pasture-sunset

Imagined Journal Entries from Home (2 of 3)

I remember I was looking into my dad’s eyes as he told me, “We have so much to talk about, so much to catch up on. Tim, it’s all so incredible …” My dad stopped mid-sentence. His eyes were being drawn to someone behind me. I could tell by the look on his face—a look of excitement, joy, and anticipation—that it was again someone he could not wait for me to see. A joyful, holy hush fell across the crowd. Dad looked back into my eyes and deeply smiled. “Tim, he’s here.”

I turned, and there he was. Though I had never seen him, I knew him with certainty. For the first time I looked into the eyes of the Lord Jesus. He had the same look of joy, gladness, welcome, and anticipation that my dad had on his face. Opening his arms, HE RAN TO ME. He embraced me, lifted me off my feet, and spun me around, saying, “You’re home, you’re home, Tim … you’re home!” He grabbed my face and looked deeply into my eyes and said, “I’ve longed for this moment.”

Spontaneously, my Uncle Jim shouted out, “What eyes have not seen, what ears have not heard, so has he prepared for those who love him!” Then came another shout of joy and laughter from what was now a growing multitude of people. The Lord embraced me repeatedly, and WE BOTH laughcried for what seemed like a long time. I could hardly believe it; he was not only touching me, but he was joyfully, sincerely, and repeatedly embracing and kissing me on the cheeks, forehead, and hands. It was as though he really had longed to see me.

I kept saying “You’re real, this place …”

“PARADISE!” he exclaimed. “It’s real, it’s real … it’s real!!” he said with a deep soulful laugh.

Shortly thereafter, however, it hit me. I REMEMBERED. I stepped away from him and fell to my face before him. I remembered what I had done …

I remembered what I had done—what I had not done—time wasted on my own interests and the people I so deeply hurt. I remembered who I was, things I had said, not said. I thought of those whom I should have told of him … of the Gospel.

“This is all real. I should have lived so differently.” I wept bitterly, repeating to the Lord, “I am so sorry. I am so sorry.”

The crowd around us came to a hush, all of them but Jesus falling to their knees, looking at me with eyes full of compassion. It was as though they knew this moment was coming. They watched as Jesus gently lifted my face with his hand and said, “Tim there is something I want you to see.”

I looked deeply into his understanding and compassionate eyes. In that moment he somehow opened my mind. In a blink of an eye I was there! I was standing before the cross and there he was, naked and his flesh torn with blood flowing from his precious frame, being hung on wooden beams by three nails. I was sickened by such cruelty. There I was in the midst of the crowd watching his crucifixion. The majority of those around me sneered and mocked him. I was filled with horror and panic as I saw him, the one whom so warmly welcomed me and embraced me, the one whom I knew … but now knew deeply, suffering … being mocked and ridiculed. Then he looked down from the cross, and even though I was in a crowd of people below him, it was though he looked just at me. He said in a foreign tongue, yet my mind understood, the words, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” In that moment I felt such agony; in that moment I felt such shame and guilt. I cried out, “NO, NO, bring him down! Do you not know whom this is?”

[Artwork Credit: AngelsLightWorldWide.com]
Wildflowers

Imagined Journal Entries From Heaven (1 of 3)

There are days, some more than others, that I simply need hope! I need hope that there is something bigger and better on the other side of the chaos and pain I often feel. There are times I feel the need to park my mind and focus my attention on heaven, that place where Jesus not only promised our struggles and sufferings will finally end, but also where those struggles and sufferings are valued, weighed, and rewarded. Passages like the one below provide me with a backdrop of sorts, giving me some very pictures to help focus the eyes of my heart.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. …14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.

Revelation 22:2-3, 14

The great hope for every child of God is that one day our time here on earth will pass, and in a blink of an eye we’ll be home, feasting together on the Tree of Life. The older I get and the more I experience what this world has to offer, the more I look forward to heaven. I would like to offer a short series of blogs (based on what I understand from the Bible) that are musings of what I imagine that great moment may be like when I step from this “reality” to the next.

