The Traps and Treasures of Thankfulness

The words and verses are superimposed over photos of flowers and cornucopias, then plastered onto mugs and magnets: Give Thanks! They’re carefully calligraphed across reclaimed-wood wall plaques: Be Thankful! More than that, they’re repeated over and over in our Bibles. 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1Thessalonians 5:16-18 

As Christians, we’re well aware of the commands for thankfulness, and we can’t finagle the translation of any Greek words to get out of it – Although I sure wish I could some days. 

For me, the idea of thankfulness comes with baggage. It can feel invalidating, fake, or saccharine sweet when contrasted with the often painful and bitter reality of my daily life. 

Do you ever feel that way, too? 

Sometimes I think this might be because I’m understanding thankfulness wrong. Let’s look at a couple misconceptions about thanksgiving that many of us get trapped in, and then we’ll dive into the heart of Biblical thanks.

Thankfulness Does Not Mean Ignoring Pain

This is big. It only takes reading a few Psalms (Psalm 12, 86, 94) to see that even our loudest songs of praise can also be filled with heart-wrenching cries of lament and sorrow. This is important to say because cheerful church cultures can unknowingly wield thankfulness like a weapon, silencing our suffering to avoid the discomfort of grief or doubt. 

“How are you?” they ask. “Too blessed to be stressed! God is good!” we respond with a weak laugh, choking our pain down a bit deeper – A dull weight sinking heavy in our bellies where we hope no one will discover the real us, yet desperately hoping they might try. 

As we enter our prayers with God we might do the same – Offering up a bright but hollow Christianese version of ourselves, hoping we might appease Him, unsure if He wants to know the real us (hint: He does!). 

In the mental health world this is known as Spiritual Bypassing, which means using spiritual words, ideas, or practices to try to skip right past the hard and holy work of facing traumas, woundedness, or even just reality itself.  

Spiritual Bypassing is a hollow positivity, and it isn’t true thankfulness. It eventually leaves us lonely, ashamed, and disconnected from God, others, and ourselves. Like the spiritual equivalent of an Instagram filter, we avoid authenticity and connection. This kind of grasping does not equal gratitude. Rather, as you plum the sorrows of your soul and the drama of your days, come to God with all of it. 

Thanks-giving is holistic, so thank God for what you are thankful for and cry with Him about the areas that hurt. Bring your whole self and your whole story to the table. God formed you in all of your strength and fragility, and He loves each and every aching bit of you.

Thankfulness is Not Comparison

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector…’” Luke 18:10

As usual, the hyper-religious Pharisee in the parable above gets a few things wrong. And sadly, as usual, he reminds me a lot of myself. The Pharisee is looking at things, at other people, and at himself instead of looking toward God. Basically, he’s comparing. 

We might think we’d never fall into this same self-sufficient trap, but how about this: “Eat your dinner and be grateful! There are starving kids who’d love to have what you have!” Raise your hand if you’ve heard (or said) this phrase. I know I have. 

But is it thankfulness we are fostering, or comparison? Is it thankfulness we are fostering or smug superiority wrapped up in a spiritual bow? Does it make us thankful for what we have, or thankful that we’re not like those poor starving children

Like Spiritual Bypassing, this kind of thankfulness is hollow, focusing more on things than on the Giver of All Good Things (James 1:17). This can sometimes be subtle or seem benign, but when we look at someone else’s plate, we’re always at risk of falling into the comparison trap and puffing up our own ego instead of truly thanking God. In the parable, Jesus goes on to describe another person who came to the temple that day. This one, the tax collector, prayed differently, crying “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Jesus goes on to applaud this man because of his humility. 

Humility is, without question, the rich soil of thanksgiving. 

If Biblical thankfulness isn’t Spiritual Bypassing or comparison, what is it? And how do we live it out? Let’s look now at the heart of thankfulness.

Thankfulness is Relational and Responsive

God doesn’t need our compliments, so when He tells us to be thankful, it isn’t to stroke His own heavenly ego or to tack on to our spiritual agenda. What God wants, what He always-and-forever wants, is a continuously connected, intimately loving and redeeming relationship with us (Ephesians 2:4-7). 

Thankfulness is part of a reciprocal relationship as we revel in and respond to His movement in our hearts and in the world around us. Just as we become closer to our friends, spouse, or children when we actively look for and call out the things of beauty in them, we will find more intimacy with God when we move away from a to-do list and move into awe and wonder at the God of love, creator of sunsets and the Milky Way. 

Although gratitude for gratitude’s sake is a healthy discipline for all, God is calling us to something much bigger and deeper. He’s calling us into relationship with Himself, giving both roots and fruit to our faith.

“Tune my heart to sing Thy grace” is how the hymn-writer puts it. Thankfulness is the grace-singing response to our attunement with God. It baptizes the mundane and bursts up from worldly waters dripping with a heavenly hymn.

So what does that look like in the often bleak and busy reality of our daily lives? For me, It  means that as I go throughout my day, I simply (though not always easily) look for the holy of God. Sometimes this comes naturally and other times it’s more like what Hebrews 13:5 calls a “sacrifice of praise.”

When I’m with friends, I belly laugh and marvel at the God who created humor and joy. 

His image is carved into each and every person we encounter. 

Isn’t He beautiful? 

Thank you, God. 

On cold, rainy nights when I’m waiting and waiting at a bus stop, wishing I was at home, wishing I wasn’t in pain, wishing desperately that life had worked out differently, I cry to God and thank Him for His presence. 

I thank Him for seeing me and for being a God who knows about suffering and aloneness. I may or may not thank God for my chronic pain and the ways He has redeemed it in my life. I’m not always thankful for that. But I can almost always be thankful for the way He meets me in the crushing middle of it, offering His love in both the stillness and the chaos of my suffering. 

