[ENCOURAGEMENT] 


Encouragement

Pulled from books we’ve read or stories we’ve heard, look here for offerings we hope you find encouraging.

 

An encouraging devotional ...

New Haven website

YOU ARE MY HIDING PLACE: A 40 Day Journey in the Company of Amy Carmichael

arranged by David Hazard

Can I trust God in every circumstance? Can I rely on His promises — of protection, security, safety, provision, comfort — when I most need them? Is God always there for me? So many struggle to find confidence in God. Amy Carmichael stepped faithfully into the darkness surrounding her, and found the greatest "refuge" of all — the sheltering love of God, who is with us in all things.

 

Forgetting and Remembering. A New Year's Devotional
Written by Pastor Dave Rohrer

Anticipating a new year offers us the opportunity to think about what we have done and to dream about what we might like to do. As we review the past year there are things that we celebrate and things that we would just as soon forget. So at the turn of a new year we often resolve to refrain from doing something or resolve to adopt some new practice. But the problem with resolutions is that they can focus too much of our attention and energy on ourselves and our behavior, rather than on God and God’s gracious work in us.

Therefore, instead of focusing on resolutions that reflect what you might be thinking about yourself, the Scriptures below invite us to consider what God is thinking about us. As we review the past year and look forward to the next, God invites us to both forget something and remember something: He calls us to forget our identity as slaves to sin and he calls us to remember our identity as his beloved children.

These texts from Isaiah are set in the context of the exile of the Jews in Babylon. At the point these texts were written, that exile was coming to an end. Return to Jerusalem was imminent. A new life was before them. But they were also reeling from the 70 years of exile in a foreign land. They were the people of God who had been living as slaves. As they began to look toward freedom the prophet came to them with the invitation to forget the pain of the exile and to remember the steadfast love of God.

Forgetting:

Isaiah 43:14-21 (NIV)

God’s Mercy and Israel’s Unfaithfulness

This is what the LORD says — your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “For your sake I will send to Babylon and bring down as fugitives all the Babylonians, in the ships in which they took pride.

I am the LORD, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King.”

This is what the LORD says — he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters,

who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen,

the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”

Spend some time enumerating the ways God has freed, rescued or forgiven you this past year. What are the events, situations or pains that you are glad to leave behind? Write these things down. Spend some time in prayer, thanking God for the ways he has redeemed or freed you. Come up with some way to symbolically let go of, or forget, the things on this list. Destroy your list.

Remembering:

Isaiah 51: 1-3 (NIV)

Everlasting Salvation for Zion

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn;

look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many.

The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.”

How has your identity as a child of God been confirmed to you this past year? What are some tangible ways that you have experienced God’s love? Write these things down and keep this list in a place where you can refer to it (in a journal, on a page in your Bible, on a piece of paper you keep in your Bible, etc.). Spend some time in prayer thanking God for these confirmations of his love. At the end of the prayer time read Lamentations 3:19-24.

Lamentations 3:19-24 (NIV)

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.

I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

 

Download a printable PDF: Forgetting and Remembering

Impact on ordinary lives from heavy use of the internet.

A Self-Confessed Addict
An interview with Adam Brown, who says World of Warcraft took over his life for years. This 3 minute video gives a brief glimpse into how Adam was pulled into the world of online gaming. Click here to go to PBS site to view video.

The Most Wired Place on Earth
This 13 minute video from Frontline looks at South Korea to take the measure of its digital revolution, and understand its impact on ordinary people. Click here to go to PBS site to view video.

Parents, Launch Yourself

by Theresa Froelich

Parents, if you are having trouble launching your young adult children, read on.

At a parents meeting recently, several mothers of children in their twenty-somethings were moaning in pain about their children not moving forward with life. As a result of the children's unproductive behaviors, the parents are backed into a corner — worried about their ability to survive financially, to stay off of drugs, and to simply succeed in journeying forward to become the adults they are made to become. READ MORE ...

 

With Drinking, Parent Rules Do Affect Teens' Choices

Listen to this story from National Public Radio.

The Teen Brain: It's Just Not Grown Up Yet

Check it out. Some insight into your kids brain from NPR!

Surviving the Holidays

Not to be an Ebenezer, but it bears stating that the holidays aren't universally merry or happy. Even if you're consistently in full-joy mode during the holidays, others in your family may not be so lucky. To these folks, the exhortation to have a happy Thanksgiving, a happy Hanukah, a merry Christmas, or a happy New Year, can feel less like a friendly affirmation than an impossible burden. Because holidays are intensely family focused, they can be a tremendous opportunity for warmth, connection, and comforting traditions on the one hand. On the other hand, however, this same family emphasis can highlight trauma, loss, and dysfunction for some.

For those who have experienced a loss-whether through divorce, a custody arrangement, death, etc.-the absence of someone normally central to the holidays can trigger feelings of profound grief. The abundance of food and emphasis on holiday feasting can be incredibly difficult for those suffering from an eating disorder. Many victims of abuse find themselves at uncomfortably close quarters with the uncle or cousin who abused them. Difficult relationships, dysfunctional communication styles, and navigating around old family secrets can leave sensitive family members with confusing and uncomfortable emotions.

So while the holidays are sheer joy for some, others experience them as a mixed bag and still others experience them as simply painful. Adults typically feel a certain pressure to suffer in silence in order to conform to holiday expectations of good cheer; this silence that can compound their feelings of isolation and discomfort. For teenagers, on the other hand, these confusing feelings can turbo-charge the urge to differentiate, accentuating behaviors that can range from isolation, to non-conformity, to outright defiance. The more aware we are of the emotional complexity of holidays, whether for us or for others, the better equipped we can be to both embrace and engender "peace on earth and good will toward men."

The following tips can help you use this awareness to make the holidays less stressful and more joyful for everyone.

Check Reality:

Our idea of how the holidays should go doesn't always match reality. Using memory as your guide, do a reality check regarding what holidays have actually been like for you and for others in your family. Doing this kind of mental and emotional inventory prior to the holidays can help you accept things as they are, which will in turn help you avoid disappointments and stress-inducing surprises. The more grounded and honest with yourself you can be, the more pleasant your holidays are likely to be. Checking in with yourself and with others can be helpful as well. If you discover difficult feelings buried under your holiday busyness, slow down and acknowledge those feelings. Just taking time to acknowledge and gently accept your own feelings as they are can be very helpful in reducing their power over you. Do the same with others. In a private moment, ask that quiet nephew or the slightly edgy mother in law how they're doing. Simply acknowledging someone's discomfort with a squeeze on the shoulder or a kind comment (but, generally speaking, without advice or attempts to problem solve) can go a long way for someone who's struggling.

Set Reasonable Expectations:

The holidays are a time, typically, of very high expectations; we tend to expect more of ourselves and of others in order to make the reality of the holiday match our fantasy. We tend to be sensitive, as well, to the high expectations of others-expectations to behave a certain way, to feel a certain way, to perform at a certain level, or to be involved in a particular manner. These expectations may be based on family tradition, childhood experiences, or spiritual beliefs. When our experience of the holidays consistently fails to match these expectations, it's more in our nature to try harder to reach those expectations than to adjust them. Lowering holiday expectations may sound defeatist to some, but it's actually an excellent strategy for improving not only your own experience, but the experience of those around you as well.

Have a Lifeline:

Arrange with someone you trust-whether a friend, a therapist, or a clergy person-to be your holiday lifeline. If you feel your levels of stress building to a point you're not comfortable with, give this person a call. Talking things out with a friend is a great alternative to duking things out with a relative! There are numerous support groups online and in most communities that can help you prepare for the holidays and also provide live support throughout. Type in the keyword for what you struggle with-grief, addiction, sadness, survivor-and "holidays" and you're likely to find a large number of resources to tap into. Some sites are better than others, so do your research before the holidays if possible and bookmark those resources you find helpful.

Visualize:

If there are specific triggers-whether people, places or things-that tend to set you off during the holidays, try envisioning those triggers and your own ideal, non-reactive response in advance. Imagine the trigger in detail. Imagine yourself in its presence and feel all the feelings that go along with encountering that cranky sister in law, that nostalgic holiday music, or the rum-spiked eggnog. Then imagine yourself engaging that trigger the way you want to, i.e. with presence, strength, and calm. A therapist with training in guided imagery can make this practice even more effective, helping you enter stressful situations with more confidence and skill.

Have a Plan:

Families entering the holidays with a member in or on the verge of crisis often choose to white-knuckle it through the season, hoping that the crisis will pass. Sometimes it does. Often, however, the stress of the holidays accelerates these potential crises. Perhaps the most common such situation involves a teenager struggling with drugs and/or alcohol, defiance, or emotional problems. Adolescent treatment centers tend to see a spike in enrollments just following major holidays because holiday-related stress can precipitate crisis. If you have a family member who may be on the verge of needing help, but you want to give the holidays a go prior to making a treatment decision, at least have a treatment plan in place prior to the holidays. Working out a detailed "just in case" treatment plan (ideally with the help of an educational consultant or mental health professional) will help you navigate the holidays with greater peace of mind. The more specific the plan, the more relaxed you're likely to be and the more equipped you'll be to help your child or another family member if they really need it.

