What Does It Mean: to Need a Savior?

It’s Monday Grace!

I used to take a blank white piece of paper and write a small black dot in the middle. Nothing else was on the page but the black dot. Then I would hold it up and ask people what they saw. Invariably, people would say they saw a black dot. Over 99.9 percent of the paper was clean and white, but everyone identified the dot as what they were looking at. We were taught to focus on the thing that seems out of place.

When the teacher handed back your homework, you looked immediately to see what you got wrong. You might have been pleased with your grade, but you saw the mistakes. Usually, they were marked with bold red pen. A large check mark showed you which line or problem you got wrong. Almost all the attention was given to what was wrong.

Now, I may not like that inordinate focus on things that are wrong or out of place, but I suspect this is far more than just a style of teaching. I think it is something deep within us. We are aware of our inadequacies. We know that things are not right in the world. We also know that these things are a threat to us.

Years ago, I had a discussion with an older pastor from a nearby church. I commented on some folks who had left my church after doing serious damage to the body. I suggested that they were like a cancer. Their brokenness seemed to cause brokenness in others. Then I said that they were now attending a large church where they might not be able to cause so much damage. He responded, “So, you think a little cancer is okay in a man as long as he is a big man?”

He certainly had a point. A few cancer cells are a threat to the body. Normal cells take care of themselves, but cancer cells affect healthy cells and create more cancer cells. Once they are present, life in the body changes.

When God created humanity, He created them to be perfect. No sickness or disease. No brokenness or sin. But when sin entered humanity, everything changed. That sin infected healthy hearts and minds and souls. In fact, the Bible suggests that all of creation was affected by sin. Not just humans, but everything. The compromise, the impurity, the stain affected everything.

And we know that something is wrong. Things are not as they should be. Not in the world and not in humanity. Not in everyone and not in me. There is a flaw, a cancer, that threatens and ruins us. The brokenness is not just in us, but in the things we do and think. We are drawn to sin, and all that comes out of us is tainted by sin.

A little leaven leavens the whole lump. (Galatians 5:9) A little cancer threatens the whole body. A little sin grows to infect everything in our world.

And there is nothing we can do about it. Since we are infected, everything we do is infected. No matter how kind or how sacrificial or how obedient we try to be, it will never be enough because of the impurity in us. We need change from the outside, from Someone not infected.

The “fix” is not in us. We are aware of the problem, but the solution is not in us. We can try all kinds of things, but nothing will be enough. Not when we bring the problem into every solution.

So, we need a Savior. We need help. This world needs help. Everyone around us needs help. And the Bible makes it very clear that all of this is true and the answer is found in Jesus.

Yes, we can live in denial. We can pretend that we have it all together. We can present to the world a happy and successful face. But we still know that something is wrong. And, interestingly, those who can’t admit that something is wrong, who believe themselves to be just right, are usually thought of as arrogant or deceived. Not only do we know something is wrong with us, we know something is wrong with them.

When Jesus offers to be our Savior, He doesn’t just offer to fix things. He offers to “make all things new.” To recreate us, give us new life and new identity. Then He promises that He will one day recreate our whole world. He will make everything new. A new world and a new life. No more pain, no more sin, no more cancer.

When we admit that we need a Savior, we open ourselves to the change Jesus offers. When we look to Him and ask Him, He will make things new in our lives. The old, as the Scriptures say, will pass away. Things will be right again.

We need a Savior.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Listening to Dragons

It’s Narcissist Friday!

In the middle of the night, you hear the dragon’s voice. Taunting, tempting, scolding, he speaks into your head. You are nothing without him, he says. If you return to him, you will be happy, he says. It was all your fault, he says. It’s easier in the daytime, but the voice is still there, still trying to guide you and manipulate you.

The old joke asks, “How do you know when a politician is lying?” Answer: “His mouth is moving.”

How do you know when a narcissist is lying? Well, the answer isn’t as easy. You want some of the things your narcissist said to be true. In the beginning, at least, the narcissist said kind things, affirming things. You believed him then, and it hurts too much to think it was all a lie.

Yes, narcissists lie. A lot. It comes easy for them. But not everything they say is a lie.

