

Tomorrow’s Lie:

Forgiveness Means Instant Reconciliation 

See the rest of the series:

The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Forgiveness

Forgiveness Means I Should Pretend Nothing Bad Happened

Forgiveness Doesn’t Equal Reconciliation 

forgiveness remembers

Denial is Not Forgiveness

7 Don’t delude yourselves: no one makes a fool of God! A person reaps what he sows. 8 Those who keep sowing in the field of their old nature, in order to meet its demands, will eventually reap ruin; but those who keep sowing in the field of the Spirit will reap from the Spirit everlasting life.” Galatians 6:7-8 CJB

“If you really forgave me,” she said, “You’d just go on like nothing happened.  If you don’t, you are judgmental and don’t have any compassion. What a bitter person you are!”

“If you were a real Christian you would leave it in the past.” he said, scowling behind a face full of anger and frustration.

The lie being shouted into the tender, hurting places is this:

Forgiveness means I pretend nothing bad has happened.

All too often this gross and terrifying perversion of truth becomes the mantra by which women keep getting beat up, men return, broken and crushed, to unfaithful wives, children abused in silence, and we all keep working diligently to please those who are unwilling to acknowledge that any of their own behavior was destructive.

We exchange the kindness and grace of forgiveness for a contract to endure further abuse in silence and it’s a contract signed in blood, tears, and heartache.

So, here’s the truth of it.

When Joseph’s brothers beg him for forgiveness, in Genesis 50:17, they are asking him to take a stand “above it” and to “lift off” the weight of the trespass.

When used in the New Testament, forgiveness speaks of letting go of a “mutual claim” or  “sending away” the offending issue/person.

That my friends, is how we approach our Lord, is it not?  And we are to be like Him!!

“…one who has been forgiven only a little loves only a little.” Luke 7:47b CJB

In the life of a Christian forgiveness is a requirement to live honestly.

I only need to close my eyes for a few seconds before a litany of my own desperate need for grace, the many times of broken promises to love Him and my neighbor, the moments (and years) of weakness, un-gratefulness, unkindness rolls across my mind’s eye…

When I think of His great love and compassion, a Divine and unending benevolence when I deserve it so little, then offering that kindness to another for their actions becomes a much more simple concept.

I know I have been forgiven much.  I will love much.  I choose to do so.  I must.

Yet, this can never mean I am going to walk, blindly, head-on into a sucker punch when I know that is how you roll.

Every blow after the first becomes a choice to accept abuse.

Forgiveness is not denial

Having gained something from our shared experience, which you might call criticism, judgmental, or bitterness, our relationship is irrevocably changed.

Through wisdom and hard-won discernment I can forgive you wholeheartedly and still walk cautiously around you.  But, I didn’t arbitrarily change the situation, you did.  We did.  Whether by something we did or didn’t do, we’ve changed course.

Forgiveness has nothing to do with the offender.  It has everything to do with me recognizing the inflicted pain of your actions and choosing to let go, lifting the burden and putting into hands far greater than mine.

I do this so bitterness won’t find fertile soil and the poison doesn’t spread to the rest of my soul.

Honestly, forgiveness is the easy part.

Repentance and reconciliation are much harder, although they will seem effortless when compared to the process and beauty of restored relationship.

But, repentance looks backward just long enough to see the deviation and recognize the harm done before determining to acknowledge, apologize, and make a radical 180 degree change.

And unless we look back at the carnage, we can’t reconcile.

Without reconciliation, there will be no restoration.

Tomorrow:

“Forgiveness means I forget everything you did to hurt me”

Series:  The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Forgiveness”

Denial is Not Forgiveness

Forgiveness Remembers

Forgiveness Doesn’t Equal Reconciliation

The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Forgiveness

the lies

We are standing on the sharply tilted deck of the Titanic while musicians play through frozen fingers and pluck away at icy strings in ankle-deep water.

No hope.  Very few survivors. All hands went down with the ship.

Or something like that.

Although, full disclosure, we know the band probably didn’t play and engineers had been ordered out of the boiler room and might have survived.

You get my drift….

