#31 – I bet he deserves it.

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Today is Part III of our four-part series on Ingratitude. Part I was an introduction to the discontentment of ingratitude, and last week we looked at blame. Today we look at how ingratitude breeds discontentment through condescension.

When I ride a train in the downtown core of a big city and see someone who is obviously experiencing homelessness, it’s embarrassingly easy for me to judge. They must be lazy. Or make bad decisions. Or not be smart. Or all of the above.

Now clearly these things may be true. But they may also be true for the man sitting next to me in the $2500 pin-stripped suit. But by assuming that those who appear to not be doing well brought it on themselves is really an extension of my own arrogance.

When we think we are the source of all the good we get, this leads us to imagine we are truly the masters of our own destiny. If we continue this assumption, then logically others must also be responsible for their own destiny.

If I attribute my success, my advancement, my accomplishments – to only myself – then others must be equally responsible for their apparent failure, stagnation, and lack of success.

This ingratitude-based score-keeping will never allow us to be content. We will look at those with more than us, and think it’s unfair. Look at those with as much as us – and figure we worked harder, so they don’t deserve it. Look at those with less than us, and be filled with disdain for their obvious lack of effort.

We simply can’t be happy with our situation in life if we feel we alone are responsible for it. We can’t be content for ourselves, and we can’t have any contentment when we look at others.

DO THIS

The next time you see someone you think is failing. Someone who seems stuck. Someone not succeeding. STOP.
How much of their situation are you assuming is their fault. Maybe it’s an appropriate amount – maybe not.
Is your desire to pat yourself on the back for all your wins – causing you to wag your finger at others for alltheir losses?

PRAY THIS

God of patience,
you put up with my prideful delusions,
when I think I have earned what I have.
Please forgive my contempt,
when I pretend others have brought all their misfortune on themselves.
Help me see all the ways you have helped me,
and how others may not have gotten the same headstart.
Give me grace, patience, and humility.

#30 – This is ALL my fault

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{today is Part II of our four-part series on Ingratitude}

When we lack gratitude, we start to think that we’re the source of all we get. We earned things, we created them, we did this all on our own.

When we are unwilling to accept our good fortune as given to us, the flip side is when we hit the tough times in life we feel like everything is falling apart.

If we thought we were solely (or mostly) responsible for the good times, we logically have to hold ourselves responsible for the bad.

Unwilling to accept things might just be hard, we struggle to force our life back into a place of what we felt was happiness. We did this to ourselves – we have to undo it.

Ingratitude then not only makes us proud when we are doing well but devastates us when things are not.

We have no one to thank, but then also no one or nothing that explains anything that happens. Ingratitude eventually will make us not only the center of our universe but the sole actor in it.

We feel compelled to find a way to solve things, all things. This is an incredible burden to bear. Thinking we need to fix everything in life is a weight that we were just not created to carry.

DO THIS

What failure have you held yourself responsible for. Maybe it was your fault – but perhaps not. Drill down thorough your own responses with series of “but why”
It was my fault I didn’t get the job.
But Why?
Because I was a less impressive candidate than the others.
But why?
etc. etc. etc

When you get to the end – maybe it was something you could have done something about. If not – is there a sense of arrogance behind it all? Do you feel responsible because you have an over-inflated sense of the influence you have over your life?

PRAY THIS

God of power, control, and eternal knowledge,
you know what is going on, and why.
Give me a healthy sense of my own influence,
Help me see when I can do something,
And when I need to rest in your care
Amen

#29 – Thanks for Nothing – Ingratitude

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Imagine an athlete stepping up to the gold-medal podium, an actor holding their Oscar, or a business leader receiving a lifetime achievement award and stating:
“I’d like to thank nobody actually. Because honestly, I did this myself. So…thanks for recognizing my hard work and intelligence. Good night”


It seems preposterous, but we frequently do something similar.
Sure we’re not that blunt (or maybe we are, just not that public). Maybe we don’t notice because we get there slowly. However, we do often get to the place of utter ingratitude.