But how do you know the difference? That’s the rub. You can’t just reject something because you don’t like it. Especially if it is about you. You were taught to accept criticism. You grew up knowing that you weren’t perfect. You learned to apologize because you did wrong things. So, you just can’t reject the narcissist’s words without thinking them through. A lot.

In fact, you are more likely to believe the criticism than to accept the compliment. When the narcissist said nice things, it felt good, but you had to let yourself accept them. Again, you were taught to think less of yourself. If someone said you looked nice, you were supposed to find a way to push the compliment away.

So, the things you wanted to be true were hard to accept. The things you didn’t want to be true were easy to accept. And the narcissist used both against you.

And you still hear the words. You hear whispers from the past, from your parents and your narcissist. You hear them from others in your life. But all of them are from the dragon.

You see, the narcissist tapped into the insecurities and needs you already had. He/she knew what to say and how to say it to manipulate you. It wasn’t so much about lying as about control.

Two things. First, you may not always be able to discern the narcissist’s lies, but you can know that everything the narcissist says is for his or her own purpose. In other words, you know the narcissist is serving himself when his mouth is moving. Since narcissists have no inclination toward the truth and no hesitation to use a lie, you never know which they are using. But you always know it is about them.

Second, since you cannot trust the words that were spoken into your heart through the years, you have to grasp the truth that comes from the One who loves you. Sadly, one of the things most victims of narcissism experience is a loss of trust. It’s hard to trust people when you have been abused. So, trust the Lord. His love has never wavered.

In the sight of Jesus, you are special. You are beautiful and desired. The love He has for you has been from the beginning. No matter what you have done—mistakes, sins, stupid decisions—He has loved you. Fully knowing all the truth about you, He loves you.

So, when the dragon’s lies whisper in your ear, remember that you can’t trust his words. He serves only himself. He loves only himself. Whether his words came through your parents, your spouse, your friends, your boss, or whoever, they are still the dragon’s words. But shrug them off. Tell yourself that you will only listen to the One who loves you, the One who went to the cross for you. The One who accepts you.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

What does it mean?

It’s Monday Grace!

Years ago our church brought in a consultant to help us evaluate our traditions and practices so we could grow. In general, it was a time-consuming, but worthless, exercise. We learned a few things, but not much to help.

One thing I remember was a private talk I had with the consultant. He said that I was a good preacher, but I would never be a great preacher because I spoke too plainly. In other words, my words were too simple and the concepts too easily understood. Apparently, to be a great preacher, one has to speak far enough above the crowd that the people explain their confusion by assuming that the preacher has a higher intellect.

I know preachers like that. I have read books and articles by so-called theologians and teachers that require a person to keep a dictionary open. Instead of using simple words and concepts, these teachers bring in the jargon and details so that their readers will be impressed by their superiority.

One man I will not name has a reputation for being very smart and using big words to prove it. Yet, when I have asked his admirers to explain what he was saying, they can’t. They have no idea what he is trying to communicate, but they explain that it’s because he is so much smarter than they are.

No. If you can’t communicate in a way that allows your reader or listener to understand, you are not a good communicator. If people walk away impressed by what you said but unable to explain it to others, you have not done your job. Yes, there is a risk of appearing simple when you take big concepts and share them in a way others can easily grasp, but the job of the communicator is not to impress. The job of the communicator is to communicate.

I have to be aware of how easy it is to slip into Christian jargon even when trying to share the good news of God’s grace. It might sound spiritual to use certain words or phrases. It might even be so normal that you don’t realize what you are doing. But it doesn’t necessarily communicate.

For example, if you ask the person on the street if he/she is “saved,” you may not be connecting with anything in their hearts or minds. Saved from what? As Christianity increasingly is pushed further back in our culture, our words will have to come from outside the limited Christian community. If we want to communicate, that is. If we just want to sound spiritual or elite, then jargon is a good way to do it.

With that in mind, I want to address certain phrases and concepts I use. I know that most of those who read this blog are believers with church backgrounds. I also know that those backgrounds differ. Even within the church community, we might not mean the same thing when we use certain words and phrases.

I am also aware that some concepts are hard to understand. So, as I go through these, I may or may not accomplish my purpose of communicating what I believe to be truth. I invite readers to ask questions along the way. Don’t try to fix what I say, but you are welcome to disagree and tell me why. My purpose is to reduce confusion, not increase it.

