THE DRIFT

A good deal of my clinical work is done with couples on the fault line.  Their marriage is in trouble and they come in to see me.  In a best-case scenario, both individuals truly want to save the marriage.  Sometimes only one party does, but often one person can save it, but it’s going to require changing the dance.  The worst case is when one or both come in only to check the box.  They can later say they tried counseling but it didn’t work. Let me make it clear that coming in and merely sitting on the couch is not trying.  You have to be willing to do the work.  The statistics on marriage counseling are not that great and here’s why. Most people wait until it is too late. My wisest couples come in for yearly marriage check-ups.

A conversation I frequently have with my couples is one I call “The Drift.”  I take them back to the days when their relationship was new. We all know how wonderful that falling-in-love feeling is.  During that time you amplify all the positives but turn down the volume on those things on which you disagree, flaws, and potential areas of conflict.  You ignore red flags.  “Isn’t it great we like the same music.  I love his family.  We have the same goals.”  You get the idea.  When your love is new you are close.

 

 

But then life starts to happen.  You have bills to pay, children to care for, a house and yard to tend, and besides, you are tired.  If you are not careful, the relationship starts to drift.  You end up far apart without even realizing it.  He’s absorbed in the television while she sits on the couch doing Pinterest.  They don’t go on dates any more.  She may go out with her girlfriends and he may play golf with his buddies, but they have forgotten how to have fun with each other.  The Drift has set in.

 

 

So my job is to help couples begin building bridges back to each other.  One of the first things I recommend is a bit of advice a very wise pastor shared with our church many years ago.  He said couples need to divert daily, withdraw weekly, and abandon annually.  So once every day, you and your spouse need to spend about 15 minutes talking alone, even if you have to lock yourselves in the bathroom to do it.  Believe me, if your kids see you trying to have some couple time, they are going to do everything they can to get your attention. But one of the healthiest and most loving things you can do for your children is to demonstrate that next to God, your marriage relationship is the highest priority.  So at this point couples tell me they don’t have anything to talk about.  That’s because they quit talking long ago without even realizing it.  Or the only type of talking they do is shop talk (Did you remember to pay the mortgage?  What time is soccer practice?), or spite talk (Do you need an explanation here?).  So I suggest that they tell each other three things that happened during the day, and HOW THEY FELT ABOUT THOSE THREE THINGS.  That last part is the most important.  I want to introduce sharing feelings because that is a doorway to intimacy. Sometimes I have to give them a list of feeling words, especially the guys.  Then once a week, couples need a date night.  It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant; going for an ice cream cone counts.  Again, this is done without the children.  Find a sitter or trade out with another couple.  This is necessary caretaking for your marriage.  Finally, once a year the two of you need to get away by yourselves. A good book that will help you with communication, problem solving, and other necessary marriage skills is A Lasting Promise.

Think of your marriage as a bank account.  In your account you make deposits and withdrawals.  You want to build up a good amount of deposits (good will, good experiences) to get you through those lean times.  Often when couples come to see me they have been making heavy withdrawals without much in reserve.  Their marital account is depleted.  So we have to find ways to begin making some deposits.

I have Vince Gill on my mind and in my ear because we just went to one of his concerts.  He wrote a song called Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Awaythat musically describes The Drift.  You can watch a very young Vince Gill, complete with mullet sing it here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlUGTof2TWU

The lyrics are powerful:

A wounded love

Walks a real thin line

And no communication

Will kill it every time.

 

 

Wow!  Is your marriage on a “real thin line?”  Good marriages don’t just happen.  They require intentionality.  And a good marriage invites another Person into their union: Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Psalm. 127: 1-2.

Do marriage on purpose. Tend your relationship carefully.  Beware of The Drift.  You want your marriage to last a lifetime.

 

 

 

NECESSARY LOSSES

Dropping Off at College: Freshman Year

 

This is one of my favorite times of the year to look at social media.  Facebook and Instagram are loaded with back to school pictures…from first day at preschool to first day of college.  There have even been some leaving-home-for-first-job pictures.  Keep them coming!  These pictures are always bittersweet.  I especially love the pictures that show the goodbye hugs, the tears, and the looks on faces of both parent and child.  There have even been some blog posts about the struggle of letting go, trusting God with your child no matter what age they are.  We keep having to put our babies back in the basket and float them into the future God has for them.

