Because I know who I am, I can connect with others


It’s Monday Grace!


“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”


In other words, if you hurt me or use me or betray me, I will shut myself off from you so that you can’t do that again. If I continue to let you hurt me, it’s my own fault. And, with that, we hide deeper in our cave, wear thicker armor, and walk more quietly through our days. We justify our separation because of the pain we have experienced.

I understand. I am writing this during the Covid-19 scare. In many ways, this is the introvert’s dream. You are not expected to interact with others. Someone on Facebook posted, “Just so you know, I am not getting together with some of you even after this ends.” 😉

But what if the relationships in our lives are not ours to choose or deny? As we follow Jesus, He leads us to people and make connections for us. When you think about the people in your life, other than family, did you make a conscious choice to have them as friends? Or did you “chance” to meet and “chance” to connect for some reason and “chance” to stay connected? What if Jesus had something to do with that?

As you and I learn to rest in Him, we also learn to take life as He brings it to us. Knowing who I am in Him, confident in my relationship with Him, I can welcome others into my life in whatever way He desires.

But what if that person hurts me? It will happen. But I don’t have to feel like I am somehow less, somehow unworthy, if I have followed Jesus into the relationship. Some people reject Him. Some claim to have a good relationship with Him and reject me. But I am not lessened by their choice. Everything I am in Christ, I still am.

You see, my identity in Christ gives me strength and confidence in human relationships. No one can take away from me what Christ has given. No criticism, no betrayal, no abuse can lessen me.

So, trust Jesus. If He leads you to someone, leads you to connect with that person, do it. Trust that Jesus will protect you.

*****

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Defining Relationship

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Most people don’t realize they are in a narcissistic relationship until they understand that the relationship is one-sided. When you begin to see that you are the one who gives compliments, thanks, service, encouragement, or time, you wonder what is going on. A one-sided relationship is not a relationship.

Narcissists are users. They connect with you for what they can get. They maintain a connection for what they can get. They end that connection when they find someone else will give them more or better. That’s not a relationship.

Relationships are shared. Giving and getting. Reciprocation. Shared responsibilities and interests and participation.

King David was a man who knew how to love. Sadly, he was also a man who seemed to attract users. People attached themselves to him for what they could get. When it appeared they could do better elsewhere, with other loyalties, they turned away from him. He wrote, in Psalm 41,

Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me. Psalm 41:9

He noticed the fact that he had supported his friend. He had loved him when he was in trouble. But the relationship only went one way.

Proverbs 17 says that a friend “loves at all times.” That’s both sides of the friendship. On the other hand, Proverbs 19:4 notes that “Wealth makes many friends but the poor is separated from his friend.” In other words, some people come around in friendship for what they can get. When they can’t get anything, they disappear. That’s not friendship.

I have been deeply grieved to read some of the things narcissists have said to spouses, children, and friends. “You’re too fat. I have found someone else.” “You have always been a disappointment to me. You should have been more like your sister.” “I never really loved you.” “I don’t need you anymore.” Yes, these are actual things narcissists have said. So cruel.

And victims wonder what happened. Where did this cruelty come from? But the narcissist simply doesn’t care. The pain they cause means nothing to them. They say these things to break the connection.

Friendships are important. Family is important. Community is important. We need these relationships, but narcissistic connections are not relationships. They are connections.

I know that’s sad. To say that a marriage is a connection. To say that a family is just a set of connections. So wrong. So sad. But that’s the truth for many people. A connection with a narcissist is not a relationship.

What does that mean for us? It means that we ought to have different expectations and responses. The normal things you and I expect in a relationship we should not expect in a narcissistic connection. Do not expect loyalty. Do not expect reciprocation. Do not expect what you call love. At the same time, there are things you should expect. Expect that the narcissist does not see you as a person. Expect to be used, exploited, for his purposes. Expect to have your needs and desires ignored unless they somehow align with his. Expect, as I said earlier, that the connection is one-sided.

The point of all this is that you should not feel guilt or shame when the connection breaks. It was not a mutual relationship. The break was not your fault. The fact that the connection was not satisfying for either of you was not your fault. If you had performed your side perfectly, it would have made no difference. It was not that kind of situation. You can work on a relationship, bolster or repair from your side with expectation that the other person will want the same. You can invest in a relationship. But a simple connection for the benefit of one side is not something you can fix.

*****

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Who am I?

It’s Monday Grace!

Identity may be the key to the joy and peace of the Christian life. Knowing who you are in Christ can lead you to the rest you desire. There are other things to know, how He loves you and what He has done for you, but the fundamental change that has happened in your life because of Jesus is vital.

When you came to Jesus in faith, something radical and amazing happened. First, you died. That’s what the Bible says in several places. See Colossians 3:3. Then, you were born again, given new life, and that life is Jesus. The old you is gone. You are a new creation, a new person, with a new relationship with God.

