When You are Disappointed in Yourself

sad man

“I can’t believe I did that…again.  I am so stupid! Why can’t I stop!  Why did I say that?  Why did I do that?  You’d think I’d know better.  Loser.  Idiot.  Stupid.”

If we talked to others the way we talk to ourselves, would we be called bullies or abusers?  Self-criticism and self-condemnation are frequent occurrences when we mess up in speech or actions.  The thoughts of messing up or failing quickly turn into name calling and character attacks.  A simple “I can’t believe I did that” turns into “I am stupid.”  The focus goes from a criticism of the action to an attack on the person.  We may then judge ourselves to be incapable and unworthy.  Being disappointed in ourselves often leads to anger towards ourselves.  Anger turned inward often leads to depression.

Being disappointed in oneself is fairly common.  As long as we’re human and imperfect, we’ll mess up.  We’ll fail.  We’ll make poor decisions, and we’ll do it over and over again because we think it’ll be different this time, we forget, or we don’t care.  It’s no wonder that the Scriptures liken us to sheep, the world’s dumbest animals.

Why do we find it so hard to accept that we fail often?  Why is it equally as hard to differentiate between failing and being ‘a failure?’ Losing and being ‘a loser?’  Doing something stupid to being stupid?

If you’re disappointed in yourself often, here are a few things to consider:

  1.  Expectations:  What did you expect when you messed up?  Most people would agree that “nobody’s perfect,” but that doesn’t mean they believe it.  Or perhaps we would agree that we aren’t perfect, but we should meet a certain set of standards. We should do better, be better, or perform better means that we shouldn’t mess up, fail, or do a bad job.  We should learn from mistakes and shouldn’t make them over again.  Whenever we do what we shouldn’t, we are disappointed with ourselves because we fail to live up to our standards.
  2. Accepting Reality:  Failing is probably the one constant that we fail to accept.  We say, “I can’t believe I did that!”  Well, why can’t you believe you did that?  Do you think that you are incapable of messing up?  Do you expect that you wouldn’t or couldn’t mess up?  We ought to “think soberly” about ourselves and neither think too highly of ourselves nor too lowly, but instead to be realistic (Rom 12:3).  We are not the “me I want to be,” that is, the ideal me.  We have to accept who we are, and that means accepting that we are imperfect beings who make bad decisions at times, who choose to sin, and who fail in actions, words, and relationships.  Accepting this is important.
  3. Worth & Grace:  We make “worth statements” when we are disappointed in ourselves.  If we call ourselves names (“Idiot”) or condemn ourselves (“I’m so stupid”), we are judging ourselves and essentially declaring our worth (or worthlessness).  Instead of focusing on the action or decision (“that was dumb” or “I could have done that better“), we may focus on our personhood (“I am so stupid“)… and believe such statements.  We assume such judgments about ourselves are truth, and so our disappointment with ourselves turns into anger, then depression. Yet if our worth were to be found in our actions (successes or failures), not many of us would have much worth in ourselves as we make mistakes, poor decisions, and sin on a daily basis.  Although it’s appropriate to be convicted over sin, our condemnation has fallen upon Christ, therefore we do not need to condemn ourselves (Rom 8:1).  We would also do well to have the same mindset as Paul who states, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me” (I Cor 4:3-4).  He does not judge or condemn himself, but recognizes that responsibility belongs to the Lord.  He has learned to live by grace, which is to give and receive favor that is not based on actions, neither is it earned by successes or limited by failures.  His worth is defined by God’s favor, and not his own actions or words of other people.

I never knew how difficult parenting would be.  I’ve made poor decisions. I’ve been self-centered in many decisions.  I haven’t always loved well.  I haven’t always shown Christ to my children.  I look back and wish I could have a do-over, because maybe it would be different.  And so, I live with regrets and disappointment, knowing that I have failed in many ways.  And yet, even if I could have a do-over, I also believe I would mess up in both similar and different ways.  Why?  Because I am imperfect.  I am a sinner…and God hasn’t completed His work in me yet.  This is hard to accept, but accepting it is a must.

When we deal with disappointing ourselves, identify your expectations (recognizing the words “should” and “shouldn’t” will give you a clue!), accept the fact that you are a work in progress who remains broken, imperfect, sinful, and unfinished (Phil 1:6), and believe that your worth is not defined by your failings or your self-declarations (“I’m stupid”), but through faith in Christ.  Speak the Truth to yourself (Truth is defined by His Word, not your feelings), and stop listening to yourself.  Only then will we begin to overcome our disappointments in ourselves.