 

I’ve been thinking about this letting go thing for some time now, and it is a continual theme in my office. I’ve decided that life is a succession of losses, one letting go after another.  And oh how we hate that letting go.  It’s been many years since I have read Judith Viorst’s book, Letting Go.  I’m remembering the central tenant of the book is that life presents us with a series of losses that are necessary to our growth and development.  These losses include the loss of a mother’s protection, the losses of impossible expectations for our lives, the loss of our younger selves (OUCH!), and the loss of loved ones through separation or death. Trying to hold on is futile, but we still hang on, sometimes desperately.  

 

I’ve been trying to think of an analogy that demonstrates the struggle involved in letting go.  Try to picture your seven-year old self with both fists full of coins.  You have been collecting and saving those coins, maybe for something special. These coins are yours, and you finally have enough to fill both of your tightly clenched hands.  Now suppose a stranger comes along and offers you two handfuls of diamonds.  But in order to receive these diamonds you have to let go of your coins.  Maybe as a seven-year old, you don’t realize the value of diamonds.  And you are very suspicious of this stranger.  He might not have your best interest at heart.  So you refuse the offer and keep your coins.  But you have done so at the expense of great treasure.

 

At the heart of letting go is loss of control.  We think if we hold on we can protect and keep.  But control is just an illusion.  We only have control over our choices, not the outcome.  We can exercise, eat the right foods, have regular checkups, and faithfully brush our teeth, but cancer may get us anyway.  As for letting go of our children, that was the whole goal from the beginning.  You do your best as a parent.  You provide them with all the basics and many of the luxuries.  You try your best to teach them to be kind and respectful, to be contributing members of society, and to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.  But the window of time for this training is brief.  When you look at eighteen years in the rear view mirror, it seems like it went by so fast.  And it goes by even faster with grandchildren!  We have to remind ourselves over and over that those children we poured ourselves into were never ours to begin with.  They belong to God and were on loan to us for a short time. We also must remember that God loves them even more than we do.  I remember a long-ago conversation with God when I heard Him say, “How can I be God in her life if you keep trying to be God?”  Moms and dads, here is a little secret: The empty nest is also wonderful.  Seeing your baby hold her baby is priceless!  Watching your son teach his son how to hit a baseball is special!  You wouldn’t want to miss out on that.  Growing old with the man you have loved for a lifetime is a hard-to-put-into-words blessing.  We need to understand that there are different kinds of good. Holding on to what is already gone keeps us stuck, and it keeps us from enjoying our new chapters, new seasons. You will get through this, and a year from now things may look entirely different (see photos above and below.)

 

There are daily losses I must reckon with, and more losses to come.  A look in the mirror is a reminder.  I now know from experience that every loss comes with a gain, a hidden gift.  But oh how I hate losing firm skin!  Even the worst of losses, the death of a loved one or our own death, is a necessary loss.  We try to hold on to people, positions, possessions, and even our own lives, but these are things that keep us earthbound.  I need to open my hands and let go of the coins because diamonds await!

 

To everything there is a season…a time to get and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away.  Ecc. 3: 6.

 

Dropping Off at College: Sophomore Year

 

 

HYDRANGEAS AND QUIET TIMES

 

I have to give my sister credit for this one.  We were talking on the phone a few mornings ago.  She is in New York visiting her daughter, my niece, Jacque.  Apparently the part of New York where my niece lives (Long Island) produces hydrangeas in abundance.  I can’t even get mine to bloom!  My sister told me that Jacque went into the yard one afternoon to cut some hydrangea blossoms, and brought them into the house and put them in a vase of water.  They quickly drooped, and by the next morning they were gone.  That is when my sister gave Jacque a tip our grandmother had given us. She always cut her roses in the morning and quickly put them in the bucket of water she carried.  Jacque followed this procedure the next morning and the hydrangeas lasted for days.

