Should You Care About Your Past?

Unstuck incons4.jpg

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.

2 Comments

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.

How to Grow in Grace: Step Two

Grace finds goodness in everything
Grace finds beauty in everything
Grace makes beauty out of ugly things
“Grace” – U2

In our previous post, we said that step one in the process of growth in grace is fixing our eyes on Jesus. If we are going to even begin the process of self-examination, it must begin by looking outward. If you consider other methods of change, they typically begin by looking at yourself.  Not so with the Christian story. A Christian vision of change begins with a gaze outward and away from oneself. Consider these words from the writer of Hebrews 12:1-4:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

If step one begins with gazing outward, what is step two?

Step Two: Look for Evidence of the Spirit’s Work in Your Life

If being overwhelmed with guilt and shame and failing to see Christ is a natural tendency when facing struggles, another tendency looms prominently on the horizon. That tendency is a failure to see clear evidence of the Spirit’s work in your life. We are more prone to focus on faults and failures, not Spirit-wrought perseverance and good fruit.

In all of my years of personal growth and working with others, if someone is not blame shifting and avoiding guilt, they are wallowing in all the bad things they have thought, said or done. This is never more apparent than when a couple comes to me for counseling. As they tell the story of their marriage, the narrative is often filled with the negative things in their marriage. They focus on what John Gottman calls “the four horsemen of the apocalypse,” which are criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. Certainly those things are evident, but what is also evident is their desire to grow and improve their marriage. This is not what they see, but it is precisely what I see. The very fact that they have sought help is a mark of the Spirit ablaze in their lives!

Once again, look how Scripture changes your gaze. In Philippians 1:3-6 Paul says,

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

He says this in 2 Corinthians 5:17;

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

While Paul is able to acknowledge the reality of remaining sin, he does not let that eclipse the powerfully optimistic way that the Spirit is on the move in your life now that you belong to Christ. There will be plenty of time to address the ongoing battle, but for now, we want to establish the fact that we are in the fight! While it may not be easy, the fact that you are fighting is evidence that you are spiritually alive; alive to the Spirit and dead to the things that once held you in abject slavery and powerlessness.

Consider two more examples from the ministry of Jesus and Paul.

In one of the most well known verses of Scripture, Jesus says this;

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Most people can recite verse 16, but not verse 17. Verse 17 gives you an indication of Jesus’ mission. He came to save us from condemnation, not focus on the things that condemn us.

In I Corinthians 1:2-9, the Apostle Paul writes this to a congregation that is torn apart by division, incest, pride, lacking love, along with a host of other problems:

2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

He does go on to address the deep problems in the church, but notice where he begins! This is a typical pattern in Paul’s letters to the churches.

Application

Within this context, look for evidence of the Spirit's work in your life, and let that move you in the direction of gratitude. Be utterly ruthless about this. Take note of everything that gives evidence of God's presence in your life! Everything! If you are married and you are still desiring a good marriage and seeking good counsel, that is a mark of the Spirit. If you have struggled with the same old temptation and are still in the fight, that is a mark of the Spirit. If you have been struggling with depression for years but you still stay connected to the body of Christ and you occasionally think about reading your Bible or praying, that is evidence of the Spirit. These are confirmations that you belong to God and his Spirit is working in you. Never despise the simple signs of his presence in your life. I use the word “never” not to shame you but to encourage you!

Be practical. Get out a piece of paper and start pondering every evidence of God’s work in your life. Don’t stop until you can list 25 things.

Why are these first two steps so important? Because they get you looking in a better direction. It is easy to let your circumstances and your failures weigh you down, turn you inward and feel defeated. These first two steps move in a very different direction and provide a solid foundation for you to take the next steps.

Copyright © 2017 Timothy S. Lane

How to Grow in Grace

Over the coming weeks, I will continue to add "steps" that are practical ways of thinking about the process of growth in grace. If you want to be alerted each time the next post goes live, you can sign up to receive e-news here:

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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.

How to Grow in Grace: Step One

As I walk’d through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a Den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a Dream. –John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress

This is how John Bunyan begins his classic allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress. He illustrates what it looks like to become and grow as a Christian. The allegory is carried along the path of a journey. In that journey, there are many twists and turns. Many setbacks but ultimate progress. It is fundamentally a journey of grace, yet not without confusion.

In the book, How People Change, I say, “Nothing is more obvious than the need for change. Nothing is less obvious than what needs to change and how that change happens (p. 17).” Can you identify with that sentiment? Sometimes change can feel so elusive.

For example, Dan has struggled with the same temptation for years. He has tried countless times to change but to no avail. He doesn’t even know where to begin. Nancy struggles with debilitating anxiety and depression. She, too, has tried so many different things to change but nothing seems to help. At first glance, you might think that Dan and Nancy are unique, but they are not. They are normal people trying their best to navigate life and its challenges.

