Tag Archives: God’s love

Why oh why?

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

You sit in your chair staring at the television. It’s off. The room is dark because you don’t want to be in the light right now. No one is around and you are grateful. Your mind and heart are numb, yet racing with thought. Numb thought. That’s about right.

What you did was wrong. It was a foolish decision. Yet, you did it knowingly and willingly. You didn’t stop at the warnings, you just did it. And it felt good. Or did it? There was something in it that felt good, but that numbness was there as well. The laughter and happiness were tempered by the knowledge that regret was coming. You knew you would pay a price.

And maybe this wasn’t the first time. It’s like something builds in you and needs to be released. The release brings pleasure, but also pain. The problem seems to be that the pain is future while the pleasure is present. As long as the pleasure comes first, you long for it. The pain, which seems so real as you sit in your chair staring at the TV, is far enough away to be ignored.

Pastor Jones preaches in favor of marriage and family, but visits the adult bookstore when he goes to the big city. He lives in fear that someone will see him and hates himself later, but rarely misses the stop. Mrs. Smith has a bottle hidden away and seeks comfort in its contents. The last bottle, like the ones before it, was poured down the drain in shame and guilt. But there’s always another. Another few dollars from the register at work, another few “extra” hours on the time card, just one more night together, just a little lie: these seem to take the pressure away—for a while.

Why do we do what we don’t want to do? Why do we keep making these bad decisions? What in the world is going on?

Well, the problem may be old, but the answer isn’t easy. It has to do with how we believe we are accepted or loved. The old saying is that everybody needs to be somebody to somebody. We need affirmation and, to get it, we will do just about anything.

Almost all of us grew up with affirmation that came on the basis of some kind of points. We earned points by doing the right things. We lost points when we did the wrong things. Our culture, whether from the church or family or community, sought to mold us by a system of rewards and punishments. And, for the most part, it appeared to work. We are affirmed when we do well and shamed when we do not.

But inside, where our thoughts and desires live, affirmation comes from feeling important or valued. We want to feel good about ourselves. Yes, that might mean that we want to feel righteous, but it also means we want to feel strong or desirable or rich. We aren’t usually content with feeling acceptable to the community, we want to feel like we are “somebody.” The community affirms us when we conform, when we are not independent and creative. Our hearts affirm us when we express our uniqueness and value.

Most of the vices in life minister to our need to feel special. Alcohol, overspending, porn, drugs, lying, theft—all are there because they promise to meet that need. They may do it through fantasy, but even fantasy feels good for a while. They all have consequences, but the feeling is sometimes worth the price. The vices calls to the needs of our hearts.

Keeping the rules and cultural standards may satisfy the community, but that doesn’t satisfy the heart. The points we gain from “doing right” are not enough. We seem to need more. Points come from the other side as well. The fantasies give us points that feel good. It even makes us feel strong and independent to break the rules. Those points count. They don’t satisfy either, but they seem to give us something.

Once the cycle begins, and it begins early, we go from breaking the rules and scoring the points that make us feel good to keeping the rules and trying to overcome the negatives with points from the good side. So Pastor Jones preaches about faithfulness in marriage, then visits the porn shop, then preaches a stronger message about marriage the next week. He isn’t being simply insincere. He is struggling with these feelings of acceptance. He thinks he can overcome the negative points with more positive ones.

But the more we try to overcome the negatives with positives, the more we feel phony and the less any of the points help us feel good about ourselves. Our goal is to feel good, but those feelings diminish the longer the process goes. The cycle becomes more and more frantic until something happens to break it. It will begin all over again unless we find a way to get away from points altogether. As with any addiction, we have to find a way to break free.

There is a way, but it is contrary to most of what you have been taught and most of what you feel. That way is to accept the love and affirmation of the One who made you. He does love you. It doesn’t matter what you have done. He welcomes you. He values you. He wants you to know that no system of points, either in your culture or your heart, will ever be enough to satisfy your need. His love will be enough.