It was as though I awoke from a deep sleep, out of a long dream. A slight breeze brushed across my face and hair as I arose. Deep green blush grass pressed between my fingers as I pushed myself up. I felt the warmth of what I thought was a beautiful sunshiny day. As I took in a long, deep breath, the sweet smell of flowers, green grass, and a freshness in the air like that after a summer rain filled my senses. Wow, I felt so … so … refreshed and rejuvenated. As my eyes cleared I saw … I saw such beauty as I sat in the midst of a beautifully lush garden. Behind me was a tall stone wall that was in and of itself very impressive. The beauty of this place I in which I found myself was breathtaking. The flowers and plant life, the river and waterfall … it was all so beautiful … it’s hard to find words to describe it adequately. Instinctively I reached up to push my glasses closer to my face to get a better look. My glasses weren’t there … yet my vision was crystal clear.

“WHAT’S GOING ON HERE? WHERE AM I?” Confused, yet delighted at what I was seeing and the way I was feeling, I reached for a memory that would give me a clue to where I was and how I got here.

Just beyond me was a tree. It was unlike any tree I had ever seen. It was huge and looked hundreds of years old, but its foliage was deep green and its branches were full of vitality and strength and … some type of strange fruit. “I must get a closer look,” I said to myself. Getting up to my feet and walking toward it, I noticed something quit odd. The pain in my right ankle was no longer there. I had forgotten what it was like to not have that pain shooting through my leg.

As I approached the tree its fruit was unlike any I had ever seen before, but looked so delicious I could not resist. It was like the fruit was screaming out for me to pick it and eat it. Reaching up, I plucked a fruit from the tree and buried my teeth into it.

The moment my teeth sank into the fruit, I heard an explosion of joy and laughter and my EYES WERE OPENED … AGAIN! As I turned, it was as though a great group of people appeared out of thin air.

And I saw them … people I had known from my past but who were … the thought hit me … people who had died. I whispered to myself, “I’m in …?”

“You’re home, Tim,” a man said, with a huge smile on his face. As I looked at him the realization hit me … it was him … it was my dad. My heart leaped within me. I ran to him, throwing myself into his strong arms. As we embraced, we both cried, laughed, and laughcried! From this point on I did a lot of laughcrying.

“Is it really you dad?” I asked through my tears. “Is it really you?”

“It is Tim, it is.” Looking me deeply in the eyes he said, “We’ve been waiting for you, Tim.

“You have two arms, Dad!” (My dad had been born with only one arm). He broke out in joyful laughter and said loudly “I know, I know! Now I can hug you properly!” He gave me a big bear hug and spun me around several times.

Others then joined in to greet me! There was a lot of hugging and laughcrying going on with them as well. Turning I said “Dad, am I …?”

“Yes, you’re home,” he said with a big grin on his face. With that statement, there was another explosion of joy from everyone. It was then Dad paused, and with a huge smile he gently turned my face … and I saw her …

“Mom!!!” I cried out. She rushed toward me and once again I was embraced. “You’re home, you’re home, you’re home!” she exclaimed. I felt warmth, joy, and love like I have never felt it before. We all stood for what seemed like hours, repeatedly embracing and kissing each other on the cheek while laughcrying. I was bathing in warm embrace after warm embrace of relatives and good friends who had died before me, along with their newfound friends. We leaped and danced like children. The spirit there was so genuine, so warm, so real, so joyful. I had never felt so loved, accepted, cared for, and deeply known.

That is until I saw him.

God is with you always

Remembering He Lives Here

One of my favorite emotions is the thrill, the little perk of security and superiority, of being right. I love being right. For me, there seems to be wonderful peace in knowing I am doing the right thing, the right way, at the right time. Ohhh, I get giddy just thinking about life going smoothly because I figured everything out. Seems like the perfect recipe to make sure nothing fails, nothing is left undone, and no one is disappointed.

