Hope For When You’re Attacked By Insiders

We expect enemies to be somewhere “out there” — a thief in a dark ally, a spy from foreign nation, or a competitor from another company. We assume enemies are easy to identify. Most of us aren’t naturally suspicious of friends or family or teammates; so when betrayal happens it is all the more shocking and painful. Being stabbed in the back causes an agony that is unrivaled.

In Psalm 3:1 King David laments “O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising up against me.” Most readers assume that the enemies David complains about are foreigners and strangers. But the subtitle of the Psalm clarifies that David wrote this Psalm after Absalom, his son, rallied Israel to turn against him. For those who are living under attack at home, like David, this Psalm provides a model for how to handle the situation.

  • Trust God As Your Shield: David’s admits he cannot fully protect himself. So he declares, “You, O LORD, are a shield about me.” (3.3) David trusts that God can protect him from attack on all sides, even when his son unexpectedly tries to stab him from behind.
  • Trust God For Your Dignity: A betrayed person is often suffocated by shame. They can feel foolish for not anticipating the betrayal or guilty for somehow having caused it. But rather than focus on regrets, David says “You, O LORD, are my glory and the lifter of my head”. (3.3) David tells us how he maintains his sense of dignity — how he’s able to hold his head high. Most kings based their glory on the wealth of their kingdom or the size of their military. But David doesn’t hold his head high because he was a great king (even though he was). Nor does David hang his head low because he was a terrible father (which was also true). Rather, David finds glory in His God. He essentially says, “Because my dignity is established by God, I can hold my head high no matter my successes or my failures!” How does this apply? After a betrayal, don’t trust in your efforts to reestablish your honor. Instead rest upon the glory already established for you by God. Only God can free you from your shame and enable you to walk with your head held high.
  • Watch for God’s Answer: After a betrayal we may wonder if God is listening to our cries for help. Will He answer us, and if so, what will He say? When David cried to God after his son betrayed him, he wrote, “[The LORD] answered me from his holy hill.” (3.4) David found his answer on Mt. Zion for on that mountain stood the ark of the covenant and the tabernacle — reminders of God’s abiding presence and faithful promises. God’s clearest answer would come later when His own Son, Jesus, would bear the cost of every betrayal on that same holy hill so that victims (and perpetrators) of betrayal could find hope. Victims would discover a sympathetic God who knew what it was like to be destroyed by those who should have loved him. Perpetrators would be moved to repentance as Jesus cried, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) How does this apply? God has also answered you from his holy hill. Look to the place where Jesus was crucified and find a God who suffers betrayal with victims and for perpetrators.
  • Pray with Hopeful Anger: How do you pray when your enemies are not outsiders but insiders… when your foes are “family”? Pray the only way you can — with pain-filled anger. But take warning, if you let your anger turn hopeless it will lead to paralyzing apathy or self-destructive bitterness. When David prays for “insider” enemies (his son and his citizens), he asks God, “Strike all my enemies on the cheek…break [their] teeth. Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people!” (3.7-8) Because his enemies are God’s people (and his people) David is praying for one group of people, not two. David is not asking God to destroy these enemies, only to strike them and shut them up (break their teeth). In fact, ultimately, he wants God to restore his enemies so they can be one family and one nation again. In other words, David is asking God to cut as deeply as necessary to remove the deadly tumor of betrayal. What can we learn from David’s prayer? Bitterness and apathy are warning signs that our anger is turning hopeless. Remember, God can reach the hardest of hearts. As a great physician, God is willing to cut more deeply than we expect but never deeper than necessary. If the cross of Jesus Christ teaches anything, it tells us just how deep God will cut to restore relationships with those who have betrayed Him.

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Reacting To Someone Who Feels Misunderstood

How do you typically respond when a person accuses you of not understanding them?

It’s easy to make two opposite but equally disastrous mistakes – get fearful or get angry. Sometimes we get angry and snip, “I understand you completely. Actually, you don’t understand me!” Other times we get anxious and whimper, “Never mind. Sorry I brought it up.” Both silence and violence will block mutual understanding and destroy trust. But, learning to respond with grace and truth will relieve tension and enable the kind of communication that clears a path through the gridlock caused by alleged misunderstandings.