The message of the Gospel of Jesus is a message of love and acceptance. I know that preachers have made it sound otherwise, but they are as bound up in their system as you have been in yours. The message of the cross is one of sacrificial love for those who neither deserved nor understood it. It allows all of us to get off the point system and accept our acceptance.

Think about what you will give up when you leave the point system behind. No more spiritual comparisons. If there is no need for gaining spiritual points, then no one can be better than another. No more sleepless nights worrying about regrets. You are accepted by the Lord regardless of your past and your mistakes. No more fear of judgment. The One who judges you loves you and has given all to have you with Him. No more fear of failure. Results and accomplishments are in the hands of the Lord who loves you. On and on. The things you give up by leaving the points behind are the things that have hurt you so much.

I understand that this post is long and may seem convoluted. Let me summarize by saying that we tend to gravitate to that which promises to make us feel good—and those feelings come from both sides of the moral system. There is a better way. When you get up in the morning, remind yourself that the Lord loves you. Let yourself feel accepted and valued by Him. Throughout the day, seek His presence and remember His love. At the end of the day, thank Him for loving you. Then accept the rest He gives. Is it that simple? Yes, I believe it is.

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Filed under grace, Grace definition, heart, Narcissism, Relationship

Shame

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Many of us knew very well which were Mom’s “good scissors.” There were other scissors you could play with, use to cut paper or tape or cardboard, but not Mom’s good scissors. Those were for cutting cloth only.

I was trying to come up with a distinction between guilt and shame when I thought of Mom’s good scissors. Guilt was what came on you if you used those scissors, especially for something you shouldn’t. Shame was what came on you when you tried to cut your own hair with them. Guilt would get you a scolding or a spanking. Shame lasted much longer. Shame became an identity.

One of the common factors I discovered in both legalism and narcissism was the use of shame to manipulate others. In a world where acceptance is given on the basis of performance, shame punishes the person who is inadequate. Notice that the person is shamed, rather than the action or lack of action. Shame attaches directly to the person. Shame is the lopsided haircut that shows everyone you used Mom’s good scissors.

We know how to handle guilt. We confess, apologize, make restitution, and/or endure punishment. The church teaches that guilt, the judgment that comes against a certain action, has been washed away from us by the cross of Jesus. God, in His love for us, provided the sacrifice for our sins to wipe away our guilt. There is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus, the Scripture tells us. No more guilt.

But shame is different. Shame says that the person is bad. Shame is a label, an identity, we assume for ourselves. We wear it for others to see. We may even tell someone about it so they don’t miss it. “I am a bad person,” we say. It isn’t enough to simply admit to the sinful or hurtful act, to deal with our guilt, we want to go beyond the action to our identity.

And, of course, those who would manipulate us want us to live under the burden of shame. So the narcissist is not content with calling attention to failure and accepting an apology. No, he/she must be certain that we attach the identity of failure to ourselves. The victim must feel like a failure—and listen—no apology can take that away. The legalist preacher or church member cannot be satisfied with saying that a certain action is sin, he/she must add that the person who does such a thing is identified by that sin. Thus, an act of adultery, which could be handled in a relationship or church community, becomes a label of adulterer—and the person becomes the label.

The narcissist uses words like “always” and “never” to drive home the fact of identity. “You always fail.” “You never do it right.” Those statements are meant to give the person shame. Abusers use shame to manipulate their victims. Shame weakens and moves a victim to submit. If the person will not automatically (usually because of years of training) attach the shame to themselves, the abuser will push them to do it. “You should be ashamed!” “Shame on you!” “Look at you in your shame.” The narcissistic mother may punish the daughter who used her good scissors to cut her own hair by leaving the hair that way, at least as long as the image of shame is useful.