Well, except for the exhaustion and, honestly, the inability of being right all the time. Of doing every aspect of life the right way. Of knowing the exact right time to act. When I type the actual words, it seems purely ridiculous to think I could know and act with utter precision and perfection. In fact, it sounds downright arrogant. It sounds like I think I could be … dare I say it? Like I could be God.

But, of course, I would never say that!

For years, though, I have sought to make sure my walk with God was done the right way. That I read Scripture the right way. That I prayed the right way for the right things. And one day I was immobilized by it. I was literally in a sobbing heap on my couch, panicked and overwhelmed that I could never be confident that no matter how much I studied, read, sang, prayed, journaled, worshipped, fellowshipped, small grouped, mission tripped, you name it, I could understand all of God and do all the God things rightly enough to live the Christian life the right way.

My younger, but often wiser, brother must have known something was up. On a spring evening, in the throes of my panic and tears, he dialed my phone number. As I poured out my heart and fear, berating myself for my failures, gulping for air between sobs, he spoke softly and firmly, using my first and middle names like he did with his own young children, my niece and nephews, when they would spiral into an emotional meltdown:

“Katherine Marie? You have the Holy Spirit living inside of you. God is not going to let you get lost in the weeds and wander so far afield from him that you forget home. You are his. The Spirit is residing in you to help you discern because you can’t figure it all out. You aren’t alone in this. He lives in you.

That April night was over six years ago. I remember it often. It was truth spoken in love by someone who knows me and knows him. It’s the Body of Christ alive and responsive, Michael responding to the Spirit’s prompting in him to tell me the truth about God and our relationship. It turns out it was never about me getting it “right.” It’s about my active trust in God. I am still loved when I get it wrong, upside down, or sideways. It’s God’s nature to love me into his truth, invite me constantly to trust him again and again, and change me through his love, not through my perfection and work. God is not far away and I get it “right” to get close to him. He is here, active and alive in me through the Holy Spirit.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15, ESV)

Bill Belichick

Disappointing God

dis·ap·point verb \ˌdis-ə-ˈpȯint\ : to make (someone) unhappy by not being as good as expected or by not doing something that was hoped for or expected

Psalm 14:3 … there is no one who does good, not even one.

I often feel like I must be such a disappointment to God. Like he must have a pained look on his face whenever he thinks about me. I wonder, is this accurate, or just an assumption informed by my own shame?

When I examine the definition of “disappoint”, I see an element of failed expectations. While the Bible teaches that God has a very high standard—perfection—the standard itself is distinctly different from God’s expectation of us. If his expectation of me was perfection, he would be overwhelmingly disappointed with me and every other human ever to walk the earth, with the notable exception of Jesus. In fact, it would seem logical that God’s expectations for all of us include failure. That seems counter-intuitive to me, but how else can you explain his intricate plan to redeem us at such a high cost to him? I don’t believe he is surprised by my need to be rescued; because his rescue is motivated by his deep love for you and me, he is heartbroken when we turn away from him. It’s this heartbreaking, this incredible love, that moves him to act in a redemptive manner toward us.

But isn’t his heartbreak basically the same as being disappointed? I think not. On the surface they sound almost interchangeable, but on closer examination they are significantly different. When God is heartbroken, he is outwardly focused on the subject of his heartbreak (you & me). Where there is disappointment, the primary focus is inward (self). Since I am often more inwardly focused, I tend to be more predisposed to disappointment than heartbreak. Unfortunately, this makes it easy for me to falsely project that God must be disappointed with me. This can taint my entire view of his motives in relationship to me. I end up with shame about who I am, which is in direct opposition to God’s perspective about who I am (Romans 8:1).  When I remove this dirty lens and see God’s heart with a clear eye, it’s overwhelming to me. He is warm, inviting, open armed, loving, and merciful. He delights in me. Yes, delights!

When Jesus says, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”, I don’t hear disappointment, I hear a breaking heart. This is the heart of God seeking our redemption out of his love for us.