If you found this blog helpful, feel free to click on these links for more of the “When You Are Disappointed…” Series.

When You are Disappointed with Your Life

When You are Disappointed with your Spouse

When You Are Disappointed in God

 

 

 

When You are Disappointed in Your Life

Bruises on forehead. Domestic violence“This is not the way that it’s supposed to be.  My life was not supposed to go like this.  I should be in a different place.  I should be with different people.  I should have been born in a different era, to a different family, in a different country, with different physical traits or mental capacities.  I should have been richer, taller, or skinnier.  I should have a better job, a better spouse, better kids, or better parents.  I should be happier, but I’m stuck in my life and unable to escape the hole.  It is what it is.”

Do any of these thoughts sound familiar?  If so, you may be disappointed in your life.  It’s not that there is only one thing that stinks, but perhaps many things that just aren’t what you expected or desired.  It’s also not that there is anyone else specifically to blame for the disappointment as if someone did something that ruined our lives (though perhaps there are some runners up).  Perhaps it is more a series of events that have unfolded which seem to have brought you to this Life of Blah.  If you’re dealing with general disappointment in how your life has turned out, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Life can certainly be difficult when you are in difficult circumstances and have difficult people in your life.  Maybe you feel like you can’t make them happy.  Maybe they cause suffering in your life and you don’t experience the happiness you would like because of them.  Remember this, if you live to please other people, or even to please yourself, you will frequently be disappointed.  Why? Because they will never be pleased 100% of the time.  And if we look inside ourselves, we also see that our hearts are also never satisfied.  We always want more (Read Paul Tripp’s book “The Quest for More” on this topic).  And as we always want more and are never truly satisfied with what we have in this world, we will always be disappointed.
  2. Although there may not be any person that has caused such disappointment in your life, there is one constant in all of your circumstances and relationships. To put it bluntly, that constant is you.  What you believe will affect how you perceive your life. How you perceive events in your life will effect how you react or respond to situations.  Disappointment stems from your beliefs.  If you believe you should receive a life without suffering, any struggles will be perceived as unfair, unjust, and unwelcome.  You will be disappointed because you did not receive what you thought you should.
  3. You have many options on what to do with this life.  When some people consider that their life simply stinks or is horrible, some people only see two options: 1) Live a horrible life without happiness; or 2) commit suicide (see my blog Considering Suicide if this is what you are thinking).  These are not the only two options.  Life can get better, but it is a series of many decisions over time that you must choose.  One such choice is to choose to live a better life.  Life is not something that happens to you, it is a gift given by God.  So choose to live it.  Make living an active verb, not a passive one.  You can overcome because Christ has overcome for you (John 16:33, I John 4:4).

My mother-in-law has many mottos to live by.  One such motto is this, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.”  And if you don’t get what you want, she’d say, “too bad, so sad.”  This little bit of tough love demonstrates what we need to hear from time to time. We don’t get to choose what happens to us in life, but we do get to choose how we respond.  Disappointment is a typical human emotion brought on by certain desires or expectations that don’t come to fruition, but how we respond will either reflect our faith and trust in God’s will / plan for our lives or whether we are constantly grieving that our will was not done.  I am reminded of the lyrics of Horatio Spafford’s hymn, “It is Well.”  After losing his daughters in a sinking boat in the Atlantic Ocean, he visited the location and penned these words: “When peace like a river attendeth my way. When sorrows like sea billows roll.  Whatever my lot, Though has taught me to say, It is well. It is well, with my soul.”  Horatio’s peace and joy did not come with the right circumstances or the right people in his life, it came because he had the right trust in the One whom is in control and who makes good from the bad.  This is how we deal with the disappointment in life.

For more in the “When You Are Disappointed” Blog Series, click on the Below Links:

When You are Disappointed in Your Spouse

When You are Disappointed in God.

When You Are Disappointed in God

One of the most read blogs I have written is “When You Are Disappointed With Your Spouse.”  I guess this blog has been read often because in marriage, we are often disappointed.  Our spouses, quite frankly, let us down.  Forgotten anniversaries, thoughtless gifts, unspoken or harsh words, not listening, inactivity in the children’s lives, not romantic, etc.,  are all ways we are disappointed in our spouses.  We’re disappointed because they fail.  They disappoint us because they are sinners.  They disappoint us because our expectations are unrealistic.  And after such disappointments we are left with the task of dealing with our disappointments.

disappointed statue

Spouses aren’t the only ones who disappoint us.  If we are honest with ourselves and God, we are disappointed with Him.  It’s not that God sinned against us, but there are times we some feel as though God has wronged us.  The death of a loved one. Sickness.  A lost job.  A wayward child.  A cheating spouse.  Any form of suffering that we feel is undeserved, unwanted, or untimely is a ticket to Disappointmentville.