Taken from the Resource Library of New Haven Residential Treatment Center for Troubled Teen Girls. Visit their website


Taking time for quiet, reflection and becoming
more aware of God's presence in your life.

Using the material found on the website Pray-as-you-go.org might be one way to help you carve out a daily time of quiet during what usually is a very busy and hectic season.

Pray-as-you-go is a daily prayer session, designed for use on portable MP3 players, to help you create a framework for a time of prayer while travelling to and from work, study, or in your home.

Lasting between ten and thirteen minutes, it combines music, scripture and some questions for reflection. The aim is to help you to:

• become more aware of God's presence in your life

• listen to and reflect on God's word

• grow in your relationship with God.

It is produced by Jesuit Media Initiatives, with material written by a number of British Jesuits and other experts in the spirituality of St Ignatius of Loyola.

Give it a try and let us know if you find it helpful.

 

Edges of His Ways

by Amy Carmichael

October 30

Mark 16:3-4 [The women] said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.

Matt. 28:2 And the angel of the Lord...came...and sat upon it.

Let us look out for the angels when impossible things lie ahead. Think of impossibilities being turned into seats for angels! Have we not a wonderful God? So whatever the difficulty is — something we do not know how to do, or some inward matter — we shall see it rolled away, and more than that, turned to some unexpected good. I do enjoy that calm word, "And the angel sat upon it."

 

The Art of Forgiving

by Lewis B. Smedes

One of God’s better jokes on us was to give us the power to remember the past and leave us no power to undo it. We have all sometimes been willing to trade almost anything for a magic sponge to wipe just a few moments off the tables of time. But whatever the mind can make of the future, it cannot silence a syllable of the past. There is no delete key for reality. And it comforts us little to know that not even God can undo what has been done.

It would give us some comfort if we could only forget a past that we cannot change. But the ability to remember becomes an inability to forget when our memory is clogged with pain inflicted by people who did us wrong. If we could only choose to forget the cruelest moments, we could, as time goes on, free ourselves from their pain. But the wrong sticks like a nettle in our memory.

The only way to remove the nettle is with a surgical procedure called forgiveness. It is not as though forgiving were the remedy of choice among other options, less effective but still useful. It is the only remedy.


Prodigals and Those Who Love Them

by Ruth Bell Graham

Our Failures

Colleen Evans, in her challenging book Start Loving, quotes a friend who had written her:

Our failures. That's the hardest area, especially when they have affected the lives of our loved ones. As our two children step out into the adult world it is a joy to see many beautiful things in their lives. But it hurts to see areas of need and struggle that stem in part from ways we have failed them. A friend reminded me recently that even these areas are part of the "all things" which God will use to make a man and a woman who will accomplish His unique purposes. So when thoughts of my failures push their way into my consciousness, I let His total forgiveness dissolve my regrets, and go on to praise Him who accepts us just as we are and lovingly works to make us more than we are.

And from the same book, "He doesn't expect us — or our children to be finished products now."

Hold Me Tight. Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.

by Dr. Sue Johnson

Conversation 3: Revisiting a Rocky Moment

Auntie Doris, a very large lady with peroxide hair and whiskers on her chin, was pouring rum over a huge Christmas pudding. She was also arguing with my almost inebriated Uncle Sid. She turned to him and said, “We is getting into a doozy here. One of them dead-end doozy fights we does. You are half cut and I sure as hell don’t feel like no shiny Christmas fairy. Are we going to fight it out? I’ll swing like always and you duck if you can. Both feel bad then. Do we need to do it? Or can we just start over?” Uncle Sid nodded solemnly, softly muttered “No doozy, no ducking,” and then, “Lovely pudding, Doris.” He patted my aunt on the backside as he tottered into the other room.

I recall this little drama vividly because I knew that Uncle Sid was going to be Santa Claus that night and any “doozy” probably meant that I was going to be out of luck for presents. My Christmas was saved by a compliment and a pat. But now, all these years later, I see their interaction in another less self-centered way. In a moment of conflict and disconnection, Uncle Sid and Aunt Doris were able to recognize a negative pattern, declare a ceasefire and re-establish a warmer connection.

It was probably pretty easy for Doris and Sid to cut short their fight and change direction because, on most days, their relationship was a safe haven of loving responsiveness. We know that people who feel secure with their partner find it easier to do this. They can stand back and reflect on the process between them and they can also own their part in that process. For distressed lovers, this is much harder to do. They are caught up in the emotional chaos at the surface of the relationship, in seeing each other as threats, as the enemy.

To reconnect, lovers have to be able to de-escalate the conflict and actively create a basic emotional safety. They need to be able to work in concert to curtail their negative dialogues and to defuse their fundamental insecurities. They may not be as close as they crave to be, but they can now step on each other’s toes and then turn and do damage control. They can have their differences and not careen helplessly into Demon Dialogues. They can rub each other’s raw spots and not slide into anxious demands or numbing withdrawal. They can deal better with the disorienting ambiguity that their loved one, who is the solution to fear, can also suddenly became a source of fear. In short, they can hold onto their emotional balance a lot more often and a lot more easily. This creates a platform for repairing rifts in their relationship and creating a truly loving connection.

Streams in the Desert: 366 Daily Devotional Readings

by L.B. Cowman

From September 12

Child of My love, lean hard,

And let Me feel the pressure of your care;

I know your burden, child. I shaped it;

Balanced it in Mine Own hand; made no proportion

In the weight to your unaided strength,

For even as I laid it on, I said,

“I will be near, and while she leans on Me,

This burden will be Mine, not hers;

So will I keep My child within the circling arms

Of My Own love.” Here lay it down, nor fear

To impose it on a shoulder that upholds

The government of worlds. Yet closer come:

You are not near enough. I would embrace your care;

So I might feel My child reclining on My breast.

You love Me, I know. So then do not doubt;

But loving Me, lean hard.

LEARNING ABOUT FORGIVENESS IN THE 6th GRADE

by Timothy Koock

I was sobbing, almost uncontrollably. My body was shaking. I was in the sixth grade and I was staying after school (because I had to). That afternoon, there were only two of us in the classroom — Sr. Michael Patrice and me.

For six years, it seems I was always staying after school for something. Usually it was for taunting a classmate or teacher. I did this for attention. It was supposed to be funny and I thought I was very clever. The other reason I was so often kept after school was for fighting. I fought somebody just about everyday. I did this because I was angry and didn’t know why.

This afternoon something totally unexpected took place. Instead of the usual shaming lecture delivered in dreary tones or writing out the offense 500 or so times, Sr. Michael Patrice asked me a couple questions in a very tender and direct way as she held me.

Peering into my eyes she asked, “Timothy, why do you fight and say things to hurt others? Where do you hurt? I see in you a beautiful boy who wants only to be loved. Where do you hurt inside?”

I burst into tears. I could not answer her. The lump in my throat was the size of a cantaloupe. My usual bravado fell limp and suddenly I felt sorry I had hurt her and the others. I could see it was my fault but I couldn’t explain why. The shame I felt was huge. Somehow, as I continued to cry, Sr. Michael Patrice and I knew I had not just acted up in class but had been ‘acting out.’ She continued to hold me until the tears began to subside. I felt safe in her arms. She was a little plump and that felt good too.

There was no scolding that afternoon. There was no penance to write on the blackboard. There was no note to take home to my parents. There was only a long embrace and gobs of tears.

Afterwards, riding my bike home, I began to feel expansive, peaceful and free. Something very dark, deep and heavy had been lifted from me and I felt as light as a soap bubble. Though still a wee raw from the experience, I was scrubbed clean inside.

I thought how the pain I inflicted on others was the same pain I felt inside me. But I still couldn’t get a handle on how that stuff got inside me. Not long after, my deportment improved, my grades got better and I fought less often.

Looking back now on that afternoon, I came to see the only way I ever grew in life was through forgiveness.

I also learned about God’s great love so poignantly poured out through Sr. Michael Patrice. I learned I was loveable. And for that I was grateful.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God

Above all, trust the slow work of God.
We are, quite naturally,
impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip
the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on
The way to something unknown,
something new,
and yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stage of instability —
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually -
let them grow,
let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.
Don't try to force them on,
as though you could be today
what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting
on your own good will)
will make them tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of
feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

— Teilhard de Chardin

Philippians 4:6-7
The Message

Don't fret or worry.
Instead of worrying, pray.
Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers,
letting God know your concerns.
Before you know it,
a sense of God's wholeness,
everything coming together for good,
will come and settle you down.
It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Psalm 130
New International Version

A song of ascents.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;

O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.

My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

O Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
for with the LORD is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.

He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.

Figures of the True
by Amy Carmichael

You were like a leafy bush, and many little things came to you for shelter. You were not great or important, but you could help those little things. And it was the joy of your life to help them.

Now you cannot do anything at all. Some desolation, illness, poverty, or something that you cannot talk about, has overwhelmed you, and all your green leaves have gone. So you cannot shelter even the least little bird; you are like this bush with its bare twigs, no use to anyone—that is what you think.