Dear Father, please remind me that my failures do not surprise you, but they do break your heart. Remind me of your loving, merciful demeanor which enables me to come out of darkness and walk in the light with you. Amen.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Totnado hits Alabama

Damage Not So Visible

It’s now late spring, the time of year for tornadoes to begin their reign of terror in many parts of our country. Once again, daily news reports inform us of the current death toll and devastation and havoc tornadoes are causing on a weekly basis. Images stream over the internet and television of entire neighborhoods, sometimes entire towns, that have been wiped out and flattened, now nothing but scattered rubble.

Relief organizations are again mobilizing to literally pick up the pieces and begin the long process of rebuilding and helping give hope and relief to victims of these storms. I’m always deeply moved by the images of the men and women who give their resources, time, and energy to help rescue, recover, re-frame, rebuild, restore, and renew the homes to which the tornadoes have laid waste.

Worse than tornadoes, western culture and dysfunctional families have left an even greater wake of devastation in the inner lives of the majority of Christians today.

The devastation of shattered dreams, broken trusts, splintered piles of unresolved relational hurt and pain, crumpled expectations, tangled emotions, broken spirits, burning unmet desires, and heaps of discontentment have left people feeling worthless, fearful, ashamed, hurt, and alone. As real as the devastation and damage is, very little of it is visible to the naked eye.

Though the effects of these tornadoes reside deep within the heart, we can see some of the tangible outward visible results in fragmented families and other failed relationships, addictions, abuse, rampant depression, suicides, anxiety, and numerous other painful situations and experiences.

However dysfunctional it may be, many of us simply call this wreckage “life” or even the “Christian life“. Shaken, we continue to stuff the pain, pull ourselves up, force a smile, and press on trying to live the “normal Christian life”—inauthentic though it may be. Real love, joy, peace, and hope are inner life traits we think others are experiencing, but for some reason God is withholding from us personally.

Imagine how ridiculous it would be if a family came out of their storm cellars after a tornado had just wiped out their house and they began to continue living in the rubble of what was once their home, like nothing had happened. Picture people setting up tables, chairs, beds, furnishings, and decorations in the midst of the chaotic rubble; with no roof or walls, they force a smile and carry on as though nothing happened.

Could it be that the Father wants to open our eyes to the real condition of our homes and the tornadoes that have devastated our hearts?

Is it possible, in the aftermath and wake of western culture and broken families, that his people, through his Word and the Spirit’s power, could together begin mobilizing a major relief effort to help rescue, revive, recover, re-frame, rebuild, restore, and renew the brokenhearted? This is what the gospel was intended to do!

In a very real way Aphesis Group Ministries is part of God the Father’s assistance program and relief effort to help restore the LIFE that God intended for the Christian heart. Please pray and continue to help give toward this great relief effort.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Butch Dill / Associated Press.

breadcrumbs

Purple Pants & Bread Crumbs (2 of 2)

Part One of this post shared the gift of reminders I received from a purple pair of pants. It also shared the insight three undone buttons and a zipper gave me into how I try to manage my world.

I catch myself arranging my life to be as independent and efficient as possible. There is a streak of perfectionism and cultural independence in me that has trained me to hate feeling needy. If I am in a position of need, even if it’s emotional or relational need, I feel it’s a shortcoming in me. I think I should be able to outsmart and outthink any needs I have and meet them myself.

Then something like a purple pair of pants with too many buttons reminds me that I need reminders. Which bumps into two things that I instinctually think shouldn’t be necessary … need and reminders, especially when it comes to my spiritual, emotional, and relational life.

I want to not need. It’s bizarre and ridiculous and hard and true. I fight against the very sweetest bit of God’s design: to need, so I will know the richness of relationship instead of the stifling of self-sufficiency. I thrive in sure love and trust when I am in transparent relationship with him, bringing my inadequacies into the light of who he is; yet, I strain and try my hardest to anticipate and address everything myself, to not need. And without reminders, what I have so long labeled the crutch of inefficient thinking and performance, in a trice I find myself away from where I most want to be.