As we wrestle with our disappointment with God, it’s important to look at a few questions: Why are we disappointed with God?  What did we expect or want from Him? What do we need to do to overcome our disappointment?

First, “Why are we disappointed with God?”  This is an easy answer for most people. We’re disappointed because God didn’t do what we think He should have done.  We conclude He made the wrong choice or a bad decision and if I had a choice, the outcome would have been different…even better.  We might argue, “If I was in charge, this wouldn’t have happened.  A better decision would have been ______.”   Or maybe we might say, “He (She or I)  didn’t deserve this.  He did all of these good things and he should have been rewarded or blessed, not given more suffering!”  Such questions doubt God’s goodness and wisdom and proclaim that we know better or are more wise than He.  Yet these questions are honest questions as we wrestle with pain and suffering outside of our control.

Secondly, “What did we expect or want from Him?”  There are multiple answers to this question, yet perhaps all the answers can be summed up in this: Not this.  If we say that we (or another) didn’t deserve what they we through, we expected Him to be like the boss who is obligated to give what is owed, such as a paycheck for work performed.  If we say we wanted a life without suffering, then we expected heaven on earth.  Or if we say we had dreams and God messed them up, then we expected Him to be compliant with our dreams.  Any time we are disappointed with God, we wanted or expected something from Him, and He did not comply with what we thought would be best.

Finally, “What do we need to do to overcome our disappointment?” In other words, How do we deal with it?  Many have chosen to distance themselves from God for an extended period of time.  Disappointment quickly turns to anger and anger leads to 180 degrees from God and towards self.  This can lead to depression or outright defiance against God. So, what can we do?

First, be committed to work it out with God.  Don’t settle for being disappointed and distanced from God.  Our natural tendencies may be to avoid conflict with God (or others) because we do not want to deal with the pain of the events that led to the disappointment.  But if you aren’t committed to working through this, there may be additional hardships caused by such avoidance (anger, hurt relationships because of anger, etc.).

Second, humble yourself before Him.  Confess your feelings, thoughts, and accusations to Him.  It is not okay to be angry with God, but if you are, tell Him out loud (sometimes we need to hear it expressed out loud).  Then repent.  Remember that He is God and we are not.  Reread Job’s arguments to his “friends” and to God.  He also did not feel as though he deserved any suffering he received. Yet God’s response to Job (Job 37ff) involved Job’s need to repent and humble himself before God.  Without humility, you cannot overcome your disappointment with God.

Being committed to work through the disappointment and humbling ourselves before God puts us in a place for the third step: Challenge your theology.  Challenge your idea of what good means (Mark 10:18).  Is God good all the time (& all the time God is good) (Ps 100:5)?  Can He be good even when I am hurt? Can good come from what is bad/evil (Rom 8:28-29)?  Is God wise (1 Cor 2)? Does He know what He is doing (Ps 147:5, Job 21:22)? Is His way perfect (Ps 18:10)?  Do I know best or does God (1 Cor 2:16, Is 55:8-9)?

Finally, trust Him.  This will be difficult to do if we don’t first humble ourselves and challenge our theology.  In order to deal with our disappointment with God, we must believe that He is greater, wiser, trustworthy, faithful, all-knowing, compassionate and good.  Does God have a plan? Yes.  Do I need to know and understand what God is doing for it to be OK with me (Prov 3:5-6)? No.  Is God good? Yes.  Is what happened good? No. Will He turn it into good? Yes.  How? We don’t know.  Will you trust Him anyway?  It is only when we believe in the character and promises of God that we can deal with our disappointments with God and move forward in our relationship with Him.

I’ve had a conversation with a man who lost his wife to cancer.  He and several children suffered greatly at her death.  As we discussed the loss, we discussed several perspectives.  One, that his wife was taken away from him by God.  The other perspective is that the Lord did not take her, but received her by His grace and made a promise that he will see her again through faith in Christ.  It is because of the character and promises of God that brings hope to the disappointed.

