Monday, July 25, 2016

Have You Gone From Having Control to Being Controlling?

            Pick up any magazine, self-help book, or watch television for only an hour, and the message is clear: Take control of your life! Take control of your finances! Take control of your retirement! Reading and watching all of that Take Control! can make you feel so inadequate and out-of-control that you’re driven to make instant amends and talk yourself into doing whatever it takes—right then and there—(or at least by the next day), to take control over whatever you’re not in control of. (Even if you’re not quite sure what that is.)

A Realistic Goal?
            While trying to get control over your life can be honorable, it isn’t always practical or realistic. World events cause your country’s stock market to crash, leaving you with only a piggy bank-full of retirement savings—and only a year away from retirement. (Can anyone say, “Remember the meltdown of 2008, from which we really haven’t yet recovered?”) Or the doctor calls to give you the dreaded cancer diagnosis. How did that happen when you were feeling so great!? There’s been a horrendous accident and a relative has tragically died. He was so young and energetic, how could something horrible like that happen to someone wonderful like him? You’ve discovered your happy marriage was only deemed “happy” by one spouse in the arrangement (you), and the other one has just unexpectedly sent you divorce papers, at your son’s engagement party, no less. (If you think I’m kidding, I assure you that these are all real life situations I’ve either been a part of or had intimate acquaintances or family members experience.)
            As much as we try to convince ourselves we’re in control over our lives, there’s a short little Bible verse correcting that erroneous thinking. It can be found in Proverbs 16:9 and it says: “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (NKJV).
            So while you’re busy laboring and planning and planning and laboring, the world might be undoing, and God may be directing or re-directing. And, yes, He can certainly help you fulfill your plans. So, as much as we like to think we’re in control, ultimately, we probably aren’t, and whatever does turn out exactly the way we hoped and planned only turns out well because God made it happen or allowed it to happen. The world would call that “lucky”, but I call it blessed.

The Controlling Sex: Are you a high control woman?
            Men and women alike want to feel as though they’re in control. But within the last forty years, a lot of marketing real estate has been devoted to women taking more control over their lives.
            But control can insidiously evolve into controlling, and for some mysterious reason, women have a tendency to migrate into the latter behavior. I think they learn it from an early age—how to manipulate their fathers, and, by being allowed to do so by said fathers, learn how to manipulate men, and their husbands. Then, if they are blessed with children, watching over, nurturing, and keeping their children safe evolves into controlling them, too. If the women are perfectionist types, or Type A personalities, this controlling behavior gets even worse, and, honestly, drives everyone in the home nuts. What is it about the X chromosome that drives women to herd, control, badger, manipulate, and cajole?
            “But I’m not controlling!” you claim. “I make suggestions, in a loving way.” (And you make your suggestions using your most controlled voice tone and congenial smile, too, right?)
            Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how loving your tone, or how sweet your smile, that suggestion is going to sound like a must-do, an expected, and the receiver is going to feel manipulated.
            I remember a conversation between a mother and her son that my husband and I were privileged to be listeners to a couple of years ago. This dear, well-meaning friend of ours is what could be best described as the ultimate helicopter mom. And, man, does she know how to pilot her parenting helicopter!

            As her 20-year old son tried to express his thoughts, concerns, and desires to her, she kept interjecting these "Well, why don't you...," and "Maybe you could...," "Have you thought about...," "It might be better if...," and "What if...," statements. Well meaning statements, but misplaced and definitely untimely. As she inserted her opinions and "suggestions," his eyes glazed over in frustration and sadness, his hands clenched and unclenched, and his body stiffened, and then sagged. After inserting several "I know, Mom, but..." attempts that she either ignored or failed to notice, he finally gave up. Gave up not only on being heard but on being understand and respected. Her suggestions shut him down, and it was clear it wasn't the first time this kind of interaction had occurred. It was uncomfortable, frustrating, and sad to watch. Both my husband and I wanted to "ride in" verbally and rescue him. We tried on a couple of occasions to add encouraging and supportive comments to his thoughts, but my friend didn't get the hint. Standing next to him, she probably couldn't see the sad expression in his eyes, or witness his body language. But to my husband and me, who were standing in front of him, we witnessed the full-on effects of the "discussion," and it was heartbreaking.

           There are several passages about drippy wives in Scripture, too, and they’re not appealing. From Proverbs 21:19, we learn that: Better to live in a wilderness than with a nagging and hot-tempered wife. Then we zip over to Proverbs 25:24 and read: Better to live on the corner of a roof than to share a house with a nagging wife. And the verse spoken to parents in the Book of Ephesians is one I often remind myself of, just before my mouth is primed to make a suggestion, or belt out my opinion of my child’s behavior, words, or attitude: “Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them.” Yes, sometimes a prompt, firm word is necessary and warranted, but more often, a tongue biting and well-time appointment with your Creator in your prayer closet, out of ear shot of your child, are the recipe for perfect rather than disastrous parenting results.