Without heart jolts and wake-ups and breadcrumbs along the way, I stop remembering that it’s really about:

  • not relying on human approval to be valued and treasured and accepted
  • keeping a close connection with God because he delights in time with me, not because he is disappointed and I need to report in
  • not fearing and dreading silence and solitude with him, because he truly meets me there in ways that undo and revive me
  • breathing gratitude first, before I splutter my shatters and my brokens and my wants and my pleads, because the gratitude reshapes how the rest follows and it becomes beauty and surrender that rewrite me
  • closing my eyes not in exasperation with who I still am, but in peace with who he still is, who has always loved me more than myself and is showing me what the second greatest commandment (“Love your neighbor as yourself.”) can do in my heart after years of my mowing right past it in frustration and misconstrued humility
  • remembering that those who love me best speak truth and clarity and perspective into my life out of affection, not disdain for my shortcomings

Something in me responds as though it is failure in my character and faith when I need a reminder to live the way I desire. Like I haven’t been attentive enough, working hard enough, taking things seriously enough to not need reminders. I was somehow falling down on the job project of “Christian Kathie” if any experience or word or music or sight moved my heart back to where I want it to be. I feel silly when a tender moment in a film reminds me of the importance of relationships, or when a note from a friend awakens my heart. If a connection to God is reawakened in my heart, my habit of self-criticism and instinct of self-loathing prods me to believe that I have not been working hard enough to keep my soul alert; if I were really keeping my eyes on God, something in me wouldn’t feel deeply moved because I would know all these truths … and they would sit like a stack of factual books in my soul that I can recite whenever God shows up to give me a quiz. Which gives you another insight into what I think gives me value and how I get lost in thinking my performance must be the most useful, significant thing about me.

This girl needs to start getting giddy about jolts that waken me and prayers that speak to me and friends that email me and truth that grabs me and movies that move me and needs that needle me.

Those are really love letters in disguise.

They remind me what I need. That I was designed to need God and created to need my brothers and sisters in Christ as we journey on this side of heaven. And that my good Dad won’t leave me without a breadcrumb trail to follow him home, because he knows he is exactly what I need.

reminder

Purple Pants & Bread Crumbs (1of2)

I bought new pants a few months ago. I admit, I have a little crush on the purple pair. I’m pretty sure they are the first purple trousers I have owned since I was six.

The thing that surprises me, though, is what I keep forgetting about them.

All the new pants have three buttons and a zipper. No kidding; I almost have to plan an extra minute for trips to the little girls’ room. I haven’t really seen evidence that the overkill of zipper/buttons/Fort Knox at my waist makes them stay up any better, but I try to be committed to doing things thoroughly, so button-button-button-zip I go.

At least I think I go button-button-button-zip. For someone who has been wearing pants for many a year now, I am surprised at the number of times I have missed one of those steps. It catches me unaware every time. Back to the meeting room in my office I go and as I smooth my shirt I realize the zipper is wild and free. As I step into a restroom in a Beijing train station I discover only two buttons are through their holes. And it’s not always the same button that is unharnessed. They take turns. After several months of “undone” surprises, I finally conceded that I need to look in the mirror every time before I depart the house or restroom. I am [pick one] old, inept, distracted, fumble-fingered, tactile-challenged, button-averted, zipper-zombied enough that I clearly need a visual cue to make sure I am fully dressed.

Then it dawned on me: this isn’t much different than the rest of my life. I live a life and do a job that my brain thinks it knows well enough to handle from memory. It tells me that I can be on autopilot; just show up, type in a password, open the fridge, open my Bible, start the car, start a conversation, grab the groceries, grab the passport, whatever, and I think I should be good to go. The truth is, I need reminders constantly. And it isn’t just reminders about my next trip, what to pack for which country, to put the mail on hold, to pick up a prescription, or to take my pocket knife off my key chain before I get to the airport.