By looking to the Bible, and Jesus’ example, we can train ourselves to respond with grace and truth when someone accuses, “You don’t understand me at all!”

  1. Remember God’s patience. Adam was the first person to imply someone else did not understanding him. He believed God had it all wrong. He told God the real problem wasn’t his disobedience it was “the woman you put here with me. She gave me some fruit and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12) From the beginning, God’s patience has been abundantly clear. In Exodus 34:6, God proclaimed his name saying, “I am Yahweh, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” In as much as we remember God’s patient toward us, will we have the ability to be patient toward others who (rightly or wrongly) feel misunderstood.
  2. Stay curious and engaged. It’s easy to either feel provoked or to grow apathetic when your repeated attempts to address an issue are met with the counter-attack, “You don’t understand!” It’s hard to stay calmly engaged. But remember, God didn’t crush or ignore Adam. Instead He patiently asked questions, “Where are you? Have you eaten from tree I commanded you not to eat from?” (Genesis 2:10-11) We reflect God’s ways when we respond with grace and truth. Get curious, not furious, in the conversation. For example you might say, “I am sorry you don’t feel understood. I want to hear you out. What am I missing?”
  3. Relieve the need to be right. When misunderstandings linger, often the most common cause is a perceived need to be right. The consequences of being wrong, whether real or imagined, prevent people from admitting error. This fear is relieved as people sense they will be accepted even if they admit their failures and faults. You can develop safety by taking the first step to admit how you may be wrong. Show your willingness, even contentment, to be wrong. Clarify that the goal isn’t to prove each other wrong but to learn and then to be willing to change as a result.
  4. Stubbornly nourish hope. Nothing undermines a person’s confidence to resolve a misunderstanding like the loss of hope. Take orphans for instance. Compared to other children orphans tend to be very suspicious. They constantly test other’s intentions. They stubbornly resist the very help they require. While their behavior is not difficult to understand, it is counter-productive. Without patient intervention, their learned hopelessness (evidenced in the cries “No one understands me.”) will make them increasingly bitter and isolated. Jesus responded to such hopelessness not with dismissive platitudes but with empathy. He gave up his rights as God’s son and was abandoned on the cross. But, Jesus didn’t stop at empathy. He stubbornly fought for victory over the misery caused by betrayal, suffering, evil and death. Then he promised, “I will not leave you as orphans” (John 14:18). In as much as we understand this good news we will possess a hope more stubborn than anyone’s despair and we will offer it at every turn of the conversation.
  5. Be careful with “I’m sorry!”  As the causes of the misunderstanding become clear, we must not stop short of true reconciliation. Many people wrongly assume that saying “I’m sorry” is sufficient, but that may rob everyone (including themselves) of a more satisfying resolution. Saying “I’m sorry” is appropriate for uncontrollable events or unavoidable mistakes. Beyond that, we should be more circumspect. Sometimes “sorry” remains appropriate for an unintentional accident.  For example, “I’m sorry I bumped into you. I did not see you behind me.”  However, if you are in a habit of rushing about the office your apology will not suffice. You are being careless. Legitimate reconciliation usually happens when offenders confess their wrongdoing, reflect empathy, ask for forgiveness and offer appropriate recompense. To illustrate you might say, “I was rushing and not aware of my surroundings (confession of wrong) and I caused you to drop your stack of papers (reflecting empathy). Will you forgive me? (surrendering the upper hand with a humbling request) Can I help you reorganize them? (offer appropriate recompense). In the same way, don’t assume you can resolve a misunderstanding with a simple “I’m sorry”Work for a mutual understanding and a real reconciliation. The benefits will be well worth the cost.

Mastering these five principles takes practice but they will make a big difference. We can’t guarantee any particular person will feel understood, but we can create an environment where mutual understanding is the norm.

(This article is a follow up to Finding Hope When You Feel Misunderstood.)