The legalist does the same thing. By labeling a person with his or her sin, the legalist weakens even a believer who accepts forgiveness for his or her action. “Yes, God forgives you for your adultery, but now you are and always will be an adulteress.” The dissonance between the freedom of the forgiveness of God and the feeling of permanency that comes with the label is confusing and irreconcilable. And, again, there is nothing to do about the label. If the sin is forgiven, then the label no longer fits—and here’s the rub—but it feels like it fits. That’s the shame. The narcissist and the legalist both take advantage of the shame to manipulate and abuse.

Now, this is a deep subject, much more than can be presented in a simple blog post. At the same time, the link between legalism (performance-based spirituality) and narcissism (performance-based relationship) becomes clear. As long as acceptance is based on performance, shame will be part of the deal.

Let me close with the message God has for those of us who so easily remember our sin. First, there is no shame for those who belong to Jesus. When your sin was washed away, the shame was taken as well.

For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” Romans 10:11

“But,” you say, “I still did those things. Someone who has lied is a liar. Someone who commits adultery is an adulterer. How can that change?” Read this carefully.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10  nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11  And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

You were those things, but no longer. You did those things, but you have been made new. The sin no longer clings to you as an identity. You no longer need to feel shame.

Is this possible? It seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? All I know is that this is the promise of our Lord. If He says that your sins are washed away, then they are. If He says you and I are no longer what we were, then that is the truth.

Don’t let anyone shame you! Don’t accept the shame the abusers want you to live. If you have done something wrong, deal with it in the right way. Then trust that your forgiveness from the Lord is real and honest. That sin is no longer connected with you. It has been washed away. There is no shame in it for you.

Overcome the lie that binds you with the truth of God’s love.

 

 

(If you are interested in learning more about the message of grace, type Grace 101 in the search box on the side of this post.  You will find several posts that are meant to teach the basics of God’s grace in Jesus.)

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About Jesus

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Every so often, I have to go back to why I started this blog.  It actually did not start to be about narcissism.  It started because of the people I saw trapped in what I called “performance spirituality.”  That simply meant that they measured their spiritual health on the basis of their performance.  They were usually sad or angry and stuck on a treadmill that took them nowhere.  Some of them left the Christian faith, never having experienced the joy of a relationship with Jesus and never knowing that they were fully accepted in His love.  Some of them are still stuck in churches that demand performance in order to receive acceptance.

As I wrote about this idea of performance spirituality, which I called (and still call) “legalism,” I thought about the teachers and others who seemed to work hard to keep people under this burden.  I had learned about narcissism from counseling marriages, particularly among those who had lived and breathed this type of spirituality.  As I understood more about narcissism, and as I continued to try to understand this legalism, I saw a connection that made sense.  There are so many parallels between narcissists and legalists, and between the narcissistic relationship and the legalistic organization.

Quite surprising to me, my articles on narcissism hit a niche that needed to be served.  Many Christians have suffered from narcissistic connections in marriage, church, family, and friendships.  And many of those same people have found themselves part of the performance spirituality mindset.  They believed they had to perform in order to be accepted, to be loved.  But their best performance was never enough.  They paid for their failures with condemnation and shame and abuse.

This has always been a blog centered on the love of God in Jesus.  I believe the true gospel has been usurped by the idea of performance and the message of shame.  Most of those who have rejected the Christian faith, in my experience, have never even heard the truth about God’s love.  They have been told a lie, and that grieves me.

In much the same way, and not coincidentally, the victim of the narcissist has often not understood her/his own value as a person.  The insufficiency of their performance, and the shame and self-doubt that results from it, opens their hearts to the manipulation of those who claim to love them.  Growing up under the system that grants love on the basis of performance sets people up for narcissistic abuse, just like growing up under the teaching of performance sets a person up for legalistic abuse.

Now, I understand that the posts on narcissism are helpful for people outside the Christian faith, and I welcome you here and to our discussions.  It just seems important for me to state once again where the foundations of my heart and intent belong.  I believe that the unconditional love of Jesus is the answer for anyone.  Those who have never felt love without strings attached, who have never been accepted without performance, can come to Him and find both.