And, if you have a concept commonly taught in your church or community that has puzzled you, please feel free to send it along to me. I’ll try to answer it with a post. Be patient, because I can’t answer them all at once. Some I might not be able to answer at all, but I will either try or just tell you that I don’t know the answer. You can contact me through email at: dave@gracefortheheart.org or leave a comment. I might answer your comment in the comment section. Please be patient.

I have a list of concepts that need some explanation, in my opinion. I am quite willing to interrupt my schedule for your question. One a week will be enough to give us a basic understanding and words of encouragement. And, encouragement is the most important part of this. I believe that the truth of the gospel is a wonderful blessing for all of us.

I would appreciate your prayers as I do this. I am not thinking of it as a theology class or as a presentation of my doctrine. Instead, I just want to take familiar statements and make them plain. Since these will all be concepts that pertain to grace, Monday Grace will be the perfect place to work through them.

Walk with me as we consider the things of life under grace.

********

Many of the concepts we will be considering are covered indirectly in this devotional book. 30 days of encouraging articles to present and support the message of God’s grace to you and me. A link should be tied to the picture, otherwise you can find it under my name on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Walk-Me-Devotional-David-Orrison/dp/1973500639/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1613758195&sr=8-1

7 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Dragon Triggers

It’s Narcissist Friday!

In the new life, you expected freedom. You thought you were finally away from the dragon, without the worries of unexpected threats. But you find yourself jumping at sounds and movements. And some people make you very anxious. Certain things set off your defenses and move you to unwanted actions and feelings. How do you overcome these triggers?

I have only seen this on television, but there are such things as police training centers and ranges where the targets pop up. The idea is that the officers must make almost instant decisions. If a threat, perhaps the cutout of an enemy with a gun, pops up, the officer will shoot with the idea of saving his own life or the lives of others. If, however, a child or another innocent pops up, the officer has to hold back from shooting. I can only imagine how difficult this must be, especially under the pressures of time and performance.

After the narcissistic relationship, you may find that certain words or actions or facial expressions trigger more than bad memories. They trigger feelings, remnants of pain and fear. You find yourself reacting to these triggers with almost the same intensity as you felt from the original attacks.

People who have not gone through the extreme abuse of a narcissistic relationship may not understand your triggers. They might even have their own but still find it hard to relate to yours. What that means is that you usually have to deal with these triggers by yourself. Those who do understand may be able to intervene from time to time, but no one can control the whole outside world. No wonder many victims of this abuse want to hide in caves!

Triggers are more than frustrating. If they come unexpectedly, they can cause you to react in ways that are dangerous to you and others. And these happen in real life.

I think we can learn some things from the police tactical range. First, we have to acknowledge that these triggers pop up unexpectedly. The whole point of the range is to prepare the officers for sudden and unexpected decisions. When to shoot and when not to shoot. When to respond with power and when to hold that power back.

When your triggers pop up, how do you respond? Do you find yourself beating up the people around you, maybe yelling at them or cutting them off? Do you cringe in debilitating fear? Do you spend or smoke or eat or gamble or cuss—things that you really don’t want to do? How can you escape the power of these triggers?

Another thing we can learn from the police range is the need to prepare. Triggers are all around us. You never know when one will pop up. And you can’t live the rest of your life hiding in a cave. So, learn from your triggers. What are they? Why do they affect you so strongly? Is there something you have yet to work through? Great topics to work on with a good counselor.

You see, the memory stores more than facts. It stores hints of danger, reminders of the things that brought bad things into our lives. The smell of rotten eggs should signal the possibility of a gas leak, for example. The words, “don’t tell your mom/boss/husband” should signal a threat. Our mind stores warnings and supplements those warnings with memories of our pain. We don’t want to forget the things that caused our pain, because we don’t want to experience them again.

Some triggers are warnings. Others are not. The tactical range would be much easier if the pop-up targets were all bad guys. But that isn’t how it works in the real world. In fact, most of what you will experience in the world after the narcissistic relationship will be benign, not a real threat. You have to pay attention, but you also have to control your reactions.

So, prepare yourself. If the triggers are unavoidable, the only option is to identify them as they pop up and decide how to deal with them. You will fail, perhaps many times. But you will learn. Each time you find yourself triggered, ask what it was and what it meant. Was it really a threat? Then, the next time it comes up, you will be more ready. Again, it might take more than once or twice, but each time you will be better prepared.