The relationship is finally over, twitching and flinching, the avoided calls or unanswered texts have ceased only to be replaced by thundering silence. An underlying issue left unseen in the distance, or ignored in a fit of Pollyanna denial, has destroyed a once promising companionship.

You are sitting on your couch, or at Starbucks, or walking down a lonely dirt path, and pondering, “How did we get here?”

If you are like me, you will rate and analyze every action or reaction that lead up to the unfortunate series of events and ask this question a thousand times:  “What could I have done differently?”

Or, more honestly,

“Whose fault is this, anyway?”

Sound familiar?

But, I wonder, what if things end with us NOT blaming ourselves? Maybe it pans like this?

We experience a dawning revelation about the importance of this flesh and blood person across the table.  They are just a person we have put up on a pedestal and their opinion matters too much.  We have allowed ourselves to fall into unhealthy patterns of co-dependence, nurtured the ugliness of a messiah-complex, or, because it’s easier to keep a destructive relationship than to build a healthy one, have stayed within pain without purpose through just plain laziness. None of these are uncommon struggles, friend.  Welcome to humanity, y’all.

Perhaps the constant chaos of someone addicted to drama, constantly screaming issues in your face, is no more than a carefully constructed manipulation meant to keep you too busy to form a reasonable response and leaves you in a survival mode that insures you will never leave.  Isolated within the prison of an emotionally dominating relationship, required to give all social, emotional, and relational needs for this other person we are stretched too thin, strung to high.

When you finally wake up to the ugly truth that anyone who refuses to recognize your carefully worded and  clearly communicated limits or boundaries, who refuses to respect you is NOT your friend. Then the conversations get tense.

At this point? I shut down and shut folks out.

But maybe, here at the edge of the cliff, desperately still holding out a hand, hoping for a glimmer of compassion from the people you had invested so much into, you try to prove they are able to show some empathy or kindness for anyone but themselves.  When it becomes clear they aren’t capable of  what you hope for?  Any pipe dream you may have held onto of  preserving something of all the time, effort, love, and energy you have invested will simply dissipate.

To make matters worse?

What  if they blame you for the self-inflicted pain, frustration, and unresolved angst.  There we are wallowing around like we are in some weird game of blind man’s bluff.

Maybe, finally, wrestling with God and trying to find joy again, you catch a glimpse of the faint fingerprints of Salvation carefully pressed into your own life. It reminds you of a sweet, kind, and gracious God. Inexplicably, dreams may begin to stir within you and the unavoidable truth, even if it is a cliche, “let go and let God”, gives you strength to walk away.

Behind you, angry screams get louder and louder…

Hey, navigating life with people in it is a full-time sport for some.  For others it’s the difference between survival and mere existence.

In my book, and maybe I am too linear, I would say there is no “unforgivable sin” in friendship, except one, the unrepentant defense of destructive behavior. 

With or without words.

We all screw up,  saying and doing stupid things.  For whatever reason, there have been times that insulting, offending, or hurting someone we care about has seemed justifiable.

Yet, instead of apologizing, acknowledging idiot choices, what if I deny it happened, pretend it’s all in your head, or throw blame at you for what I chose to do? What if there is always an excuse or someone else to blame for every bad decision or failure?

Just like that, friendship can dissolve like a spider web in a grease fire.

“Surely, you must ‘forgive and forget.’”, whispers the guilty voice inside.   Every relationship seminar or book we’ve read reverberates with “Love covers a multitude of sins.”

We know how second-guessing chips away at our confidence and solid determination can waver when incessant criticism of the unrepentant for the newness of our stance and personal conviction eats like acid into any hope for reconciliation, right?

I want to jump in the ring with this issue and fight it. Perhaps not Greco-Roman style, but in a less naked, more intellectually impressive type of wrestling.

Truth and freedom are worth fighting for and those ugly, quickly built, easily broken lies can’t handle the pressure.

Stay tuned tomorrow when I start three-part series titled:

“The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Forgiveness”

I don’t know everything about being a good person, friend, wife, parent, or follower of Christ.  But what I am learning is that sometimes…

Big Sigh…

Sometimes, leaving a relationship looks more like Jesus than staying ever could.