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Increase Your Emotional Intelligence: Read the Bible & Know Jesus

When I graduated high school in 1992, the only intelligence that seemed to matter was IQ (intelligence quotient). Most assumed that a person’s potential was largely indicated by how well they performed academically. Grades and SAT scores were seen as the best predictors of future success.

During the 1990s people increasingly questioned the reliability of IQ to predict success in the academy or the workplace. A new field of study focused on the effects of emotional intelligence, or EQ (emotional quotient). The term first appeared in a 1964 paper by Michael Beldoch but Daniel Goleman popularized emotional intelligence in his 1995 book after studying the work of psychologist John Mayer and Peter Salvoes. For many, EQ provided a missing link that helped explain why “people with the highest levels of intelligence (IQ) outperform those with average IQs just 20 percent of the time, while people with average IQs outperform those with high IQs 70 percent of the time” (Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, p8).

Over the past 20 years, EQ has become as common a term as IQ. You’ll find references to EQ in: workplace training programs, school curriculum, online dating sites, newspaper comic strips, and even advertising for children’s games. Corporations, school systems and religious organizations are developing social and emotional learning programs to increase productivity and create healthy communities.

Technically speaking, emotional intelligence refers to an individual’s ability to process emotional information (in themselves and others) and use it to navigate social relationships. While the term may be new, the core principles are not.

Our heavenly Father has been instructing us on the importance of emotional intelligence from the beginning. Long before the era of standardized tests, the Bible has provided God’s definition of wisdom which has always transcended knowledge or intellectual ability. Proverbs is a treasure trove for those seeking to grow in emotional intelligence. Consider three proverbs that contain timeless truths:

  • “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a quick temper exalts folly.” (Proverbs 14:29)
  • “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” (Proverbs 25:15)
  • “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.” (Proverbs 26:20)

An important aspect of emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and distinguish between various emotions and then process through them. When confused or unable to navigate past certain feelings, read the Psalms. There, we meet experienced guides (sages of old with high EQs) who can help us find our way through the pain and darkness.

  • “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:5)
  • “My soul refuses to be comforted. When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate my spirit faints. I cannot sleep. I am so troubled I cannot speak…Then my spirit made a diligent search: Will the Lord spurn forever and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased?” (Psalm 77:2b-8)
  • “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts. See if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Jesus is by far the best teacher to help us process emotional information (in ourself and others) and then use that information to navigate social relationships. Jesus’ ability to love others as himself made him a master at reading people’s emotional state. Even when people’s behavior masked their hidden attitudes, further conversation would almost always expose what was going on at the heart level. Whatever the issue – pride, self-pity, loneliness, desperation – Jesus’ counsel was always on target. We can learn a lot about emotional intelligence by knowing him.

Consider Jesus’ interactions with two rich men. In Luke 18, Jesus addresses the blinding nature of self-righteousness by challenging a rich young ruler about his self-awareness and moral self-judgement. When the man responds with self-pity rather than repentance Jesus declares “It is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”. Then in the next chapter Jesus notices another finely dressed rich man who, oddly enough, is perched in a sychamore tree. He wonders about the man who cast his dignity aside and girded his loins to climb a tree. So, Jesus offers him undeserved honor by saying, “Hurry and come down for I must stay at your house today.” In a moment the man is transformed. Without being asked he does what the first rich man could not bring himself to do – give away his wealth and follow Jesus. By comparing Jesus’ interaction with these two rich men, we can see that Jesus had a very high EQ. He knew the difference between a self-righteous man not ready to receive grace and a desperate man starving for it.

We should not be surprised that the Bible was (and continues to be) ahead of its time. If you want to improve you emotional intelligence read it for all its worth.

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Find Hope for Your Marriage

Revelation 21:1-8 pictures the greatest wedding of all time — God’s wedding. It takes place in the capital city of the new earth. I use this passage when officiating weddings because the bride and groom need a sober vision for marriage and experienced guests often need a hopeful vision.

Beautiful weddings are a sensual experience, touching all five senses. God’s wedding will be no different.