      On July 13-15, Nicole Unice and Karen Ehman, who are also moms, were interviewed on Family
Life Today radio. They’ve just published books about this subject, (She’s Got Issues and Letting Go of Control, respectively) and it’s worth listening to these interviews. I recommend you click on the links and listen to the broadcasts. While they’re chatting, see if you recognize any of your behaviors in their discussion. Be honest with yourself.

Day 1: “Motivated to Control”

Day 2: “Vying for Control”

Day 3: “Surrendering for Control”

 Self-examination time
            After you’ve listened to this interview, ask yourself some personality-dredging questions:

1. What kind of tone do I use with my husband when I speak to him? (Is it condescending, patronizing, or respectful and loving?) And beware: Your children are listening to you, and they will likely follow in your footsteps with their mouth, with both their spouses and their children.

2. What kind of tone do I use with my children when admonishing or teaching them? (Their ages may play a role here, but because they are people created in the image of God, just like you, they deserve love and respect, too, no matter what age they happen to be.)

3. What kind of facial expressions do I use when I speak to my husband or children? Does it convey love? Grace? Mercy? Irritation? Cynicism? Rejection? (I once heard a counselor suggest that as soon as you go into irritation mode, and chuck out some nasty commands or responses, that you sprint to the bathroom to check your facial expression in the mirror. It isn’t pretty. And that’s what the other person sees. Not only do they hear your words, they see your heart through your eyes and facial muscle contortions.)

4. Is the suggestion I’m dying to interject at the optimal moment in the conversation helpful or nagging? Loving or degrading? Am I giving my husband or children the benefit of the doubt? (I think parents and wives so often tend to assume the worst and don’t give our spouses or children the credit they deserve. After all, you’re not the only person in the house who came equipped with a brain. Just because they view the situation differently than you do doesn’t necessarily mean you’re right and they’re wrong. The danger of being prone to assuming the worst is your spouse or children eventually learn that no matter what they tell you, you won’t trust or believe them anyway, so what’s the point of trying. Essentially, they give up—on their relationship with you, and perhaps with God. You’ve pestered and irritated your way out of any sincere, loving relationship with them.)

5. Am I practicing good listening skills and really hearing their hearts? Or am I more interested in getting and having my own way, (which, of course, is THE BEST way to do things)?

6. What’s the most important outcome to this discussion—understanding, mutual respect, and love, or my ability to control the outcome, the situation, and the other person?

            These are just a half-dozen questions to ask when your control freak switch snaps on. I’m sure you could think of another half-dozen or more to add to them. But spend some time analyzing and practicing these, and see how much different—and hopefully better—your marriage and family communication dynamics become.

            Wanna hear a secret? I personally waffle between being controlling and being easy-going and compliant. I really can shift dramatically between a controlling Type A personality to an artsy, whatever-the-spirit-moves-me-to-do Type B. Must drive my husband and kids nuts, since they never know which mood I’m going to be assuming on a daily, or hourly basis. (Must be my ADD tendencies.)
            But I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the reasons I swing to controlling is that I never really felt like I had any control when I was a kid. I felt more like I was controlled. And when I had the opportunity to finally be in control of myself, or think I was, I swung completely out-of-control! I couldn’t modulate. I was like a kid in a candy store. Unfortunately, the candy store I frequented had arsenic-laced treats. (Not literally, of course, but the effects on my spiritual, emotional, and physical life were nearly as deadly.)
            So for wives and moms out there, this is serious stuff indeed. Listen carefully to your spoken words, do an honest self-assessment, and see where your need to make some changes. Everyone—including you—will be happier for it!

Until next Monday, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter. Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!



