Doing Life Together

ID-100207202-2We all have things in our lives we want to change. Maybe we don’t like the way we treat our neighbor, the prejudices we hold in our heart, or maybe we struggle to be free from addiction. Perhaps we want to stop an annoying habit, be less self-centered, or take better care of our body. Whatever the desire, change doesn’t come easily and often doesn’t stick.

One reason for this is that we try to change by subtracting something from our lives. For example, I’ll eat less and lose weight. I’ll remove the temptation in order to be less tempted. I’ll avoid the bar so as not to drink. I’ll make myself be nicer to that difficult person. This strategy may work for awhile, but then we find ourselves relapsing into old patterns.

The reason is that this type of change effort comes from the outside. We stop something in order to be “better.”

But 2 Corinthians 3:18 gives us insight into how real change occurs.  “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

The how to real change is in the who! Change that is transformative does not come by subtracting something from our lives. It doesn’t come by willing ourselves to be different. It doesn’t come by doing good things, even Christian things.

Real change comes from being with Christ and allowing Him to transform us by his grace. We can’t rip out the idols in our lives. They are rooted in sin. Only God can effectively deal with sin.

So if we really want to change, we must allow the person of Christ to transform us in His image every day. We do this by spending time in His presence. There we are changed. The how is in the who!

Yes, we can see counselors for help. We can put accountability in our lives, work on negative thinking and patterns of behavior. But ultimately, God must do a work in our hearts. No political, governmental or program solution will bring about true change because it is an external solution to an internal problem. If you want to see make change, sit with the One who transforms and changes hearts.

christmas-home-1565178Family time over the holidays! Does that idea create incredible feeling of angst?

While most of us will make the familiar trek home to join the family fun, others are growing more anxious as the holiday countdown continues. For many, the trip home is a trip into dysfunction and becomes their personal survivor reality show.  In fact, family get-togethers can create holiday angst—a gift worth not giving!

Most of my therapy discussion during this time of year centers on helping people prepare for family get-togethers and face those feelings of dread. There are a number of things you can do to make family holidays go smoother no matter how dysfunctional you may feel your family is.

My first piece of advice is this—do not idealize the holidays. Be realistic and think through past holiday gatherings. Unless you’ve all been in intensive therapy for a while, the family dance is not that different from years passed. Grandpa will still drink too much. Aunt Mary will be critical of the turkey. And Uncle Jack will be as obnoxious as ever. If you approach your family problems realistically, however, you can better prepare your reactions.

Here are a few tips that might help:

1)    Focus on your reactions, not those of your relatives. Will Aunt Sally curse like a sailor all through the turkey dinner, making you cringe with every word. Most likely, yes. Your reaction is the only thing you can control. Check your response to others and make sure you are behaving according to biblical guidelines even if they aren’t. For example, if Uncle Jim corners you ever year and lambastes you for your political views and you respond with anger that then leads to a fight, stop fighting and say, “Uncle Jim, I can see you feel strongly about your views. That’s great!” Don’t argue. Drop it and diffuse him. Change your reaction because he probably won’t change his!

2)    Ahead of the visit, identify the family patterns that usually cause you stress. Think of new ways to react to those patterns. For example, every year mom complains about your sister to you. You find yourself in the middle of a mother-daughter conflict that has nothing to do with you. Instead of talking with your mom about your sister like you usually do, say, “Mom you need to talk to my sister about this. I don’t want to be in the middle.” Keep redirecting her back to your sister no matter how enticing she makes the conversation. Get out of the middle of this “family triangle”. You don’t want to be there!

3)    Set limits if there are serious family problems. If there is a history of abuse and the abusive behavior begins, be clear about your boundaries and leave. Or if drinking gets out of hand, leave. You are not a child anymore and can set appropriate boundaries. If they are crossed, confront the behavior and if necessary, leave.

4)    Do not stay in you parent’s house if there are serious family problems. This is a strategy that has worked for many of my clients. You have more control over whatever is happening when you can come and go of your own volition. Time away from the family home allows you to regroup, think about what is happening and plan your reaction. It also provides you with a safe place to stay.

5)    Be a model of grace and forgiveness. Extend both during a visit. This doesn’t mean you allow people to walk all over you. It means when people treat you poorly, address it, extend grace and forgive. Don’t wait for them to do so first. And don’t allow offense and bitterness to take root.