Friends, all of us will be disappointed with God, probably many times in our lives, because He does not do what we want Him to do. Let me encourage you to continue to work out your faith and disappointments and draw near to Him who compassionately hears.  Our ways certainly are not His ways, but God is good, God is Love, and God will not leave you nor forsake you.  And if you need assistance, feel free to set up a time with one of our counselors.  www.foundchristcounsel.org

(If you found this blog helpful and wish to share it and perhaps, help others, please click one of the links below to share!  – Fred Jacoby)

Black & White Thinking in Relationships: Differences in Men & Women

Below is Part 10 in the Black & White Thinking Series.  Please click on the respective links for Parts 1-9:  Part 1 (Introduction), Part 2 (Biblical Lens),  Part 3 (Grace),  Part 4 (Mental Illness), Part 5 (Depression), Part 6 (Anxiety), Part 7 (Pride), Part 8 (Christian), and Part 9 (Anger).man and woman head

Men are from Mars.  Women are from Venus.  Men are like Waffles.  Women are like Spaghetti.  There is no doubt that men and women are different, yet both men and women can be Black & White Thinkers.  And even though there are some similarities in the sexes with Black & White thinking, there are some differences as well.

SIMILARITIES

To review, Black & White Thinking involves processing events and situations as “all or nothing,” “either – or,” or “right or wrong.”   This type of thinking over-simplifies all the ins and outs of situations and reduces them to basically two choices.  Since there are only two choices (good or bad, right or wrong, etc.), it is important to meet the standard (successful/good), or else you fail (failure/bad).  While standards can be good, setting standards without a measure of grace is unwise.  Black & White Thinking may lead to setting high standards for others and criticizing them when they fail to meet them.  Such interactions will cause others you are close to to feel insecure, lonely, and resentful.  In situations of abuse, Black & White Thinking combined with pride is always present.

DIFFERENCES

Generally, men and women who think or process things in Black & White do so differently because they are created male or female.  Hormones, societal norms, and past events and relationships will certainly influence how one perceives, processes, and performs (acts).  These influences will also impact the amount of Black & White Thinking that is present in the individual.  Typically, the greater the hurt, broken relationships, or trauma of the past, the greater the Black & White Thinking may be in every area of life.  In all cases, when Black & White Thinking is combined with pride, it is about my way, or my will be done in the relationship.  It is important to be mindful of these laws (expectations / standards) as they can harm the relationship and cause hurt feelings, fears, and resentments.

Ladies First

In general, women seem to be more relational (and probably less Black & White as a whole) than men. I believe this is because women were created by God to be Relational. This conclusion is based on the ability and plumbing to give birth and bond with their children through breastfeeding.  In addition, the Creation order and reasons for Woman to be created seems to suggest that woman was created FOR relationship (Gen 3) with man. Therefore, I would conclude that women seem to be created to be more Relational, in general.  So it would make sense that either women are more Relational and less Black & White in their thinking, or, at least, the content of their Black & White Thinking may be more relationship oriented.   For example, in many Black & White Thinkers with whom I have spoken, the Black & White Thinking in women often occurs as “relational laws.”  In other words, your husband MUST love you (love is desired by women, whereas respect is more desired by men) by spending time, serving, etc. That becomes the right way and only way to love, and your husband must do this or a punishment (criticism, withholding sex, etc.) will be given.  Either you love me this way (which is rightor you don’t love me (which is wrong).  Demanding love (instead of desiring it) thus becomes an idol of the heart.  This idol is held on to because she knows she is right, but in holding onto it, she becomes wrong.  This can turn into being controlling and will cause damage in the relationship.

Some questions for female Black & White thinkers: What if your husband was loving you in other ways?  Why are these other ways dismissed as wrong?  What relationship laws have you set in your heart? How do you respond when you don’t get what you want? 

Men, Your Turn

Although the same Genesis account shows us that Adam desired companionship and, I believe, wanted to be IN relationship (It was not good that man was alone – Gen 2:18), man was not created FOR relationship like woman (unless it is a relationship with God), but instead was created FOR work (there was no one to tend the Garden -Gen 2:5, 15).  But to be clear, relationship is important and necessary for men to learn, grow, love, and become like Christ.  In addition, although women were created FOR relationship, they were created to be equal with man, and not FOR man to do as he wishes. If the Black & White Thinker believes that his spouse is created FOR him, to please him and make him happy, he is outside of God’s plan for marriage.  Like women, male Black & White Thinkers also have “relationship laws,” but these laws are not about being loved, but about being respected. When these desires become demands (from desiring respect to demanding obedience), however, the laws will become overbearing to spouses.