But look again at this bare bush. Look at the delicate tracery of lines in the snow. The sun is shining behind the bush, and so every little twig is helping to make something that is very beautiful. Perhaps other eyes, that you do not see, are looking on it too, wondering at what can be made of sun and snow and poor bare twigs. And the Spring will come again, for after Winter there is always Spring.

When will Spring come? When will your bush be green with leaves again? When will the little birds you love come back to you? I do not know. Only I know that Sun and Snow are working together for good; and the day will come when the very memory of helplessness to help, and bareness, and poverty and loneliness will pass as a dream of the night; and all that seemed lost will be restored.

Now, in the multitude of the sorrows that you have in your heart, let these comforts refresh your soul. They will not fail you for He will not fail you who is the God of the Sun and of the Snow.

Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations
by Brett Harris and Alex Harris

The Rise of the Kidult

In 2005, Time magazine ran a story on “kidults,” a new breed of adolescents in their mid- to late twenties and beyond who offer convincing evidence that the modern concept of adolescence is not a biological stage, but a cultural mind-set. It doesn’t stop when you graduate from high school, or when you turn twenty-one.

“Everybody knows a few of them,” the article pronounced. “Full-grown men and women who still live with their parents, who dress and talk and party as they did in their teens, hopping from job to job and date to date, having fun but seemingly going nowhere.”

Kidults generally have neither clear direction nor a sense of urgency. “Legally, they’re adults, but they’re on the threshold, the doorway to adulthood, and they’re not going through it,” Terri Apten, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge. In other words, they’re standing on the end of the diving board, but they won’t jump in.

And it’s not just in America. Countries around the world have developed names for young “adults” like this: they’re called “kippers” in England, “nesthockers” in Germany, “mammones” in France, and “freeters” in Japan.

“This isn’t just a trend, a temporary fad or a generational hiccup,” the article warns. “This is a much larger phenomenon, of a different kind and a different order.”

But we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, kidults are the logical result of the Myth of Adolescence, which encourages teens to view adulthood as spoiling the fun of the teen years rather than viewing it as the fulfillment of the teen years.

Being taught to avoid growing up doesn’t help us launch into adulthood. At best, it leaves us hanging on the end of the diving board — stuck in the childishness and irresponsibility of adolescence., At worst, it leaves us floundering in the deep end of the pool — unprepared for the exciting challenges of life.

We received this e-mail in July of 2007, but it represents many conversations we’ve had with people in their twenties, even early thirties:

I had my own idea of fun, which was too much recreational reading, too much playing video games, too much of my own thing. To this day, I’ve never held a job, and I’m still living at home. My lack of real life skills has had some very negative consequences to a relationship that is very important to me.

When I was a teenager, twenty-six seemed so far away, but my bad decisions then (to do nothing) are affecting my life now in some pretty serious ways.

I’m an example of how low expectations and our “if it’s fun, do it” culture can mess things up, and I’m living proof (as are the others out there like me — still living at home, doing very little but still dreaming big) that adolescence truly can be extended past the teen years.

Kidults are a tragic example of the Myth of Adolescence in action. And the consequences aren’t limited to your teen years. After we shared Raymond’s story at a conference in Indianapolis, a man (probably in his mid- to late forties) approached us. With tears in his eyes, he told us, “I’m Raymond. That story you told is exactly who I was.”

He explained that he had done well in school when he was a teenager. His high school had a three-class structure for each grade, and he was in the top class every year. Because school was going so well, he thought he was free to party and experiment with drugs. But more than twenty years have passed, and he’s still struggling with the repercussions.

“I thought the teen years were my time to party,” he said. And I’ve been paying the price ever since. I don’t want teens today to make the same mistake.”

The good news is, we don’t have to! As we saw in the last chapter, what is considered “normal” today is actually a cruel exception — a myth. The teen years have not always been thought of as a time to waste, and teens haven’t always been ripped off by low expectations. And there is hope, even for kidults. As we encouraged that man in Indianapolis: it’s never too late to start doing hard things. William Wilberforce, one of the greatest “rebelutionary” examples who ever lived, wasted the first twenty-five years of his life on parties and social extravagance. And yet he went on to be the unrelenting force behind the abolition of slavery and emancipation of slaves throughout the British Empire.

How did he do it? First, God broke through and changed his heart. Immediately Wilberforce was filled with a profound sense of regret, bemoaning the “shapeless idleness” of his past and “the most valuable years of life wasted, and opportunities lost, which can never be recovered.” But second, Wilberforce chose to do hard things. He threw himself into study and serious work. For over forty years he fought against slavery in the British Empire and, through his unwavering efforts, saw it abolished shortly before his death. Few men have left a greater mark on history.

This is the good news of the gospel. God offers grace and redemption to those with wasted pasts. But let us never presume upon God’s grace by wasting even a minute of what Wilberforce rightly called “the most valuable years of life.”

 

Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations
by Brett Harris and Alex Harris

Failure to Launch

We took swimming lessons when we were kids, but growing up in the rainy Pacific Northwest, we didn’t really swim a whole lot. In other words, don’t expect us to demonstrate any nifty strokes or perform crazy flips off the high dive. It’s not happening.

One thing we did learn, though, was that diving boards have a “sweet spot.” If you take a big leap and land on it just right, the diving board will launch you up into the air and down into the pool in a perfect swan dive. You hope. Of course, if you miss the sweet spot, things don’t work out so well. Your body jolts, the board clunks, and you bounce, teeter, and careen into the water. You may even do a belly flop. In fact, if someone’s watching, you’re guaranteed to do a belly flop.

But back to the big picture. Do you see it?

The pool is your future life. The diving board is your present life. The Myth of Adolescence would have you think that now is your time to party beside the pool. But the fact is, you’re already on the diving board.

The whole purpose of the diving board is to launch us, with purpose and precision, into our futures. We will either make a successful dive into adulthood or deliver something closer to a belly flop — a failure to launch.

In his book Thoughts for Young Men, J.C. Ryle wrote, “Youth is the see-time of full age, the molding season in the little space of human life, the turning-point in the history of man’s mind.” In other words, what each of us will become later in life largely depends on what we become now. Are we taking that seriously?

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-25, the apostle Paul writes, “Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (NIV)

We are convinced that the teen years are the primary time God has given to us for “strict training.” We can hear Raymond saying, “Strict training! You’ve got to be kidding!” But stick with us.

Proverbs 20:29 says, “The glory of young men is their strength.” Did you catch that? At no other time are we better positioned to decide who we will become. Our strength— sharp minds, energetic bodies, and flexible schedules—is our glory. We are not likely to have this same set of strengths ever again. By choosing to use our teen years for strict training, we can choose to set direction, develop character, and build momentum for an amazing future.

But what happens when we fail to use our teen years for strict training? What does a belly flop in real life look like? Unfortunately, it’s not too difficult to find out.

 

Parenting Your Adult Child — How you can help them achieve their full potential
by Ross Campbell, M.D. and Gary Chapman

…confident parents are loving and supportive.” Adult children are most open to the influence of those who love them. This is often why they are so receptive to the influence of peers and closed to their parents. Their friends give them acceptance and affirmation, and their parents may give them condemnation. Parents who wish to be a positive influence must focus on meeting their children’s need for emotional love. But how can we parents make our children feel they are loved?

We do this by assuring our children in many ways “I love you, no matter what.” At times, we may not like their behavior, but that doesn’t mean we withhold our love. To do so is to love them “only if….” which is not true love. It is OK to tell your child “I may not like what you are doing, but it will not keep me from loving you.” This is true unconditional parental love.

As you seek to meet your adult child’s need for emotional love, it is important to realize that not everyone understands the same love language. What makes one person feel loved will not necessarily make another feel that way. Thus your child may not sense your love if you are speaking or expressing your love in a way (language) she doesn’t understand. We believe that there are five basic languages of love and that each person will understand one of them more deeply than the other four. It is the parents’ job to know the primary love language of their adult child and to give heavy does of love in this language.

…Each of these languages represents a different way you can express love. Again, your adult child will most sense your love when you speak her language (although our children need to receive expression of love in all five languages).

1. Words of Affirmation—words which build up
2. Gifts—need not be expensive
3. Acts of Service—doing things that you know your child will appreciate
4. Quality Time—undivided attention
5. Physical Touch—within the boundaries of what they feel is loving

 

Parenting Your Adult Child — How you can help them achieve their full potential
by Ross Campbell, M.D. and Gary Chapman

Guidelines for the home that still hosts adult children:

Honor your moral values. Moral values have to do with actions we believe to be right and wrong. Frequently the personal values of young adults differ from those of their parents. If your adult children plan to continue living at home, you have a right to ask them to continue to respect the values of the parents, at least while they are in the home. It is certainly appropriate for you to say that your children are not welcome to invite persons of the opposite sex to spend the night in their rooms. It is also appropriate to expect that your young adult children will not use tobacco, alcohol, and drugs in your house, if these are your values. In so doing, your are not forcing your personal values but expecting your children to respect your beliefs as long as they live with you. A kind but firm commitment to your own values demonstrates that you have strength of character.

The Cracked Pot

A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walk from the stream to the master's house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to his master's house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream.

"I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you."

"Why?" asked the bearer. "What are you ashamed of?"

"I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master's house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts," the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, "As we return to the master's house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path."

