Picking up the broken pieces of disappointment (and saving them for later)

When I first started grad school about two years ago now, I am telling you, I was so revved up.  After a seven-year hiatus from school, I was excited to be in the classroom again, learning and growing, maybe in more challenging ways than ever before.  I was excited to build these natural relationships with classmates and professors – especially in a program as small as ours (and with a bunch of people who are also passionate about relationships!).  I was excited to explore this new field that was all about helping people bring healing and restoration to their lives and families.

But now, with my cap and gown tucked away in my closet and job applications looming before me…I can’t help but feel a lot of disappointment and disillusionment with how everything has ended up thus far.

For whatever reason, it seems like in every area – academically, socially, professionally – things have simply not been what I had hoped they’d be.  And though I’ve met some stellar therapists and so many genuine, caring people in our field, I’ve also come face to face with more unprofessionalism, arrogance, and inauthenticity than I had ever planned to see so early on.  Sometimes the people who, on one level, passionately advocate for the hurting and marginalized, are the same people who, in other areas of life, are contributing to the very systems that perpetuate those things.  And sometimes it seems like helping others through therapy has just as much become a means to self-promotion and power as any other profession we know.

So as I’ve begun to process all of this, I’ve had to ask myself some really hard questions

Is this the kind of work I want to pour my heart and life into?  Does what we do really bring about lasting change in people and communities?  Will I be able to find my place in this profession, in a way that is meaningful and that truly impacts lives?

And though I don’t fully understand why things have happened the way they have, when I’ve finally had a quiet moment alone to reflect, and to remember what’s true, I know in my heart that the answer to all of these questions…is a resounding “yes.”

I know that every part of my journey and my heart longs to see redemption and restoration in the lives around us.  I know that, while there’s a lot of stuff in psychology we can filter out, there is also something important about this work we do, something valuable about making people seen, known, heard, and accepted.  I know there’s something so very beautiful about giving attention to the broken places in our stories, that they might become the places of strength, resilience, and inspiration.  And I know, this is what I want to be a part of.

A few days ago, as I was wrestling with such thoughts as these, I came across a familiar passage in the Bible – the one about Jesus feeding the 5,000.  But this one part that I never really noticed before struck a chord with me.  Jesus had just provided miraculously for the crowd by feeding them an abundant feast out of a few meager loaves and fishes.  In fact, after everyone had eaten, there were even baskets full of leftovers.  So, what does this God say, who with no trouble at all, can create something out of nothing?

He tells His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.”

Sometimes God provides us with more resources, more passion or hope, more gifts than we can use at the time.  And while to us, it may seem like a waste, or a disappointment, God already has in mind how these “leftovers” might be used in the future.

Who knows how our broken pieces of disappointment or unmet hopes may be the seeds of something else – something wonderful, something redemptive, something that is important and worthwhile…something God is stirring within and bringing forth at the appointed time. Maybe through some of these discouraging experiences I’ve had, He’s directing my passions and preparing me for places and opportunities I would have never expected.  Maybe it’s just not time to put to use all of the riches of His abundant provision.

I don’t know what your journey has looked like thus far, or what disappointments have arisen out of your life and circumstances, but whatever dreams, longings, or gifts remain unused, may you rest in the joy of knowing that they have been gathered up and treasured…that in the end, no thing that comes from God’s hand may be lost.

 

The Gospel Truth: Maybe cliches aren’t so bad after all

One of the things we talk about in psychology is how simply listening can be healing.  And I think we all know this from our own lives and relationships.  When I am hurting, hearing words of wisdom or similar life experiences can be helpful, but it’s really a person’s wholehearted presence that brings comfort and hope.  I want to feel seen, understood, accepted and loved.

Somehow, though, over the years (I’m not that old, so I’m not sure how many years, haha), it seems like we have become so consumed by the need to be fully understood and not judged, that we are quick to dismiss any kind of wisdom or advice offered.  All of a sudden, people have to “measure up” to these invisible standards and earn the right to speak truth into our lives.  If there’s something we don’t like about the person, or if we know of an area in their life that is not up to par, or if they say something we already knew, we feel offended by their attempts to impart wisdom to us.

Maybe this is not you, but I know in my heart, this has definitely been me.  And I think it reflects our culture these days…our obsession with tearing down any and all authorities, and with preserving our own rights, autonomy, and confidence in ourselves.  I am my own expert, and I know what’s best for me.  My experience and my feelings are not only valid, they define truth for me.  Even within the Church, these ideas have subtly become a part of our thinking.