We think we have earned what we got, are owed what we received, that help from others was minimal, nonexistent, or trivial. We recognize our own contributions to our good fortune and minimize anyone else (including God) who played a role.
(In the coming three weeks we’ll unpack the items below in depth. For today let’s look not at the problems that come from ingratitude, but ingratitude itself.) There are three glaring reasons ingratitude leads to discontentment:

  1. If we are unwilling to accept our good fortune as given to us, when (not if) we hit a rough patch we feel the world is crashing down. We think we built up the good times, and now are responsible for the bad. Unwilling to accept that things might just be hard, we struggle to force our life back into a place of what we felt was happiness.
  2. When we think we are the authors of our own success, we start to view others as the authors of theirs. We see someone who is not doing well, and we figure they deserve it or did it to themselves. This breeds contempt for others (which is incredibly discontenting) not to mention leads us to act unjustly.
  3. If we refuse to accept God’s provision as a gift, we have no one to thank. We can become ungrateful about everything, which is incredibly arrogant. The problem is not just that the bad times will hurt more, but even in good times we feel no need to be thankful. Ingratitude robs us of contentment because it’s so closely tied to entitlement, pride, and an over-inflated sense of self-worth.

We know it’s hurtful to others, it harmful to us, and it’s ugly to look at, so how do we turn into ungrateful people? I think one huge contributor is simply the absence of gratefulness. We are primed to find reasons for events and causes for everything. So when we tell ourselves no one (not even God) is responsible for the good that we experience, we turn inwards by default.

We become the center of everything.
We become the source of what we have enjoyed.
We alone are the cause of our success.


It can sneak up on us, so we have to check our attitude. When we receive something good – who do we think is responsible for it?


DO THIS

What is the last really good thing you received? Anything from public recognition of your work, to a clean bill of health, to the accident that almost happened, to someone making amends with you, to a beautiful day in the mountains?

Pull that to mind.
Answer this honestly: Did you earn that? Did you accomplish that yourself? Did you deserve it because of who you are and what you did?

Our gut reflex to those questions will say a lot about where we have ingratitude still dwelling in our core.


PRAY THIS

Father of goodness,
you don’t stop giving because I stop thanking.
You don’t stop loving when I stop noticing.
You don’t stop providing when I stop recognizing.
You don’t stop caring, when I stop thinking of anyone but myself.
Give me eyes to see what you – and the people you have put around me-
have done and are doing.
Thank you for your goodness, love, mercy, and kindness.
Forgive my frequent and stubborn ingratitude.
Amen

#28 – False Summits – getting tricked into discontentment

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Climbing towards the peak of a mountain, you cross a high-alpine meadow covered in flowers and thick moss. The trail climbs steeply out of the forest, and you are on an exposed rock face. But it’s fine because you can see the peak above you. All morning you have seen more of the mountain beyond what’s in front of you, but now the summit is in view.

Except that it isn’t.

You get to the top of a rocky knoll and realize that the mountain flattens out, then re-starts its ascent for several hundred meters more into the clouds.

False summits.

Parts of a mountain that look like the top when you’re on the way up, and then crush your hopes and steal away all your contentment.

The thing about false summits is that honestly, we should see them coming. If you had a good map with you when you were hiking, you could easily glance down and realize you are not at the top. If you knew you weren’t at the end, nothing would be tricking you.

Living contentment is not going to happen when we keep getting crushed by the false summits in life.

Sure, on one hand, we have no idea when we’ll die, so we really don’t know ‘the finish.’ However, we are often crushed because we hoped we were at the end of something but had no real reason to assume that were true.

In fact, many times we hope we’re at the end of something hard, even when all data points to the fact that we’re not.

In the trauma counseling that we went through following our attack, our counselor quite often told us that 18 months was the normal time frame for recovery. However, there were numerous times in the middle of it when I thought: “no, actually I’m doing pretty good – I think I’m almost done with this.”

Then I’d slide back, get hit with something different, and have another hill to climb. The false belief that I was almost done just made it harder.

Oftentimes this thought can come from a sneaky form of arrogance: “sure other people take 18 months on average…but I’m different….”

At the very least, we need to read the maps that are given to us. Listen to the advice we get. If someone says “when you get to that meadow, it’s still 2 hours to the top” don’t think to yourself “well, maybe for you…”

There are enough things in this life that steal our contentment, we don’t need to create more ourselves.