Some Questions for male Black & White thinkers: What if your wife is honoring or serving you in other ways?  Why are these other ways dismissed as wrong?  What relationship laws have you set in your heart? How do you respond when you don’t get what you want?

Final Thoughts

The differences above are not meant to be comprehensive, by any means, but outline areas where God has created men and women differently (men desiring respect and women desiring love – see Eph 5 and the book, Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs).  “Relationship Laws” are essentially expectations and standards set for the other person (or maybe for oneself), that when unmet, result in criticisms or “advice” for the other person.  The goal is to make the other person into your image of a perfect spouse (as if they are created to make you happy or fulfilled).  However, our goal is not to get others to meet our standards, but for us to seek after Christ and be changed so that we become like Him (the full image of God).  Future blogs will continue to address other relationship issues that occur in relationships with someone who is a Black & White Thinker.  What would you like to know more about?  Write any questions of comments below…

Black & White Thinking in Anger

Here is Part 9 in the Black & White Thinking Series.  Please click on the respective links for Parts 1-8:  Part 1 (Introduction), Part 2 (Biblical Lens),  Part 3 (Grace),  Part 4 (Mental Illness), Part 5 (Depression), Part 6 (Anxiety), Part 7 (Pride), and Part 8 (Christian).

angry-dude

“You’re always doing that!”  “You never (fill in the blank)!”  “That stupid, #@!*%!”  You probably don’t have to look too far in the distant past (perhaps minutes!) to think about the last time you’ve been angry.  Anger is a universal emotion that all of us feel at different times, some more often than others.  Anger is an emotional reaction or response to situations or circumstances that we find are unfair, unjust, or simply wrong.  Being created in God’s image means that we will experience the emotion of anger as He does, though admittedly, our anger is often tainted by our sin and not as righteous as His.  Throughout the Old Testament, God’s anger and wrath is poured out on humanity for sins against Him and against others.  In the New Testament, we see God’s anger and wrath poured out on His Son for our sins.

There are several themes of anger that are fairly consistent with the Black & White Thinking.  These themes include 1) being right vs. wrong (meeting a standard), and the 2) difficulty of reconciliation.

BEING RIGHT vs WRONG (meeting a standard or expectation)

There are two points that are worth mentioning about rightness and wrongness that are reasons Black & White Thinkers can become angry: 1) What is right and 2) The need to be right.

  1. First, anger typically occurs when something happens that we know is not right. Since we are created in God’s image, we essentially are created to become angry at sin (wrong).  If you learn of sexual or physical abuse to children, do you become angry at the perpetrator?  Of course you do.  It is how we are made.  Ultimately, we ought to be angry at sin and evil and at all the things with which God is angry.  Yet, since sin entered the world, our anger has not been totally aligned with God’s anger. Instead of being angry at sin, we are more prone to welcome sin into our lives, and our anger shifts from being angry at the breaking of God’s law (sin) to the breaking of our own laws (expectations or standards).

We don’t need to look much further about anger than the story of Jonah, who, after running from God, finally relented and preached to the Ninevites to repent and turn to God.  After he delivered this message of repentance, he waited, hoping that God would wipe them off the face of the earth.  And when God didn’t give the Ninevites what they deserved, Jonah became so angry, he even wished death upon himself. Jonah was angry at God because God did not meet Jonah’s standard/expectation/law.  God SHOULD have wiped them out, because it’s what they deserved, but He didn’t.

Our anger is not much different than Jonah’s.  We get angry at ourselves because we did not meet our standards for ourselves.  We get angry with others because they did not meet our standards and expectations.  We get angry at God because He did not respond the way we think He should have (BTW, the word “should” is a buzzword to let us know that we have a standard or expectation).  Just this morning I got angry at a driver at my sons’ school for parking in the dropoff lane.  Why?  Because that’s the dropoff lane.  That’s the rule!  And he was breaking it, causing a backup of multiple vehicles waiting for him to follow the rules.  He should have known better!  He should have been more considerate of others!  You get the idea.

So, our anger has shifted from God’s law being broken (sin) to our own laws (standards/expectations) being broken, and when that happens, others deserve our wrath.  Or perhaps, these laws are not our own laws, per se, but societal laws (driving laws, etc.) or even unwritten laws (you have to wait in line with all the other cars when merging from 2 lanes to one).  In all cases, we feel justified because they did wrong according to the laws, and since we believe we are in the right, they are all “idiots.”  And, of course, being in the right can certainly feed self-righteousness.