And later, as I watch my tenth cat youtube video for the night, I ask myself what these videos say about God. Who must He be to have created an animal as over-the-top, facetious, furry and fun as a cat? It might sound silly or trivial, but cats can lead us to thankfulness, too. Even if you’re a dog lover! When we look for God with humble parts, we are sure to find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).

Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it like this:

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, 
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

Humbly pay attention. 
Look for beauty. 
Look for God. 
Even in the darkness, you might just find you’re standing on holy ground.

Respond. 

Take off your shoes.

Thank God!

 

About the Author: Alyssa Zimmerman, like you, is incredibly loved by God. She anxiously offers up her cynicism, fear, and mustard-seed-faith in return. Constantly amazed by grace and relieved by redemption, Alyssa pursues truth, love, justice and Jesus in the midst of disabling chronic pain which has shaped the vast majority of her life and foiled her dreams for college, career, and a family. Instead, Alyssa became a high school dropout, living in poverty and pain, forced to spend most days in bed with an icepack. Nevertheless, she is committed to the great and messy work of therapy and mental health, wishing deep-down healing and wholeness for all.

At home among the trees, the mountains, and the drizzling rain, Alyssa is a PNW native. She is passionate about living vulnerably, wrestling with the hard questions of faith, and pushing beyond the confines of our modern western evangelical culture in the hope of better understanding the fullness of God’s love and more indiscriminately extending it to all. She is a great lover of wit and silence, watcher of documentaries, drinker of tea, and excessive taker of mediocre phone pics.

Hope & Healing: Finding Help in the Journey

Most of us love a good story. We have since we were young.  We love to hear that the underdog wins or the good guy saves the day.  This is partly because we are all living inside an epic story. The question is, do we know and understand our story in a way that we are living our story out, or is our story living us out?  

We’ve covered a lot concerning mental health awareness and understanding how trauma presents itself in our lives over the past month.  Maybe something you heard or read resonated with you in a way that, frankly, is a little scary, and you’re wondering what do I do with this.  Please know you are not alone. We’ve all had those moments where even the idea of taking another breath seems too difficult. But you can and you will.  

Some may think that trauma and healing don’t have much in common.  Yet, just as a pebble thrown into a still body of water creates ripple after ripple, so do the effects of trauma and so do the effects of healing.  When we do the hard work in facing the things we’ve been running from, we become legacy changers. The hope of this month’s podcasts and articles is to help provide a safe place to begin having conversations around what isn’t working in life and ask yourself if God is calling you to work on something.  

To begin the journey of understanding your story you’ll want to find a therapist that you trust.  The therapeutic relationship is important in the process of healing. You are hiring someone to work with you.  I often tell my clients that the space we share as we journey through their story is a sacred one. My hope for you is you find a therapist that treats it as such.  No doubt, the process can be daunting and “we often seek a counselor in times of desperation, which can cloud our judgment”(Kehler, 2011). Please know choosing a counselor is one area where you don’t want to settle.  

How to Choose a Therapist

To help in this process of finding a therapist we are going to take a look at some criteria adapted from an article by Byron Kehler, MS called Choosing a Therapist.  

  • Qualifications: There are varying degrees of education and disciplines in the field of mental health.  Take the time to research what it is you think you need and ask around for referrals. Remember all personality styles may not “click”, so look for someone with whom you feel comfortable.
  • Experience: Experience may be one of the best assurances of competence. It is okay to ask questions of a potential therapist to see how much experience they have had concerning recovery issues.  Have they taken clients, successfully, from beginning to end of the recovery journey? Do they exhibit comfort and confidence in their familiarity with recovery issues? Recognizing the counselor as your employee hired to lead you from one psychological place to another is valuable in planning the selection process.
  • Safety: Personal and emotional safety is a prime ingredient in effective therapy.  Notice what they do to foster your safety. Are they sensitive to your needs both spoken and unspoken? Does their office environment suggest safety?  Are they professional?
  • Philosophy: What is their philosophy of therapy and treatment?  How do they see their role in the process; can they describe or articulate that?  This relationship is often long-term, certainly influential, and even intimate in regard to the type of personal information revealed, how will they handle this?
  • Boundaries: The relationship between client and therapist is a protected one.  If we’ve experienced a severe violation of boundaries; the need for clear therapeutic boundaries to foster safety is essential.  Is this therapist clear regarding the importance of boundaries to safety? Do they explain therapy practices, limits, guidelines, expectations, emergencies, finances, and other practical matters?  Do they seem sensitive to issues of confidentiality relating to self-disclosure, and your own information? The therapy relationship is a professional one and should not include socializing, bartering, blurring of roles, or conflicts of interest.  
  • Active-Responsive:  Do you feel as though the therapist really hears you?  Do they respond directly to your questions and concerns? Do they appear attentive, or easily distracted, during the course of the session?
  • Faith:  How does the therapist’s own faith impact their therapeutic approach, philosophy, and practice?  Are they comfortable discussing faith related issues? How would they describe their belief system?  How important is the issue of faith to you in your healing process?
  • Personal Health: Do they appear healthy and balanced?  Does their lifestyle reflect balance, stability, self-understanding, and adequate personal recovery?  Are they relatively free from pronounced insecurities, fears, control issues, and defensiveness? Do they limit their own self-disclosure, and focus on your needs rather than their own?  Remember, a therapist can only take you to where they have arrived themselves.
  • Summary: Start with the phone and friends.  You can often get some of your general questions answered over the phone in a few minutes at no cost, to help identify those you may actually want to meet.  When interviewing them in person, identify why you are there (shopping for a therapist) and ask your questions. You can take notes if you like to later reflect on their answers.  Don’t be afraid to meet with more than one therapist to compare. If they are uncomfortable with your process of selection and evaluation, then keep looking. Don’t get frustrated if some counselors are busy and difficult to get in to see.  If they are busy, there probably is a good reason. They may be worth waiting for. Above all, trust your intuition. Don’t expect to immediately trust your therapist or the therapy process. That takes time. Keep asking questions and evaluating progress.