 

I became curious about why this technique works so well.  I’m so glad I live in the Google age, because one can research anything. And I can’t pick up the phone and call my grandmother anymore.  It seems that early morning is the best time to cut flowers because they have had the benefit of a cooler night and their stems are full of water and carbohydrates. As the day heats up, flowers lose moisture, their stems are less firm, and the blooms become limp.  They have a hard time recuperating when they are cut and brought into the house.

 

So as my sister and I were talking about our grandmother’s advice, she pointed out the parallel of having a quiet time early in the morning, before the day heats up.  I know my day goes better when I start it with the Bible and a conversation with God.  And many times, if I don’t do it in the morning it just doesn’t happen. There are too many distractions during the day.  I am reminded of the last part of Proverbs 8:17: those who seek me early shall find meThere are other places in Scripture that encourage us to be still and alone with God before our day gets hectic. 

 

I knew there had to be a physiological reason why God would tell us to seek Him early.  So again I did a little research on one of my favorite subjects, the brain.  I found out that our brains are actually bigger in the morning!  Researchers using MRI scans found that the brain shrinks during the course of the day, returning to its full size the next morning.  What causes the brain to shrink?  Dehydration!  Just like hydrangeas, the brain loses water during the day.  And at night our brains rehydrate.  Think of a sponge.  When it is dry it is not nearly as big (or useful) as it is when it is fully hydrated. One theory of this mechanism is that fluids from the lower parts of our bodies are redistributed when we are lying down.  Another explanation is that the time of day has something to do with hydration.

 

Our brains are about 85% water, and brain function depends on having that water.  Water is necessary for the brain’s production of hormones and neurotransmitters, and essential for removing toxins.  When our brains are fully hydrated, we are able to think faster, be more focused, and experience greater clarity and creativity.  We are more alert.  And who knows this better than the God who created our brains. Maybe that is why he encourages us to seek Him early, when we can concentrate, when we can fully attend His word, when we can hear Him.

 

Isn’t our God amazing?

 

“My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up” – Psalms 5:3

 

 

 

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IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL

 

It is well with my soul. There are some days…some seasons in life, when that is that is all you can say.  But it is also the best you can say.

 

It Is Well With My Soulhas long been one of my favorite hymns.  It was written in 1873 by Horatio Spaffordfollowing the drowning deaths of his four daughters that occurred when the ship they were on sank.  That is really all I knew of his story, but after doing a little research I discovered that he had one traumatic event after another throughout his life.  Yet he could write this beautiful hymn that has helped sustain so many of us in dark days. I love the theology of this song…that no matter what happens in this world, I can know for certain that this is not my home.  I am just passing through, and one day I will live with Jesus in Heaven.

 

When you are stripped of everything in this material world.  When life slams you in the face and you didn’t see it coming.  When you have endured months and even years of a trial that seems to have no end, when life seems hopeless, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”  Because really, that is all that really matters.  It is the most important thing you can ever say.  When the 6:00 news alternately makes you scratch your head or shudder in fear, when the only voice you have is your one little vote, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”  When the doctor gives you a dreaded diagnosis, when you have run out of treatment options, when the miracle you prayed for seems like it is not going to happen, is it still well with your soul?   When you feel forgotten, rejected, and alone, do you know all is well with your soul?

 

When life is good, when you have the world by the tail, when you have love, health, and prosperity, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”  Sometime I think it is harder when things are going well.  I remember a friend I used to have when we lived in another city.  I have lost touch with her, but occasionally I wonder how she is doing.  When I knew her she was happily married, had great kids, lived in a big house, and had a job she loved.  One day I tried to talk to her about Jesus.  About her soul.  She told me that her life was good and she didn’t want to rock her boat.  Somehow she had the idea that if she let God into her life she was signing on for trials.  I’ve thought a lot about that and in all honesty she may have been right. God doesn’t just save us and leave us where we are.  He wants to refine us, to make us more Christ-like,  But she would have walked through any future trials with a God who loves her and has a plan for good for her.

