It Matters Who Influences You

influences

Throughout my late teens and twenties and into my early thirties I hung around a lot of pretty accomplished musicians. We were committed to playing music and pursuing “feel good” experiences. We were serious about the music, career and friendship, but lacked life direction and had rather short term plans and goals. Along with the positive focus were also destructive behaviors with potentially disastrous consequences.

Then when my forties were in full swing I started meeting with a group of about a dozen guys on a weekly basis (mostly) that lasted about twenty years. This group was composed of men from both our church and others. The common theme was unity in our purpose to grow and mature spiritually.

The contrast between the two sets of groups is stark. You might dismiss my earlier group’s lack of focus as simply typical of our youthful age, but that would not be entirely accurate. My spiritual group had guys of a variety of ages over the years, and some were quite young. The difference was the guiding values that motivated each group.

These days as I counsel I often ask myself “Who is influencing this person?” Sometimes I ask the question to a person outright, and sometimes I just ask the question in my heart. The answer to this question will have a lot to do with the direction the sessions will take. Are the influencers fueling anger, bitterness, and resentment, or are they encouraging and giving support for godly values?

My earlier group of friends would have given me advice like:

“You don’t have to put up with that.”

“There’s plenty of fish in the sea.”

“Go for it. You won’t get caught.”

My latter group would say:

“Have you owned your part?”

“Have you gone to the mat and done everything you can do?”

“Don’t give up. You’re the right man for the job.”

“You’re following your feelings, not God.”

Sometimes we have to cut ties or at least censor the content of our conversations with those that are pressing us to adopt ideas that are in conflict with our beliefs and values. It’s really hard to resist asking well-meaning people for their advice when we know they will offer support that moves us away from our places of pain. But pain has a nasty habit of finding us by a different route when we try to avoid it.

Perhaps you can relate?

Are there outside voices you need to mute?

What Kind Of Justice Do You Seek?

justice

For quite a while I have been wrestling with the concepts of fairness and justice. It has certainly been kicked around for hundreds and thousands of years in so many contexts. And for Nan and me it gets talked about a lot in counseling with couples, particularly.

If you have ever been around a divorcing couple trying to work out child custody issues, you will likely be torn between both sides of  the requests. Each can make really good points why they should have primary custody. They both may have really good arguments about time distribution and money allocation. That is why a judge is required. But what does the judge offer? An opinion.

Who is the judge?

Issues of fairness always circulate around the opinion of a “judge”. But opinions by definition are interpretations and not facts, even when they are based on facts. And opinions are biased, even when the judge is doing the best that he/she can do to be neutral. Why? We are human, flawed, and our opinions are formed by our experience and our feelings.

I must say that I often set myself up to be the judge of fairness, as if I have all the facts, have looked from all perspectives and have every necessary criterion to make a definitive pronouncement. I remember one time pointing out to friend of mine that he was wearing two different colored socks and that they didn’t match. He assured me that they did match because they were the same thickness. I made a judgment based on my criteria, but he was using a different set of criteria. Who was right?

Why is this important?  

When I speak to the issues of fairness and justice I must be careful that I am not assuming the position of absolute moral authority which belongs to God alone. I may be operating out of a blind spot that is damaging to my relationships. My position of certainty may betray my lack of humility and my ability to empathize with others. In the past Nan used to say to me; “Dave, you are too convinced of your own opinion!” Unfortunately, she was right. Of course she wasn’t only speaking of this issue, but of a general blind spot resulting from my narcissistic tendencies.

Is it fair or just, the way I sometimes treat Nan? Is it fair or just, the way she sometimes reacts to me? Would it be fair for her to label me based on her educational training? Would it be fair if I resisted the label? I’m sure that you might have an opinion – but is fair to hold it?

Be careful around these issues. Yes, some things are evil and totally unacceptable and there would be little or no disagreement among civilized people. But with few exceptions, most of what we encounter on a daily basis do not fall into these categories.

Psalm 9:8 (NLT)  He (God) will judge the world with justice and rule the nations with fairness.

Accepting Your (Last) Best Chance

chance

In the mid eighties through mid nineties I witnessed a number of divorces among some close friends. At the time I was an untrained observer and thought “That’s just what happens sometimes.” As I look back, I can now recognize where it could have been different for them.

Sure, there were some pretty bad situations, but I can also identify some missed opportunities as well. In two cases, well-planned interventions might have made a life changing difference. In another, stubborn pride took away his spouse’s hope of a satisfying marriage. He was offered repeated chances to work on the marriage, but refused. Tragically, there were children involved in all three cases. At one point, Nan and I might have been a statistic. But I was offered a last chance and I took it.

What was that chance? It was to go into counseling to work out our issues.

I can remember my thoughts at the time. “Nan thinks I’m broken (I was) and need to be fixed.” The truth was that we were both in need of an overhaul. “What if I change and she doesn’t?” It’s a realistic concern, but that rarely happens with couples counseling. “Will our feelings towards each other change enough to make this a satisfying relationship?” They did.

I could have said “no” to Nan’s counselor the day he called me to come join them for a session. I would have missed my chance, not just for a healed relationship, but for so many other things that were a  byproduct.

What might hold someone back from accepting their last best chance?

As I said earlier, pride is a big one. So is fear. Shall we throw in some apathy and ambivalence and perhaps a dash of defeat? All these might lead to a reluctance to take a step in an uncertain but hopeful direction.

It’s not just relevant in relationships, either. How about a chance to make some adjustments to keep a job that is in jeopardy because of your behavior? Or maybe it’s a one-time offer to leave a stable, but dead end job for a better one, but you have to step up to a new level of maturity or responsibility.

I also want to include deathbed salvation on this list. It’s a shame to miss a life of serving God and others and experiencing the peace and contentment that comes with the assurance of heaven. But it’s much worse to miss an eternity with God because you pass up your last best chance.

Just something to think about.