So you are not who you were.

Nor are you who you think you are.

Your life today is not what it will be, but you are already the person God knows and will love for eternity. Nothing will be added to you when you die. The flesh will be removed. The sin will be gone. The remnants of this life will drop away. Perhaps even the memories of pain and sin will be cleansed. But you will not become something more than you are now.

Today, you are that new creation. Today, you are acceptable to God. All of this has been given to you. You own it. It is yours.

Now, you might say that you became a Christian many years ago and have committed many sins since that time. You fell pretty low. Much of your adult life was spent ignoring the Lord and His will, but you still remember coming to Him in faith so long ago. So, when did you become that new person?

You became that new person whenever you came to the Lord in faith. You didn’t change back into the old person because that old person died. What happened is that you continued to think like that old person. Maybe no one was there to tell you of the new life. Maybe the pressures of this world were too strong for you. Maybe you quickly forgot who you were in Christ. But the new life began when you came to Jesus.

Today you can claim the new life Jesus has already given you. You can look at yourself and at Him and say that you are not what you have thought you were, you belong to Jesus and the life you have led does not reflect who you are.

And listen: you are not who others say you are.

It doesn’t matter what sins you have done. You do not belong in their categories. Their memories of what they have seen of you do not take into account the truth about you. You are not that person you have been showing them. You are not that person they think they have seen. You are the new creation in Jesus!

Sin no longer has dominion over you. It does not control you or define you. You belong to Jesus, not to this world, not to the evil one, not to your sin. The fears, the compromises, the entitlement—these do not reveal the truth about you.

When you are ready to become who you are, Jesus is ready. Ask Him to lead you to good teaching. Ask Him to affirm His truth in your life. Ask Him to wash away everything that is not worthy of who you are. He loves you.

My little book, Milestones of Grace, might be helpful. In it, I describe what we call the Exchange, your death and Jesus’ life, and what that means for you. You are in Him and He is in you. You are greater than this world. You belong to Heaven.

Knowing who you are makes a difference in daily life. We will be considering that over the next few weeks.

*****

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Defining Health

It’s Narcissist Friday!

What does it look like to be healthy after a narcissistic relationship? How about during the relationship? Can you be healthy in the relationship?

Health is more than physical. We all understand that, I think. There are people who suffer greatly from emotional, mental, even spiritual sickness. So, when I speak of health in the context of narcissistic relationships, I mean all of these.

Perhaps the best Biblical word for the kind of health I would desire for all those struggling against narcissism is peace. Peace in your heart. Peace in your mind. Peace with God. Peace even in your body.

I regularly receive comments and emails saying that the writer has struggled with confusion and anger and pain from narcissistic abuse for ten, twenty, thirty years or more. Old memories surface. Old puzzles remain unsolved. Old self-rejection continues. And peace is hard to find.

Years ago I met a woman dying of bitterness. She had been betrayed by someone who appeared to love her. She gave her heart to him, and he left her behind. Young and beautiful, she refused to let go of her pain. I knew her counselor. He cared, and he had right answers for her, but she carried that bitterness with her. When I met her, she was in the hospital dying. The doctors could find nothing wrong. No cancer. No disease. Just severe depression and bitterness. She died just a couple days after I met her. I have never forgotten her.

The stress and sickness that affect our hearts and minds also affect our bodies. While it is good for us to be broken as we come to Jesus, so we know we can no longer depend on ourselves, we are supposed to find wholeness and health in Him. Then we should live in that health as we relate to others. The brokenness should go away.

Carrying pain causes us to respond to others in ways we don’t want and don’t like. Bitterness, anger, sadness, and confusion cause us to struggle in other relationships and bring weakness to our days. We all know this. The more sickness we carry around, the less we accomplish and the more we suffer.

So, health is important. Finding peace is the goal. But how? Well, I believe there is peace in Jesus. He says He will give us peace, peace far greater than anything the world has to give. In a right relationship with Him, you will find peace growing in your life.

If you are out of the narcissistic relationship, peace probably means accepting the fact of your past and moving forward. It may mean admitting that others hurt you, particularly the narcissist, and choosing to live without focus on that old pain. The cruelty happened, and it was wrong. The pain was real, but it is passing. Pick up the strength of who you are and move on.

If you are still in the relationship and plan to stay, you can find peace by accepting the truth of your situation. Narcissists are what they are. I have written a lot about how they can be predicted and handled if a person has the strength. But even if you can’t do that, you can have inner peace and health when you remember that the narcissist cannot touch you. At your core, where you connect with Jesus, nothing has changed. You are loved. You are valued. You are good. Accepting the truth about yourself is healthy.