DO THIS

What thing are you facing right now that you feel “I should be done with this”?
What advice have you chosen to ignore?
What map have you neglected?
If there’s some hard thing you’re in right now that you really feel should be done – think about why it is you think that.


PRAY THIS

God of patience,
Lord of perfect timing,
You know what I’m facing right now,
And the fact that it’s not over is not a surprise to you.
Give me patience to deal with it,
even when I want it to be done.
Give me peace to rest in you,
when I want to use my own strength to muscle through.
I want to wait for you,
and your perfect timing.
Amen

#27 – Dark Night(s) of the Soul

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When we experience seasons (the more Christian-y way of saying a period of time) where God doesn’t seem close, when we feel lost, it can feel like a Dark Night of the Soul.

St John on the Cross was a 16th-century Spanish monk in the mystic tradition whose poem – Dark Night of the Soul- is the origin of this phrase. He lays out a painful but necessary time of questioning, doubt, confusion.

I remember the day Mother Theresa died, and how in the following weeks and months we learned more about her. Only after her death, when many of her letters were made public did those of us outside her inner circle learn she seemed to have been living a ‘dark night’ for much of her adult life.

These Dark Nights (not to be confused with The Dark Knight of the Batman movie franchise) can be hard to get through.

We want clarity / solutions / direction / progress.
Instead we get confusion / questions / darkness / waiting

We usually pray for solutions to what are the visible problems.

Give us direction in this problem
Take away this sickness
Stop these people from making my life hard
Show me which job to take


In the New Testament, we find what Paul often prays in the midst of problems is that people would become more like Jesus, and reveal him more accurately to others. Not specifically that the problem be taken away.
This is what Jesus prays in the Garden also – take this cup from me – BUT IF NOT – then let your will be done.


We believe that feeling unsettled, having real tension in our soul is the problem – it shows discontentment. Maybe it does – maybe it does not.

We often don’t see pain, suffering, darkness, confusion as a way to get closer to God -but a sign that he is moving away from us.

Those Dark Nights can be times of immense growth if we allow it. Maybe a better prayer is not for God to take away the thing causing us discomfort, but to show us how to become closer to him because of it.


DO THIS

Are you going through something hard right now? Really hard? Have you just made it through something?
Look not at what you’ve suffered, but how you’ve grown. How have you gained an understanding of God, of love, of grace?
In what ways are you closer to God because of what you endured?


PRAY THIS

God,
We often don’t understand what you’re doing,
When really hard times come.
Loss.
Death.
Betrayal.
But you have experienced them all.
When we endure Dark Nights,
Help us to become more aware of you,
Closer to you,
More like you.

Amen.

#26 – Bad Knees or Bad Beliefs?

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I first started running when we lived in the French Alpes. I had crashed my mountain bike, doing several summersaults on/off it, and had to carry my bike back out to find the trail. Apparently, I had popped my shoulder out of joint and then back in as I fell – and I was told to not ride my bike for 8 weeks. So I started running, which up to that point I thought was dumb, and pointless “it’s like walking…only faster?”

As soon as I started I had knee pain. My doctor (who was a sports medicine doc) suggested some knee braces. They helped very little. Sometimes I could barely climb the stairs after running just 5km. I was born with strange cave-in ankles, so for a large part of my life I’ve had special insoles in my shoes to give extra support which I put in some good solid trail running shoes. So even with the orthotic insoles and the doctor-prescribed knee braces it still hurt. Every. Time. To say I was discontented would be an understatement.

I was starting to think that I just couldn’t run- that my body was not built for it. Then I did a bit of reading, and some research, and came to the conclusion that I would try the complete opposite approach. I bought the flattest/thinnest shoes I could get and ditched the insoles, and within days got rid of the knee braces..

My knee pain disappeared. (and I never stopped running, even after my shoulder healed!)

Contentment will remain elusive if we are crippled by things we think are helping us.

My belief that the braces and inserts were helping me – was holding me back and actually causing me pain. What I thought was helping – was actually hurting.

Sometimes the things we think we need are causing problems. The things we think are supportive are actually holding us back, or worse.


