Four Sticky Stages of Healing and Growth

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These are a few observations what happens, or what can happen, along the path to healing and growth.

(Of course, it’s best to seek out professional counseling help on how these ideas may or may not apply to you; I’m a lay person and quite the amateur in these matters.)

I call these four stages (or steps) “sticky” because it’s possible to get stuck at any one of them – and sometimes you kinda gotta “peel” yourself out of the stage in order to move forward.

First stage: Sympathy

Right after experiencing a significant loss, like a long-term relationship or job, the traumatized person needs sympathy from caring people to help him or her grasp the significance of what happened.

People who don’t get sympathy at this stage tend to minimize what happened – or over-spiritualize it – and the loss never is clearly identified or fully grieved.

The person who gets chronically stuck at the sympathy stage constantly wants people to know how bad things are for him or her. People who get stuck here are not usually interested in other people’s problems, because that might distract from the shock value of their own oft-repeated tales of woe.

Second Stage: Admiration

After fully grasping the significance of a loss, injured people need to be encouraged, even admired, for their recovery and rebuilding efforts. Learning to trust (safe people) again takes a lot of courage and concerted effort. Praise for this kind of hard work reminds the person that he or she is valuable and matters, regardless of the serious rejection that person experienced.

People who get chronically stuck at the second stage constantly remind others what good people they are . . . or how generous, or compassionate, or full of faith (or something else) they have become. They regale in the stories of their hardships and how they pulled themselves up from their own bootstraps.

These people can become dependent on the perceived admiration of others in order to shore up their never-fully-healed self-esteem.

Third Stage: Actualization

People at this stage have fully grieved their losses, and are grateful for those who came along side of them in the recovery process. While it’s nice to be admired, they become settled, and at peace, with the unique individuals they have become – regardless of what others think of them.

People who experience “actualization” realize that going through significant losses is simply a part of the human experience, and that there’s much to learn from these events (as painful as those lessons can be).

This person fully entrusts herself “to Him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23) and is able to forgive those who have injured her . . . (though she may never trust, or be reconciled with, her remorseless offenders).

This person is able to take a hard look at how he or she may have contributed to the problem (usually by tolerating a bully’s destructive behavior for the sake of “peace”) and resolves to not do that again. The actualized person moves from asking “Why did this happen to me?”  . . . to . . . “How can I use what I’ve learned?”

I suppose it’s possible to get stuck at this stage, but I’ve never seen it happen. People who have experienced “actualization” are almost compelled to move to stage four . . .

Fourth Stage: Extension

Second Kings 7 tells the story of four starving lepers who come upon an abandoned camp full of food and clothing. They say to one another, in essence, “We can’t keep this good news to ourselves . . . let’s go tell the others.”

Actualized people can’t keep good news to themselves – they naturally reach out to others who are going through the earlier stages of what they’ve already gone through – to sympathize, encourage, and help newly-injured people to get back on their feet.

They live out Paul’s observation in 1 Corinthians 1:4

[Jesus] comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

I love watching this when it happens. It’s almost palpable: the moment when a previously-injured person’s focus turns from herself to someone else who is hurting. It’s one of the those “wow” moments you never forget – even though, the person who is “turning the corner” rarely even realizes that it’s happening.

If someone gets stuck at this last stage . . . it’s a good thing.

Especially when …

Schmidt Happens

For Reflection …

In regard to the most recent significant loss you’ve experienced, at which step of healing do you find yourself?

What needs to happen to get to the next step? If you’re at the final “extension” step, upon who could you make an impact?

 

“Tepid” :: Versions of Christianity You Should Reject (According to Jesus)

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In the Big Bang Theory episode where Sheldon Cooper meets Amy Farrah Fowler (a match made in heaven), he offers to buy her a beverage. Amy’s response: “Water. Tepid.”

Room temperature water is okay, as long as you’re expecting it. If you’re hoping the water in front of you is super-hot (to make tea), or ice-cold (on a hot day) and turns out to be lukewarm (on the first sip), that usually results in some sort of spewing (or at least the temptation).