It isn’t about church or giving or commandments or measuring up—it’s about Jesus.  It isn’t even about your love for Him.  It’s about His love for you.

We are all broken and hurting people living lives of weakness and limitation.  We make stupid decisions and suffer the consequences.  Sometimes other people suffer the consequences of those stupid decisions.  Not only are we not perfect, we don’t really know what it means to be good.  All of us.

So we look to Jesus.  Our hope and promise are in Him, because we know very well that we can’t save ourselves.  I believe He loves me—One on one—a real relationship.  There is so much I do not understand, but I trust in His love.  And that makes all the difference.

I invite you to look to Jesus with me.  If I can help, send me a note.  I am already praying for you.

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Believe!

 

It’s Narcissist Friday! (A little early)       

 

This time of year is so filled with emotions. Those who have lived in difficult relationships often find their emotions bouncing around like the pinball in the machine. Up, down—sad, happy—expectant, resigned—angry, joyful. The change of emotions can be wearing. Between the narcissists and our own guilt and the pressures of the days, we can get worn out. And when we get worn out, we can become depressed.

So, I have a single and simple message today: Believe!

The Lord loves you. He has not forsaken you. He has not forgotten you. I can’t tell you why you are on the path you are walking, but I can tell you Who walks with you. Even when you don’t feel His presence, He is there. He hears your cries in the night and knows your fears in the day.

And He loves you as a person. He loves who you are. You are not the things you have done or the relationships you have been in. You are His unique creation, special in so many ways. He accepts you and loves you. He has given all that is needed for you to be with Him forever.

The Christmas season proclaims a single call: Believe! The God who promised is the One who delivers. That baby in the manger is the fulfillment of the plan and promise of God for His people.

The end of the book of John says that there were many things Jesus did that are not recorded in the Bible. Many conversations, many healings, many words of wisdom. They couldn’t all be recorded. So the things that are recorded in the Bible must be the ones the Lord wants us to see and understand. One of my favorites, one of the stories that pushes aside the nice spiritual lesson and brings everything right down to where we live, is the story of the man whose son continually hurt himself because he was possessed by a demon. Jesus asked the father to believe for the healing, and the man spoke from our hearts, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Help my unbelief. In those moments and days and weeks when belief is hard because of the challenges of the day, Lord, help my unbelief.

I am praying for all of you through this Christmas season. May God protect you and encourage your hearts. He does love you!

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Blame

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

Is it okay to blame the abuser?

Christians who are abused are often hit with a triple whammy. We were raised to feel guilty for almost anything that happens in life. Abusers regularly make their victims feel like the abuse is the victim’s fault. But then the church comes along to tell the victim that their emotions and pain are somehow their own fault.

You may remember times when you were told not to blame someone else. You rode the bus to school and the bully took your homework and threw it out the window. You got in trouble for not handing in your homework. But when you tried to explain to the teacher or your parents, you were told not to blame someone else for your problems. You shouldn’t have sat by the bully, or you shouldn’t have put your homework where he could get it. Somehow, it was your fault. Eventually, you got the message. You began to look for your fault in every negative that came into your life.

Even as adults, we are often told that we are in charge of our feelings, that no one can make us feel anything unless we give that person permission. So, even if it is clear that the abuser did something wrong, the victim is still supposed to “handle things.” You know what I mean. We have the motivational people who tell us that blaming someone else for our troubles will hold us back, that we have to own the negative that comes into our lives. Get out of the blame game, they say.

Abusers know that some people are particularly susceptible to shaming. They do whatever they do, then they convince you it was your own fault. If you had listened better, you would have understood. If you had worked harder, you would not have lost your clients to your narcissist co-worker. If you hadn’t shown your willingness, he would not have abused you. The abuser gets off the hook by putting you on it.