As we close this month, I want to thank you for listening and reading.  Please know you are thought of and prayed for. Remember that the human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed.  It simply wants to be witnessed exactly how it is. And that is what we find when we embrace Yes/And thinking.  We begin to reach out, ask for help, and invite God into this epic story that continues to be written.

With hope for healing,

Marnee

Marnee Alfson is an EMDR trained trauma specialist in private practice in Vancouver, WA.  Marnee received her training under the direction of leading author and developer of Story Informed Trauma Therapy (SITT), Byron Kehler, MS. She has worked with survivors of various traumas such as sexual and/or domestic assault, displacement, first responders, attachment in relationships, body image, life transitions and mood management.

She believes we gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience we choose to walk through.  Trauma recovery therapy is an important part of hope in helping other survivors live their lives free of the pain they have experienced. http://www.riverbendwa.com/

 

Byron Kehler, M.S. is a Trauma Therapist in private practice in Milwaukie, Oregon. He has worked with survivors of physical, sexual, emotional, mental, and spiritual abuse for over 40 years. Byron has been certified by the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and is certified in EMDR with a specialization in Dissociative Disorders.

Byron has presented on various childhood trauma recovery themes around the country at churches, social services agencies, public and private schools, colleges, universities, and professional conferences. He has provided humanitarian relief services for natural disasters in Asia after the tsunami and the gulf coast post-hurricane Katrina, training therapists in trauma recovery.  He is the author and developer of Story-Informed Trauma Therapy (SITT), for recovery from early childhood trauma. This evidence-based model has been taught to mental health therapists in agencies in New Orleans and the gulf coast following Hurricane Katrina and has been proven effective in improving the lives of trauma survivors. http://www.byronkehler.com/

 

Podcast 020 – “Hope & Healing: Trauma, the Brain, and How We Can Reclaim Our Story” with Chelsea Van Essen

What is trauma and how does it affect the brain and our overall mental health? After experiencing trauma, is it possible to find restoration and reclaim the authorship of our own story? How do we begin the process of healing and what can we expect as we do?

Join host Lisa DaSilva as she talks to therapist Chelsea Van Essen in an effort to better understand how neuroscience and the brain respond to trauma and the steps we can take to find healing.

Find a printable copy of helpful definitions and diagrams from Logos Wilderness Therapy here:

 

About Chelsea Van Essen: Chelsea is a passionate social justice advocate, entrepreneur, and outdoor educator. Beginning her first anti-trafficking organization at Seattle Pacific University, today she continues to fight alongside others for their restoration and freedom as a founder and Clinical Director of Logos Wilderness Therapy. Chelsea has a Masters of Social Work, is a bilingual licensed therapist and has over six years of guiding experience leading deep wilderness trips in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. As the Clinical Director of Logos, she specializes in creating wilderness experiences that cultivate wholeness, healing and hope for survivors.

Hope & Healing: A Sacred Invitation

She was no stranger to the realities of suffering. By her mid-twenties she’d nearly died from the effects of pervasive domestic abuse. 

She had given her time and energy to service in her church and to her family. She had pursued Christian literature on topics of marriage, biblical submission, and living self-sacrificially; she had begged God to take the oppression she was suffering from her shoulders. Still, her world went dark.

Her shoulders sagged beneath the invisible weight of grief and of depression as she walked into the office that first day. Unwilling and even unable to meet the gentle eyes of the therapist sitting across from her, she began to slowly edge the door open to her story. Her tone devoid of all emotion, she began revealing the harrowing details of her life. 

That woman was me. 

I was suffering from a deep depression – A mental illness resulting from a chemical imbalance in the brain. In my case, something we believed happened as a somatic response to the chronic suffering I had endured. I needed help, and fast.  

I began working with a trauma therapist and slowly learned to allow the deep resounding cry of lament to reverberate through my soul. My recovery, the beginning of my journey back to mental health, was through  treatment by a trained mental health therapist. It would become the single most gracious act of the Divine I have ever encountered. 

Under the weight of chronic and repeated abuse I, like many other women in similar circumstances, began to suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) becoming widely known in the mental health community of practitioners as complex post-traumatic stress disorder (or c-PTSD).  As with PTSD, alterations to regions of the brain result in the classic symptoms of depression, anxiety, issues of memory, and even reasoning. Other signs of c-PTSD include hypervigilance, dissociation, difficulty with emotional regulation, and pervasive negative self-view among others. 

The Healing Truth

We hear stories like this with alarming frequency within the walls of the church. Too often we have taken in a doctrine that translates the message of prayer, submission, and forgiveness into a death sentence of chronic suffering because we don’t know enough about what God desires for our emotional well being. 

Mental illness needs to be approached with a holistic understanding – One that encompasses both the scientific and the deeply spiritual. The church has a responsibility to become aware of the intricate realities that the body of Christ faces in the areas of depression, anxiety, addiction, and a multitude of other psychoses. It is not enough that we teach repentance, prayer, contemplation, community and self-care. While these are necessary tenets of emotional wellbeing, they are not treatment of mental illness. 