 

I can tell you in my life, my biggest growth spurts have occurred as a result of trials.  That is where my faith has grown.  I haven’t had a Horatio Spafford life.  In fact, over all I would say life has been good.  But there have been days, seasons, when I had to come right up to a hard truth: I am not in control!  There have been times when I have had to say, “Not my will, but thine.”  And then I’ve had to let go and trust in God’s goodness.  Even in those dark, scary moments, I could say, “It is well with my soul.”  If life gives me the very worst it has (Oh and I hope it never does!  The mind can conjure up some horrible situations,) even if I am stripped of everything, I know it is well with my soul.  This is not the end.  I have a home in Heaven with Jesus, who will make all things right.

 

Can you say those words? It is well with my soul?  If not, I hope you will consider what the Bible has to say.   God loves you and has a plan for your life, but there is one thing that separates you from God and that is sin.  Welcome to the human race, for the Bible tells us that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  And to make bad news worse, the Bible tells us that the price for our sins is death.  That is what we deserve; but God has given us the free gift (we didn’t earn it) of eternal life because our sin debt was paid by the death of Jesus.  Horatio Spafford said it well:

 

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

 

If you are not sure that all is well with your soul, I urge you to settle that matter today.  Payment for your sins has already been taken care of.  Just talk to God from your heart.  You might pray something like this, although the words are not as important as the intent of your heart:

 

“Lord Jesus, I confess to You that I am a sinner and I do not deserve eternal life. But, I believe You died and rose from the grave to make me a new creation and to prepare me to dwell in your presence forever. Jesus, come into my life, take control of my life, forgive my sins and save me. I am now placing my trust in You alone for my salvation and I accept your free gift of eternal life.”

 

If you have prayed that prayer, then you can sing along with Horatio Spafford and millions of other Believers: It is well with my soul.

 

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THE WORD THAT IS GUARANTEED TO MAKE US UNHAPPY

There is a common word that all of us use multiple times a day that is guaranteed to make us unhappy. It’s a word we need to drop, or at least question when we hear ourselves using it. The word is should, and we need to quit using it as well as its cousins, shouldn’t, must,and mustn’t. There is even a little psychology joke I tell my clients: “Quit shoulding all over yourself!”

 

Here’s the thing…much of the time we are justified in our shoulds.  The world shouldbe a fair and peaceful place.  Children shouldbe safe and loved.  We shouldall be able to reach for our dreams.  And the fact that these shoulds aren’t reality might ignite a righteous anger in us that serves as fuel to do what we can to change the world.

 

However I am thinking about the shoulds that are much closer to home.  My son should quit using drugs.  My wife should be faithful.  My boyfriend shouldn’t lie to me.  My best friend shouldn’t have betrayed me.  I should get a promotion.   My ex should pay his child support.  My spouse should get a job.  I should find my soul mate.  Other people should “like” my posts.

 

Those are some of the big shoulds.  Except for that last one.  But there are others that occur on a daily basis that frustrate and anger us.  My husband should pick up his socks.  My teenager should study more.  My grade schooler should brush his teeth without being told.  My daughter should get up on time.  My spouse shouldn’t spend so much money. And the list goes on and on.  I can think of dozens of them, and you probably can also.

 

If you recognize any of these should in your own life, let me give you some good news.  You are right!  Your child should brush his teeth, your wife should be faithful, and your daughter should get up on time.  But clinging to these shoulds is only serving to hurt and frustrate you. And the shoulds keep you stuck.  Shoulds are expectations, and expectations are often premeditated resentments.  Even if our expectations are realistic, holding on to them too tightly keeps us keeps us bound to an ideal that might not ever materialize.

 

What do we do when we keep banging our heads against the wall of shoulds?  I have found that one of the most helpful things I can do is to pray the Serenity Prayer that recovery groups use.

 

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

 

This prayer helps me tease out the things I have the power to change from the change I can’t control.  I remind myself that I can’t change other people, I can only change myself.  When we let go of our own expectations and move into acceptance, often the world opens up for us.  We learn to accept whatisinstead of being upset about what isn’t.  We can’t move forward when we are still clinging to our idea of what we must have.  When we let go of our should and musts, God moves.  We get a reality even better than the one we thought we shouldhave.

 

Letting go of our shoulds also makes room in our heads for positive thoughts.  That space that was full of negative, angry, and hostile thoughts opens up and allows us to think more creatively.  We see solutions and possibilities we were blind to before.  We learn to experience the moment and enjoy the journey instead of wishing we were already at our destination.

 

I know this is easier said than done, but you can get there.  It takes practice.  I still have to ask myself what I have the power to change in a given situation. And I have to remind myself that I am not in control.  But there is a God who is in control and I can trust his plans to be much better than my shoulds.

 

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THE STORMS OF LIFE

 

 

                     Storm Coming

 

In Oklahoma spring usually brings a rash of storms.  Rain is a delicate balancing act here.  We either get too much or too little.  For the last several years we have been in a drought, so we could use some moisture.  But when it comes all at once it creates problems.

Our part of the country is known as tornado alley.  In the spring it is not unusual to hear the warning sirens sound.  We take those seriously around here, because Oklahomans know how much damage can be done in just a few seconds.  While you can never totally tornado proof your home, there are certainly precautions you can take to save your life.  Some people have storm cellars or safe rooms, while others of us have a designated interior room.

I have a little “Nervous Nellie” dog.  She lets me know when a storm is coming way in advance of the thunder. Sometimes her internal radar goes off a day in advance.  Wouldn’t it be great if something would trigger an alarm when a life storm was approaching?  If we just had a little notice, maybe we could get out of the storm’s path or at least take some precautions.  Sometimes there are some warning signs that we just don’t notice.  At other times we are blindsided, and we foolishly tell ourselves if we had seen it coming it wouldn’t hurt so badly.

Are you experiencing one of life’s storms right now?  Take courage and know that storms don’t last, but you will. You will get through this!  And the good news is, God promises to walk through the storm with you!  Instead of asking the futile question, “Why me,” ask yourself what this situation has for you that you would not get any other way.  Begin to look for the hidden gifts in your adversity.  When you get on the other side of this you may look back and think, “I didn’t like it, I didn’t ask for it, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.  But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything because it made me the person I am today.  It got me to the place I need to be.”   And hopefully you will use this storm experience to encourage others in their storms.

Maybe God is using this stormy time to develop your trust muscles. After my knee surgery I had to go through physical therapy. I didn’t like it!  It hurt!  But that physical therapy made me stronger. And the therapist wasn’t deliberately trying to harm me, he was trying to help me.

It is the same thing when we go through a hard time.  We may think that we have walked with God long enough to have a mature faith.  Then something happens that rocks our world and we find that God has put us in the path of a storm to develop our faith.  Maybe He is using the storm to reveal a new path we are to take.  One of my favorite quotes is, “Sometimes in the winds of change we find our true direction.”  Storms provide an opportunity to cling to the promises of God and allow Him to demonstrate His power in your life.

 

“When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you.  When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.  For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”  Isaiah 43:2-3a (NLT).

 

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.  James 1:2-4 (NLT).

Revised and updated from the book, Seasons: Devotionals for the Seasons of Life.

 

 

 

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Saying Goodbye to America’s Evangelist

 

For the last week or so America and the world have been saying goodbye to Billy Graham. And I have been praising and thanking God for the life of this remarkable man. What a faithful servant of the Lord he was. I’ve watched a couple of television specials on his life and also wept through his beautiful memorial ceremony. I have been impressed again by his boldness and humility. And the legacy of his children! What powerful tributes to the man they called “Daddy,” and how faithful they are to take on his mantle. However, I do not believe I will ever see another man like Billy Graham in my lifetime.

He was America’s prophet and preacher. Our Isaiah, our Elijah. His message was simple and consistent. We are all sinners; God loves us and made a way for us through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. We must accept Him as our Savior, and turn from our sins, and we must allow Him to be Lord of our lives. I think that was basically it. He never bowed to the culture or political correctness. He addressed wrongs in our society, such as racism, and called it what it is. Sin. He preached this message all over the world, reaching millions. I watched the documentaries on his life and was awed at the enormous crowds he drew everywhere he went. I remember going to see him in 1971 at Texas Stadium. When Billy Graham came to Dallas, it was a huge event even by Texas standards.