DO THIS

What things have you inherited from your upbringing, what habits do you keep from your past, what beliefs are you keeping without reflection?
It’s pretty easy for those of us who were raised in the church to keep things we think help (a certain pastor/leader’s perspective, a style of worship service, an approach to prayer etc etc) but we’ve never really critically reflected on it.
Read books that don’t agree with your perspective. Listen to podcasts/sermons from other backgrounds.
The Body of Christ is immeasurably rich in diversity – step out of your comfort zone. Dare to see if some of the things you believed were helping you understand the Gospel, get closer to God, know Jesus better – actually are.


PRAY THIS

God of all-sufficiency,
you are all we need,
help us to strip away things that hinder.
Show us what we think is bringing us to you,
but is actually standing in the way.
You are always available, fully present,
completely knowable.
Help us return to you,
by the guidance of your Spirit,
and the truth of your Word.
Amen.

#25 – Can I forgive the man who aided my attackers?

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Last year our family suffered a violent armed attack in our house. Armed men entered our house, robbed us, and seemed to be set on killing me.
The attack was possible partially because a man who had worked for us since the week we arrived in the country betrayed us. He schemed with the bandits that he would be in our house and ensure the kitchen door would be unlocked. He feigned to be surprised and scared when they attacked. He picked up kids around our house when they got hurt, he was in our house every day. He and I are the same age, have the same number of kids, and we tried to support him in his quest to support his family.


I forgive him.


I realized I have to.


“Have to forgive” can be a tricky idea.


Do you ‘have to’ because God said you have to -and you feel you need to obey? Or you’re scared what will happen if you don’t? Or you feel pressured/obligated/forced to forgive?


‘Need’ to forgive feels a bit more accurate.


Jesus tells a story about a man who had a debt of ten thousand talents. A ‘talent’ was a currency worth 10,000 denarii. A denarius was what you could earn in a day of labor. So he owed 10,000×10,000 or 100 million days. If you earn $50,000 a year, this debt to you would be ~$52 Million. He had this debt forgiven. Then he turns and vengefully demands repayment from someone who owes him a bit less than $20,000.


What Jean-Paul ‘owes’ me as a ‘payment’ for what he did against me is the $20,000 compared to the $52,000,000+ that I owe for what I’ve done against God. So for me to say I won’t forgive J-P in light of this story is not so much “I have to” but more – “how can I not?”


How can I look at all the wrong I’ve done, built up over 47 years – and then hold this one event against someone in unforgiveness?


The servant with the large debt was forgiven ALL of it, so how then can he not forgive ALL of what is owed him?


So maybe it’s not so much ‘have to’ or even ‘need to’ but ‘get to.’


I get to forgive him because doing so also releases me from bitterness.
I get to because that’s what helps spread mercy, and goodness.
I get to because I realize in comparison to what I’ve been forgiven, it only makes sense.


DO THIS

What grudge are you holding? Who are you withholding forgiveness from? What hurt are you unwilling to move past?

Bring it to mind. Start to think of what you’ve done that’s similar – or maybe the exact same. What have you done to others? Put that hurt in context of how you’ve sinned. How you’ve failed. How you’ve hurt others.

Then revisit WHY you are unwilling to forgive that person.


PRAY THIS

Forgiving, ever merciful God,
You have forgiven me so much,
things I’ve done intentionally,
things I’ve tried to stop doing,
things I’ve not done that I really should have.
You’ve seen it all. You’ve felt it all.
You’ve forgiven it all.
Help me have the same attitude towards those who hurt me.
Amen


#24 – your view may not be the only one

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If you fly low over Burundi you see a network of paths, connecting clusters of houses spread over the hills. You notice the lack of cities and highways, but also this web of red dirt paths cutting through the lush green hills.

Drive a Land Cruiser down one of those paths and you notice how narrow they are as the roof rack starts to pick coffee off the trees, and your mirrors hit branches of banana and sorghum on both sides at the same time. The potholes and bumps are obvious, as is the questionable strength of certain bridges.

On a motorbike along this same path you see the kids run out and stand within centimeters of you. You realize how many people are around.

If you ride a mountain bike you hear so much more, and are more aware of the steep hills as you climb up them, and attempt to keep control on the downhill. The different crops and animals become apparent.

When you run there is a level of approachability between you and the people around you. You notice the mats of beans drying in front of mud huts, and faces of children carrying yellow jerry cans of water.

If you walk the path, kids walk along side you and try to have conversations in rudimentary English. You look up more to see the clouds developing over the hills, and the villages on the hills across the valley.

It is the exact same path – the place is the same. It’s merely your perspective that has brought about such a difference.

Sometimes we lose contentment because we are shocked by others not seeing something the same way we do. Maybe it’s someone at work who has a different idea to solve a problem, maybe it’s your spouse who views your habit as ‘annoying’ and you see it as ‘quirky. Your friend who thinks differently than you about the appropriate government response to COVID, about the role of the church in the public square etc. etc.

Oftentimes none of these perspectives are incorrect, but they are all incomplete. None of us ever fully understands any problem – certainly not any issue with a decent amount of complexity.

We can feel upset, annoyed, disturbed by someone else due to the view they have on a situation. But what if – it’s merely that one of you is running the trail, and the other is in a plane?

If you had the chance, the best way to fully understand would be to experience each of the different ways yourself.

Since that’s not usually possible, you get together and talk with someone who has experienced one of the others. You’ll not only see things you never noticed before, but hopefully develop an appreciation for their perspective.

That understanding may help you find contentment in the disagreements.


DO THIS

The next time someone’s response/opinion/thought on some issue really gets under your skin – pause for a moment.

Try – it can be so hard – but try to see what they see. Where are they coming from? What have they experienced, seen, learned that puts them in that place. Maybe you still feel they have a lack of understanding, but at least make an effort to see that.

If you can start to understand why and how they got to that place – you can more easily have conversations about how both your perspectives may have some merit – and you’ll find yourself benefiting from each other, instead of finding ways to disprove them.


PRAY THIS

Give us humility Lord,
to accept that we don’t see all sides of a story.
Give us acceptance for those we think are wrong.
Give us grace when others treat us poorly for our perspective.
Give us modesty when we share our thoughts.
Remove the stubborn stains of pride, vanity, conceit, and self-satisfaction.
Make us more like your Son.
Amen

#23 – maybe context will help

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I need to start with this:

I often say to people: “you can’t tell yourself you’re not allowed to be sad/disappointed because ‘someone has it worse than you’ – any more than you’re not allowed to be happy because ‘someone has it better than you.’

I really don’t agree with the response “well – it could be worse….” when someone is hurting.

If someone has lost something or someone dear I feel “at least it’s not…” is a completely inappropriate response.

Telling someone it could be worse is NOT a way to help someone through a time of grief, suffering, sadness, or disappointment.

HAVING SAID THAT…

I think sometimes we do neglect to put our discontentment in a wider, or global, or historical context.

This week after working at the malnutrition feeding program, Susan was trying to help a woman at our hospital. She has a child, no husband, and is being discharged. She is being sent home to die because she has advanced breast cancer, and there is nothing our hospital can do for her. She is 25. Susan bought her some painkillers.

This week one of the pillars of our community lost his son. He was only 26. He had finished school, and just completed his first year of University down in the capital. I was the one who broke the news to his best friend. I went up to see the family and ended up walking right behind the father as he followed the body of his first-born son to our morgue. Later as I walked home past the morgue, there were two young men on bicycles, both with wooden coffins of hand-hewn wood just bigger than shoeboxes strapped to the back of their bikes. I assume they were young fathers there to bury their dead infants.

Sometimes finding contentment means putting our own suffering into context.

Being close to those who suffer is not easy. It can cause us all kinds of problems. Our friend & teammate Eric wrote a book about how to come alongside others without becoming crushed ourselves.

It’s not easy, but we need to.

Not just for the sake of others – to help them by at least sharing their pain.

But also for ourselves.

We lose contentment when we think we ought to have it better. When we think we’re being singled out for hardship. When we feel like we’ve been wronged like no other. When we feel like our suffering, our grief, our disappointment, our loss – is somehow unique to us.

It’s not.

We can’t be content if we think we’re somehow being singled out for hurt. We will find contentment when we can be a small part of helping others who are hurting.