Teach yourself to walk through life as though you are in one of these tactical ranges. You will find that most of the things that jump up at you will not be dangerous. You will be ready for the narcissists and narcissistic behaviors you encounter along the way. You will protect yourself from more abuse. But you will not be controlled by the triggers. Instead, you will expect them and deal with them.

And you will find more and more freedom and peace.

Whenever I make suggestions like this, I expect people to pray. Ask the Lord to lead you through this process. Imagine learning to listen to Him as these triggers hit you. If possible, take a moment to simply ask, “Lord, is this a danger to me? How should I respond?” Listen for His answer. The more you do this, the more you will find the control you need.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

I Want Love!

It’s Monday Grace!

St. Patrick is one of my personal heroes. From every angle of inspection, he lived as a sincere Christian. His story is one of personal struggle and faith.

According to his own testimony, he spent many lonely months with only pigs as company. Fortunate to be alive, he was mistreated by his master. He had nothing and no one. During that time, he reached out to the Lord. He says that he prayed hundreds of time a day. Eventually, he discovered that the Lord was real and present. He learned that he was not alone.

Love is a fundamental need for every person. Love connects us with others. Even a small connection is something. A smile at the check-out. A wave from the car. A kind word at the right time. These make us feel like someone cares, even if just a little. It doesn’t take a lot of love to lift us up.

I grieve when I think of those who walk alone in life. I grieve for those who feel alone even when surrounded by others. To be loved is so important. It makes life worth living.

There are times in life when people reject us. It hurts. In fact, it hurts so much that we are tempted to cut ourselves off from everyone. This “unlove” affects us so deeply that we usually don’t know how to respond to it. It can become an obsession to try to understand why it happened and how to avoid it in the future.

The old saying is that everybody needs to be somebody to somebody. We need love. We need connection. And it isn’t just need.

I want love!

I want to be connected, to know that someone cares about me. My value in life comes out of my relationships. I know myself as I connect with others. Without that connection, I feel like I have and I am nothing.

And, once more, it isn’t wrong to want what you are supposed to have. God has good gifts for us. Certainly His love is the greatest of them all. He wants us to have these gifts. He wants us to know that He loves us.

When I first went into ministry, I wanted to help people understand what the Lord expected of them. I studied and preached and taught. But the more I focused on what God wanted from us, the less I understood the real message of the Scriptures. I found that people became depressed and angry when the focus was on them.

When I discovered the one theme that ran through all of Scripture, the one unifying message God has for us, it not only set me free, but it brought that freedom to others. God loves us! From the beginning to the end, the Bible is all about that love. The one message God wants us to hear is how much He loves us. There is no other message.

Now, I have encountered many people who don’t like that last statement. They like the idea that God loves us, but they want to add a “but” to the end of the sentence. God loves us – but He is disappointed. God loves us – but He wants us to obey. God loves us – but we don’t deserve His love. God loves us – but we have to earn that love.

Listen: THERE IS NO “BUT” AFTER THE STATEMENT THAT GOD LOVES US!

We are loved. Even when we fail. Even when we don’t measure up. Even when we wander or forget or sin.

That love is the greatest message of all. It is the one that is most important. If you don’t get this one right, there is no reason to try for anything else. What good is obedience without love? What good is sacrifice without love? Why would I give my life for Jesus, either by dying or by living, unless I knew that He loved me?

It’s the love of God that makes all of this worth doing. Our God is not a capricious Lord. He loves us consistently, even though He knows us far more than we know ourselves. He does not love us on the basis of our performance, but from His own heart.

No, we are not alone. No, we are not disconnected. There is One who loves us. You and me. Just as we are.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Mini Dragons

It’s Narcissist Friday!

It no longer surprises you to know that there are many dragons, even along your new path. There may be one great one, but there are many others. But what does surprise you is that there are so many little dragons. They hide in holes and behind bushes and in shadowy areas. When approached, they are every bit as vicious as the large dragons, more so in some cases.

Occasionally, our family takes a load of garbage to our local dump. Of course, I should say “landfill” or “recycling center” or “waste station.” Something we have noticed is that the man who tells you where to unload is absolutely in charge. We know he is in charge because he demands obedience and loudly protests any digression from his demands. There is little mercy for the person who unloads in the wrong area.