Mental Illness Vs. Mental Health 

Mental illnesses are diagnosable medical conditions that result in changes in patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior. They lead to ruptures in the functioning of relationships in work, school, and families, causing distress for the bearer and their community. Mental illness is indiscriminate, affecting any person regardless of demographic with nearly one of every five people within the pews across churches in the United States experiencing some form of mental illness (American Psychiatric Association, 2019). The good news is that mental illness is treatable if we give our people the right and consistent access necessary for healing and recovery: Trained clinical therapists and medical doctors. 

Sometimes the language we use to discuss the intricacies of personality and/or characteristics of the people around us can be confusing. Mental illness is different than mental health. Mental health (aka: emotional health) is centered around the idea that with intentionality and awareness we can influence the way our brains affect our mood, thus impacting either positively or negatively our relationships. Healthy, helpful mindful awareness is the act of nourishing the body, mind, and soul. 

 It may look like any number or combination of the following:

  • Contemplative prayer (Lectio Divina)
  • Solitude
  • Body movement
  • Time spent outdoors
  • Striving to maintain a healthy diet
  • Boundaries in relationships (including the use of the word “No!”)
  • Healthy sleep hygiene
  • Self-care
  • Rest

When we engage the holistic body with gentleness and gratitude we ultimately honor the God of all creation who asks us above all else to love and be loved. The invitation we have been given is to sit in the presence of holy whether in relationships with others, in quiet before God, or within the beauty of nature or any other number of ways God reveals himself to us. 

Reclamation

I was once burdened with deep depression and will likely always be in recovery from c-PTSD. However, I was also given access to healing through a trained mental health professional and medical intervention. This access gave me the tools I needed to decrease my symptoms, and regain my connection to the presence of Holy. Others deserve the same. You deserve the same. 

Properly understanding the impact of mental illness allows us to join hands with those around us in the holiest calling ever given: love God and love others well. Love is where compassion is expressed and healing is found. Love is the sacred invitation to return to Jesus who asked us simply…to show up. 

 

About the Author: Kimberly is passionate about the way life is lived out in relationships. She’s smart and sassy, compassionate, and a little sarcastic too. A sole parent to three bio teens, and parenting two more, she is on staff with YoungLife in their ministry to teen moms and is a pre-licensed trauma therapist in Oregon and SW Washington. Her work has focused on domestic violence advocacy and trauma recovery utilizing a relational neuroscience model integrating the science of neurobiology with the art of attachment. Find more information about Kimberly’s practice here, and link to more of her writing on the Redemptive Grace blog

Podcast 019 – “Hope & Healing: How Trauma Impacts Our Story” with Marnee Alfson

What is trauma and how does it impact our story? How can unresolved trauma manifest itself and is there hope for someone who suffers as a result? Therapist Marnee Alfson joins host Lisa DaSilva to talk about some of the issues surrounding PTSD, as well as the ‘Yes, And’ way we as followers of Christ can respond to trauma. 

This is the first segment of a four part Hope and Healing series during the month of October. Look for books, definitions, and scripture referenced during the podcast below.

 

About Our Guest: Marnee Alfson is an EMDR trained trauma specialist in private practice in Vancouver, WA.  Marnee received her training under the direction of leading author and developer of Story Informed Trauma Therapy (SITT), Byron Kehler, MS. She has worked with survivors of various traumas such as sexual and/or domestic assault, displacement, first responders, attachment in relationships, body image, life transitions and mood management.

She believes we gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience we choose to walk through.  Trauma recovery therapy is an important part of hope in helping other survivors live their lives free of the pain they have experienced.

 

Show Notes

Definition of trauma:Any experience of fear and/or pain that doesn’t have the support it needs to be digested and integrated into the flow of our developing brains.”1 Dr. Bonnie Badenoch  

 

Trauma Response Categories:

  • Arousal
    • Insomnia
    • Irritability
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Hypervigilance
    • Exaggerated startle response
  • Intrusion
    • Intrusive recollections
    • Traumatic nightmares
    • Flashbacks
    • Trauma-related, stimulus-evoked psychological distress and physiological reactions/body memories
  • Avoidance
    • Efforts to avoid trauma-related thoughts and feelings
    • Efforts to avoid trauma-related activities, places and people (sexual abuse implications)
    • Psychogenic amnesia for trauma-related memories
    • Diminished interest
    • Feeling detached or being estranged
    • Restricted range of affect
    • Sense of foreshortened future
  • Negative thoughts
    • Inability to recall key features of the trauma
    • Overly negative thoughts and assumptions about oneself or the world
    • Exaggerated blame of self/others for causing the trauma
    • Negative affect
    • Decreased interest in activities
    • Feeling isolated
    • Difficulty experiencing positive affect

Scripture We Referenced:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5

“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  Matthew 22:37

 

Can I Be Meek AND Strong?

Words are important. We quickly learn as children to move our hand from the hot stove because the blisters and burns were so painful that one time we didn’t. At the library we understand what they mean by quiet! It means no talking. Not even whispering into your cell phone “for a quick minute!” The definition we give to words informs our attitude toward them. 

For a long time, the words humility and meekness have looked a certain way in my mind. Shy. Quiet. Doormat. Insecure. There was also the notion of putting others first and thinking of others more than I think of myself. Essentially, I had a blend of some negative connotations, peppered with a few grains of biblical truth. 

Overall, humility and meekness embodied undesirable traits to emulate. The end result was unattractive and didn’t look successful (which was very important to me), and I felt guilty to be unable to produce these traits in my own character. I suspect I’m not alone.