DO THIS

Who in your life is hurting … right now? Who do you know has recently experienced loss, or is just in an extended period of disillusion or is struggling? Call them. Now. Text them, send an email. Reach out somehow. Now. Everything else can wait.

This is a gift both to them…and to you.


PRAY THIS

Father of comfort,
Lord of the grieving,
God of the hurting,
Comfort me in my loss – so I can comfort others.
Give me strength in my weakness – so I can support others.
Show me how you are with me in my pain – so I can be with others.

Amen

#22 – You’re a failure.

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I can still remember the day, the afternoon, the moment even, very vividly.

We were living in France, where I was completing my Ph.D. One of the things I realized very early (like day one of each class), was I was behind essentially all my classmates on the actual subject matter of our courses.

A business Ph.D. is intended to create researchers. Professors who will teach others what is known in the discipline, but also (and more importantly according to many including those who ran my program) push the envelope of what is known. Research is the way the theories that are taught to business students come to be.

So it was a time I had a lot of required reading (many days I would have dozens of 40-page dense research articles I was expected to read, analyze, and be able to discuss) and had a lot of stress for feeling like I just couldn’t swing the course work. At one point I remember going to the head of my program and telling him that it seems like I just can’t hack it. I’m not up for the coursework. I had been getting grades that were something like 12/20 and on one exam (I think it was something like multivariate regression analysis – which honestly, I now barely remember what that even is) I had failed. You needed 10/20 to pass, and I got a 9. In all my previous schooling, I had NEVER tried as hard as I was then, and I had never had the sense of ‘I just don’t get it’.

Our kids were not necessarily thriving in French public school, an environment which still uses public shaming as a pedagogical method. Some teachers seemed to assume there was something wrong with our kids for being at the bottom of the class for reading skills (we tended to think it was because we had just thrown them into a school system in a language they didn’t know…but I guess we can agree to disagree on that one). I was driving to get our kids from the village school. The road to the school was a tiny narrow one-lane road lined with plane trees on both sides. It looked like originally was meant to drive up to the door of the church and stop, but it jogged over around the corner of the church (literally, with many scrapes on the centuries-old stone on the corner of the church where people had slightly misread the corner)

I was probably late, and was just managing this chicane in our beat-up used Renault mini-van when a motorbike came around the corner of the church towards me. I slammed on the brakes, as did he, but the lack of four wheels to balance on meant he lost his balance, and slid on the ground, scraping across the pavement and coming to a halt under the front of my car.

Once realizing no one was hurt, I got a little perturbed. What the heck was he doing darting out around the corner, GOING THE WRONG WAY ON A ONE WAY STREET?

He then proceeded to point out a sign, quasi-buried in the hedge on the other side of the barely-big-enough-for-one-car road, indicating to be careful of oncoming traffic. Not only that – his direction had the right away around the turn.

Cue a rather deep searching of soul, ending with essentially a brake-down inside my head.
I couldn’t pass the exam.
I couldn’t understand the concepts.
I couldn’t keep up in class.
I couldn’t provide my kids a good school situation.
Heck – I apparently couldn’t even drive.

So friend…..I’ve been there.

Feeling like you just can’t do what you’re supposed to do. What others think you should be able to. What you think you ought to. What everyone else seems to be able to.

When you get there -I think there’s one way out.

Accept the fact that you don’t perform your way through life.

Realise you don’t achieve your worth.

Be honest about the fact that your ability to get things done is not what will bring you contentment.


DO THIS

What have you failed at recently?
What do you feel you should be able to do – but somehow never got it done – or done enough – or good enough?

How much of your contentment has been lost by that ‘i’m a failure’ feeling?

How much of your value and your worth has been lost?
Sit for a minute to just dwell in the reality that you are not valuable to God because of what you can do. How you can perform. How good you do your tasks.
You are loved, accepted, valued – because God loves, accepts, and values you for who you are.

Nothing more. Nothing less.


PRAY THIS

Lord, you have made me who I am.
You gave me talents and abilities,
and at the same time limitations and weaknesses.
Help me remember you gave me both.
Remind me you love me not in spite of some things.
You just love me.
I don’t have to perform.
I don’t have to earn your love.

Thank you for that.

Amen