But the thing is, the Gospel is different.  Jesus is different.  Jesus says that He is the way, the Truth, and the life.  Jesus is the same —  yesterday, today, and forever.  We believe in a Truth that transcends culture, life experiences, and even our own feelings and perspectives.  It’s not that these things don’t matter, but that they themselves cannot encompass the full measure of Truth.  And we believe in a Truth that does not discriminate; it can be found on the lips of the broken, the poor, the mighty and the weak. No matter what packaging it comes in, truth is still truth.

And if I am totally honest with myself, this is exactly the kind of Truth I need.  I need a Truth that is bigger than my circumstances.  I need a Truth that holds me steady when everything else is confusing, and blurry, and inconsistent.  I need a Truth that doesn’t rely on me, that is the same with or without me.  I need a Truth that is so simple, it takes childlike faith to receive it.

So bring it on.  Bring on the cliches, the simple Gospel truths that I have come to love. God, help me to have an unoffended heart that cares more about what You are trying to say than about who is saying it.  When I offer truth to others, I want to be one who listens first and seeks to understand.  And when others share with me, may I be one who tests everything and holds onto the good, who humbles myself enough to listen and receive Truth wherever it may be found.

 

Christians and the LGBT dilemma: a plea for honest dialogue

I can’t believe I’m writing about this.  I kind of wonder if a lot of Evangelical Christians in my generation are afraid to say anything either way about all of the same-sex marriage discussion going on…and I wonder this, because I feel it too.  I’m afraid of offending people, and I am afraid of being misunderstood.

So let me start by saying a bunch of disclaimers (that will at least make me feel better, haha).  No matter who you are reading this, I value and respect and am interested in your viewpoint.  There is a reason you believe what you believe.  Also, no matter what my personal convictions are, I do understand why people are fighting for same-sex marriage, why people are celebrating because of the recent Supreme Court decision, and why people might view opponents as judgmental or narrow-minded.  Any of these perspectives probably come from real-life experiences that are valid and important.

But what I wish more people understood is that even though our postmodern culture cries out for more and more autonomy and less and less authority, there are other ways of seeing the world.  There are many people all over the world — young and old alike, rich and poor included, Christian or not — who truly believe in an authority that is higher than humans.  And for those of us who ascribe to such convictions, it means that whether we understand it or not, whether we like it or not, we are faithful to this authority and we believe that somehow following it brings about good, trusting in this thing that is higher than even our desires or understanding.  Unlike the voice of our culture today, we believe in an absolute truth.  Maybe to some that is arrogant, but ironically, in my experience, submitting to a truth that’s bigger than me keeps me in my place.

And this is where I find myself today.  I know people even within Evangelical Christianity have different views about this issue.  But what I’m really asking for is not even the right to impose my beliefs on others or to be forceful in how I express them.  I’m simply asking for the right to believe what I believe without feeling judged.  I’m asking to be known as a person before being labeled for my beliefs or opinions — something I think people on all sides of these issues long for and deserve.  I too feel so much grief for the injustices experienced by the LGBT community, especially for the hatred and anger expressed in the name of Jesus. This reality does not change. I am happy for the positive movements towards grace and equality.  But when I read scriptures and seek God and consider what I know of Him already, I honestly cannot shake this conviction that there must be some other solution than to rewrite how marriage and family are designed to be.  I humbly submit to this, even if I don’t fully understand.

As you may have noticed, this belief system still does not assume any kind of political viewpoint.  I guess to me, that’s not what’s most important. Policies and culture and all of that will inevitably change, and I don’t feel strongly about it all one way or another.  (If you do, great! Live out your beliefs authentically and unafraid!)  Politics to me has become a way to divide, to perpetuate stereotypes and false assumptions.  All I know is, I have experienced the power and love of Jesus in my life, and I am simply doing my best to hear His voice and follow, that others might know Him too.

So I don’t know about you, where you stand on the same-sex marriage issue.  I’m not going to try to persuade you in words to see the world like I see it.  But I am pleading for honest dialogue and for a renewed interest, concern, and love for people of all different backgrounds and perspectives.  Behind every viewpoint is a person, and behind every person is a story.  Let’s learn to listen first.