Letting the Bible Shape Our Definitions 

“What does the Bible say?” is usually my favorite question to ask myself when faced with a challenge. I’m ashamed to say it was not one I initially used to question my own faulty narrative regarding these two character traits. Nonetheless, Scripture came to my rescue.It was a deep-dive into the letter Paul wrote TItus that helped me see I’d misunderstood humility and meekness. The language both challenged and enlightened me. Because that’s what Scripture does: It brings light to things otherwise hidden.

Titus 2:15a reads: “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority.” The verse stopped me in my tracks. An inner dialogue of sorts began inside my head. Declare, exhort, rebuke; these are all strong action verbs, I thought. These are not actions to be carried out by someone who was a doormat or insecure. They require confidence. Yet, we are called to be humble. What does it look like to declare, exhort, and rebuke, while remaining meek? How does that even work? Scripture had my full attention. So I kept digging.

Letting the Bible Explain the Bible

When you are a Christian, you will feel the tension between the life we currently have here and the one we are headed to in glory. In practical terms, this means we will live in the tension of familiarity that becomes strange as we grow in our faith, and strangeness that slowly becomes our home. The Bible calls us exiles. Because that is exactly what our status is: Exiled from our true home.  

I’d misinterpreted what humility and meekness meant. How? Like so many, I learned early in adulthood to define success and confidence through the world’s definition. To succeed and be confident meant to be strong and self-reliant. Weakness was not admirable, nor did it lead to success. Weak is who the winners ate for breakfast. 

But here’s a quick look at what the Bible says about meekness:

From the lips of Jesus, when he spoke the beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5 (ESV)

Written by David, roughly a thousand years before Christ: “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” Psalm 37:11 (ESV)

These verses, separated by a millenia and similarly worded, are pointing to a promise. One prophesied by a shepherd who would be king; the other preached by the King who came to shepherd. Who is the promise for?

Since the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek, it’s worth looking briefly at the vocabulary employed to make this promise. In Hebrew, meek means “…of a lowly, pious, and modest mind, which prefers to bear injuries rather than return them…”1

As for the Greek meaning, we find: “…that the meekness manifested by the Lord and commended to the believer is the fruit of power. The common assumption is that when a man is meek it is because he cannot help himself; but the Lord was ‘meek’ because he had the infinite resources of God at His command.”2 The confidence displayed in the meekness of Jesus is “neither elated nor cast down, simply because it is not occupied with self at all.”3 

Letting Jesus Show Us the Way

Lest we forget this conversation.4 When Jesus was outlining his purpose for the disciples saying: “I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas interjects: “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” And Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

Essentially, Jesus was saying: Look to me for how to live between now and when you arrive home.  Jesus’s life, words, and attitude provide a real-life example of what meekness and humility look like. Because he embodied humanity in his own flesh, we can find clarity in his life where our definitions fail us. 

So, herein lies the paradox. Humility embodied in Christ looked like a man who ordered storms to cease and left his closest friends scratching their heads wondering what kind of man he was, who could command obedience from wind and sea.5 Indeed, meekness is lived out in the Lamb who stood before worldly authorities and did not seek his own defence. Yet he affirmed his identity when he declared at his friend’s funeral, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25-27), right before bringing  that friend back to life in front of everyone present. 

In Jesus; God made flesh, we see meekness with power that declares Who he is, rebukes even stormy waters, and exhorts men with authority and life-altering love. The same man who overturns tables in anger also bends down to wash the dirty feet of twelve men, including the one who would betray him. Indeed, what man is this? Jesus. That’s Who.

Jesus was not shy, and he was certainly not insecure. We think doormat and roll our eyes when we remember that as Christians we are told to turn the other cheek. But in Jesus, meekness looks like surrender. He could be bold because he had nothing to prove; he knew exactly who he was. He was a King who had come to save others by doing for them what they could not do for themselves. He was confident in the One who sent him, and therefore did not feel insecure when others questioned, doubted, or even abused him. He felt hurt, yes. But his identity never wavered. 

Jesus’ whole life was example after example of turning the other cheek. Not a doormat, but more like a doorway. Instead of walking on it, he invited all to walk through it, so they could be made new. He loved us beyond all measure to the point of death, so we wouldn’t have to die. 

When I think ‘doormat,’ I think of someone who lets others take full advantage of them –  Someone who doesn’t think their personhood deserves or should demand any regard from others. Yet Jesus, being truly man and truly God, understood his worth plainly. He wasn’t letting others take advantage of him. He was simply fulfilling the purpose for which God the Father sent him. His life on earth was entirely surrendered. From Bethlehem to Gethsemane, his life was willed by the Father. Meekness is the confident obedience to surrender our rights to ourselves and live under the lordship of Christ. Humility as lived out by Jesus is otherworldly power contained and joyfully submitted for others’ sake.  

Do we dare live like this? Yes! Because when we are meek, we no longer make this life our personal pursuit of happiness and self-actualization. That often leads to an exhausting chase after perishable things that consume without giving life. The source of our joy comes not from fighting to have our way, but from following His. And the astounding result is that in the process, we end up uncovering our true self and worth. We are strong. Strong enough to declare, exhort, and rebuke, without the personal agenda for self-affirmation. Strong enough to bear injuries rather than injure. True strength is found when we become meek and reflect our Savior.

 

About the Author: Paola Barrera was born in Spanish, lives in French, and thinks in English. She loves words and uses them as arrows to point to the best words she knows — those left by our Maker and found in Scripture. Her aim: to think biblically about all of life. She’s a writer, speaker, and mentor. She blogs at WordsOutloud.net where she writes from the intersection between everyday life and eternal perspective. Canadian through the gift of immigration, she and her husband Gustavo call Montreal home. You can find her on twitter @Paola_BarreraR and Instagram @paola_m_barrera.