I need reminders about what matters to me. What my priorities are and who I want to be and how I want to live. I need prompts. I need aphorisms and calendars and friends and quiet and light and pain. I want to be smarter than all those things. I want to not need them. It may not be everyone’s prideful hang-up, but it’s certainly mine. I think I should remember by rote that I want to be intentional about:

  • what I put in my mouth because what I choose to eat will affect more than my passing emotions
  • managing the time I spend on social media because it influences my attitude and my heart
  • starting my day reflecting and meditating on what is really true of God, life, me, and others, instead of television news because one sustains me and the other drains me
  • laying down my perfectionism to pick up thoroughness instead, which means a project (and maybe a blog post or two) can actually get completed and not just mulled and planned to death and non-existence

Potholes like these aren’t unique to my daily, monthly, or yearly wanderings, but I want to be smarter than these bumps and dips in the road. I want to efficiently choose not to need reminders; I want to remember because I ought to remember and that’s that. Reminders seem weak, and I want to be smarter than weakness. I want to out-logic everything, including need and weakness.

But what happens when I work to eliminate my weakness, to weed it out with my best efforts and make efficiency my highest value? Part Two of this post tells you that part of the story …

individual evaluation perfomance

What does God desire from me?

To be perfectly honest, the question that I really want answered is, “What are the minimum requirements for avoiding hell?” so as to avoid getting the following error message at the end of my life:

Sound familiar?

Check it out:

“Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16)

Apparently, the rich young ruler has some sense of Jesus’ authority, but he, and often I, completely misunderstand what Jesus is like. Somewhere deep down, I doubt that God is truly good. Jesus first responds by providing a subtle hint that He has a lot more authority than a “good teacher,” and then more directly reminds the rich young ruler that God is the source of all good. Next, he proceeds to create a disorienting dilemma for the rich young ruler by telling him what he needs to do in order to be “perfect” or “complete”—which, of course, is impossible for any human. It’s interesting to note that Jesus never directly answers his question about the requirements for obtaining “eternal life,” but says if he keeps the commandments he will enter into “life.” I suspect that the nature of the rich young ruler’s original question doesn’t align with God’s nature (“What…shall I do…(to) obtain eternal life?”), even though many of us have the exact same approach.

What does seem to be perfectly aligned with everything in God’s nature, though, is him connecting with us in a personal way. Jesus makes a very personal appeal to the rich young ruler inviting him to join his eclectic gang. It is not a guilt-induced threat, “Follow me or else …”, but rather an invitation to experience real life, the way that it was intended to be experienced. It was an invitation to connect relationally; to know and be known. Obviously, the value placed on earthly treasure was an issue for this man, but I wonder if there isn’t an even larger issue at play for the rich young ruler — and me: the issue of responding to Jesus’ invitation to connect in a deeply personal way.

You see, “doing life” with Jesus on a daily basis requires vulnerability. When I join his gang and choose to relationally connect with him, it means that I am willing to open a dialog with him about my personal thoughts and inner life. For many of us, this idea makes us want to breathe in a bag. It requires us to put our heart in his hand, which is an extremely vulnerable position, putting to the test our willingness to actively trust him. Is he really good? Is he really trust worthy? Will this active trust in God’s goodness result in pain as it has with every other human relationship?

Knowing God and being known by him is not necessarily pain-free, however, he is the only person I have found that brings a lasting healing, freedom, peace, and joy. He is good, trustworthy, and loving. Always.

thermostat

Living at 45 Degrees and Calling It Warm

Could you imagine living in a place that is 45 degrees Fahrenheit and calling it warm? I can. If a person lived most their life in a place that was 35 degrees colder than that, they most likely would call 45 degrees not only warm, but maybe even toasty. The annual average temperature in Barrow, Alaska is 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit. However, within the same state the annual average temperature in Ketchikan, Alaska is 45 degrees. People from Barrow may decide to move to a “warmer” place like Ketchikan just to thaw out, but in reality they still would not be living in a “warm” place. If they moved to someplace like San Diego, California, they could then say they were living in a truly warm place. Nothing against Ketchikan!