Read the whole series here:

Denial is Not Forgiveness

Forgiveness Remembers

Forgiveness Doesn’t Equal Reconciliation 

Practice Love

butterfly pinDad said to marry for love the first time and money the second so, almost 20 years ago, I took his advice. However, it wasn’t until we were well on the way toward the end of our first decade that we really settled into this thing called marriage.

I love butterflies and have a collection of pins and pendants.  These little creatures symbolize new beginnings and it is beautiful how God is faithful to give us the new even when we don’t believe we deserve it.  And, in this whole love thing?

Boy, do I need new beginnings often!

We used to would plan a date night, pay a babysitter, and then argue about Every.Thing for a couple of hours before coming home to collapse on opposite ends of the couch and watch something dumb before heading off to bed with mumbled apologies and lacerated hearts.

Then there was the season where we just stayed home all the time.

It was better, since we weren’t in the argument phase so often, and the budget required us to live quite simply so the urge to head out and spend more was less tempting.

Fast forward to now.  We live in the era of the Independent Teen.  The boys could be gone 5 nights a week, if we let them, and there we are with plenty of time to spend alone. Sometimes it feels like too much, frankly.

In spite of, or maybe because of the freedom of our lives, at this season, we still schedule date night.

Wednesday nights, while the boys are gone to their church group, we go out to dinner, wander thrift stores, stay home and watch silly movies, we laugh a lot…  Sometimes we sit at a coffee shop for a couple of hours, like we did yesterday, and “sharpen” each other by debating different angles of some philosophical argument.

It is brilliant.

One Wednesday night, not too long ago, as we aimlessly meandered through the Pendleton store looking at blankets in brilliant colors and bold patterns, I tucked my hand in his arm and sighed.   It was finally easy to just hang out.

The kids didn’t need me. My phone wasn’t ringing, ding-ing, chiming, or clanging.  We had no plan and no need for one.  Just laughter, joking, hand holding in the cold, and us.

How did it change?

We practiced loving each other when it wasn’t easy.  We made a choice to stay in the conversation, to keep trying this together thing, even when it wasn’t much fun.

lovepracticeJust because we didn’t see an immediate result didn’t mean we should quit.

Love takes practice.   Like medicine and law.

Basic relationship guidelines of honor, respect, compassion are set in stone, but the rules of engagement change more often than a UN soldier’s allegiances.

We formed a habit of practicing something until our dynamic improved.  The problem wasn’t date night, it was us.  To be honest, more often than not, it was me.

I wasn’t “in the moment”.  There we’d sit.  At a restaurant while I was on my phone, head down and mind preoccupied.  Maybe I was thinking about 12,000 other things that really didn’t matter.   Often, I would interrupt him mid-sentence and, after I completely got it wrong, he would lose his train of thought and we’d argue about how rude I was, I would be defensive, he would be offended…

What a mess.

I wish I could say I stopped doing all these things and I am the world’s most attentive date.  But that would be a big, fat lie! Especially that phone thing.

Yet, here’s the secret:  We didn’t and we don’t stop trying to make it better. We didn’t and we don’t alienate each together when we are ugly.

Bluntly, we didn’t quit.

On that cold winter’s evening, in a puff of frozen breath,  squeezing his arm and putting my head to his shoulder while we scurried from the door to the car, I laughed,

“Hey, we’re finally good at this whole date thing!  I’m glad we kept practicing.”

He pulled me close and said,

“Me too.”

Five Minute Friday – Encouragement

Five Minute Friday

Encouragement is not and never will be empty flattery. It is never found in the “high-five-atta-girl” bouncing off jaded, deaf ears.  Those lies fall flat when carried to the insatiable vanity of the affirmation addict clamoring for attention.  They never satisfy a compulsive applause junkie within itching for a quick fix of false adoration.

Encouragement is a dirty-fingered hand reaching into my dark pit and giving me something real, something true to hold, when eyes squeezed shut, not certain if I can really believe the kindness being showered over me in the darkness of my stumbling, I hesitantly reach back  and hold tightly to kindness.  Encouragement lifts me out and beyond.