When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer

Images by Google

Monday, July 18, 2016

Three Steps to Enjoy Being Told Exactly What to Do

            As the author Peter Mayle declared in his humorous book Toujours Provence, “There are times when it is a relief and a pleasure to be told exactly what to do,…”
            Have you ever felt like saying that: “Just tell me where to be, when to show up, and what to do?” That’s what I reiterated to my son months prior to his wedding, and, more recently, just before the big event.
            Evidently I wasn’t the only one desiring that type of direction. He told his father that was one technical piece he and his intended neglected to foresee: having to give so many people directions during the wedding week. Because of the need, he stayed up into the wee hours one night to write up a rather formal email (complete with artistic edge flourishes) to all of us principals, noting an hour-by-hour schedule of where and when to arrive for the rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, wedding day bridal party pictures, the family and groom/bride pictures, the wedding, the reception. We even got a schedule for the “First Look” experience pictures the bride and groom would have taken, sans the family and bulk of the wedding party. It took a moment of mental deliberation on my part to define what the “First Look” was, but I finally got it. The bride’s father divulged that it took him marrying two of his daughters before he was able to decipher it, and after a hearty shared laugh about our 21st Century (millennial) wedding protocol ignorance, I didn’t feel so brainless.
            The final experience was grand. Shear joy! Heart and brain exploded in a profound sense of freedom—to enjoy the event without having to be in charge, direct, or make decisions. To be out of control. Or, more precisely: to be out of my control and left in the hands of others. My only responsibility was to get myself properly coifed, attired and punctually transported to the scheduled events, with no other burden to tote around than a light heart.
            I felt free, and full of peace.
            Now I know it isn’t comfortable or even psychologically or physically beneficial to always have someone else dictate what you should do. Reams of research show that people who work and live under the oppressive shroud of constantly being dictated to are more depressed and saturated in hopelessness. So being in control over your life, (or, more aptly, feeling like you do), is a good thing.
            But there is One person to whom you should always submit, and that submission will break bondage chains, unleash possibilities, and drench you in a sense of freedom and peace. (I’m sure you know where I’m going with this.)
            The person to whom you should always submit is Jesus. Why? Because He knows you intimately, better than you know yourself. He created you. He knows how you think, how you function, your weaknesses and your strengths. He knows you inside and out, and He knows how to protect you from yourself and from the world. Submitting to Him is always the way to go. Always. But just exactly how do you do that? Volumes have been written on how to know the will of God. It’s inevitably everyone’s most pressing question. You can purchase those volumes to read up on what the scholars say, but I’ll give you three steps you can take today to be victorious in this area of submission and resulting peace.

Three Steps to Obedience

1. Your heart has got to want to submit.
            Why do I say heart? Because it always comes down to a heart issue. It all begins and ends there. People may try to turn it into a brilliant intellectual argument, with themselves or others, but invariably it’s really an issue about the heart. That’s one of the reasons God says He’ll give us a new one when we make the decision to follow Him. So it may be time to have a good, honest discussion with your heart. If you keep your heart imprisoned and under protected lock and key, it may be a knock down, drag out arguing match, but do it. (Trust me when I say that your life depends on it.) When you’re ready to free your heart and release it to God, and proclaim Him as the controller of it, then you can move on to Step 2.

2. Get to know Him.
            And how do you do that? The same way you got to know your friend, BFF, your bosom buddy, your bestie, your homey, your wife, your husband. You spent—and spend—precious time with them, because you want to! You—forgive me for using such a crass phrase—“hang out” with them. You get to know them intimately, what makes them tick, what their likes and dislikes are, what they expect of you as a friend and confidant. (There are always expectations in a relationship, and they are usually love, sacrifice, accountability, and reliability.) It takes a real friend to be a real friend.
            And that’s not so far from the mark when you talk about Jesus. Toward the end of his earthly life, he told his disciples that He no longer considered them servants but friends. That’s a big relationship and game-changer. He pointed out that servants don’t know what the master is doing, but friends do, because they keep one another informed.
            And that’s what God does: He keeps you informed. The first and most important place the information is spelled out for us is in Scripture. That’s where we need to start—His love letter to the world. Letters are written to be read. Love letters get read once, twice, three, a multitude of times. They’re kept carefully stashed away in special containers and places. They’re sprinkled with tearstains; they get worn from being grasped; they yellow with age. They’re creased and ragged from folding, unfolding, and turning over. They sometimes have notes written in the margins. Special passages and words are especially noted and underlined. If someone else asks about them, the recipient can put their hands on those priceless letters in a second and recount their lengthy prose by heart; show you exactly where that message is written in one of the letters.
            But getting to know someone that intimately means taking time to do it. It means identifying time-wasters that keep us from sitting down with Him. It means setting aside time to sit at His feet, read His letter, know what it says, allow it to change your heart, and develop a deeper understanding of God and a life-changing relationship with Him. In reality, He should be your Best Friend. No one else measures up to the kind of friend He can be to you.
            My dad made a strong, memorable point to me one day when I told him I didn’t have time to do something. “Nonsense,” he retorted with a knowing smirk. A person always finds time to do the things he wants to do.” Touché! How right he was. (Not always true when you’re a stay-at-home-mother of toddlers, but you get the point.)
            The self-inspecting question then becomes: Do you want to do it?
            It’s a question that’s been pecking persistently at my mind and heart for a while, probably because for the last several years I’ve been letting a little more of the world into my life, compromising more, getting stained by all of it, and neglecting the finer things He has to offer: like truth and life. I’ve been getting lazy with God and have sometimes found myself masquerading as Jesus’ friend. Thankfully, He’s always ready to re-ignite the friendship and forget how I’ve been lacking in the relationship.