As I watched Billy Graham age, I knew that one day we would lose him. For a long time I have had the thought (and fear) that after Billy Graham left this earth, God would remove His hand of blessing and protection from America. We have been slowly watching it happened as we have moved from a society of faith and religion to a secular state.

This morning in my quiet time, I was reminded of just how blessed I have been to be born in an age and place where Jesus is known. It was relatively easy for me to come to the Lord. It didn’t cost me much. Actually, I think I paid a bigger price as a child and teenager who was NOT a believer. I went to school with Christians and Jews, we had daily Bible readings, we prayed, and we memorized the Ten Commandments. In Dallas public schools. My friends were Christians, and when they invited me to their church, I went. I heard the Gospel, and asked Jesus into my heart. That decision changed my life for all eternity. I often wonder what roads I would have taken had I not said yes to Jesus. T was culturally acceptable for me to become a follower of Christ. What a different America my grandchildren are experiencing.

Struck by watching Billy Graham bravely preach in communist countries, and thinking about the words in my morning devotional, I can’t help but think about those people who are living in dark places. North Korea, Syria, and China come to mind. How can they come to the Lord if they never hear the Gospel? And what a high price they pay to become believers. When I went to Kenya I saw how eager the people are to hear the Gospel, how desperate to have a Bible of their own. And I don’t even know how many different Bibles there are in my house!

As I write these words, I fear that America is becoming one of those dark places. Christian faith has become fair game for the mockers and haters. Being a Christian now carries a higher price tag than it did in earlier days. Even though we are still allowed to have our churches, and still allowed to worship, we are becoming more and more secularized. There are many competing activities for our time and attention on Sundays.

Although we don’t deserve it, I pray God would send us another Billy Graham. I pray for another Great Awakening. I pray it is not too late for America.

THE OPPORTUNITY OF LIFE

woman-at-dawn-1200x675

 

Well it’s another beginning of another year. I’ve been blessed to have experienced quite a few of these new beginnings. As 2017 was winding down I began thinking about 2018. What do I want it to be? What things do I need to accomplish, to finish? My bucket list is getting shorter because I have been fortunate enough to experience most of my dreams. I always try to bring God into these New Year’s thoughts. What is His plan for me this year? What does He have for me? What areas of growth do I need?

I quit making resolutions a few years ago because I’m only so-so at keeping them. So instead I have asked for a word for 2018. And I believe that word for me is health. I need to focus on my health and to take better care of me. It’s not too surprising that health would be on center stage in my life. I’ve been having orthopedic problems since early fall. And since receiving that word, health, new problems have been discovered. God knew before I did that I need to take time for health.

I’m not sure exactly what getting healthy is going to look like. We all know the basics: eat healthier, move more, de-stress. I don’t see myself joining a gym. I did that in another season and it doesn’t particularly interest me know. Maybe some sort of group class? Or maybe just more and longer walks (when I get my legs working).

I sat down to my quiet time this morning wondering where God would direct me. I just finished reading through the Bible again and I’m thinking I should do something else. So I picked up a devotional book my friend Wanda gave me titled A Diary of Private Prayer, by John Baille.  It didn’t take long to get smacked in the face as I began reading the first prayer. The author thanked God for “the great and mysterious opportunity of my life.”

Those words spoke loudly to me. He spoke of life as an opportunity and I guess I never thought of it that way. I have just thought of it as life, being alive. But my life is more than merely being alive; it is an opportunity. And it is a mystery that God would grant me such an opportunity. I wanted to remind myself about the definition of opportunity, even though we all know what it means, so I looked it up. This is what I found: opportunity is a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something. So life is the gift of mysterious possibilities.

We had a tragedy in our church family a few days ago. Our Youth Pastor’s pregnant wife died suddenly and unexpectedly. The doctors took the baby and tried over several days to save him, but baby Asa never really had the opportunity of life. A baby should have an almost endless array of possibilities ahead of him, but baby Asa did not. How remiss am I if I do not thank God for life.

So at this beginning of 2018, I thank God for the opportunity of life, for the possibilities that lie ahead. Lord, please don’t let me go through this year mindlessly. Open my eyes to see the possibilities you have for me.

