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), Introduction (Part 2)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.

Tips of Grace

Not too long ago, LeSean McCoy, running back for the Philadelphia Eagles, was singled out by a restaurant owner for leaving a lousy tip.  The receipt was pictured and placed on the web to embarrass and shame him for his action.  According to McCoy, the service was terrible and the low tip ($.20) was all that was deserved.  In tipping poorly, McCoy made the statement that you get what you deserve and waiters & waitresses must earn their tip.
receipt3Another story that reached headlines was about Steven & Makenzie Schultz, who received less than stellar service due to the busyness of the restaurant.  Their wait was longer than most typical Americans would handle well.  In fact, they heard many customers complaining and saw some even walking out.  So, what did they do?  After a long wait and meal time, they gave their waiter way more than what was deserved… a $100 tip.

These two stories show two different approaches to similar experiences of poor service (though most likely not identical).  One approach is that a reward (tip) is based on earning it.  The other is giving a reward regardless of whether it was earned – which is based in mercy.

Whether they knew it or not, the Schultz’s demonstrated grace, that is, unearned favor. This tip of grace was given to the waiter, even though he was unable to perform to the standards of the customers.  The Schultz’s were aware of the waiter’s inability to measure up to these standards.  Their patience combined with their concern for his well-being led them to act with their grace-filled gift.

This act is an illustration of the grace that God gives to us…His unmerited favor for those He loves…us.  We know we will never be able to measure up to His standards of being righteous on our own.  It is impossible.  Yet, though we are incapable of measuring up to these standards, He is patient with us, and His great love for us led Him to act with giving us an unmerited gift of Jesus Christ.

Just as the waiter accepted the gift of the tip (though he knew that he hadn’t earned it), we are also given the choice of accepting the gift of Jesus Christ.  When we accept (believe in) Him (His death for our sins), we are stating that we cannot earn our way to heaven and we accept His sacrifice for us.  Jesus earned which we could not – eternal life in heaven through meeting the standard of sinlessness.  And we are given the gift of eternal life based on His merits and not on our own.  This is what it means to be “saved by grace” (Eph 2:8-9).

May we accept this grace given to us by God through Christ and may we demonstrate this same grace to others who have not earned our respect, love, tips, or our favor.

Video

GRACE FOR THE BROKEN

BROKEN
“When I try to look at the term [broken] in particular, I think it is saying that something was right at one point. There is a model out there for the way it is supposed to be and this is not the way it is supposed to be. Something is broken. And then the question is, ‘Can it be fixed?’” – Ed Welch

Is there any concept that is a greater reality in our life today? World issues spiral out of control, national crisis continue to grow, local communities become corrupt, and our families are being ripped apart. Brokenness takes center stage in defining our core identity. Many strive to fill this void and continually watch their dreams get shattered. Is there anyone or anything that can speak into this deep despair? These are questions and concepts that will be entertained at this year’s biblical counseling conference, Grace for the Broken. Be sure to visit our vimeo page, http://www.vimeo.com/foundationscounseling, each month (leading up to the conference) for the latest interview video on what Dr. Ed Welch has to say about this year’s conference topic.

WHAT TO EXPECT
Foundations Christian Counseling Services (FCCS) is excited to be hosting this year’s biblical counseling conference in the Mt. Pocono Region at Innovation Church, 6048 Paradise Valley Road (Rte 940), Cresco, PA. Join us on March 29th, 2014 for a time of reflecting on God’s grace for the broken. Seating is limited, so be sure to register online while space is available.

Registration will begin at 8:30 AM. Complimentary breakfast refreshments will be available during the registration and breaks in-between sessions. Registration can be completed on-line by visiting our website, http://www.foundchristcounsel.org, and clicking on the conference image. The link will take you to the conference page which contains details regarding the day’s agenda, guest speakers, session topics, and location. Follow us on facebook, http://www.facebook.com/foundchristcounsel, to stay connected with the most recent updates.

We hope to see you at the conference!

Finding Hope Through Grace Part II: A Relevant Co-Sufferer

hope

Pain and hopelessness are feelings that are common to everyone. It is a good possibility that one of the earliest memories of your childhood includes a “crisis” that brought on significant amount of pain. The fact that we live in a broken world with broken relationships assures us we will not walk very far into life without experience a significant amount of pain. Even in scripture we see pages after pages of lives that are filled with pain. Take Job for instance, or King David. They were true men of God yet their lives were full of intense pain. How did they find hope to carry them through their suffering?

In Part 1 we talked about the importance of perspective and how it can change our outlook on a situation. Balaam was angry at his donkey for not moving forward, until God opened Balaam’s eyes (Numbers 22).  Balaam’s anger quickly turns to remorse and gratitude for God’s grace in sparing his life.  I can frequently respond in anger because of painful situations that occur in my life or I may become anxious and feel hopeless when my life does not seem to be going the way I want it to. However God has to frequently enlarge my perspective to understand what He is doing in my life.