3. Close Your Ears and Eyes to the World’s Wisdom (and stop repeating it)

            Now here comes the hard part. We all have got to stop listening to the world’s “wisdom.” Because usually it isn’t; and it can set you quickly sailing down the wrong path without any method of turning the boat around. Like an alcoholic who needs to radically change his social scene and obtain a new set of friends (and abandon his old, drinking partners), we need to protect our hearts, minds, ears and eyes. We need to flee lust and sexual sin in all forms (including being a paying voyeur at a sex-saturated, nudey movie), turn off the brain-deadening television, pay less attention to our own social media, (and the social media of the rich and famous), and strive to be pure of heart, pure of mind, and pure of body. Put it down, put it away, and practice deliberate avoidance. Perfect, like our Father in heaven is perfect.
            Easy? No. But it’s certainly worth striving for. And just think about how freeing it can be! To be as unencumbered from the world as possible (this will be different depending on your job and responsibilities) and more encumbered by being a friend of Jesus.
            Knowing what He likes and doesn’t like. Knowing how to deal with and live in the world and not be of it. Being simultaneously shrewd and harmless. Being loving, kind, joyful, peaceful, gentle, good, long suffering, patient, faithful, and having self-control. Being obedient and actually enjoy having Him direct and tell you where to go and what to do. While the world knows a little bit of truth, and it can all sound so good to our itching ears, quite often the truth is intertwined with a lot of lies that need to be ferreted out and squashed.
            The more time you spend with Him, the more natural and instinctive it will be. And you’ll know immediately when you’ve erred and need to be forgiven. You’ll be ultra-sensitive to His desires for your life.

Where are you now?

            Where are you right now in these three steps? Have you started them? Do you need a refresher course in them? Have you gotten all of the way to Step 3, retreated, and now find yourself hovering between steps 1 and 2, or 2 and 3?
            Start by asking yourself some honest, revealing questions, and then let Him hand you the life directions. The world won’t like it, and you’re likely to get some backlash and heckling, but hang in there. It really is nice having Him tell you where to go and what to do.
            You and your precious life are worth it!

            Next week we'll look further at being in control, with a focus on women, wives and mothers. See you then!


Until next Monday, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter! Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!



When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer

Images by Google

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Time to Lament, Repent, and Pray…

            Well, I had another post planned for today. It was a post about peace, how to achieve it through obedience and simplicity. But once again my country is reeling from current events in our ninth largest city. A city in which I lived as a young girl. A city known both for its southern hospitality, and the assassination of our country’s 35th President. And now it’s known for 21st Century violence.
            For a country that likes to call itself a “Christian nation” this kind of thing is heartbreaking, and embarrassing. We have a serious problem, and our political and social leaders seem to be confused about how to “fix it.” Although they certainly know how to "talk" about it. They spend an inordinate amount of time yelling at each other about it, pointing fingers at one another in blame, and posturing and grandstanding on their own or their party’s official positions. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, though. What else should I expect from such a fallen world? A self-focused, entitlement-minded world. A world that really needs to stop thinking about and pining for "the good old days." “The good old days” really weren’t so good for many living in our country, and these days aren’t so good for many, either. They’re scary, violent, and void of hope.


Still A Shining Light?

            President Ronald Reagan talked about our nation being a shining light on a hill. He was a man filled with hope and enthusiasm, qualities I don’t see a lot of now, or hear spoken about. Sometimes I wonder if God has removed our candle, but then I remind myself that He always maintains a remnant that clings to Him and to His promises. And that knowledge gives me much comfort. But if we do have a flickering remnant, we need to start shining it. We can’t hoard it for ourselves or keep it hidden under a bushel. (When I think of it being hidden under a bushel, I always imagine the dried bushel combusting and frying the house around it, so that might be more destructive than simply snuffing it out!)
            I think Senator and former Presidential candidate Marco Rubio headed the right direction this week when he said that we need to examine our public discourse (a horrible thought to many who have elevated free speech to the level of an idol), where we pit people against one another and foster hate. As James the brother of Jesus told us, the tongue can start a fire. We should listen more and speak less, be long suffering and slow to anger.
            So for today, it is one more time that my nation has had yet one more reason to lower our flag in memory of slain emergency response personnel and American citizens; yet another day to mourn; yet another day to ask, “Why?” Yet another day to be reminded that evil is alive and well in our midst; and to ask ourselves—as Marco Rubio did—how we are personally contributing to the problem, the evil. And for believers everywhere to ask, “Am I contributing to the abuse of the Gospel’s truth by my words or deeds, or lack of them?”
            And get on our knees and really lament, repent and pray.

Until next Monday.



When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer