Changing in Him
In the course of Henry’s own spiritual and professional journey, he has identified four aspects of the personality of God that, if we would cultivate them, would greatly improve our day-to-day functioning. God is able to do four things that we, his children, have difficulty doing:
1. Bond with others.
2. Separate from others.
3. Sort out issues of good and bad.
4. Take charge as an adult.
Without the ability to perform these basic godlike functions, we can literally remain stuck for years, and growth and change can elude our grasp. In this book I will explain these four developmental tasks, the barriers that get in the way of our achieving them, and the skills we need for completing them.
Pillar #1 Learning to Bond
Having good emotional connections is as natural as a plant taking in water. But we are not plants living in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, we require some serious gardening in order to bear fruit. The fig tree gardener planned to “dig around and fertilize” the tree that wasn’t bearing any fruit for a year to help it bear fruit.
Making human connections when you grew up without them takes a good dose of grace, truth, and time. Here are some skills that will start you on the long road to making changes that heal.
Realize the need
You may not realize that your problems stem from a lack of bonding and attachment. Perhaps you grew up in a family where closeness was not valued, or were injured to the point where you have forgotten how to bond. Thus, the first thing you need to do is to realize how much you need attachment.
Move Toward Others
is wonderful when others move toward you and seek out your heart, for that is what God does. Often, though, others cannot see what you need and how emotionally isolated you really are.
Being vulnerable at a social level may be too threatening at first. Maybe you need to start with a pastor, counselor, or support group. But vulnerability is a skill that opens up the heart for love to take root. When you can admit that you need support and help, and can reveal your hurt and isolation, a dynamic is set into motion that can literally transform your personality and life.
Challenge Distorted Thinking
If you don’t, for example, challenge the belief that “all people will leave me,” you will never form an abiding attachment, and you will re-create the isolation of your past. The Lord has promised to reveal the truth to you. Ask him to show you your particular distortions.
To learn new relational skills and the way of attachment, take risks. Listen to Jesus’ invitation: “‘Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me’” (Rev. 3:20). You have a responsibility to hear the voice and open the door.
Allow Dependent feelings
Whenever you begin to allow someone to matter to your isolated heart, uncomfortable needy and dependent feelings will surface. These are the beginnings of a softening heart. Though uncomfortable, these feelings are a key to attachment.
Empathy is the ability to share in another’s emotions, thoughts, or feelings. Empathizing with others’ needs, identifying with their hurt, softens your own heart.
Pillar #2 Learning to Set Boundaries
Stephen was burned out and on the verge of losing his job because he could never say no to people’s requests for help. Sandy was unhappy and out of control of her life because she couldn’t say no to her mother. Jane suffered panic attacks because she couldn’t say no to her husband’s drinking. Jim was unhappy because he could never say no to his wife’s requests to work around the house.
Let’s look at some of the skills necessary for setting boundaries and learning to say no when someone tries to cross those boundaries.
Since setting boundaries is merely taking ownership of what is yours, your first step is gaining awareness of who you are. Become aware of your body, feelings, attitudes, behaviors, thoughts, abilities, choices, wants, and limits. Take inventory of where you have come from, where you are now, and where you are going.
Define who You Are
Just as God defines himself, you need to assert yourself. Begin to say what you feel, what you like, what you want, what you will do, and what you think. Carve out an identity and say, “This is who I am.”
Define who You Are not
You must also say who you are not. Say what is “not you,” as well as what is you. Say what you don’t agree with, don’t like, won’t do, and so on. People with boundary problems often do not stand against anything. They take everything in. This is very destructive. In Proverbs 6, God calls us to stand against and hate some things.
Develop the “no” Muscle
A child learns to set boundaries by saying no. Many of us have eliminated this word from our vocabulary, and we need to rediscover it. Strengthen your no muscle. Begin with little exercises, such as saying no to dining at a certain restaurant that you don’t want to go to, and work your way up to more demanding ones, such as saying no to lovemaking when you don’t feel loving. Learning to say no is probably the most important and difficult task in creating boundaries, especially saying no to parents.
Stop Blaming Others
Taking responsibility for your own pain and not blaming others is a major move out of bondage and into health. Stop blaming others for your trouble, and deal with it. This does not mean that others did not cause it; it just means that you have to deal with it. Blaming others is a dead-end street.
Stop Playing Victim
As an adult, you have choices. Begin to take responsibility for those choices and own them. If you are giving something, you are making a choice to give and you need to stop acting as if someone is making you give. As an adult, you are choosing. If you are working somewhere that you don’t like, take responsibility for finding something else. If you are being criticized over and over by a friend, take responsibility to set up a meeting with him or her. You are responsible for what you choose to do. Taking this responsibility will change your life.
God commands us to persevere, or to continue on in spite of difficulty or opposition. “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:1–3).
Be honest with others. Many people will not be honest because they fear loss of intimacy and togetherness. In reality, honesty brings people closer together, for it will strengthen their identities. The more you realize your separate identities, the closer you can become. Telling loved ones what is really on your mind, and telling others what you really think, is the foundation of love.
Pillar #3 Learning to Accept Both Good and Bad
Growth does not come without effort. Many skills must be learned and practiced in order to resolve issues of the good and the bad. Here are some.