The psalms frequently display this larger perspective that is given by God. In Psalm 142 we see David crying out to God about his troubles in a very personal and direct way (1-4). He asks God to come into the midst of His suffering and acknowledges that only God can truly rescue him (5-6). Another interesting point about this Psalm is that his desire is to praise and worship God and not simply to relieve his symptoms. Even though the Psalm ends in the midst of the suffering experience with no response from God, there is a sense of hope. David is comforted not by God taking away his present suffering, but by reflecting on the person of God, “for you will deal bountifully with me”.

There is no person or thing that can provide more comfort than leaning into the arms of a gracious God. I know I am saved by God’s grace and I am daily reminded that I need God’s grace to continue in life, but the Grace that gives me the most hope is the Grace that I look forward to. As God’s children we have been promised every spiritual blessing in “heavenly places” through the person of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3).

God often has to remind me that here on earth I am to expect suffering because sin has left its thumbprint on the earth I walk on, the body I live in, and the relationships I interact with. God is in the process of restoring me to Himself and at times that means suffering, but I have a confident hope that one day I will see Him face to face and finally experience the full Grace of God. Then I will see clearly as all my suffering is put into perspective by HIS GRACE which He has LAVISHED upon me (Eph. 1:7-8). If you want to know the hope God provides through the riches of His Grace cry out to Him and invite Him into your suffering.

Psalm 142

You Are My Refuge

A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave. A Prayer.

 1 With my voice I cry out to the Lord;

with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.

I pour out my complaint before him;

I tell my trouble before him.

When my spirit faints within me,

you know my way!

In the path where I walk

they have hidden a trap for me.

Look to the right and see:

there is none who takes notice of me;

no refuge remains to me;

no one cares for my soul.

I cry to you, O Lord;

I say, “You are my refuge,

my portion in the land of the living.”

Attend to my cry,

for I am brought very low!

Deliver me from my persecutors,

for they are too strong for me!

Bring me out of prison,

that I may give thanks to your name!

The righteous will surround me,

for you will deal bountifully with me.

Christ-Reflecting Biblical Counseling: Part 1

bibleIn preparing for a Biblical Counseling Conference, I stumbled upon a blog from a woman who had been raised in a fundamentalist Christian Church.  In reading her experiences as well as some experiences of others who have been raised in a fundamentalist church, I am grieved by how many people who are “put off” by supposed “Biblical counseling” and even moreso grieved at the misuse and abuse of God’s Word, especially by fundamentalism Christianity.  Let me share a few thoughts on how, I believe, true Biblical Counseling reflects Christ:

1. True Biblical Counseling is administered by humble individuals who are willing to come alongside the sufferer as a fellow sufferer.  Philippians  2 reminds us how Christ humbled himself, became like us, and walked with us on our level.  He did not stand above us to condemn us (even though we deserve this), but came along side of us, even becoming a servant and considering us better than himself.  In humility, there is listening more than advising.  In humility, there is love for the person and not judgment over the person.  In humility, there is a willingness to enter the person’s world.  In humility, there is also biblical instruction, but the instruction is always clothed in love.

2. True Biblical Counseling is about counseling God’s Word as it is intended.  God’s Word is not a set of rules and standards in which we must  live so that God will be pleased with us.  Therefore we must not use God’s Word in such a way (the 10 Commandments were to show how salvation can only come from God and not from obedience to the law).  The Scriptures are God’s inerrant & inspired Word that share how a holy, loving, and righteous God demonstrates His grace (unmerited favor) on us through Christ.  That through faith, we may have a relationship with Him.  Though we pursue Christ-likeness, this can only be achieved by Him working in us through His grace and Spirit, and not through heart-less actions of obedience.  God’s Word must be used in Biblical Counseling, but it must not be used as a book of standards to force upon people, but as God’s book which reveals His holy character and abundant love to us so that we may be in relationship to Him through grace, by faith.

3. True Biblical Counseling is not simply about sharing God’s Word, but it is about the manner in which it is shared.  When we look at the life of Christ and his interactions with people and sufferers, we see several things: 1) His interactions with those who were seeking God (Zaccheus, Peter, Mary (who washed his feet), etc.), involved in sin (Woman at the Well) and even those who have been caught in sin (woman caught in adultery) as compassionate and loving.  Yet, at the same time, 2) though Jesus made himself available to the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, and He even ate with them at times, his harshest words were for them…for the self-righteous who were not compassionate and loving towards others and who saw His Word as a Law to uphold to earn the favor of God.  In counseling, most people who enter our offices or churches are those who are involved in sin.  Yet they are also seeking God (Why else would they come to a biblical counselor?).  Therefore, our counsel must be clothed in compassion & love.