I have told my children that this man has a kingdom. It might be small or undesirable in our eyes, but it is his. He is in charge.

Recently I heard someone say, “Management is management.” The point was that being in charge in one place is much the same as being in charge in another. The manager at the fast food restaurant may be just as domineering and superior in his/her place as the manager of a large company. Often the person who fails in management in one company will find a similar position in another, albeit smaller, company.

Narcissists usually have a need to be in charge. They need to show their superiority and control those around them. They deserve to be served and respected and admired, they think. But their kingdom might be small.

You might find a man who has a low or mundane position at work who is a tyrant at home. You might find a woman who is quiet and subservient everywhere but in her club or service organization. A pastor might be content with a small church as long as he can be in control. A manager, as I suggested, might be content with a small restaurant as long as he/she can order people around.

Now, I say they might be content. In truth, the narcissist will always think himself to be worthy of higher leadership or management positions. Those above him will be unworthy and incompetent. Yet, he will not try to climb the ladder because it might expose his own inadequacies. Not all narcissists are loud braggarts who fight their way up the ladder over the bodies of their co-workers. Some are so afraid of failure that they won’t try.

But at home or in some small area of life, the narcissist must build a kingdom where he/she is the best, the smartest, the most worthy. And, interestingly, there will almost always be someone who bows down. Narcissists don’t want to be in charge so they can do the work. They want others to do the work. So they will be in charge in some place or position where others serve them.

When you understand that not all narcissists have the same levels of aspiration or the same willingness to give energy and time to the pursuit of larger positions, then you can see how a man or woman can be almost gentle in one place and abusive in another. You can see how a man might be considered a faithful servant at church and a cruel taskmaster at home.

But these “mini-dragons” are often filled with anger. They believe they are just as capable as larger dragons. They accuse others of getting breaks they never got. Favoritism, manipulation, deception–they claim they were somehow cheated. So, they are even more cruel and demanding than their larger counterparts. Don’t mistake acquiescence for contentment. Just because the narcissist can’t be in charge anywhere but in his little kingdom doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to or doesn’t think he is competent. He/she may be angry to be a small dragon.

Others are just willing to be small dragons. They get enough satisfaction from their little kingdom to get by in the rest of the world. They may reason that a larger kingdom will take too much energy. They may not want the negative that comes with greater exposure. For whatever reason, they don’t aspire to much more.

So, when you hear someone say that a spouse is a tyrant at home, but you have never seen that side of the spouse, this could well be the reason. When someone tells you that a boss is demanding and manipulative, but you don’t that in him at church, you should understand. Narcissism, from our “unprofessional” perspective, is what a person does. Those who demand, manipulate, and treat others as less than persons are being narcissistic.

********

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

I Want Confidence

It’s Monday Grace!

Fear is a normal human emotion. If you think about it, fear has an important place in our lives. We are often right to hesitate or even to run when we hear certain sounds or see certain things.

Years ago our family was enjoying a hike in the foothills near our home. We tried to keep everyone together, but one of the younger boys had a few moments by himself on the path. During that short time, he heard a strange noise that puzzled him. When we asked him to describe it, he said it was like a rattle. Yes, we do have rattlesnakes in our foothills. He also said that he saw something moving away from him in the grass.

Of course, we were afraid! Rattlesnakes and young children are not a good mix. We had never seen one near the path, but neighbors spoke of them. We were not as careful as we should have been. But our little boy had no understanding that he should be afraid. Fear has a good place in an area with rattlesnakes.

The problem with fear is that it isn’t easy to control. There are long lists of things that people fear. Crowds and loneliness, heights and holes, getting married and staying single, growing old and dying. We fear most of the passages of life at times. And we fear things we don’t understand, which is most of life.

But we cannot allow fear to keep us from doing what we need to do. In fact, fear can cripple us in life and work. By causing us to focus on negative possibilities fear holds us back.

So, let me say it plainly: I want confidence!

I don’t want arrogance or self-righteousness or a sense of superiority. I just want to be confident in the things I am called to do. I hate letting my fears stop me from doing good things.

Once again, there is nothing wrong with wanting what you are supposed to have!