The old Serenity Prayer may help.

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

Some things cannot be changed. The events of the past. The things that happened that should not have happened. Things the narcissist did. Things you did. Things others did.

Some things can be changed. As you become more healthy, you will make changes you need to make. As you make those changes, even more health will come.

And, of course, you will need wisdom to know the difference. Jesus loves you. Ask Him for guidance. Ask Him for wisdom.

I like practical steps. Go on a walk. Find a place for yourself, some place that is just yours. Separate yourself from the drama whenever you can. Narcissistic relationships tend to consume your energy and personality. Find who you are again. Join the gym. Meet with others. Remind yourself that there is life and affirmation apart from the narcissist. You can do these things even as you stay in the relationship. Once you are out, however, you can spend time and energy rebuilding your life. Do it. You are worth it.

Peace is the knowledge that nothing in this world can damage you. Some have found peace in the most difficult circumstances. They were healthy in themselves and were able to help others. In prison, in poverty, in pain. They were healthy because they knew who they were and they claimed ownership of their identity.

You are loved. You are important. You are greatly valued. You are precious to the heart of Jesus. Hold onto that.

*****

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Sins of the Weekend

It’s Monday grace!

It’s Monday morning. You don’t even want to think about what happened over the weekend. Some of it you don’t remember. Most you would like to forget. You have to get back to living.

I wrote that fully realizing that it does not describe the weekend most readers here had. That life, if it ever did describe us, is long behind us. But we still need to know what to do when we sin. We still find ourselves looking back on certain actions or words with regret.

For some, the sins of Saturday night are dealt with on Sunday morning. They go to church to confess and be forgiven. Some hear the scolding from the pulpit with gratitude. I remember one man telling me years ago that he expected and wanted to “feel bad” as he left church on Sundays. He wanted me to scold him for his weekend sins.

When we were children, some of us had to endure The Lecture. We expected it and appreciated it. The reason we appreciated it was because it dealt with our sin. Life went on after The Lecture. Enduring it was our penance. Having penance to suffer relieves us of the guilt of the sin.

So, when grace teachers say that your sin is already forgiven because of your relationship with Jesus, that He washed even the sins of this past weekend away at the cross, there are people who find that hard to believe. They expect penance. They expect at least The Lecture. There must be something they are supposed to do in order to be forgiven.

Grace teachers are “soft on sin,” they say. We use grace as “license to sin,” they say. If people believed our message, they would just run out and sin all they wanted. At least that’s what the performance people say. Sin has a price, they say.

And, at least in that last statement, they are right. There is always a price to sin. That price was the suffering and death of Jesus. That price was the blood of the sacrificial Lamb of God.

But have you ever noticed that there are other consequences to your sins? Someone got hurt. Someone paid a price. You went through a headache and regret. You made everyone think you were an idiot or a cruel person. You allowed your flesh to lead you into actions and words that do not represent who you are in Jesus. You are forgiven, but there are still consequences.

Don’t sin. I can say that with conviction. Sin hurts you, and it hurts others. It’s never worth what your flesh thinks it is.

And that person is not who you are. You don’t need that sin. You don’t need revenge. You don’t need to lie. You don’t need to hurt others. You don’t need to humiliate yourself to be accepted. In Christ you have welcome and value and love. All that you need is in Him.

But your sin will not separate you from the Lord who loves you. He has already paid the price for your sin. No penance you do will add anything to what He has already accomplished for you. No Lecture will change who you are in Him. You are still as saved as you were before you did that.

The sins of the weekend might come back to bite you in this life, but they are not on your account with God. He has already forgiven you.

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Defining Boundaries

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Narcissists take what they want because they believe they are entitled. After all, if others exist only to serve them, there is no privilege or desire that should be withheld from them.

Suppose you invite a friend to your home, someone you have known for a while, but not an intimate friend. You leave the room for a bit and, when you return, he is digging through your refrigerator for a snack. What do you do? Or you find that she has opened your mail and is reading your letters. What do you do?

Well, you would probably be offended. You might even ask that person to stop or leave. You certainly would be cautious about inviting him or her back to your home. And you would be within your rights. There are certain limits.

But the narcissist does this kind of thing regularly. He rifles through your desk at work. She asks questions and expects answers on topics that make you uncomfortable. He borrows your car without asking. She went through your diary. He talks with your friends about you. She calls you when she knows you are busy or comes over when she knows you have a guest. There is no such thing as privacy or personal space with a narcissist.

Sadly, that’s because the narcissist does not see you as a person. He would be greatly offended if someone crossed that line with him. She would never want to tell you her secrets. In fact, when you think about it, you know little about the narcissist. And what you do know, you aren’t sure you believe.