So how do you experience change? How do you grow in grace? How do you begin to experience renewal in an area of your life? In this series of posts, I would like to propose eight basic steps for growth in grace. This is not a simplistic technique, but an attempt to be as practical as possible. Let’s start with the first step.

Step One Along the Path: Look to Christ

Whenever you start to see areas of struggle in your life, it can immediately produce guilt and shame. The natural instinct is to deny, hide or cover up the struggle. We see this instinctive movement with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Upon their initial disobedience, they hid from God, covered themselves and shifted the blame in an effort to avoid facing their guilt and shame.

Given this natural instinct to hide, cover and blame-shift, it is so important to begin the change process in a place of confidence and safety. I believe this is the pattern of Scripture. Whenever the biblical writers are addressing disobedience or calling believers to further obedience, they almost always start with emphasizing God’s covenant love and faithfulness to his people. When there are exceptions, the writers warn their readers first and then remind them of God’s steadfast compassion. This is the structure of the 10 commandments. Before God gives the people of Israel his commands, he begins with these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (Exodus 20:2, Deuteronomy 5:6).

This pattern is repeated all throughout Scripture. The commands of God are grounded in the grace of God. Paul does the same thing in Philippians 2:1-4:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Notice the pattern. Before he calls them to obedience in verse 2, he grounds them in their relationship with God in Christ. It is then that he says “then.” The same pattern can be see in Colossians 3:12:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Before Paul tells them what they are to do, he tells them who they are: chosen, holy and dearly loved! The final passage that is worth noting is Titus 2:11-14:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to all ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

In this passage, Paul points to Jesus’ first and second coming to strengthen our hope and resolve to such a degree that we are eager to do what is right. The Gospel restrains ("say no to ungodliness") and deeply motivates us ("eager to do what is good") to grow in faith and obedience.

Application

With this Biblical backdrop in mind, locate a few passages that enable you to relate to God with confidence that you belong to him and you are secure in his gracious and loving embrace. Don’t stop there. Start talking to God and thanking him for how he has loved you with an everlasting love. Is there a particular passage that you find comfort in other than the ones I have chosen? Is there a favorite song or hymn that reminds you of his grace? A poem? A phrase? A work of art? A friend who tells you the Great News whenever you see them?

So often we listen to the voice of our conscience that whispers words of guilt, shame and condemnation. These thoughts hum in the background of our minds like white noise preventing us from hearing the clear sound of God’s voice. You must fight to replace the false narrator with the true Narrator who speaks the truth about who you are and to whom you truly belong. This is the true and living Creator and Redeemer who has revealed himself in Christ.

Copyright © 2017 Timothy S. Lane

Over the coming weeks, I will continue to add "steps" that are practical ways of thinking about the process of growth in grace. If you want to be alerted each time the next post goes live, you can sign up to receive e-news here:

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Email Format
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.

Addiction and Family

My Granddaddy's Anvil

My Granddaddy's Anvil

No family can escape the reality of addiction. Yet, we all act embarrassed and struggle with shame when the truth is uncovered. Even today, with so much attention paid to addictions and the attempt to normalize it, it still remains the scarlet "A" of a family's identity.

Take a moment and think of the number of people that you know who either struggle with an addiction or have family members who do. Talk to your parents or grandparents and see how far back the history goes. If you pay attention, you will find it everywhere.

My mother's dad was an alcoholic in a small southern town. This was back in the 40's and 50's when the church was the center of social life for the majority of people. Forty some odd years later, she reflected upon that time in her life and her family's life. She captures the complexities and ambiguities in this poem written in 1985. I was visiting my parents and sister a month ago and my mom read this poem to me. She said that I could share it with you. Enjoy, ponder, weep, and be sobered as you wrestle with your own "addictions." Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

Hammering

My mom knew the cadence
of my daddy’s hammering.
The ring of the hammer against steel
broke the hush of the summer day
and echoed over the valley
behind the Mills house, 
down Church Street, 
and up to the high porch
of the old Minkovitz duplex
where we lived on one side, 
the Slappeys on the other.
“That’s Arrie hammering,” 
she would say.  
Anne Ria and I, sitting cross-legged
on the porch playing with paper dolls, 
would stop and listen.
Later when I’d hear the sound, 
I’d say, 
“That’s my daddy hammering.”
That was before I became ashamed
he was my father.
Even now I recall that time, 
hear the shrill peal of metal on metal, 
see my dad striking the red hot tool on the anvil, 
shaping, molding it expertly
as he was somehow unable to do with his own life, 
sending a clear bell-like message across the town
while his voice was silent.
What hurt, what loss, what fears
was he trying to assuage with the pounding?
I didn’t always wonder.

JoAnn Lane
11/04/85

Copyright © 2015 Timothy S. Lane

If you or someone you know struggles with an addiction, here are a few helpful resources.

Addiction and Grace, Gerald G. May, M. D

Toughest People to Love, Dr. Chuck DeGroat

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.

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.