That was Jesus’ metaphorical response to dealing with lukewarm people in the church who were neither “cold nor hot.” The folks who made up the Church of Laodicea had an inaccurate perception of themselves. They had become so secure in their wealth and accomplishments that they had become numb to their true spiritual needs.

Like the leper who can feel no physical pain, they claimed to be “just fine” as their souls gradually succumbed to an infection they could neither perceive nor feel.

Though these words of Jesus sound harsh, they come from a compassionate heart …

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.” Revelation 3:19

In fact, one of the most well-known sayings of Jesus appears in this gentle rebuke …

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:20)

Renditions of this statement (like the one below) often show Jesus knocking at an entryway with no latch on the outside; the door needs to be opened from within.

Jesus.knocking.better

God will never force Himself on anyone; but He will always respond when invited.

Reject any version of Christianity whose adherents say, “We’re kind of a big deal.”

Jesus knows better.

Especially when …

Schmidt Happens.

 

Next post: Not sure yet … 

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“Fake Reputation” :: Versions of Christianity You Should Reject (According to Jesus)

Fake

Every church has a reputation.

A while back, a local government official invited one of our pastors to be a part of an influential task force that would be focused on a community development project.

After working out some of the details, the pastor finally asked the director why he called our church when he had dozens of other options.

Without hesitation, the government agent said, “Oh, everyone knows that your church is externally-focused.”

Of course, our pastor was very happy to hear that.

[While I’m all for the separation of church and state, to see them work together to accomplish a common goal is an amazing thing to watch.]

The Church at Sardis was perceived in a certain way in their community …

“You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”

                                                               (Jesus in Revelation 3:1)

A modern expression of this is the false belief that outward prosperity is always a sign of God’s favor or blessing.

The unspoken corollary to this is that the absence of success (namely suffering) is a sign that God is displeased with the person who is in distress.

There once was a “healing-for-hire” ministry that tried to slither its way into our congregation—one that claimed if the participants could not “hang on to their healing,” then they needed to go to the “next level” (which only cost a little more).

This group was promptly shown the door.

Reject any version of Christianity that says you are suffering (or have not experienced healing) because you don’t have enough faith.

Especially when …

Schmidt Happens 

Next post: “Tepid” :: Versions of Christianity You Should Reject (According to Jesus).

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“Dangerous Indulgence” :: Versions of Christianity You Should Reject (According to Jesus)

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Jesus commends His followers in the church of Thyatira not only for the depth of their concern for one another, readiness to trust the trustworthy, generous acts of service, and patience in the face of hardship—but also for their progress in all of these areas!

They weren’t resting on their laurels, but actively pursuing personal and spiritual growth.

The only thing Jesus had against some of these followers was that they were passively tolerating a person who advocated forms of dangerous indulgence, especially in the area of sexuality.

“I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality” (Revelation 2:21).

While there are many variations of damaging extravagance when it comes to sexuality, let’s focus on one …

When I first encountered the word “polyamorous” (presented as a positive thing), I had to think about its meaning: poly = many; amorous = romantic relationships. My first thought was “What are they thinking? How can they possibly believe that this could work well at any relational level?”

As you may know, there are several polygamous marriages in the Bible. What you may not know is that there is not one single, successful example of polygamy anywhere in those pages. These arrangements are consistently fraught with sadness, disappointment, and jealousy. Always, always, always, one of the partners is favored over the other.

While polygamy is generally outlawed in first-world countries, the desire and pursuit for multiple sexual and/or romantic partners still runs rampant in our culture—and in some cases, even encouraged.

If I understand the Letter to Thyatira correctly, Jesus has a problem with this.

C.S. Lewis believed that the line between romantic love and friendship love can often get blurred …

We can have erotic love and friendship for the same person yet in some ways nothing is less like a friendship than a love affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; friends hardly ever about their friendship. Lovers remain face to face, absorbed in each other; friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest. Above all, Eros is necessarily between two only. But two, far from being the necessary number for Friendship, is not even the best.

From The Four Loves

Lest we think that we could never enter into the temptation of polyamory, there’s always one of the warnings in the last commandment: “Do not covet your neighbor’s spouse.”