  1. See: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and…I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (21:1) Is there anything more beautiful than a bride on her wedding day? Not from the groom’s perspective! The groom busts with joyful anticipation as he gazes upon her beauty. She has adorned herself for him — not the groomsmen, nor even the guests. God looks at His bride with the same delighted anticipation. He gazes at the most beautiful bride in the world — sinners transformed by love and grace.
  2. Hear“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.” (21.3) Finally, the Father grants the bride (Christians) and groom (Jesus) intimate access to each other. During engagement boundaries exist. The bride is allowed to enjoy messages from God, walks with God and even visits from God. But on the wedding day, the Father will loudly proclaim that the bride may finally dwell with Jesus forever. Their access to each other will be full and forever. What a pleasant sounding proclamation.
  3. Touch“He will wipe every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (21.4) On this broken earth we shed lonely, painful tears. But in heaven, there will be no more sad tears. Wedding day tears will replace them. Precious tears will well up from gazing upon our beloved because we will realize we don’t deserve any of what we’re receiving. In heaven, Jesus will pull our face close to His and gently wipe away every tear that leaks with the joy of laughter.
  4. Taste: “It is done! I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of water of life without payment.” (21:6) Life in this lonely and harsh world leaves us thirsting for more. In heaven, our thirst will be satisfied with the best God has to offer — the spring of life. Even better, we will receive it without paying! Like a wedding, we will feast for free because someone else has already paid for the banquet. He who sits on the throne will say, “It is done.” Everything has been taken care of. God himself has paid the bill! Only an eternal and infinite God could afford such extravagance. He will lavish it upon Jesus, and His bride — a wedding gift that’s merely the deposit of a bigger inheritance.
  5. Smell“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (21:8) Burning sulfur is the worst smell — outranking dead bodies, sewer gas and wet dog. John reserves the last of the five senses to describe hell — the great divorce from God. When officiating weddings, it is tempting to skip this verse. But skipping would make my description of marriage unbelievable, especially in the ears of experienced people. Verse eight keeps it real. The list of sins span the gamut, but they have one thing in common — covenant breaking (cowards, faithless people, the sexually immoral, etc). People mock the idea of hell for the same reason newlyweds mock the idea of divorce. They think they’re too good for it. Their love is too strong. They refuse to entertain the possibility that their marriage could one day become a living hell. But when tested in life, people are more than capable of turning the heaven of their wedding day into a living hell.

Because we are sinners our marriage has the seeds of hell within it. But in Christ our marriage will also have the seeds of heaven in it. Your marriage will increasingly look like heaven or hell over the passing years! Let the mere scent of hell (covenant breaking) snap you awake like smelling salts and turn you back to your spouse in humility and love.

Hope for marriage comes as we recognize Jesus’ perseverance to endure hell for His bride and offer heaven in return. As you embrace your eternal spouse, Jesus Christ, you will be able to absorb the hell your earthly spouse sometimes drags you into and offer them heaven in return. It will feel like death, but as you carry your cross, Jesus will raise you to a new, heavenly love for your spouse. Then the gates of hell will come crashing down in your marriage as you grant forgiveness, offer compassion, speak encouragement and serve patiently.

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Hope Builder #6: Show Compassion, Withhold Judgement

The primary way to break through to people is to relate, not evaluate.  Jesus said, “Hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5). Compassion, not judgement opens hearts.

Paul Miller, author of Love Walked Among Us wrote, “Judging is knee-jerk, quick, bereft of thought, while compassion is slow and thought-filled.” By slowing down we can feel compassion and enter conflict more thoughtfully.

3202963823_7As I looked out from the podium during the church service I saw my son sitting with his arms crossed. His shoulders were slumped as he gazed angrily at the floor. An open chair was on his right. His siblings were packed like sardines on his left — three chairs for four people. He refused to move over to make room for the rest of the family.

After church, an argument brewed on the back porch while I made an assortment of chocolate chip and apple pancakes in the kitchen. My daughter was cross examining her older brother, “Why couldn’t you just move over!  How hard can it be? There was an empty chair next to you.”

“I already moved over! Besides, you had plenty of room!” My son’s defense relied heavily on the measurements of each person’s girth when compared to each chair’s width.  He was not budging. (He is destined for law school.)