You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. Psalm 139:15-16 NLT

 

 

BAKER MAYFIELD’S IMPOSSIBLE DREAM

 

hi-res-02a69cff4047e59f556c0d6d2d282ac0_crop_northIf you have known me for any length of time at all, you know that I am a huge Oklahoma Sooner football fan, and this year especially, an even bigger Baker Mayfield fan. I just love watching that kid play football. He plays with so much joy and enthusiasm…it’s contagious. I even like that he plays with moxie, swagger, and a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. And talent! He has a serious arm. Can we just go ahead and start working on a new statue for OU’s Heisman Plaza?

So I was listening to an interview he was doing recently and something he said really resonated with me. He said he just believes in himself. And the way he said it was not arrogant or narcissistic. He was just stating a fact. He believes in himself. He just doesn’t accept “no.” He has audacity.

When people told him he was too small to be a quarterback (and he was!), he just kept on throwing bullets. When he showed up for football practice as a Lake Travis freshman, he was only 5”2” and barely 100 pounds. But he had an arm and he had a belief in himself. Even after leading his team to a state championship as a senior, he still got little respect. He wasn’t what the big colleges would consider Division 1 quarterback material. No scholarship? No problem. I’ll just walk on. Win the starting position, but still no scholarship? I’ll walk on somewhere else. Maybe 14-year old Baker Mayfield dreamed of winning a Heisman, but I imagine no one else could see it within his reach at that time. In psychology we call that self-efficacy, and it’s a healthy quality to possess.

Psychologist Albert Bandura has spent much of his career researching how people are able to shape their own futures through human agency, the belief in their own capabilities to produce desired effects by their actions. It is the understanding that I have some degree of control in obtaining a desired outcome and preventing an undesired one.

People with self-efficacy are quick to recognize and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves, and they find ways to get around obstacles. Baker Mayfield had a big obstacle to get around at Oklahoma. Starting quarterback Trevor Knight had led the Sooners in an “impossible” victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl just a few weeks before Mayfield made his decision to come to Oklahoma. People thought he was crazy. He would have no chance to start. But he just refused to listen to the naysayers, to accept the impossibility of his dream.

Self-efficacy is not the same thing as self-esteem. My sense of self worth is different and independent of my abilities. For example, I can’t dance. I’d love to be able to, but I look like an ironing board with feet on the dance floor. No rhythm. But the fact that I can’t dance does not change my value as a person.

One of the problems I see in my psychology practice is the ways in which people relinquish control over their lives. And they do this without realizing it. I hear it all the time. “I can’t be okay unless Person X does Thing Y.” She needs to apologize. He must stop drinking. They must like and accept me. Maybe all these things should happen, but the reality is they might not. We have no control over the actions of others. We only have control over our own thoughts and behaviors. Waiting for someone else to take some action in order for us to be happy is giving away our power. It is putting our happiness and well being squarely in the hands of someone else.

Then there are some people who have no sense of self-efficacy. “I could never do that.” Maybe someone has told them that or maybe someone has always done things for them. It’s learned helplessness. But just because you have never done it before doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means you haven’t done it yet.

For me, as a Christian, my sense of self-efficacy begins with my faith in Jesus. That sounds contradictory on its face. Self-efficacy is not the same as self-reliance. I’m totally reliant on Jesus Christ, but I believe He will equip me to do what He calls me to do. When I am walking by faith I am not weighed down by personal doubt and by the “what ifs.” Yes, Jesus still performs miracles, He still delivers. But more often He commands me to take up my mat and walk. And being able to take up my mat and walk is a miracle in itself. The same grace that saved me equips and enables me. So maybe a better term for Believers is spiritual efficacy, the belief that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” (Philippians 4:13).

So as I’m writing about Baker Mayfield, I’m remembering another guy who was too small and too young to kill a giant. He didn’t command a lot of respect. But he believed in his ability. He had been training for this day his entire young life. And most importantly he believed in his God. You know how the story goes. Against all odds, David killed the giant with just a slingshot and a stone.

How big are your giants? Maybe God has been preparing you for just this moment. You can do this! How big is your God? With Him, nothing is impossible.

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” Jer. 32:27.

 

“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,” 2 Cor. 3:5.