While we might never let our bodies cross that line, allowing our minds to live in a state of FOMO (fear of missing out) can be just as dangerous to our mental and spiritual health.

Especially when …

Schmidt Happens

Next post: “Fake Reputation” :: Versions of Christianity You Should Reject (According to Jesus).

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“Minimizing” – Versions of Christianity You Should Reject (According to Jesus)

tiny2While commending the believers in Pergamum for their faithfulness in the face of hardship, Jesus called their attention to two things they needed to address (Revelation 2:12-17).

For one, He mentions Balaam, who was a corrupt prophet in the Old Testament who was hired by an enemy of Israel to curse God’s people.

Instead, he had a conversation with a donkey … and an angel … and changed his mind. But later he went back to his old ways and was able to cause some of the Israelites to stumble morally … which turned out to be worse than any curse.

The second issue Jesus had was with a group of people who were starting to absorb the teachings of the Nicolaitians. The Nicolaitians were a type of “pre-gnostic” group who taught that anything material (like the body) was evil, and only the spirit (like the soul) was good. This eventually led to either self-flagellation or dangerous indulgence.

Why did Jesus call this out? Because your body matters. And your soul matters. In many ways, they are inseparable. What happens to one impacts the other. When one is violated, so is the other. When one experiences healing, so does the other.

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God …

… having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. 

Avoid such people (2 Timothy 3:2-5)

Reject any version of Christianity that minimizes the impact of abusive behavior under the guise of quick-forgiveness. While giving the appearance of being deeply spiritual, these groups are usually disconnected from the daily realities of healing from trauma.

Especially when …

Schmidt Happens …

Next Week: “Dangerous Indulgence” > Versions of Christianity You Should Reject (According to Jesus).

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Versions of Christianity You Should Reject (According to Jesus): “Faded Love”

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[To the Church of Ephesus: “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” (Revelation 2:1-7)]

The church at Ephesus had it all: fantastic programs, belief-system integrity, an intolerance for abusive behavior, and endurance in the face of hardship (all important things).

But their love had dried up.

 “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” (Revelation 2:4).

They started out caring about each other and their community, but somehow a different motivation crept in. Didn’t really matter what was driving all their busy-ness now – if they didn’t return to their compassion-saturated roots, Jesus was going to “remove their lampstand.”

[This story has a happy ending. Twenty years after this church was gently rebuked by Jesus, they received a letter from one of the early church fathers (Ignatius) commending them for the depth of their love for one another. Looks like they got the message.]

Reject any version of Christianity that’s driven by something other than a genuine interest in the well-being of others. But when you find love-driven followers of Christ, engage and embrace them.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

 Especially when …

 Schmidt Happens

[Next post: The Church of Pergamum: “Minimization” (Revelation 2:12-17); click on the Follow button to get notifications of new posts.]

Versions of Christianity You Should Reject (According to Jesus): Misrepresentation

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Checking for counterfeits

A few years ago, I saw a portrayal of the wilderness temptation of Christ that resonated with me. Satan took the form of a coifed executive who led Jesus through multiple future scenarios of all the horrifying things that would be done in His name if He went through with the crucifixion … Catholics and Protestants burned at the stake, the torture-induced confessions of the Inquisition, mind-destroying cults, and “healing-for-hire” televangelists.

In the second and third chapters of Revelation (the last book of the Bible), the Apostle John included letters from Jesus to seven churches in an area of the world that is now modern-day Turkey.

In some of these letters, Jesus points out the embryonic forms of the abuses listed above, and threatens to “pull the plug” on these congregations if they don’t stop it.

(In these letters, “pull the plug” is translated “remove your lampstand” – which essentially means that Jesus simply steps away from congregations who keep doing things in His name that are dishonoring to Him and to others).

In the end, Jesus will not tolerate being misrepresented.

“So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? (Luke 6:46)

In the meantime, keep an eye out for (and avoid) the counterfeits—and then don’t hesitate to engage and embrace the real thing.

Especially when …

Schmidt Happens

(Next post: The Church of Ephesus: “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”).

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