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot's side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master's table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house."

Each of us has our own unique flaws. We re all cracked pots. But if we will allow it, the Lord will use our flaws to grace His Father's table.

In God's great economy, nothing goes to waste. So as we seek ways to minister together, and as God calls you to the tasks He has appointed for you, don't be afraid of your flaws. Acknowledge them, and allow Him to take advantage of them, and you, too, can be the cause of beauty in His pathway. Go out boldly, knowing that in our weakness we find His strength, and that "In Him every one of God's promises is a Yes."

Romans 5:1-8 (NIV)

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

PARENTING ADOLESCENTS
by Kevin Huggins

Changing what kind of parent you are is never an easy task, but always a necessary one as your teen grows and changes. It usually requires a great deal more maturity to be a healthy parent of a teen than it does to be a parent of a younger child.

Be careful, however, how you go about trying to change. The problem ways of thinking and relating that control most parents are very resistant to change. If you try to change them by putting pressure on yourself to be the perfect parent or by just trying harder to be a loving parent, you will no doubt only add to the frustration you already feel.

The first step to growing and maturing as a parent is to get to know yourself a lot better. Take some time to observe and understand the forces within you that cause you to relate to your kids the way you do—forces like James described in 4:1-3. As you understand yourself better and bring the deepest parts of yourself under submission to Christ, you’ll begin to experience the freedom and strength to parent in healthy ways.

 

WHAT NOW? How Teen Therapeutic Programs Could Save Your Troubled Child
by Dr. Paul Case

Parents taught me much about how difficult it is to raise children into mature young adults in this day and age, where technology and culture interface in such a way that skills related to delay of gratification and frustration tolerance seldom get used.

As I’ve listened to parents struggle to put a name to their kids’ difficulties, I’ve been struck by how often they tell me that the therapeutic community has not given them any clear explanation for why their kids behave as they do. Yet, descriptive labels are common. Who hasn’t heard of a child, perhaps yours, who has been labeled by professionals as having attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, or bi-polar disorder. One frustrated mother explained how her child’s psychologist performed a $3,000-evaluation, and then informed her that her child is oppositional defiant. “Duh!” she exclaimed. “I paid you all this money to tell me what I already knew???”

Many children receive several of these diagnoses at once and are prescribed a combination of psychotropic medications (often called “cocktails”). But most of their parents soon discover the serious limitations in this medical approach to diagnosing and treating the problems teens are facing. You see, while we focus our efforts at removing some particular symptom, we often lose sight of the broader context in which teens are exhibiting these symptoms. We forget that teens are in a time of immense change; they are in the process of developing a stable sense of identity; and they are establishing their own particular way of understanding how the world works. Teens are also crystallizing an approach to the demands of daily life that they will use as a template for solving the increasingly complex life challenges they will face in adulthood. So, while medication may alleviate the depressed or anxious mood, a troubled teen’s faulty approach to understanding and solving life’s challenges may persist and continue to result in poor coping patterns, relationship problems, and failures in school or work. Until the problematic or immature approach is addressed, you will likely see the teen continue to struggle to move forward effectively in his or her life.

My hope in writing this book is that I can provide you with a clear explanation of why teenagers like yours are struggling. It is not rocket science. It is actually age-old wisdom that has become obscured by the medical approach to adolescent difficulties. Once you understand your child’s problems within a context of development, you will see clearly what your parental role should be.

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
by Anne Lamott

… When Neshama and I finally got up to go, I was still sad, but better. This is the most profound spiritual truth I know: that even when we’re most sure that love can’t conquer all, it seems to anyway. It goes down into the rat hole with us, in the guise of our friends, and there it swells and comforts. It gives us second winds, third winds, hundredth winds. It struck me that I have spent so much time trying to pump my way into feeling the solace I used to feel in my parents’ arms. But pumping always fails you in the end. The truth is that your spirits don’t rise until you get way down. Maybe it’s because this—the mud, the bottom—is where it all rises from. Maybe without it, whatever rises would fly off or evaporate before you could even be with it for a moment. But when someone enters that valley with you, that mud, it somehow save you again. At the marsh, all that mud and one old friend worked like a tenderizing mallet. Where before there had been tough fibers, hardness, and held breath, now there were mud, dirt, water, air, mess—and I felt soft and clean.

 

The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus
by Brennan Manning

To believe means to realize not just with the head but also with the heart that God loves me in a creative, intimate, unique, reliable, and tender way. Creative: out of His love I came forth; through His love I am who I am. Intimate: His love reaches out to the deepest in me. Unique: His love embraces me as I am, not as I am considered to be by other people or supposed to be in my own self-image. Reliable: His love will never let me down. Tender…

Tenderness is what happens to you when you know you are deeply and sincerely liked by someone. If you communicate to me that you like me, not just love me as a brother in Christ, you open up to me the possibility of self-respect, self-esteem and wholesome self-love. Your acceptance of me banishes my fears. My defense mechanisms—sarcasm, aloofness, name-dropping, self-righteousness, giving the appearance of having it all together—start to fall. I drop my mask and stop disguising my voice. You instill self-confidence in me and allow me to smile at my weaknesses and absurdities. The look in your eyes give me permission to make the journey into the interior of myself and make peace with that part of myself with which I could never find peace before I become more open, sincere, vulnerable and affectionate. I too grow tender.


Luke 24

The Resurrection

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ “ Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

On the Road to Emmaus

Road to Emmaus by James J. Tissot, French painter and illustrator

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ[b] have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

The Anatomy of Peace — Resolving the Heart of Conflict
Compiled and Edited by Miriam Huffman Rockness

Typically we assume that people who are in conflict want solutions. And they do of course. Parents of belligerent children want the belligerence to end. Those who work for tyrannical managers want to be treated with respect. And so on. People want solutions. But notice that the preferred solution in each case is that others change. Should we be surprised, then, when conflicts linger and problems remain?

What if in our conflicts with others there is something we want more than solutions? What if conflicts at home, conflicts at work, and conflicts in the world stem from the same root cause? And what if, individually and collectively, we systematically misunderstand that cause and unwittingly perpetuate the very problems we think we are trying to solve? These are among the important questions explored in The Anatomy of Peace.

Through an intriguing story of parents struggling with their children and with problems that have come to consume their lives, we learn from once-bitter enemies the way to find peace whenever war is upon us. Yusuf al-Falh, and Arab, and Avi Rozen, a Jew, each lost his father at the hands of the other’s ethnic cousins. The Anatomy of Peace is the story of how they came together, how they help warring parents and children to come together, and how we too can find our way out of the struggles that weigh us down.

A Blossom in the Desert — Reflections of Faith in the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter
Compiled and Edited by Miriam Huffman Rockness

Lesson of the Crab

A Blossom in the Desert

I had a beautiful day alone at Pescade, in a fresh little cave that we had never found before, My sermon was from a little crab perched on a rock below, which matched his light-brown shell exactly. He was just as alive and just as happy whether basking in the air and sunlight — or buried (as took place about every other minute) under a foot or two of water as a wave swept over him. I could see him through the clear green-ness, quietly holding on below. There is no place where it is difficult for Jesus to live. His life in us can be just as adaptable as the life He has given to this tiny creature.

 

 

Safe Haven Marriage
byArchibald D. Hart, Sharon (Hart) Morris May

A Safe Haven for Your Hearts

Safe haven. n. A trustworthy person to whom you can turn, knowing that person will be emotionally available and will respond to you in a caring manner.

The harbor was straight ahead, a welcome sight. All day the wind had blown in our faces as waves crashed against the side of the boat. The sun burned hot on our shoulders. Sailing the waves of the Pacific Ocean on Dad’s twenty-eight foot sailboat had been exhilarating but exhausting. In fact, at times it had even been a bit scary because the sea was rough and the Santa Ana winds were strong. Now that we were on our way back, nothing could have been more comforting and soothing than the sight of the harbor entrance. We gratefully approached the peninsulas of large rocks that reached out and around us, marking the entrance to the safe haven.

My dad — who is the coauthor of this book — reminded us, “Red buoy has to be on the right when returning,” as every sailor is supposed to know. When we crossed the harbor entrance, the waters suddenly became calm, even peaceful. It reminded me of the time when Jesus spoke to the storm and commanded it to be still. The harbor really was a place of safety, where all peril was behind us.

The image of a safe haven, a place that protects us from the raging seas of life, is central to what we want to share in this book. It is a metaphor for what every marriage should become. All couples, when they marry, look forward to seeing their relationship become a haven for their hearts. As counselors, we call a marriage that is a refuge from the pressures and problems of the outside world a “safe haven” marriage.

Marital partners yearn for their spouse to see them for who they are and to be there for them. Spouses want to be fully understood, accepted, and valued by their mates. We’re sure you feel that way too. And even though you and your spouse may be very different, each of you having your own dreams, ideas, expectations, and needs, both of you surely share the desire for your relationship to be a place where you can safely return for comfort and loving reassurance — a safe haven.


Infinite Worth - Look Beneath the Surface
by Dustin Tibbitts

It’s not only identity which suffers when girls are in pain. The pain threatens the very idea of their self-worth. At her core, a young woman begins to lose hope in the value she brings to the world and her family and friends. She loses touch with the infinite part of herself – the part which cannot be measured and which is invaluable.