Fights like this happen pretty regularly in our home. With five kids, my wife and I have learned to triage family conflict. We simply don’t have the energy and resources to address every little issue. Following normal operating procedures, my wife and I assessed the wounds and dressed them. “Jack, just move over next time. It’s not a big deal and it serves others. And Kelly, next time you can get up and move instead of trying to boss your brother around.” The solution was equitable, and quick.  Now we could move forward and enjoy our family feast before the food turned cold.

The pancakes may have been hot, but the conversation around the table was cold and I was growing increasingly frustrated. “Can we just move forward with new attitudes. The rest of today I am off work, and I’d like to have a great day together.”

While they ate their pancakes in grumpy silence, I slowly realized they weren’t the only stubborn ones asking another person to move. I had asked them to move, yet I hadn’t been willing to budge myself. I needed to abandon my judgement seat and move into a new seat — one labeled compassion.

“Jack, what made it hard for you to move over to make room for Kelly and Michael?” Because my attitude had changed from condemnation to curiosity, it pierced through his defenses and he softened. He recounted ways he’d felt pushed to the side over the past couple of months. He spoke around his ultimate fear, afraid to mention it it directly, but I had a hunch.

“Are you afraid Kelly loves your siblings more than you?” I guessed.

“Kind of.” he confessed.

His wounds went deeper than any of us realized. Our daughter was horrified at the thought. “That’s not true! You’re my big brother! I just wanted to sit there to help mom with the younger kids.”  She instinctively walked over to Jack’s chair and hugged him from behind. He smiled and then playfully pushed her away. “But, Jack! I love you!” She opened her arms and made smooching noises.

We talked more. They each owned up to their failures to love well and they forgave each other. It turned out to be the best family pancake breakfast this year.

I love my kids. But, if I did not take time to slow down my judgements, and show compassion by entering their world they would not have felt my love — nor would they have seen it in each other. Showing compassion restores hope in relationships.

How have you been quick to judge and slow to show compassion? How could you slow down, like Jesus, and enter another person’s world with compassion? Who knows what hope it may restore to relationships!

(Published with permission from Jack and Kelly Kieffer)

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Hope Builder #1 – Resolve Conflict

Relational conflict is a fact of life.  You either handle it well or poorly.  If you think you can opt out of conflict, then chances are you are handling it poorly.

When we handle conflict poorly we rob hope from everyone, including ourselves.  In a group context, the amount of hope stolen increases exponentially. When the boss refuses to address an employee’s irresponsible behavior the whole office pays the price.  When a coach berates one player with constant criticism the whole team develops a losing attitude.  When parents fight, children cower in fear and later mimic destructive behavior with friends.  Handling conflict foolishly bankrupts people of their hope for — enjoyable relationships, winning teams, vibrant community and improved productivity.

51aefLfnGUL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Conflict is like fire.  It’s not necessarily bad, but it is unavoidably powerful. Fire can burn down your house or keep you warm and cozy.  By harnessing the power of fire we’ve civilized our world and discovered technological breakthroughs that touch nearly every area of life.

In the same way, you can harness the power of conflict and use it for good.  There are untapped benefits found by addressing the issues that cause conflict.  Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High is an excellent book that will help you to face your fear of conflict.  It provides practical tools and real life examples.  It will help you tap into the hope building power found through resolving conflict.

After extensive research the authors confidently claim:

“The effects of conversations gone bad can be both devastating and far reaching.  Our research has shown that strong relationships, careers, organizations, and communities all draw from the same power source — the ability to talk openly about high stakes, emotional and controversial topics.  Master your crucial conversations and you’ll kick-start your career, strengthen your relationships and improve your health.  As you and others master high stakes discussions, you’ll also vitalize your organization and your community.”  (Chapter one – What is a crucial conversation?)

The book’s tools really work!  However, the authors aren’t the first to use these tools.  Jesus modeled them more than 2000 years ago.  However their empirical research reaffirms that Jesus’ methods are still the best model for conflict resolution.