Usually, when we talk about the church shaming the victim, we refer to those uncaring people who try to convince the rape or abuse victims that they wore the wrong clothes or were rebellious in some way. There are those who think that anything bad that happens to us is somehow our own fault. I just read a post where a pastor said that the victims of the Paris massacre were responsible for what happened to them because of the kind of concert they were attending. In other words, those who attend heavy metal concerts with occult connections should expect to be killed by terrorists. What nonsense!

I believe the heart does not do well with dishonesty. If I try to blame myself for what someone else did to me, I will become dysfunctional. I have no way to deal with what happened unless I acknowledge the truth. There is nothing wrong with blaming the narcissist for what the narcissist has done. That may simply be stating the truth. Your heart will find more peace when you can say that your narcissist did the deed he/she did.

Let me say it plainly: blame the offender. If someone abused you, blame that person. If someone ignored your cries for help, blame them for what they did. I realize that sounds wrong in many ways, but all I am saying is to tell the truth. You cannot move forward with a lie, even a lie to yourself.

I have talked about the military phrase, “Embrace the suck,” before. It means bad things happen, even to you. Now acknowledge the fact and use it to move forward. Pain, grief, loss, disrespect, abuse—these things happen. If someone is responsible, let them be responsible. But the negative is now part of your story. Use it to make something good happen. Instead of sitting around crying about what was done to you, get up and do something with your life. Use your anger to do well in school or business. Use your sadness to have compassion for others. Use your pain to remind you to value the good things you have.

At the same time, own the solution. You are not responsible for what happened to you, but you are responsible for what happens now. Don’t live your days waiting for the abuser to make things right. It isn’t going to happen. Abusers rarely acknowledge their own sin. Even if they did, they still can’t undo what they did. Don’t expect others to make it right. They cannot take away your pain, nor most of your struggle. They can’t rebuild your life for you. You are the one who will have to move forward.

Don’t let blame be the end. I think blame can be the beginning. Once that is out of the way, you are free to decide what you are going to do about what happened.

Blame the offender – that’s honesty

Embrace the pain – that’s reality

Own the solution – that’s your future.

Along the way, trust in the Lord who loves you. He knows the truth. He said that truth was the way to freedom. He does not expect you to blame yourself for the bad things that are done to you by others. He does want good for your life. Let Him take you forward, to those new things He has waiting for you.

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Imputed Righteousness

 

Back to Grace!   

“How righteous are you?”

That’s a question I ask from time to time. The answers I receive are predictable. “Well, I try. Hopefully I have some righteousness. I know I’ve done a lot of wrong things, but I’ve done some good things, too.” It’s a question that makes believers squirm. We have been trained to think of ourselves as unrighteous. In many churches, believers are told how their sins separate them from God and they have to repent in order to be forgiven. Then they are led in a prayer, asking God for forgiveness. But they know it will never hold. Next week they will have to do it again.

So, how righteous are you?

Do you get a little squirt of righteousness each Sunday and try to live on that for a week? Are you trying to do good things so that the righteousness in you will outweigh the unrighteousness? Are you hoping that no one will see the wickedness in your life and you can just somehow slip into Heaven unnoticed? Or are you expecting a good scolding and some temporary punishment when you get to those pearly gates? Christians have all kinds of strange ideas, and almost all of those ideas come from bad teaching.

Ready for an answer?

“How righteous are you?”

“I am as righteous as Jesus!”

WHOA! How can you say that? Jesus was perfectly righteous. He never did anything wrong. He never sinned. He always did right. Everything Jesus did pleased the Father. How could anyone say that he or she is as righteous as Jesus?

Then out come the verses:

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God…”
“There is none righteous, no not one…”
“All we like sheep have gone astray…”
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…”

And all of these verses are true, and I believe all of them. But that’s what we were, not what we are. Yes, we have all sinned and fallen short. No debate. It is true that no one, save Jesus, is without sin and righteous on his or her own. No argument on that. If we say that we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves. That’s true also. Those statements are about what used to be and what would still be true if we were apart from Christ.