Many months ago I led a group therapy session and brought a strand of my mother’s pearls with me. I pulled the milky-white chain out of my pocket and held it up to the ten young women seated in a circle near me. I explained that I had inherited the pearls after my mother died. My father had purchased them for her in Thailand while he was stationed there during the Vietnam War. Furthermore, I said, I was going to give the pearls to my daughter when she turns 16. I added that I thought it interesting that my daughter’s birthstone happens to be “pearl”.

After allowing them each to hold the strand, I asked them what they thought the pearls were worth. “Are they real?” one asked.

“Yes. What do you imagine they are worth?”

“Do you mean how much they’re worth in dollars?”

“No, in value to me.”

“You can’t put a price on that!” one said. “You have to consider what they were worth to your father, too,” another said. “And to your daughter,” a third added. They all seemed to agree.

Having established the high value of the pearls, I tossed the strand on the wet and muddy floor. The girls were stunned. One stared at me as if I had gone out of my mind.

“What are they worth now?” I asked. “Have they lost any value?”

“No,” was the quick reply.

I stepped on the pearls and used the sole of my shoe to rub the strand around on the dirty floor. I even stood up, my foot firmly planted on the pearls. This time the girls were angry. “What’s wrong with you?” one said. Her voice was loud. “Why are you doing that?” another yelled, and others echoed her question.

I ignored them. “Have the pearls lost any value now? They’re dirtier. And certainly you would agree that stepping on them has made them worth less. Treating pearls like this cheapens them, right?”

“You’re crazy!” one said.

“You don’t deserve those pearls!” said another. “What would your mother think? Your daughter’s going to kill you!”

Ignoring their outrage for the moment, I pressed them to answer my question about the value of the pearls. All agreed that the pearls had not lost their value. We discussed the similarity between the pearls and their own lives. Many felt downtrodden, dirty, and abused, like my mother’s pearls. Many, if not all, had lost sight of their intrinsic value.

Understanding spread across their faces as they applied the object lesson to their own lives.

Similarly, treating young women requires us to see beyond the surface. As we submerge ourselves deeper beneath the cold reality of the presenting behavior, what appears at first to be a significant outcropping of jagged, icy moodiness above the surface reveals itself to be a vast, confused form of frigid misunderstanding, confusion, and despair. We can never help a young woman heal if we don’t acknowledge the true nature of the problem, as well as its scope. That said, it is important to remember that the problem may appear bigger than she is, but it is critical that we communicate to her that, with help, nothing is impossible to overcome.


Codependent No More — How to Stop Controlling Others
and Start Caring For Yourself

by Melody Beattie

Detachment

It (detachment) is not detaching from the person whom we care about, but from the agony of involvement.

—Al-Anon member

Exactly what is detachment? First, let’s discuss what detachment isn’t. Detachment is not a cold, hostile withdrawal; a resigned, despairing acceptance of anything life and people throw our way; a robotical walk through life oblivious to, and totally unaffected by people and problems; a Pollyanna-like ignorant bliss; a shirking of our true responsibilities to ourselves and others; a severing of our relationships. Nor is it a removal of our love and concern, although sometimes these ways of detaching might be the best we can do, for the moment.

Ideally, detachment is releasing, or detaching from, a person or problem in love. We mentally emotionally, and sometimes physically disengage ourselves from unhealthy (and frequently painful) entanglements with another person’s life and responsibilities, and from problems we cannot solve, according to a handout, entitled “Detachment,” that has been passed around Al-Anon groups for years.

Detachment is based on the premises that each person is responsible for himself, that we can’t solve problems that aren’t ours to solve, and that worrying doesn’t help. We adopt a policy of keeping our hands off others people’s responsibilities and tend to our own instead. If people have created some disasters for themselves, we allow them to face their own proverbial music. We allow people to be who they are. We give them the freedom to be responsible and to grow. And we give ourselves that same freedom. We live our own lives to the best of our ability. We strive to ascertain what it is we can change and what we cannot change. Then we stop trying to change things we can’t. We do what we can to solve a problem, and then we stop fretting and stewing. If we cannot solve a problem and we have done what we could, we learn to live with, or in spite of, that problem. And we try to live happily — focusing heroically on what is good in our lives today, and feeling grateful for that. We learn the magical lesson that making the most of what we have turns it into more.

Detachment involves “Present moment living” — living in the here and now. We allow life to happen instead of forcing and trying to control it. We relinquish regrets over the past and fears about the future. We make the most of each day.

Detaching does not mean we don’t care. It means we learn to love, care, and be involved without going crazy. We stop creating all this chaos in our minds and environments. When we are not anxiously and compulsively thrashing about, we become able to make good decisions about how to love people, and how to solve our problems. We become free to care and to love in ways that help others and don’t hurt ourselves.

 

Addictive Thinking
by Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

Must One Reach Bottom?

True recovery from addiction means more than simple abstinence. It means relinquishing the pathological thought system and adopting a healthy one. Since addiction involves a distortion of perception, only some major event or series of events can make the addict question the validity of his or her perception. The event or events that bring about this breakthrough are sometimes referred to as a rock-bottom experience.

The Meaning of Rock Bottom

The term rock bottom has been traditionally used and is still widely used in the addiction field, so it is just as well to preserve it. However, it should be clarified. “Rock bottom” doesn’t not necessarily mean utter disaster. All it means is that something has occurred in the life of the addict that has sufficient impact to make the addict wish to change at least part of his or her lifestyle.

The Law of Human Gravity

A law of human behavior that appears as inviolable as the law of gravity might well be called the “Law of human gravity”: A person will gravitate from a condition that appears to be one of greater distress to a condition that appears to be one of lesser distress, and never in the reverse direction. According to this law, it is impossible for a person to choose greater distress. Any attempt to reverse the direction of the choice will be as futile as trying to make water flow uphill.

Alcohol and other mind-altering chemicals provide some measure of relief from discomfort, whether this is relief from anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-consciousness, or just the compulsive urge. Abstinence, at least initially, causes distress, sometimes psychological discomfort, and often severe physical discomfort.

If we try to get addicted people to stop alcohol or other chemical use, we are essentially asking them to choose a greater distress. But it is beyond human capacity to choose a greater distress. From this analysis it might appear that we should stop all efforts at treatment Treatment can’t work! But we know for a fact that treatment does work and that people do achieve sobriety. Hoe does this happen?

Achieving Sobriety through Changes in Perception

While the law off human gravity is inviolable, and the direction can never change, it is possible for people to change their perceptions. People can learn to see chemical use a the greater distress and abstinence as the lesser distress.

How does this change off perception come about? All mind-altering chemicals sooner or later cause some kind of discomfort:

  • the loss of respect from family and friends
  • the threat of losing a job
  • poor school performance
  • severe gastrointestinal symptoms
  • hangovers
  • hallucinations
  • falls and bruises
  • convulsive seizures
  • the distress of poor memory
  • the threat of imprisonment
  • the terror of delusions

When any of these, alone or in combination, reach the critical point — where the misery equals or exceeds whatever relief the chemical provides — then the person’s perception of what is a greater or lesser distress changes.

This, then, is what happens when rock bottom occurs. Rock bottom is nothing more than a change of perception, where abstinence is seen as a less distress than use of chemicals. If at any time after abstinence is achieve, even many years later, abstinence becomes the great distress, relapse will occur.

The natural course of addiction is such that rock bottom will come if no one interferes. But people in the addict’s environment, with every good intention, may remove some of the distresses that the chemical produces. For example, a co-worker may cover for a colleague who is hung over. This prevents a change in perception of greater and lesser distress and permits the active addiction to continue. This is why people who remove the distressful consequences of chemical use are referred to as enablers.

Remember, allowing the natural unpleasant consequences to occur is not the same as punishing the user. Punishing is inflicting pain from the outside. If, for example, a drinker sees marriage as the source of distress, he or she will separate rather than quit drinking. Only when the alcoholic discovers that the drinking is causing the misery will sobriety become a solution.

Addicts’ perceptions also change when they see the rewards of abstinence. When the rewards of abstinence begins to exceed the rewards of mind-altering chemicals, addicts can change their perceptions of which is the greater or lesser distress.

Meeting people who have sobriety and seeing that they are happy and productive demonstrates the rewards of abstinence. Getting a positive response to sobriety from family, friends, and colleagues is a reward. Regaining self-esteem is a reward. Retaining one’s job is a reward.

The active addict may recognize all these as rewards yet feel they are beyond reach. This is where competent therapy, with realistic and appropriate self-esteem building, can make a difference. With proper help, the addict may begin to believe that these rewards are achievable and perceive abstinence as the lesser distress.

People vary greatly in their perceptions of rewards of misery. A therapist can learn what each person defines as rewards and distress in order to help the person put addiction and abstinence in proper perspective. The combination of rock-bottom experiences plus realistic anticipation of the benefits of abstinence can make sobriety possible.

 

Addictive Thinking
by Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

Admitting Errors

Many chemically dependent people have great difficulty admitting they were wrong. They may disagree with this statement, asserting that they would not have the slightest difficulty admitting they were wrong, if that were ever to occur.