Christians can have this same approach to their inner life. I remember how hopeless (cold) I felt before I came to know Jesus. I had very little purpose in life, very little authentic joy and peace. After I became a Christian at age 18, life did get better (it felt warmer). I had more hope and peace, more purpose, more joy and peace than ever before. However, what I have come to realize was that even though life was better for me after I became a believer, God the Father had far more that he wanted me to experience. For many years I was living at 45 degrees and called it warm. In the last ten years of my life, I came to know that I was not yet living in the true warmth of all that God had for me. For years I lived in ongoing (cold temperatures of) shame, guilt, fear, anxiety, hurt, and a deep sense of worthlessness. But at least it wasn’t as bad (cold) as it was before I knew Christ.

Forty-five degrees is NOT warm. It’s “warmer,” but not warm. Seventy-five degrees is warm. I can honestly say that after living at 45 degrees for the majority of my Christian life, the gospel is now beginning to penetrate my heart in ways it has not done before. His love, grace, and forgiveness are addressing my deepest shame, guilt, fear, and anxieties in ways not felt before. I’m not living in San Diego yet, but I’ve left Ketchikan and am making the migration south.

“That you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”

Ephesians 3:18-19

Circle of Inference diagram 467x350

“I’m Surrounded By A Bunch Of Idiots” [Circle of Inference] (part 3 of 3)

In my last two blog posts I wrote about how we generate our reactions to experiences. I shared about speaking in my church and afterward noting two people making what I assumed were disparaging comments about my message (and about me). In a flash my mind was running wild and I concluded that it was a mistake for me to have agreed to speak at church and that I’m a loser. In the last post we walked through the sequential steps that occurred in my mind as I was interpreting or “making meaning” out of the actions of those two people that I saw talking together. I call this sequence the Circle of Inference. While the Circle of Inference depicts the way our brains work, it also opens up insights into how misunderstandings are created and what can be done about it.

The Circle of Inference starts with the “data” we happen to notice and it steps us through interpreting that data, drawing conclusions, and forming beliefs. Based on those beliefs, we choose our actions. If we have interpreted the data inaccurately, making wrong assumptions and conclusions, then our actions will almost certainly be flawed—and that can set up all sorts of other problems.

However, there is another pitfall in this process. Our beliefs color how we see the world, and thus they affect what we notice and what we ignore. For example, if I have come to believe that people dislike me, I will tend to take special note of actions that would reinforce my belief. In this case, since I concluded that guy was talking about me when he rolled his eyes—and that he thinks poorly of me—I will have a heightened alertness to any of his actions that would confirm that belief. If our paths happen to cross in the hallway and he doesn’t come up to me, I will take that as one more piece of evidence confirming my belief. At the same time, I will fail to give attention to any evidence from the context that would tend to disconfirm my belief. In effect, I’m now operating with a bias that may or may not be accurate. The issue is that it is affecting my perceptions and my meaning making. I’m locked in a self-reinforcing loop that hinders me from correcting potential errors in my perceptions and it also tends to keep those around me locked into the stereotypes I have ascribed to them. Sounds rather hopeless … unless you are aware of the process and you can get curious about how you might be wrong.

Get Curious!

So what do we do to get out of this loop? The most basic advice is to get curious about how you might be wrong.

Did you ever consider how being “wrong” and being “right” feel the same—up until the point you realize that you are wrong? What I am trying to say is that we can’t simply rely on our perceptions to tell us if we are reading a situation correctly or not. We need others to help us to see and discern more clearly. I think that is part of what Jesus was calling for in Mathew 18:16 when he told us to “take two or three witnesses with you” when confronting someone—so that every piece of data could be confirmed.

I’ve found that if I enter a difficult conversation with someone with a genuine heart of love for them (“cherishing” them) combined with a “curious mind” seeking to consider how I might have misunderstood what happened, I often find that conflicts and misunderstandings are much easier to resolve. More about that in a future post.