Besides confessing your sins, ask God to make you aware of things you may be ignoring. David prayed, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24).
Ask God to shine his light into your soul and reveal anything that you are unaware of. Then ask his forgiveness for it.
Rework the Ideal
Much of the content of our ideal self is false; it is not what an ideal person would be. Check out what needs to be eliminated from your picture of what an ideal you would be. You may need to delete some ideals that come from your family or the culture, instead of from God.
Challenge your distorted views of God, yourself, and others. These strongly held beliefs don’t give way easily, but in new relationships, you can unlearn them. Study the Scriptures to see what they say about our ideal, our reality, and what God and salvation are really like.
Monitor the Relationship between the Ideal and the Real
Listen to the way you respond to the less than ideal. Do you deny it? Do you deny the good? Do you attack and judge? Do you accept and forgive? Many people are stunned to find out how much they attack themselves and others.
Practice loving the less Than Ideal in Others
Learning to accept badness and weakness in others brings healing in the split of the good and bad. Stay connected to others when they are less than ideal, and you will begin to value real relationship and stop demanding idealism. In this way, attachment increases, and your ability to love grows. The less than ideal begins to matter more than the ideal because you have a real relationship.
Do not Discard Others when They Are less Than Perfect
If you have had trouble with going from friend to friend, spouse to spouse, church to church, because you find some little flaw and make them all bad, work on staying in connection and working out the problem. Actively see the good as well as the bad, and love the whole person. Make reality your friend instead of your enemy.
Process and Value negative feelings
When you are committed to reality, to both the good and the bad, you will begin to see negative feelings as a part of life. If you fear them less, you can then process them as they arise and avoid all the problems listed in the last chapter. Most problems with negative feelings come from a fear about them. They really are not as bad as you fear they are. Negative feelings will not kill you, but avoiding them may.
Expect Badness and weakness from everyone
I’m not suggesting you turn into a pessimist. I’m saying, “Be a realist.” Everyone you know, including yourself, has good and bad, strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, expect to see them in action. When the faults come, embrace them and love them so that you can overcome your splitting of good and bad as well as feel closer to others.
Pillar #4 Learning to Become Mature Adults
Learning to become an adult is not an easy task. Perhaps becoming an adult while you’re already living in an adult body is even harder. But it is a necessary step to take to get out from under the authority of others.
Here are some of the skills you will need to become your own master under God, to become a mature adult.
We need to reevaluate what we believe. The time is past for “inherited beliefs”; it is time for an adult faith. We need to look into why we think what we think and why we believe what we believe. Is it because we really believe it, or because someone told us to believe it? We need to recognize what is a belief of “tradition” versus what is a real heartfelt conviction from God, his Word, and our own experience. This questioning period could last awhile. But, when we are through, we will have developed a mind of our own.
Disagree with Authority figures
Be honest about your disagreements with others. Most people have disagreements with authority figures, but they are afraid to admit to themselves how strongly they disagree. And they are afraid to voice their disagreements. If you are in a group where you are not free to have a different opinion on gray issues, be careful. Your group may have cult-like qualities.
See Parents and Authority figures Realistically
Knock parents and other authority figures off the pedestal you’ve put them on. See their weaknesses as well as their strengths. Look at the ways you disagree with what they believe and think. Since no two people agree on everything, search your life for anyone with whom you agree on everything, or who you think has it all together. You may be either unaware of how you disagree, or you may be a flatterer.
Make Your Own Decisions
If people in your life are telling you what to think, believe, do, or buy, start making those decisions yourself. You are an adult; learn to think and act for yourself. Who cares if someone disapproves of the purchase you make? It’s your money, and how you spend it is between you and God.
Deal with Your Sexuality
If you are prudish or embarrassed by sex, your parents may still be looking down their nose at your sexuality, or at least that’s the way you are perceiving it. Work on reeducating yourself about the beauty of sex; desensitize yourself to the “no-no” attitude you have toward it. If you feel ashamed, you may still be in a preadolescent stage regarding sex.
Recognize and Pursue Talents
To become an adult requires that you own and recognize the talents and gifts God has given you. You may be aware of some area that you are gifted in, and God has been telling you to develop it in some way, but you have been burying that talent in the ground.
This is important to develop whatever skill and expertise you are considering. You can’t learn to be an authority and have expertise in an area if you don’t have the freedom to practice and learn. Give yourself permission to fail
Appreciate Mystery and the Unknown
One of the hallmarks of people with authority problems is their inability to tolerate mystery and the unknown. They need an answer for everything, and everything has to be wrapped up in neat little packages. Jesus kept trying to shake the Pharisees out of this rigidity.
In many ways God is “unsearchable” (Rom. 11:33–34). He is so awesome that the more we know him, the more we realize we don’t know. This is where worship begins. It is his very transcendence that we worship. Begin to appreciate the things that you cannot figure out about him, and let them be. This is why we call him “God.” If you can know everything about him, then he is no longer God; you are. This is the most serious authority problem of all.
Worship his mystery. Get out of the black-and-white “we-have-all-the-answers” mentality that keeps God in a box. He is much greater than that.