One of the features of addictive thinking is the addict’s perception of always being right. Many of the other traits prevalent in addictive thinking — denial, projection, rationalization, omnipotence — are brought into play to bolster the insistence that the person has always been right.

Being Human Means Making Errors

The way addicts explain and defend their behavior may sound perfectly logical. Each explanation may at first seem reasonable. Taking the entire litany of incidents and explanations into account, however, we must ask, “If the addict were indeed error-free, how did things end up in such a horrible mess?” After we reexamine the addict’s account, the addictive thinking becomes evident. Addicts’ logical-sounding explanations are often only ingenious rationalizations and projections.

The recovering person must learn not only that it is all right to be human, but also that it is the greatest achievement of all to be a fine human being. But one must first be human, which means that one must err at some time or another.

One of the most effective ways to accept the statement, “Making a mistake is not the end of the world,” is seeing other people, especially those an addict holds in high regard, make mistakes too. Anyone can serve as a model for this.

 

The Return of the Prodigal: A Story of Homecoming
by Henri J.M. Nouwen

For a third week we are reading from Henri Nouwen's book based on the Biblical proverb found in Luke 15 and a painting by Rembrandt showing the Return of the Prodigal (shown below). This week we look at joy from the persective of the father.

The father said to his servants, "Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we will celebrate by having a feast, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found." And they began to celebrate.

Return of the Prodigal, Rembrant

An Invitation to Joy

The father of the prodigal son gives himself totally to the joy that his returning son brings him. I have to learn from that. I have to learn to “steal” all the real joy there is to steal and lift it up for others to see. Yes, I know that not everybody has been converted yet, that there is not yet peace everywhere, that all pain has not yet been taken away, but still, I see people turning and returning home; I hear voices that pray; I notice moments of forgiveness, and I witness many signs of hope. I don’t have to wait until all is well, but I can celebrate every little hint of the Kingdom that is at hand.

This is the real discipline. It requires choosing for the light even when there is much darkness to frighten me, choosing for life even when the forces of death are so visible, and choosing for the truth even when I am surrounded with lies. I am tempted to be so impressed by the obvious sadness of the human condition that I no longer claim the joy manifesting itself in many small but very real ways. The reward of choosing joy is joy itself. Living among people with mental disabilities has convinced me of that. There is so much rejection, pain, and woundedness among us, but once you choose to claim the joy hidden in the midst of all suffering, life becomes celebration. Joy never denies the sadness, but transforms it to a fertile soil for more joy.

 

The Return of the Prodigal: A Story of Homecoming
by Henri J.M. Nouwen

Lost in Resentment

It is hard for me to concede that this bitter, resentful, angry man [the elder son] might be closer to me in a spiritual way than the lustful younger brother. Yet the more I think about the elder son, the more I recognize myself in him. As the eldest son in my own family, I know well what it feels like to have to be a model son.

I often wonder if it is not especially the elder sons who want to live up to the expectations of their parents and be considered obedient and dutiful. They often want to please. They often fear being a disappointment to their parents. But they often also experience, quite early in life, a certain envy toward their younger brothers and sisters, who seem to be less concerned about pleasing and much freer in “doing their own thing.” For me, this was certainly the case. And all my life I have harbored a strange curiosity for the disobedient life that I myself didn’t dare to live, but which I saw being lived by many around me. I did all the proper things, mostly complying with the agendas set by the many parental figures in my life — teachers, spiritual directors, bishops, and popes — but at the same time I often wondered why I didn’t have the courage to “run away” as the younger son did.

This is not something unique to me. There are many elder sons and elder daughters who are lost while still at home. And it is this lostness — characterized by judgment and condemnation, and anger and resentment, bitterness and jealousy— that is so pernicious and so damaging to the human heart. Often we think about lostness in terms of actions that are quite visible, even spectacular.

The lostness of the elder son, however, is much harder to identify. After all, he did all the right things. He was obedient, dutiful, law-abiding, and hardworking. People respected him, admired him, praised him, and likely considered him a model son. Outwardly, the elder son was faultless. But when confronted by his father’s joy at the return of his younger brother, a dark power erupts in him and boils to the surface. Suddenly, there becomes glaringly visible a resentful, proud, unkind, selfish person, one that had remained deeply hidden, even though it had been growing stronger and more powerful over the years.

Looking deeply into myself and then around me at the lives of other people, I wonder which does more damage, lust or resentment? There is so much resentment among the “just” and the “righteous.” There is so much judgment, condemnation, and prejudice among the “saints.” There is so much frozen anger among the people who are so concerned about avoiding “sin.”

The lostness of the resentful “saint” is so hard to reach precisely because it is so closely wedded to the desire to be good and virtuous. I know, from my own life, how diligently I have tried to be good, acceptable, likeable, and a worthy example for others. There was always the conscious effort to avoid the pitfalls of sin and the constant fear of giving in to temptation. But with all of that there came a seriousness, a moralistic intensity — and even a touch of fanaticism — that made it increasingly difficult to feel at home in my Father’s house. I became less free, less spontaneous, less playful, and others came to see me more and more as a somewhat “heavy” person.

The Return of the Prodigal: A Story of Homecoming
by Henri J.M. Nouwen

Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s hired men have all the food they want and more, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired men.” So he left the place and went back to his father.

The Long Way Home

The prodigal’s return is full of ambiguities. He is traveling in the right direction, but what confusion! He admits that he was unable to make it on his own and confesses that he would get better treatment as a slave in his father’s home than as an outcast in a foreign land, but he is still far from trusting his father’s love. He knows that he is still the son, but tells himself that he has lost the dignity to be called “son,” and he prepares himself to accept the status of a “hired man” so that he will at least survive. There is repentance, but not a repentance in the light of the immense love of a forgiving God. It is a self-serving repentance that offers the possibility of survival. I know this state of mind and heart quite well. It is like saying: “Well, I couldn’t make it on my own, I have to acknowledge that God is the only resource left to me. I will go to God and ask for forgiveness in the hope that I will receive a minimal punishment and be allowed to survive on the condition of hard labor.” God remains a harsh, judgmental God. It is this God who makes me feel guilty and worried and calls up in me all these self-serving apologies. Submission to this God does not create true inner freedom, but breeds only bitterness and resentment.

One of the greatest challenges of the spiritual life is to receive God’s forgiveness. There is something in us humans that keeps us clinging to our sins and prevents us from letting God erase our past and offer us a completely new beginning. Sometimes it even seems as though I want to prove to God that my darkness is too great to overcome. While God wants to restore me to the full dignity of sonship, I keep insisting that I will settle for being a hired servant. But do I truly want to be restored to the full responsibility of the son? Do I truly want to be so totally forgiven that a completely new way of living becomes possible? Do I trust myself and such a radical reclamation? Do I want to break away from my deep-rooted rebellion against God and surrender myself so absolutely to God’s love that a new person can emerge? Receiving forgiveness requires a total willingness to let God be God and do all the healing, restoring, and renewing. As long as I want to do even a part of that myself, I end up with partial solutions, such as becoming a hired servant. As a hired servant, I can still keep my distance, still revolt, reject, strike, run away, or complain about my pay. As the beloved son, I have to claim my full dignity and begin preparing myself to become the father.

 

Edges of His Ways
by Amy Carmichael

When we suffer sometimes one of our first prayers is that others whom we love may not suffer in that way. This is just a faint reflection of His love, for He, who was led into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil, taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Yet often we are sorely tempted. Help comes by remembering that love is behind even that. “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness.” There is wonderful comfort in the Then.

And there is comfort waiting in words like “They thirsted not when He led them through the desert.” The Bible is full of such words, We each of us, probably, have our own special word. But if one comfort can be greater than other, when all are divine, I would put this as the most precious: out of wilderness experience our wonderful Lord gives us something to use for the help of others. It was so with Him: “In that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted.” Is it not worthwhile to go through anything if only in the end others may be helped?

 

GOD WITH US: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas
Edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe

Luci Shaw writes:

Paul gives us an astonishing understanding of waiting in the New Testament book of Romans, as rendered by Eugene Peterson, "Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. WE, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy." With such motivation, we can wait as we sense God is indeed with us, and at work within us, as he was with Mary as the Child within her grew.

Through the protracted waiting time is often the place of distress, even disillusionment, we are counseled in the book of James to "let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete." Pain, grief, consternation, even despair, need not diminish us. They can augment us by adding to the breadth and depth of our experience, by enriching our spectrum of light and darkness, by keeping us from impulsively jumping into action before the time is ripe, before "the fullness of time." I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.

 

Boundaries. When to Say YES. When to Say NO. To Take Control of Your Life.
by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend from Chapter 2 What Does a Boundary Look Like?

It was apparent that they loved their son very much and were heartbroken over the way he was living. They had tried everything they knew to get him to change and live a responsible life, but all had failed. He was still using drugs, avoiding responsibility, and keeping questionable company.

They told me that they had always given him everything he needed. He had plenty of money at school so “he wouldn’t have to work and he would have plenty of time for study and a social life.” When he flunked out of one school, or stopped going to classes, they were more than happy to do everything they could to get him into another school, “where it might be better for him.”

