It’s not fair!

 

I don’t know how many times that phrase came out of my sister’s or my mouth growing up. I was always much less concerned with how my parents treated me and always much too concerned with how they were treating her. To this day my mother ensures that the amount of money spent on Christmas and birthday gifts is exactly the same so it must have been a fair amount!

I was recently welcomed into a Bible study group, and besides building relationship with these fabulous folks, I’ve been completely convicted in all the right (and honestly annoying – because growth is always annoying) ways. The group is working through a study by Jeff Manion, lead pastor at Ada Bible Church in Ada, Michigan (a church I used to attend and still has a special place in my heart), and the study is called, “Satisfy.” Last week was on comparison, and OH. MY. WORD!

Jeff opened my eyes to see an old, familiar parable in a whole new way. In Matthew 20, Jesus tells the story of a landowner who goes to town to hire workers for his vineyard. At 6:00 AM he hires a group of workers and they agree on the standard wage, one denarius. At 9:00, he goes to town and hires more workers. He does this again at noon, at 3:00, and finally, at 5:00, which was one measly hour before quitting time. Now the landowner lines the workers up to receive their paychecks, and begins with those he hired last. To everyone’s surprise, those that worked only one hour received a full denarius! Now think about it, the guys at the back of the line who were hired first must have been elated.

They had worked the whole live long day. They were sore, sweaty, and exhausted. Scripture says the “bore the heat of the day.” I picture this work must have been something akin to detassling corn – wet from a mixture of dew and sweat, itchy, dirty, and too tired to even move! Surely they were in for a big pay day! The guys who only worked an hour received a whole denarius so just imagine what they’d be receiving!

Except, when it was their turn to be paid, the landowner handed them a danarius, exactly what had been agreed upon 12 hours earlier. Elation quickly shifted to indignation. The landowner, who represents God, reminds them that they were paid exactly what was owned them, exactly what was agreed upon and that he may do with his money whatever he pleases. The landowner finishes by saying, “Are you envious because I am generous?”

verse

Jeff points out that the guys who had worked all day were not angry because they had received too little, but because the guys hired last had received too much. Jeff uses a modern day example to illustrate, one I certainly could relate to Рice cream! My family growing usmall ice creamp loved to indulge in a bowl of ice cream as an evening snack. (I know not healthy, let it go.) When someone scoops us a bowl of ice cream, there is complete joy and satisfaction! Especially when it is our favorite kind.

big ice creamBut then we look at the person who came for ice cream just after us and their bowl looks better. They got more ice cream, more sprinkles, more whipped cream. And there it comes, that old familiar and sinking feeling. It’s. Not. Fair!

We are completely happy with the ice cream we received until we look in someone else’s bowl. Looking at what someone else receive immediately blinds us to the blessings that we have received. Jeff says, “Comparison is the enemy of a satisfied, generous life.” How true! And in this Facebook world we live in, comparison is easier than ever before.

I remember the panic I felt before my thirtieth birthday. I didn’t think twice about turning thirty until I started looking around at my peers. They all seemed to have accomplished so much, and I felt like I had accomplished so little. After eight years of full time employment, my friends at worked their way up in their career of choice or at least were seasoned veterans. Due to six long years of graduate school, I had been officially employed for only two years and was anything but experienced! The vast majority of my friends were married and most had a child or two (or four – go big or go elsewhere around here). I was definitely single (still am but I’ve got friends who are always willing to screen potential husbands. Just sayin’). And I couldn’t fathom children (still can’t). My friends all had mortgages. They owned their own homes! I was renting a bedroom, not an apartment, a bedroom in a house. They drove grown up cars. I still drove my Ford Mustang convertible. (Ok that one didn’t bother me. I LOVED that car!)

The point is, looking at what everyone else had in life prevented me from realizing what was happening in my own. I was blind to the amazing education God had blessed me with, the freedom that comes with renting and not having to care for a family, and the ability to enter into a rewarding career with new colleagues that in time became family. I am richly blessed! But to see it I need to keep my eyes on my own “bowl.”

blessedComparison is always a losing proposition for there will always be someone with bigger, better, and newer. Comparison steals satisfaction and robs joy. But our God is a generous God and free to bless who He wants in anyway that He wants. Counting my own blessings allows me to be grateful and content. So, when have you fell victim to the comparison game? When you look in your own “bowl” what blessings do you find there?

count blessings

Hurt versus Harm

No one wants to experience pain. And yet, life seems to be full of times of challenge and difficulty that cause discomfort, anxiety, and yes, pain. Everyday people come into my office because the pain they are experiencing has become more than they feel they can bear. Pain comes in so many different shapes, sizes, and forms. And most of us will do about anything possible to avoid pain. And indeed, there are some pains that must be avoided at all cost. Touching a hot stove is something I only need to do once! This kind of pain is harmful. It warns of danger, but it does nothing beyond that.

Harm-vs-Hurt

However, there is some pain that cannot be avoided so easily and serves a purpose beyond just warning. In fact, there is pain that is actually good for us. For example, sore muscles after lifting weights, burning lungs after a good run, or the discomfort experienced when rehabbing an injury. These situations hurt, but they are good for us. The short term pain results in long term gain. One of my favorite examples of this is concept is the dentist. Eating sugary foods, forgetting to brush, and skipping the floss might feel good for a while but results in cavities causing harm in the long run. Going to the dentist, on the other hand, often hurts, but it is goof for us by keeping our teeth healthy. Sometimes avoiding short term pain, like not going to the dentist, actually causes long term harm.

I avoided the dentist for 5 years. When a rotten tooth finally demanded I go to the dentist, I ended up needing six cavities filled and a tooth implant which required surgery. My dentist and I got to know each other very well! Since that time I’ve kept my regular appointments and have only needed one procedure in the last five years. Now I try to see my dentist at church more than at his office! Here’s the point: hurt is temporary, harm is permanent. Temporary hurt to achieve or maintain health is well worth it to avoid the long term harm. This is true of dentists, of exercise, of health in general. And it is certainly true of emotions as well.

Denial, blame shifting, stuffing, and other ways to avoid acknowledging and dealing with the emotional pain in our lives feels better than facing it head on, but it all too often causes much more harm in the long run. Dealing with emotional pain definitely hurts, but it is the only way to achieve emotional health. One of the truths that I hope and pray all of my clients are able to cling to in the midst of their deepest and darkest times is that the pain will not last forever and that emotional pain is not fatal not matter how overwhelming it may feel. Healing hurts. It just does. Whether it is the pain of working out to lose weight, the pain of a teeth cleaning, recovering after surgery, or facing an emotional wound.

So when life’s emotional wounds seem to big to bear, remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians. Paul, a man who endured more pain and suffering than most. He was whipped 5 times, beaten three times and stoned once. He was shipwrecked three times, run out of cities, homeless, without food, thrown in jail, and even rejected by his own people. Not to mention the “thorn” he prayed God would take from him that never was removed. Paul knew pain! And yet Paul writes these words, “We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:8, 16-18)

2 corinthians

Temporary hurt in exchange for long term health is a great trade! Momentary troubles that give us eternal glory are well worth it! Yes, we need to avoid the things that harm us, but so often we fail to recognize that hurt is not harm and that harm is actually the result of avoiding hurt. Face the hurt. Deal directly with the pain. It is temporary, it will not overwhelm, and you will come out on the other side better for it.

diamond

Loved, Forgiven, and Beautifully Made

The middle school girl whose head hangs low because the comments she hears from her peers confirm her greatest fears and insecurities, creating gaping wounds on her heart. And eventually those emotional wounds become physical ones on her arms and legs.

It’s the bully, the mean girl, whose only way to feel good is to put others down. The desire to climb the social ladder requires stepping on other students. Collecting social capital means picking on the less popular. But being on top is surprisingly lonely. Popularity is both pricey and precarious.

The college student whose perfectionist expectations of herself are not only unrealistic but unattainable. And so she doesn’t eat, doesn’t stop striving, and doesn’t say no to anyone but herself. And so the more uncontrollable her life becomes, the more she focuses on the one thing she can control – what does, or does not go in her mouth.

It’s the captain of the football team who understands that his acceptance and affirmation from peers and parents alike rests on his ability to achieve. And so he turns to pot to numb the pain he feels from longing to be loved as a person instead of for his performance.

Young people are struggling. I see it everyday in my office. They are hurting because adults are hurting in many of the same ways. The mother who needs her family to look a little bit better than the one next door in order to feel like she is ok. The pressure for perfection is passed on to the children and when a mistake is made the panic is real and the shame salient. Or the mother who’s checked out and given up completely. Her self-worth waning, her stress mounting, and her resources stretched way too thin. The father whose drive for the next promotion and a more prestigious title prohibits him from being present. And even when he makes it home for dinner, his mind is else where and his emotion aren’t engaged. Or the “deadbeat dad” who deserts his family like his father did, fulfilling the seemingly prophetic voices that have convinced him he’s a failure and incapable of being a provider, a husband, and a father.

All of these people suffer from the same core issue, a lack of understanding of their true worth and value. We all struggle with grasping both the source and the scope of our value.

you are loved

John 3:16 (The Voice) says, “For God expressed His love for the world in this way: He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not face everlasting destruction, but will have everlasting life.” This all too familiar verse is all too often taken for granted. The key to life is believing in the enormity of God’s love, a love so large it did not withhold anything, not even God’s own Son. To believe isn’t just to have a nice thought, to believe requires action. What if I acted as though I were worth so much and loved so deeply that God gave His own son? We are loved!

You are forgiven

We are loved, but we are also forgiven. Romans reminds us that all have sinned and fall short of God’s standards (Romans 3:23) and Christ died on the cross in our place despite of our sinful state (Romans 5:8). In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul says (The Voice), “For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing.” What would happen if we acted as if we are truly forgiven?

beautifully wonderfully made

Finally, what if we truly believed that we are beautifully made? Paul continues in Ephesians saying, “For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago (Ephesians 2:10, The Voice).” The NIV says we are “God’s workmanship”. Psalm 139:14 says (NIV), “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” We are loved. We are forgiven. We are beautifully made.

What would happen if we truly understood how deeply we are loved, how truly we are forgiven, and how amazingly beautiful we are made? What if we truly believed what God tells us? I can only begin to imagine what a wonderful world it would be! Insecurities would melt away. Pride would become humility. Competition would become cooperation. Fear would give way to confidence in Christ. Hopelessness would be no more. Grudges would give way to grace as the forgiven extend forgiveness. And the Apostle Paul must have known just how important truly believing these things are. His prayer for the Christians in Ephesus reads, “Father, out of Your honorable and glorious riches, strengthen Your people. Fill their souls with the power of Your Spirit so that through faith the Anointed One will reside in their hearts. May love be the rich soil where their lives take root. May it be the bedrock where their lives are founded so that together with all of Your people they will have the power to understand that the love of the Anointed is infinitely long, wide, high, and deep, surpassing everything anyone previously experienced. God, may Your fullness flood through their entire beings (Ephesians 3:16-19, The Voice).”

And that is my prayer for all of us. That we may live as if we truly believe that we are loved, we are forgiven, and we are beautifully made. So what if…?