Encouragement resonates, like your child’s cry in the watches of the night.  Do you recognize that specific cry? The one for comfort, for love, for kindness, for guidance.  Unable to run from this raw certainty, you face it.  You cannot help yourself.  You recognize authenticity in genuine encouragement or feel the distaste, the oily residue of self-inspired and indulgent, empty words when they are smeared across your heart. Their intended goal to ingratiate. To create an unnatural bond their inveigled purpose.  

Encouragement is a gift from a bottomless well of love found  best in the outflow of the River of Life.

Stop

There’s really only one absolute, no ifs, ands or buts about it Five Minute Friday rule: you must visit the person who linked up before you & encourage them in their comments. Seriously. That is, like, the rule. And the fun. And the heart of this community.

Do Teenagers Still Have Brains? (PART 1)

One of the most common complaints I hear from fellow parents of teens is:

 “They don’t listen!” followed closely by, “What was she/he thinking!!!”

I hear you, folks, my friends in arms.  Have you tried charts, threats, consequences, and begged for acquiescence until, exhausted,  you withdrew to separate corners in stony silence. Have you been so exasperated you were tempted to order the discipline system advocated by that annoying advertisement where the lady asks if your child ever said “I hate you!”?

Where did your sweet, engaged boy or dancing laughing, wing-wearing, little princess go?

Sadly, we shake our heads as reticent, emotional, self-absorbed strangers, apparently eager to argue every point for the sheer pleasure of the friction and distress they cause, replace our little ones!

I sat in the big leather chair with my feet up on the armrest while we debated vigorously over which issue, violence or immorality was more ethically compromising in popular culture and the visual arts.

Throwing out statistics, observations, and a truncated understanding of human nature, he cited school shootings and the sharp uptick in graphically violent video games as the assertions of his argument. I countered with observations of how our popular culture shares a view of self-serving relationships, romance, and sexuality, all of which are advertised and marketed as “normal” to the eager and desperate masses, while these same “values” work more effectively to inhibit relational stability and emotional security.   We interrupted and talked all over each other until, finally reaching a point where we felt we had communicated well enough, both of us learned a few things.

It was exhausting.   I mean, seriously, I wanted nothing more than to lie down with a cool cloth on my temples while light music played in darkened rooms. I waxed positively Victorian.

The man-child? He was beaming.  Invigorated.

How?

First, it is necessary to attempt to understand the mind of a teenager.  We can’t simply remember the feelings of personal experience and memory we must seek to understand the perspective of those thoughts.

As a parent with a child in this state of mental, emotional, spiritual transition, you have, most likely, not been a teen for quite sometime. Memories are tricky things.  Deep emotional responses will feature more prominently than any rational response during the same incidents. You may find your “no one understands me” memories a stronger reflective internal dialogue on the mentality of that particular season of life than the 1+1=2 facts of what actually occurred.

Developmentally what is happening to our young men and women?

Firstly, if properly nurtured, the past 10-13 years in their lives have been a rich and full season of gathering information, absorbing language, mastering basic skills and general education followed closely by gaining relational survival methods.  Now they believe they are ready to begin examining, evaluating and defining their life’s accumulated knowledge and experience. It seems a good time to build a foundation of personal standards defining righteousness for themselves and the world around them as well as eliminating those things from their world which are deemed unworthy of their time or attentions.  Naively, they dive in with the passion and zeal reserved for those who have no idea how much it can hurt.

core teen imperative

Time and opportunities to gain wisdom have dictated, to those of us with sprinkles of silver in our hair, a simpler understanding of life:

All is not what it appears and grace is more useful than right-ness. 

We live in more gray than we do in black and white.

The teen brain’s needs to dialogue, question, & evaluate are as much a core imperative as the longing they once had to cuddle in our arms and sing silly songs in a baby lisp.

Surely it would be a disservice to this group of idividuals if we failed to recognize the physiology in flux and the Six Flags Amusement park on a summer weekend that encompasses the chemical gymnastics happening in their brains.