Podcast 018 – “Maslow’s Theory of Self-Actualization & What It Means For Us” with Marilyn McGraw

The term self-actualization was first made famous by psychologist Abraham Maslow in the 1950’s and is the ultimate goal of his hierarchy of needs (see below).  The theory, which describes a process by which an individual can reach his or her own full personal potential, plays a fundamental role in current education, health, and social justice practices.

Our podcast guest today shares insight into how we as followers of Christ can analyze and understand a secular theory like this one. What does it mean for a Christian to self-actualize?  How, if at all, can we glean truth from research and concepts that aren’t rooted in scripture? What role does the gospel play in Maslow’s theory of self-actualization, and what might this mean for the church?

Join us as we uncover the theory and seek to better understand self-actualization from a Christian perspective.

 

Image by: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

 

Digging Deeper:

Consider reading through these scriptures in light of Maslow’s theory of self-actualization. How do they contend with or complement the theory? What do they imply about our aspirations and gifts? How and for whom should the goal of self-actualization be?

  • Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”   
  • John 18:36 – “My Kingdom is not of this world.” 
  • Philippians 3:12 – “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
  • 1 Corinthians 12: 4-6 –  “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
  • Matthew 10:29 – “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will lose it.”
  • John 13:34-35 – “ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

About Our Guest: Dr. MarilynMcGraw is the Founder/CEO of Excellence At Work where her role focuses on individual and corporate coaching, speaking engagements, training, meeting facilitation, and retreats. Dr. Marilyn has developed a “just do it” style that motivates and encourages clients to achieve higher levels of personal and professional effectiveness. She is the author of Running Away for Three Weeks, an inspirational autobiography designed to prepare readers for maximum effectiveness in the workplace; creator of Discovering Your Workplace Gifts, an assessment to help individuals identify the gifts they were motivated to discover; and author of Six Steps to Excellence for Leaders, a road map to personal and professional excellence for all leaders.

God’s Grace, Your Grit

Our family of three recently returned from a few trips in the last month where our two year old son slept in our bed most nights. It wasn’t a normal routine for him and we figured it would be a little hard to transition him back into his own bed when we got home. In reality, it ended up being much more difficult than we expected. He didn’t want to be away from us, day or night.

Our efforts to have him sleep in his own bed required 2 hours to put him to bed, then getting up 4 to 5 times a night when he would scream. He also learned the dreaded skill of climbing out of his crib during this time. I would hear a huge crash and scream at 3am that jolted me out of bed and hurried me to his bedroom to make sure he wasn’t hurt. Once the crying settled, then it was trying to go back to bed after an adrenaline rush. We were starting to feel like we had a newborn again and were already exhausted from the traveling we did the weeks before. 

One particular night I found myself on the floor next to my son’s crib, rubbing his back after I had been in his room for close to an hour and a half. I felt myself getting angrier and angrier that he wouldn’t for the love of anything just go to sleep already! I wanted to be out on the couch watching TV or literally doing anything else besides being trapped in his room. It had been weeks since our regular schedule of his 2 hour nap and 8 o’clock bedtime and I was ready to have it back.

And that’s when I felt the Lord ask me: “Are you not physically able to do this right now or do you just not want to?”

Like many questions the Lord asks, it stopped me in my tracks.

My honest answer? Of course I was able. I had a deep well of physical capacity to accomplish the task at hand. I just didn’t want to. 

As someone with a history of ignoring my own needs and boundaries, I had swung the other way on the pendulum where many things were about me and what I wanted to do. The balance between self-care and self-denial is always changing and I do my best to stay somewhere in the middle, but it’s hard!

Have you ever come across a mom who’s more joyful about motherhood than you? I’m talking about the moms who, through the good and bad, easy and hard, are still joyful about their work. It’s convicting and curious at the same time. Like, what am I missing here?

The Lord’s question to me revealed that CHOOSING to serve my family as a general attitude, no matter the circumstance, will bring me more joy than wishing I was doing something else.

In the past I have had a fear of becoming a slave to my family. I didn’t want to be run over or unappreciated. Can I really enjoy giving to my family without feeling like a slave to others?

I have since realized that I’m nobody’s slave if I choose to do it.  

There were many times I had decided in advance that I didn’t want to read more bedtime stories or clean up the kitchen or cook dinner, even though I was fully capable. 

Other than the Lord, you are the only one who truly knows the attitude of your heart. Choosing to serve your family isn’t about ignoring ALL of your needs ALL of the time. It does require you to have boundaries and it does require you to uphold them. 

Practical Suggestions for an Attitude of Willingness

Asking a few questions when you’re not feeling like giving anymore helps get to the heart of the matter.

  1. Is this something I can’t do? Or something I don’t want to do?

Sometimes we have a hard day emotionally. Or a lot of hard days emotionally. Sometimes our emotional capacity is maxed out while we still have more to give in our physical capacity. It can help to focus on the area that we are strong in at the moment, physical capacity, rather than your weakness and complete the task at hand. Be sure to circle back to your emotional needs at another time when you are able.

    2. What do I need to implement more or less of in my life so I can maintain an attitude of willingness? 

Do I need less screen time? Can I do less activities outside the house? More planned time away from family? More time with the Lord? Can I hang out with other moms that have a heart of willingness and be encouraged? 

Be Encouraged by the Word

Reading the Bible is to our benefit. Marriage and motherhood takes a lot of our grit and elbow grease to keep digging in. Our perseverance and passion need continual stoking. There are many verses we can cling to when it comes to giving to our families. Reflect on the scriptures below and consider how they apply to your circumstances.

