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Truth and Consequences

When I was a boy (back in the dark ages, when nobody I knew had a color TV, and there were only 3 channels), right around supper time a show that my family loved to watch came on.  Decades before he was the host for The Price Is Right, Bob Barker hosted Truth or Consequences.  This half-hour show was wildly popular in the early- and mid-60s.  So popular, in fact, that a town in New Mexico changed its name to Truth Or Consequences.  Crazy, right?  But it happened.  Ask your grandparents…

On the TV show, people from the studio audience were selected to come on camera and answer a question.  Usually the questions were pretty hard and the answers were nostly guesses.  I remember once they asked husbands to blow up a balloon to the size they thought their wife’s waist was.  Pretty much no one got that one.

If your answer was wrong, you had to pay a consequence, which was usually a harmless but a little embarrassing gag or stunt.  It was situational comedy at its best.  We were sure it hadn’t been rehearsed or scripted, and at my house, we loved it.

Bob Barker moved on to other things and the show went through a series of other (most people though inferior) hosts until it finally went away in 1988.

Life is full of consequences.  When you make good decisions, you generally get good consequences.  When you make bad consequences, you generally get bad consequences.  You don’t need an advanced degree to get that.

Granted, sometimes the consequences take a long time to catch up to the decision.  You’ve known people who’ve made many bad (morally bad) decisions, but their life just keeps running on smoothly for a long time.  They keep getting raises and getting re-elected.  And people who’ve made good (morally right) decisions but just can’t seem to catch a break and get ahead.  It’s a bit of an enigma.  My best explanation is that eventually consequences catch up to choices, even when it may seem they don’t.

There was an old sermon preached by evangelists in the the last century titled, “Payday Someday.”  The point was that someday, every soul will be judged, and actions and choices will be laid bare.  A frightening thought.  Which was the point.  You’re toast without Jesus, because you’ll never get by with your own history of good choices and behavior when you have to face eternal judgment.  It probably wouldn’t be very well received these days, but there’s a significant nugget of truth in this often-fiery sermon.  More than a nugget, actually.

In families, there are always consequences for our choices.  Or there should be.  In healthy families, good choices should bring good consequences, and bad choices should bring negative consequences.  I believe the use of consequences is the most powerful tool a parent has for doing discipline.  With the remaining words I’ve given myself here, I want to unpack this a bit.

First of all, I want to make sure you know that discipline and punishment are not the same thing.  I often hear them referred to as the same.  To punish means that the one being punished experiences some sort of penalty or pain for having done or said something that breaks with the established rules.  Punishment could be something as simple as not getting something they want, a time-out, an unpleasant task being assigned.  In times gone by it would likely often have been something physical.  But the point of punishment isn’t to teach, it’s to create some kind of pain.

The point of discipline, on the other hand, is to teach.  The point of punishment is to get the child’s attention so that discipline can take place. That’s what the pain is supposed to do.  In this setting, discipline is teaching the child how to behave so that they don’t get the  pain of punishment.  “You don’t want to do that again, because if you do, you’ll get this same unpleasant punishment.  Do this _______________, instead.”  As a parent, your job is to fill in the blank, or to help your child fill it in with an appropriate alternative behavior.

Very often, punishment is meted out, but no discipline follows.  My experience is that in these cases, the punishment isn’t a very well thought-through vehicle, either.  It’s often a knee-jerk reaction to misbehavior.  Too often, it’s done in anger.  And when this is the case, all the child learns is that the parent is bigger and stronger, and because of this, should be feared.  But eventually that won’t be enough to make the child want to change their behavior.  Before it’s not enough to change a kid’s behavior, though, it will be enough to push them to resent the punisher.

There’s a ton more on this.  James Dobson’s book, Dare To Disciplineis the gold standard for this whole topic, in my opinion.  It was edited and re-released some years ago under the title, The New Dare To Discipline.  It’s worth buying and reading.  But be advised, there will probably be some things in it you won’t agree with.