After they had talked for a while, I responded: “I think your son is right. He doesn’t have a problem.”

You could have mistaken their expression for a snapshot; they stared at me in disbelief for a full minute. Finally the father said, “Did I hear you right? You don’t think he has a problem?”

“That’s correct,” I said. “He doesn’t have a problem. You do. He can do pretty much whatever he wants, no problem. You pay, you fret, you worry, you plan, you exert energy to keep him going. He doesn’t have a problem because you have taken it from him. Those things should be his problem, but as it now stands, they are yours. Would you like for me to help you help him to have some problems?

They looked at me like I was crazy, but some lights were beginning to go on in their heads. “What do you mean, ‘help him to have some problems’? his mother asked.

“Well,” I explained, “I think that the solution to this problem would be to clarify some boundaries so that his actions cause Him problems and not you.”

“What do you mean, ‘boundaries’?” the father asked.

“Look at it this way. It is as if he’s your neighbor, who never waters his lawn. But, whenever you turn on your sprinkler system, the water falls on his lawn. Your grass is turning brown and dying, but Bill looks down at his green grass and thinks to himself, ‘My yard is doing fine.’ That is how your son’s life is. He doesn’t study, or plan, or work, yet he has a nice place to live, plenty of money, and all the rights of a family member who is doing his part.

“If you would define the property lines a little better, if you would fix the sprinkler system so that the water would fall on your lawn, and if he didn’t water his own lawn, he would have to live in dirt. He might not like that after a while.

“As it stands now, he is irresponsible and happy, and you are responsible and miserable. A little boundary clarification would do the trick. You need some fences to keep his problems out of your yard and in his, where they belong.”

“Isn’t that a bit cruel just to stop helping like that?” the father asked.

“Has helping him helped?” I asked.

His look told me that he was beginning to understand.

 

Broken Pieces
from Edges of His Ways, by Amy Carmichael

Have you ever felt at the end of the day that you had nothing to offer but "broken pieces" of things? In the morning we put our day in our Lord’s hands. Then we began to do His work, but we were not able to do nearly as much as we had hoped. Interruptions came and broke up our plans, and the evening finds us a little disappointed. "I hoped to do so much, and I have done nothing worth bringing to Thee" — that is how we feel. I have been finding new comfort in the two words which are used by each of the four Evangelists in telling the end of the story of the feeding of the five thousand. They speak of "broken pieces," and the same words are used by two in telling of the later miracle. There was nothing left over but broken pieces, and yet of those fragments our Lord said, "Gather them up that nothing be lost." Even so, our dear Lord cares for the broken pieces of our lives, the fragments of all we meant to do the little that we have to gather up and offer, and He will use even these fragments. He will not let even the least of our little broken things be lost.

Live the Pain
from The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom, by Henri J. M. Nouwen

The great challenge is living your wounds through instead of thinking them through. It is better to cry than to worry, better to feel your wounds deeply than to understand them, better to let them enter into your silence than to talk about them. The choice you face constantly is whether you are taking your wounds to your head or your heart. In your head you can analyze them, find their causes and consequences, and coin words to speak and write about them. But no final healing is likely to come from that source. You need to let your wounds go down to your heart. Then you can live through them and discover that they will not destroy you.


The Gift of Adolescence
from Like Dew Your Youth. Growing Up with Your Teenager, by Eugene H. Peterson

Author C.S. Lewis once wrote to a troubled parent the “only ‘ordinary’ homes seem to be the ones we don’t know much about, just as the only blue mountains are those ten miles away.”

The moment an adolescent appears in a family (intrudes is what it feels like) the home is no longer ordinary. Because it takes place so suddenly, and is so unprecedented and unheralded, parents assume that something exceptional is going on in their homes. They characteristically look with envy on other families whose adolescent children almost always appear (in public) well-adjusted adolescents. Adolescence is, by definition, maladjustment. And getting adjusted is a strenuous and often noisy process. There are families who manage to maintain a facade of decorum, but when we get a close look at them we find a jumble of colorful and jagged detail: exposed rock, crashing streams, lightning-struck trees, mossy meadows, sudden storms, surprising blossoms, bark in a dozen and more textures — adolescence is insistently various and energetic, and it pulls everyone in the vicinity (and most emphatically parents) into the wild and wonderful scenery.

Adolescence is also a gift, God’s gift, to the parent in middle-age. The "gift" dimension of adolescence is my subject. For adolescence is not only the process designed by the Creator to bring children to adulthood, it is also designed by the Creator to provide something essential for parents during correspondingly critical years in their lives. Christian parents are most advantageously placed to recognize, appreciate, and receive this gift God so wisely provides.

When I hear the statement “Children are a gift of God,” images of cuddly, gurgling infants and well-scrubbed boys and girls in happy play rush into my mind. It never occurs to me to think of sullen adolescents — door-slamming fifteen-year-old daughters or defiantly argumentative sixteen-year-old sons.

Infants are manifestly God’s gifts. In them, God brings into our lives a sense of miracle, a mood of wonder, a conviction of worth, a readiness to grasp responsibility. At the very time in life (young adulthood) when it is most easy to suppose that we are in control, that the world owes us a living, that through our education and training we have reduced our environment to something manageable — at this time God gives us a child to restore our sense of creaturehood, our own sense of being a child of God, so we may experience a renewal of the prerequisite condition for entering the kingdom of God (Matt 18:1-3).

Only very stubborn unbelievers can be in the presence of a newborn infant and maintain the arrogant pose that they are the creator, the ruler, and the savior. For these few moments, at least, when the child is freshly with us, it is hardly possible to reduce our experience to the explanations of biology or the diagrams of sex education. The simple fact of life far exceeds anything we can engineer, control, or explain. And we ourselves become aware of our creaturehood, — not makers, not managers, not mothers, not fathers, but children of God. We apprehend the world through the forms of infancy and we are in Eden again. We discover elemental reality; we find what it means to care, to nurture, to respond. The delights of touch, sound, sight fill the day. We see what God has created, how He loves, the designs of His providence, His glory. The infant is a gift of God by which we are given renewed access to the forms of childlikeness through which we receive our Lord and enter the kingdom of God.

But the adolescent, though not so obviously, is not less a gift of God. As the infant is God’s gift to the young adult, so the adolescent is a gift to the middle-aged. The adolescent is “born” into our lives during our middle decades (when we are in our thirties, forties, and fifties). In these middle decades of life we are prone to stagnation and depression — the wonders of life reduce to banalities and the juices of life dry up. For many therer is a feeling of letdown. The surging strength of early adulthood has not carried us to eminence. Failures and disappointments accumulate. Even when there is outward success, there is often a corresponding inner dryness, a sensation of hollowness, a shriveling of hope. The ideals and expectations of earlier years are experienced as fatigue.

What I had not forseen

Was the gradual day

Weakening the will

Leaking the brightness away.

   Stephen Spender

 

And then God’s gift: in the rather awkward packaging of the adolescent God brings into our lives a challenge to grow, testing our love, chastening our hope, pushing our faith to the edge of the abyss. It comes at just the right time. All the realities that have become hackneyed and trite are suddenly in fresh form before us, demanding response, requiring participation.

The most significant growing up that any person does is growing up in Christ. All other growing up is a preparation for or ancillary to this growing up. Biological and social, mental and emotional growing up is all meant to be put to the service of growing up in Christ. The human task is to become mature not only within ourselves but in our relationship with God and with other persons.

Three biblical texts focus the task:

And the child [John] grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel. (Luke 1:80)

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52)

...until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness off Christ; so that we may no longer be children. ... (Eph. 4:13, 14)

John grew up. Jesus grew up. We grow up. Saint Paul’s summary counsel is that we “...grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4-15). All growing up is drawn into the act of growing up into Christ. Growing up in Christ centers and models all growing up. Adolescents exhibit the process of growing up into adulthood in a particularly vivid form. Their parents are unavoidably involved in it. Every parent of an adolescent is thus provided with a gift — a kind of living laboratory in which to take the data of growing up, work experiments with it in personal ways, and then experience it in an act of faith to the glory of God. Parents don’t always look at it this way. Not infrequently, they are heard to complain about it. Many stoically stick it out, assured by the experts that adolescence is self-curing and will be over in seven or eight years. They never open the gift; they never enter the laboratory.

But adolescence is a gift, God’s gift, and it must not be squandered in complaints or stoic resistance. There is a strong Christian conviction, substantiated by centuries of devout thinking and faithful living, that everything given to us in our bodies and in our world is the raw material for holiness. Nature is brought to maturity by grace and only by grace. Nothing in nature — nothing in our muscles and emotions, nothing in our geography and our genes — is exempt from this activity of grace. And adolescence is not exempt.

My purpose is to block any approach that reduces adolescence to a problem that must be solved and insist that it is an experience to be entered into by the middle-aged as well as by the young as a means for growing up. But there is this difference: what the young are forced to go through by virtue of their biology, the middle-aged willingly embrace by virtue of their faith (or willingly refuse in their unbelief). And the “growing up” of parents is not to a mark on a measuring rod but to the “stature of the fullness of Christ.”