These are only some thoughts on how Biblical Counseling must also be Christ-reflecting.  Stay tuned for Christ-Reflecting Biblical Counseling: Part 2 for more thoughts.   What would you add or challenge to these thoughts?

A Grace-Based Marriage

Two gold rings - reflected candlesIs your marriage based on works or on grace? Let’s be real, shall we? You are married to a sinful person. Your partner is not only imperfect, but they can be self-centered, lazy, forgetful, vindictive, make poor decisions, and well, fill in the blank. Now let’s get more real. You’re not the picture of perfection either, are you? For some reason, that seems far less of a concern because your spouse is worse, or at least, “causes” these…imperfections to come out in you.

Throughout the Scriptures, there are several common and related themes mentioned in the Old Testament and New Testament alike. First, we (believers in Christ) are the Bride of Christ and He is the Bridegroom. Second, our marriages are a reflection of the greater marriage between Christ and the Church. Third, our relationship with God is characterized or built upon grace and not upon works. Therefore, if our marriages are to reflect the greater marriage, than our marriages must also be built upon grace, and not upon works.
How do we have a marriage that reflects God’s grace and not upon works? Let me offer one question to ask yourself:

Do you have expectations for your spouse?  Are you focusing on what your spouse is doing or not doing?  If so, you are focusing on their works.  You set up standards for them (law of works) and your attention is drawn to whether they met them or not.  If they fail, they will be punished (by you) based on their failure (being yelled at, dirty look, no sex, etc.).

Then, is it wrong to have expectations for your spouse?  No, not necessarily.  Obviously, it is appropriate to have certain expectations for your spouse.  For example, you should expect them to be faithful, to treat you with kindness and respect, to love you, etc.  However, there are standards and expectations that may be placed so high that they become idols in your heart.  In these situations, you become high king or queen of the home and your spouse becomes your subject that must meet your expectations.  Your focus then is placed from yourself and then onto them and their actions.

Instead of focusing on what they are doing or not doing (and whether they meet your standards/law), focus on 1) how gracious God is to you by forgiving your sins (or you not measuring up to His standards); 2) ask His help to love your spouse as He loves you (not based on your actions); and 3) give your spouse the grace (the unmerited favor) He has given you.  Unmerited favor is just that – favor, mercy, or love that is not based on what they have done, but on who they are (at minimum, being created in His image or being a child of God).  Though you may find this difficult to do, seek the Help of His Wonderful Counselor.

May the God of grace empower you to do as He wills through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Playing Golf with Jesus

In June, Foundations Christian Counseling Services held our 2nd Annual Golf Tournament to benefit the Karen Hoffner Memorial Fund, our scholarship program to reduce the rates for low-income families in need of Biblical counseling. This is a written summary of the message given:

How do you deal with making bad shots in golf?  Do you get mad at yourself?  Do you curse or throw your club?  Do you shrug it off?  Does it mess up your confidence level?  Do you carry your failure from hole to hole remembering it at each shot?  Henry Longhurst, a renowned British golf writer and commentator said, “No man can succeed at golf until he has mastered the art of not permitting one bad hole, or indeed one bad shot, to affect the rest of his game.”

What are the worst things that you have ever done?  You know what they are because you carry them in your memory only to be brought up on occasion to feel the guilt and shame and then to be buried again.  One terrible shot can bring us down for a hole.  A series of terrible shots may cause us to give up the game.  But it is the one good shot that keeps us coming back.  In life, one big mistake will bring us down awhile.  A series of mistakes may keep us down and ashamed for the rest of our lives.  Now there are some good things that we do that keep us in the game, but at best, they do not bring about what we need to play perfectly.

In golf, the perfect score is 18.  A hole in one…every hole.  You may, at best, get 1 hole-in-one, but for 18 holes it is impossible for us.  In life, the perfect score is O.  If every sin is a stroke against us, it is impossible to obtain.  Today, we played in a four person Scramble.  We each took our turns and made our best efforts to get as close to perfect as we could and we went with the person who had the best shot (or best ball)…the one that’s closest to perfection.  In life, we are in a two-person Scramble.  It’s you and Jesus.  In order to get to the 19th Hole of Heaven and the Trophy of Eternal Life, you need to score a perfect score.  This is impossible for us.  With each stroke we take, we fall short of that perfection.  The only way we can receive the prize is by Jesus’ efforts alone.  He met the standard of perfection.  We might as well put our own efforts down, lay down our clubs, and let Jesus do the work that is required…for the only work that we must do is believe in Him and accept the work that He did for us on the cross.  This can be difficult as we want to do our part, but our best shots (and efforts) end up being unplayable.  

Remember those things that you did in the past that you carry with you and cause shame?  All of those acts can be wiped clean.  You can begin a new round in life with Jesus.  Just ask Him to be your partner in the 2 person Scramble of life, lay down your clubs, and believe.