According to some Bible teachers, fear is a lack of faith. Now, I admit that I struggle with that, but I agree. I also believe that fear is normal. So, let me adjust the way we think about this. Let’s take any sense of condemnation or shame out of the equation. If God gave us fear to protect us from the evils of this world, then fear can be good for us. But if fear is a lack of faith, then maybe all of us need to learn to trust the Lord more. That’s a simple and true statement.

Part of growing in the Christian life is learning to trust the Lord in every area of life. No one enters the Christian life fully grown. We are fully saved and justified when we come to Jesus, but the way we learned to live is still with us. What I call “the flesh” still retains the thinking of the old way. The fears we gathered as we grew up in the flesh are almost all still with us, even though we belong to Jesus.

Certain things will always bring fear to our hearts. That’s normal. But faith allows us to look past those fears to the Lord who loves us. When we do look past them, we see that He is bigger and stronger than anything we fear.

So, is there still good in fear for us? Yes! Fear keeps us from doing things on our own, apart from the Lord. Fear should keep us from trying to live in our own strength and wisdom. Fear should draw us to His strength, to His will.

In other words, if I decide that I should do something for the Lord and move forward on my own initiative and in my own power, I should be afraid. Instead, I should learn to listen to His voice and do only what He tells me to do. If I learn to do that, I never have to be afraid of my performance or the results. Whatever He calls me to do, He will accomplish through me. That’s the message of grace as applied to Christian service. There is no failure, no condemnation, for those who follow Jesus. Whatever the results of our actions, He knew beforehand. He knew when He called you to do it how it would turn out. Trust Him.

Now, someone will ask how you can hear the Lord’s guidance. That’s the most important question for a believer! Find the answer! Search until you find it. Don’t take another step of Christian service until you know that the Lord is leading you. Once you know that, you will have confidence. He will be with you, and you will accomplish exactly what He wants.

Confidence is not being certain of the outcome. Confidence is knowing that the outcome is not your problem. Confidence is knowing that the only One who can judge you is leading and giving you all you need. Will there be enough to accomplish the work? Enough money, enough time, enough resources? If it is the Lord’s work, there will always be enough. And neither you nor I get to decide if a project was a failure. If we do what we are led to do, there is no failure.

You wouldn’t know it if you judged by the world’s definition, but confidence comes from yielding, from submission. For the world, confidence comes out of ego: only those who think they are superior are confident, the world says. But we learn in Jesus that confidence comes out of humility, understanding the real source of strength and wisdom. When we yield our efforts and our decisions to the Lord and follow as He leads, we have nothing to fear. There is no failure.

A brief personal story to close this. As of this month it will be a year since we have been able to visit my wife’s mother. She resides in a memory care center, and Covid-19 has locked the doors against us. We can’t talk with her on the phone, and she does not receive mail. We check on her health and spirit regularly, but have no connection with her other than through our prayers. Our concern is that she may pass (she’s 97) before we can see her again. But is that in our hands? No, her life is in the hands of the Lord who loves her more than we do. Every day, we look past our worry and fear to the One who is strong and good. We are becoming more confident that His timing will be right.

This is normal life. The worries and fears are normal. Confidence is looking past those things to see the goodness of the Lord.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Dragon Expert

It’s Narcissist Friday!

You have entered new territory. The old is behind and the new is in front of you. But there are dragons, someone has said. So, you decided to study dragons. And wow did you learn about dragons! You spent hours reading and scrolling and listening until you knew more about dragons than anyone in your circle. Dragons fascinated you, frightened you, and made you angry. And all the time, you are focused on the dragon.

Remember when you hadn’t heard of narcissism? Remember the confusion from the betrayal or manipulation of the narcissist? You didn’t know what was happening. You didn’t know who to ask or where to go for help. All you knew was that something was terribly wrong.

Then you found a book or listened to something online. The fact that there were others who experienced something similar was astounding. You began to consume everything you could about narcissism, psychopaths, abusers, and more. And there was a lot of information available. Websites, books, magazines, blogs, podcasts, and more.

The more you read, the more you understand. Narcissism is everywhere! You see it in your family, in your marriage, in your church, almost everywhere you look. You can spot a narcissist from across the room. You have become an expert.

I know I have to tread carefully here. This could be my story and the story of many others who truly desire to help people. But we have to understand what it means to be an expert.

