Tag Archives: character

Tuning Out The Interference

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Last night as I was driving home I was listening to a Christian music station. As I approached a particular intersection in town, as usual, there became interference from a decidedly not Christian radio station. I thought “What a great metaphor for what can happen inside our heads.”

You are going along in life “tuned in” to positive and godly thinking and all of a sudden you hit something that jams up your mental processes and causes confusion. It becomes more and more difficult to hear the “station” that you intentionally selected. The competing station might be seductive or easier to listen to because it requires less from you. As you listen it gets louder and eventually drowns out what you were listening to. It puts doubt in your mind about the value of staying with your original choice.

I know that you have experienced what I am talking about many times. So have I. We have made good choices based on rational and inspired thinking only to start wavering. We might attend a particularly great conference and make promises to ourselves about how to incorporate the things we’ve just learned. We drive a stake in the ground. But as time goes on the stake loosens. What can we do?

The solution to interference

Like what I did last night, the first thing we can do is either change stations or turn it off and shut down the unwanted input. The longer I wait, the worse it gets. We do not have to entertain unwanted or confusing thoughts. We can intentionally distract ourselves with “thought shifting” techniques like listening to positive music, or reading or watching something that gets us refocused. Yes, I know that can be difficult, especially for those who tend to be obsessive thinkers. But it can be done – it just takes more intentional effort.

Second, if our thoughts take us down a dark alley where we might choose to act out in an unwanted or destructive manner, we can call a trusted and supportive friend (or sponsor for some of us). Hopefully they can talk us into staying on track with our better self.

Third, we can stay away from risky situations. It is amazing how many people put themselves in difficult circumstances and then wonder why they failed or are unduly tempted. Bars and dance clubs are particularly bad places for people who struggle with alcohol or lust or foul language. We must be smart.

And lastly, we shouldn’t isolate from the positive influences in our lives.  Don’t miss church unless it’s unavoidable. When people tell me they can worship God without going to church, I can agree with them – a little. But we cannot serve God without being around His people. We cannot win at soccer by ourselves – we have to have a team to compete in the game. We can appreciate the game from home, but we aren’t players. It’s the same with church. We need our “teammates” to encourage us, challenge us, support us — and once in a while smack us upside our heads.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

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1 Thessalonians 5:14-15 (The Message) 

13-15 Get along among yourselves, each of you doing your part. Our counsel is that you warn the freeloaders to get a move on. Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out. 

And for the purists here is the NKJV translation 

14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. 15 See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.

Nan & I were talking this morning about different approaches to counseling for our clients based on the individual temperaments and situations they faced. It can be tempting to rely on a “one size fits all” kind of mentality based on the “issue” rather than really getting to know the person’s deeper personality, background and other struggles before coming up with a treatment plan.

We were reminded of the above passage in 1 Thessalonians 5 which first calls out those who counsel to be aware, and then guides them in their task. I have included two different translations because I think both interpretations are rich with wisdom. Do we give too much grace to freeloaders? Are we too harsh with weakened people? I know you have encountered both, maybe even in your own family while dealing with spouses, parents, children or siblings.

I do not believe that all of us are called to counsel, especially within our own family. God gives each one of us special gifts for the benefit of the community, but He does not give all gifts too all people. Words are very powerful and have long lasting effects. Just ask any adult who has suffered at the hands of an emotionally abusive parent. But for those who are called upon to fulfill this sacred role, I would caution them to think carefully about the difference between godly wisdom and worldly wisdom. Godly wisdom takes into account the “whole counsel of God”, not just slices of scripture. And it is always respectful of the person’s worth.

It is very discouraging to have great intentions of helping someone only to discover you have made their problem worse. How can we do this?:

  • Challenging them when they need encouragement and support
  • Minimizing a serious problem
  • Shaming them when they reveal something difficult
  • Overreacting, overstating or overwhelming them with your response
  • Being critical, self-righteous or analytical with an emotional or delicate issue (the person will likely feel unfairly or harshly judged)
  • Answering without having fully listened (the person feels unimportant)
  • Interpreting (inaccurately) rather than listening and reflecting
  • Listening and responding with a “black and white, all or nothing” or predetermined mindset

I am sure there are many more I could add, but I’m sure you get the idea. We cannot group people into convenient categories and apply stock responses. We have to honor each one as an individual who is deeply loved by God and worthy of our best efforts. That requires us to dig deeper within ourselves at times and not succumb to our own frailties. It means managing ourselves when it’s easier to manage others.

But I want to give a shout out to all of those who care for and counsel others. It’s rarely easy to share in someone’s pain. But it’s part of God’s plan.

Galatians 6:2 (NLT) Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.

Being “Brutally” Honest, etc.

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Lest you think I am going soft, let me say right up front that I believe in honesty in relationships. It is one of the character qualities that those who seek husbands and wives most value. It is the foundation that trust is built upon.

Where I am taking exception is with the word “brutally”. I know that people throw this word around to get across the idea of “the most honest version” of a story. I’m all over that. But there are people who are brutal in their honesty. And when they are they miss an important character quality: kindness. Rather than consider another person’s feelings, they blurt out “truth” and wound them, often unnecessarily. This sounds more than a little bit selfish to me.

Sometimes the truth hurts, and the pain caused is unavoidable. Empathy helps to cushion the blow, and kind people think out their approach and try to be honest, but gentle. However, there are others who take grim pleasure in hurtful truth telling. They may think they are only being honest, but they are actually just acting self-righteous. This truth without grace is simply meanness – not a good character quality.  I think of this well-known passage from the Bible that talks about loving others as the highest value. I suppose you could say that it is lovingly honest.

1 Cor 13   If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

When searching for a mate, character (as in being honest, etc.) matters. Character decides what happens during crises, conflicts, temptations and trouble. Too often, certain character flaws are overlooked or minimized because our heart (feelings) overpowers our head (reality). One or two good character qualities do not make a person of good character. You have to look at the whole package. Of course, you have to be a person of good character to expect to attract a person with good values.

If you have been reading our blog for any length of time, you know that we bang on this theme of values and character a lot. Why? Many, if not most counseling issues stem from the breakdown of good values and character (The Bible calls this sin). When we improve character, we improve relationships, families and communities. Yes, it’s a big deal.

I would encourage you to take an inventory of your character qualities (good as well as needs-to-improve). Are you kind, patient, honest, generous, God-loving, trustworthy, loyal, sober, diligent, responsible, forgiving, helpful, even-tempered, etc? Does this list describe the kind of person you would want to do life with?