You need boundaries. But boundaries against the narcissist are an offense to him/her. Boundaries show your lack of love, lack of trust. Boundaries prove that you have something to hide. If you don’t allow the narcissist access to every part of your life, you are mean-spirited and unloving.

And you find yourself believing that perspective. It’s hard not to answer the phone when you know it’s from her. It’s hard to hide the keys to your car or lock your desk. You feel it’s wrong somehow. And that’s just how the narcissist wants you to think.

Boundaries are part of every sane life. If you are allowed no boundaries, you are an abused captive. Boundaries are good, no matter what the narcissist thinks.

Sometimes the boundary is as bold as saying, “No.” Sometimes it is not answering the phone. Sometimes it has to be negotiated. You don’t close the door completely, but limit access to certain times.

Sometimes boundaries are internal. Refusing to argue when prompted by the narcissist. Choosing to walk away instead. Limiting conversation to certain topics. Refusing to worry about the problems the narcissist presents.

Sometimes boundaries protect you. Your health and sanity are important, and your needs are valid. Even if the narcissist doesn’t see you as a person with value, you should see yourself that way. And sometimes your boundaries protect others. Your children, your co-workers, people you care about. In fact, your boundaries may even protect the narcissist. Who knows what could happen if you are pushed too far?

Boundaries are good. They may be hard to determine and hard to maintain, but they are important enough to justify the work. Even if they are broken, they are worth trying again.

I wish I could look each victim of narcissistic abuse in the eyes and say, “You are worth it! You have a right and a responsibility to set boundaries. Boundaries are good for you!” The narcissist will fight you, blame you, criticize you, bargain with you, push you, and tempt you. Keep the boundary in place. It’s for your good.

By the way, the Bible does speak of boundaries. While teaching that believers are one in Jesus, the Bible also acknowledges that there are people who may be toxic to you. The primary command is to live as one, to be of one mind, to care for each other, but even Jesus separated Himself from the crowd at times. He avoided situations that He knew would not be good. And, of course, the wise book of Proverbs has several references to people we should avoid. We might love them, but do so from a distance. (See Proverbs 22:24; 21:19; Titus 3:10; 1 Corinthians 7:15) You won’t find many proof texts, but you will find affirmation for boundaries in the Bible.

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Why Does the Church Lack Power?

It’s Monday Grace!

I remember some teacher telling the story of a man who said he had worked hard all his life climbing the ladder of success only to find it was leaning on the wrong building. In other words, he spent his time, energy, and resources to achieve the wrong thing.

Imagine working hard on a project only to find that it wasn’t supposed to be done. Imagine traveling to a place where you were not supposed to be. Imagine investing your money in the wrong stock because you got the name wrong. We can invest a great deal of time and effort into wrong pursuits.

The problem, of course, is that they seem right. Somehow we got the wrong idea, that’s all. The work might have been exemplary. The motivation might have been sincere. The effort might have been diligent. But we worked on the wrong thing.

Why does the church lack power today? Some would point to our worldliness, the compromises we have made with the culture around us. Some would suggest a lack of faith or an unwillingness to sacrifice. But I think the church lacks power because it has focused on the wrong thing. Instead of looking to Jesus and building our relationship with Him, we have focused on what we think we are supposed to be doing for Him. Our work became more important than our relationship.

And that’s what most of us were taught. The performance message is about what we do, rather than what He has done. It is about our responsibility, rather than His gift of love. We have experienced our continual failure, rather than His victory.

Over the past few weeks, I have written about some hurtful things that happen in church or in Christian relationships. All of those things come out of this performance spirituality, the idea that our spiritual growth and position are ours to achieve and maintain. It’s all about us. But our inability to accomplish what performance spirituality requires makes us afraid and self-protective. That fear causes us to hurt others.

I believe the church could be the strongest force in this world, not through politics or moral warfare, but through love. We have a message that can change hearts and families and nations. We know the truth of God’s love in Jesus. We have the answer to sin’s power and influence. We have powers of healing and freedom and peace. The true message of the gospel brings life to the dead, welcome to the rejected, and home to the lost.

But the church was anchored to sin and flesh by this performance spirituality. Call it law or works or legalism or whatever, it holds us back from what could be accomplished. When Peter walked on water, the thought came to him that he shouldn’t be able to do that. Then he sank. When Ananias and Sapphira were moved to give, the thought came to them that they should hold something back to take care of themselves. Then they lost the blessing. When the disciples tried to heal the boy with the seizures, the thought came to them that they were inadequate. Then they failed. Performance spirituality moves the focus off what Jesus can do and puts it on what we can do.

Joy and peace and power come by understanding the grace of God in Jesus. He can do anything. Grace teaches us to look to Him and to trust in His love. When we believe that He loves us, apart from the things we do, then we can begin to see what He wants to do for us.

We will see miracles!

*****

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