An expert is simply someone who has more answers than you do. When you were wondering what was happening in your marriage, someone who could explain what you saw and felt appeared to have expert knowledge. Suddenly you had answers. The more you read from the “experts” the more you learned. It wasn’t long before you had more answers than others you met. A friend or acquaintance begins to tell their story and you know you have the answers.

But there’s a problem. Familiarity with a subject sometimes leads to blindspots about other subjects. It is a principle of learning that we see and understand more based on what we already know. Continuing to study a subject makes that subject even more available to us. In other words, we begin to see it all around us.

When you go to the doctor, you do well to consider what specialty the doctor has. If you have headaches and go to a chiropractor, for example, he/she might want to adjust your back. The cancer doctor might want to scan for a tumor. The holistic doctor might have certain supplements for you to try. The GP might prescribe a stronger pain reliever. It all depends on their focus. I am not trying to disparage these professionals. I want to illustrate how a singular focus can mislead us.

Once we learned about narcissism, we began to see it everywhere. Our eyes were opened to the narcissism around us. We had the information we needed to explain the problems we saw. But were we right?

Let’s be honest. The attitudes and actions of narcissists look like those of many different kinds of abusers. They also look like actions and attitudes of people who suffer or exhibit other personality dysfunctions. There are several disorders that move people to abuse or manipulate others. All may be narcissistic, but not all may be narcissists.

This is why I try to caution about labeling someone a narcissist, particularly someone you don’t know personally. You might see only a fraction of this person’s interactions—and what you see might be narcissistic—but you can’t diagnose or accuse someone of being a narcissist based on that limited perspective.

“But it fits so well!” I know. And I think it may be appropriate to use adjectives rather than nouns. Someone may be narcissistic or abusive or manipulative without being a narcissist. Describing the actions of the person will go much further than trying to pronounce a diagnosis.

You see, too often we attach certain other judgments to a diagnosis. Narcissists can’t be Christians. Narcissists can never change. Narcissists will eventually leave or betray you. Once you diagnose someone, you open the door to these attachments. Even if you disagree with them, others will bring them in.

So, yes, it might fit. When you listen to a story or see someone on the television, you may be ready to apply what you have learned. That isn’t bad, but it may be dangerous. Be careful with what you know, what you have learned. Remember that there is much you haven’t learned.

It was Alexander Pope who wrote “A little learning is a dangerous thing” in his poem called “A Little Learning.” He was right.

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

I Want Joy

It’s Monday Grace!

Two hundred and forty five years ago our forefathers wrote that the Creator gave each person three “unalienable rights.” In the Declaration of Independence they wrote that the government has a duty to protect us as we exercise our rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

We might wonder these days whether our government remembers that or whether it was ever reasonable to expect it, but it set our nation apart from many nations of history where only certain ones had these rights. And it gave us permission to seek these things, permission the founders believed came from God.

Do we have a right to be happy? Did God give us the right to be happy? How can we be happy when there is so much evil around us? When life gets difficult, and it does for almost everyone, how can we be happy? We suffer many things in life—loss, pain, injustice—and the very definition of suffering seems to include unhappiness. While we may not suffer as much as we could, God does not seem to keep all suffering from us.

Someone once told me that happiness was a fleeting thing based on the moment. I didn’t like that at the time, and I don’t particularly like it now. But I do understand it. It seems to cheapen happiness, to limit it to laughter or mirth. I see happiness as a deeper thing, something directly connected to joy.

The founding fathers of our country were deep thinkers and serious scholars. They understood happiness to be more than something fleeting and fickle. They meant joy of the heart. They meant the pleasant satisfaction that comes with peace and security and love. They understood that there would be sad times and angry times and confused times in our lives. They also understood that we would want to be able to get out of those negative times to something better. That’s what they meant by happiness.

Maybe it is better for us to use the word, “joy,” to express this feeling of the heart. Maybe the idea of happiness has been reduced to something less.

Then, I want joy!

I want to be able to face tomorrow with joy in my heart. I want to be able to look back on the day, whatever events transpired, and have joy. Joy is connected with peace and security and purpose and so much more. I want joy.

And there is nothing wrong with wanting what I am supposed to have.

When the world seems to be falling apart, a smile and a kind word warm the heart with this joy that reminds us of hope and promise and peace. When the burden grows heavy, the laughter of children lifts our spirits so that we see out of the pit and enjoy the sunshine. The beauty of the flowers and the singing of the birds remind us that there is good for us in the heart of our Lord.