Robert J. Hedaya, M.D., D.F.A.P.A., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University Hospital and Founder of the National Center for Whole Psychiatry, writes in an article for Psychology Today,

“…under the influence of massive new hormonal messages, as well as current needs and experiences, the teenager’s brain is being reshaped, and reconstructed. Information highways are being speeded up (a process called myelination), and some old routes, closed down (this is called pruning); some are re-routed and reconnected to other destinations. And above all, old information highways are making lots of new connections to other highways, and other cites and towns (this is called sprouting). It’s a massive construction project, unlike anything that occurs at any other time in life. In such as situation, things rarely flow smoothly, and surprise destinations thrive. This reconstruction explains why the personality and stability that was evident just a year or two before adolescence recedes, and suddenly new perspectives, and reactions abound.”  (Full article HERE) (Emphasis mine.)

This phase of tying together seemingly unrelated thoughts is, to their developing mentality, a crucial step in the developing their sense of self, individual identity, and consequentially, precedes solidifying adult personality and character.  This is a part of the process which makes possible the faith beyond “…that of a child…” which the Apostle Paul speaks of in his epistle to the Corinthians.

 But, what does this mean and what  do I do with it?  

Come back in a bit  for my conclusion to this thought process as well as a comparison of a popular Christian book on parenting with the Art of War by Sun Tzu, ca 544 B.C.E.

Story Line –> Of Marriage

wedding bandMarriages can either end by mutual consent or one partner outliving the other.

Neither way is gentle.  Neither leaves us unscathed.

I come from a long line of one and only loves.   Both sets of grandparents enjoyed 50+ years of marriage, large families, and long lives before Grandma was left alone.  My parents celebrate 54 years this fall.  She’s still his girlfriend.  He’s still her prince charming.  Both are incomplete when separate.

Despite all of Hollywood’s lies this kind of love isn’t easy.  It can’t always be romantic and delightful.  This love walks through the fire of near fatal accidents leaving one person crippled and the other worn from care.  A love that fuels the determination and internal strength capable of drawing a young mother across 1930’s America on a bus with 3 small children, a bag of oranges, and a nickel to be reunited.

This is love that lingers while life leaves her in a wheelchair, hair scraped tightly against her tissue paper skin, present day forgotten, calling his name to deaf ears.  “Jake! Jake!’

Oh, the stories I’ve heard from men and women who loved long until their very lives were transformed by the intermingling of personality and the conjoined development of unified character and common purpose. Their faces lined with years softening as they thought of the person who had shared so much life with them.

This fall I celebrate 19  years to the best man I’ve ever known.  The seasons ebb and flow with joy and laughter, pain and silence, a time for unity, and another for identity.   The only constant has been our presence as children came and grew, houses changed, circles of friends expanded and retracted, family fluttered around the edges.  Despite his imperfections and my selfish demands we have remained present.

If I could share only one thing about marriage with my sons it would be this simple truth:

Remain present.

You may be married with gritted teeth or wallowing in the beauty of young love.   You could find yourself in situations that test every ounce of dedication and strength you possess.  You might wear a ring for years, married on paper, while the ashes of love drift off in an ignored gale force of misunderstanding, selfish ambition, and personal disappointment.

You may be in a season of goodness, remain vigilant.

What if all the high and lofty ideals crash around in a torrent of disillusionment and heartache and you are left with an empty wallet, a shattered dream, or the temptation of another who might give you all your wife cannot, remember….

You can choose to stay in bitterness or you can choose to stay engaged. You can choose to walk away with half your soul behind you or you can choose to find the “good thing” God says a wife is.

You choose.  Marriage is hard.  Never lose sight that it is work worth doing.

My dear sons,  you have a legacy that goes back as many generations as I know that says you can.   Through an overland trek from the Black Sea to Norway followed by an Atlantic crossing in a cattle boat during Bolshevik Russia,  through homesteading the Dakotas, and finding a new life on the West coast during the clouds of the Great Depression.   Through foreign travel, pastoring small churches,  and the modern day hustle and bustle of life.   Through the lens of a culture that says people are disposable and love is what is found in novels and on screens.  Quickly lit, quickly faded, gone. We have endured.

You can too.

You choose to love.  You can choose to give up.  Both hurt.

One looks like Jesus.

You choose.

Join us over at Story Line with Kathi at Lo*ly*gag!  A great link up where we share life stories we want our kids to know.