Should You Care About Your Past?

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Step 4: Do Your Past And Present Circumstances Matter?

How much weight should you place on the things that have happened to you in your past? How should you pay attention to your physical body and your particular vulnerabilities? What does your brain have to do with change?

Consider the following people:

Tom was born with a photographic memory but struggles in social settings. He tends to miss social cues and can say things that seem awkward.

Susan grew up in a very volatile home, never feeling safe. She was also in an abusive relationship while in college. She struggles to feel safe around other people and is on edge when she is in a large crowd or strangers.

Mike was the youngest of 5 siblings and has never experienced a day where he felt unsafe. He has always succeeded in whatever he does. Some say that he can be insensitive to others who are struggling.

Johann was raised in a very strict, legalistic, religious home. Whenever he would fail to live up to certain standards, he experienced guilt and shame. Whenever he crosses paths with a religious person, he becomes very angry and agitated.

These are just a few examples of past circumstances that have shaped these individuals. One of the most critical things in the change process is knowing your story and being aware of the good and difficult things that have happened to you. In chapter 4 of my book, Unstuck: A Nine-Step Journey to Change That Lasts, I provide some basic but essential categories for understanding your own story as well as the story of those you are called to care for. Here they are:

You

You

You

This category includes your physical body, your brain and your gender. Every person is utterly unique. We all have strengths and weaknesses and we all experience life through our own perceptions.

Your Baggage

Your Baggage

Your Baggage

This captures all the things that have happened to you throughout your life—both blessing and suffering. Every person has their own story to tell. We all have unique events in our lives as well as relationships with other people that have been good and bad. Where did you grow up? How often did you move? What political/cultural/socio-economic context shaped you? What kind of exposure to religion was present in your life? How has your ethnicity impacted you for good or ill? It is important to consider these things as you seek to grow and change.

The Terrain

The Terrain

The Terrain

The terrain are the things that are currently happening in your life—your present big-picture situation. This can include things like your age and stage of life. As you age, loss becomes a greater reality. Loss of loved ones. Loss of a career. Loss of health. It also includes your work and family life. What unique larger blessings and sufferings are currently at play in your life at the present moment?

The Weather

The Weather

The Weather

These are the small micro-moments of daily life, which change throughout any given day and affect your mood. These little moments are often called “triggers.” They trigger us to respond in the present but often with a past history that is connected to the experience. If I grew up in a very critical home, I may be more sensitive and react disproportionately when I perceive that someone has been critical of me.

So What Do You Do With all of This Information?

There are two wrong ways to handle this information: 1. Ignore it completely as if it doesn’t matter. 2. Consider them as the determining cause of your responses to life and conclude that you can never change.

The wise, compassionate and helpful way to handle this information is to acknowledge the things that have happened to you and realize that you have been shaped by many good and difficult things in your life. While these things matter, they are not your identity. This view opens the door to experience the compassion of Jesus in your sufferings and have hope that he can and will help you to grow in grace. If you listen to someone else’s story and look for these details, it will make you more compassionate as you seek to support and encourage them.

You can read a more thorough explanation of these in Chapter 4 of Unstuck: A Nine Step Journey to Change That Lasts.

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Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

"Unstuck" Available for Pre-Order!

This book has been brewing in my mind for over a decade.

The ideas were forming as I counseled, traveled and spoke to churches across the globe. My primary goal was to find a way to encourage people that change was possible and what they needed was a way of connecting the lines between their daily struggles and their relationship with God.

In the fall or 2016, I was invited to teach a class on worry at Carriage Lane Presbyterian Church. Near the middle of the class, I had been mulling over Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan and the thought occurred to give the class “steps” they could take to grow in grace. Soon after that class, a series of blogs began to take form that eventually shaped this book.

In late 2017, the final stage came as I reconnected with The Good Book Company and pitched the idea of a book on change that was short, accessible yet nuanced enough to capture more complex struggles. They accepted and provided an excellent editor, Rachel Jones, who gave wise feedback through every iteration of each chapter.

My hope is that this short book would be read by individuals, couples, families and churches. But I would also love to see it used in one-on-one discipleship relationships, as well as a foundational supplement for counselors as you seek to help others grow in grace.

Thank you to each and every person who had a shaping influence on this book.

Tim Lane

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Finding Grace in Loss and Transition

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Recently, I had the great opportunity to share time with Corey Pelton of FishFoodMedia to discuss grief and how God has helped me in seasons of transition and loss of loved ones. In 2 Corinthians, Paul speaks of the comfort he received from Christ as though it belonged not just to him but others. This is the economy of God in seasons of trial. His desire is for you to find deep comfort in the grace and mercy of Jesus. As that grace and mercy is experienced, it then becomes a gift that we can offer to others.

Thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he is our Father and the source of all mercy and comfort. For he gives us comfort in our trials so that we in turn may be able to give the same sort of strong sympathy to others in theirs. Indeed, experience shows that the more we share Christ’s suffering the more we are able to give of his encouragement. This means that if we experience trouble we can pass on to you comfort and spiritual help; for if we ourselves have been comforted we know how to encourage you to endure patiently the same sort of troubles that we have ourselves endured. We are quite confident that if you have to suffer troubles as we have done, then, like us, you will find the comfort and encouragement of God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (J. B. Phillips)

Listen to the episode here:

Fish Food on iTunes

Fish Food on podbean

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Is Worry A Sin?

“Is worry a sin?” This is one of the most asked questions I hear whenever I am speaking or teaching on the subject of worry and anxiety. I would like to begin my answer to that question by sharing a simple example from my own experience.

My Own Experience with Anxiety

When I completed my most recent book on worry in 2015, I was invited by the publisher to do a book tour in the UK. As I prepared for the trip, I found myself getting more anxious. In fact, the day that I was to fly from Atlanta to London, my lower back muscles contracted as I was bending over to put on my socks! I immediately knew what was happening – my low-grade anxiety about the trip was creating physiological symptoms. I was experiencing muscular tension, and one little move caused my lower back to seize up. How ironic that my preparation to travel to speak about my new book on anxiety was creating an occasion to become anxious!

Thankfully, my wife was able to get me to a doctor that day. When we arrived, the doctor said that he could help provide immediate relief but it meant giving me several shots into my lower back muscles to stop the spasms. I became even more anxious because I hate the thought and the sight of needles, even when they are going to be used on someone else! As he began his procedure he spoke very calming words. “Tim, this will not hurt much. You will only feel an initial prick of the needle. When I am finished, you will be able to move about freely.” While he was speaking these words, my wife had her hand on my shoulder and was comforting me as she knew I was in great pain and had a flight to catch in just a few hours. Her words and actions of comfort, along with the doctor’s, helped me tremendously as he gave me the shot. I did not know it at the time, but he actually gave me about 5-6 shots in about 15 seconds!

I know that this illustration may seem rather trivial, but it does illustrate my point and helps to answer the question, “Is worry a sin?” I want to address this question by highlighting 4 things:

1. The Tone of the Command

First, when Jesus, Peter and Paul admonish us to “not worry,” it is important to capture the tone of the command. None of these writers are seeking to shame or guilt us in the midst of our worry. Each speaks in ways that are comforting and encouraging. They all know very well the brokenness of this world and our personal frailty as broken human beings. Their command to not worry is captured in a context of encouragement. Listen to just two examples. First, Jesus says this in Luke 12:32:

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom.

The added words, “little flock,” connote tenderness, not guilt or shame. When Paul gives instruction about caring for fearful people, he says this in I Thessalonians 5:14:

Encourage the fearful.

Paul is following in the very incarnate footsteps of Jesus as he counsels us on how to help fearful, anxious people. He calls us to encourage them. Once again, there is no hint of shame or guilt in either Jesus’ or Paul’s words.

2. The Reason for the Command

Second, we can’t ignore the fact that Jesus, Peter and Paul do command us not to be afraid or anxious. There is something at stake in our tendency to worry. For Jesus, he knows that our tendency to worry strikes at the very heart of what we worship, treasure and adore. When we are worrying, it is due to the fact that we are seeking to find stability, strength and encouragement in someone or something other than him. This is no simple matter, and it grieves him that we would seek to find refuge in anything besides himself. It grieves him because he knows that he alone can truly meet us in the midst of our struggles.

His command is addressing a serious pivot away from him, but it is done in a way that calls us back to himself. The fact that he commands us is an indication that our tendency to stray is deeply problematic and destructive. That is why Jesus calls us to “seek first, his kingdom” when he calls us to move away from worry (Matthew 6:33). When we worry, we are becoming distracted in our loyalty to him alone and that can only lead to instability and fear on our part. He is never content for you to share your affection with someone or something else besides him. And he loves you too much to let you! His command is one of deep compassion for you, his child.

3. Suffering

Third, If you remember my own illustration, above, you can see that worry is often a combination of sin and suffering.

Let’s start with suffering. As I prepared for my flight and thought about the long travel, constant speaking and the unknown people and places I would be, I began to experience suffering in my body. The muscle tension was a form of suffering for which I needed wise and compassionate care. In this instance, I actually needed something to address the physiological symptoms of my anxiety right away. Often times, symptom relief is wholly appropriate and good. On many occasions, Jesus met the physical needs of those he cared for before he addressed their deeper needs. Christian compassion leads us to listen for the suffering in another person’s life. It calls us to take heed of the suffering in our own life. When we do, we are more patient, helpful and hopeful.