But we are not apart from Christ. We have been washed and sanctified and justified (1 Cor 6:11). We have been cleansed of all sin (1 John 1:7). We have been forgiven (1 John 2:12). In Jesus, all these things are true of us.

In the Bible, the concept of righteousness is portrayed as an account sheet. Sins are listed as negative, I presume; while good works are listed as positives. We have a couple of problems. There are so many sins that our good works will never catch up. Then, even our good works are so often compromised by our sins. We do things we want to do and in the way we want and for the people we want. So few good works are truly pure, without the stain of sin in themselves. And more, even those few good things we do that are actually close to selfless are not truly our work, but the work of Jesus in us and through us. All of that means that our moral account is in pretty bad shape. Not even close to righteous.

The theological word connected to all of this is “imputed.” To impute something is to give it to another. In the Bible, this particularly refers to moral or spiritual accountability.  And righteousness is imputed, given to us from outside of us.  The only righteousness we have is imputed righteousness.

So the gospel teaches us that Jesus, who was perfectly righteous in Himself, washed away our unrighteousness by His sacrifice for us on the cross and granted to us His own righteousness. So Paul says:

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21

We become the “righteousness of God.” Even about himself, Paul says that his only goal in life is to be found in Christ:

…not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith Philippians 3:9

In other words, if you were to ask Paul how righteous he was, he would tell you about the righteousness of Christ in him. Why? Because there was no other righteousness in him.

So here you go. Apart from Christ, no one is righteous. But those who have come to Him for salvation by faith are not apart from Him. In Him, you have His righteousness. Because He is in you and you are in Him, His righteousness is your righteousness.

How righteous are you? If you belong to Jesus, you are as righteous as He is. That’s the message of grace!

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Filed under grace, Grace 101, Theology and mystery

What must I do? – pt 2

Am I still saved?

If we are saved by the gift of God in Jesus and simply have to believe/receive the gift in order for it to be fully ours, then what do we have to do in order to stay saved?

Many religious groups and teachers understand that the gospel is simple, that faith is what enables a person to receive the gift of salvation and that no works or rituals are required. They don’t argue that point. They know they would bring the charge of “salvation by works” on themselves. But they change the focus by suggesting that those who are saved can stay saved by adhering to a certain set of standards. In fact, some go so far as to suggest that those who don’t behave or live a certain way will lose their salvation.

Another facet of this is the claim that you have to do certain things in order to be “really saved.” No one knows how “really saved” is different from regular saved, but that isn’t discussed. So a person might say that he believes in the saving power of Jesus and has accepted the work of Jesus for himself; but, if he doesn’t live according to the rules and standards, he isn’t “really saved.”

While there is nothing in the Bible that teaches these things, many believers live under the fear and shame of doubt concerning their salvation because they know they don’t measure up. They continue to struggle against sin and they find the rules and standards difficult. When they fail, the legalistic church or friend or family member is there to challenge their salvation—on the basis of their works.

Think about that. If certain works are required to keep the salvation Jesus died for or are required to be somehow “really saved,” then how is that different from the old gospel of works? If salvation is still based on what we do under certain requirements, then we still save ourselves by our own goodness, don’t we?

Perhaps I know that I will never get rich based on my financial skills. So someone gives me riches at his own expense. They are a gift, based on no effort of my own. Now, what would lead me to believe that I could keep those riches or make them grow on the basis of my financial skills? The same lack that would make it impossible for me to become rich would make it as difficult for me to stay rich. (Just ask the lottery winners!)  The only way I could stay rich is if I were to be given so much that my lack of skill could not use it up, or if my benefactor were to continue to pour out riches to me in spite of my ineptness.

I think this is what Jesus has done for those who belong to Him. He pours out on us more than we can lose or ruin and He keeps giving us more. He is the One who saves us and who keeps us saved. He is the One who makes sure we are “Really saved.”

He calls, He gives, He keeps. The Author and Finisher of our faith.

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