6)    Finally, choose one thing you will do differently this year that will help make things better. Don’t try to change everything at once. Focus on one behavior. For example, “This year I am going to ignore Uncle Bob’s smart remarks about Christianity. That’s my goal.” Pray to imitate  Christ in all you do and ask the Holy Spirit to help you overcome your urges to lash out or be ungodly. Small changes add up through the years.

Your family may have problems, but your Christian character and Holy Spirit empowerment can help you make it through these family get-togethers.  What an opportunity to live out the power of love and do what Jesus did, love the unlovely.

scaleA few years ago, Mayor Bloomberg  created quite a stir in his efforts to regulate soda drinking in New York City. The idea was to regulate private citizens in terms of what they can or cannot eat in an effort to find a solution to the obesity problem.

Soda is one of many food items that when over consumed, leads to weight gain. But can we go down this path to loose weight–limited the number of fries at the fast food take out, no more dozen donuts orders, pizza for one…you get the idea.  We can’t have the Twinkie Police entering our homes.  We have to take personal responsibility when it comes to losing weight so here are a few tips to help:

1) Portion control is an issue. Most times, the portions we are given at restaurants could serve 2-3 people.  Just like sodas that have gone from an average of 6 ounces a drink to 16 ounces, so have food portions. We need to learn to eat until we are full, stop, take home the rest for another time. Or order an appetizer as the main meal, split a meal or ask for a smaller portion.

2) One of the most overlooked areas in the obesity fight is emotional and compulsive overeating. Instead of focusing exclusively on what we eat, we need to think about WHY we eat. In my book, Press Pause Before You Eat, I help you become more intentional with your  eating, recognize the emotional triggers and come up with other things to do than eat, especially when dealing with stress.

3)  Telling you not to eat or drink something just makes you want to do it more. Deprivation doesn’t work when it comes to weight loss. The more we know we can’t have, the more we want it. Instead, we tell ourselves we can have an item but then, PAUSE, and ask, do we want to pay the consequences later?

4)  What we eat is important. We eat too much processed food and nutritionally empty food so books like Eat This, Not That are helpful in the education of food as medicine. Education doesn’t always translate to better choices. You have to want to do better with food. Only you can motivate yourself to care and make better choices.

5)  Information is confusing. At one point, for example, coffee was bad for us, then good. The amount of information we have regarding how to lose weight is overwhelming and needs to be individualized. One size does not fit all when it comes to losing weight.
6)  It’s complicated. Losing weight doesn’t work like the Biggest Loser for most people. We don’t have trainers screaming at us to make us move or people controlling our diet. And in the long run, most of the people on those shows gain the weight back after a year or so. Lifestyle change is needed. Losing weight involves movement, food, genetics, biological issues, emotional and even spiritual issues. In the end, it is you and that fork and plate. No short cuts to making lifestyle changes. It takes intention, commitment and effort. Still, it is possible, just not easy!


2573762303_365ac020f8_bI spoke to a woman who hasn’t talked to her mother for most of the year. She is angry at the way she is treated. Because of her anger, she is refusing to see her mom at Christmas. “I want to make her feel like she does me–unimportant and rejected. But I am guessing you are going to tell me this isn’t a good response.”

She’s right. She claims to be a follower of Christ. Can treating her mother like she has been treated be a Christian response? We spent a few minutes in 1 Corinthians 13– a chapter used frequently at weddings, but a powerful chapter on how we are to treat each other every day of the year. Families are no exception. They are often our laboratory of learning!

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

We are to love our family as we have been loved by God. This holiday season, consider how to love your family with God’s love. What does that look like? What does that mean for you? Possibly one of these seven:

1) Love does not keep a record of wrongs. Even when we’ve been wronged, we are not to repay evil with evil. Love doesn’t keep score, it doesn’t try to even, it offers forgiveness.

2) Love means we have been given God’s grace even though we aren’t worthy. God pursued us when we didn’t deserve it. He sent His Son to pay for our sins. Shouldn’t we do the same by pursuing those who are not worthy?

3) Love bears all things. Even though Jesus knows us inside out, he still forgives our guilt. He is our example to bear all things.

4) Love demands we sometimes lay aside our preferences and bless someone even when we don’t feel like it. With difficult family, we rarely feel like blessing them, yet this is the challenge.

5) Love pushes us to let go of offense and  persevere in difficult relationships.

6) Love refuses to jump to conclusions and prompts us to reconcile when we can.

7) Love requires kindness be given– even to those who attack us.

Love is challenging us to love our upsetting families with the same love that has been given to us through Jesus Christ. I”m not suggesting this is easy, but with the power of the Holy Spirit in us, it can be done.