4. Sin

Fourth, let’s talk about sin. After the symptoms were relieved, I had to face some honest and helpful questions. “Why was I so anxious?” “What was I placing my trust in that caused me to feel so vulnerable?” “What mattered most to me that was causing me to feel fearful and worried?” In the context of being cared for by others, I was able to ask those questions and get below the surface of my anxiety and physiological symptoms.

As I thought about it, I discovered that a good bit of my anxiety was driven by my fear of what others might think of me as I presented my material on worry. Kind of ironic, huh?! I was worried about whether I would appear successful or whether I would fail. I also wondered if I had the strength to endure the rigorous speaking schedule and if I might say something stupid along the way. I found that I was also anxious about all of the details of my travel. Would I miss a train? Would I forget my notes? Would I arrive late to an event and not be as prepared as I would like?

In other words, I was revolving my life around another kingdom, not God’s. I was more enamored with my fame and less with God’s. This may sound harsh but in reality, it is! To seek my fame over God’s is a serious thing.

In Conclusion

Worry is often a combination of sin and suffering. It is important to understand what we mean by each. When you hear the word “sin,” it probably evokes images of high-handed disobedience. But sin is much more subtle than that. Sin is often a quiet, micro-moment when we shift our loyalty from God to something even good in creation. While it may be subtle, the destruction will become more apparent and visible as time goes by. That is why it can be so helpful to see it early on rather than later.

Living without worry
By Timothy Lane

So you can see where my anxiety was a subtle shift from God’s fame to mine. It happened slowly but certainly. As I worried more, I found that my shift from God’s fame to mine moved me into an experience of physically suffering. This physical suffering then increased my anxiety! The vicious spiral had begun. In the midst of seeing these dynamics, I could begin to face my anxiety, not with guilt or shame, but rather with confidence that Jesus really was with me and for me. He was tenderly calling me back to life in his kingdom and out of my own because he loved me. His command was one of compassion and wisdom. My hope and trust increased as I saw him in that way. Hopefully, as you struggle with worry, that will be true for you as well.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for you Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32)!

Previous posts in this series:

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Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Until the Dawn Appears

My daughter introduced me to Matthew Perryman Jones. That led to a birthday gift to see him at a classic, small venue in Atlanta, Georgia. Jones grew up in the greater Atlanta area and got his start where we saw him. We arrived early and managed to get a table that was about 3 feet from the stage. Early on, he sang a song entitled "Until the Dawn Appears". He said it was a song about hope. Ironically, it is a song about sorrow and suffering.

I like how the song does not tie up all the confusing realities around suffering, while still capturing a Christian vision of wisdom and hope. It is also one of many ways that God comes to us in our sorrows. Songs and lyrics touch someone at a level that mere words sometimes do not. Poetry is intended to capture the whole person.

Before listening to the lyrics, here are some thoughts on the song's content:

1. Stanza one encourages the listener to take a good look at one's sorrows. This is helpful because the inclination is to avoid and not grieve.

2. "How Long"....is the cry of the Psalmist. It is also the appropriate cry of the believer. "How Long, O Lord, will you allow this to go on and on?"

3. Stanza two is a wise calling to avoid any form of bitterness or self-medication in an attempt to kill one's sorrows. If you do, they will take over your entire life and soul.

4. Stanza three introduces the Man of Sorrows and a Crystal Sea. Crucifixion, Resurrection and complete Cosmic Restoration. This stanza moves you through these epoch aspects of the Christian faith. No other world religion can offer this kind of hope.

5. Ending Chorus: Words of comfort for the child of God. He will not let us go!

I’ve been turning up the stones in my own discontent
And I’m finding out where all my hidden sorrows went
They’ve been laying there for years,
I kept them out of view
But it's time I dust you off and take a good look at you

Oh how long?
Oh How long?

Well it's easier to clench your fist and grind your teeth
Then to look into the sadness that lives underneath
You can kill off all those feelings
They’ll just turn to ghosts
They will take over your house and become the host

Oh how long?
Oh how long?

Well the Man of Sorrows walked the shores of Galilee
And his eyes were cast with joy towards the crystal sea
Well the shadows will be gone and all these bitter tears
And my heart will hang on that until the dawn appears

Oh how long
Oh how long
Oh You, You won’t let me go
Oh no, no. 
Oh no You won’t let me go
Oh no, oh no, You won’t let me go
Oh no, oh no You won’t let me go

Copyright © 2014 Timothy S. Lane

1 Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.