After all that, what I really want to focus on is the use of consequences in discipline.  This will be on the test, so you’ll want to take notes…

Using consequences to teach (to discipline) is an “if, then” proposition.  If you do X, then you will get Y.  Where X is an appropriate behavior or choice, then Y should be a positive result.  Where X is an inappropriate behavior or choice (when it violates the rules), then Y should be a negative result.  It’s not rocket science (with apologies to aeronautical engineers).  The simple principle is that there are consequences in a healthy family.  Good consequences for good choices and behaviors.  Bad consequences for bad choices and behaviors.

There’s a fundamental assumption here that I haven’t stated, though.  For consequences to be useful, there have to be stated rules.  I almost wrote, “agreed upon rules.”  But the truth is, in a healthy home, there are times when children will not agree on the rules that the parents make.  This is called, to use the clinical term, normal.  The older the child is, as they mature, there can and should be dialogue about rules.  But when children are young, it’s the parents’ job to define and articulate the rules, and then enforce them.  It doesn’t need to be (in my opinion, shouldn’t be) a democratic process.  You don’t need a majority vote on it.

Parenthetically, the age at which a kid should give substantial input into the rule-making process is a fuzzy and moving target.  Every kid is a little different with this.  Some 10 year-olds are mature enough to do this, but there are some 14 year-olds who are not mature enough.  This is one of the many places I’m so thankful for James 1:5, If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  You need God to give you wisdom to discern your kid’s maturity, so ASK.

I’m at my word limit.  I’ll get to the rest of this next time.

“How does that make you feel?”

Lots of people think this is a counselor’s favorite question.  It’s not mine.  And for a couple of reasons.

First of all, I think it’s epistemologically wrong.  In truth, nothing makes me feel anything, emotionally.  Physically, I can be made to feel many things.  Pain, hot, cold, wet, dry.  But emotionally, things are different.

My feeling are certainly real.  They’re most often the result of events that happen to me or around me.  And my feelings are often powerful.  Overpowering, even, sometimes.  But after the initial moment, after the shock and impact, I feel what I feel because I choose to continue to feel it.  After the physical-physiological shock of an event – good or bad – I feel what I choose to feel.  This is often the difficult first step on the journey I take people through in counseling.  They have to admit that what they are feeling is what they have chosen to feel.   They have to have ownership of their feelings.

The second reason I don’t like this question is because there’s a better question that gets to reality: How do you feel about that?  Because I can both own my feeling and tell you what it is.

It basically comes down to who’s responsible for what/how I feel?  Usually, it’s easier and more comfortable to be able to blame someone else for what I feel.  This assumes that you can be made to feel something by someone else.  If someone can make me feel sad, angry, frustrated, resentful, bitter, then I don’t have to own this feeling.  It’s not my fault.  I didn’t cause it.  They did.

My brother, Ken, gave me a term for this.  He called it “victimstance.”  He meant that a person can take the stance of a victim.  He should know.  He’s been the victim of MS (Multiple Sclerosis) for 40 years.  He’s totally disabled, wheelchair-bound, living in a nursing home.  He’s not a cheery ray of sunshine, and basically never has been.  He’s a realist.  He knows that he isn’t getting better, and at this point there’s no medication that will make him get better.  He won’t recover from MS.  He will  die with it and because of it.  But he has chosen not to live as a victim.  He hates the disease (I do, too), but he’s not blaming anybody else for it.  For these last 40 years (which is actually a long time for a person to live with MS), he’s owned his life and his situation.  He told me he refuses to take up victimstance.

The world around us these days promotes victimstance, though.  It’s organized us into groups and causes according to our victimstances.   This promotes the idea that someone else is responsible for what I’m feeling, and by extension, what I do about what I feel.  If you Facebook, just scroll  through your feed and see if there’s not a pretty sizable number of victimstances illustrated there.

There are true victims, though.  People who have been made a victim by the choice and action of someone else.  Injured or killed by a drunk driver.  Murdered.  Raped.  Mugged.  Fired without cause.  Betrayed.  You can fill the list out with lots of other actual victimizations.  All of us have probably been a victim at some time in our lives.  I do not take these things lightly.