2. When pride enters the picture (which it does for all of us), the need to be right in our own eyes and in the eyes of others often gains momentum.  Black & White Thinkers think more Right and Wrong or Good & Bad, and when pride reigns in the heart, admitting wrong is equivalent to being bad.  Some Black & White Thinkers feel the need to be right and find their esteem in being right.  When being right becomes more important than anything else, anger is often used to keep others quiet so as to remain under the illusion that they are right.  Anger, then, is used more as a control tactic to silence others and remain in the right…often by being wrong.

DIFFICULTY WITH RECONCILIATION

Anger is typically resolved when there is a good process of reconciliation.  Reconciliation often occurs when there is an acknowledgement of wrong, a seeking forgiveness (which often comes from brokenness for hurting the other person), and then followed by a change in behavior that comes from the brokenness. Reconciliation also occurs when forgiveness is granted combined with the willingness to move forward and work on trust. Granting forgiveness for past hurts may be difficult for some Black & White Thinkers since forgiveness is not a concrete concept to grasp, and to grant forgiveness would seem to “go against” the works related theme, “you get what you deserve” (as opposed to the grace related theme, ‘you don’t get what you deserve’).  Since the other person doesn’t deserve forgiveness and hasn’t earned it, forgiveness will not be granted, and anger can resume.   Individuals who hold to this belief do not grasp that forgiveness can never be earned, but is freely given; nor is it for the other person, but is actually for God (and us!).  Just as we will never deserve God’s forgiveness, others will not deserve ours.  But as we forgive as God has forgiven us, we are released from our anger and freed from resentment.  At minimum, the Black & White Thinker’s form of forgiveness may simply be to just not think about it anymore, but this falls short of actual reconciliation as discussed above, which involves the emotions of hurt, brokenness, and love.  When these emotions are not worked through, anger can remain the dominant emotion.

Is acknowledging wrong and apologizing enough to reconcile and move forward?  For some, yes, because apologizing is a tangible action (words) and corrective actions may be taken to show the other person change. Some may not find a need to apologize, but simply to recognize where they may have been “mistaken,” correct the mistakes, and move forward.  This seems more like a “taking responsibility for actions” type of response (though ‘mistaken’ is not admitting wrong), yet it certainly falls short of “taking responsibility for the relationship” type of response. Some Black & White Thinkers don’t recognize that apologies help heal any brokenness that exists in the relationship.  And some more severe Black & White Thinkers have an extremely hard time even being broken over their sin as they cannot empathize with those they hurt.  This is because these emotions have not been felt themselves for a very long time because they are uncomfortable and painful.

Some additional reasons for anger in the Black & White Thinker include situations perceived as being unfair, anger masking depression, or anger being used as a defense mechanism to protect oneself against hurt.  Protecting against being hurt is learned early in life, and some say causes Black & White Thinking.  Though I won’t say it is a cause, it can certainly be a heavy influence leading Black & White Thinking to increase, and thinking Relationally to decrease.

Anger is a universal emotion that we all experience.  Just as has previously been written in anxiety and depression, Black & White Thinking can certainly be present in anger as well. If you see this thinking in your anger, think some more about the situation.  When does it happen?  What laws/rules are being broken? What expectations do you have?  Then look at your own heart and how you have not met God’s expectations either and are deserving of the same anger (times infinity) you have towards others.  Yet in His love and grace, His anger was poured out on His Son instead of you.  Other people may be wrong, but so have I been wrong…many times.  Thank God for His grace and love on undeserving people like us.

The Black & White Thinking Christian

Here’s Part 8 of the Black & White Thinking Series.  I would encourage you, at minimum, to read Part 1 (Introduction), Part 2 (Biblical Lens), and Part 3 (Grace) before reading this blog.  Part 4 (Mental Illness), Part 5 (Depression), Part 6 (Anxiety), and Part 7 (Pride) can be read by clicking the appropriate links.

black-and-white-puzzle-profileWhether in the counseling office, at church, or at home, all of us either know a person who thinks more Black & White, or we are one.  Christians are as different from one another as the rest of the world are from each other.  Our shared beliefs in Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, & our trust in His Word unite us together to live out our faith together at a local church.  Yet, how we live out our faith can be very different than the next person.  How we interpret Scriptures, perceive events, and treat our fellow Christians will partly depend on whether our thinking is more Black & White or Relational.  This particular Blog is more about how the Black & White Thinker lives out their faith.

