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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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I Want Assurance

It’s Monday Grace!

“I may not know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future.”

About forty years ago I gave a survey to the men in my church where they were supposed to set dates for various fictional news headlines. The headlines were for things like the first person to walk on Mars, the first female president, the end of the United States as an independent nation, etc. It also asked them to set the date of their own deaths.

For the most part, the exercise was just a prompt for discussion. But I noticed something. The men typically set the date of their own death before things they didn’t want to see happen. They would rather face death than face the discomfort and confusion of some negative events.

Now, this was not a scientific study, nor was it without flaws. It was just something I noticed after prompting discussions. And, frankly, it shouldn’t surprise us that people don’t want to face uncertain times.

The supposed ancient Chinese curse says, “May you live in interesting times.” We all understand the use of the word “interesting” to put a sort-of positive spin on a confusing or disturbing time. “How was the job interview?” “Well, it was interesting.” “How was meeting her parents?” “Interesting.” Not the most positive response.

We don’t like feeling vulnerable or insecure. We want to have peace in our hearts. We want to be sure of something.

We want assurance! We understand that we can’t know the future. We also understand that we won’t always like the things that will come into our lives. But we still want to know that we will be able to stand on truth.

Again: it isn’t wrong to want what we are supposed to have.

We read stories of those who faced death and torture because of their faith in Jesus and wonder how they could be so certain. How could they know that the Lord loved them and would carry them home? How did they have such assurance that they could stand for the truth even when their lives were threatened?

I want to have that assurance!

You see, I don’t know what the next twenty years will hold for me. I don’t know if my finances will be enough, if my health will stay strong, or if my family will stay safe. And, as we all see, these are troubling days. I don’t even know what kind of country we will be living in. Where do I stand? What can I trust?

I don’t need to know all the answers. I probably couldn’t handle the answers. But I want to know that someone knows, and I want to know that someone will be supporting me.

Jesus asked an interesting series of questions of His followers:

If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
Luke 11:11-13

The Father loves us. Our assurance is in Him. We are bound to the heart of the Father through Jesus. All the promises He gives to us are secure in that relationship.

I know that many people struggle with assurance in their faith. The performance system breeds that insecurity. Have I done enough? Will I be found faithful? If you ask people if they know they will be in Heaven, most will say something like, “I hope so.”

But our hope is not in our performance. Our hope is in His love. His love did all that was needed for our salvation. Everything “that pertains to life and godliness,” was given to us in Jesus. (2 Peter 1:3) Our salvation, our eternal future, is as secure as His love is strong.

When you and I look past our struggles to see Jesus, we find that assurance we need. We have a wonderful picture of this in Acts 7 as the leaders of the Jews prepared to stone Stephen to death.

But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
Acts 7:55-56

Stephen faced death with assurance because he looked to Jesus. That’s where our assurance comes from. We can face the future when we look to Jesus.

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Dragon Revisions

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Life in the new land is overwhelming. You don’t know who to trust. You have all kinds of new responsibilities. You know there are pitfalls and dangers, but you don’t know where they are. There are new and difficult challenges. The past is starting to look better and better.

Years ago a scrap-booking company became popular by the name of “Creative Memories.” People decorated pages and pages of pictures and documents to highlight and remember the events of the past.

The name of that company has always made me chuckle. I have met many people with “creative memories.” Most of those who have been in narcissistic relationships know what I am talking about. Something happens, and the narcissist remembers it very differently than you do. And, of course, if you remember something differently, you are a liar always trying to make him/her look bad.

But that isn’t the only “creative memory” instance in our lives, is it? Just like the scrapbook folks choose the best photos, we tend to choose the memories we want. Some people live with terrible memories only, but most people seem to push away the negatives and keep the positives. We even encourage people to do that. We remember the good times when the kids were growing up, for example. We remember the days of love and sharing and fun. We tell people to hang on to those good memories and let the rest go.

For some, that creates a different problem. They find themselves wanting to go back.

This is so normal that the Bible even has a story about it. When the people finally escaped their bondage to the Egyptians by the power of God, they left their homes behind and went into the wilderness. They were free! No more taskmasters. But the wilderness was not a welcoming place. Eventually, the people started remembering Egypt and created a new perspective on their memories. They remembered that they had plenty of food in Egypt. They worked, but they didn’t have to wander. They lived in houses, rather than tents. Things were better in Egypt.

At least that’s what they told themselves. They were slaves in Egypt. They suffered in Egypt. They wanted desperately to get out of Egypt. But, after a while in the wilderness, they wanted to go back.

Life with the narcissist was terrible, but it was home. It was miserable, but you had adapted to it. The narcissist was cruel, but you knew what to expect. Maybe you misunderstood. Maybe you overreacted. Maybe you should give him/her another chance.

This “re-thinking” is common. It’s actually part of the narcissistic abuse. The relationship changed subtly; for some, over years. There were good times with the narcissist. Then something changed. You never understood what it was. Maybe it can change back, you think. Because the narcissist wasn’t consistently evil and abusive, you wonder if maybe you were wrong. And, now that you are out of the relationship, you realize what the move has cost you. The benefits of being out haven’t come around yet. Maybe they won’t. Now you are struggling. And now the “creative memory” process begins.