 

from: Like Dew Your Youth by Eugene Peterson

 

Chapter 3 from Figures of the True, by Amy Carmichael

The photo Amy used for the following inspiration

This photo, taken by Dr. Hans aus der Funte helped provide the inspiration for the following devotional thought from Amy Carmichael.

 

There was one who was not afraid of any evil tidings, for her heart stood fast believing in the Lord. And her trust was in the tender mercy of God for ever and ever.

Often He had arisen as light in the darkness.

Often she had called upon Him in troubles and He had delivered her, and heard her what time the storm fell upon her.

He had been merciful, loving and righteous, and she had said, "Who is like unto the Lord our God, that hath His dwelling so high; and yet humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and earth?" And now she found herself standing alone, looking into a great mist.

Fold after fold the hills lay there before her, but always in mist. She could see no path, except a little track in the valley below. She thought that she was quite alone, and for a while she stood looking, listening, and feeling this loneliness and uncertainty harder to bear than any acute distress had ever been.

Then softly, voices began to speak within her, now discouraged, now encouraging.

"My flesh and my heart faileth."

"But God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever."

“My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my soul; and my kinsmen stand afar off."

"Nevertheless, I am continually with Thee: Thou hast holden me by my right hand."

"My tears have been my meat day and might; while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?"

"Thou shalt answer for me, O Lord my God."

"He knoweth the way that I take. All my ways are before Him. As for God, His way is perfect and He maketh my way perfect. They thirsted not when He led them through the deserts. Will they faint when He leads them through the hills?"

Then she looked again at the mist, and it was lightening, and she knew that she was not alone, for her God was her refuge and strength, and very present help in trouble. He was about her path; He would make good His loving-kindness toward her, and His loving-kindness was comfortable. Nor could she fear any more, for those dim folds in the hills were open ways to Him. He would not let her be disappointed of her hope.

So it was enough for her to see only the next few steps, because He would go before her and make His footsteps a way to walk in. And of this she was also sure: He whom she followed saw through the mist to the end of the way. She would never be put to confusion.

And in that hour a song was given to her. She sang it as she walked; "O what great troubles and adversities has Thou showed me! and yet didst Thou turn and refresh me; and broughtest me up from the deep of the earth again. The Lord is my Strength and my Shield; my heart trusted in Him and I am helped; therefore my heart danceth for joy, and in my song will I praise Him. Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon Thee: Thou saidst, Fear not. O Lord, Thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; Thou hast redeemed my life. O let my mouth be filled with Thy praise, that I may sing of Thy glory and honour all the day long, For Thou, Lord, hast never failed them that seek Thee."

And as she walked thus and sang, others whom she did not see because of the mist that still lay on her way, heard her singing and were comforted and helped to follow on, even unto the end.

 

from: Figures of the True by Amy Carmichael. Pages 15-17

Divine Friendship and Human Friendship
from FRIENDS IN A BROKEN WORLD, Thoughts On Friendship From the Emmaus Road, by Soo-Inn Tan

Friends in a Broken World, book

"That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the millage of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. (Luke 24:13-14)

In the early days of my widowerhood, I was lost. Nothing in my life prior to that point had prepared me for the loss of a spouse. My doctrinal framework remained unchanged, and my faith, though shaken, was intact. But doctrine is cold comfort for a new widower. A good friend, Lee Hong Kwang, would come by once a week and take me out for dim-sum and tea. He didn’t say much but he was there. He practiced the ministry of "presence" and, in his presence, I experienced the presence of Christ.

The best human friendships should mediate the friendship of God. As we see in the experience of the two disciples on the Emmaus road, when true friends walk together, Jesus comes alongside. Therefore if we take divine friendship seriously, we must also take human friendship seriously. This type of friendship that interweaves the divine and the human is what writers like James M. Houston call "spiritual friendship", "...a friendship in the company of Christ."

Commenting on the work of Aelred of Rievaulx, Paul J. Wadell has this to say about spiritual friendship:

Every friendship is formed around shared goods that identify the friendship and help the friends understand the life and purpose of the friendship. In spiritual friendship the principal good is a mutual love for Christ and a desire to grow together in Christ. This is what distinguishes spiritual friendship the friends are centered in Christ, they seek Christ, and they strive to live according to Christ. Through their friendship they want to help one another live a godly and holy life. They want each other to be resplendent in goodness.

At a fundamental level, we all need friends to be truly human. In his book Social Intelligence, Daniel Goleman reports:

Among people around the world, nourishing relationships are the single most universally agreed-upon feature of the good life. While the specifics vary from culture to culture, all people everywhere deem warm connections with others to be the core feature of "optimal human existence."

Much earlier, and with much more economy of words, the writer of Ecclesiastes had already observed the logic of friendship:

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble, Likewise, tow people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but tow can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 5:9-12)

The two disciples on the Emmaus road may have gotten their theology wrong, but they had gotten one thing right—they understood the importance of friendship. In their moments of faith and doubt they had each other. And the quality of their friendship is seen in the fact that they were allowed to share their strongest emotions in each other’s presence (v.17) They were also partners in blessing others (vv. 28-31)

Human friendship cannot replace divine friendship. The tow disciples had each other and were able to share their common grief. but they had no real solutions to their despair till Jesus came to them. So while we work to strengthen the friendships in our lives, and in the lives of others, we need to continue to nurture our friendship with Christ and introduce others to His friendship. Jesus continues to be one that says:

Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. (Revelation 3:20)

The two disciples on the Emmaus road invited Jesus in and became His friends.

If human friendship cannot replace divine friendship, neither can divine friendship replace human friendship. Even though Adam had an unsullied friendship with God in the Garden of Eden before the Fall, it was still not good for him to be without human companionship. (Genesis 2:18). Marriage in one way that this need for companionship is met. And I thank God for my wife Bernice who, with her generous love, nurtures my soul, and helps me be all that I should be.

The Bible also makes mention of true friends, the type that "sticks closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24). I am grateful that the Lord has brought such friends into my life as well. These friends have not excused my sins and my failures. But they have stood by me, even during the tumultuous moments in my journey, and they have done this even though it has cost them time, money and reputation. They have shared my burdens (Galatians 6:2). They have encouraged me (1Thessalonians 5:11). And they have motivated me to "acts of love and good works" (Hebrews 10:24).They have been there for me, and because they were there for me they reminded me that Christ was there too.

 

from: Friends in a Broken World, by Soo-Inn Tan. Pages 19-23.


Feel the Embrace 
from Shattered Dreams, by Larry Crabb

God wants to bless us. That’s the first idea. Because He can’t resist giving us the highest good, He’s determined to give us an encounter with Himself. It’s the greatest blessing He can think of. It’s the highest dream the self-aware human soul envisions.

But we’re not self-aware. We’re out of touch with the central longing of our hearts. An encounter with Him is what we want, but we don’t know it. That’s the second idea. Let me develop it a little further.

We dream lower dreams and think there are none higher. We dream of good marriages, talented kids, enough health and money to enjoy life, rewarding work, and an opportunity to make a difference in the world.

All good things. Of course we want them. But we think they’re the best things. That’s what God means when He calls us foolish.

In the old way, when God was remote and inaccessible, it would have been difficult to imagine anything better than the blessings of life, than all those lower dreams that are legitimate goods.

But in the new way (what theologians call the New Covenant), God is present and available. He is here and now. When Jesus cried, "It is finished," the unapproachable God of intimidating holiness opened His arms and invited us to feel His embrace.

The greatest blessing is not longer the blessing of a good life. It never was. It is now the blessing of an encounter with God. It always has been. But now, in the new way, the greatest dream is available.

But we don’t view things that way. So God goes to work to help us see more clearly. One way He works is to allow our lower dreams to shatter. He lets us hurt and doesn’t make it better. We suffer and He stands by and does nothing to help, at least nothing that we’re aware we want Him to do.

In fact, what He’s doing while we suffer is leading us into the depths of our being, into the center of our soul where we feel our strongest passions.

It’s there that we discover our desire for God. We begin to feel a desire to know Him that not only survives all our pain, but actually thrives in it until that desire becomes more intense than our desire for all the good things we still want. Through the pain of shattered lower dreams, we wake up to the realization that we want an encounter with God more than we want the blessings of life. And that begins a revolution in our lives.

 

from: Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb. Pages 3-4

Clouds by Amy Carmichael

This evening the clouds lay low on the mountains, so that sometimes we could hardly see the familiar peaks. Sometimes the stars, too, were nearly all covered. But always, just when it seemed as though the mountains were going to be quite lost in the mist, the higher peaks pushed out, out, and whereas the dimmer stars were veiled, the brighter ones shone through. Even supposing the clouds had wholly covered the face of the mountains, and not a star had shone through the piled-up masses, the mountains would still have stood steadfast, and the stars would not have ceased to shine.

I thought of this and found it very comforting, simple as it is. Our feelings do not affect God’s facts. They may blow up like clouds and cover the eternal things that we do most truly believe. We may not see the shining of the promises, but still they shine; and "the strength of the hills that is His also," (Psalm 95:4) is not for one moment less because of our human weakness.

Heaven is no dream. Feelings go and come like clouds, but the hills and the stars abide.

 

from: EDGES OF HIS WAYS: Daily Devotional Notes, March 27