    • “You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure.” 2 Corinthians 9:7
    • “She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.” Proverbs 31:13
    • “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16
In The End

The decision to serve our family is one that is noticed. Our family members enjoy our happy-hearted giving, just as we enjoy theirs.

It’s hard to keep the tension of self-care and self-denial – That’s what God’s grace is for. Together, we use our grit and God’s grace to stay in a willing place of self-sacrifice without killing ourselves.

My Prayer for Grit and Grace

Lord, I need your grace to help me dig in today. Help me want to give to others. Help me to see and think outside of myself. Lord, I know that sometimes I have a bad attitude about the work I do, help me to get to a place where I can enjoy this today. Give me reminders that my work is important and cherished by you. You see the grit I put in and appreciate it. Help me to know when I need to rest and when I need to dig deeper. Show me quickly when my heart has turned away from serving and steer me back towards loving my family with my whole heart.

 

About the Author:  Hi there! I’m Lynnaea and I am mama to one little man named Remmik and married to my favorite guy, Dave, for almost 5 years! I enjoy fresh air in my lungs and anything with the mountains, trees, or ocean. I was raised in the Pacific Northwest but have lived in the beautiful town of Homer, Alaska for the last 3 years. You can find more of my writing on the Rosebud Blog.

 

 

Come As You Are, But Don’t Leave the Same When You Go

So real talk. I grew up in the church, heard bible stories, sang songs, did Awana, all the things. But until my early twenties I didn’t actually understand that Saul was Paul. I was reminded of this on my visit to Rome last summer, where Paul spent some of his time as documented in Acts and in his letter to the church in the book of Romans. It was interesting to see where that reflection led and how there’s some major tie-in with a concept God has been teaching me for the last eight years or so. The Saul/Paul faux-pa of mine reflects the major theological concept of sanctification in two different ways. 

The first was personal. For most of my life I was showing up to church and encountering the truth of who God was, but wasn’t being transformed and changed by what I was learning. It wasn’t until different trials, encouragements, relationships, and even ego-shattering events lead me to desire God more deeply. Only then did I begin to realize there was more to the Bible than just reading the words. There was more to my relationship with God than just showing up to church on Sunday. 

In Christianity, the transformation that comes as we encounter Christ, obey him, and seek to live our lives based on His call to holiness is part of an important process called sanctification

This new knowledge changed many aspects of my Christian walk. God continued to show me how important it was to truly study and understand his written word. Not just plug in pretty verses, or magical 8 ball bible flipping when I was in a struggle. But like ACTUALLY study it. Then ACTUALLY put it into practice – However God led, through conviction to change, encouragement to do something more, or clarity to align what I may think was true to what he says is true through the Bible. 

The second reason my Saul/Paul realization is borderline comical, though, is because of the documented sanctification process that Paul went through in the New Testament. 

It’s a concept revealed throughout the Bible, but I’d never really noticed it before: God never leaves a life unchanged after encountering Him and surrendering to His truth. 

Paul’s dramatic testimony as a man who hunted down and murdered early Christians transformed into a man dedicated to supporting early churches and writing at least seven books of the New Testament is an extremely encouraging example. He didn’t just meet Jesus and follow him, his life was truly changed by the truth he learned. 

So why does this matter? 

It’s important because we can get half of the full truth by studying scripture certain ways. This not only affects our understanding of the Bible, but our personal walk with the Lord. How we study the sanctification process and it’s biblical implications forms our outreach, verbiage, and most importantly, our understanding of who God is. 

One of the major taglines I hear in current church culture is, “Come as you are.” One of the closest verses I see in the Bible that talks about this is in Matthew 11: 

“Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, ESV) 

The verse is such a comforting and loving picture of how Christ knows we’re struggling and how He wants us to come to him for rest. It’s beautiful. 

It’s easy to walk into churches that proclaim, “Come as you are” in an effort to reach people who desperately need Jesus, who need rest, who need perfect love, and feel encouraged by this response to just come. All are truly welcome. But focusing on only one side of this scripture and concept can leave out the very important other side – We are also called to be transformed. The Bible isn’t a halfway picture, and further reading reveals more of the complete story. Matthew 11 continues with: 

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest in your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Matthew 11: 29-30, ESV).  

In this passage, Jesus describes how we’re to learn from Him, do as He does, encounter and take His yoke upon us. We’re to lean in close with Him and walk through life learning from His ways. In being called to change and learn from Christ, we don’t stay in the same place. We leave different than who we were when we first came.

Here’s what’s on my heart: There’s grave danger if we leave out half of the picture when reading or studying the Bible. Claiming to simply “come as you are” doesn’t reflect the change encountered when we allow God full access to our lives. I’ll save touching on specific topics, but we could insert any hot button people group and it would reveal why this tagline can be popular to relate or invite people in. It’s so very broad. 

In reality, all of our lives and sins fit into what needs to be conformed into God’s ways. 

God doesn’t leave us unchanged once we encounter Him. We’re called to learn how Jesus lived, learn how God calls us to change through studying the Bible, obey the truth of His precepts, and surrender to the sanctification process. 

And let me tell you, it is amazing. 

And it is painful. 

But it is part of God’s design and the wonderful work He does as we learn how to live life the way He wants us to. 

God’s perfect love doesn’t just call us to come as we are, it calls us to not stay the same as we go. 

 

Seeking change alongside,

Amanda

 

About the Author: Amanda lives in Portland, Oregon and is a cardiac ICU nurse. She has a heart to live out the Great Commission in both her workplace and in the city at large. She loves the Bible, and wants to see her own and many others lives continually transformed by the solid truth of God’s word. She enjoys hot tea, baby goats, and adventures in the mountains. Seeking & serving Jesus while being made in His image is her core desire.