Being a victim and living as a victim are two very different things, though.  Some of the most powerful and inspiring stories are from the lives of victims who have chosen to not live as victims.  Nick Vujicic  comes to my mind first for this.  Born horribly deformed, the victim of genes getting somehow hacked, Nick has chosen to own his life, and, instead of living like a  victim, he has made an incredible impact.  Take a look at his website and be inspired: https://www.lifewithoutlimbs.org/

Owning you feelings, learning how to own your emotions, is one of the five big things I would want your kids to take with them in their life-tool kit when they leave home.  It’s one of the most significant indicators of personal maturity.  Mature people own their emotions.  Immature people don’t.

But before an emotion can be owned, it has to be identified.  This is where things get difficult for most of us.  The more specific I need to be about my emotion, the more difficult the whole thing is.  I’m pretty good at generalized emotions.  You are, too.  I feel good.  I don’t feel that great.  I’m mad.  I’m sad.  I’m happy.  You know, the surface things.  Getting down deeper into a more specific description to identify feelings takes practice.  Difficult things usually do.

And on top of that, most of us came from families where emotions weren’t welcomed.  Especially the negative ones.  Or the extreme ones.  Lots of us grew up believing the best thing we could do with our feelings was to just not have them.  Or at least not show them.  If you could, assassinate them.  At the very least stuff them down where they’d stay out of the way.  Because emotions were always so messy and embarrassing.  They show weakness.  If you didn’t grow up this way, you need to thank God and your family, because you’re in a very small minority.

So some of us have very little practice at identifying our emotions and a lot of practice pushing them away, denying them, burying them.  The problem with pushing them away or burying them is that they don’t stay pushed away and they don’t stay buried.  They come back or resurrect at the worst possible moments.  Emotional eruptions rarely happen at convenient times.  You’ve probably got your own stories.

OK, so what are we supposed to do with emotions if stuffing and assassinating them doesn’t work.  This may sound silly, but I challenge you to make a game of identifying emotions with your family, because identifying feelings is the starting gate for dealing with them appropriately.  I call this little  game The Emotional Alphabet.  Your kids will need to be old enough to know the alphabet to play.  Here’s how you do it.

The first person starts with the letter A.  Name an emotion that starts with the letter A.  The next person names an emotion that starts with the letter B.  You go through the alphabet as best you can, naming emotions.  Obviously some letters are going to be harder than others for this.  I can’t think of one for X.  If you get stuck, everybody gets one “Pass,” meaning they can go to the next letter.  Meal time is a good time to do this.  So is drive time.

The object of this silly exercise is to expand your emotional vocabulary.  And being able to name your emotions so you can own them is the front end of building a skill and habit that will set you and your kids up to live and love well.

 

 

When It’s All Been Said and Done

I got word this morning that a friend died of a heart attack last night.  It’s not like we were best friends.  I knew him and respected him for his work in ministry.  He was a man after God’s heart.  I had lunch with him a couple of weeks ago and got a wonderful dose of encouragement and vision from him, along with some really good Oklahoma BBQ.  My heart is heavy at the word of his death.  

He left a wife and three grown children behind.  He also left a thriving ministry to churches and ministers all over the central part of the Heartland.  And he left hundreds (probably thousands) of lives who had been enriched and enlarged because of his investment in them.

Lots of them have been posting on Facebook.  It’s like a rolling eulogy.  A stellar one.  The words, “Encouragement,” “Servant,” “Influence,” come up over and over.  These words are the result of a well-stewarded life.  My friend, Jerl, invested in people.  As I watched him and connected with him over the years since we were students in Bible college, it was always the same.  His question was always, “How can I help you?”  It showed up in his tone, his body language, his facial expression, his words.  His positivity was contagious.  These Facebook posts of testimony are there because of his investment in people’s lives.  Mine included.

This isn’t the first time I’ve lost a friend to death.  I imagine that at my age it will happen more and more often.  I knew this would be happening to me.  It happens to everyone who is edging toward “three-score and ten” years.  But it took me by surprise at how quickly it’s begun to happen.  (In my mind, I’m still 30-something.  My body tells me otherwise, but…)

With each death of a friend, “When it’s all been said and done,” comes to my mind.  I read and hear of the impact of their lives, and reflect on how their lives touched mine.