As stated in previous blogs, Black & White Thinkers often focus more on the fruit (the actions & behaviors) than they do the heart (motives, desires), although the heart is certainly acknowledged. Typically, in the heart of the Black & White Thinking Christian, the motives tend to be more focused on the importance of obedience to the Word / Law (you can also exchange “law” for expectation or standard) and living a life that demonstrates this.  If you are not obedient, which is right, you are disobedient, which is wrong.  And if you are wrong, consequences are deserved.  And basically, this would be correct.  The Black & White Thinking Christian emphasizes obedience in his or her Christianity, yet may have more difficulty feeling or understanding the relational component that is also important in the Christian faith.  While some acknowledge that Christianity is not about religion, but a relationship, the relationship is often lived out by works, which may tend to lean toward religion.

“I’m a Christian.  I believe all Jesus did for me.  Now, just tell me what to do and I will do it.”  Devotions and service, for example, stem from the desire to be a good (not bad) Christian. Relational individuals will focus more on God’s love for them and their love for God as motivation for doing something for Him, and may tend to de-emphasize the obedience to God.  Black & White Thinking Christians tend to focus more on obedience to God and have difficulty with less concrete things such as the feelings and emotions of faith.  According to Jesus’ words in John (14:15, 23), “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” or “obey me.”  This verse captures the love of a Black & White Thinking Christian towards God…it is demonstrated mostly through obedience.

One of the main concerns of Black & White Thinking Christians in the church and in family life is that grace becomes a license for people to sin and do what they want (see Romans 6:1-2) . This is one of the reasons grace is a difficult concept for many.  If you give grace (a relational concept) to others, then others will take advantage, they won’t learn, and they will be more disobedient.  If fellow Christians live by grace (as opposed to obedience), they will not act regularly according to His Word.  Since obedience is such an important dimension of faith, grace seems to stand in contradiction to obedience.  What the Black & White Thinking Christian needs to comprehend on a greater level is that while remaining true to being obedient to God, it is God’s grace that empowers such obedience. If you haven’t already, please read the Blog on Grace & the Black & White Thinker for more on this…

While recognizing that overemphasizing grace (some call it cheapening grace) and overemphasizing obedience (religion) is a danger to our faith, Black & White Thinking Christians ought to be cautious of not judging others by the standards of obedience. Obedience is certainly important in the life of a believer, but it is not the standard by which others are measured (as good/real or bad/fake Christians).  Christ’s obedience on the cross is the measure of obedience necessary for us to be considered righteous by faith.

One additional caution for Black & White Thinking Christians is to recognize that relationship is just as necessary as obedience.  This relationship between God and us was made possible only through God’s love and grace (“We love because God first loved us” – 1 Jn 4:19), and was never made possible through our own actions.  We will never be able to earn God’s favor, love, or attention through our works.  Therefore, all of us, Relational and Black & White Thinking Christians alike, need to remember to focus specifically on Him and His love and Grace through the cross, and not focus on our own or other people’s works.  Our treatment of others must reflect our relationship with God through Christ, based on His grace and mercy to us, and not on whether others are obedient or not (good or bad Christians).

Finally, I would also argue that paying attention to the vertical relationship with God through Christ will help us to be able to acknowledge our own blindness.  Often, while focusing on obedience to certain standards, we can be blinded to the relational commands in Scripture.  For example, we may speak truth to those who are disobedient,  but we are often blinded to the fact that in speaking truth, we do not speak it “in love” (Eph 4:15). When speaking the truth overshadows the “in love” part, the truth spoken ceases to carry any weight of the Truth (with a capital “T”).

Black & White Thinking Christians are very important to the Body of Christ.  Although I’ve mentioned some weaknesses and cautions, let me share one significant strength as well. The Black & White Thinking Christian’s passion to stand for the Truth and the Word of God is exemplary, and often guides and challenges others around them (hopefully in a good way). Though personal feelings may heavily influence interpretation of a Relational person, feelings are typically submissive to the Truth with Christian Black & White Thinkers. Any feelings that are present are more of a response to Truth (or of other people’s not believing the Truth) than an actual guide for discovering or learning Truth. Without this anchor to the Truth, the Christian faith can easily become watered down if we gave in to the demands of “feel good” culture or even the fears of our hearts.  If we cannot stand with the Truth, we will fall with this world.