I have to be very careful and blunt here. There are times in marriages and other relationships when things are stressed to the point where you have to get out. You need some space, some time to think, a change of scenery. Going back to work things out might be the right move, eventually. Don’t burn bridges that you might want later. Many people, many, have been able to work things out.

But, when you look back, look back with honesty. Your spouse/mother/boss/friend isn’t going to change. The abuse will continue unless something changes. Go back if the Lord calls you to go back, but reject the creative memories. Open your eyes and admit the truth.

Yes, I believe many difficult marriages can be healed. It might take a lot, but it has been done many times. So, I am not speaking about healing your marriage or your broken relationship. I am warning about this redecoration of the past.

You see, when you revise the past, you misrepresent the truth. You accept the role of offender. After all, if it was so good, weren’t you wrong to leave? It is common for the narcissist to push and poke until the victim can’t stand it any longer and decides to leave. Then the narcissist proceeds to show everyone that it was really his/her fault. The victim, says the narcissist, wasn’t the victim at all.

When you go back without preparing for the same battle you faced before, you open yourself to even more abuse. Once the narcissist sees your weakness, your fear of the wilderness and change, then you will be even more trapped than before. It will be harder next time, especially if you deceive yourself.

Over the years, readers have challenged my use of the term “victim.” I understand and have always understood. There is a certain stigma or way of thinking that comes when we accept the label of victim. If we want to overcome the fear and weakness of our lives, we have to look past that label.

However, I have continued to use the term because people who have been on the receiving end of narcissistic abuse must understand that the narcissist is the offender. Many victims were innocent and unsuspecting, some for a long time in the relationship. Narcissists plan and lie and cheat and cover and hunt. They are calculating and cruel. They don’t care how they hurt you or others. They blame you and are angry at you and want to punish you. And you are a victim, rather than a participant.

Do you want to be a victim again? That’s the real question. No one doubts that your house was nicer than your apartment. No one doubts your loneliness. No one disagrees with your grief and loss. But do you really want to go back to being the victim?

Memories of pain are dealt with by acknowledging the truth and accepting what happened. Someone caused it (the abuser). Someone suffered it (you). But to say that it didn’t happen is a lie that opens your heart to even more. If Jesus leads you to forgive, that’s great. If Jesus leads you to be kind, that’s good. But when you think about returning make sure it’s Jesus who is leading you back. And understand what you are going back to.

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I Want Purpose

It’s Monday Grace!

What’s it all about?

Times of uncertainty, disappointment, confusion, and loss make us wonder about the value of our lives. To have failure at the end of long work leaves us feeling empty. To have loss after investment makes us wonder why we tried. Waiting is a time when hope is tested. It is hard to stay positive when the negative seems so strong and loud.

Is there a purpose for my life? Sometimes it seems like the days go from one disappointment to the next, from one failure to another. Yes, there are good times, but is there purpose? We enjoy our families, maybe even our work, but we wonder if any of it matters.

We want to matter! We want purpose!

For most of us, having purpose means having value. If my life doesn’t really matter, then I don’t matter. And, if I don’t matter, then nothing matters. These are the thoughts of discouragement and depression.

I will say it again: There is nothing wrong with wanting what you are supposed to have. It may be that you haven’t discovered your purpose, but it is not true that you have no purpose. You may not believe in your value, but you are of great value.

The legalist message of spiritual performance tells us that our only purpose in life is to strive to be better. If we work hard enough (which we never can) then God will notice and value us. If we are morally good enough (which we never can be on our own) then God will be pleased with us. If we measure up to God’s standards (which we never can apart from Jesus) then God will love us. But, of course, none of this is possible through our striving. No matter how hard we try to find purpose through spiritual performance, we never will. It will never be enough.

I want a purpose that is more than hopeless striving!

And I have that purpose in the heart of God.

The value you and I have comes out of His love for us. The message of grace reveals that the less we have to offer Him, the more His love is poured out on us.

Grace is a thread that runs through Scripture, binding and unifying the message to expose the beauty of God’s purpose for each of us. Way back, the Lord showed His heart to Moses.

But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.
Exodus 9:16

That’s not a message only for Moses, but for you and me. Our purpose, in the heart of God, is to show His love and power through our lives. But not by our striving!

who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,
2 Timothy 1:9

God’s grace fulfills His purpose in us and did so from the beginning. In other words, when we were a thought in the mind of God, our purpose was going to be accomplished in Jesus. God would bind us to Himself in love forever through Jesus.

This purpose He has already accomplished.

according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord,
Ephesians 3:11

Yes, you have a purpose. Yes, you matter. Yes, your life and your days have value to the Lord.

Let me make this very clear in all caps: YOUR PURPOSE IS TO BE LOVED!

God loves you and wants to show the world that He loves you. He made you able to receive His love, and that’s all He asks of you. As He pours out His love for you, others may see and open their hearts to His love.

You see, this isn’t about evangelism or missions or church service or being good enough. It’s about the love of God, and that love comes to us through Jesus.

You and I do have purpose. Every day we are to absorb His love for us. We can wake up looking to Him for that love. We can go to sleep resting in His love. We can get through every day knowing that whatever happens our purpose is certain. It isn’t up to us to perform or deserve or earn. We are called only to receive.

The purpose of your life and mine is to be loved by God through Jesus!

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