I don’t run in circles where people are leaving fortunes to their families when they die.  I’d love to be able to leave a few million for Debbie and my kids to enjoy, but, sadly, that’s not happening.  My friend wasn’t a financially wealthy man, either.  You’re not likely to build massive wealth in full-time vocational ministry.  He had stewarded his resources well, though.  Both material and non-material.  Whatever his beneficiaries receive from his estate, Jerl leaves behind a legacy of honor and love that can’t be quantified or measured.

And that’s got me asking myself, “When it’s all been said and done, when I’ve finished my race, when my life is over, what will I have left behind?”  A morbid question, perhaps, but one worth asking.

Whether we realize  it or not (or like it or not), we’re all providing the content for our eulogies (and Facebook posts about us), day by day, moment by moment.  I don’t think Jerl was consciously building a eulogy,.  I don’t think he woke up every morning and asked himself, “How can I build a great eulogy today?” but I know he intentionally invested his life, his influence, his energy, his resources to build into other people’s lives.

This kind of encouraging life may be occasionally accidental, but only occasionally.  Most often, this kind of investment requires going out of your way.  Sometimes far out of your way.  And that happens by intention and choice.  A day at a time, a moment, a choice at a time.

I’m thankful for the thousands of choices Jerl made to pour into people’s lives.  Thankful and challenged.  Challenged by the question his life suggests: When it’s all been said and done, what will I leave behind?

one more pass at FIVE THINGS

Your kids need more than five things in their spiritual, mental, physical and emotional toolkit before they leave home.  The number’s probably more like 500.  But that’s way too many things for a blog to cover.  Anyway, way too many for a blog I write.  Five, though, that’s a number even a guy like me can deal with.  So we’re going for five.

I gave you the top three of my List of Five Things last time I posted (Five Things).  Your kids need to have their own walk with God, and know how to nurture it.  (Spoiler alert: I’m going to expand on that a little here…)  They need to know how to fail successfully.  And they need to be able to steward their own lives by doing the little things, like making their bed.

Before I crack open the last two on my list, I  want to go back to the first thing and expand on it a little – to have their own walk with God, and know how to nurture it.  I think there are a few crucial things involved in this.  First of all connecting with God.

Connecting with Him by reading the Bible (His Word) for meaning, and connecting with Him through prayer.  I say connecting with Him by reading the Bible for meaning because there a lots of people who read the Bible with little intention of understanding it well enough to actually do what it says to do and be how it says to be.  Then connecting with His people (the church), serving others out of gratitude for His kindness, and then sharing the good news of His grace in their circle of influence.

The first two of these things fall into the category of Quiet Time.  The other pieces of it need separate blogs, but I won’t do that now.  Just the Quiet Time piece.

What time of day a person does their Quiet Time isn’t as important as that they do it.  Although I’m way not a morning person, I’ve discovered that first thing in the morning is the best time for me to have my Quiet Time.  If I wait until later in the day, my time and attention get hijacked by other urgent things, and most of the time, I don’t get back to it at all.  The end of the day worked when I was young, but the older I get, the less of me there is at the end of the day.

I never taught any of our three daughters how to have a Quiet Time.  They never asked me to teach them.  But they all three developed this habit, starting in their Jr. High years.  I believe this happened because they saw their mom and me both having our Quiet Time every day.

At the time, living in a tiny cracker box house where there was really no private places except the bathroom didn’t seem like a blessing, but it was.  I had to do my QT (Quiet Time) out there in the open where they saw me doing it.  For me, it was in the beat-up Lazy Boy recliner in the living room.  For Debbie, it was at the kitchen table.

Neither of us made a production of it.  We just did it.  We didn’t start this habit when the girls were in Jr. High, though.  We started it when they were babies.

If your kids are older, don’t believe the lie that they won’t notice or be influenced by your example.  They will notice it, and even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time, they will be influenced by it.  Obviously, the younger your kids are when you model this kind of spiritual discipline in their presence, the stronger the influence it will have on them, but even if your kids aren’t little anymore, you can give them an example to follow.

So step one on this is DEVELOP YOUR OWN QUIET TIME HABIT.  The really good news is that there are hundreds of good tools to help you with this.  I love the YouVersion of the Bible.  It’s FREE!  Click this link to get connected with it: YouVersion.  Poke around and find the “Plans.”  You’ll find more helps than you have time to get into.  (LifeChurch is who we thank for this amazing resource.  They’ve created it and continue to improve it, making it absolutely free to anybody who wants it.)