We are called to be people of joy as believers. We have experienced the love of God! But we don’t have to manufacture this joy. Some people seem to condemn us for not feeling joyful. So, we put on our phony smiles and proclaim joy. No, not that.

We find our joy in the presence of our Lord. Just like we find the smile of a friend or lover to be healing and uplifting, when we look to Him we see Him smiling at us. He loves us!

Don’t accept the message of legalism and performance that would have you discouraged and ashamed. That message bows the back and makes us feel unwanted and unworthy. Our Lord wants us and has made us worthy.

We are people of joy because there is joy in the heart of our Lord as He considers us. Never accept any message that says less than that.

You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalm 16:11

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Dragon Terror

It’s Narcissist Friday!

As you walk the new path, you begin to feel free and strong. You start to think you can do this. The new life is filled with opportunities.

But, suddenly, your throat begins to tighten and your heart starts beating fast. You look around, but there isn’t any threat. You can’t see the dragon or any other danger, but you want to sit down. Your head is spinning. Your hands are trembling. Your stomach cramps. The fear is so strong that you think you are about to die.

When some people talk or teach on narcissism, they do so from a distance. They think of the narcissistic relationship as a mismatch, an unfortunate connection between a person who needs to use others and a person who needs to be used. They minimize the trauma victims suffer.

But many victims of narcissists know this overwhelming sense of weakness and oppression. Overwhelming fear for many. Overwhelming sadness for others. Overwhelming confusion for still others. And some have all of these and more.

Narcissists play mind games. They manipulate our emotions in order to control our actions. People who are constantly criticized easily begin to believe that they are inferior. People who are gaslighted (they are accused of being crazy when the abuser twists facts) cannot trust the world they see and feel. Narcissists use many techniques to attack emotional stability.

And some people find this instability coming back at almost random times on their new journey. In other words, even after the narcissist, the sense of being overwhelmed continues. It doesn’t matter that the world has changed. It doesn’t matter that you have moved out or found a new job or even new relationships. What matters is that the old sense of oppression is still around.

Panic attacks. That’s what we call these times, especially when they are debilitating. When you can’t go to work, can’t get out of bed, can’t form the next sentence – you might be experiencing a panic attack. When sudden terror threatens to crush you, it might be a panic attack.

Now, I want to be clear that I am not “that kind of doctor.” I have neither a medical nor a psychological degree. So, I will not try to make any kind of prescriptive statement except to say that there is nothing wrong with seeking help. Whenever you struggle against something, whether physical or emotional, and it causes you to become inactive or vulnerable, you should find help. Always be careful, but find good help.

Panic attacks may not be suffered by everyone coming out of a narcissistic relationship, but I think they should be considered normal. Narcissists are abusers who try to control others. They will use fear, loss, condemnation, and whatever else they find available to break through defenses and create weakness in their victims. They plan and work to get under your skin and in your mind. And many narcissists are very good at what they do.

There can be medical reasons for panic attacks, so please take them seriously. Abrupt changes in blood pressure, odd blood sugar events, heart arrhythmia, and other things can cause this sense of fear and insecurity that stops you from moving forward. Find a good medical doctor.

But there can also be emotional reasons for these attacks. Unrecognized triggers that seem to bring old anxieties back. For example, children who are constantly criticized and told they aren’t good enough may build into their own minds a self-condemnation that continues long after the parent or sibling accuser is gone. A time of feeling good about yourself may almost automatically be challenged by this learned self-condemnation. Find someone to talk with. Let them help you sort this out.

The Bible says that each heart knows its own pain (Prov 14:10). I take that to mean that trauma affects each of us differently. It also says, just a few verses later, that the heart can be sorrowful in the midst of laughter and, after a good time a bad time can come (vs 13). Those who have suffered narcissistic abuse understand this.

So, give yourself a break. No matter what others say, your feelings matter. If they are overwhelming, if they knock you down or out, find some help. If your feelings create something in you that others don’t understand or accept, just realize that they have not walked your path. And, again, don’t give up. There are people who can help.

You are greatly loved. When the world seems to be falling apart, seek the Lord who cares more than you know. Find your strength and acceptance in Him.

9 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized