Doing Life Together

no-hate-1125176_1920We hear so much hate expressed and acted out in our culture. Hate against the police, against those who are different, against groups, individuals. When O.J. Simpson was paroled, I heard news commentators say they hated him. When I search for images of hate, pictures of our president emerge.

But what happens when we feel this powerful emotion towards a group of people or an individual? What does it mean to be “in hate” rather than be in love? While some would argue that there is fine line between the two feeling states, the brain activates differently “in hate.”

When someone is in love, the parts of the brain involved in judgment and reason deactivate. This is why we often say that love makes someone “stupid” and they lose their good sense. But hate heightens your judgment. It activates regions in the brain associated with aggression. The motor parts of your brain move that aggression into action. This is why holding on to hate is dangerous. The more a person hates, the more prone he or she is to taking action. Haters calculate their moves and plan revenge. Reason and rumination are both involved.

There are many reasons why people find themselves in this negative state of emotion–they have been deeply hurt by someone, fear others who are different, or feel empty and target others as a way to deal with the void. Sometimes, we hate because others remind us of negative things about ourselves and we project those feelings on to others. Hate can also be bred by betrayal and by envy. It can become all-consuming and affect a person physically as well as spiritually and emotionally. In the end, it leads to bitterness.

We learn to hate somewhere—whether the source is on-line, a family system, disturbed friends, violent video games—something has to begin to build hate as a way to deal with others and/or ourselves. But hatred is a heart sin. For the Christian, it is viewed as an act of murder. We are directed to rid ourselves of this destructive emotion.

The science of hate tells us that people who feel hate often think they can also be loving and kind in other parts of their lives, but hate is a cancer and brings only destruction. “Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:11).

There is no positive benefit or place for hate other than directing that emotion to evil. Psalm 97:10. “Let those who love the Lord hate evil.” The way to get out of that darkness is to walk in the light and allow God to transform your heart. Forgive those who have hurt you, let go of bitterness and the need for revenge, stop thinking and ruminating about  your injustices. Rather think about how can you be part of the solution and begin open your heart to love.


enjoyment-1869206_1920Right now, think of someone who is extremely likable, who draws you in to conversation and can walk into a room and command peoples’ attention. This person is charming. You walk away and think, “I like that person.”

The question is, are you born that way? Do you have charm or not? Or is it a characteristic you can learn?

The science of charm says it is a learnable skill. People who are interesting and fun to be with do certain things that adds to their charm. If you pay attention to the actions of a charmer, you might notice a few things.

Your biggest asset is your smile. Researchers tell us that people who smile and give a happy face are more trustworthy, warmer, social and we are drawn to them. Psychologist and retired FBI agent, Jack Shafer, wrote a book called The Like Switch. He gives this tip-flash your eyebrows, tilt your head and smile. Mirror the nonverbal of the person you are with–if they cross their hands, do it too.  These nonverbal cues help invite people to engage with you in a positive way.

Then act genuinely interested in the person by asking open-ended questions. Remember their name but don’t name drop. People who try to impress by acting important do the opposite.

Recalling details about a person is also a strong way to impress. How many times have you been taken aback when a boss or someone you barely know remembers a personal detail about you? This signals, hey, they were paying attention when I met them or interacted.

And becoming a good conversationalist by learning to listen well, express empathy, use humor, and find common ground–points of connection and agreement-will take you far in the charm category.

Charming people also treat everyone with respect. They serve and show kindness. In the end, we walk away from a charming person and feel better having been with them. It’s true that charm can be used to manipulate people, but it can also be a genuine way to connect and engage with people. And being likable is a trait that will benefit you in life.

My heart is troubled as I read a negative news story about a Minneapolis woman who called police because she thought a neighbor was being sexually assaulted.  Somehow, when the police arrived on the scene, the caller was shot to death. At this point in time, there are no explanations as to why a police officer shot her when she approached their squad car. We know the officers’ body cameras were not on and that the woman, Justine Damond, is dead. The question is, “Why?” There is so much in the case we do not know.  We are left to react to another negative news story.

Negative news events like this place a city on edge. Emotions run high and often trigger more aggression and violence. The lawlessness we see in the streets of Chicago, the trouble of city gang violence, racial tension, the lack of civility, etc. We view this violence and unrest on screens every day. One has to wonder what all these negative images and stories do to a person.

Basically, the impact can be depressing. When we see negative events, our brain goes into action. We are wired towards survival. Our danger detector (the amygdala) calls our attention to negative stories and events. So, we attend to bad news, in part, because of the threat of danger.

Furthermore, the brain is biased to go negative. We all have a built-in hunger to hear and remember bad news in order to confirm our negative experiences. We are much more sensitive to bad versus good news. Our attitudes are even our dreams are more influenced by bad news.

News organizations know that people are more attuned to bad news which is why one estimate is that 90% of the news is negative. All these negative stories create multiple events for the brain to react to and filter threats. And negative events are especially contagious and shared. There is also some evidence that we respond quicker to negative words and that bad news heightens our need to change and prevent more problems.

But all this attention to bad news can lead to feeling down and depressed. Disturbing images stay with us longer. So how do we protect our minds and hearts, not grow bitter or cynical, and not lose our empathy for others?

Begin by understanding that the more stressed, sick and tired you are, the more likely you are to be reactive to bad news. At those times, it wise to not pile on negative news stories. We may need to do what we teach children–limit our exposure. And when you do see a negative story, tell yourself that media prefers reporting bad news and disaster over slow and steady improvements in our society. You are not seeing the balance. Balance the news with encouraging and uplifting stories of triumph and overcoming.

Keep a spiritual perspective. According to 2 Timothy 3: 1-5, we will see the ramping up of bad news. So while we don’t want to stick our heads in the sand, replace fear with prayer: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—  having a form of godliness but denying its power.” This is not going away. But God has not given us a spirit of fear, so remind yourself of His truth, His power and His protection. Direct your worry or concern to prayer.  God is telling us what is coming, but doesn’t want us reacting in fear, rather in the hope we find in Him and the promise of a new day. This reality and hope must be balanced. 

Focus more of your attention on good reports. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. ” Philippians 4:8-9. This is one way you balance the negative bias-renew the mind with the promises of God. The power of God is more than positive psychology. It is a belief that God holds all things in His hand and will accomplish His purposes. He has given us a book and His presence to help us on the journey.

i-741519_1920It’s summer and more of our bodies are exposed. If you are self-conscious about the way you look, you are probably thinking, “Bring on the cooler temps so I can cover up!” But maybe the better way to deal with summer is to work on body acceptance. Recently, I was asked this question by an interviewer:

How can a woman work to see her body realistically and find beauty in how her body is made? What is a healthy way to approach outward appearance and wanting to look good without developing an obsession or eating disorder? My answer…

“Work” is a good way to put it. It takes a conscious and daily effort to renew the mind with the truth of God’s word. Start by searching the scriptures to learn what God says about you, how He determine your worth and what He values. You are going to find that there is little reference to physical appearance toed to our worth. What we consider important is not that important to God.

Resist the myths that continue to be reinforced in our culture. For example, one of the myths is that big breasts make you successful. This is  a crazy belief and yet it often remains unchallenged. Ask why would I believe this, and what is the intent of such a message? One teen thought having breast implants would raise her confidence. Her parents were going to allow her to have the procedure because they agreed. Breast implants are not a means to more confidence. Being made in the image of God to reflect His glory is a conversation that has nothing to do with the proportions of your body or sculpting it towards perfection.

Don’t confuse body acceptance with making physical changes. For example, changing a hair style is much easier than working through a difficult parent relationship. Dieting can give you a false sense of control in your life when your marriage is falling apart. And this is often what I see. People who are stuck in problems and use their physical bodies as the screen for internal anxieties and difficulties. I worked with a very successful woman in her mid thirties who was single and wanted to be married. She was unable to sustain an intimate relationship with a man because of all the unresolved baggage she carried from her original family. Every time she broke up with a man, she scheduled herself for a plastic surgery procedure. She became obsessed with her appearance, feeling she had to perfect the physical in order to hold on to a man. After six major procedures, she finally agreed to tackle the hurt and disappointment in her life and resolve past family issues. Then, she was able to approach her relationships differently.

Finally, stop comparing yourself  to others and accept your uniqueness as a reflection of a very creative God. Our bodies are His temple, the place His Spirit dwells. Therefore we are to care for our bodies and treat them with respect. Our focus should be on self-care versus self-obsession and on healthy living versus dieting.

Take the self out of self-esteem and replace it with God-esteem and you have a very different picture. Our identity is not found in appearance or accomplishments but in Christ. If you try to love yourself apart from God, you will fail. Esteem does not come from inside you, other people, your family, your appearance or what you do. You are highly esteemed simply because God created and chose you. You are so valued by God that He sent his son to die for you. God isn’t saying, “If only she would lose five more pounds, I could love her more.” God-esteem is radical and countercultural. Martin Luther once said, “A proud mind is high in conceit, self-esteem, and carnal aspiring; a humble mind is high indeed in God esteem, and in holy aspiring.” When God is in the center of our lives, we can’t help but be humble and feel valued.

You don’t have to ignore your physical appearance to develop inner beauty. It isn’t wrong to want to look as nice as you can with what you have been given. We are body, soul and spirit. To ignore the physical part of who we are is ridiculous and not a holistic approach to life. However, when dealing with the body, we have to keep perspective. We are more than our appearance.