So before another day passes, get started modeling this habit for your kids.

Number Four for me is that they know how to identify their emotions and own them appropriately.  This one comes to them, not from a book or a video (although there are some really good books and videos about it), but from you, again.  Your kids will handle their emotions in the ways they see you handling yours.  How does that make you feel?…

There are rare kids out there in the world who have learned how to identify their feelings better than their parents do.  These kids are exceedingly rare.  It would be unwise and unfair, really, to depend on the possibility that your kid may be in the .003% on this.  Educate them through your example.  Which means, you’re going to have to educate yourself to identify and own your emotions appropriately.  That’s a big job.  You’ll probably need help to get there.  I’ll write more about this at another time.  Just log it down on your list.

And finally, that they know who they really are.  This is closely related to number one on my list, to have their own walk with God, and know how to nurture it.  If you don’t have your own walk with God, you can’t know who you really are.  Your true identity is rooted in who God says you are, not who other people say you are.

I want to make sure you know that this is not about showering your darling with empty and meaningless praise.  This isn’t about handing out participation trophies.  You telling your kid that they can be anything they want to be is (sorry) a lie.  The truth is, they may never make the big leagues, or cure cancer, or live in the White House.  If they do, make sure they invite me over!  But the odds against these things happening are astronomical.

Who God says you are is the bottom line.  This is your true identity.  I’m not talking about the warm fuzzies I see on FaceBook about how you’re the greatest, and if you just believe, your life will be an amazing and wonderful site to behold.  Sometimes, no matter how deeply you believe, your life is going to look like a B-grade disaster movie.  The world is fallen.  Every ending isn’t happy.  I know, I’m jaded.  Sorry.  Not sorry.

You don’t get the needed data about your identity from FaceBook.  You get it from The Book.  The Bible.

I love to ask the question, “If you believed about yourself what God says He believes about you, how different would your life be?”  Unfortunately, most people don’t know enough about what God believes about them to have an intelligent answer for this.  They either rely on all kinds of flawed and inaccurate sources to know what He believes about them, or they make something up that feels comforting to them.

Here’s a good place to start: Who Does God Say I Am.  Almost none of the points here are in language kids will connect with, but it’s a very biblical resource.  Ask God to give you creative insight to translate these eternal concepts into language your kid(s) will understand.  Then be creative and intentional about how you engage your kid(s) with them.  Nobody wants you to succeed at this as much as God does!  So lean into it in partnership with Him.

Five Things

If you knew you could only give your kid FIVE THINGS – non-material things – before they leave the nest, what would they be?  What five life-skills, attitudes, patterns would you want them to take into the wide world awaiting them?

When our three girls were growing up, I was so busy making it up as I went along I didn’t think I could get a hand free to write a list.  (One of my favorite lines in a song comes from a Steven Curtis Chapman song: If I could get one hand free, I’d be pulling out my hair.  That’s what it felt like back then, even though it probably wasn’t as bad as it felt.)  Besides, nobody ever challenged me to make a list like this.  Anyway, I don’t remember it.  It’s possible I wasn’t paying good enough attention, so. 

It’s one of those things that, if I had a rewind button, I’d go back and do.  There’s no rewind button, though.  To harvest wise words from an unknown philosopher, at this point, “It is what it is.”  By God’s good grace, our three girls grew up and became more like their mom than me.  They’re all three making fabulous lives as adults, and they all three are my heroes.

I’ve already written about one of the things I’d put on my list of 5: Learning how to fail (One Essential Skill You’re Probably Not Teaching Your Kids).  In my opinion, this is an essential skill.  No matter how you define success, people who don’t know how to fail rarely figure out how to succeed.  And as you know, everybody will fail.  Often profoundly.  It’s a paradox, but undeniably true.

OK, after teaching your kids how to fail successfully, what are the other skills you’d want them to carry into their future?  Coming up with four more things for a good list won’t be easy.  If it is, you may not have identified the most important things.  You may only have gathered the lowest-hanging fruit.  But some low-hanging fruit is valid for this list, so don’t throw it out automatically.  At the very least, let the low-hanging fruit prime the pump for fruit that’s a little higher up in the tree (forgive my mixed metaphor), because higher up the tree is where the best fruit may be.

This may look like low-hanging fruit, but it’s actually a ways up the tree.  In 2014, retired Admiral William H. McRaven delivered the commencement address at the University of Texas, Austin.  The title of his address was, “Make Your Bed.”  If you Google “Make Your Bed,” you’ll find his speech in a variety of lengths and forms on YouTube.  It’s worth a listen.  His talk was so well-received that Admiral McRaven expanded it into a book.  It, too, is worth the short read.

The point of McRaven’s speech?  Doing little things, like making your bed every morning, contributes to the depth of your character.  A very strong case can be made that if you don’t learn how to take responsibility for the small things in your life, you won’t be able to own the big things.  When you take responsibility for small things, you put yourself in a position to deepen your character.  If you don’t learn to steward your own life, to take responsibility for yourself and your decisions, you simply can’t grow depth of character.  And depth of character is the gold standard in the real world.

I’d put “Make Your Bed” on my List of Five.  Um.  By the way, your kid probably won’t start making their bed while they’re at college unless they start making it while they’re home, before they head out for higher education.  Take it from a guy who managed to go half a semester without making his bed in his Junior year of college.  (Don’t judge me.  I hadn’t heard the speech yet.)

If you want your kid to make their bed, you’ve got to quit making it for them.  Granted, the Navy has leverage you probably don’t have in this effort.  As a parent, it’s hard to enforce bed-making without coming off as a dictator.  The Navy doesn’t give a rat’s furry behind if a sailor thinks they’re dictatorial.  The point is, though, if you make your kid’s bed, they won’t need to make it themselves.  So they won’t.  Teach them how to make their bed and then tell them making it every morning is their responsibility, not yours.  It will take 7 or 8 years, but they’ll eventually thank you for it.

As great as “Make Your Bed” is, I wouldn’t put it at the top of my list.  I wouldn’t even put learning to fail successfully at the tip top.  That place is reserved for something of timeless and ultimate value.  It may sound like a Sunday School Answer, but I’m sticking with it.  The star at the top of my FIVE THINGS list Christmas Tree is (a drum roll, please) knowing how to nurture their own faith walk, and then choosing to nurture it for themselves.  

More than 40 years ago I heard a profound remark that shaped a whole lot of my ministry life: God has no grandchildren.  Your relationship with God is undoubtedly shaped and influenced by your parents, but your actual walk with Him is by your choice, not by your parents’.  Everybody either chooses to say yes to Jesus or not to say yes to Him of their own will.  Your momma’s faith and prayers can draw you to Jesus, but actually coming to Jesus is your choice, and no one else’s.  God has children, but no grandchildren.

So if you’re a follower of Christ, you get this incredible honor of introducing your kids to Him and influencing them toward a life wrapped up in Him (St. Paul worded it this way: “hidden with Christ in God,” in Colossians 3:3).  You pray for this.  You model your faith in front of them.  You take them with you to church.  And to do service in the Name of Jesus.  You sometimes do this even though they’re not really jazzed by the prospect.  Sometimes you require them to do this.  You do these things because you want to expose them to an authentic relationship with Christ, one they will want to choose for themselves.

But you don’t get to do any of it for them.  The best you can do is to set the table.

I’m bumping my max word count, so I’ll press the pause button with this question: are you setting the table?  Take a couple of minutes and do some reflection.  Ask someone you know who knows you well enough to be able to have a sense of it what they think about this question, from their observation.  Your spouse, maybe.  Or someone you admire because of their maturity and their walk with the Lord.

CAUTION: do not ask someone who tends to be judgmental.  You’ll just set yourself up for unnecessary criticism and discouragement.  That won’t move you any further down the trail.  Ask someone who’s mature enough to tell you the truth in love.  Ask a mature grace-person.

 

Waiting

I once read that the average person spends about 1/3 of their life waiting.  This isn’t hard for me to believe.  I’m the dad of 3 daughters and the husband of one wife.  At the risk of sounding sexist and cranky, I think I’ve spent a little more than 33% of my life waiting.  My wife and daughters will tell you we’re even, though, because they’ve spent an equal amount of their lives waiting for me.  They’re probably right.