 

3 Surefire Ways to Labor in Vain

My sister-in-law was tired, weary, and in extreme pain delivering her firstborn when the doctor paused and said, “It’s called labor for a reason.” Though insensitive and borderline cruel, the obstetrician was right. Labor is hard.

Webster’s Dictionary defines labor as “the expenditure of physical or mental effort especially when difficult or compulsory.” As followers of Christ, there is no way around it. We were created for hard work. For labor. For toil. From the time God set Adam and Eve in the garden to care for the land and subdue it, Biblical narrative reveals that action is expected. We are workers. Whether laboring as stay-at-home parents, students, teachers, landscapers, artists, truck drivers, accountants, or lawyers, each and every one of us is called to a life of productivity. 

King Solomon introduces us to vain labor in Psalm 127:

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:1-2)

To toil or labor in vain means to waste our work – To nullify it or make it void. Solomon knew that unless God was overseeing and at the core ambition of building, the final product wasn’t even worthy of a watchman. The house was useless. The work – however difficult, cumbersome, emotionally draining, yields a worthless result.

Prophets shared the same lament of useless toil as they warned a godless Israel to repent: 

You will eat but not be satisfied; your stomach will still be empty. You will store up but save nothing, because what you save I will give to the sword. You will plant but not harvest; you will press olives but not use the oil, you will crush grapes but not drink the wine. Micah 6:13-15  

Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine. Zephaniah 1:12-13 

You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought to your ways.  Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored, ‘ says the LORD. ‘You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. Haggai 1:6-9 

There are ways we as followers of Christ can yield worthless results as well – Approaches to work that leave us “busy with our own house” (Haggai 1:6-9) while effectively producing nothing. Here are three surefire ways even followers of Christ end up laboring in vain.

1) We Follow Our Passion

Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford’s 2005 graduation ceremony was legendary. Many believe the catch-phrase “follow your passion” came from Steve’s poignant call for students to “have the courage to follow your heart and intuition” and to “find what you love and do it.” 

There is nothing inherently wrong with doing what we love. It’s freeing and beautiful when God’s will and our passion projects collide, but a simple look at the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles reveal that labor for the Lord doesn’t always mean we’ll enjoy it. Rather, it may land us in Ninevah, a flaming furnace, or with the beloved John exiled to the island of Patmos. 

Labor for the Lord means serving who we love rather than doing what we love. There’s a stark contrast. One leads to selfish ambition, temporal gain, and earthly reward – A possible shifting from one thing to another as we surmise that, ‘If I don’t love it, I must be on the wrong path.’ The other promises everlasting life and bountiful fruit. 

Following our own passion without prioritizing Kingdom needs, God-given gifts and talents, and where He is asking us to go may yield immediate pleasure, but following Christ’s passion ensures true satisfaction – A life of purposeful toil rather than worthless labor.

 

2) We Work For Our Own Glory

Paul’s message to New Testament believers was clear: Whoever you are and whatever you do, do it with grit and a heart that’s invested. Be ALL IN, but not for earthly gain.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24

But as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men. Ephesians 6:6-7 

If we truly work for the Lord, we won’t require human glory, appreciation, or approval. Daily surrender as service to Christ Jesus may not bring earthly recompense, but we’re promised the greatest reward possible: A share in the Kingdom, everlasting life, and a forever home with our worthy God.

So when we study, we study for the Lord. When we sing, we sing for His glory. When we raise children, we raise them in an effort to please Him, and when we build a home, we build it for His purpose.

 

3) We Diminish the Significance of Our Work

I’ve said it more often than I want to admit: “I’m just a stay-at-home mom,” or, “I used to be a teacher.” I minimize the value of my labor and have heard some of you do it, too. 

We need to remember that ALL of our work is ministry work. Each dish washed, coffee served, class passed, corporate deal secured, house sold or lesson taught is for His glory. Every aspect of our labor is significant. Our toil is important. No work surrendered to His purpose and for His glory is in vain.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul argues that an attitude of selfless work for God’s mission should make us glad and cause us to shine as lights in this dark world. We don’t complain about our work because we know how valuable it is to the Kingdom.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

We rejoice as a “poured out drink offering” not because our work feels significant, is enjoyable, or fulfills a void in our lives. We rejoice because our labor has Kingdom purpose and forever consequence.

So when we feel overwhelmed, empty, bored, threatened and weary in our labor, we need to remember who we’re really working for. In the words of Paul, we must “hold fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ [we] may be proud that [we] did not run in vain or labor in vain.”

Toil for His passion, work for His glory, and believe that your efforts matter for eternity. 

For Further Study

Read and reflect on 2 Corinthians 4.

In what context was this passage written (pay attention to the “therefore” at the beginning of the chapter). Who wrote it and for what purpose?

  • Based on the text, what can we expect from a life in service to Christ? Consider making a list in the margin of your Bible or in a separate notebook.
  • If everything in the list you created is true, why should we “not lose heart” (v. 1 and v.16)? What will we receive?
  • Do you find yourself laboring in vain? Unsure of why or for whom you are working? Take time to write a prayer of confession and determine a plan of action. Remember, we must be “doers of the word, and not just hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).

 

About the Author: Lisa DaSilva is a wife, mom of two teenagers, and advocate for women to love God with their heart, soul and mind as they engage in responsible study of His Word.  

Lisa is a teacher by trade and passion, voice for the marginalized, recovering striver, and lover of simplicity, authenticity, and all things pretty. She enjoys thrift store shopping and often has to convince people she’s an introvert.  Just a loud one.

Lisa loves the local church and is proud to call Summit View Community Church in Vancouver, WA home.

Loving Jesus and making Him known really is her everything.  

 

 

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