There is so much more that can be said of Black & White Thinking Christians that has not been said in this blog.  Hopefully, in reading the series, additional insights can be gleaned throughout that can bring some clarity to our differences in our world views.  My hope is to one day put all this together into a resource for many…

(Note: The Black & White Series is based on observations and conversations with many individuals in the counseling office and beyond, and includes various insights into the Scriptures as well.  While not stating all that is said in these blogs are Truth, the series is meant to be a starting point for further discussion and perhaps help us to understand, love, and live out our faith and relationships better.  That being said, I would love to dialogue with you and hear your thoughts and add to the discussion and one another’s understanding.  So, in that spirit, let me ask you: What other areas do you see are different for the Black & White Thinking Christian?  What challenges or questions do you have that you can add to the discussion?  I hope to hear from you soon!)

When Black & White Thinking is Ruled by Pride

This is part 7 in the Black & White Thinking Series.  Click on these links for Part 1 (Intro), Part 2 (Biblical Lens), Part 3 (Grace), Part 4 (Mental Illness?), Part 5 (Depression), and Part 6 (Anxiety).

pride-comes-b4-a-fall

Let’s be honest, pride is something all of us have.  I’m not talking about pride as in “taking pride in our work” kind of pride.  No, I’m talking about the self-centered, self-aggrandizing, self-focus, all about me kind of pride.  The kind of self-centeredness that all of us have inside of us, thanks to that inherited sinful nature all of us have received from Adam & Eve.

Our pride and self-centeredness manifests itself in different ways.  At times it occurs in subtle ways that nobody really notices, such as in our unspoken thoughts.  At times it can be disguised in our kindness to others, while we are doing the acts for our own benefit. Other times, it is seen and heard by others in comments, conversations, and actions.

While pride is present in everyone, all of us seem to have one or two areas that seem to be displayed more frequently than other areas.  Authors Paul Tripp & Tim Lane, in their book, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, describe many areas of pride that are present in our lives.  They are self-centeredness (seeks attention & approval), self-rule (seeks to be right, in control), self-sufficiency (seeks independence), self-satisfaction (seeks pleasure), self-righteousness (seeks to be right in eyes of others), & self-taught (seeks to give opinion). Personally, as I look at this list, I see all of them in me, though self-centeredness and self-satisfaction seem to be more prevalent in my life.

As previously mentioned in other blogs, Black & White Thinkers simplify their judgments into whatever is good/bad, black/white, or right/wrong.  When pride is present, admitting wrong is tantamount to being wrong or bad.  And if you “can’t” be wrong, than you must be right and others are wrong.  When pride reigns in the Black & White Thinker, self-righteousness and self-rule are often the two highest heart struggles on the list dealing with pride.  The need to be right and to be right in other’s eyes lends itself to making justifications, excuses, blaming, etc. for personal actions in order to convince themselves and others that they are in the right (and others in the wrong).  Truth be told, all of us do this, Relational and Black & White Thinkers alike.  However, when pride reigns in the Black & White Thinker’s heart, the justifications, blaming, and excuses are regular occurrences.  Additionally, if being “right” is considered “good” and being “wrong” is considered “bad” (heart), then the tendency to look at self as better and others as worse is demonstrated in bragging, insults, and criticisms (fruit).

Similarly, I had mentioned that Black & White Thinkers are likened to the Pharisees in Scripture who obey the “law” or standards.  That is, anyone who falls short of obeying the law deserves punishment.  The Pharisees started with God’s Law, and then added thousands of other laws on top of God’s laws so that the original laws would not be violated.  When Black & White Thinkers make their own laws or standards in their own homes and then require others to follow them, they can become controlling through criticisms and conflicts, and they may look down upon others who don’t meet their standards.  This occurs in emotionally or physically abusive relationships.  Their laws or standards are high for others, and they can’t admit to being wrong, so their actions and beliefs are justified, excused, or blame is placed elsewhere.

Of course, it is important to note that abusive relationships are more likely to occur when pride REIGNS in Black & White Thinkers, not if pride is simply PRESENT.  The presence of pride in our lives means that we are fallen humanity living in a fallen world.   The reign of pride means that we are completely absorbed in ourselves and we are moving towards what psychologists would call narcissistic.  In order to keep pride from reigning in our hearts, it is essential to recognize that we are indeed wrong (sinful) and that it is OK to be wrong. That doesn’t mean that we are to pursue wrong-doing, of course, but simply to expect it as fallen human beings.  Our wrongness, per se, does not impact our value or worth as humans, but it does help us recognize the great love Christ has for us which is not based on our wrong-doing, but on his love.  This is the path to humility.  As we recognize and believe these things, and we seek Christ, he begins to change us inwardly so that pride does not reign in our hearts.

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6, Prov 29:23)