I’m writing this from the comfort of an easy chair in our Berlin Open Door Library, Connections.  We’ve been here in Berlin for a week.  We come about three times a year as part of our member care role with ODL (Open Door Libraries).  We have never rented a vehicle, though.  There’s no good reason for us to.  Public transportation here is easy to access from nearly anywhere in the city, runs like you’d think a German operation would, and is far less expensive than renting a car and then having to fill it with gas at ∈1,60.9 per liter.  (There are 3.7 liters per gallon, and right now the exchange rate is .88 Euro to $1.  If you do the math, there’s no good outcome on this.)  Plus, riding the buses and Ubahn and Sbahn offer unique cultural experiences.

When you take public transit, though, you set yourself up for a lot of waiting.  Waiting for the bus to get to the stop.  Waiting through a dozen or so stops before you get to your destination.  Waiting to get back on the bus after you’re through with whatever you did, and then a dozen more stops on the way back.  We’re staying about 5 miles south of Connections.  By bus, it takes us about 35 minutes to get here.  We’ve had our quota of waiting this week.  Gratefully, we’ve been here in June, when waiting for the bus is much easier than it was when we were here in November, freezing in the early winter winds.

Those of you who know me know that I am not good at waiting.  I usually avoid it.  I’m that guy dodging in and out to get in a shorter line at the self-check center at Walmart.  I hate it when I get behind a person in a check-out line who waits until the cashier hands them the receipt to start digging in their purse or pockets to find their wallet.  Or the one who wants to get the cashier’s life story, and then tell them theirs on their way out.  Waiting vexes me.  Sorry.  I’d like to tell you I’m more mature, but I’m not.  Ask Debbie.

I’m a long way from how I hope one day to be with all this, but I’m better than I used to be.  Give me a gold star and a pat on the back.  And a sugar cookie if you’ve got one handy.

All this waiting has me thinking about the role of waiting in marriage and family life.  I can’t think of waiting without thinking of it’s shadow, impatience.  One of my regrets about my young-father-days is how impatient I was.  I think if you’d have asked my kids when they were young what they thought my motto was, they would have said, “Hurry up!”

Shame

I wrote about three of the most powerful forces in a kid’s life a while back.  If you missed it, you can check it out here: Three of the Most Powerful Forces In Life

There’s one emotional force that fuels all three of these powerful, primary emotional forces: SHAME.  That’s my topic today.

My theory is that everybody has experienced shame (unless they have some sort of psychological pathology).  If you are capable of experiencing guilt, you’re capable of experiencing shame.

Guilt and shame are related – almost joined at the hip.  There’s an important difference between guilt and shame, though.  Guilt is a feeling I have because of something I have done.  Shame is a feeling about who I am.  The distinction between them is huge.

The waters get a little cloudy here, though, because there are two kinds of guilt.  There’s real guilt – guilt I feel because I’ve done something wrong.  There’s also false guilt – when I feel guilty, even though I’ve not done anything wrong.  Both real guilt and false guilt are rooted in the conscience.  Your conscience tells you what’s right and what’s wrong.  But your conscience is educated by your upbringing and background.  For that reason, everybody’s conscience isn’t the same.  I’ve written about this before.  You may want to check it out: Conscience

False guilt and shame share a common characteristic.  They are both unbelievable powerful.  Both false guilt and shame motivate people to make significant bad decisions and to act in often destructive ways.

They’re alike in another way.  They can both be very subtle.  Lots of times, they’re hard to discern.  They exist beneath the surface, hidden from the view of our conscious mind.  It’s a weird dynamic, but it’s at work in virtually every human.  Weird and incredibly powerful.

Shame, since it’s a feeling not about a thing I have done (or perhaps a thought I have had), but a feeling about who I am, is insidious.  Here’s how the dictionary defines insidious: proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects.  That’s shame.  You can make amends for or be forgiving for something you’ve done, but try as hard as you may to make amends and seek forgiveness for who you are, there’s no finding it.  The harder you try, in fact, the farther away it gets.  Hence, insidious.

A Texan PhD named Brene Brown has researched and written about shame, and is my favorite author on the subject.  She did a TED talk that went viral a few years ago, and that put her on the map.   Take 20 minutes and watch her TED talk here: Brene Brown

If you’re a reader, I recommend her books, The Gifts of Imperfection, and Daring Greatly.  If you’re not a reader, get them in audio form.  If you’re trying to deal with same in your own life, or you feel you’re dealing with it in a child’s or a spouse’s life, I think you’ll find some really good help in them. 

Millions of words have been written and published about shame.  It’s not a simple subject.  So I don’t have any illusions that I can do it justice in my blog, but there are a couple of things about shame that a parent needs to know, and then do something with.

First of all, shame is a contagious disease.  We catch it from carriers.  We catch it through the words people say to us, and although we’re susceptible to it all through our lives, we’re most susceptible to it in our early childhood.  Words we heard in our childhood can cripple us for our entire life.  And there’s a very strong chance the person who said those shaming words heard some form of them from someone in their childhood.

If that’s not bad enough, it may not be the actual words that were spoken that gave birth to your shame.  The power is in your interpretation of the words you thought you heard.  The meaning the speaker had in mind may not be the meaning you got when you heard them.  The intent of the speaker is way less powerful than the interpretation of the hearer.  The power is in what I thought you meant by what you said, not what you think you meant by it.

Secondly, nobody can “fix” your shame.  God can certainly heal it, but my experience is that He usually does this by taking people through a process of healing, not an instantaneous event of healing.  God wants to heal our shame.  He’s made provision for this through Jesus’ stripes and wounds.  I think He wants us to partner with Him through the process to find it, though.

One implication of this is that you can’t fix your child if they’re going through – or stuck in – shame.  You pray for them to find freedom from it, for God to free them from it.  You can’t make it happen for them, though.  In fact, this is another thing that the harder you try to do it, the farther away the desired result gets from you.  Nobody can do the work for you on your shame, and you can’t do the work for your kids, either.  My apologies for having no pixie dust to toss on this and make it all better.

So what are you supposed to do?  Well, you keep doing one thing you’re already doing.  You pray like crazy for them.  But counter-intuitively, you go to work on you instead of them.  You work on your own shame, in partnership with Christ and His power in you.  You look into the dark corners of your own life and story to see things that you might really want to not look at.  You’re looking for these things so you can deal with them.  You may need the help of a mature and wise person from outside your normal circle for this.  One of the same gender as you.  Or you may have the great blessing of people in your circle who can help you.  But you’re probably going to need help.  So pray for God to bring mature people to you, and then look for them.

And then go to work on this with Christ as your Partner and Helper.

As you do this, you will be modeling recovery from shame for your kids.  And that’s huge.  The way you model dealing with shame in your own life is incredibly important.  In fact, in most ways, you modeling this is far more powerful than any words you might want to say to them about it.

But it’s a messy process.  Sometimes deeply embarrassing.  Sometimes tearful.  Sometimes angry and verbal.  Usually it’s not a process you want out there for everybody to see (although I think it might make pretty compelling reality TV).  It doesn’t need to be out there, usually, in fact.  But we’re not talking about doing this in full view of your neighborhood, or your job, or your church, or your Facebook friends. We’re talking about the kids you either gave birth to or helped their birth process happen, and who you’re raising and living with.  We’re talking about your inner circle.

Probably the most important thing I can write about this is DON’T GIVE UP!  You have an enemy who wants you to give up, because he knows you’re more vulnerable to him and useful to his plans if you’re held hostage by shame.  He would much prefer you to be a carrier than to be recovered from it and learning hoe to live a healthy life.  St. Peter wrote that this enemy is roaming around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  Satan is way serious about keep you locked up.  He’ll do all kinds of things to make you want to give up.  So don’t be taken by surprise by this.

But you also have a Defender and Advocate.  God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, is in you to give you every strength and tool you need to not give up.  He’s not out there somewhere, cheering you on.  He’s IN you, if you said yes to Jesus on His terms.  And He wants to see you healed.

I have to tell you this last thing, though.  God wants to see you healed, but He’s not really very interested in making you happy through the process.  So.  It might be painful.  But it will be worth it.